Closing the shop is a ritual affair: I lock the door, flip the sign, pour myself some whiskey on ice and just walk the shelves. Loving books and selling them makes for a very difficult hobby and most evenings I prefer to take stock of what I haven’t lost and bid farewell to the books I sold. I have the door locked and the sign flipped, drink poured and lights dimmed when the door to the back room slams open. A teenage boy is standing in the doorway, behind him a city street and two humanoid figures with green skin, claws and teeth.
They move toward him, their grins bright under street lamps. He sways, stumbles through, and the door snaps shut behind him before they can try to enter. One of them reaches the door regardless, but draws back in pain. You don’t own a vintage book store and not learn a thing or two; both the shop and home above it are protected under the Apple Accords. It does not prevent me from being harmed, but does mean the full force of the Accord comes down on whomever does. It is enough that both figures fall back and for a moment have other forms to call their own.
The boy just stands. There are wards fading about him, drawn from the other place. “Where am I?” he asks. English, North American. He sways visibly, holding himself up with will alone.
“Helsinki. Finland,” I add to his momentary blank look. “Ye Olde Book Shoppe, first of the name.”
“It gets around.” I walk over to the counter, come back with the whiskey and hand it to him. He gulps back half of it back, coughs violently and looks a trifle less likely to collapse onto the wood floor. “May ask what was chasing you, or what your Talent is?”
“I don’t –.” He hands me back the drink. “Talent? I know things others don’t, make protections. I am – good at binding and banishing things.” He relaxes a little when I don’t even blink at any of that. “I seem to have a knack for attracting danger. I opened a door, needed it to lead to safety.”
“Where are you from?”
“A small town. I travel a lot, help when I can, where I can. Run when I can’t,” he adds, softer. “I don’t even know what those creatures were, Reggie. Just that I couldn’t banish them and my bindings didn’t hold them for long.”
“You wander.” His gaze snaps up to meet mine at my tone. “You are a magician, and you wander.”
He nods. I don’t even point out I hadn’t told him my name yet. Or that only very close friends call me Reggie but he pulls a smile out of somewhere. “I know other magicians don’t, but I think they’re bound to areas like a – a plug in a bathtub.”
“And you aren’t?”
“I bound someone to my town instead of me. I didn’t intend to – I don’t know what I intended, but that might be why.” He offers up the town, then, and his name as well.
I fill up his glass, pour myself one and find two chairs from in the aisles. One has books stacked on it that I remove. I move the chairs beside the old fireplace that is mostly for decoration and gesture. The magician sits, watching me carefully.
He sees too much. I hadn’t noticed when I should have. I let out a breath. “My name is Reginald. I am the keeper of the Shoppe as it were. The world is full of secret things and there are few places one can legally go to in order to learn about them. This is one such place. I am a Reginald, and when I pass on so will be the person who replaces me: we give up who we were to serve.”
“I’m not sure magicians do. I feel more like I’m becoming more of who I am.”
“I imagine some do. I am not a magician. I help magicians, others with lesser magics –.”
“Talents?” he says, so quick I’d be suspicious if he was not what he is.
“Yes. Monsters, Outsiders, researchers. And there are, of course, normal books as well. For certain values of normal, of course.” I sip my drink; he gulps his. “It is not often that the Shoppe is visited by the wandering magician of an era.”
“The?” he asks.
“There is only one at any given time, beyond the first.” I wait, but he doesn’t press for details.
“Why don’t others come here? I can feel what is in here, needing to known. Waiting to be discovered.”
“Some are not allowed in. Others believe they know enough already. The more one feels one is certain, the more likely one is to be ignorant.” I’m quite proud of that, and make a note to use it later.
“Magic is a different kind of certainty,” he says. “It’s a certainty of the heart, not one of facts.”
I blink. Sip my drink. “You know this, and yet you wish to learn from this place?”
He nods. “Wandering is one thing; helping is another. I’d be a poor magician if I kept helping when I did not understand. That could only make things worse since actions count for more than intent”
And he is a magician again. Slipping into that speech, that power, so effortlessly he does not even notice. “I will have to tell others that there is a wandering magician. But you are free to remain here: I could use an assistant, and there are many things to be shelved and read.” I finish my drink. “You’d best begin with the fae, for what hunted you were fae in disguises.”
The wandering magician looks at me thoughtfully. He asks no questions, just sets his drink down and asks, with deference, if he can begin tonight. I point out there are rooms above the shop and he needs sleep and food before anything else. He heads to the stairway I direct him to, though I think he knows the way already.
I wait until he is gone and pour myself another drink. And for the first time in many years, I almost regret the bargains I made with the Shoppe. Even so, I reach for the phone and dial a number that reaches the oldest magician in the world.
“There is a wandering magician,” I say to Mary-Lee, and nothing else at all as I hang up. There are others who will want to know, but that can wait. I recall how to get the fire to light, and drink whiskey and stare into the flames. If the Shoppe has any wisdom for me, I do not hear it at all.