51. The Stillness Of Safety

Governments were not unaware of the Structure in the ocean. The chamber was the size of a mansion, drifting in a section of the sea that deformed all the weather around it. All sorts of names were used to describe it, and arguments were held on a variety of communication channels as to just who should be looking at it. To nobody’s great surprise, the loudest voices in that argument were on opposite sides of the Atlantic. The argument was, nonetheless, strangled short, however, when the storm ended around it.

Ships and helicopters came down to rescue the people, following signals sent out by the devices Cards had brought with her. While they all had ideas in their minds of how things went, when an emergency of some sort concluded – sitting on benches, wearing heavy blankets, sipping drinks from large cups and explaining the best of the story could understand – only one of them was prepared for the actual experience of it.

Vessels carried six people to five different homes. Naval men and women listened as best they could to five different accounts of what, exactly, had happened – but everyone was glad to know that the thing in the ocean was less likely to explode, now.

*

Angus went home to find himself without a job. It wasn’t like there was any use or application for a person who could tell you why the magic you saw wasn’t magic, what with the world being a place of magic, now. What’s more, he’d found himself without much talent for magic himself.

In the end, Angus did what many people of only modest skill but interesting experience did, and wrote a book. Hardly a best-seller, in the reshaping world of magical studies, he instead took to the task of education. Turns out that in a world with actual illusionary magic, the task of understanding how humans’ minds were fooled was still toil worth undertaking.

While Angus did not become someone glamorous, or powerful, or well-regarded amongst his community, his work kept him in sweater vests for the rest of his days.

*

Up in Canada, by the wharfs, the witch named Innogen went back to a school schedule, champing at the new limitations on her magic. It wasn’t a bad idea, one she could certainly understand, where magic had become sealed off, behind various levels of mental gymnastics that became easier as you became older. Whether it was what Holland had intended, specifically, or not, a person’s magic hit a certain limit at the edges of their body. Innogen, as a teenager, found that while she could construct the patterns in her mind, could not fill that pattern with magic.

People had limits, now. Every day, the spells she used to clean her clothes, speed her path to school, to quicken her memory, became a little bit stronger. There weren’t people dispelling whole cities, or schoolteachers so terrified of the possibility of a student who could throw fireballs.

Innogen did miss throwing lightning bolts, but only because it looked totally badass. There wasn’t much the world could throw in her path, now, that she hadn’t dealt with.

Funny thing, most nobody Innogen knew, afterwards, ever heard the story about the time she went to the Forever in the Sea, the time she and her best friends fought and killed the Prince of a Thousand Eyes.

It wasn’t that Innogen wasn’t proud of what she’d done. It certainly wasn’t guilt at having electrocuted her cousin, who she insisted would walk it off once they were near medical facilities. Innogen didn’t talk about that day, because she felt it was far more important to find something new to overcome. And therefore, she was back in school, doing well at Math and watching the news for information on upcoming scientific studies and fast-start college programs designed to teach and learn about Magic.

*

The world was a strange place. There was still a woman in the jungles of Central America, fighting a one-woman war against the worst elements of drug cartels and rebel fighters who respected not life nor liberty. Garish, bright guns, decorated with silver and gold were still left at the sites of each fight, and the myth of the woman continued. While the people of the drug cartels changed their operations with magic in their toolsets, Cards merely added to her repertoire of tactics, a fairly important new plan: scrag the mage.

Cards knew what most of the others she’d worked with didn’t. The world had been a strange place before, and it would be a strange place afterwards.

*

Few people who considered ‘normal’ a goal in their lives ever realised how fruitless a pursuit it was. Enk had wanted to be normal so badly that he’d built his life around it – deliberately constructing his afterschool time to free himself from things like decisions. It was a hard thing to hold onto, though, after literally remembering the lives of so many other people.

Jubal had not wanted to be normal. He’d just wanted his father to be well. Delilah had wanted freedom. Shamgar, Shamgar had been the craziest of them all. The Bodyguard craved a world that was safe, and the Prince didn’t really want anything. The Prince was everyone else’s want, not his own.

Sitting in his study, he held the piece of paper, with its well-overdue report question. The school year had been shot to pieces, with all the disasters, the revolution around the world. Now that life was settling down, and magic was being studied, he had tried to go back to school. That brought its own challenge, since he remembered being an adult so many times over.

Compare and contrast the national attitudes towards domestic leaders Oliver Cromwell and Abraham Lincoln.

Enk shook his head, running his hand through his black hair, and pushed his spectacles back on his face. A sigh ran up and down his body before it escaped his lips, and he looked out the window to see nothing but whiteness.

Enk was normal. In the statistical sample size of one, he had a perfect match to the statistical model of teenage boys who had been to the middle of the ocean, become possessed by ancient not-quite-gods, and then been hit in the chest with a lightning bolt before helping to save the world.

Maybe the world didn’t need magic. He wasn’t even sure that the world was better with magic in it. Still… it was comforting to know that magic was there, that there was another great mystery for people to spend their time learning about. After all, he’d never had any gift for particle physics.

If only he could remember where he’d left his mobile phone…

*

Warm gulf water lapped against Barbara’s feet.

For one glorious year, her family’s strange little ritual, believed to have power – without any good reason! – had been given the strength of gods. She had reached out, and pulled stars out of the sky. She had struck the face of a thing that stood before men did.

The dreams of her homeland spoke of hope, change, transformation, of being able to achieve with the labour of her hands. It was the place of opportunity, it was the land of the free, the home of the brave, and she couldn’t stand it. The teenager had tasted the power of something above and beyond herself, and had lost it.

If America was the place where people made dreams, Barbara had decided to make sure she knew her dream, clear and certain. It was less a dream, more a plan. One day, in the future, they’d tell stories about her. About the vigilante heroine who had fought uphill to reclaim magical power that had been hers, shriven from her soul by machinations beyond her. They’d remember the mask, the indestructible cellphone, the roar of a lion’s shadow that followed her. It was an ambition that could consume a person’s life.

Thank god she had her friends to keep her centred.

*

Sometimes, Holland wondered if guilt was the appropriate response, but never so deeply as to actually feel any. Magic made much of life easier for people. Some Magicians (who insisted on the term Thaumic Medical Professionals) were working on transitional spells, spells that would erase the barrier that Holland had grown up on the wrong side of. Holland was lucky enough to jump the queue.

Holland had friends now. The Canadian boy who had been turned into the Prince of a Thousand Eyes. His cousin, who’d thrown a fricking lightning bolt at him. Barbara, whose tumblr rolled on Holland’s extravagant but oh-so-cute smartphone. Holland went to sleep now with people saying goodnight, and woke up to people who were happy to say hello.

Summer heat built around Holland. In one year, Holland had escaped a bull, gained magical powers, hidden from crabs, hidden behind crabs, faced down one of the worst human impulses, and maybe saved the world a little bit. Christmas was coming, and Holland laughed looking at the phone’s screen, talking with Innogen and Barbara and Enk about this ‘snow’ stuff.

No more pills on the nightstand. No more stressing out over a mistimed medication. No fear of the inevitable surgery, which wasn’t inevitable any more.

It had, really, been a good year.

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