There are costs to magic that everyone knows. A magician can be defined as someone wishing to perform but lacking any charisma – I read somewhere that Houdini was one of those. The skills they develop are honed for hours and hours alone in bedrooms and in secret. While being able to do card tricks is impressive, people are left wondering why you bring the cards to a party at all, and especially to a funeral. The tricks becomes all they have, a performance they can never turn off that leaves them ostracized from other people.
Real magic is not like that at all. A magician is in the world, a part of it, acted and acted upon. You are given the gift to make the world a poem, and the cost of it is helping hold the prose that is the universe together. Standing against what lies Outside the universe, knowing and seeing what can never be unknown and unseen. There are no old magicians, for so many reasons. Some die, others find ways to give the magic up; some find things that matter to them more than power, even if magic is not about power at all.
We tell stories, but we are not outside them. Nothing can be changed from the outside, not in any way that lasts. The magician must be part of the weaving, part of the cloth, or they can’t make changes that matter. The magic is only a small part of that. It is not something I forget, being perhaps the most powerful magician in the world. But it is something others forget.
“You know things,” Charlie snaps to me as we walk through the woods. It’s more a military pace, her burning off energy, the god within her visible in her eyes as she marches along beside me. My pace is more sedate but I keep up without trying. She doesn’t notice: people can’t see what they don’t known how to see, even if they’re part of the deeper patterns of the world. Charlie is a god-eater, but she is Charlie first. I am the wandering magician, and before that – I’m not sure if I am anything before that, when I am being honest with myself. Which is as often as I can be. It is another reason magicians do not last.
“Jay told you that he talked to dark energy and matter, which scientists think is actually most of the universe?”
“He did, and it spoke to him in his voice, using his full name Jay is always boasting about how good he is at hiding, and how big he secretly is. We’ve always known he wasn’t really eleven and he is from very far Outside the universe.”
“And we forget that. As he does as well. Your point?”
“How can Jay be that, magician?” She hurls the word almost as an insult. Jay is made up of unknowns, but all too often it is terribly easy to forget that. To believe the story of the goofy kid who lives for adventures that he tells himself as much as us.
“I don’t know. I have always wondered how Jay was able to enter the universe at all, given how powerful he can be. No matter that he can hide his nature completely, it was always a puzzle. Now it is less of one.”
“Do you have any idea how absurd that sounds?”
“This is Jay we are talking about,” I say gently. “Time and space don’t mean to him what they to us, not really.”
“Charlie. He’s still Jay. Even if he is a little more confusing, it at least explains why he likes to eat so much.”
“Not funny,” she snarls.
“It has to be. If it wasn’t, we’d be terrified of him, Charlie.” I stop and turn before she speaks, pressing a finger to her lips. “I know you are, sometimes. As am I. As is Jay. But he doesn’t understand why anyone would be scared of him, since he’s jaysome. Among other things.”
“You hide the fear better than I do.”
“I have had a lot more practise at not showing creatures that I’m afraid of them. Jay is our friend: nothing is going to change that if he can avoid that.” I leave unsaid that Jay could avoid that: he can do things with bindings I try my best not to think about at all.
“And you don’t want to know how Jay is somehow himself, and billions-of-years-old dark energy and matter and whatever else?” Charlie says, but there is no force behind the question.
I smile in the way of magicians. “I would always rather not know.”
“Since when does a magician want to do that?” she says, but at least smiles in return.
“It is an important skill to know what questions you should never ask. It applies rather well in the subtle realms of magic as well as in the real world,” I say quietly. “And I value the friendship we have with Jay too much to go about seeking answers I should not. There’s an old saying about people turning over stones, and people forget that the danger of it is that the stone which is turned over can never be put back the way it was. Once you start down certain paths it’s almost impossible not to follow them to the end, and that is one I don’t want to move down.”
“You’re scared of Jay.”
“Not as scared as I am for him,” I say simply, and to that Charlie makes no reply at all.
We head back to the motel, and Jay arrives an hour later having been quite busy catching Pokemon on his phone. Or at least I hope he was, since his trying to capture one led to him discovering the dark energy/matter was him and talking to it. Happily, of course, since it is Jay and he loves making new friends. Even if the new friend he made today was himself.
“Honcho, I was totally trying to catch a Pokemon only Guutaley the Devouring is being really insistent they aren’t a Pokemon at all and want to devour the world and lots of unborn people, but! I have them in a really good binding and I thought I’d get you,” he says, radiating innocent pride as only kids can.
“You can’t banish it?” I ask.
“Oh, I could, but I thought I should make sure it really isn’t a Pokemon because it would be really rude to banish a Pokemon from the universe,” he says, and being Jay is quite, quite serious.
Charlie buries her face in her hands and I head outside to find what Jay has bound, and to help him deal with it. Everything is as it always is, and isn’t like that at all.
“Honcho?” Jay asks.
“Is everything okay?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?” I say.
Jay opens his mouth, closes it, blinks. “Uhm. Lots of reasons, because Guutaley the Devouring is definitely an oops and Charlie is being really weirdy.”
“I imagine that’s because you are,” I say dryly.
“Oh! But I’m jaysome,” he says, and fortunately Guutaley attempts to break free of Jay’s binding and devour the world before I need to think up a reply to that.
Which is, even for a magician, a very worrying use of the word fortunately.