The assignment was simple. There is a wandering magician. He interferes in matters that do not concern magicians. Find him. Kill him.
Working for the Metric Commission meant dealing with problems. I had killed several with magical Talents in my time. And one magician, though she was new to her power and I’d barely escaped with my life even so. This assignment wasn’t like that.
They gave me the aendar, a stone that nullified power. And promises I’d be able to leave if I did this one thing. I said yes. Sometimes that’s all you can do. There were ways to find him, of course but I wasn’t about to try them: magicians have good instincts for traps.
Instead I ended up in the town of Cresthaven. Because it carried a scar in the skin of the world that was opening and the magician would end up here. It was the sort of thing magicians fixed and there were none around here. There were four talents in two surrounding towns: killing them proved surprisingly simple.
That was probably a warning. Only I didn’t think so at the time.
The magician arrived three weeks later. Places feel different once a magician comes to them. Like the calm at the centre of a storm. As if everything was more real, more important. There was a fulcrum here, and everyone knew it without understanding what they knew.
He looked ordinary. That surprised me. He wandered the streets and if I hadn’t been told what was wrong with the town, I’d have never noticed him. But he paid attention to the wound. I followed, waiting until he was done mending it.
He turned to me as I came up behind him. The aendar was cold in my hand and warm as well as though the stone were somehow liquid and solid as once.
“Ah,” he said, and then words in a language I didn’t know. The aendar was in his hand a moment later. The stone purred.
I didn’t move.
“You brought two snipers with you.” He didn’t use power, not in the way magicians can. But he was certain in a way that shook me.
“Three,” I admitted.
“Including you, yes.” He sighed. “If I asked, would you tell me who you worked for?”
“I am trained to resist such things.”
“Mmm. You think that will matter to me, considering you planned to kill me?”
“No. The stone was going to my my method.”
The magician blinked once, studied the stone. “Few can carry an aendar for three weeks without it leaving them. Whatever agency you work with, you know how dangerous a magician can be.”
“In a place of power, yes.”
He smiled, and the smile set me back a step. “I am the wandering magician. Each place I wander to is a place of power for me.”
I fell back another step at the truth behind those words. I swore. I don’t often, but sometimes it’s the only way to voice fear.
“Even if that were not true, you must have known this would not work. Why did you do it?”
I think he threaded power into his voice on a level so subtle I never sensed it; I’d like to think that’s why I answered. “I wish to retire. Almost no one has. I am tired of – the things that have to be done to keep the world safe. Of how much I’ve lost and given up of myself, my own dreams. I wished to be free from those I worked for.”
He laughed. The magician’s laugh shook me with the kindness that lurked under him. “You have an aendar stone: they unmake bindings, and some magics as well. Whatever connected to you to your employers is gone, Aram.”
“And those who came with me?” I asked.
“I have dealt with them.”
I didn’t ask. If I have learned anything, it’s that some things are best left unknown. “And what happens to me?”
“That is up to you. I will let the stone go: no one is meant to hold one, and certainly not for three weeks. You may forget some things you knew, but some of that will be the stones doing on the behest of your former employers I imagine.”
I nodded. I could have asked for his help, but there are some things you don’t do.
I paused, half-turned away. I’d never told him my name, but he was the wandering magician.
“If you try and kill anyone else with a Talent in your life, you will answer to me.”