Sunday, December 31, 2017

Fancy Fireworks

I enter the hotel suite and stretch slowly. The ending of one year is always a dangerous time to be a magician. I’ve spent the last twelve hours working small magics non-stop. A few whispers to the world here, nudging needs and desires there. Helping people make it through the night. Some years it is easier, others it is far harder. Magicians in cities tend to just barricade themselves at home and hide this time of year, the need around them too much for their magic to answer.

A wandering magician can’t do that as easily. So I do what I can, push my magic as wide and far as I dare in the town. I’m worn out and tired in a good way as I pour myself a drink Charlie put in the fridge that is full of vitamins, minerals and a host of other things. It tastes far better than the name implies, and I’m halfway done when Jay opens the door and comes bouncing inside.

He’s holding a bag in one hand and offers up a huge, beaming grin at seeing me. “Honcho, I got fireworks,” he says proudly.

I don’t choke on my drink. I consider the bag carefully. Small, paper, and what is inside feels like seeds to my magic. But this is Jay I am dealing with, and when an eleven year old boy from Outside the universe tells you he has fireworks... I pause, now wide-awake and not the last bit tired from the previous few hours.


“Uh-huh! I bought then in a shop, with money!” Jay adds happily.

I know better than to ask what else he might have tried to buy some with. “May I see them?”

Jay hands me the bag and I dump seeds into the kitchen table. Study them. Then Jay. “Ah. Jay. These are just seeds.”


“Someone sold you a bag a seeds.”

“But but who would lie to a Jay?” he demands.

I – ah. People tend to try and help you, when you ask them for things.”

“Of course! They’re being jaysome too.”

“Of course they are. But selling a kid fireworks on New Years Eve isn’t allowed in a lot of places. So rather than say no, you were tricked.”

Jay stares at the beans, then at me. I catch his arm before he can vanish.

“Sometimes it is safer to trick a Jay than say no to you, yes?”

He lets ou a huge sigh. “I don’t see why, since they were going to be fancy fireworks!”

“Charlie is having a nap in her room. You can ask her about them, and I’ll find some fireworks. Deal?”

Jay nods, and vanishes. I can hear him informing Charlie that a nap interferes with adventures, and Charlie throw something at his head. Which means Jay is distracted at least.

I slip out the door with the bag, asking where it came from and finding myself at one of those small corner shops that exist partially because some street corners rely on having shops. The shop has closed, but I can feel someone inside and head in.

An old woman is finishing sweeping up behind a counter and eyes me balefully. “The door was closed.”

“Doors aren’t closed to a wandering magician.” I hold up the bag. “You sold this to a boy earlier tonight.”

She sighs, setting the broom aside. “I wasn’t about to sell real fireworks. He was just – eager. They’re a kind of jumping bean I enspelled to glow a little when fire touches them. I figured it would be enough.”

“I am afraid not, at least not for Jay.” I don’t tell her that the enspelling didn’t work. I have that much kindness in me always.

Crimson flares in the depths of her eyes, and her shadow lengthens for a moment. “I have heard of that one.”

“Not enough, if you thought he’d be okay with being tricked.” I smile. “We could use fireworks in the sky tonight, if you are willing?”

“I am very old, magician.”

“I know. But Jay is very young, and disappointing him might be unwise.”

“Even for a magician, that was a masterpiece of understatement.” She lets out a deeper sigh. “I will do what I can.”

“Thank you.”

“Magician.” I stop, halfway to the door. “Did he tell you about me?”

“No. I am certain he knew you were a dragon, but it never occurred to Jay that a dragon running a corner store would be strange. I am not about to ask.”

“You think I am that dangerous?” Her voice deepens a little. I hear scraping against wood.

“I think it would be rude.”

The dragon’s laugh follows me outside, warm and delighted.

Charlie is awake and in the kitchen when I return to the motel suite. It is cutting it close to midnight, and I tell Jay to head to the roof and watch fireworks. Charlie looks at me wordless, her mouth a thin line.

“Sorry. I needed Jay kept busy. He’s getting fireworks.”

“He told me about the bag. I assume the seeds would lead to a giant bean stalk?”

“No. Just sparkles and a little light when they catch fire. And jumping. Nothing Jay would consider fireworks, and I thought it might be safer if he didn’t head back and lecture someone about lying to a Jay. Or demanding fireworks they might not have.”

Charlie looks at me. “But they have fireworks?”

I grin, gesturing, and she heads up to the roof as well. I bring a drink of my own, and hot chocolate for Jay. Distant fireworks are already starting, time counting down in a low rumble. Above us there is movement. A cloud that isn’t a cloud. Fire that turns into explosions of light and noise as the dragon roars over the entire town.

Almost no one will hear it. Almost no one will understand. But those who do will have a different story to tell come morning, and a new year with a hint of old mystery to join the happiness.

Jay whoops and cheers and the dragon fades away slowly from the sky in a dazzling display of pyrotechnics I doubt she had known she had in her any longer.

I suspect her new year will be happier than she had thought it would be, even if it is not the year of the dragon.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Summons Prompt

Prompt: You were summoned to another world to be its Hero. You attained amazing abilities and powers. Traveled to distant, fantastic lands and exotic cultures. Met and fought alongside incredible allies to stop the unspeakable Evil. Lost friends along the way. But now you’ve returned to your own world.

I stare up at my apartment building. It is snowing, but the snow doesn’t bother me. The cold hasn’t bothered me since – since a long time ago. The light is on, and a stranger lives inside. A castle fit for storming, the voice whispers in the back of my head. It’s not really mine. It was never mine at all. But is has followed me from the High Kingdoms when nothing else came with me. I can judge at least six ways inside, be in the apartment in under a minute and... and what, then?

I don’t even know. I’m not sure to this. To not knowing. To walking out of step with the world. My car was impounded and sold two years ago. My parents kept everything I owned in storage. Until they couldn’t afford the fees. It was more important to pay for fliers, investigators, to look for answers that way. My entire life vanished. They kept a few things, but their court-appointed psychologist told them it was dangerous to hang on.

I haven’t asked for the name of the psychologist.

Cell phones weren’t like this. Three, three years? It was three years. I don’t forget things. That is not a gift that I was given. I punch in a number, listen to it ring.

“Mike? It’s me. Christina” Chris doesn’t fit me anymore. “I need a place to crash.”

He says yes, and is at his front door when I arrive at the house his parents left him in their will. He looks nervous. I can’t do anything about that. We were never an item, but I think he had a crush on me before he figured himself out. I’m not above using that.

“I heard about your dad.” That’s a new Mike. A Michael, one I don’t quite know. Strong enough to speak the truth. “He said he won’t be pressing charges.”

I didn’t touch him. “I didn’t touch him,” I say aloud, in the human way.

“He ran through a screen door from the look you gave him.” Mike pushes his glasses up on his nose. “Why?”

“He asked about what happened. He wouldn’t stop asking,” I say.

Mike stares at me, reminding me almost of Griegor somehow. As though he, too, can see beyond what others can. Then he just opens the door and lets me in. Griegor never did that. Everyone else trusted me; Griegor trusted only Griegor.

I like to imagine he survived. But they didn’t call it the Final Battle in their prophecies for nothing. The Undying King doesn’t die; it was in the name. But even so: six seasons of training, the gathering of the Six Shards. Learning how to speak to mountains and command them. Calling on the wind that blew between the stars. Learning how to break the cold bonds of matter. There were other things, but it was a war and only power matters in a war.

Mike asks how the job hunt is going. I say it’s not, and he laughs as thought I made a joke.

I’m not sure when anyone laughed at me before. It’s been a long time.

He offers me a drink. I take it. A trap, the voice whispers, and it is only right in this. I change the drink even as I swallow it, and change it again after. He pours another glass, fingers shaking only a little.

“What did Griegor tell you?” I ask.


“The stranger. The one with the eyes.” I do not move; Mike cannot, not under my gaze.

“Greg. He said his name was Greg. He says they need you to return, Chris. That there will be others. Traps. Dangers. I’m not the only one.”

“Of course you aren’t.” I stand, pouring myself another glass of the wine meant to poison me. “What else?”

He says nothing. He doesn’t have to. I turn as his cat leaps. Cookie the cat, fur the colour of a warg, eyes burning with the fires of Olnesh.

Heh.” This time it is me, and the voice within as one. I step aside, pull the fires out and snuff the power with a thought. The poison shifts inside me with the use of power. Clever, clverr Griegor. The world spins. I chuckle as it stops spinning.

“Cycles. That’s what they never understood.”

“Chris?” Mike’s voice is cracking, eyes as wild as soldiers at the Final Battle.

“Oh, no. You don’t get to escape. Not like that.” I touch his forehead, pull him back and he collapses onto his couch. Cookie is on the floor, barely moving. “Griegor will come back, expecting me. Tell him that I was wrong.”

“I don’t understand?”

“I thought he hated me for breaking the prophecy. They expected a man. Prophecies always do. But I came, and won. The battle of Ulsdown, the fall of the Siloon Citadels. The Final Battle. The Undying King can’t die. But I killed him. You can tell Griegor that, Mike. Tell him that Christalia – Christina – Chris, use all those, so he knows: tell him I killed the Undying King.

“But the Undying King can’t die. So there will be an Undying Qeen. If I return: you tell him I am staying here. Not because I want to. Even the air smells off here, now. But I have to. Because if I don’t, the cycle might never end.”

“Chris, you –.”

I smile, and the smile is also the voice within me. I feel nothing as Mike screams in terror. I stop him from dying; it is so easy to do that, now. “You will tell him that the Undying Queen is not to be disturbed. And he will understand that. Or I will make him, and I am not certain our world would survive that.”

I empty the cash from Mike’s wallet, and accept the keys to his care. It will be hours before Griegor can force a passage to this world. Hours before Mike tells him everything. Enough time to cross at least two state lines. Enough time to vanish from the world a little more. I wonder why Griegor is following me, wonder how much he knew: did he wish to be the next Undying King? I have no idea. I have no desire to find out.

This is my world again. Because I have no choice.

I get into the car, turn off the GPS and just drive toward the city limits. And the voice that is Undying laughs very softly in my head, at some joke only it can understand.


The castle has many names among those who choose to seek it. The Eye and Cold Heart were among the kinder, but to those who lived here it was simply home. That does not mean it was safe.

The boy carried a sword larger than his body with ease, slashing and stabbing in cold, violent arcs of savage skill. The boy was chunky and pale, though one glance into chill eyes would stop all but the bravest from calling him fat. He moved swiftly and with purpose, but was wheezing just a little as he moved through a courtyard of cobbled stone.

His target was clearly related: their faces bore the same structure, though the other boy was smaller, thinner, skin tinted blue and his eyes a shocking brightness of green. He carried no weapons, partying the blade and movements with his body alone. He was not yet breathing hard, but unlike his brother he was no longer smiling.

“You are trying to kill me.” His voice was soft, gentle without being compromising as he stepped aside from another strike. “Father will not approve of needless murder of another wind. Look at Eurus, who has lost all favour when he first killed the south wind.”

“That was not deserved! Notus stole from him!”

“Notus is a thief, made of fog as much as wind as you are ice. We are what we are, and you are normally colder than this by far. Is something wrong?”

“I am trying to kill you.” The sword was swung again, with force enough to shatter hoar frost. “What could possibly be wrong?”

“You have before, yes. But there are – degrees of trying, of attempt.” The thin boy spread his hands, pulling them back before one could be cut off. “This is not like you, Boreas.”

“This is everything like me, Zephyr!” Frost stabbed forth from the top of the blade, but Zephyr melted it with a touch.

“Not quite.” Zephyr moved back from another blow. “Coldness yes, hatred, yes: we are what our father made us.”

“You? Could? They sing your praises for melting my ice! For bringing them spring. For rainbows,” Boreas hissed, the words shattering ice crystals.

“And there is less cold every year: this, too, we both know. But do you remember Hyacinthus, brother?”

“We are brothers in name only. Our father made us from wind as images of him.”

“Hyacinthus,” Zephyr continued mildly, “was as close as a mortal could be to bring a wind. No, not a wind: the west wind. I loved him as winds love fire. I killed him as easily as I bring rainbows. I can be cold as well, Boreal.”

“I would have killed him. If you had not.”

“Truly? Because you cannot kill me?”

“No. You melt, Zephyr. You are the kindest of us. You destroy my power, but have never mocked me for it. Every winter, I hate you less. Every spring that comes early I rejoice in my heart.”

“Oh.” Zephyr almost stopped, the blade barely missing him. “Does father know?”

“He created us. Winds given flesh. How could Aeolus not know?”

“This is – complicated. I did not suspect,” Zephyr offered, very softly indeed.

“I did not wish you to know. Now I fear you not knowing even more. That Notus could steal you.”

“We are winds. I do not think it is meant that the north wind and the west are together?”

“We could find out,” And Boreas had no blade at all, and looked somehow small despite being the artic and the ice and the empty wastes.

They kissed.

And so the chinook was born.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Stepping Into Truth

I gulp two fingers of scotch, shoving the plastic bottle back into the backseat of my car, my hair still wet from a shower an hour ago that did something to counter the cigarettes I had this morning. I turned twenty one last week; most people would guess me for thirty. Helps that I don’t need to lie for the booze, doesn’t help the contents of my fridge at home. The drink helps with the cold, and stops my hands from shaking a little.

I hate my job. It’s the only thing I’m good at. I pull the old doctor’s handbag out of the passenger seat of my car, close the door carefully. Wouldn’t do for the door to fall off. Bad image. The client is waiting at the door to the home. Two storey house, basement, brown picket fence. Looks like the rest of a cookie-cutter street except the for sale sign is worn almost to nothing in contrast to sold signs down the street. Windows shuttered, lawn overgrown, and the client’s car is parked half a block away.

Moria Larsen is thin and stern, with eyes like scraped chalkboards and an expression to match But she paid the retainer fee up front and judging by her clothing can afford a bonus as well. Pretty much why I showered, that. From the look on her face, my effort doesn’t make much of an impact.

“You’re late, Mr. Dover.”


“I have been waiting outside for four minutes. You will go inside, do the deed, and that will be that.” She walks past me, giving me a berth. I probably should have shaved as well. Or not slept in my clothing. Moria moves swiftly, the haste perhaps overkill. She doesn’t want to be here, and definitely didn’t want to wait outside. Fair enough, given what happened here. Sometimes all ghosts do is make a wound that never closes.

I walk to the front door, take the key I was given yesterday. It turns in the door, and I push it open. The air smells stale. No lights, but I have a flashlight in my bag and flick it on. I have three others in my bag, some chalk, a few candles. Also a gun I’ve never used. The gun is pretty much for show: I’ve yet to run into a ghost that could be shot. But you never know.

The flashlight is cheap, but the beam is decent. I walk across carpet, scan the living room. The house is mostly furnished; finding a removal company to take everything away is hard after the press has poured over your life with combs meant only for gouging flesh. The gist had been that Moria’s husband left her a week before she had a business trip to attend. She left her son with a sitter. The baby sitter left with his boyfriend for a few hours and got in an accident so never made it back. And her son, at some point, fell down the basement stairs and died. Broken legs, desperate attempts to get out. Windows closed tightly and no one hearing him.

It doesn’t take much to make a ghost. Sometimes the rumour alone can do it. But it doesn’t take much to get rid of them as well: a strong will can do it, and that Moria hadn’t was interesting. I was the third exorcist she’d tried. Also the most expensive; dealing with the dead isn’t fun, and neither is putting them to rest. But the flashlight works, I don’t sense cold spots: not that I would, given my clothing is better suited to the summer and I don’t have much of it.

I shake myself free of the mundane. “Jamel? Jamel Larsen?” I wait. Sometimes they come to their names. Nothing moves, nothing flies toward me. Expensive living room furniture, the kitchen beyond is as sterile as a magazine photo. I head into the basement from the kitchen. One freezer, a pantry, the rest cement floors and unfinished wood walls. My flashlight doesn’t flicker. There are stains on the wooden stairs and the cement floor. The stars aren’t in good condition, the pantry door double-padlocked and the freezer the same. Odd, but I let it go and head back upstairs. The second floor has two bedrooms, bathroom, master bedroom with its own bathroom. I check the spare bedroom and master bedroom first, and then head to the room that belonged to Jamel.

The door opens. The room is plain, like the other bedrooms. White walls, beige carpet, no paintings. The bed covers have rocket ships on them, the only sign the room was used by a child at all.


There is an intake of breath, the closest thing to a cold spot yet. I move to the bed, look under it. The ghost is crowded against the wall, pale eyes and skin glowing faintly as he wheezes for air. He looks too scared to haunt anyone, but fear can be a strange master. He moves back against the wood, eyes wide. I move the flashlight slowly. Eight, the same age as when he died. I saw no pictures. Didn’t want to.

But this Jamel is still eight. Chubby, pale, scared. His legs look whole. I flick the flashlight off and stand.

“You want to talk?”

It is almost five minutes before the ghost crawls out from under the bed. I move back to avoid stepping through the ghost as he stands. He’s wearing a t-shirt that’s almost too small, jeans whose button can’t close and covers his belly. His cheeks flare red with a ghostly blush.

I sit down on the bed. After a bit, he sits beside me, not looking over.

“What happened to the other exorcists?” I ask.

“They tried to hurt me,” he whispers. “I scared them away. In the b-b-bbasement, I scared them.”

“You didn’t try and scare me?”

“I don’t like it. Being down there. It scares me.” I glance over. Jamel hugs himself, lets go quickly, refusing to look at me. “And you feel different,” he adds. “Like I couldn’t scare you.”

“Perhaps not. I had a few drinks earlier. That helps.”

“Moria sent you.”

“She was outside. Briefly. Was that why you were hiding?”

“Partly,” the ghost says. The bed creaks as he shifts position. Most ghosts that can move things tend to use it to harm others. I’m not sure he’s even aware of doing it.

“I am good at exorcising ghosts, but I don’t know what happens after that. No one does. I try not to, if I can avoid it. Knowing what happened here could help, if you can tell me.”

The ghost says nothing, his breath a thin wheezing.

“Your mother took to locking up the freezer and the pantry because she had a fat son. That much I can guess,” I say softly, and the ghost turns his head and nods once. “I don’t know when you fell. Or who caused it.”

“The baby sitter. Austin. Mom told him I wasn’t to – to get more fat. Everything would be better when she got home. Like a command. He – the fridge, I... was hungry, and I hate, and he thought mom would – mom would...”

“Hurt him?”

“Maybe? I don’t –.” Jamel is quiet for a bit, hands tight against his belly. He moves them apart when he realizes I’m looking at him. I just wait. “Austin pushed me. He didn’t mean to. I fell, my legs broke. He said it was because I was so fat, said he’d get help. He called his boyfriend. They were going to – to get a doctor they knew. A vet, maybe? Someone to help, and they never came back.”

“They had a car accident. And have left the city, as far as I know. Austin was in a coma for three days; I don’t know about his boyfriend. They were speeding, the police followed, they crashed. Some people think your mom killed you.”

“She – she – she –.” His voice cracks. The floor shakes a little bit.

“She did, without touching you. Shame is a weapon used against children.”

“She wanted me thin, Handsome, like my name. A p – a proper son.” The ghost stands. Swift, angry, though not at me. He pulls his t-shirt off.

The headline of ‘exorcist involved in ghost porn’ goes through my head. I don’t move; most ghosts can’t remove what they wear, in my experience, and I have no idea what might happen if I interrupt. Jamel has another shirt under it, a spandex affair that makes me wince at how tight it is. That his clothing is tied so deeply to his image says too many things.

“Mom wanted to make sure people don’t know I was this fat,” the ghost whispers unsteadily. “I have spandex pants, too, under my pants –.”

“I don’t need to see that,” I say quickly.

The ghost stares at me, and lets out a sound. “I... I didn’t...” He pulls the shirt back on, faster. His face is red, and the rest of him is pink as well.

“I’ve never been subjected to a ghost stripping before. That’s probably scarier than what I’d see in the basement,” I add dryly.

Jamel stares, then lets out a surprised giggle. “Your face was.... I think I surprised you?”

“Yes. I’d rather not be surprised like that again.” I stand. “I can help you, if you let me.”

He stands as well, not moving. I step through the ghost. Being possessed is painful; possessing a ghost even more so. But it takes a moment, and another, and I’m back onto the bed and shaking from the cold.

Jamel stares at me in confusion.

“Shirt,” I get out from between my teeth.

The ghost lets out a small gasp.

“You couldn’t access what you were; I jogged a few things loose.”

Jamel blinks. His shirt fits perfectly now, with no other shirt under it. His pants do as well, and his breathing is less of a wheeze as the ghost moves slowly about the room.

“You can alter your appearance better. Move things, if you need to. And you’re no longer tied to this place.”

“What do I do?” he asks in a small voice.

“What you wish, but nothing that will lead to an exorcist being called. That’s our arrangement.”

He nods. “I could talk to mom. I could explain, if that would – wouldn’t lead to –.” The ghost boy looks away from me. “It would.”

“Probably. Moria has demons enough of her own, I imagine.”

I have no idea if she does, but it helps him a little. He nods. “There is this shop I liked, a candy one....”

And the ghost vanishes a moment later. I let out a breath, take a few more minutes to gather myself, and walk outside. I tell Moria Larsen that it’s done and that she can go inside.

I walk away without waiting for payment, or to find out if she does.

Hail Story :)

Hail Story

It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but that wasn’t for lack of trying despite it being two in the afternoon. Rain had turned into hail and Kev and Sue hurried through it. hoods up and trying to outdo each other with curse words as they hurried across the road. The storm was cold, the world wet and they simply didn’t think. One side, to the other. A hop, skip, a jump and there was a bus shelter that was empty like an omen.

The car skidded, and the driver said words Kev and Sue would have had to look up in dictionaries. All the money that Robert was saving for a self-driving car became a horror story inside his head. He wasn’t driving fast in the rain, but one doesn’t need to. You can fall down a flight of stairs and never get back up again, and a car is far much more than than that.

Sue tried to protect Kev. There was that much, but it made no difference who might have loved the other more. There was movement, and more movement, and Robert scrambled out. Ran to the kids. pleaded with a God he only believed in when he had no choice (sometimes this was too often) but neither moved and the rain and hail were hiding too much and not enough.

He called for the emergency services, begged those that arrived for his life to be taken. Offered to give organs, years, anything but it was too late. Robert swung wildly at the first person who tried to comfort him, but the police just handcuffed him and told him he wasn’t going to escape via them. Families arrived. His. Theirs. Parents who had never met, having no ides their children had been dating. A figure that would never be written.

No one blamed him. Robert could not understand. Could not forgive.

As Fixed By Jay:

It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but that wasn’t for lack of trying the fault of the storm which was just being what storms are you know! despite it being two in the afternoon which is a really good time to be because of tea and snacks!. Rain had turned into very jaysome hail and Kev and Sue hurried through it and were holding hands but you forgot to mention this binding you know!. hoods up and trying to outdo each other with curse words as they hurried across the road being really jaysome and cute about it too!. The storm was cold, the world wet and they simply didn’t think and that’s okay cuz sometimes a Jay doesn’t either when I get really busy!. One side, to the other. A hop, skip, a jump and there was a bus shelter that was empty like an omen. Which isn’t an omen because it was probably really lonely and should have had lots of people at it!
The car skidded, and the driver said words Kev and Sue would have had to look up in dictionaries. All the money that Robert was saving for a self-driving car became a horror story inside his head. He wasn’t driving fast in the rain, but one doesn’t need to. You can fall down a flight of stairs and never get back up again, and a car is far much more than than that.
. … … I think maybe you have problems with being jaysome!
Sue tried to protect Kev cuz of course people try and protect each other you know!. There was that much, but it made no difference who might have loved the other more. I’m getting rid of that not-jaysome entirely okay?! There was movement, and more movement, and Robert scrambled out. Ran to the kids. pleaded with a God he only believed in when he had no choice (sometimes this was too often) but neither moved and the rain and hail were hiding too much and not enough. Okay, maybe I should just get rid of the rest of the story?! Because gods don’t fix what already happened and everyone knows this!
He called for the emergency services, begged those that arrived for his life to be taken, which even a Jay knows they don’t do so this is more than confusled you know! Offered to give organs, years, anything but it was too late. Only it’s never too late to be jaysome! Robert swung wildly at the first person who tried to comfort him, but the police just handcuffed him and told him he wasn’t going to escape via them even if he didn’t want to escape and the narrator was totally wrong about this!. Families arrived. His. Theirs. Parents who had never met, having no ides their children had been dating. A future that would never be written - only it could be by their ghosts since death is an end and not the end and even @fakesurprise knows this!
No one blamed him. Robert could not understand. Could not forgive.But they were being jaysome and he understood it just fine in time!

caffeine challenge 23

His heart is still beating when you decide you’ve spent enough time with his blood on your hands. Some things even time cannot wash away, some crimes even magic cannot wish away. There are costs to everything, but sometimes it feels as though that’s a lie we tell ourselves to make every day seem better. We paid the cost, we move on.

He stares at me without an expression I’m familiar with, the page in his hand. “This is the start of a story?” he asks, unable to see himself on a page. I don’t leave the start of stories out anymore, not after he made the crack about Twilight fanfic. But this one left itself, almost.

The sneer in his voice at ‘story’ says everything, and too much of that. You can’t be with people who don’t support your dreams, not really. He never did anything except insist that I supported mine.

We met in a too-expensive coffee shop, both on trips with other people – he with his girlfriend of the time, I with my little brother. Taking pictures of famous landmarks, and then of each other. We had a caffeine challenge, matching each other with shots of espresso. We hit it off, but perhaps only after the coffee was replaced by wine at a wine bar. It should have been a warning, but it wasn’t. He left his girlfriend for me. Gabriel sneered at that as only a younger brother can, said he’d leave me to. That false once could only be false again.

He hasn’t left me though. I’m the one who has my bags packed and ready to go in the bedroom. I wish I’d caught him with another woman. I have a gun locked away for a kiss and bang. But it’s nothing that simple.

“It was therapy.”

“Therapy.” He snorts. “You’ve wasted enough of our money on that. Those quacks get paid by the hour: their job wasn’t to save you. It was to string you along and get as much money from you as they could.”

“You cancelled it without telling me.”

“Pretty therapeutic, I say.” He laughs at his jokes. No one else does.

Magic runs in my family. I could do it. Remove his heart, hold it out, talk to him. But we only have so much magic in us for our entire lives. He’s not worth it. He was never worth my magic. Gabriel said that to me, and I never disagreed. But if he wasn’t worth my magic, how was he ever worth me? Sometimes things get so simple it’s a wonder they were ever complicated at all.

I take the paper, rip it apart, walk to the bedroom and come out with my bags.

“Hey,” he says, confused. “What is this?”

There is menace in his tone; I hope I am just imagining it. “I’m leaving. I can’t do this anymore.”

“You can’t just –.” He stands, confusion giving way to anger.

“I am.”

“Is this about that joke at the party about you being fat? I never met to hurt nobody!”

“It’s not that. It’s everything. Please move.”

He stares at me. Takes a step forward.

“Don’t.” I’ve never used magic on him. Never wasted, never spent, but I let a hint of other creep into my tone. I have Gabriel on speed dial in my pocket; if I don’t want to waste any of my magic on him, Gabriel will happily do so.

He steps aside. Slowly, not understanding. I left no note for him. I walk outside, call a call, start down the street toward the intersection.

He doesn’t follow.

I ignore the small part of me that wishes he would.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Christmas Story

Mornings are always a time to be wary when dealing with Jay. A whole evening of at least two sleeps and no adventures makes him – eager to help anyone, and being given advice and ideas on the Internet adds a whole new level of mild terror. To everything.

Christmas morning is – that, but worse. Jay gave me a light saber for my birthday. Which is actually an entire compressed quasar ‘on vacation’ because the concept of a gift not being extra jaysome is lost on him. The wandering magician and I have spent the last three weeks mostly trying to stop some of the most absurd gifts from happening.

Jay is up when we enter the small shared living room of the hotel suite. There is a decorated Christmas tree that wasn’t there last night, and he’s bouncing happily from foot to foot.

“You have presents?” the wandering magician says mildly, but he’s between me and Jay. I doubt Jay notices: innocence is an armour almost breathtaking in scope at times.

“Uh-huh! I got you gifts,” Jay says with all the pride of an eleven year old from Outside the universe.

“I imagine you did. What did you get me?” the magician says, and I doubt Jay even notices the hint of wariness in the tone, or the slight way the magician tenses as though prepared to make wards.

“Well, I always win in snowball fights so this is for you, Honcho,” Jay says. Nothing happens that I can tell.

The magician blinks, stares at Jay with no expression at all. For a moment there’s just a magician, and then he smiles. “Ah. I see. An interesting gift.”

“Well, you kept noping alll the fun ones,” Jay says with a pout.

“Most people don’t get others dragons for Christmas, or offer nuclear launch codes. I’m not even going to wonder why you thought I’d want that as a present for me,” the magician says dryly.

“Or ask fictional characters for tails for a cat,” I add. I’ve had to deal with the Muffin Problem.

“Also not wondering about that. Your gift for Charlie?” he asks.

“Oh, that one was easy!”

Jay grins, and I feel something impact me through it. I have a god inside me. I can eat gods and energy, but this bypasses everything I am and every ward the magician has put about me over the years in a single moment.

“Jay. What did you do?” the wandering magician asks, and his voice has gone very quiet.

“Oh, I gave Charlie a gift of jaysome,” Jay says happily.

“You – put a piece of jaysome inside Charlie.”

“Uh-huh! Which is totally a gift and a good one too,” he says.

“Ah.” The magician looks at me, about to speak. Pauses. “And do I need to ask why every ward the hotel has and the ones I added last night all broke a moment ago?”

“I might have given gifts to other kids too. And parents. Also a very lonely family of mice and –.”

“Please stop any accidents from being oopses, Jay. As a present to my sanity.”

“But you have lots of that, Honcho!”

The wandering magician stares at Jay in wordless shock for a second.

“Jay. Go help,” I say firmly.

Jay was scared of me, when he first met me. That’s never changed, even if he’s far scarier than I could ever be. He vanishes. I look at the wandering magician. “It is Jay, Nathen.”

“I know. That he can see how sane we are is –.” He shakes his head. “He put a piece of himself inside you. Even I have no idea what that might do, not really.”

“And you?”

“A victory. I can beat him once, if I ever need to.”

“He expects you to invoke that in a snowball fight, doesn’t he?”

The magician smiles. “I imagine so.”

The smile doesn’t look quite right. I can hear distant shouts become muffles, and growls in other hotel rooms as Jay does bindings to fix some of the gifts he gave strangers. “What do you plan to use it for?”

“I don’t know. I know I’ll need to. Jay did more than he knows. But then again, he always does.”

I wince at the distant growls of what sounds like a dinosaur. “I imagine so. I got him a new phone, and games. You?”

“That he won’t be in trouble for anything done today.” The magician grins. “I plan to let him know that later, however.”

“That – might be wise.” I feel the hotel shake underfoot. I’ve had years of experience with Jay, and head to the window. Look down. “The hotel is walking.”

“Walking,” the magician repeats. Resigned.

“I imagine he asked what the hotel wanted for Christmas.”

The magician walks over, goes out onto the small balcony and looks over calmly. “He turned it into Baba Yaga’s hut, given that the feet look a bit like chicken feet. I hope you have the fae on speeddial to help cover what happens next.”

“The hotel is walking around. There are dinosaurs loose in it. And you’re worried about next?”

“Jay did a binding so the hotel has giant chicken feet. A Colonel Saunders seeking to make it into KFC can’t be far behind.”

I stare at the magician. I’d like to say he’s wrong. I have a terrible feeling he isn’t.

His stocking stuffer to us would be adventures, of course. Because it is Jay. I turn, look at the Christmas tree he found. Find myself staring at the lights on it.

There are Christmas tree lights everywhere. And I let Jay see Stranger Things.

“Oh no,” I whisper.

And that is when things begin to get weird.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Unmerry Jaymas

Twas the night before Jaymas, when all through the home
Not a monster was stirring, not even a gnome!
Stockings were piled by the Chimney in bulk
In the hopes that St Nicholas came with a truck.

The jaysome was nestled all snug in a bed
With visions of food stuffs in his head
Charlie in her clothing and Honcho his too
Had just toasted drinks and said ‘you too’

When up on the roof there arose such a clatter
Jay sprang to find the oops that was the matter
Away through the window he flew like a Jay
Staring at a star that burned bright in the sky

The star blotted out the moon over the fallen snow
Giving a lustre of wonder to objects below
When what to a wondering Jay should appear
But that burning star that caused only fear

Another Jay stood beside so so inhumanly quick
With a touch at fifteen left Jay sleeping and sick
More rapid than raptors the others they came
And he turned slow, and nodded, and knew them by name!

“Now magician, now Charlie,” he said in a strain
“Jay wished for dinosaurs but they haven’t came.
No stegosaurus, no brontosaurus, no t-rex or two
Just this adventure though it is not for you.”

As the calm of a storm in a hurricane flies
So the wandering magician looked to the sky
“I know what this he,” he said, only true
And at his sadness so Charlie knew it too.

With a cracking the tiles shattered on the roof
And the magician looked grimly at the truth
And Jay drew in a breath and reached out a hand
And said: “I am so sorry, you mist understand.”

He is dressed all in black, except his head and his feet
His clothing is as dark as the secrets that he keeps
The weight of time presses down on his back
He looked young for fifteen and down on his luck

His eyes how they still! his dimples how jaysome
His sigh a whole poem, his expression most glum
“Forget,” he said, his eyebrows tight and drawn
And both went back to sleep to wake with the dawn

A binding in hand, Jay held tight in clenched teeth
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He stared up at the star, waved one hand to the telly
And voices from it laughed like playing with jelly!

As the cover of sound he sighed again to himself
“I do what I must, and I do it for myself.”
A closing of the eye, a nod of his head
And the star tried to flee in a moment of dread!

He spoke not a word but went straight to his work
Binding the star knowing he himself was a jerk
He pushed it through time and away it goes
To a time in the past no one living knows

He lowers his hands as though covered in thistle
“Back to the dinosaurs it’s gone like a missile.”
Jay is still sleeping and he warms at the sight
“Happy Jaymas to all, and to all a good night!”

Saturday, December 23, 2017


This is a story of long ago. No, I do not know how long – what? No, I was not alive then. This is the long ago. There were dragons then. Yes, yes, I know there are dragons now but these ones were old and terrible and the story is not about them after all. It is not wise to tell stories about old dragons in case they might be listening. No, your grandmother is not a dragon. Who told you – never mind, never mind.

Stories grow in the telling, and never in ways you can predict. But this: this is a story of the long ago when the cities and towns of men – and there were far fewer cities back then, with towns huddled about them for protection – and they were small fitful sparks that burned against a sea of darkness and change. Not all the Between-folk had gone Between yet and – oh, yes. Well, of course there were monsters. What would any self-respecting story be if it didn’t have at least one monster in it? In those days there were more monsters than their were heroes to slay them.

Perhaps it is true, as some have said, that any time that needs heroes is a terrible one. I couldn’t say. But there were terrible monsters, as I have said, and – no, your Aunt Jurin is not a hero. Having sense enough to marry a Minotaur is just having good sense. Heroes don’t have that, or there wouldn’t be so many famous last stands. Every song about a hero becomes a sad song in the end. They don’t sing sad songs about your Aunt Jurin. Well You’re a little young to heard the songs they sing. But they’re not sad ones.

Now, then. In this long ago time, there lived a young man named Toth. Yes, I know that’ s your name. I was there when you were given your birth-name name. And if you keep interrupting. I’ll be giving your your death-name in about two minutes. Now where were we? No, don’t remind me. Toth. Even then, it was a very plain name and Toth was a very plan sort. Young, but not too young. Friendly, but not too friendly. He was kind, though never to the point of foolishness. Everyone liked Toth, but no one thought too much of him. Certainly, they never thought he could be a hero. And he was not, for all that he had a secret. Oh, all heroes have secrets. Why do you think they travel so far if not to escape their secret?

Toth was a magician who had no wish to learn magic. He could call the seasons out of order, learn the true name of even those things without names. But while his wish was not to be a magician, his desire was another thing entirely. He fell in love, which was uncommon in those days. Oh, people married but it was all arranged. There simply was not the time – and it was not safe – to fall in love. If Toth had been a magician, this would of course have never happened. One cannot be a magician and love anything more than the magic. But even so, he fell in love and tried to hide it even more than he hid his magic.

He tried too hard, as many are wont to do. People began to wonder why Toth was so ordinary, you see. The effort he had taken to be so was noticed, though not yet understood. But people began to notice other things. How nothing ever went wrong for Toth, not even once. So they called for a mage-seeker to come to their town. Oh, they had mage-seekers then, but they were not the kind we have now. They sought to help mages.

The mage-seeker ran away. Of course no one knew Toth was the cause of that, not then, but everyone began to wonder about each other. What kind of magician would hide their magic, they wondered. The drought of the last year was brought up in many conversations, though not the plenty of the two years prior to that. Every ache and pain was discoursed at length and trust was in even shorter supply than truth. And in time, Toth’s loved asked if Toth was the magician. And Toth told him yes, because Toth was in love but his loved – well, he smiled and demanded things from Toth. Some of them Toth had never even heard of, so terrible were they. No. Not your brother. Well. Probably not.

Toth refused and fled the town. Yes, I know the hunt can send out dogs on those who run. In those days their hunts could send out cats as well but everyone assumed Toth had fled with magic and set no animals upon him. There are many stories told about Toth after that, but the only one that everyone agrees is true is that he met a dragon, and in the due course of time she bore him a son. That Toth dared to love again. Well. What magician has loved once, let alone twice? He trusted her, and this was a very brave thing. Whether she broke the trust, who can say?

She died before Toth did and he made the rainbow to honour her. It was his only act of magic. Oh, of course. I imagine there were others. Spells to silence young children would be a fine start. But this magic was real the way others were not, and it lasted in ways that magic cannot last. All magic is tricks in the end, after all. But not that spell.

Did he love again? Well, some say the mage-seeker sought him out and they lived together in the fullness of time but I distrust stories that must have happy endings. Perhaps he died, or did not, for who can say with magicians? But his son never died and learned enough from his father to fall in love as well.

And that is why, every generation, one child is named Toth in our family. And if I ever hear you belly aching about your name again, I will thrash you so hard that you’ll wish you had scales!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Below the World

Ab urbe condita, the old words scrawled deep into the walls. ‘From the founding of the city’. Scholars take it to mean Rome, but no city is ever one thing. They said all roads led to Rome, but this is where they ended. The roads below, the paths that follow the rivers. The ancient routes through which once the blood of the earth flowed. The montains belched fire, and the ancients had no word for that.

“They had mons ignifer – fire-bearing mountain –,” I whisper to the darkness.

“Mons flammas eructans – mountain belching fire –,” the other voices reply.

It is a ritual as old as the caverns. The names half-true, their understanding the wisdom that there is so much to understand.

The man makes a sound behind his gag.

“Prester. Where did you get the sacrifice from?”

“Work,” I say. “A tourist who will not be rude again. A bad apple that will no longer spoil this world.”

There are murmurs from the others, but no one protests. We try and take those will not be missed. But sometimes there are other choices. Sometimes even power held in secret must move in the wider world. I raise the blade, whisper words older even than Latin. There is a silence that listens. The crooked god smiles at us in the darkness.

And then the smile is gone. There are gasps from the other sid in the cavern. We all feel the god’s benediction vanish like a cold wind.

“Excuse me? I’m looking for Latin and – uhm! I think this might not be a good adventure to have?”

I turn. There is a boy of eleven in the cavern. It is Emilio who acts. Always Emilio. Two gunshots ring through the darkness. Sometimes that calls the god back, returns the warmth. Nothing.

The boy walks forward. He is holding two bullets in his right hand. “You tried to shoot me?! We’ve not even met, and that’s pretty rude!”

Emilio fires two more shots. The boy somehow isn’t there, and then in front of Emilio. Emilio, who of us all does deeds in the day that are as dark as those he does in the darkness. Emilio, who falls to his knees weeping. The boy turns to the rest of us. He looks unharmed, and hurt, and there is nothing of our god in him.

“What are you?” I demand. I brought the sacrifice; it falls to me to speak.

“I’m Jay. And you are –.” He pauses. He speaks my name, the one only everyone else here knows, his Latin flawless. “You have another, but that is your real one I think. And you were going to do some mean bindings here.”

The chains and ropes holding down the American tourist fall off of him. He doesn’t get off the old table. He does not run, as terrified of this Jay as the rest of us are. It is a small comfort.

“Emilio. What did you do?” I demand.

“I asked him to be jaysome,” and distantly I hear a cry of pain from the crooked god.

The boy turns to the sound, and then to me. He lets out a huge sigh. “And you aren’t jaysome at all. Killing people –.”

“The sacrifices protect the city from the fire,” I snarl.

The boy laughs. The sound is surprised more than anything else. “There is old blood here, Hagan of the fire. They built a Colosseum above to contain it long ago, and you and yours worshipped it. Turned the dead and the dying into something else. But sacrifice? If sacrifice could save from fire, no one would ever burn again. If sacrifice worked, you would not have to act in secret. I’m only eleven, and I know this really well so I bet you do to. Even if humans are really good at not knowing things they know.”

I raise the knife and speak a word not meant for human tongues.

The boy doesn’t move. “I am tough like a Jay, so cutting me won’t work you know. Man. I totally tried to be all like Honcho and it didn’t work and being jaysome will destroy your god-thing so badly you’ll just keep trying to bring it back so that means I have to be like Charlie!”

“Pulvis et umbra sumus,” I intone.

“We are dust and shadow,” the others reply. Voices shaking, but they hear me.

I raise my voice: “Tempus edax rerum,” I scream. Time is the devourer of things, and the others don’t have time to speak those words. Black fire burns the room. Jay just stands in the middle of it, untouched.

“Time isn’t black fire,” he says, as if that – that! – should make sense in all of this. “But I guess this means I have to be Charlie!”

And despite the cheer in his voice, his face changes. Something cold and angry rises up, stares out at me. The others break and run. Civil servants. A retired engineer. Old Gaston with his lame leg. Even Emilio tries to stand and run.

“I was having an adventure looking for Latin, but instead I find people doing sacrifices and not being jaysome and this isn’t a proper adventure at all.”

Jay gestures. The gesture is terribly casual, and the crooked god is in the room with us. Old beyond telling, saving the city with death and sacrifice for longer than written records allow. “A god trying to cheat death,” Jay says. He does something, and I feel the god go. Somewhere beyond following or understanding. “I can’t eat gods like Charlie does, but I bound it a long way away and that’s sort of the same thing. Right. Charlie. Being scary. Sorry, I almost forgot to. It’s really hard to.”

“It’s all right.” It’s the American speaking, half against his will.

Jay grins. Nothing else is like that. I almost forget the crooked god, and then the grin is gone and Jay smiles a slow smile full of knowable power. “You will do no sacrifices here again. No one will,” he says, and his voice makes the words into a fact. Everything falls away. All we’ve done, the power of this place. The losses, the sacrifices, the gains: it’s all unmade under words by something that only looks to be human.

The others cry, and Jay tells them to run. They do, because it is not a request. And Jay turns, and looks at me. I do not know who this Charlie is. But I see the anger in his eyes, and I run as hard as I can away from it and everything I am.

His voice is a whisper I will never forget: “To get rid of bad apples is to become one. To hold down is to become a lower creature as well. You think you can serve the darkness and make light? You think the world is so simple that you can do that without being jaysome? You can’t,” and the last two words follow me as I run. In English and Latin both, ringing through the air.

I am almost not surprised to feel the ceiling begin to give way. The entire cavern falling apart. Not to bury Jay, but so terrified it can do nothing else but try and destroy the cause of the fear.

And Jay is waiting. When we emerge into the old tunnels, from the ones only the chosen were allowed to remember. Only there is no rage. No anger. Just the boy of eleven, with a worried look to his face.

“I think I did an oops,” he says, and everyone else looks – distracted. His gaze flicks to me. “I can totally get them to forget about the accident, but if you do they might try and bring their god back. And Charlie would have to stop that and she’s way scarier than a Jay can be! So you get to remember, and make sure no one does this. Okay?”

I nod. I am too terrified to think of what might happen if I don’t.

Jay vanishes between moments. I shudder all over, and lead everyone else up, make up lies for every question they have. Anything to make sure Jay never returns. Anything to never meet those that creature considers scary. I know I will never again go below the world, but I can’t turn back.

I think that, if I did, Jay’s Charlie would be there. And I would learn what a bad apple really was, how deep the rot within us goes and just what we had done.

I run. In the end I run, and know I will never stop.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Curse

“Power is in the world to be used!” The magician grins, snapping his fingers. Drawing on need and desire, bending the world to his will. A dozen car alarms go off down the street, at least six windows shattering. “You tell me to hide as if every star should be a candle!”

I sigh. This is the problem with some new magicians. Power runs through them, the ties that bind them to a place haven’t solidified their nature. All they feel is the magic, the possibilities opening up into probabilities they can twist. To be a magician is to have the universe on your side: it’s a heady experience, especially for those with ego problems.

I nod to Jay, who repairs each broken window with a binding, and walk toward the magician. “It belongs in the world to be used on behalf of the world,” I say.

The other magician rocks back at the force of the truth behind the words. He glares at me, waves a hand, speaks two words I don’t catch.

“Oh, no. No, no, no,” Charlie says. She must have caught them, or read his lips, because she walks toward the magician grimly. She can eat gods, but magic is just another energy at times and she absorbs whatever magic was about to be flung at me without trying. “Those are not words of power. Those words do not work,” she snarls, and the magician falls back from her tone.

Charlie never gets why Jay is sometimes scared of her. Some day I will remind her of this moment to help explain why. Charlie has a god inside her; she hasn’t even tried to call up its power and has terrified a new magician. Years of dealing with Jay have given the both of us an interesting skill set. If you can convince an eleven year old boy from Outside the universe with near-limitless power to not do things, cowing a new magician takes almost no effort.

“He tried to undo your telling him the truth by calling it fake news,” Charlie snaps, not looking over at me as I walk closer to her and the magician.

“Ah.” I smile at the magician, who takes a few steps back. “Please keep Jay from doing more to help the cars he’s fixing?”

Charlie nods, and heads over to find Jay. Who has stopped the cars from playing their warning alarms; two of them have racing stripes, however, probably because he asked the cars if they wanted that. At least one might be a time machine now.

“I am the wandering magician; you do not wanderer,” I say, and the magician feels the bindings holding them to his city. The power, and some of the cost of it. “And if you insist on not trying to abuse your magic, I am authorized to put a curse on you.”

“A curse.”

He’s older; it helps me decide. I reach out, borrowing power from Jay to help the magic, to make sure the magician cannot break it. The magician blinks a few seconds later, hands rising up to his face with an expresion of disbelief.

“The curse of the white beard. Go ahead: try and abuse your magic. Try and use it for personal gain, when every child is going to see you as Santa Claus.”

He runs his fingers through a beard that didn’t exist moments ago, stares down at his body. “I...”

“This is a dangerous time of year to be a magician. I think it might be best if you learn why,” I say, and I walk away before he can reply. He’s not the first magician whose arrogance I’ve destroyed with a beard, and he certainly won’t be the last.

The Honcho Experiment

The magician walks out of the home slowly. Even to casual eyes, he is what he is. Magic is the place where desire and need join with will to become something wider and deeper by far. To be a magician is to walk the world of small wonders; to be the unseen shadow and the gentle secret hiding from the wider world. To make the world a better place without being known.

This magician has gathered pain into fire that dances about his hands, visible even to ordinary vision. Done so with an ease that speaks of long practise. Power crawls about him like a cloak and noose both. He carries purpose and necessary will about him the way others carry their dreams.

Where am I?” He demands, the power of his voice a weight all its own.

“Earth. Not yours, but an earth.”

“I should not be here. I cannot be here. I am Nameless, beyond the pale art of summoning. You WILL tell me how to return.”

I blink. Sigh. “Nathen -.”

“That is not my name!” And he hurls power with that. I am amazed he held back until now.

I catch it, ground it. It bubbles up; I toss it toward Charlie. She winces as she eats the energy, eyes widening.

Nameless stops. Grunts. The magic that he calls forth twisted and twisting, made of things I’d rather have never known. Death magic, the kind designed to unmake a fae. The kind used for other things. Because once you start doing those hard, necessary things no one else will do – perhaps because no one else can do them – it isn’t something that you stop.

I ward it off as well, then bind it for studying later. “Magician. Quell your foolishness. See me,” I snap. I don’t need to put power into my voice to speak truths that cannot be ignored.

He freezes. His silence is as wide as his eyes for a moment. “Me. You’re me.”

“After a fashion. I am the wandering magician. You are something else entirely.”

“You will return me to my world. Or else.”

I sigh. “I thought we might talk first, you and I.”

“You have something of the fae about you. It is nothing to me.”

“Mmm.” I smile. Charlie vanishes; I sense Jay take her elsewhere. For all Jay’s amazing knack for oopses and accidents he has amazingly good instincts for when to run when he has to have them. “If you truly believed that, I would be dead and the truth pulled from my corpse.”

“I am no monster.”

“Ah. But close, I imagine. You met an Outsider once. A vampire boy. Tell me about that.” I don’t make the words a question, but I’m far more subtle than he has ever been and he doesn’t notice the slight push of power.

“It tried to bind me. I forced it back Outside. It was dealt with by other Outsiders and destroyed. Like you.” He gestures, then. It isn’t magic, what he has become. Death hurls through the air, and I bind it. The power of the Nameless unmakes it.

I bind it again, reaching. The Nameless is dangerous, but careless with that. Too long without failure. Too long being a Power that nothing can oppose does things to the ego. Even if you wish it otherwise, power can’t help but corrupt. Every use of power corrupts: the trick is finding other things to lessen that. And the further problem is that, if no one can defeat you, you never understand how to use defeat in order to win.

Even Jay knows that.

I reach, drawing power from Jay. He could do anything, if he really wants to. Calling a Nameless version of me into this place is possibly simply because Jay had no idea it wasn’t. He does bindings on levels so deep that nothing else exists on them. The Nameless is very powerful. He is very good at killing. But he isn’t me, and I use the power from Jay and bind his energies between moments.

The Nameless lets out a small, wordless sound. Draws from death. Hundreds of dead magicians at his hand. An untold number of fae. Magic harvested and drained from a universe of worlds. A wandering magician who is clever can become absurdly powerful if they’re foolish. Or hungry. His hunger rises up, the sheer weight of his power something far beyond me. But not beyond Jay’s binding.

“You aren’t doing this. You can’t do this.”

“Oh, the power isn’t mine. But the shaping of it is.” I reach, and touch his mind. He turned the fae into a wall to protect the universe from the Outside. Killed every magician in his world, every one he could find. Touched every world, because a wandering magician draws power from where they go. The only reason he didn’t draw from this world is that he was too arrogant to believe he could be summoned. The fae summoned him, and broke him. And he murdered them all. Not to protect the universe. But to prove himself.

“What happens when you die?”

“The universe will have no magicians. It won’t need them any longer. I have done what the fae had no courage to do,” Nameless says. “And you are foolish to think death has dominion over me.”

“You are still human, for all you’ve done. You’ve been too afraid to be more than that. Too afraid to even be human, in the end. Because being human is about connection. About belonging. About understanding.” I step away. “Only there is no point in trying to explain this. I will just tell you this, Nameless: you murdered an eight year old Outsider. A confused, alone creature needing a friend. I did not.

“The child you murdered has a mother. Who will one day seek you out. And if you think that everything you have done can stop her, ponder what her child can do. Ponder her anger. Learn, for once.” And I banish him back to his own dimension, just as easily as I would an Outsider back Outside the universe.


Jay appears behind me. Hiding in my shadow, because it’s Jay.

I turn and look at him, raise an eyebrow.

Words spill out: “I was making another fever because Muffin needs one and I thought I could make another Honcho only it was hard to find one and everything went funny and it wasn’t you and he was scary so I hid under the bed, and then hid with Charlie and I’m really sorry like a Jay!”

“I know. And it’s okay.” I reach over, ruffle his hair gently.

“It is?” he asks in a small voice.

“He won’t come back. And I think he learned a lesson.”

“About jaysome?” Jay asks.

“No. I don’t think he would ever understand jaysome. But he might understand some other things. Now get Charlie: we’re going to see a movie and think about other things. Deal?”

Jay grins, and vanishes to get Charlie. It takes a couple of seconds, and in that time I manage to get my fingers to stop shaking. It may be a good thing to see what you could have become, but I’d rather it had never happened at all.

Gardeners' Question Time

There are magic spells that aren’t magic at all. “Don’t come here, don’t be assholes. Go away go away go away,” I’m whispering to every footstep that goes past the gardening aisle. Pretending to straighten products. No one buys gardening things this time of year. We’d drawn straws this morning, I got it. I’m safe here. As safe as anyone can be in a department store right now. Dave was once written up for turning his regulation shirt inside-out to avoid customers; the rest of us wish we’d thought to do the same.


I open my eyes. There is a boy in the aisle. He is eleven, and holding a sheet of paper in one hand.

“You can find toys in the toy department, rows C11 and C12,” I rattle off.

“Oh! I’m not looking for toys though. I’m getting gifts for friends and you’re store is almost as big as it thinks it so, so! I bet it has lots of things a Jay can buy!”

“Nothing in gardening. Nothing in gardening. You can find other departments to shop in,” I say. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m probably a 5 on ‘offending the customer’ right now but I can’t stop myself. I can hear people screaming at Denice over returns already. I don’t want to go out there. To be forced to offer cheer to people who won’t do the same back.

“I’m not sure? Because,” he flings out happily, “I’m not sure if plutonium is a kind of flower or not? So I thought I’d ask someone in the gardening department about it.”

“What?” I get out, pulled out of my thoughts.

“I think I need some for a gift I’m getting Honcho,” the boy explains.

I stare at him. The boy stares back up at me with nothing except honest in his face. “.... what do you need plutonium for?” I ask despite myself.

“Well, Charlie says I don’t need unobtanium for any gift even if I found some and I’m better Honcho would like a really good shaver for his face and that would be a really good help in making one!”

“.... you want to use plutonium to make a shaver. For someone’s face. And you expect me to believe this?”


I crouch down and stare at him. “I’ve been working Christmas overtime without overtime pay for six days this week so far, and I’m sick and fucking tired of –,” I begin, entirely beyond calm now.

The boy just gapes at me and looks so shocked my anger drains away like it never was at all. “But but I’m a Jay, and I’m jaysome and I don’t lie at all,” he says firmly.

“I – sorry. It’s just – I – I hate this job and need it and they don’t –.” I fight back words, not even sure why I’m babbling to him.

“It’s okay. Sometimes bindings are necessary and very tough too.” The boy lets out a heavy sigh.”And I’m not allowed to fix the bindings in your store cuz economics, even if economics is just another kind of astrology you know! Most of the bindings in it aren’t even real, or fake-real that hurts a lot of real and I’m not sure how to fixify all of that at all. But! I can buy gifts and tip people and that helps them a lot too.”

He grins, and his grin is so beyond perfect it almost hurts.

“I’m sorry, Jay,” I find myself saying. “We don’t carry plutonium.”

“Oh.” He pouts. “I know! I can get a normal shaver and modify it I bet!”

And I walk out of the gardening aisle. And brave electronics, unlock the cabinet and get Jay the shaver he asks for. Everyone is – better, around him. People who are yelling stop it as his stare. Smiles appear like withered miracles trying to find the sun. He gives me money for helping him, gives the cashier a tip too. Looks about the store after. And walks through the door into the staff area. The door was locked. He walks through anyway.

For a horrible moment I wonder if this is the new face of mystery shoppers from headquarters. But I follow, unable not to, as he finds the PA system convinced Jin to met him use it.

“Excuse me?” His voice carries through the door, and the staff areas as well. Which I didn’t know the PA system did. “Everyone needs to be a lot more jaysome,” he says, and I swear even from here I feel the mood of the customers change. As if they were an immovable wall that his voice seeps into like sunlight and rain all at once. He looks back at Jin after “Sorry? I kinda got mad about bindings so I should go before Charlie and Honcho maybe find me and I get into trouble!”

He leaves. I’m not sure how. I think my brain just spaces out for a second. Jin is staring at me with an expression I’ve never seen on his face. He’s holding the plug-in to the PA system in one hand.

“It wasn’t plugged in.”

He nods, once. Plugs it back in slowly.

“Let’s not talk about this again.”

He looks almost relieved at that.

I walk back out. I have no idea what happened today. I have no clue how long it can last. I don’t think I ever want to know what Jay was, and that my world might be safer if I never know.

There are magic spells that aren’t magic at all. But sometimes they work anyway. Sometimes they work better than magic ever can.