Last time we talked, Eoin, a man who lives mostly in dreams, was summoned by the Ambassador of Many-Paws, Queen of All Cats, to attend her and help in the search for her missing daughter. Eoin reluctantly agreed, so off he goes.
I kicked through my room, looking for order in the ephemera of my life. My world’s viscera of clothing, books, and cutlery, was scattered like corpses after a flood. No, that’s rude to viscera and corpses both. I lived in a state of emergency, a refugee camp of one squashed into a room thirty feet square.
I dressed myself, which is your first disappointment. When I agreed to write this, I knew that there would be macabre fascination among mundane readers about the secret lives of mages, and how sad must it be to hear that we wear pants like everybody else? But that shouldn’t be a surprise. Magic is grounding: it is symbol and sign and power while keeping one’s feet on the earth. There’s no secret to it (which is a damn lie, but I never asked you to trust me), no great mystery: just put your pants on, and the rest will follow.
I lit a cigarette and took a drag, and there is your second disappointment. I don’t care. I stepped out of the bedroom and was greeted by my barren apartment. I own very little. A cup; a plate; a bookcase. I don’t live like this out of some spartan discipline or Diogenic rejection of worldly glamour. When you move as much as I have, you trim the fat until you are like me: lean, lanky, and savagely cut to the bone. And, less practically, I live so much in dreams that the Waking world has lost its glamour.
A small statue of an owl stared at the door from its perch on my counter. Carved of jade by a blind monk’s hand, it was completely unremarkable in every way. I placed a small bowl of mouse blood in front of it, bowed three times and clapped my hands, then ran out of the apartment before I heard it speak. As I said; completely unremarkable.
My apartment is in a ratty building near Chinatown in-between two gleaming piles of glass and steel that rich idiots pay far too much to live in. I cupped my cigarette and took the stairs two at a time. It’s one thing to smoke in my room and hide it with the magic of Unseen, Unheard, Unnoticed, but it’s just disrespect to do it in front of my landlady. She was the type who accepted cash, didn’t write receipts, and was more than happy to hold my place in trust until the end of time. The occasional passer-by would look up and question why, in a world of astronomic real-estate prices, a rat’s nest of an apartment building somehow survives in-between billion-dollar boxes in the sky. For my part, I swear I have nothing to do with it.
I hit the street and took a puff of my cigarette. Smoking was mostly an affectation now, but one does what one must to be happy in this God-forsaken world. The city is a riot of colour and life. I hear the magic of Meaning Through Sounds, I smell the magic of Smells Good and Smells Bad, I taste the magic of Reaching Across Space. People of all types walk the streets: tall, thin, skinny, Brown, fat, Giant, and more. I see them all.
To be a mage isn’t to be special, it’s just to see what’s hidden, to hear what’s quiet, and to speak what’s unsaid. I saw the faeries who flit through the air on the backs of bees, coughing and retching as their colonies collapse. I heard the songs of the disappearing rivers, and I recited the mantra of No Time No Time as I shut them out. We’ve learned to cloud our vision and dull our hearing because to live always in this riot of being is too much for a mind. To see the world as it is would drive a person mad. I would know, and on that you may trust me.
I tossed away my cigarette and hopped aboard a streetcar heading south. Many-Paws hates late visitors, but only a fool walks into her place unguarded. Many-Paws is, politely, capricious. Less politely, and I’d never say it to her face, she’s murderous and reckless. A dangerous trait in a small god, and so I rode the train almost to the water and got off, lighting a cigarette as soon as my feet hit the pavement. It’s unconscious now, tobacco’s magic of Never Let Me Go has a powerful hold on me. I was in the old part of the city, the Toronto that remembered it was built by old Europeans. Not my favourite part, but old means powerful and I needed power on my side.
But first I had to go to the bar. I sighed and took another drag on the cigarette. I really, really, really hoped Jessie wasn’t there.
I stopped by the bar, which is in the financial district and probably the most powerful place in the city. Ten thousand people pass by here every day, bankers and shoppers and homeless and more, staring at the glass and steel towers and thinking that finance, of all things, was what ran the world. Finance is a high art, but it’s nowhere near a decent conman’s three-card Monte. But it’s got style, I admit, and a lot of people who believe in it ignoring what is clear powerful because it lurks behind plain wood walls. See? There’s no secret. It’s just…there.
The bar, The Good Night, was behind a small fence on which every link is inscribed τύφλωση, “blindness”. I walked through using the secret signs that said “I am a friend”, and was met by a very lovely doorman. His name’s Chen, he’s missing an eye, and don’t ask how he got his scars. Chen’s a very nice man with very nice tattoos, and I once saw him kick the jaw off an angry troll with as much effort as I do sneezing.
“Mornin’ Chen. How’s things?”
“Gonna see the Eye, alright?”
“Great talking to you.”
The door opened and I walked inside.
The Good Night is a fine place and delivers on what it eponymously promises. It’s somehow fancy, clean and darkly lit with brass work and lovely private booths, and trashy, with pachinko machines and neon lights and sticky bathroom floors. I nodded to the bartender, slipped past Zzzohrogog and the library without saying hello (the guy drones on for ages), and almost made it to the stairs before nearly slamming into Jessie.
She crossed her arms, the bar in the bridge of her nose making her black eyes look fiercer than normal. I threw up my hands. This was the last thing I wanted but, probably, the first I should have expected.
“Look, I’ve got your money, I just-”
“Just’? You have it or not, Eoin. This isn’t quantum physics.”
“I do have it, just not on me.”
“Spare me.” Jessie crossed her arms. She was dressed to kill in a double breasted coat, black as a sinful night, with her tangle of necklaces sparkling like stars. Her dreads were always perfectly in order too, tied behind her head with just one or two hanging over her shoulder in artfully perfect imperfection. “I’m done with your excuses.”
“Yes, and so am I, which is why if you just let me run down there real quick, I’ll have your money for you soon.” My hands itched. I needed a smoke. “I’m on a job.”
Jessie arched a perfectly sculpted brow. All the Many Gods, she wielded her beauty sharply. I was sliced in two just looking at her.
“I thought you had the money. Being on a job implies you will have money at some time in the future. Unless you’ve forgotten, the future is not now.”
“I do have it, it’s just that Many-Paws is currently holding it. She’ll, uh, send it my way once I’m done this job for her.”
The other eyebrow joined its twin. “You’re working for Many-Paws? Jesus Christ, Eoin, I don’t know if that’s a step up or a step down. Things really haven’t been the same for you since the House, have they?”
“No, they bloody well fucking have not.” I whispered, my throat tight.
“Careful.” She held up a gloved finger (black, naturally). “I respect your pain, but don’t you spread it around my bar.”
We were quiet for a second. I caught myself breathing heavily, and Jessie returned her hands to a impassable bar across her chest. We were at a standstill.
“You really working for Many-Paws?”
“Got the call this morning. Ambassador came to me in a Dream.”
“Some people would call that a nightmare.”
I shrugged. Bravado didn’t work on her, but it worked on me so I firmly resolved to employ it. “Bills to pay. Things to make right.” I rubbed my stubble. Many Gods, I needed a shave. “You know I’m good for it now. Either I get the job done and Many-Paws pays me, or I don’t get it done and Many-Paws takes care of me.”
“Oh Eoin, such the poor little lost sheep.” she said, and I heard the pity in her voice and it made me so furious I almost did something very, very stupid right then and there. So I put my hands in my pockets, breathed like Louise taught me, and calmed down.
“Yeah, well, aren’t we all a little lost. But me, I know where I’m going.” I pointed behind her. “So if you don’t mind, I need to see the Eye.”
Jessie shook her head, and somewhere in her braided dreads, bells tinkled. I nearly wept. “It can’t help you with Many-Paws.”
“I know. I want Wound. The Eye can help me find him.”
“And if he doesn’t want to be found? You know Wound. He’s fragile. Delicate.” She studied a perfect obsidian nail. “He’s reluctant these days.”
He’s power. I almost said it. I didn’t have to, Jessie knew it as well as I did, but saying it made it somehow all the more vulgar.
“I’ll make him an offer I trust he’ll take.”
Jessie took a long look at me, which is a hard thing to take from her. I’m tall; I brush the roofs of most of the basements I’ve lived in. Jessie is almost a whole head taller than me, an amazon of a woman who looks down on the world in bemused pity.
Abruptly, she gestured to the bar. I followed her glance and waiting there was a perfectly white cup of coffee. It practically gleamed.
“I can’t.” I croaked. There’s nothing sadder than a proud man realizing he’s poor. Well, maybe dying kids. That’s up there too.
“It’s on the house. Go find your cat.” Jessie snorted. “And pay me what you fucking owe me.”
I fell on that coffee like a starving man down a hole. I wouldn’t recommend cigarettes and coffee from The Good Night for breakfast. I’d damn well prescribe them.