I find her in the small chapel attached to the nursing home still wearing a rumpled nurse’s uniform. She isn’t praying: I’m out sure creatures from Outside the universe pray in any sense I’d understand. They fight and flee, and feel relief at surviving in the vast expanses beyond the small universe. This one is just waiting. She looks human, though her movements are slightly off even with substantial bulk to cover that flaw. Once, I thought that all Outsiders that took the time to look human did it in the way a duck decoy is meant to look like a duck, in order to lure prey in. These days, I know most do it in attempts to fit into the place they’ve adopted as their home.
“You are the wandering magician,” she says, not making it a question.
The downside of being the only wandering magician of an era is that you become the wandering magician. It becomes a title, which grows into a legend. It doesn’t help that I have done things that only feed that legend, and others that would make it last even longer if they were known. When your mother tries to instill values of being the best at what you do, and you become a magician – I imagine she has had cause to regret that, but it’s not as though we talk. “I am,” I say quietly. “And few Outsiders call for my aid.”
“I could place myself back Outside the universe, I think.” She turns slowly from the window to face me. “But I would not be able to resist the urge to return.”
There are no sirens in the distance. No police cars, no ambulances. Just the relative quiet of the Pearly Gates Retirement Residence about us. The wards the place offers up are often things of pain and sadness, but that is accumulated over the years. From the moment I could draw more joy and compassion than I could from most places. I wait, but she adds nothing. “Why?”
“There are laws. In this universe, there are – laws,” she says, waving her right hand vaguely. “Cruel rules that govern life and death.”
“I have it within me to break those. To – to heal certain illnesses, to tear cancers out of humans and destroy them entirely within my own body. I have done so twice, for those I thought –.” She falls silent, shoulders slumping. “It will be noticed. Doctors, machines, relatives. Even if I move on, people will talk. Even if I make a deal with the fae for a glamour different than this form, I would be found eventually. And I cannot trust myself to be certain about who I save. I can only do it every so often. To decide that I should help this person and not that one – I do not trust myself in that way, magician.”
“I have known magicians who have died trying what you can do,” I say, walking closer. “But like you, I dare not put myself in such a place. All power has limits, and that destroys the person with the power in the end if they keep reaching too far, no matter what the goal they seek. Perhaps especially if it is entirely for others benefit.”
“I could teach other Outsiders this; we could remove some cancers from this world. But only some, and it would never be understood. It would tear at the foundations sanity has been built upon, and the result would be a terrible time of madness.” The Outsider looks away. “I know this. I have asked others, have seen what would come. And yet. And yet I fear I would do this. Will do this, if I am not banished.”
“We destroy so many things by trying to save them.” I’m not talking about her. I don’t know what I’m talking about, not really. I reach out with the magic, with my will, and banish the Outsider, binding her from returning to the universe. I let her take the clothing, as a reminder, and hope she takes the memories as well.
I check the people the Outsider healed, to make sure they are still human, and then I walk away. I don’t think I call up the rain that falls, but I’m unable to pretend I am not crying. Sometimes there are no easy choices at all, and everything wears you down because so many things that are necessary are never good.
I make my way back to the hotel. I need a drink. I know I can’t have one, for all sorts of reasons.
Jay is pacing the hotel room, knowing something is wrong. He’s eleven, from far Outside the universe as well and taught me more things about Outsiders than I thought I’d ever learn. Charlie is human as well, with skills of her own, and she has known me longer than Jay.
“Sit,” she says, gesturing to one of the two beds in the room.