This sounded very promising indeed, at least at first. However, Alfie's saucer-eyed expression indicated that this was not an amorous inquiry.

"What do you mean?" Magnus asked.

"I mean . . ." Alfie lowered his voice further. "You do . . . those things you do. They're . . . they're magic. I mean, they have to be. I don't believe in the stuff, but . . ."

Magnus had maintained the premise that he was nothing but a showman. It was a premise that made sense, and most people were happy to accept it. But Alfie - an otherwise down-to-earth mundie - appeared to have seen through it.

Which was attractive. And worrying.

"What exactly are you asking me, Alfie?"

"I want her back, Magnus. There has to be a way."

"Alfie . . ."

"Or help me forget. I bet you could do that."

"Alfie . . ." Magnus didn't really want to lie, but this was not a discussion he was going to get into. Not now, and not here. Yet it seemed like he needed to say something.

"Memories are important," he said.

"But it hurts, Magnus. Thinking about her makes me ache."

Magnus didn't really want this kind of thing this early in the morning - this talk of aching memories and wanting to forget. This conversation needed to end, now.

"I need a quick splash in the bath to restore myself. Let room service in, won't you? You'll feel better once you eat something."

Magnus patted Alfie on the shoulder and made his way to the bathroom. He had to eject two more sleepers from the bathtub and the bathroom floor in order to engage in his ablutions. By the time he emerged, room service had produced six rolling tables laden with pitchers of tomato juice and all the eggs and grapefruit and coffee needed to make the morning bright again. Some of the near dead sleeping around the suite had risen and were now noisily eating and drinking and comparing notes to see who was feeling the worst.

"Did you get our presents, Magnus?" one of the men said.

"I did, thank you. I'd been needing some spare tires."

"We got them off a police car. To get them back for ruining your place."

"Very kind of you. Speaking of, I suppose I should go check on what's left of my establishment. The police didn't look happy last night."

No one paid much attention when he left. They continued to eat and drink and talk and laugh over their suffering, and occasionally run to the bathroom to be ill. It was this way more or less every night and every morning. Strangers appeared in his hotel room, always a wreck after the previous night. In the morning, they stuck themselves back together again. They rubbed at raccoon-eyed faces full of smeared makeup, looked for lost hats and feathers and beads and phone numbers and shoes and hours. It wasn't a bad life. It wouldn't last, but nothing ever did.

They would all be like Alfie in the end, crying on his sofa at dawn and regretting it all. Which was why Magnus stayed away from those kinds of problems. Keep moving. Keep dancing.

Magnus whistled as he closed the door to his suite, and he doffed his hat to a very disapproving-looking older lady in the hall who heard the ruckus inside. By the time he had taken the elevator down to the lobby, he was in a good enough mood to tip the elevator operator five dollars.


Magnus's good mood lasted only a few minutes. This taxi ride was considerably less merry than the last one. The sun was being obstinately bright, the taxi choked and sputtered, and the streets were more full of traffic than usual - six cars across, all honking at once, all blowing noxious fumes through the window. Every police car he saw reminded him of the indignities he had suffered last night.

When he reached 25th Street, the full extent of the destruction was immediately made clear. The door to the wig shop was broken and had been replaced (not very carefully) with a wooden board and a chain. Magnus opened this with a quick shot of blue light from his fingers and pulled the wood away. The wig shop had sustained fairly serious damage - displays overturned, wigs all over the floor in a shallow wash of beer and wine, looking like strange sea life. The hidden door had been ripped completely off its hinges and was thrown across the room. He sloshed his way through the tight hallway, which had about three inches of mixed and souring alcohol pooled on the recessed floor. The head of this stream came trickling down the three steps that led up to the bar. This door was completely gone, reduced to splinters. Beyond that, Magnus saw only destruction - shattered glass, broken tables, piles of debris. Even the innocent chandelier had been beaten down from its perch and lay in pieces on what was left of the dance floor.

But this was not the worst of it. Sitting in the wreckage on one of three unbroken chairs was Aldous Nix, the High Warlock of Manhattan.

"Magnus," he said. "Finally. I've been waiting for an hour."

Aldous was old - even by warlock standards. He predated the calendar. Based on his recollections of things, the general consensus was that he was probably just under two thousand years old. He had the appearance of a man maybe in his late fifties, with a fine white beard and a neatly trimmed head of white hair. His mark was his clawed hands and feet. The feet were disguised by specially made boots, the hands by the fact that he almost always kept one pocketed and the other wrapped around the silver ball handle of a long black cane.

That Aldous sat there in the middle of the wreckage was a sort of accusation.

"What have I done to deserve this honor?" Magnus said, carefully stepping onto the mess on the floor. "Or have you always wanted to see a deconstructed bar? It is something of a spectacle."

Aldous knocked a bit of broken bottle away with his cane.

"There's better business to be done, Magnus. Do you really want to spend your time selling illegal liquor to mundanes?"


"Bane . . ."

"Aldous . . . ," Magnus said. "I've been involved in so many problems and battles. There's nothing wrong with wanting to live simply for a while and avoid trouble."

Aldous waved his hand at the wreckage.

"This isn't trouble," Magnus said. "Not real trouble."

"But it's also not a serious endeavor."

"There's nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy life a little. We have forever. Should we really spend all of it working?"

It was a stupid question to ask. Aldous probably would spend all of eternity working.

"Magnus, you can't have failed to notice that things are changing. Things are afoot. The Great Mundane War . . ."

"They always get into wars," Magnus said, picking up the bases of a dozen shattered wine glasses and setting them in a row.

"Not like that. Not so global. And they are approaching magic. They make light and sound. They communicate over distances. It doesn't worry you?"

"No," Magnus said. "It doesn't."

"So you don't see it coming?"

"Aldous, I've had a long night. What are you talking about?"

"It comes, Magnus." Aldous's voice was suddenly very deep. "You can feel it all around. It's coming, and everything will break apart."

"What's coming?"

"The break, and the fall. The mundanes put their faith in their paper money, and when that turns to ash, the world will turn upside down."

Being a warlock certainly didn't preclude you from going a little funny in the head. In fact, being a warlock could easily make you go a little funny in the head. When the true weight of eternity really settled on you - usually in the middle of the night when you were alone - the weight could be unbearable. The knowledge that all would die and you would live on and on, into some vast unknown future populated by who knew what, that everything would always keep falling away and you would go on and on . . .

Aldous had been thinking about it. He had the look.

"Have a drink, Aldous," Magnus said compassionately. "I keep a few special bottles hidden in a safe under the floor in the back. I have a Château Lafite Rothschild from 1818 that I've been saving for a sunny day."

"You think that's the solution to everything, don't you, Bane? Drinking and dancing and making love . . . but I tell you this, something is coming, and we'd be fools to ignore it."

"When have I ever claimed not to be a fool?"

"Magnus!" Aldous stood suddenly and slammed the tip of his walking stick down, sending a flood of purple bolts crackling along the wreckage of the floor. Even when he was talking crazy, Aldous was a powerful warlock. Stick around for two thousand years - you're bound to pick up a thing or two.

"When you decide to be serious, come and find me. But don't wait too long. I have a new residence, at the Hotel Dumont, on 116th Street."

Magnus was left in the dripping remains of his bar. One Downworlder coming in and talking a load of nonsense about omens and disaster was to be ignored. But having that followed by a visit from Aldous, who seemed to be saying much the same thing . . .

. . . unless those two rumors were one and the same, and they had both originated with Aldous, who was not sounding like the voice of complete reason.

That made sense, actually. The High Warlock of Manhattan gets a little strange, starts talking about doom and mundane money and disaster . . . someone would pick that story up and carry it along, and like all stories, it would find its way to Magnus.

Magnus tapped his fingers on the cracked marble of his once-pristine bar. Time, he had noticed, moved more quickly these days. Aldous wasn't completely wrong about that. Time was like water, sometimes glacial and slow (the 1720s . . . never again), sometimes a still pond, sometimes a gentle brook, and then a rushing river. And sometimes time was like vapor, vanishing even as you passed through it, draping everything in mist, refracting the light. That had been the 1920s. Copyright 2016 - 2023