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.”
“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.