Friday

Midnight's Balance Chapter Two


Chapter Two
(this is unedited please be kind.)

I awoke with a heavily weighted knowledge that I was not alone in my house. A feeling I had just only finally shucked. With each new familiar I had to readjust and reevaluate my personal spaces. and with Marina's arrival another 25 years of companionship had begun. Not for the first time, I berated myself for allowing this contract to begin with. That’ll teach a man from saving a witch from hanging.  He gets stuck with her family for 200 years. 
I pushed back the covers on bed and swung my legs over the side testing the aches in my muscles and joints. I looked pretty good for my age, not much over 35, but hundreds of years of living had taken its toll on my body. I stood up and stretched before shifting down to the floor and twisting over into the push-up position. I pumped a few out, getting my blood flowing before standing and shaking it out. Physical exercise seemed to be the only thing that held off the aches and pains of old age.
I went into the bathroom and stopped at the mirror. I'd been looking at the exact same face for hundreds of years. It never changed and never grew older. There were never new creases beside my eyes or along my forehead. I found myself sometimes longing for a change. Praying that I would see it there when I woke up in the morning.
 Change never came to this face, unlike my familiar. It was strange witnessing the aging process from the outside. I watched the women come into my life, age for 25 years, and then leave it. Ten years later the newest model would arrive they'll look the same as they all share the same ancestry. With each having their own take on the same consistent features. All of the Paget women were dainty, blonde, and self-possessed. Which in some of Marina's ancestor’s cases not a good thing for the women at the time.
I rubbed my hand over the stubble on my face but decided to leave it. The hair never grew very long anyway. You’d think after a couple hundred years a man could grow a bear. I brushed my teeth and dressed quickly before heading downstairs, certain Marina would be up any minute.
As I entered the study I snapped my fingers to start a fire. The fireplace burst to life lighting up the room in warmth and heat. I plopped on the stool by the table and nabbed my phone off the stack of books. It was never easy to go over the day’s news. The same ol same ol persecution, magical intolerance, etc. etc. It never changed and as long as the government was controlled by the witch hammer party it wouldn't.
Worse though I couldn't do anything about it. The balance was always my priority. While the sides were growing murky the barrier between magic and non-magic hadn't slipped and so I waited.  
As the sun broke through the living room shutters my stomach let out a long gurgle. I glanced toward the kitchen wishing that there was food already made and I didn't have to do the work myself.  Another growl reverberated through the room as if it knew I needed further encouragement. With a sigh I stood up and padded into the kitchen, the tile floors freezing my bare feet. With practiced maneuvers I started loaded up the coffee pot and inserted an English muffin into the toaster. A thump came through the kitchen and when I glanced out the door down the hallway Marina stood in the corridor one eye closed her hand pressed against her for head.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She gave me a noncommittal sound and entered the kitchen her eyes barely open.
“Did you hit the wall?” I asked.
She didn’t answer but bellied up to the counter to the coffee pot “Okay why is there no coffee?” I flipped the switch to start it and she groaned before plopping in a chair by the small scarred table in the corner of the kitchen. “I'm going to need coffee the function.” 
I nodded. “Understood.” 
She threw her head onto her arms. “No coffee.” Her voice came out muffled between her folded arms. 
“Got it coffee.” I started the kettle well for my own tea and as the pot whistled the coffee finished. Marine fairly leapt to grab a mug. She filled it then doctored the liquid with milk and sugar. 
I carefully waited until the zombie turned into something resembling a human before pressing her. “Anything else? Do you want some breakfast?” 
“No,” she said. “Just coffee.” 
“Do you eat food?” I prompted further. 
“Of course I eat food. I’m just not a breakfast person.” 
“What do you mean not a breakfast person.”
She shrugged sipping the coffee with her eyes closed. “I mean I just don't eat breakfast.”
I poured my tea and tossed in a bag. “When do you mean you don't breakfast. You mean you don't like bacon?” 
She shrugged. “Not particularly.” 
I grabbed her mug and put it on the counter. “Well it was nice knowing you.” 
Her eyes popped open. “What?” 
“I'm afraid you can't live here.”
“You’re messing with me.” 
But I didn't answer, instead stirred the tea in my cup.
“You can’t kick a person out of your house for not eating bacon.” 
I take a sip of the tea before crossing the kitchen to spreading jam on my English muffin. “It's my house I can kick people out for not eating bacon.” 
“You didn’t kick my mother out.” 
The flash of Marina’s mother's first day with me crashed into my head. Mary Beth was a strange one. 
“She was the vegetarian one, wasn't she?” I asked. 
Still as I said it I shuttered. “I don't know how a person could live their entire life without bacon.” 
“Don't let her hear you say that.” she said. 
“Oh she’s heard me say it plenty of times.” 
I crunch on the English muffin as she finished her coffee and refilled her cup for second time.
“So what's on the agenda today?” 
I shove the last few bites in my mouth and wipe my hands. “I figured we’d start with some basics. Besides the reading.” 
“Okay, you're the boss. What sort of basics did you have in mind?” she asked. 
“I figured we'd start with Newman's theories.” 
“Which are?” she prompted. 
“Did your mother not teach you anything?” 
She shrugged. “She figured you were going to teach me what I needed to know. She figured magic would have changed in the 30 years since you taught her.” 
I shook my head. “Magic never changes. No matter what. It's a part of this world. Harnessing it will always be the same.
“Okay.” she said. 
I let out a sigh balancing my frustration. I always forgot how little patience I actually had when it came to teaching. “Close your eyes.” 
I nodded pointedly at her coffee mug. She sat it on the counter and closed her eyes, leaning hips back against the granite. “What am I doing here?” 
“Just keep your eyes closed.” I said. She kept them closed squeezing them tight now. 
“I want you think about your coffee mug right there beside you.” 
“Picture every detail. The words, think of the pictures on the mug.” 
“What if I didn’t get a good look at it?” she asked. I
I sighed and looked at the ceiling tiles. It wasn’t prayer it was me wondering if I could bring the lot of it down on us to end this lesson before it began. “Open your eyes.”
 She popped them open trying to appear the picture of innocence.
“This is part of the training. You have to be able to bring things to your mind this way. Studying the world carefully being able to recall it in your head that's part of magic.”
“Fine.” She said picking up the mug. She spent time looking at it before turning it around her palm like a wounded baby bird, carefully scrutinizing each side.
 She sat it down and closed her eyes again.
“Are you ready this time?” I asked. 
She nodded. 
“okay picture the mug in your mind.”
She squeezed her eyes shut her nose wrinkling up slightly with the effort. 
“I want you picture coffee in the mug.” 
“But there's no coffee.” she said. 
“I know it’s empty right now. Picture what it would look like with coffee in it. Think about it. Put coffee in the mug.” 
She let out a chuckle that sounded like an escaped bubble. “If this works you might be my favorite person in the entire world.” 
“Just focus,” I said. 
She let out a breath and squeezed her palms together snapping her fingers before settling in. She stood silent and still. I watched the mug carefully. Nothing. A full five minutes, that felt like an hour passed. 
“Okay open your eyes. Take a look in the mug.” 
She pushed off the counter and peered inside. “It's empty.” 
“I know.” 
“So what was the point?”
 “The point,” I offer, “was one, to see if you can actually do it. Two to assess what we are going to need work on to improve your magical abilities. And three, I just wanted to screw with you.” 
She crossed her arms over her chest and gave me a look. “It's too early for you to be messing with me. I may not be able to do magic but I can knee you in the balls.”
I stepped back. “You wouldn't dare.” 
“Mess with me again before I am properly caffeinated and you'll find out.”
I eyed her warily doubting she would actually do it before exiting the kitchen into the study. I heard the coffee pot scrape along its base before her footsteps followed me down the hallway. She sat on the same stool she did the day before and watched me over the rim of her coffee mug.
“Was that all your planned torture?” she asked. 
I shook my head. “Of course not. We have a lot of training to cover and a short amount of time.”
 “What for?”
“I need you to be ready, as my familiar.”
“Ready for what?” 
“To help you restore the balance.”
“The balance of what”
“Christ.” I press my palms into the stainless steel trying to ground my anger into the metal. “You mean your mother didn't tell you about these things?” 
She let out a sigh forcing the breath out of her nose. “She gave me the basics but it's different coming from you.” 
“What’s that mean?” I asked. 
“She gave me her opinion, and her point of view. Now I'm asking you your opinion and your point of view.” 
It was fair enough question. “My opinion is that were on the brink of war.” 
“With whom?” 
“The world is on the brink of war. Magic and the balance are constantly fighting. With Witch’s Hammer in power things are getting worse. The balance is starting to crumble. I can feel it. Any day I'm expecting it shift and I'm going to have to take action.” 
“What sort of action?”
“I don't know, it depends on the amount of damage and what exactly causes the shift.”
“What could cause the shift?”
“I won't know until it happens.” 
Her forehead wrinkled. “That sounds awful.” 
I shrugged. “Did you ever hear of the black plague?”
She stared. “You’re joking.”
I shrugged. “If you finished the book I gave you yesterday you’d know the answer that question.”
“You can't expect me to have read this book one night.” She shifted it across the table with her finger. 
“Nonsense. You're going to have to read fast. I can feel things changing. Your mother and your grandmother might not have had to fight or even do much to help me but I know it in my bones that you will.” 
“That's kind of scary.” 
“I will teach you the same things that I taught them but to them it was just theory to you that might be action.” 
She tripped on the stool and I could tell I was scaring her. But I couldn't lie about the situation.
“What happens if the balance is lost when you don't have a familiar?” She asked. 
I shrugged. “The last familiar came back in action and helped me until the crisis was over.”
“What if that familiar is dead? 
“You mean what if someone in your family is dead?” 
She shrugged. “What if I'm dead?” 
I could see a slight panic beginning in her face. I reached out and grabbed her wrist in my hand. “Look at me.” 
“I will keep you safe.” 
She swallowed audibly and then nodded. I released her hand and she trailed her fingers along the book spine pulling it towards her. “I guess I better get reading then.” She flipped open the book to the bookmark she’d stuck in there the previous day. 
I grabbed a book off my own stack and opened it in front of me while clutching my tea. The room dissolved into the silence of the fire popping.
* * *
When the clock echoed with noon I glanced across the worktable to find Marina still absorbed in her book. She was hunched over in a position I could never be comfortable, face pressed to her hands which balanced on her elbows on either side of the tome.
“Are you hungry?” I asked. She didn't answer.
“Are you hungry?” I raised my voice. 
She jerked almost falling face first on the book. “No I'm not hungry.” 
“Are you sure?” I asked as her stomach let out a loud grumble. She sat up and put her hands on her belly.
“Okay maybe I'm a little hungry.” 
“I can make something.” I suggested. 
She nodded and lifted her arms overhead to stretch. “This is all you do every day?”
“Most the time, yes. There's not much call for magic outside my home these days.”
“Did you used to leave your house to do magic?”
I nodded. “Most the time it was a routine healing or a portal spell. Your basic stuff. But once the Witch’s Hammer took over all that changed. They were afraid to reach out to me or ask for help. Now I barely get any calls or requests. When I do it's usually big stuff, things that require more energy and more skill.”
I considered the last time someone called me. “Well, the last time I was contacted my services were requested it was after a hanging.” 
Marina blinked. “You mean the hanging of a witch?”
I nodded. “Apparently the witch had left something for her family but they couldn't figure out how to get the information. So they requested my services.”
“What did you do for that? You bring her back from the dead?”
I started. “I don't even have that kind of power.” 
She shrugged. “I don't know what kind of power you do or don't have.”
“Fair enough. No I contacted her using an Ouija board to get the information.”
“What was the message?” she asked. 
“The witch had a son.” 
Marina blinked. “The witch had as son nobody else knew about?”
I nodded. “She did. He lived with his father, but she feared he was beginning to show magic and didn't want him to end up like her. So she left the clue for family but they weren't able to decode it.”
Marina leaned forward absorbed in the details. “And what happened?”
“I contacted the boy's father and he was given over to her family to raise.”
“The father just let them go?”
“He's likely still in contact with the son but it's safer for the boy if her family raises him.”
She dropped her head and I watched her closely trying to figure out the emotions going on. Connecting to my familiar, being able to understand her emotional range, helped us work better together. “What is it?” I asked.
She glanced up. “Oh nothing. I just can't imagine how hard it was. That boy growing up with his father and not knowing about magic and suddenly living with his mom's family learning about it.”
“It happens all the time. Bloodlines mingle and people don't know what is or was in their bloodline before. And then suddenly they get angry or scared and it bursts out.”
Marina nodded. “I’ve seen it on the news: people accused of witchcraft who had no previous history or experience with it. Can you do anything to help?”
I held up my hands. “I’m not sure what I could do. I can't make people stop using magic in public, nor can I protect those who don't know about their abilities because I don't know about their abilities.”
She shook her head. “I just feel like you’re the big magic in this area, there's got to be something we can do.”
I raised an eyebrow. “In this area?” 
She chuckled. “You know what I mean.”
I thought I knew what she meant but it pinged my ego a little to hear it. “What did you mean in this area?” I asked for clarification. 
She shrugged. “I just assumed that there were magicians in charge of certain areas that you couldn't cover everything.” 
Was that what her family was saying? Or was that something she picked up in her own extensive research? “What gave you that assumption?” I asked. 
She shook her head. “I don't know. It's just something I thought. That there was a sort of magical president of all of the areas.”
I shook my head no. “I am in charge of this realm. There others in charge of other realms, but as far as Earth goes I’m the one stop shop. I would have thought your family had explained all this to you before you arrived. That was their responsibility, to prepare you to the best of their ability before you came to me.”
“That seems like a lot of responsibility.” 
I noticed she didn’t comment on the other part of my tirade so I let it go too. It didn’t bode well if were fighting before we’d even really begun to work together. “As I said I don't have much to do these days.”
She nodded. “And where do I fall and all of this?” 
I regarded her. This young girl so new to the world and all its dangers. “As I mentioned last night you’re my right hand.”
She stared. Well, I'll do my best.” Her stomach let out a loud grumble and she laughed.
“How about we just start with lunch.” I offered.


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