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The Magician

The Magician Initially, when Tommy had walked into The Smiling Goat after a horrible reunion with his biological father, he’d assumed that his day couldn’t possibly get any more bizarre. As usual when it comes to these things, he was horribly wrong. Any other time, he wouldn’t have told his life story to a strange bartender he’d never met, not to mention the fact that he was in possession of an inexplicable British accent in the midst of a town of bland-toast Midwestern dialogue. But the gin was awfully strong, and after about three shots of the stuff he found himself rather talkative. He had never been very good at holding his liquor. The bartender listened thoughtfully to his tale, nodding occasionally, or asking unobtrusive questions to clarify. Tommy, of course, left out the stuff about Mathilda, and where he had actually been for the last thirteen years, but the bartender seemed to understand and didn’t pry. “And that’s about it,” Tommy finished. “I ran out of the apartment, needed a drink, and here I am.” Raising an eyebrow, the bartender shook his head and smiled. “Is that all though? Really? You’re not even going to mention your travels, all of your adventures. That seems like something pretty major to leave out.” Tommy froze mid swig of gin. “What?” “Or about your extraordinary method of transportation?” Tommy stood, or tried to stand. The bar spun around him as he tried to steady himself, rather in vain. “H-how did you know that?” Still leaning on the counter, the bartender kept smiling. But now there was something off about it. “I know a lot of things,” he said simply. Tommy frowned. There was something unusual about this man. To put it bluntly, he was odd. His face was so immaculately composed that Tommy couldn’t get any kind of reading on him. No twitches, no tells. You had to be incredibly well-trained to be able to forego all physical human expression like that. But no matter how well-trained you were, you couldn’t guess specific facts about people out of observation. You had to fish for them, and while he probably could have gathered the fact that Tommy had been traveling from his tale, Tommy knew for a fact that he hadn’t given him any hints about Mathilda. “There’s no way you can know about that.” He took a step backwards. “Who are you?” “We have a lot more in common than you might think,” the bartender’s grin had turned positively devilish. “The name’s Cowell. I’m sort of like you, I suppose. A traveler, if you will.” With a start, Tommy began to stick the pieces together. He realized what was so odd about him: he wasn’t from Ede Valley, from this reality even. He didn’t quite fit, like a grain of salt in a pile of sand. Perceptive people had often made the same observation of Tommy and Remus. But there was something beyond that as well, something Tommy couldn’t quite place his finger on. “We can’t talk properly here,” Cowell glanced back and forth with his eyes behind large spectacles. “Come into my office.” Tommy didn’t quite know why he followed the strange man he hardly knew. Though to be honest, he kind of had a track record of that. Maybe it was curiosity, there were undeniable things to learn from this encounter. If he could have contact with anyone from outside the realities, he might be able to figure out how to get Mathilda working again. Plus, worst case scenario, Tommy probably had twenty pounds on the nearly waifish Cowell. If anything happened, he could certainly hold his own. So after a moment’s hesitation, Tommy followed Cowell through the back curtain, down a long, dark hallway, and into the last room on the left. As soon as he saw the rows upon rows of glass jars, he froze. He knew what they were. He had only seen a soul once, and the hazy balls of light in their glass prisons were of every different shade and size, but souls they undeniably were. The thing that was off about Cowell was that he wasn’t even human at all. “You’re a daemon,” he observed as Cowell made himself comfortable in the high-backed office chair behind his desk. He looked a little surprised. “A learned one, you are,” he said. “Usually I have to spell it out—quite literally for the most part—and then people just look sort of dumbfounded for a few minutes before they finally get their heads together. But now,” he grinned. “We can just skip right to the good part. Have a seat.” Again Tommy paused, just for a moment. For the life of him he couldn’t tell whether the daemon meant him good or ill. That smile could hide anything. In cases like this there was only one way to proceed. “How do you know who I am?” He sat, but squared his shoulders and frowned. “Straight to the point,’ Cowell leaned forward. “I like that. I’ll tell you what: an answer for an answer. What do you know about daemons?” Tommy didn’t like this. For once he couldn’t tell where exactly the conversation was heading, like stumbling through a cave without a flashlight. “You’re beings that live in the space between the realities. The deals that you make with people have extraordinary qualities, and you use those to acquire souls, which you consume in order to gain power.” “Very good.” Cowell nodded. “A rather simple explanation, but it will do more than suffice. It is true that our main shtick—if you will—are deals. We need a certain something to help us make our deals. There are a lot of people in the realties, you see, and most of them would never even consider a deal with one of our kind. We need an edge to help us find our prey.”

Tommy shuddered at that. “Most of us develop something like limited foresight. Sometimes I simply know things that will happen. I knew you would emerge from that odd wagon this morning, and that by afternoon you would wind up here.” “Then why did you even bother to ask me what my story was if you already knew it?” Tommy frowned. But Cowell merely shook his head. “I think you misunderstand. I didn’t have a clue who you were until you sat down at the bar, just that you were someone important.” “Then how did you know about—?” “You? Your travels?” Cowell supplied. “When you’ve existed as long as I have, you learn to fill in the blanks. Part of the job, I’m afraid. Not unlike your fortune-telling, hmm?” Staring down at the floor for a moment, Tommy nodded. He’d never really met a daemon, just heard storied from those realities where such knowledge existed. But if there was one thing daemons were infamous for, it was their deals. “So, there deals that you make,” Tommy glanced back upwards. “You can give someone anything? Anything at all?” Cowell sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers in thought. “Almost,” he replied. “There is one obstacle that even we cannot overcome.” “And what’s that?” The small hope that had begun to flutter in Tommy’s chest sank back down. “Death,” Cowell said finally. “Nothing can escape her cold clutches, I’m afraid.” Sighing, Tommy shook his head slightly. He’d been stupid to even entertain the thought. “Of course,” he mumbled, and then, a little louder: “Then why are you even telling me all of this?” “Pardon?” “I’m sure you know by now that there’s nothing I want that you can give me, or that I’d be foolish enough to accept.” “I don’t know,” Cowell admitted. “Perhaps I’m getting soft. But to be honest, it’s been so long that the only language I speak anymore is deals. So even if you won’t make a ‘deal’, doesn’t mean you won’t make a deal.” Tommy frowned. “What do you mean?” Grinning devilishly, Cowell leaned forward again. “I want you to work for me. And in exchange, maybe I could help you figure out how to fix your... wagon.” “Work for you?” Tommy raised an eyebrow. “What, bartending?” “A little of that,” Cowell admitted. “But a little of other things that may not be strictly legal.” “You seem to have been doing pretty well for yourself up until now,” Tommy gestured to all of the jars lining the shelves. Cowell shrugged. “It’s always nice to have someone on your side, especially now that something big is coming.” “What does that even mean?” “Don’t know,” Cowell laughed. “But is does sound awfully bloody exciting, doesn’t it?”

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