Speculative Fantasy Drama

A harsh, hurried knock reverberates through the house, all the way out to the patio. The gold in Meredith's eyes is intense, practically glowing when they meet Joshua's.

He shakes his head in confusion but rises quickly and makes for the front door. “Stay here.”

She doesn’t like being commanded but doesn’t move.

Joshua's heart pounds in his chest and between his ears as he approaches the front door. They really should have put in a looking window to peek at visitors without needing to open the door to see who it is. He’ll be making that change as soon as possible.

He hadn’t heard a car; he should have been able to hear one on the drive. It’s a stray thought as Joshua turns the iron knob with a clack and pulls the heavy door inward.

Sam's face is one of displeased impatience. “Joshua, we need to talk.”

A little voice rings from the top of the stairs. “Daddy?” Joshua's daughter, Alex, is rubbing her eyes with tiny, soft fists.

“Go back to sleep, little one. Daddy's friend didn’t mean to knock so loudly.” Joshua glares ferociously towards Sam, who takes a step back at the unfamiliar expression. Joshua is rarely angry, and certainly never in the company of the Magi's elite guard.

“Come, I’ll sing to you.” Meredith's lips curve into a smile for the Alex but press into a tight line when she glances back at the men in the door. Joshua can see the flicker of gold still active in her eyes.

He might be able to sense power, Meredith. I think we're being watched. Joshua whispers the thought into her mind, carefully blocking Sam from being able to perceive it, too.

Her eyes remain golden, but the energy in them extinguishes in an instant. The difference is subtle, and so far only Joshua seems to be able to notice it. He used to fear she’d be discovered as the undocumented practitioner she is due to those intense eyes, but he learned early into their friendship that seeing vitality was an ability only other life force practitioners seemed to have. General magicians have no such ability, as far as he can tell, but it's still a working theory, so it’s better to be safe. In any event, it had become a secret they shared—both of them vowing never to tell another person. Everyone believes Meredith to be a disconnected human, and everyone knows Joshua as a practical magi, but nothing more. That’s the way they want to keep it.

Based on the slight fuzziness of the air now, Joshua knows that Meredith has placed a vitality cloak around herself so that Sam won’t discover her. He breathes a silent sigh of relief and smiles up at their daughter.

“Who’s here, Daddy?”

“Just a friend from the Magi. Now, head back to your room. It’s not time to be up yet.”

Meredith reaches the top of the stairs and nods down at Joshua. “Daddy's going to go outside to talk to his friend while you and I lay back down.” She takes Alex into her arms, and the two of them disappear around the corner into the upstairs hallway.

Joshua rounds on Sam the moment they’re out of the house and the front door closes behind them. “What are you doing here? I told you to get Adam.”

Sam is unmoved now, even in the face of Joshua's barely-contained anger. “I can’t do that. It has to be you, and I cannot take no for your answer.”

Joshua stares for a moment, blinking in disbelief. “Last I checked, we’re free to make our own decisions, and I’ve been very clear about mine. Meredith is due to deliver in the next month or two, and I have no intention of leaving her to do it alone again. It’s non-negotiable.”

Sam sets his jaw and pushes his shoulders back, standing at full height. Joshua is a tall man, but Sam has an imposing presence. Most mind practitioners like Sam have a certain energy that earns them immediate respect and acquiescence. When Joshua continues to stand his ground against him, Sam glowers. It’s enough to unsettle Joshua slightly, given this Magi's typical charming demeanor.

“You’re right that there’s nothing to negotiate. Your participation in this Assignment is no longer optional. It’s required, and any further resistance will be seen as an act against the Magi.”

“An act against the Magi?” Joshua scoffs before pulling his emotions close to himself again. “I have always served the Magi to the best of my ability, and you know that better than most people. I cannot believe that you would ever suggest otherwise.”

Sam's posture softens and he sighs. “I know you have, Josh. I know. But Inspector Grimes is in Covington, and I think you know why.”

Joshua's muscles flex, holding all of his tension for him. “I don’t.”

“The Magi have sensed life force magic here in Covington, but there are no documented practitioners on the Covington registry.” Sam rubs his face and blows out air again. “I’ve done all I can, but you have to come in. They’re starting an investigation, and you and I both know where that leads. If you come in on your own, then maybe we can work something out.”

Shit. They know.

“I’m not a life force practitioner, Sam. You know that I’m a practical magician. General magic.”

To admit that he’s a life force practitioner, would be to admit that he’s a multi-magician... a practitioner with multiple abilities. Multis are incredibly rare, and considered a potential threat by default. Life force practitioners are a restricted type on their own, marked immediately as an inevitable threat upon discovery. So, to be a life force multi-magician would mean a lifetime of direct oversight by the Magi. In all his years working for them, Joshua has never witnessed a multi lead a normal life. He’s made it twenty-eight years with his freedom intact and has no intention of changing that anytime soon.

Sam throws his head back. “Come on. You and I both know that the life force vitality originated from your home.”

“Is that what the case is about? The one you called me about yesterday—the one I said I wouldn't do?”

Sam's brows crease in pseudo-amusement. “I mean, in a way, yes. They’re related.”

“How so?”

“I will give you more information on the case once we’re on the train headed to London.”

While Joshua normally relishes the opportunity to travel on the silvery train, nothing about this situation feels particularly inviting. Everything inside of him is screaming to run far away and not look back. But he can’t. He has a family.

“I’m not a life force practitoner, and I already said no to the case, so I don’t understand why you’re insisting I come with you.”

Sam leans forward and practically hisses, “Because if you don’t, your house is the next stop on Inspector Grimes’ roster. I won’t be protecting you when he discovers your status.”

Joshua blanches, his typically-bronze skin paling in an instant. “I’m not undocumented. The Magi know I’m a magician.”

“They know you’re a general magician. You never disclosed your life force vitality and, therefore, your status as a multi. To withhold that information is to act in direct violation of Magi law. You know the expectations better than anyone. You teach the class on it!”

Joshua runs slender fingers through his hair. “I’m not a multi. I have no life force vitality.” Simply repeating it again does nothing to convince anyone, but denial is the only thing Joshua's mind can conjure as response.

“Then it’s Meredith.” Sam sweeps a sturdy hand toward the house. “I’m sure Inspector Grimes will be happy to bring her in instead.”

Joshua chokes. Sam's brows raise, but he says nothing.

“If I come with you, I have your word that the Magi will leave Meredith and Alex be.” It’s both a question and a demand.

Sam nods. “I can promise that. You do this task for me, and all the life force nonsense goes away.”

Joshua's shoulders sag. In his mind he sees Meredith's face streaked with tears, being loaded into a car by Inspector Grimes. He imagines Alex's cries, wondering where her mama went, or if she’d ever be coming home. He feels the ache in his heart at not knowing the answer to those questions. He imagines never meeting their unborn child, born in some Magi facility somewhere far away. And he can stop all of it.

“I’ll go with you.” It’s barely a whisper as Joshua says the words. Leaving his family is the last thing he’d ever want to do, but the other option is Meredith being discovered, and he vowed long ago to guard that secret with his life.

“I’ll send a car for you in two hours. We’ll meet at the station and be in London by nightfall.” Sam examines Joshua's pained face. “I know this isn’t what you want, and I do wish it could be different.”

That’s hard to believe. “What do I tell Meredith?”

“Tell her you’ve agreed to take the case. Tell her that we convinced you to come, but that you’ll be home in a week or so.”

Only a week?

“Do you really think I’ll be back that quickly?”

“I don’t see why not. We just need you for this case, and once it’s done, you can come home.”

“What about the multi status?”

“You come do this case, and I’ll make sure the investigation finds that the Magi made an error. There was no life force vitality in Covington, after all.”

Joshua nods, and with that, the decision is made. Meredith is going to be devastated, but at least she'll be safe. He's off to London after all.

October 07, 2023 18:35

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