Archive for the ‘ Chapter 02 – Closer ’ Category

I woke up feeling like I had a hangover, with the taste of sweet dill pickles on the back of my tongue… and the terrifying thought that I had almost gone down on an incubus.

That’s not the kind of thing you really want to think in the morning. Not before breakfast.  I should in all honesty add, “Not after breakfast, either.”

Could have been worse.  I could have slept with my ex-.

E’s not bad as far as ex-boyfriends go.  I’ve had worse, much worse. We looked pretty good together, which isn’t all that’s important, but it made a difference.  He’s a bit of a pretty thing, with a shy smile, but he’s way too intense.

I like to relax, have a good time… leave the windows open.

You begin to see what I mean?  I see the little nod.

Most artists don’t mind knowing we are just one of infinite dimensions.  It means more possibilities, and much of the art is definitely the manipulation of coincidence, or the nudging of those possibilities.  I like to think of us as bubbles in the larger multiverse, floating gently around, sometimes touching each other, somewhat permeable, basically self-sufficient.

Of course, not everything out there is bubble.

I think that’s why we have the arts; to protect us from the things that might go bump in the night… `the night’ in this case being what’s out there between the bubbles.  Gods and shadows, lovers and listeners, parasites and pestilences, all spawn from some strange cosmic source, a sinkhole the bubbles rise and fall from.  A place of madness, an abyss from which we’ve all felt the thin, cold touch.  Arts to protect us with whimsy, with honest, loving laughter from the alternatives.

I do wax a little poetic when I talk about my real job.

During the day I push papers with pride in property portfolios. I schedule with panache.  I answer phones, should the caller weave his or her way through my carefully crafted web of alternative information.  I make my bosses look good.

I roll up my sleeves once I get home.  Take off the hose and heels and get my feet dirty, if needed.

I needed to get out into the garden.  Far from sowing my wild oats, I needed to recharge, root into some of the source of my power.

I hadn’t liked doing what I did last night.   Blatant manipulation of memory and motive is difficult, but at least groups reinforce each other.  It also could get me on the hit list of a lot of self-proscribed guardians of human virtue.  Do I sound sarcastic?  There are arcane wars between organized groups of artists every couple of years.  Independent operators like myself are usually the first to be picked off, which is why we have to be subtle and effective.

Organized groups all have names implying they’re the righteous folk keeping the rest of us in line.  White wardens.  Councils bound by codices of ancient laws that tell people what kind of magic is acceptable practices.   Stuff and nonsense.  The only kinds of magics that should be proscribed are the arts that are stupid and dangerous to your or others’ health and sanity.

There’s no Unseen University, or if there is, I haven’t found it.  (Heck, it might be invisible.)  You pick up what you can, where you can.  I have had a variety of teachers.  I don’t have the talent E does as a closer, but a lot of his is natural aptitude.  He just seems to pick up the edges of reality and hold them close.  I would have to name them and tie them, sealing them shut with careful stitching.  It’s the difference between ritual and a knack, like using a ruler to make your letter straight, and people whose quick printing is calligraphy.

But he means well, which is the important thing.

Me? I like to think I make things  better, a little bit at a time.  That’s really the secret to not opening those doors; smile a little, improve someone’s life a half step.  That’s all the magic you’ll ever need.

But really?  You want to know why I broke up with him?

I’m not like him.  I don’t want to save the world.

(13) It Quacks Like a Duck

I’ve read that Heinlein said, “Specialization is for insects.”  While I could probably Google the exact quote, I know the implications have influenced me to learn a variety of talents.  I want to be somehow better than the bugs.  (It might be a hard contest. For one thing, they have four more legs than I do, which suggests right there that they might be sturdier if I were to try to find one an easy pushover.)  I want to do what humanity does best, and if all the old science fiction I’ve read is correct about that, that’s adapt.

The funny part is that if that’s our strength, we still don’t seem to like (or, in some cases, even accept) change.  It’s an inconvenience at  best when we amend our habits.  It’s worse when we’re trying to overcome our reflexes and instincts.

I’ve heard opposing arguments on those.  Some people think we should focus and train our natural tendencies to be the best they can be, and some think that we’re rational, thinking creatures that should be able to rule over our inner beasts, if you can excuse the comicbook theme of the scenario.  I think there’s definitely a middle ground, because some of our instincts are ground in by millions of years of very  handy evolution that can still serve us in a modern world, and some of them may be becoming more and more obsolete.

If you couple this with the theory that we learn based on repetition which leads us to make judgments based on acknowledgment of very few facts, you might see that we don’t have to change so much.  Because if it looks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, most of the time it is a duck.

Sometimes, of course, we’re wrong and it’s actually a martian.  But that’s another story.

I was reflecting on the way to my temp job about why I broke up with the Magster.   I think it’s because she had become so familiar with me that she hadn’t seen where I had changed.

It happens a lot with relationships.  Two people who just do it with shorthand, ignoring the little subtleties of growth.  The cues that they don’t catch.  Maybe I want cherry ice cream tonight, not chocolate.  Yeah, I like chocolate, and I’m happy you got the ice cream, but… it’s not what I’m really in the mood for, and no, I don’t want an argument, so I’ll just eat the chocolate.  I can’t say anything without it becoming a big deal. And so on, and so forth.

It’s like answering the phone.  I announce the name of the company and my name.  And you don’t hear it.  You’re thinking of what you need to accomplish.  You might be a bit impatient, thinking that I need to hurry up so you can get to the person who can really help you.  I’m a stepping stone, a place in the path, the fool in the beginning of the journey.  If I’m the receptionist, you barely see me.  Maybe I’m part of the decor; unless there’s something extreme, like I shout at you that I want cherry, not chocolate, I am just scenery.

Maybe that’s where we were.  I mean, she asked for my help.  She recognizes my use as a tool.  She’s versatile in ways I’m not.  I’m an insect in a macrocosm I don’t entirely understand, and she’s not a duck, she’s a raptor.

I’m trying not to think of her on her knees in front of a demon.  I can’t explain how it makes me feel.  Angry.  Horny.  Betrayed.  Sad.  Happy.  Vengeful.  I feel too much for her.

I need a new girlfriend.  I want to say someone who isn’t part of this world, this one where we’re left like angry insects, insects who have very little options but to sting.

A duck quacks.

A raptor screams.

There’s a difference.  A clear difference.

I wasn’t expecting her to call or anything.  I kept my cell phone in my pocket, half hoping she would. Noodling about, thinking of what I’d say.  Should we try again?  Should we maybe go on another date?  Is there anything to salvage?

I almost missed her.

No, not Maggie.  The woman walking in, looking lost and confused.  My kind of girl.

At first I didn’t recognize her.  Well, I didn’t recognize her specifically, anyway, but I’m not talking about the individual here. I can give a lot of reasons why I hadn’t noticed it immediately: she was standing in the doorway framed by the sun, and she had legs that distracted me poking out from under a tight dress of charcoal grey. She had ringlets of pure saffron masquerading as hair, held back with a black clip. Her eyes were covered by expensive amber sunglasses.

Have I asked permission enough for my digressions?  Because I’m about to take you on another short trip.  See, I knew she was fey.  Not, like, bubbly and a trifle on the wild side, but one of, well, them.

And you’ve read too much urban fantasy.  See, they’re just another demon to me.  Another thing that slips past the boundaries and makes trouble.  Just because they’re ridiculously attractive doesn’t mean they’re all that different from the -cubi.

Well, except they’re practitioners.  I’ve never met one who has stayed on this side of the wall who couldn’t wipe out one of the Tough Guys without breaking a sweat.  What we know as Reality scrapes and bends for them.  Oh, and they open and close portals as easy as breathing.

I kind of think of them as my nemesis.  Nemeses.  You know what I mean.

So modern fiction would have you believe they live in two, maybe three groupings, often called “Courts.”  Let me abuse you of this notion immediately; the only thing the fey bow down to is power.  So, sure, there might be a named Oberon or Mab out there, but if they’re titled, it’s delusions of grandeur… or, at least, glamour.

They have that much right, at any rate.  You can’t do glamour without the aether-dominated blood and something of similarity to back it up.  Feasts from a single kernel of corn? No problem.  You could even survive on it for a while if you had to…but interaction with their shadow of reality leaves one pale and wan… just like most of the drawings of the fey, right?  It changes you, no doubt, to the point that you are no longer able to synchronize with the real world.

Well, this one at any rate.

Alright, so that was just a side trip.  Back to the moment.

She was lost and confused and I wasn’t buying it for an instant.

My temporary position was with a waste processing facility.  Everyone occasionally needs someone who can answer phones and dance their way around an alphabet, even if I was sometimes a little confused if it went, “JIH” rather than “HIJ” when put to the test.  I put on my best professional face.

“Can I help you, miss?”

Oh, if I hadn’t been a simple mortal I might bow and scrape a little too.  They like games, after all.  But to a simple mortal, she was just a pretty girl, and I was just the dumb bloke behind the desk.

She came up in a flounce.  “Oh!” she said, a perfect moue belying her casual manner.

Bleepin’ fairies.  They can turn even your internal prose pretty darn purple.

“I seem to have been misdirected.”  Most people would have said “lost,” but really, Lewis Carroll does write their dialogue.  “I am looking for a doctor’s office.”  She handed me a piece of paper.

I considered not taking it from her, but once her hands moved away from it, it could not be considered a gift.  It was an offering, instead.  Big difference when dealing with the peskie ones.  Gifts put you in their debt, if you are on the wrong end of Hospitality.  (Hospitality is a whole ‘nother story.  I am learning it since it does have to do with boundaries, and some things like traditional vampires can be dispelled through the right manipulation of it, but it’s like a whole rulebook of its own.)  In this case, as an offering, there were no ties to bind.

I wasn’t sure what I was really going to be seeing, but there was something that looked like it could have come from Google.  I tried disbelieving it just to see if that worked, but nothing seemed to change.  She smelled like flowers after the rain.

The directions were right in that they led here.  The problem was bigger than that.  See, it took me a second to look – I had missed the destination.

She was looking for me.

I figured I had three options.  I could play stupid and probably get kicked for it later.  I could play knowledgable and probably get kicked for it later.  I could play it straight, and, well, there would be a whole lot of fonging going on pretty much no matter which choice I used.  The differences were subtle.  One of my fellows had done a lot of study on the fey, so I had a good idea of how to negotiate.  Alas, a lot of it seemed to boil down to, “But, they’re capricious, so no promises.”  I don’t like “no promises” as an answer, so it might be good to just blindly follow the, “I’m just a dumb mortal,” route (“Me E. You sparkly.”), and hope I was actually clever enough to not end up in some bad place.

I could just brazen it out and face what was coming to me.  I never claimed to be smart, right?

“Oh.  Well.  You’ve found him, then,” I said.  I like to think my inherent lack of suaveness…suavity? Um.  That it was in deliberate reaction to the kind of soft glow filter the fey put on things, anyway.  I’m crude edges.  One thing this fellow of mine had said (his name was “Thomas,” and I may speak of him more in the future) was that only practitioners come across at all three-dimensional to their kind.

Crude edges.  Like an axe.

She smiled.  I had half-expected her to titter, which proves that my prejudices are quite close at hand.   I tried not judging the smile because it was another pathway of opportunities I couldn’t navigate without a trustworthy guide.  Either it was deliberate, and it was meant to look like a mortal smile, or it was a natural reaction (but I wasn’t sure of it) and was it too wide, or too short in duration or…  A man could go mad trying to wend his way through the labyrinth.  But I will guess that I amused her because I wasn’t blasted to bits on the spot.  See?  Easy as cake.  Pie.  Bacon.  Whatever.

“Good,” she said.  “I was looking for you.  You are the doctor?  Of places in-between?”  She made a hand motion kind of like opening something.  I was uncomfortable with the phrase.  I had a feeling that her words were being chosen deliberately and had additional meanings I was going to be kicked for in the future.  In fact, I felt a headache coming on already.

“I close simple portals to this world, if that is what you mean,” I corrected slightly.  Correcting meant I felt like I was a little more in control of the game.  Linguistics aren’t my forte, but I could habla some kind of rudimentary patois, I hoped.

“Indeed,” she said, and the look she gave me I recognized from other women.  It was some sort of reminder against either bragging or modesty, but I’m not always sure what side of the coin it represented.

Women aren’t my forte, either.

“I have a ‘simple portal’ that needs closing by one anchored to mortal blood.  You will be compensated.”  She paused just long enough.  “It should not hurt you.  We leave now.”

Thomas suggested they couldn’t actually read minds as their own were too alien.  Still, she had hit some of my concerns.  Of course, “should not,” was a “no promise,” of a similar colour each uisge.

“I am contracted to this mortal labor,” I tried speaking the speech trippingly on the tongue.  “I may not cross that boundary as a matter of honour.”  I hesitated before offering a stronger principle, like, “Ability to feed myself,” but it seemed to fit.

“This is work a simulacrum could do,” she said.  She reached out faster than I could stop her and pulled a hair from the top of my head.  With a quick knotting, she unfolded -something- and scared me half to death.

I was sitting at the desk.  A call came in and my double picked it up, convincingly.  In fact, I think it might have done it better.  I’ve been at jobs where I thought a trained monkey could do the work, but never had I thought, “So easy my simulacrum could do it.”  I mean, I could see the differences between this creation and myself, but no one looks at temps that hard.

And she did it without words, time, or any of the principles of illusion or mindbending magic I had learned.

“Scared” covered it, but that’s because I’m not good at the talky thing.

“Is your honour satisfied?” she asked, impatiently.

I nodded.

“Then let us depart.”  And with that, she opened a portal right in front of me, pushing me towards the abyss.

(16) The Myth of Consent

Let me back up for a second, especially since I am presuming you’ve never been pushed through a portal before…oh and yeah, the word, “Pushed.”  Oh, and the bit about my hair.  You see, you probably believe in the myth of consent, and that’s the ribbon that runs around this.

Modern urban fantasy suggests that while you can trick someone into giving up some of their hair, spit, blood, or other bodily fluid of choice (actually heard about a urinomancer up in Alaska.  Dude needs a better hobby.), while the foolishness would let it work, generally all us practitioners spend a few minutes every day cutting off the cords of similarity so the dust mites and DNA we leave behind (kind of a mystical Gattaca scenario) no longer focus on us.

This is baloney.  Pure, 100% Oscar Meyer variety.  Sing it with me.  “M-E-Y-E-R.”

See, I know people who are paranoid, almost to that extent.  But take it from me – that three year old T-shirt you stuffed back in the closet with the sweat from that concert you attended has lost a lot of its potency merely for the same reason finding your true name is kind of a moot point: we grow, we adapt, we can become different people (even if none of our friends will ever believe it.)

I wasn’t going to do any real soul-searching and life-changing in the instants between when she plucked a hair off my head and did her little reality-mash.  Well, besides having tasted some Real Fear in a far too immature vintage.   From what I know, she had to have something real “of me” to do the trick.  That’s at least some comfort, if I was concerned about her making an army of E clones from here to the horizon.  Of course, I’d probably be bald by then, but it doesn’t have to be hair.

And one other reassurance, if you can call it that… she couldn’t make them practitioners.


So no, she didn’t have to have any mythical (or mystical) consent to do her thing.  And she can quite easily push me into a portal for much the same reason.  I might have been able to prevent it if I’d been closing it at the time…but that could have easily gone very awry.

One of the first rules I ever learned about magic, and no, I didn’t number them or make some kind of list of laws or anything – this is purely “rules of thumb”- is to not mess with anyone else’s spells.  Of course, in one sense I do that for a living, but an active spell is usually different than an active portal.  It’s when they coincide that I get into Trouble-with-the-capital-T.


But I digress.  A lot.  You may have noticed.

Um, focus.  Where were we?  Yes, I was going to actually tell you about the portal, because, if you’re very lucky (or terribly common) you won’t have the special opportunity to enter into a portal drawn by a fey practitioner.

Most portals worth the name have a boundary area.  Sometimes it’s a natural feature, or an artifical one like a doorway, or the edges of a pictureframe, or somewhat inbetween the guggle and the zatch.  That boundary area (I call it a frame, but again, nomenclature is not solid between practitioners) exists in the mind of the Opener, so sometimes it’s the dark space behind the closet door in your room, or drafted distinctly under the bed (but not existing under the covers where you’ve run and into which you’ve drawn your toes and all but the tip of your nose.)  I can feel these boundaries.  They sing.  There’s no other word that’s quite right to me, although my first teacher said she saw them like lines of colour (but never colours she could describe.)  It’s part of the idiosyncracy of the practice, I suppose.

The second piece of creating a portal is that the places where worlds meet have some level of similarity.  (With or without the capital S.)  A dark place leads into a dark place, a forest leads into a forest, a beach could focus on sand or sea…

Or so I thought.

The third is that your frame is anchored to something so you know how to remove it.  This is more optional than I’d like.

Having had a madwoman break all my rules of thumb about portals at a go, we’ll continue.

If there had been any justice in the world…but that golden child is long gone.  Wait, wrong story.  If things had gone according to what I had expected, she would have drawn a portal anchored at the edge of, say, the cubicle doorway, and it would have had subtle transitions between where this world and where she was taking me overlapped, and I would be going into a place of order.

Instead, my head reeled with the sensory overload of a messy transition, and for a moment I lost all sense of location, disjointed from my reality entirely, only to end up tumbling through more than one place at a time.  I saw a room of nymphs petrified in fright over a pool of mercury through some romanesque columns, rolled through a crowd of screaming crows at what I could only put in my frame of reference as a rock concert, and then somehow danced through a field of migrating dandelion blooms in sixteen-bit colour.  When I finished falling, I managed to gather my guts rather than lose them on the faintly golden shag carpet.  I sat on my knees for a few minutes, willing the world to stop spinning.  It ignored me, of course. I’m not in that league.

She stepped across, her shiny heels all that crossed my path of vision except for this entirely too ugly carpet for the eternity or thirty seconds I actually needed to make sense of my environment. I admired her legs briefly before the panic overwhelmed my baser desires.   “Self,” I told myself, “You do not need this kind of crazy in your life.”

“What kind of crazy do you require?” she asked, simply.

Oh, bleep.

I diverted the question.  “It seems to me,” I said, standing up and taking the rest of my environs into consideration, “that I never inquired of your identity.”

“You can call me Doloise.  These are some of my kin.”

Which you can take to mean I was not only looking at my surroundings, but that I was surrounded.  Not in any kind of linear fashion, of course.  Let me start with the describable, and work my way up to the things Lovecraft attempted to clutch.  Not that anything was particularly squamous, unless you minded the  1970s-style carpet.

The floor was indeed what I would consider shag carpet in that colour Maggie would have called goldenrod or maybe daisy.  She was always correcting my “pale yellow” into something more dramatic.  Amongst these creatures, I was hard pressed not to elaborate.  It was too silky to be shag, too metallic to be yellow, with the scent of something both sour and sweet at once.  There were columns that curved in like a giant’s ribcage, the colour of bleached bone.  Fires of every colour in the spectrum danced underneath them. The sky was a pale blue bowl of sizzling silver stars despite the apparent sunlight above us.   Distance showed the spectre of hills in shadowy indigo, with reddish clouds at their tips.  Save for the strange misty mountains (no doubt populated with goblins) the place was an island bounded with these columns and the edge of visible light.  I’d guess things turned kind of purple after about 10 feet from a lamp.

Meanwhile, there were the creatures.  Tall, many of them wan, as if the unnatural sunlight was all they could stand.  Thin enough that a good wind ought to clean the place out.  All of them staring at me like I was some kind of unnatural insect that had wandered uninvited into the barbecue.

Maybe not.  Maybe I was just feeling how unlike I was to them.  I felt short and clumsy and ugly and just…different, and like I was, of course, the focus of attention because everything around me wasn’t meant for me.  It was compatible, maybe.  It was like they spoke a different language, even if it was my own, and their speaking it was, of course, the way it should sound whereas my words were cheap, simple, maybe just plain ignorant.

After a moment I realized I wasn’t the pork chop in the caviar.  They were saving their disdain for Doloise.  It was something in the way they looked directly at her, as if polite snubbing was only for those they actually respected.  I almost felt better, until she looked at me again.  Her glasses shimmered in the faint burgundy haze.  “They wished to see the servant of closure their mage found.  They are disappointed that you have none of the old blood, for this will make it more difficult, but I am still certain you will survive.”

(18) 2 Stubborn 2 Quit

I have never been in the practice of considering what my epitaph might be, but I think I would accept, “Too stubborn to quit.”  It is a thousand times more flattering than the truth.  “Spiked like a sad football through the gates of Purgatory,” is evocative but not quite right.  “Pulled by the ear by women into the depths,” isn’t an epitaph, it’s my life’s story.

(And yet, if they hadn’t pulled my ear, I’d probably follow of my own accord.  It’s not sad.  I love women.  I just have bad judgment when it comes to choosing the right ones to follow.  I like them self-assured and talented, with great legs.  I can’t see what’s inherently wrong with that.  Those three qualities are all fine in and of themselves.  It’s got to be what I’m not specifying.  How do you add, “and not insane?” to the list without somehow making the whole gender angry?)

I decided to ignore Doloise’s comment.  This whole venture was madness, so what’s one more invocation of doom offhandedly mentioned by a practitioner who lives in this psychedelic mist?  Despite being a fervent believer that words can mean things, I chose to switch my faith to “and some are just social noise” for the moment.

Some snarky part of me, however, hadn’t gotten the systems change memo and was already talking back to her.  “So, having failed your inspection, can you put me back safe, sound, and pretty much the original way you found me?”

“I did not say you failed.”  Something about the way she spoke always made me feel like she was translating from some dictionary and then putting the words back together in some way she thought fit.  What do they normally speak?  I tried to think of a name without making any offensive sign-language jokes.  Her pause gave me not quite enough time before she spoke again.  “You make noises like you are not committed to your contract.  Did I not provide you with the simulacrum you requested?”

I tried to take that to mean that I had put her out a little in creating it, so as to make myself feel better.  “I am concerned for my life, comfort, and well-being, like any sentient.”  That’s it.  Treat it like a science fiction story.  The word “sentient” always conjured up scenes from Star Trek in my head.  This could be a set on some planet in Next Generation.  Totally.

“I am not concerned with your comfort. You are not some suckling attached to its host, ignorant of the dangers of the independent breath.  You are a specialist of skills necessary for this one task.”

Way to tell me off, baby.  Yeah, yeah, I’m your McMuffin.  Um.  Sorry.  My snarky brain had quit for the moment leaving only the one capable of handing the surreality of the scene.   One of the wan stepped near me and sniffed as it went by, all in the world like some butler from a British television show.  Over the top, I thought.  I’d had a shower.  Oh, and several moments of being drenched in cold fear to improve my natural aroma.  I resolved to buy one of those little cologne sprays they advertise on television as being fairly irresistable to girls.  Maybe they work on the fey, too.

I bit my mental tongue, and went back to the conversation at hand.  “I would like it if you took into consideration what I consider a natural aversion to pain.”

She seemed to do just that: consider.  Maybe it was the word “natural” that threw her.  I didn’t know how fey were wired, except that, well, as noted above, some of them did interbreed with humans, so hopefully it wasn’t from eating our livers or something.

“I could make you numb to the consequences, but I am concerned as to how that would affect the working.  Similarly, I believe it would be more interference than I am allowed in your life.  It is bad manners to break a guest.”

I was hoping to ask, “But what about leaving them bleeding?” but that also seemed like bad manners.   “What kind of portal is it, anyway?” I asked, on a sudden hunch.

I had discomfited her.  That was not good.  This was not good.  Oh, did I have a bad feeling about this… and no R2-D2 to save me.

(19) A Wistful Covetuousness

“I had indicated that it required mortal blood to anchor it,” Doloise began, carefully.  She walked towards a column, and I followed her.  After a moment, she put her hand in the purple flame, unconcerned if it would burn her, I guess.  I wasn’t surprised when it didn’t, actually.  She seemed to be caressing something, maybe a subtle elemental or wisp of some sort.  I’d seen them in ceremony, but only as diffuse lights that generally disappeared at a direct look, not even as clear as a Froudian silhouette.

I am mostly content to be in the league I’m in, but sometimes when the world shows me wonders I get a wistful covetuousness.  It seems so easy for these creatures, surrounded as they are with so much magic it is in the very air they breathe.  I don’t even know how to strike up a conversation without it being fraught with danger.  I mean, I’m an everyday normal kind of guy, ‘cept for the knack and a little too much esoteric knowledge.  I don’t have the kind of tarot reading that is heavy with major arcana, if you know what I mean.

“Which made me wonder, because humanity isn’t the only thing out there that qualifies.  You could have picked up a pigeon in a back alley, or something.  So you needed something that could also close a portal.”  I’d heard of a Wizard of the Pigeons, but he lived somewhere near Seattle and I hadn’t made it that far west in a while.   “Someone decided I fit the description.  What kind of trouble are you into, and is it just you or your whole family?” I gestured towards the others.  This close to the column we actually had more privacy than out on the…rug.  Field.  Field of tiny golden shagflowers.  Shaggrass?  Shagweed?

“Your questioning makes me uncomfortable.  There is only so much I am allowed to say,” she said, still not looking at me.

“Is it Hospitality or politics?” I asked, bluntly.

I didn’t expect her to answer, but she let go of the strange fire, and turned towards me.  “Yes.  And.”  She tilted her head, and it was more feline than human.  “It is difficult to tell an invited guest it is no longer invited.  It is more difficult to tell it that it was never requested in the first place when those with more authority have contradicted this.  It is even more of a challenge when the guest turns to have more power than expected, including that which was granted by your own authority.  Penultimately, it is a Power Between.”

“You save the best for last,” I noted, wryly.

“Yes.  If we cannot send it home, we must keep it from ever returning there.  That is the task with which I was charged, and it is made all the more difficult as we know it knows our conundrum and we cannot determine which scheme it has determined most disadvantageous to our survival.”

“A Power Between,” I repeated.

Her glance was the equivalent, I supposed, of a nod.

I was past the point of panic.  I mean, just because they wanted my help to close the gateway to or exorcise a minor deity, it was just another day in the life, right?  Some people go home, crack open a beer, and watch the game.  Me?  I get to play hooky from work, hang out with a righteous looking babe, and tell a god to shape up or ship out.

I must be living wrong.

So many questions to ask.  I wanted a name, but a trickster would just have used someone else’s… or his or her own, just to be perverse.  Besides, it didn’t have to be one of our gods.  It could have been one inimical to humanity, or belonging to something else entirely.  What kind of grudge would it carry, should we manage this?  And politics were involved; did this authority want them removed for sure, or was it just her and her family’s opinion that this was a bad thing?  Exactly who was I crossing, and how deep would this go?

“What matter of compensation do I receive for this boon?” I asked.  I realized that for all they could bluff it out, I was doing them a favor.  I didn’t have anything invested into whether or not an old one sat on a fey doorstep and hung out past the end of the party.  Mankind and the world as I knew it wasn’t in danger.  I wasn’t the only hope for my world against the combined might of the forces of darkness.

“You are confident,” she noted.

Actually, I was so far beyond the bend into the countryside of “Clowns Will Eat Me”-sville, I’d almost wrapped around into, “Sure.  I can do anything,” bravado.

But it wouldn’t do to tell that to a girl.

(20) Longings We Can’t Articulate

“We will discuss it when our resources are not tied into this effort,” she suggested, coyly.  I noticed that Doloise’s hands had a kind of violet tinge to them.  Maybe she had been burnt.  Mentally, I had already decided to call her family the Gillikins, but had been trying to avoid “Gillikins Island” jokes from the lame wisecrack portion of the brain.  You know, the part that was caught up in all the fuss but was trying to shout, “La-la-la-la-I-Can’t-Hear-You,” because it didn’t want to deal with the ideas of just how far up we were and after all of that, no one remembered to even pack a paddle.

I wondered momentarily if Toto was an analogue of R2D2.  I focused back on the issue and pressed the point. “I want to know I have the necessary resources to handle this.  I need a distraction for the main Power so that I can observe the portal firsthand.  I may need tools I do not have with me.  I need to be able to access them in a hurry in exact quantities.”  I thought hard.  “I may need physical or magical back-up.  I may need to address additional resources, all considerations relevant only to the goal of the event at hand, explanations given but at a time of my choosing.”  I took a breath.  “If this is acceptable, I will see which is the best route for your Power at hand, and make my professional decision as to whether or not to strand it away from its foci or source or if we can push it back, willingly or not.”

She committed it to memory.  Truth is, there are spells that can help you with that.  Maggie said mnemonics were just magical shortcuts anyway.  I thought they were a musical expression, but then again, I’m an undereducated dolt.  Well, she said it.  Once.  In the middle of an argument, which meant her defenses were down so she must have thought that way, right?

There’s a philosophy (Buddhist, I believe, in origin, but I may be incorrect) that suggests that you attract the things you need into your life.  Sometimes they’re the things you need to learn, sometimes they’re the things you need to grow, sometimes they’re the things you need to sever a connection that will poison you.   This is made more potent by acts of will; Maggie keeps telling me that coincidence doesn’t factor in with practitioners.  That we drive magic to fulfill even the wishes and longings that we can’t articulate.

Doloise was (and now that I took a few minutes to look at her) perfectly my type in a lot of ways.  Too much in some.  Physically I had been trying very hard to ignore her.  She had the legs, and the manicured look.  She was polished so hard she gleamed.   She could glitter in the sunlight if she wanted to, I’d bet.  She was a little too white for my tastes, a tad bit too angular, but I like to think I’m equal-opportunity when it comes to my lechery.  I tried to figure out what it was that made her off my list, since the hindbrain wasn’t poking its little head up to take a peek.  To mix a metaphor.  Or two.

Fear, sure, but that can be a turn-on in certain situations.  I think maybe it was a combination of her trying a bit too hard to look human, and her being so far out of my league.

All of this thought, yes, in the time it took her to run her hands through her hair and remove the black clip from those strange yellow-orange curls.  I like to think I think fast under pressure.

“Your terms are acceptable.”  The clip changed shape in her hand, and turned into a black bird, something nastier than a raven or a crow.  At least, it had a long beak designed specifically to poke your eyes out.

I don’t like birds.  Can’t trust them.  I once appreciated them, but, well, nevermore.

It danced on the palm of her hand.  “We will find the Questor, and he will tell us the best place to observe the portal.  From then on, I will be guide and guardian.”  She made a motion like she was throwing the bird, and it made an evil clackety noise in the air as it flew towards the misty mountains.

From then on, but not before, I noticed.  I was still in danger.

(21) A Stew of Intrigue and Heroes

I had no idea what she meant by “the Questor,” but I was thinking something Campbellian, a stew of intrigue and heroes. I wondered what message the clipbird sent, and then wondered if I had reached true paranoia to take meaning in the … okay, deliberate releasing of a creature into the wine-coloured fog. Because, you know, maybe she just wanted to let her hair down or something like that.

“So, this Questor dude,” I started.

“He knows the maps,” she said, as if that explained anything.

“Ah, it is a conspiracy of cartographers?” I offered.

“He knows where things are,” she tried again.

“So, he’s like the human Google.”

“Human, yes.” I wondered if she knew Google. I wondered what kind of power Google had on fey authority, if any. I could only feel a faint portion of the implications before I had to think of other things.

Doloise began to walk, and I followed her, making it look natural, not like I wasn’t trying to figure out how to put together a boolean string of fey search terms. You know, something like, “plus fey, bang faerie,” and boy, does that sound more perverted than I meant. OK. Cue small talk. Distraction. Whatever.

“So he’s a wizard of finding things?” That’s not hard. Anyone with the faintest bit of will to apply to a sympathetic leaning could find something. Wizards don’t lose their car keys unless something else is interfering with them. That’s a hard and fast rule. I could even count on it.

“He knows where things are.”

“You said that,” I remarked.

“You may have heard, but you did not listen,” she replied. There was the quirk of a smile on her face, and I decided it was close enough to a real expression that maybe it wasn’t deliberately designed. They are really that tricksy, I’ve heard. Give us special facial clues so we respond like they have a sense of humour or something. “We must go to him.”

“And do we need him to find him?” I asked, but I was only being sarcastic. Call me out for not listening. Why, that reminds me of what my mother kept trying to tell me. I tried to remember what it was, and realized I’d never listened to her, either. Maybe Doloise had a point.

“No.” She answered anyway. I knew she would. The idea of, “Rhetorical question,” was one that was somewhat tricksy in light of the fey’s delight with words. “We will need to gate near, but not too near, in consideration of his protections.”

“Will it be as exciting as our last trip?”

“I do not believe I understand.” Was that another hint of a smile?

“I am not used to using portals…” I was going to add, “As methods of transportation,” but decided it was redundant and unnecessary. Ahem. I am not used to USING portals. Closing, yes. Opening, not so much. It’s like a door – anyone can shut one, but in order to open them, sometimes you need to have the right key.

And when all you have is a hammer…

“I do not know whether or not to believe you,” she said. This time, when she opened the gate, it followed some of the rules. It lit up the area using the curved column as an anchor, bits of heliotrope steam wafting back and forth, as it seemed like a strange lense, a bubble on the surface of reality.

To close this portal would be like popping the bubble, and there would be the inevitable splashback. She looked mostly relaxed, but still as if she was concentrating from the set of her jaw and the placement of her heels. (Both of which I could notice at the same time. I’m a multitasking ogler. Still, under those amber shades I couldn’t tell you what colour her eyes really were. It was beginning to bug me.) I didn’t have the same level of fear this time; maybe I was just getting used to her high magic crowd. Or maybe my system had suffered enough shock. Or maybe I had just inhaled too much of this psychedelic mulberry smoke. Enough to wonder about purple clouds and maybe purple rain, if I were a prince among men.

I needed to get out of here.