Being a magician is about carrying responsibilities as though they were not burdens. A magician protects the universe against threats from the vast wild spaces Outside. One result of that is that few magicians have ever left the universe for one reason or another; even fewer have returned. But sometimes there are no choices that can be made easily. Perhaps part of being a magician is that no one makes your choices for you, but it has been a long time since I believed that.
I park the borrowed car beside a closed service station. The car could barely run, and gives up the last of its strength in a satisfied rattle. Better this than to sit and rust to nothing. I could have repaired it more, but had neither the time nor energy to spare. Sometimes being a magician is just about choices. But that is life as well, magician or not. All we can sometimes do is make choices for those who can’t make it for themselves; given them a nudge, a touch, a push. The magic helps others; being a magician helps the universe.
This does not. I almost expect resistance. The universe to bend itself against me, the fae to show and demand I do not do this thing. That nothing stirs is a relief as much as anything else. I have enough to bear without that, and the door opens to the service station as I push it and walk inside. Service stations tend to be frequented by any magician who lives near them, often to make sure barriers don’t break down between the universe and the Outside.
I walk to the centre of the room, the door closed. I draw up wards from the place. Of travel and aloneness, of decay and fear, and turn them into a barrier to keep others out. That much energy I spare. The rest has gone into clothing, pockets, items I carry and have woven into me. the magic in me is almost smothered under the weight of the wards and places we’re carrying. It is afraid, and so am I.
I draw symbols I learned in a bookstore a decade ago. Reggie let me read anything I wished to in the store. Anything included books that took me weeks to even begin to understand. But knowledge is important if one is the wandering magician of an era, and I learned all I could. I speak words human tongues aren’t meant to utter, draw symbols that are barely that at all. The world shudders, presses down against me, resists my invocation: I bring my will to bear against it, avoid the attention of Entities meant to guard against such journeys.
There is no door, no hole. A feeling like bungee jumping without a cord, and moments later I am Outside the universe.
No reference points. Nothing, none. I see/hear/feel only by an effort to translate the unknown into the known. What was once clothing gleams, wards burning in the air and nothing else holds me together. Not-winds buffet me, but I move with them. Everything out here survives the chaos by moving with it. I find balance, let it go. Bounce. Twist. Flow. Shift. I have put magic from cities and towns and places for over two weeks into the items about my person. I begin letting them go. Shaping the power.
My body isn’t a body here; it is the only reason I am surviving this.
I brought as much power here as I could carry. As much as I could dare without also being a doorway back into the universe. It won’t be enough. Can’t be enough. I turn the magic into a seeking, a finding, a knowing I send out across distances so vast the term has no meaning. I am formless in the living void, but still a magician, still the magic and I feel the seeking twist. Caught. Bound by power I did not seek.
There is ground under my feet. I have flesh again. Blood, and bones as the wild of Outside is shaped into a solid place for a moment. It is the most beautiful place I will ever see, because I know the Walker of the Far Reaches who has made it.
“Nathen.” I’m not certain he has ever spoken my name before. And never in this tone. “What the fuck do you think you are doing?” he demands, and his power drives me almost to my knees.
I have bound him before, once without even knowing what he was. The Far Reaches are the only solid places Outside the universe, the Walkers who serve them the closest thing the Outside has to magicians. In the universe, I am perhaps more than Moshe; here the roles are reversed but even so I stand. I have bound him before, and that gives me an edge even now.
“Finding Jay’s mother.”
“What?” And sounds so shocked it would be funny anywhere else. Perhaps.
“Jay doesn’t have dreams. I am pretty certain his progenitor is a key to why and I’d like him to be able to have them.”
“Dreams. You make a hole in the universe yourself, you risk –.”
Moshe pauses. Stares at me, through me. He smiles. It’s not Jay’s smile. Nothing else is that, but it’s warm, and grudgingly impressed. “You’ve left a way back for you that nothing else can use. I should have guessed, but I never thought you’d be this – this – foolish. Even you know better than to play with fire like this, magician.”
“Sometimes being burned is worth the cost.”
“Not in this.” And for the first time Moshe almost drops his perfect, impossible beauty before he recalls himself. “What made Jay is far beyond me. I could not face her; you more certainly would not survive even an approach to such a Power.”
I blink. I’d suspected for a long time that Jay’s progenitor was one of the Far Realms in some fashion; this seemed to mean she was something else entirely. “I’d like to give him this much, if I can.”
“I don’t see how.” Moshe returns the seeking I’d made back to me almost gently. “Return, magician. This place is not for your kind.”
“Can you do it?”
“I will not.”
“We could make a deal.”
“No. My destruction is not worth you nor anything you could offer,” Moshe says flatly, and pushes.
I could resist. I could even try and bind Moshe. Instead I fall back, using the last of the magics I had stored in tattoos upon my skin to bind the way back into the universe closed. I land on concrete, my ears ringing. I can taste blood in my mouth and every bone in my body aches. I sit up slowly, hiss and realized the middle of my chest were Moshe had pushed me contains a small burn. A statement, a reminder? I have no idea.
I stand, letting go of the wards I made here and walk outside to find a ride back into town.
The universe bends itself toward the needs of magicians. Most of the time. it takes almost five hours before anyone stops. I wonder if the universe is making a statement, but I have no idea and I’m too tired to ask. The man who lets me into the cab of his truck asks what the hell I was doing out here.
“Playing with fire,” I respond, and he says nothing after the truth in those words. I close my eyes and fall asleep moments later, and my dreams make no sense to me at all.