“Of course—I’m not Master.”
“I never said you were.” But Mortimer passed a hand over his face. He held the quill over the page. “What were you saying before that? It was fall…”
“Ah, yes. Fall. Normally Autumn would be busy with students coming in from all over, people forgetting and complaining about their textbooks, trying to schedule classes around how long they thought they could sleep in, and all of the teachers preparing for Orientation. But this was the Sixth Age. The City of Autumn and the other Season Cities were nothing more than piles of rubble and ruin, something mysterious for archeologists to dig into and wonder over. But aside from my day job as a clerk for the Moon City police department, I was also on the board for the Western Excavations Committee. They couldn’t dig anywhere without my say so, and I certainly wasn’t going to let a bunch of 20-something humans tramp all over my precious library, not to mention the buried city itself. Oh, no, I kept them plenty busy up the river, digging for nothing. Occasionally I’d summon up a broken pot or something for my favorite kids to find. And then there would be shouts, and photos, and reporters, and even more people milling around. Sometimes I’d even create a couple more discoveries just below the sight currently being investigated, so it was discovered while the crowd was still there. Fun times, I tell you. There’s nothing quite like standing with a reporter, just waiting as your favorite student pauses in between careful brushstrokes in the dirt behind you while the press snatches photos, and then suddenly—” He waved his arms around, grinning. “ ‘We found something! Oh, my god, no way, look, it’s right there!’” He snickered. “Priceless. All lies, of course, nobody had ever lived at that part of the river, it was all forested land as you know.”
“But it made them happy. Of course the men who just stomped around, and didn’t act like they cared got nothing. Ever. Oh, it felt so good.”
“But your day job, you were saying?”
“Yes, I was a clerk. I had a big pair of thick-rimmed glasses.” He held his fingers above and below his eyes. “Nasty things, I hope I never see them again.”
“What were they for? You don’t need to correct your vision, because if you had needed to you would have gone to a Healer long before that.”
“It’s true. I enchanted them to block my True Sight as long as I was looking through them. I just couldn’t stand the sight of what people really looked like.”
“And what was that?”
“What was what?”
“What do people really look like?”
Ramses grimaced. “In that time? Not very good. Imagine a world with a billion or more people, and now picture most of them totally disconnected from each other, completely plugged in to their technology, their social networking, and their own obnoxiously shallow little lives. It was just driving me insane, seeing all of that on the surface. People just forget when they’re like that. They forget how to listen to others, and I mean really listen. If someone’s speaking to you now, do you expect them to be so withdrawn, so focused on some tiny, silly little thing—looking away every ten seconds? Offering false sympathy? I couldn’t take it anymore, I just couldn’t. So I told everyone my eyes were bad, and no one questioned the glasses.”
“And Mr. Peterson?”
“Oh, him. Yes, I remember the first time I saw him in person.” He leaned back, sinking into his own memories, hair falling slightly to the side to reveal his docked ears. “As I was saying, it was fall. Jamie Peterson, John Sacsini’s adopted son—he was the head of the mafia—was always around, causing havoc of one kind or another. He killed people who didn’t bring him his coffee fast enough, blew up cars to make room for his motorcycle, and thoroughly enjoyed every illicit mind-numbing substance he could get his hands on. It was awful. Before I had started working at the station he had been captured a lot, but always he either escaped or his father bailed him out. The new Chief—the old one had had a good taste of Jamie’s pistol—wasn’t going to let this continue, though, so the next time our troublemaker came to town…”
—Ramses looked up from his hangout place by the reception desk. Four policemen surrounded a tall and imposing figure, dragging him in through the sliding glass doors. Jamie resisted his captors, swearing in a very loud, very angry voice that rumbled at the back of the mage’s mind.
He must be psychic or have latent magical talent, there was no other explanation for the strange, tingling feeling Ramses now felt running up and down his arms. He pulled back from flirting with the blue-eyed secretary—trying to distract himself from the recent restraining order he had just received on Rumiko’s behalf, to prevent him from visiting her daughter—clearly intending to get out of the officers’ way.
Jamie looked down his nose at Ramses and the mage felt the power in his gaze. “What are you looking at, nerd?”
He couldn’t help himself. Some of these new colloquialisms just didn’t make any sense to him. “What does that mean?”
The taller man’s face went red, then white, and he bared his teeth. “Are you talking back to me?”
“What? No, no, I just—” Even the secretary had backed away, Ramses was the only person in Jamie’s line of view as the surrounding officers tried to drag him toward the door for internal processing. Jamie planted his feet, refusing to move. The force of his gaze was overwhelming.
Ramses sighed, knowing his magic could force this proud little punk to beg and grovel for mercy at his feet. But he didn’t dare. Aside from being something his Master would do, it would cause questions. And getting dragged off to a lab and experimented on would not be a pleasant experience. So he just gritted his own teeth in a smile. “I’d never dream of talking back to a puny little upstart like you. You think you’re so scary, so powerful, but you’re not. You’re just a child. Our history holds worse demons than you could ever be.”
“And then what did he do?” Mortimer leaned closer, his delicate writing filling the page.
“He broke the handcuffs and punched me, of course. And I deserved it, too, for aggravating him.”
“Well, everyone was surprised he hadn’t killed me, for one thing. But my glasses had fallen off…”
“Shit, I can’t see!” Ramses fell back, clutching at his face. His eyes blurred with pain and blood. He scrabbled on the floor, one hand holding his stinging jaw. “Where are they, dammit?”
There was a decisive crunch of glass as Jamie put his heavy heel down.
Ramses looked up as his vision cleared, and saw for the first time in a hundred thousand years his brother Alecto. So tall, so fair and cold, his braids hanging around his face like a familiar haze of smoke. If it weren’t for what his glasses had shown him, he might have leapt into Jamie’s arms, thinking he had at last come home. It had been so long since there was anything natural or magical around him, he couldn’t speak, couldn’t resist as Jamie grabbed him by the collar, yanking him to his feet.
“Can’t see, you say? Don’t lie. Do whatever else you want, but don’t lie, got it?”
“Sir…” he said weakly.
“How did he know?”
“I don’t know, perhaps it was his latent powers coming through. I had to get a new pair of glasses, though. After that all my colleagues clustered around me, telling me how lucky I was to be alive. I couldn’t believe it, he had so much strength, even I felt it. I didn’t see him again until nearly a year later, in the spring. No one had seen Jamie in town for quite some time, and we all secretly hoped something nasty had happened to him. Everyone but me, that is. The question had begun to burn in me; who was this man who resembled my brother? I tried to convince myself that the shock was playing tricks on my mind, but I couldn’t continue to lie to myself. I had to be honest—I’d seen Alecto, but what did that mean? I was walking home after the second shift at the station, taking the long route around by the park, thinking about Ryoko as I’d last seen her—a proud, huffy adolescent woman, with her Mother’s pout and her Father’s gift for music, barely beginning to fill out her dresses—when a roaming drunk crashed into me.”
“It was Jamie, actually. He’d been trying to find me, as it turns out, but the drinking hadn’t helped with that much.”
“I can imagine. And then?” Scratch, scratch went his feathered quill. His gentle face was full of handsome amusement.
The glowing pink sign read “The Night Angel”, illuminating the dark brick walls of the underground club. Pulsing music seeped through the walls of the long hallway as Jamie led him to a private room. Normally, Ramses supposed, these rooms were where the dancers made their real money. His loins ached again as he imagined Ryoko dancing for him; she was always such a good dancer…
Jamie opened the heavy door and flopped down into a plush seat surrounding a suspiciously sturdy table. A fire pole ran from the center of the table to the ceiling. “C’mon in.”
Ramses nodded to himself. Yes, definitely one of those rooms. He gingerly took a seat. “Jamie—or Mr. Peterson, if you prefer—what am I doing here? What do you want?” Here, with no one to watch, if Jamie acted up, magic in self-defense was definitely an option.
“John Sacsini, my Dad, you know him?”
“I know of him, why?”
“That was my question.”
“Lung cancer, too many damn cigars, as it turns out.” Jamie rubbed a hand over his face. A normal man might have molded the skin of his cheeks in tiredness or frustration, but his flesh had a strange sheen to it under the red lights, although not everywhere. “So now the administration falls to me. And I…I’ve buried John, and yet…I don’t know what to do.” His eyes looked far away and sad, and very, very human.
Ramses stared down at his hands, and then looked across the table. While that look was on Jamie’s face, he didn’t dare take his glasses off. “You’ll be a good leader.”
“Excuse me?” Jamie let his hand fall from his face, those powerful eyes focusing on the mage.
“I…” He took gulps of air to calm his nerves. “I can tell. I don’t know what it is about you, but you’ve got the right stuff.”
“The right stuff, huh?” He looked away, staring at something unseen. “No one’s ever told me that before,” he said quietly.
After a few minutes of silence, Ramses shifted. “Was there any reason you, ah, wanted to talk to me?”
“Just your eyes, I guess.”
“Something about them…I can’t put my finger on it.” He sat up. “I’ll think about what you’ve said. You’re dismissed.”
Ramses scratched his head. “There isn’t much more to tell, really. I went back to my tiny apartment with the distinct feeling that he knew I was magical. It was very strange. Time went on, years passed by. I started to gather myself to move again since I don’t age, when Jamie came to see me. He walked right into the station, easy as you please.”
“What?” Ramses looked up from his cubicle’s computer, blinking in surprise as he saw Jamie leaning on the grey dividers, a silly grin on his face. He started to stand up, but the taller man motioned for him to sit. “What are you doing here? It’s, well…”
“It’s been a while.” He smiled. Something about him looked different, more…at peace, somehow. He ignored the commotion of shouts and radio calls behind him. “Are you doing anything tomorrow?”
“What do you mean?”
“Will you be working for me?” There it was, in the corner of his mouth and the way his eyes scrunched up in happiness. He no longer stank of illegal chemicals, but nobody smiled like that unless they were on something…or truly, genuinely happy.
“You found it, didn’t you?” It wasn’t really a question; Ramses had felt that way once, a long time ago, right after he had taught his first class. When he had found it, that thing he was truly meant to do with his life, it was like breaking open an egg and finding gold inside. Ryoko had always felt like that, all the time, deep in his soul. And now here was this man, this one human in a world of humans who were so shut away with themselves that they didn’t even know there was a sun anymore, and his eyes were open, and his heart was in his eyes, and his heart was filled with light.
Ramses reached up, but Jamie beat him to it. The mafia boss reached over, and, with amazing gentleness, took off his glasses.
“You won’t be needing these anymore.”
The image of Alecto dissolved itself halfway, and stayed there; his ears still elfin in shape, his slender build, a few braids still knotted in his long blond hair. He turned away from the cubicle, moving with grace.
Ramses rose and followed, setting down his headset. He didn’t even grab his lunchbox.
Both men turned to see the police Chief standing in the doorway to her office. Her thin face was very pale. “What do you think you’re doing? Get away from him, can’t you see who that is?”
Mortimer’s quill paused, the feather quivering, over the next, empty, lines. His golden eyes looked eager. “Well? And what did you say?”
Ramses folded his hands behind his head, and grinned. “I can see, I can see perfectly.”