The Other Side of Magik

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Chapter 10

ENGLAND

A stiff, cool breeze fell down from the north and crossed the Pennine Hills on its way south.

The dense air pushed the warm, damp clouds before it as it picked up speed, skimming them to one side like soap bubbles in a bath. Below was clear air, and through that the sun finally put in an appearance.

It wasn’t much of a sun, being a little thin and weak, and it carried all the warmth of a tepid cup of tea at fifty paces… but it was the sun. Whether or not it worked properly, no-one seemed to mind, the mere presence of the thing meant that it wasn’t raining. And that was the main thing.

To Arthur Royce the sun meant that more people would come into the car-yard, and that would give him more opportunities to try out his new-found abilities. Especially on a Saturday. His personal trainer, failed mage Garreth Aldredge, sat in the customer lounge and watched proceedings, ready to leap to his assistance with a little coaching from time to time.

Arthur’s eyes roved over the five or six people who kicked the tyres and peered through the windows of the gleaming second-hand cars that filled the lot. Mentally tracing the outline of his mandala as Garreth had taught him, and half-squinting his eyes at the same time, Arthur felt a faint thread of communion… of interest.

There. The young guy with the girlfriend.

Keeping the mandala in his mind, he walked over to the couple, and as he got closer, Arthur began to perceive an aura around the young guy’s head. There was just the hint of colours that moved and blended together before separating again. Trying to keep everything focused, he turned to look over the lot. Garreth had told him not to look directly at the cars when he sought bio-empathy, but to look to one side; try to let the receptor sneak up on you.

Arthur’s gaze followed the roof-lines of the cars and the white fence that ran along the pavement. Casually he looked backward and forward until… there! In the windscreen of a two year old burgundy Peugot hatch… the same colours rippled!

Yes. Yes, it felt right.

‘Good morning, sir,’ Arthur greeted the couple. ‘Madame.’ “Never forget the ladies” was Arthur’s motto. The target was well dressed in leather jacket of stylish cut, and he wore neat, black slacks, pressed to perfection. His girlfriend… Arthur had already noticed the absence of a wedding ring… wore a long fashionable trench coat and glossy high-heeled pumps. Checking the make of their watches… his and her versions of the same Citizen… Arthur knew exactly where they were placed. He could have probably made a very close guess as to combined income; he was that good.

‘Arthur Royce,’ he said, around a smile and by way of introduction. ‘Is there anything at all I can help you with?’

‘Well,’ the young man said, cautiously, ‘we were looking at that blue Mondeo. A bit pricey, but…’ Certain of his knowledge in front of his love interest, the young man waited for Arthur to respond.

‘Good car, good choice,’ said Arthur. There was no way, he knew, that he would have lined up this customer with that car even before Garreth’s intervention. ‘Do you want to take it for a spin?’

The girl nodded first. Right! Now Arthur knew who wanted a nice family car for a guy who wasn’t a family guy… yet. ‘How would you like to keep it for a day?’

‘Yeah? How come?’ The young man peered closely at Arthur as if catches and tricks were somehow visible things.

‘How come? Because I would like you to do something for me first.’ Before he could be questioned further, he pointed to the Peugot. ‘Take that for a drive. Twenty minutes. Then you can have the Mondeo for a day.’

‘You’re kidding, right? Is that all?’

Garreth watched events from the lounge, in between ogling a magazine. He’d already spotted the Peugot, and when Arthur offered it for a drive, he knew Arthur was picking up the basics.

But his attention quickly reverted to the magazine, where such as he saw there brought out all the primal desires in him. He’d seen them on the streets, not many, but enough to set his pulse racing. He couldn’t image what it would be like… he could imagine what it would be like…

…the picture said it all; the captions merely gave names to his desire…

…Ducati. And he wanted one. Or Triumph. Or Yamaha. Or Honda. Or… they were all there, in his magazine; he didn’t care which one he had, so long as he had one. Motorcycles! His bicycle, by comparison, was now soul-less and dull. I think I’m in love.

Arthur came into the lounge, a weary smile on his face. He looked drained and Garreth knew it was an effort for him to keep up the mandala. But it would get easier the more he practised.

‘Liquids and energy food,’ he told Arthur, tossing the magazine aside. ‘It’ll get easier, you know.’

Arthur grinned. ‘As long as I keep getting sales like that,’ he gestured with his thumb over at the burgundy Peugot and its new owner leaving the lot, ‘I don’t mind.’ He spotted the motor-cycle magazine and the glow in Garreth’s eyes.

‘Stay away from those machines, Garreth,’ Arthur said with a frown. ‘They’re bad for the health.’

But the glow didn’t disappear from Garreth’s eyes; he now had a very good reason for that very special ward.

The Saturday night lights of Manchester started to displace the remnants of the day and Garreth and Emily stared out at them from the warmth of a coffee bar. The movie would start in half an hour, just time enough to finish off the coffee… which, he’d been telling her, just wasn’t the same here. Like everything else that he had found, there were differences between the same things. Take the coffee for example…

‘I don’t know why, Em. A bean’s a bean, right? I don’t know of any Colombia or Italy in my world, we get our beans from the Indian Nations of Mechicoe and Aztlan, and Portuguese Far Brasil. The Frenche and Venetians do most of the roasting and blending… so Rufus tells me. But we don’t have it with frothy milk; I like that idea. When I get back I’ll…’ His voice drifted off and his eyes turned inwards. Emily knew he was far, far away. She reached over and squeezed his hand.

‘You miss your home, don’t you?’

There was a little lump in his throat that didn’t want to go away. ‘A bit,’ he said. ‘Well, a lot, actually.’ He doodled his spoon around the inside of his empty cup. ‘It’s… you know… it’s very different here, Emily. I guess I miss the familiar things… like…’

‘Like Jemma?’ Emily had a small smile on her face.

‘Yeah,’ he told her in an equally small voice. His hair flopped down and he raked in back with his fingers. ‘Yeah, I do. I think. It’s very confusing. Look… Emily… I really do like it here. This place sort of grows on you, you know? But it’s not real.’ He saw the look of surprise on her face. ‘It’s not my sort of real.’

‘Well, mister failed magician, having people fall out of mirrors and meeting dragons isn’t exactly commonplace here, you know.’

Garreth laughed. ‘True. Anyway, now that Master Ord has Danny they’ll get rid of the mandrake and when he comes back everything will be back to normal.’

The events of the last few weeks flittered through Emily’s mind and suddenly she wasn’t so sure exactly what normal was any more. ‘Do you believe that?’

‘No. You’re right. We’re changed for ever.’

‘That’s gloomy. I rather like the changes. I rather like knowing that magic and dragons and old harmless werewolves are real. That means it’s easier to put up with the Oldhams of this world.’

Garreth snapped his fingers. ‘That’s it. You don’t have to put up with the Oldhams of this world any longer.’

‘What do we do with them, then?’

‘We change them.’ He thought for a moment on the idea that was forming in his mind. Why not? Why not change things? Who would it hurt? Well… Oldham of course. But it wouldn’t hurt him much. And it would be nice to leave something for Danny when I have to leave.

‘Can you do something for me?’ he asked Emily. ‘Can you get something of Oldham’s?’

‘Like what?’

‘Something personal; clothing. Something he uses.’

A slow smile began to spread across Emily’s face; she had a very good idea what Garreth was thinking. ‘You can count on it.’

ANGLAND

The inter-city dirigible Hound of Culann nosed through the clear skies of Angland like a gleaming golden whale, silent and ponderous. Royal banners flew from the rear of the gondola letting everyone know that this was a special flight indeed. Apart from five passengers, and crew, the craft was empty.

Ensconced in First Class, amid the luxury of the clear-sided gondola, those passengers enjoyed an atmosphere that was one of serene and graceful locomotion. The only jarring note was the rather large black beast that lay curled up on the carpet, faintly snoring to itself.

A steward, dressed in the finest white livery strolled the aisles dispensing tea from silver samovars and kaffee from long-necked Aegyptian pots of sparkling bronze.

Jemma Mayhorn was also excited, if not a little fearful. The flight had been quickly and secretively organized; so much so that she still wore her dragon-riding clothes. And because of the nature of its business and the events of the last few days, she would be unable to tell any-one about it! Young ladies from small towns did not, as a rule, get involved with alternative realities, necromancy, dragons and kings! It just wasn’t done. But it was, her inner voice told her, and nothing would ever be the same again. She wanted to see Danny’s world; she wanted Garreth back. Presently she fell asleep, lulled by the throb of the propellers and the hum of the wind-vanes.

Danny’s eyes took in everything, yet there was so much missing compared to his own world. Everywhere he looked seemed to be a checkerboard of fields and woodlands. Towns would come into focus, small petite versions of the places he was used to; towns that were more like a continual village that had been allowed to sprawl. Roofs were red and grey and thatch and shingle, roads were narrow and dark and winding. Every now and then a railway line would bring a technology he was familiar with, and the white plumes of smoke that rode them made him homesick.

He dozed, retreating into dreams of places that he knew… places he could feel… he came awake with a start as Salamander’s hand gently shook his shoulder. ‘Danny,’… the wizard said, hunching forward in his sea, his face very close to Danny’s, ‘…there’s something I need you to see. Something you need to understand.’

‘What’s that?’ said Danny sounding doubtful. Everything that had happened to him so far was the result of magik, and some of it hadn’t all been nice at all.

‘Look out of the window.’ The wizard stood and moved behind him. ‘Absorb the view.’ The words came very close to his ear. ‘Relax… ignore my voice.’ Danny’s temples started to get warmer… a soft, relaxing feeling came over him. ‘Now close your eyes.’ Salamander’s voice seemed so far away… so faint… so… tendrils of something nice and fuzzy moved through his mind… ‘Now slowly open your eyes.’

A different world came into view…

… across the land long skeins of coloured bands shimmered and rippled like one continuous Aurora Borealis… the colours of the rainbow… each and every one… plus new ones… others not know or seen… only felt… slowly changing… slowly moving… dense and thick in some places… thin and ethereal in others. But always the movement… sinuous… languorous. They filled the sky… they filled the land. They seemed to rise from the earth itself… snaking… coiling…hypnotising…

‘…wake up, Danny.’

And the glory of his vision disappeared. ‘Hnnn? Wha…?’ A sense of loss descended on him… and Salamander’s eyes filled his vision… very blue… very deep.

‘The skeins of magik, Daniel Royce… the very essence of our craft… the energy of all things… the aura of our world. The power behind our magik… available to those who possess the Talent. And only seen by those high in the Art.’

Danny collapsed back into his seat, drained of all energy. ‘Wonderful,’ he breathed. ‘Absolutely… wonderful.’ He’d run out of words… there were no words…

Now the wizard smiled, and patted Danny’s knee. ‘A gift for you.’

To Danny’s eyes there was something wrong with London.

It was tiny; no more than a few miles wide, and several miles long. Tiny and narrow, with the huge wide river running through it. All the buildings seemed to cluster along both banks, while on the river itself the wharves were hidden behind a forest of masts, spars, gantries and towers.

There was one massive bridge of stone towers and steel spans that dominated the scene, and two smaller, lower bridges were upstream of it. Flags, golden and sparkling in the afternoon sun, flew from its two towers.

Danny and Jemma saw it all as the airship drifted over. The warehouses, the narrow streets, the small buildings that looked like offices. By the water’s edge were the tallest buildings, but nothing was over four or five stories.

Besides the bridge, there were two things that particularly stood out; a road that ran straight as an arrow due north; and a stubby, round tower of stark white that dominated the southern bank. Massive flags were draped down the sides from the top, and the roof was of burnished copper. There was a huge expanse of green around the tower.

‘What’s that, Master Ord?’ he asked, point at the tower.

‘That’s the Tower of London.’

‘That’s the Tower?

‘Certainly. Residence of the Crown when His Majesty is in London.’ He indicated the gardens. ‘The actual residence is in the grounds. The Tower’s too cold and damp.’

‘Unbelievable.’

There were no guards to meet them at the Tower. No security personnel. No heavy gates or sheer walls. There was no protocol either, and no dress code; his casual breeches and open-necked shirt weren’t looked at askance. No way, Danny reasoned, could you get away with this! Anybody could just walk right on in.

Instead, there was a little stone gatehouse wherein a kindly older couple enquired of the visitor’s business and then blew down a speaking tube and announced them after they were crossed off the list. Salamander caught the look on Danny’s face, and touched the young man’s arm.

‘Warded to high heaven,’ he informed him, the sweep of his arm encompassing the entire compound. ‘The second most strongly defended place in the country. Although,’ he admitted ruefully, ‘I’ll probably have to do it again after you’ve been through it.’

‘Wow!’ He had to trust the wizard’s words, even though there was nothing in sight that remotely looked like a security device. ‘What’s the first, then?’

‘A rather small distillery in the Pictish highlands, where, I can assure you, the most wonderful single malt whisky is made.’

‘You’re having me on. How could a little place like that afford that sort of protection?’

‘They can’t. I did it for free.’

The building that Danny’s mind thought of as “palace” was in fact a nice, large, double-storied construction of impressive proportions, but not in the “palace” league. It lacked a certain ability to impress, and there was a minimum of carved stone and wide stone steps.

Nice, he thought, but lacking in the eye-bugging department; I’ve seen better.

There was a man waiting inside the main door; a slightly built man with thinning sandy hair and wearing gold-framed spectacles. He was dressed in what could only be described as casual style… open necked shirt, well-made pleated slacks and slip-on shoes. His hands were stuffed in his pockets, but he pulled them out and offered one to Salamander as the party reached him. There was a wide smile on his face.

‘Salamander Ord! As I live and breathe! It’s good to see you again, Salamander.’ For such a slight frame the man possessed a deep rich voice, and he shook the wizard’s hand heartily. ‘And this,’ he said, turning to Danny, ‘must be our unusual traveller! Hello, Danny. I’m Rollo, and I’m very pleased to meet you. Very pleased.’ His hand was a flurry of shaking.

Rollo seized Rufus’ hand. ‘I’m delighted to see the Law fulfill its duties, Master Pendragon. Well done.’

Then it was Jemma’s turn. ‘Well, young lady, it appears that you have been privy to some rather earth-shattering events. I’m certain we can rely on you discretion in all this?’ He gave her a warm smile, but Jemma knew his question was rhetorical.

‘Yes sir.’ She looked at Salamander Ord. ‘I don’t think any-one would believe me anyway.’

‘Excellent! Now. Where’s our lycanthropic hero, Salamander?’ Afferton was missing. ‘Ah, well, come inside,’ Rollo said. ‘I think we’ll use the butler’s lounge, if you don’t mind. Less formal there… less likelihood of disturbing folk. This way.’

The interior belied the exterior. Inside were all the trappings of power and obligation that the people expected of the Crown. Priceless paintings on gilt walls; furniture crafted from rare woods; carpets woven by the craftsmen of far-off desert lands; crystal bowls and glasses from the great Venetian masters.

The sheer opulence alone told the visitor that the head that wore the crown expected nothing less… that power and privilege were fiercely won and more fiercely held.

By contrast, the butler’s lounge was small and cozy without any trappings whatsoever… Danny loved it. So apparently did everyone else. Rollo went to a sideboard and poured drinks, two single malt whiskies which he gave to Salamander and Rufus, an icy cold lemonade which he handed to Jemma and two foaming ales. He handed one to Danny and took a swallow from his own. A white moustache stayed on his upper lip.

‘Where’s this were-wolf of yours, Salamander? I’m really looking forward to meeting him.’

Just then two streaks of tawny fur came tearing through the door, crossed the floor in a blur, and disappeared towards the kitchens. A few seconds later, Afferton came padding in. He was starting to find that the normal animal response of fear and flight was beginning to wear just a bit thin.

What, he asked himself, is wrong with a little bit of social sniffing?

‘Ah! Here he is.’ Rollo bent down on one knee and beckoned to Afferton, who, with a glance at Salamander, trotted over. Rollo couldn’t see the eyes, the shades stopped that, but he did something else instead. Tendrils of his thoughts made their way into Afferton’s mind, tendrils that bespoke a mind of steel… a mage’s mind!

Show me the night, Afferton. Tell me of the mandrake’s fear… the heat of blood… the craving of the moon. I would know of these things.

You, thought Afferton, asked for it. And the old man reached far back into the dark recesses of his lycanthropic self and called forth all the deep and powerful primal urges…

…the moon that bathed his soul in silver light and set flames of white-hot rage coursing his veins

…the pain of anger blinding in its agony

…the night that screamed of fear and lament

…the world a place of blood-flecked images, sharp in monochrome

…blood on his tongue, hot and sour, redolent with iron and pain

…teeth that ached… ached… ached for the grace of flesh

…the mandrake’s life essence seeping past his gripping jaws…

Thank you, Afferton. Thank you my friend.

You’re welcome, Rollo. Any chance of a beer?

While Afferton slobbered away in a bowl filled with Jakobsen’s Olde Darke Ale, Salamander Ord recounted the tale of the mandrake. He left nothing out, but bitterness crept into his voice at the demise of Theolonia’s double.

‘That leaves,’ he concluded, ‘a powerful wizard on the loose in the null world. She might not be able to construct magik, but I’m certain that she could be very creative indeed with the residual earth-magik that exists there.’

Rollo thought long and hard on the words he had heard, his ale untouched in his hand. ‘You know everybody’s up in arms at this, don’t you, Sal? The bishops are getting edgy at what they see as interference in their domains; the Triumvar is sitting in special session because old Portello says you’ve broken the Law by defying his edicts, and only the gods know what your Guild is up to! What are you going to do?’

‘What I’d like, Rollo, is for you to examine Danny, here. See what I saw in his mind… get to understand the world he comes from. When you’ve done that, I have a proposal to make.’

‘Amazing! Absolutely amazing.’ Rollo’s eyes were wide with surprise when he finally opened them. The young lad’s mind had been a kaleidoscope of imagery of his world, but there was theme enough to build up a picture. A rather bewildering and frightening picture. Strange concepts… awful social alienation… technology beyond understanding! Such noise! So much tension! Too much speed! The pressure of enormous masses of people… all of them demanding… all of them wanting… all of them needing. Mixing and jostling without rhyme or reason. Very, very confusing.

And then there was Rock. As in music. It was very prominent in the lad’s mind. Now that really was confusing! He fully understood how the mandrake was driven mad and applauded the young man for showing such spirit and initiative… yet he wondered how such an addictive and focused set of causal and paradoxical paradigms could be let loose on an unsuspecting populace. Didn’t people in the other world know how dangerous that stuff was?!

‘What is your proposal?’ he asked of Salamander.

The wizard extracted the Book of Null from his pocket and tossed it to Rollo, who gingerly opened it.

‘That is the source of our problem, my friend. Who knows how many people have travelled backwards and forwards between the two worlds. Who knows how much malevolence has been brought here and how much has been taken there.

‘We can send Danny back and return Garreth, and that would close this chapter of the book. But what if it happens again, eh? So. My proposal is this… I want to change the spell. I want to keep a permanent door open.’

Rollo sat still as a statue, only his eyes were alive, peering at Salamander with great intensity… waiting for the explanation.

‘Here’s my plan,’ Salamander said, leaning forward in his seat. ‘We adapt the spell to allow a contact between Danny and Garreth. A permanent link. This would allow us to monitor magikal activity over there, and if there is any sudden surge in manifested power signatures, we can send someone over to investigate.’

‘But if it’s a world of null, Salamander, how can magik work there anyway?’

‘It’s not, and it does. It’s all to do with degrees of separation. I’ll explain…’ he settled back. ‘In this world our DNA spirals are left-hand … everything in our universe is left-hand oriented, even the very atoms of our existence. Because of this, our physical universe is conducive to magik and not to extended physics… like making this electricity stuff.

‘In the mirror world, DNA is right-handed, and the area of the brain that recognises magik has atrophied over there because it is not used. But when people switch worlds, they pick up the opposite spirals in brain activity… a bit like positive and negative polarity.

‘There is magik in the other world, a natural earth-magik, but it’s low-powered; people just are not experienced at using it and there are very few exponents. Danny nullifies constructed magik, but the opposite spiral allows him to be affected at one degree of separation. If he had a natural Talent at it, he would be affected more and see more, yet he would still be null in his “Danny” parts. I believe that Garreth can do magik over there because the right-hand pickup allows him to interface on their level.’ He paused for a sip of his malt whisky before continuing.

‘Danny is close to being the twin of Garreth, but is a normal. Swapping gives him some left-hand pickup from Garreth’s Talent when he goes back, and Garreth picks up the null-ability when he comes back. The double swapping is when the melding takes place… null is activated one way and magik the other.

‘Cool,’ said Danny, and everybody turned to look at him. ‘Yeah, that’s neat.’ It was! He was used to the Garreth part of himself now.

‘That’s only one young man, Sal.’ Rollo argued. ‘You need more, but if you sent a wizard over, you would then be creating the basics for a replica of that wizard to exist over there; and if that wizard was as powerful as yourself…’ he let the question hang.

‘We could go direct, you know. We don’t necessarily need the mirrors, nor do we need to send wizards. Garreth would be sufficient…if he had some assistance.’

‘What sort of assistance are we talking about, Salamander?’

‘I thought Luther would be appropriate.’

Rollo choked on his ale and started a paroxysm of coughing, while Danny sat and held his breath and Afferton wagged his tail in happy exuberance.

Eventually Rollo stopped coughing and looked seriously at his old friend.

‘You want to send a dragon? I think,’ Rollo said to Salamander, wiping suds from his face, ‘that you and I need to talk. Alone.’ With a nod to Danny and Afferton, Rollo left the room, followed by a blank-faced Salamander.

A stately steam-buggy drove them away.

A big machine, with elegant coachwork and a minimum of side windows, it had enough space inside for eight people and enough leather for a whole herd of cattle. The driver sat up front in his own exposed compartment surrounded by polished brass work and warded glass.

As they pulled away, Danny realised that apart from the old couple minding the gate, he hadn’t seen a living soul. He mentioned the fact to Salamander.

‘Oh, they were there all right,’ the wizard told him. ‘They just stay out of sight. Anyway, there aren’t many actually needed at the moment; the Crown is in Winchester for the month, so most of the retainers are down there. That’s why we got away with casual attire.’ He fingered his lapel. ‘Rollo just popped back to meet you.’

‘Right.’ There was still some residual confusion in Danny’s mind. ‘And what exactly does Rollo do?’ he asked, although he was starting to get an idea. But that’s crazy, he thought. Things couldn’t work like that. Could they?

‘Alfred Peregrine Roland Johanssen-Kell has the horrible task of being His Majesty Alfred VIII, Lord High Chieftain and King of The Angle Isles and her Domains.’

Bugger, thought Afferton. I hope he doesn’t find out what I did in his rose garden.

ENGLAND

Barry Oldham didn’t think anything was cool anymore. Suddenly, he just couldn’t take a trick, his world was changing around him and he was powerless to stop it. And it was embarrassing. But this latest thing… the last few days… was… more than embarrassment… it was humiliation.

Michael Chowdhri was puzzled as to the changes in the school hard-man. Although a bully of some considerable ability, Oldham had always presented well. Well groomed and well dressed, he had always been a picture-perfect student. Michael Chowdhri knew that the presentation was a front to throw the teaching staff off the scent; that he could hide behind the image. And Oldham knew that he knew; that was the superb arrogance of the lad. You had to admire him. Until now.

‘Is everything alright at home?’ he asked. ‘If you need to speak to the school counsellor…’

‘No, sir. Everything’s fine.’ Oldham looked wretched. His shoes were scuffed, he needed a shave and he was trying to hold his pants up.

‘Your dress standard’s certainly slipped, young man. And how do you explain your pants continually falling down?’ Misery was writ large across the youth’s face.

‘Don’t know, sir. My belt…’ His voice trailed off.

‘Shape up, Oldham. Get your act together. Last warning.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Finally alone, Barry Oldham decided that his change in fortune wasn’t his fault, and if it wasn’t his fault, then it must be someone else’s. Anyone else’s. But he had a good idea where he could lay the blame.

Garreth rode to school with a flutter in his stomach.

This was the big day, he could feel it. Emily had delivered on her promise and had managed to get one of Barry Oldham’s sports socks. The fact that it was dirty and rather pungent didn’t matter for the crafting he’d had in mind. Another ward had been created, but one a little more powerful than the appeasement and aversion wards he’d used before.

Now that the traffic wasn’t so intimidating he found the ride to school the best part of the day. He couldn’t bring himself to try the main roads yet, but there were plenty of side streets to duck down and footpaths to ride across. Maybe I’ll wait until I can set up a ward of protection, he pondered. The hustle and bustle was so different from his home, there was hardly any space in this world to think, yet it was exciting all the same.

Garreth wobbled between two parked cars and mounted the footpath outside the horrible, garish building that professed to be a place of learning, and dismounted with a flourish. The flourish was because Emily had just stepped off a bus along with thirty other pupils, and she had seen him.

‘Hi.’ He gave her a smile and got one in return. Together they entered the school grounds and headed for the bicycle shed. Greetings drifted across the yard from a wide selection of boys and girls and he waved or nodded back. The appeasement spell had certainly done a great job!

‘Arthur wants me to help out at the car-yard,’ he announced. ‘Just Saturday mornings.

‘Cool. A car salesman, eh?’ Her smile was genuine, and Garreth suddenly realised that most of the rebellious images Emily had when he first met her were no longer evident. She smiled more. Her sullenness had gone. She wore less outrageous clothes outside school, and there were fewer studs in her ears. And none in her nose.

‘I was thinking that we might go into Manchester one night,’ he said, as they turned the corner of the English block where the bike shed was.

‘Just you and me?’ It sounded good to Emily. ‘What for?’

‘I dunno. I need some new jeans, and with what Arthur’s going to pay…’ He stopped as he realised there was a reception committee blocking his access to the shed. Three of them. Barry Oldham, Robby Culthorpe and a nervous hanger-on, Tommy Edgeworth. Tommy was younger and smaller and fidgeted a lot, but Oldham and Culthorpe were dead calm… and angry.

Garreth opened his mouth to say something, but Oldham’s foot lashed out and made contact with the front wheel of his bike. The force was enough to knock it from his hand and with a clatter of metal the bike fell to the ground.

‘Dip-shit!’ Barry Oldham grated. ‘Look where you’re going!’ The cumulative effects of Garreth’s wards had taken a toll on Oldham and Culthorpe… but mostly on Oldham. The school bully didn’t exactly look smart in his wrinkled blazer and pants, wrinkles that were ironed out every night but seemed to return the minute he got to school the very next day. Nor did his hair help his image; no matter what he did it refused to stay neatly combed.

‘I think you should apologize for running into me, Royce.’ Garreth knew the bully was absolutely sure of his abilities, and no way would an apology put off the inevitable. Quickly, he checked the mandala for the positive and negative attractors he had warded himself with. They were there in place. Fine. Time then, he resolved, to bring matters to a conclusion.

As if by… magic… the area around the shed began to fill with pupils, as if the word had already gone out. Taking a mental deep breath, and putting aside the fluttering in his stomach, Garreth uttered the words the audience had waited years for someone to say…

‘Up yours, Oldham.’

True to temper, Oldham’s right fist was pumping for Garreth’s stomach the second the words left his mouth. True to spell, Garreth was already turning slightly away, and the punch just glanced off his rib-cage. Oldham’s left fist was swinging a round-house punch for Garreth’s head in the reflex action of a natural fighter… Oldham never thought about what punches he was throwing… he just threw them!

The left should have floored Garreth, but the spell did its job and the blow merely grazed his chin, and while Oldham’s eyes were widening in disbelief, Garreth’s own right hand was travelling at some considerable speed towards its target just to the left of Oldham’s mouth… which it met with a satisfying, meaty, thwack!

Garreth’s left was also in motion, a blur of aggression that came to rest microseconds later in the region of Oldham’s right upper cheek… wham!

Shockwaves from both blows travelled along Garreth’s arms and jolted him. His adversary was on his knees on the ground, holding his head in both hands; there were a few small wet spots on the asphalt that could have been blood or tears, it was difficult for Garreth to say. There were also two small white teeth down there as well.

Robby Culthorpe did the bravest thing he’d ever done in his life… he stepped forward and put his fists up. Everyone could see that his fists were shaking.

Garreth really didn’t want any more. The violence he had found sickening, and Culthorpe’s senseless bravado only made the whole process futile.

‘Do you really want to do that, Robby?’ he asked. Culthorpe looked confused, as if he’d gone too far and couldn’t back down. Oldham’s groans coming up from the ground added to his uncertainty.

‘You don’t have to, you know,’ Garreth continued, showing a tough calmness that he certainly didn’t feel. Must be the spell, he told himself. ‘It might be better if you took your friend here to the first aid room.’

That was the compelling logic that Robby Culthorpe had been praying for. Slowly, so he didn’t appear too eager, he lowered his fists and made a show of deliberating Oldham’s situation. ‘Yeah,’ he said as casually as his quivering voice would let him, ‘reckon you’re right. Give me a hand, Tommy.’

As soon as the sad trio disappeared around the corner, the watchers gave a ragged cheer. They’d waited a long time for this.

Michael Chowdhri pulled his face away from the window in case anyone looked up and saw him. It would have to be reported anyway, but he didn’t want the kids down there to know they’d been seen. That would take away some of Royce’s new credibility and totally destroy what was left of Oldham’s.

That night, dinner time at the Royce’s was a quiet affair. Emily was dining with them, a common occurrence in light of the weird things that had bound them together. And those things might just be coming to an end, she thought. Danny had been taken back and so far there had been no bad news coming from the mirror in the bedroom, and that had to be good news! It couldn’t be long… could it?

Tap tap tap tap. The noise came from the kitchen door. Tap tap tap tap. Whoever was outside was quite insistent.

Arthur slid his chair back. ‘I’ll go,’ he said. He walked through the kitchen and opened the door…

…there was no-one there. He peered into the dark. There was definitely no-one there. A horrible thought came to him… what if the mandrake was back? With some trepidation Arthur asked the dark…

‘Who’s there?’

Forgiveness for the lateness of the hour is requested, said a voice in his head. Slowly, with every hair on the back of his neck standing to attention, Arthur looked up…

...into two black slits

…that sat in two huge silver orbs

…that peered down at him. Arthur staggered at the sight. His pulse banged like a drum and his chest stopped breathing. If Arthur Royce was ever going to have a heart attack, this was the time. Thankfully, it passed.

Ashen-faced he went back inside and sat down rather heavily at the table. ‘It’s for you,’ he told Garreth. ‘Your little friend’s back. He’s on the roof.’

Garreth and Emily bolted outside and after a few seconds slithering sounds could be heard. Gloria cocked an enquiring eye at Arthur, who shook his head as if to say… You don’t want to know. A few moments later she was shaking hands with a… what? Surely this little creature couldn’t be that huge thing that took her Daniel away? How was such a thing possible?

‘Gloria. Arthur. Meet Luther,’ Garreth said. Both solemnly shook the three-fingered hand offered. ‘He’s got some news.’

Rejoicing there can be for your family. The vile and parasitic mandrake is dead.

Relief flooded Arthur and Gloria and they clasped each other. ‘Thank God for that,’ Arthur sighed. ‘How did it… you know… die?’

Honour must go to my new friend Afferton. The power of those jaws amazing is.

‘Jaws?’ Gloria felt reality sliding past her. ‘What’s going on?’

Garreth explained. ‘Afferton’s a were-wolf. He’s Salamander Ord’s friend.’

Arthur looked very studiously at Garreth. ‘Were-wolf. Your friend’s got a werewolf?’ He shook his head in amazement, then caught Gloria’s eye as she shrugged in that sort of way that said… Well why not? Garreth’s got a dragon.

‘And how did this…were-wolf… remove the… mandrake?’

He bit its head off.

Gloria collapsed on the floor in a dead faint.

‘Is Gloria alright, Arthur?’ Garreth asked, some time later.

‘Now it’s all been explained to her, she’ll be fine,’ Arthur told him. ‘She just felt it best to go to bed early.’ Heavy footsteps descended the stairs. ‘What else did Luther want?’

Garreth grinned. ‘Fashion. Jemma asked a favour of him; he thinks she wants to…’ He stopped, open-mouthed at the sight of Luther as the dragon came down the stairs with Emily in tow. His friend wore earphones on his head and he carried Danny’s player in his hand. There was a look of amazement on the dragon’s face.

Wonders indeed, mage Garreth. Wonders without end. Luther squatted on his haunches by the dining table, curling his tail around his feet. His head was nodding slightly to the beat.

‘Garreth and I have to go to my place,’ Emily told Arthur, ‘to get some magazines for Luther.’

Arthur looked at Luther with some trepidation. ‘What about him? What should I do with him?’

‘Coffee and cigars,’ Garreth said, pulling his coat on. ‘It works every time with dragons.

ANGLAND

Danny, Jemma and Afferton had been left to their own devices whilst Salamander Ord and his people finished the new spell for the Book; but two days in London had just about driven them up the wall with boredom. After they had taken a ferry ride up and down the Thames and seen the mass of shipping that used it, and after he had visited the handful of interesting things like the Canute Bridge, there wasn’t much left to keep a sixteen year-old remotely interested.

On the final day, Danny, Jemma and Afferton were sitting side by side on the side of a small wharf, amid the hurly-burly of dockland life, watching the flow of the river; killing time. Danny was dangling his feet over the turbid water, and from a distance they could have been a man and his dog; but they weren’t. And there were two conversations going on, neither of which was making sense to Danny.

‘I’m going to miss everyone, Jemma,’ Danny said. ‘Even you, Afferton.’ His eyes watched the river, but they were seeing somewhere else. ‘I miss my home…but…’ Ah, yes. That was it, the “but”. The were-wolf turned his great head and looked at him through the sunglasses.

Listen, son. We’ve all got to face facts. You belong there… Garreth belongs here.

Almost-images formed in Danny’s mind, as if… as if…no… they wouldn’t come together. ‘I see things that aren’t my things to see… do you know what I mean? Experiences that are Garreth’s … not mine… but they’re mine now. Does that make sense?’

‘Yes, it does,’ Jemma replied, thinking Danny was speaking to her. She too was watching the ebb and flow of the river traffic, her own mind on what the future held.

Afferton nodded his head. It sure does. You’re the same as Garreth. I can smell it.

Again, words almost formed in his mind. ‘It scares me a bit. Going back, I mean.’ His eyes followed a ferry as it passed the wharf in a billow of steam. ‘I mean, what if I’ve changed too much? What if I’m…different?’

‘I’m sure you will be just fine. Once you’re home everything will feel normal.’

Danny looked at Jemma then at Afferton. Something was going on in his head and wires were getting crossed… or…

To Afferton’s nose, the worry was a cloud around the lad that he could smell.

Everything changes, lad. Me. You. Garreth. Even Salamander has changed… although he wouldn’t like me to say it. And so have your family and friends back home. It’s a part of life, I’m afraid.

There was definitely something going on in his head, Danny knew. ‘Can you hear me?’ he asked suddenly, turning to face the huge beast.

‘Danny! What’s going on?’ Jemma had found the one-sided conversation rather off-putting.

Afferton looked straight into his eyes… and nodded. Sure can, lad. Easy as falling off a log.

‘Are you … you know… talking to me?’ He glanced over his shoulder in case anyone was watching him talk to himself. This was starting to feel a bit like talking to Luther, but very, very faint.

‘Danny! Stop it! It’s not funny!’

Nod. Maybe if you two swap over again, it will be like Master Ord says… you’ll become more like each other. Then you’ll be able to hear me.

Oh, wow! ‘Jemma!’ He grabbed her arm. ‘Afferton can talk! Just like Luther does!’

‘Hmmm. I don’t hear anything. What’s he saying?’

’I don’t know. I can’t get it all. Just bits.’ He looked at Afferton. ‘I wonder if I’ll understand you when Garreth and I swap back. What do you reckon?’

Nod.

A dark thought descended upon him. ‘Master Ord got into some sort of trouble over this business, didn’t he?’

Nod. He’s a big boy, Danny. But he fights well above his weight… and he fights dirty.

‘Then… was it for the better? It bothers me… what’s in my head, what’s happened…’ his friend’s great head pushed into his shoulder and nearly knocked him over. ‘Wha…?’

Nod nod nod. Was it for the better?! Look at me! Look at yourself. Those you care about, lad. They’re all safe. The bad guys are dead! That’s a great turn around from my previous point of view. And we’re all the wiser for it. Eh?

A smile creased Danny’s face and his green eyes gleamed. ‘I’ll take that as a yes. Yes?’

Nod.

‘Are you ready, lad?’

Salamander’s words caused a lump in Danny’s throat. Was he ready? Did he really want to go back? He knew he had to… that it was part of the way things had to be. Yet. Yet he knew there would be things he would miss… like Afferton… and Mr. Toast… and Luther… and Salamander. And Jemma. He knew that things would be forever different. Especially himself.

This was really goodbye, and he so wanted to see everyone one last time. But what words would he say? What could he say? Only goodbye. Jemma sensed that, he knew. That’s why she had insisted on coming along... so that there would be someone to say goodbye.

Salamander led them through the side door of the Magician’s Guild and down a flight of wooden stairs to the basement. And what a basement it was! It was so big it could have been a theatre, except there was no stage, nor were there any seats. What it did have was a white floor that was as flat as glass, and walls that were draped in white. There was no depth of field; the far wall could have been ten yards or ten miles away…he couldn’t tell. The two of them were the only ones there.

And there was silence about the place that ate sound. Anechoic.

But there was one thing he recognised, one thing that gave some perspective to the place... in the middle of the floor stood a tall mirror. It was framed in wood on the two sides and top, and the glass went straight down to the floor; the whole thing looked like a doorway. Danny’s heart banged harder at the sight of it.

Salamander looked tired. Danny noticed the bags under his eyes and the way his shoulders seemed to slump. The wizard obviously had slept little in the past two days, and his clothes had a decidedly rumpled look; even his normally garish braces seemed a little faded.

‘Before we begin,’ Salamander said, wearily, ‘I’m going to tell you a few things. Things that will explain what’s going on.

‘This,’ his arms swept the room, ‘is the result of a massive effort by some of the best mages in the land. Behind the walls and beneath the floor coverings are the schematics and mathematics of the greatest temporal spell ever crafted. And what makes it special is that it is coded to the DNA that you and Garreth possess.

‘We could ask Luther to take you home and bring Garreth back, but that wouldn’t suit what I have in mind for you. When you swap over again, that bond between you will be locked in to your very soul… so this thing is permanent, Danny. It can’t be erased.

‘Now. We have to protect ourselves, and you, from yourself, because you will gain some of Garreth’s Talent. And you have no experience of dealing with magik, Danny, none at all. You could get into serious trouble or cause serious damage to others.

‘So. I have spent the last few days preparing an entry-level compendium of spells and controls that will bind with your DNA in replication of an original Talent. And like a true Talent, as you grow and learn, the knowledge will release more and more of itself. In other words, lad, the controls will protect you as you need them, and the ability to craft magik will evolve as you do. It will activate when you step into the mirror.

‘This pseudo-Talent is, of course, limited to Garreth’s level of expertise, so you will never be a mage, but a certain amount of earth-magik will serve to support you and protect you over there. If there is ever a need for you to return, I will determine whether changes are needed to the spell. Got that?’

‘I think so, Master Ord.’

A deep, drawn-out sigh escaped from the wizard, and suddenly he appeared to deflate a little, as if he had worked too hard and needed a good holiday. But he stuck his hand out, and his grip was still surprisingly strong.

‘This is farewell, my young traveller,’ he said, and some of the smile returned. ‘I hope it’s goodbye… but in the business of magik…,’ he shrugged his shoulders, ‘you never know. Hmmm?’

‘No, sir. I hope…’ he was going to miss Salamander, he was really going to miss him! ‘… ah… no. You never know. Thank you. For everything.’ There’s something sticking in my throat…

Jemma looked miserable and there were unshed tears in her eyes. Danny found his arms wrapping around her almost of their own accord and hers held him in return.

‘I’ll miss you,’ she said into his shoulder.

‘Me too, Jemma.’ The lump was getting bigger. Quickly, almost shyly, he gave her a kiss on the cheek. ‘But in a few seconds Garreth will be back and everything will be alright again.’

Jemma looked directly into his eyes. ‘Do you believe that, Daniel Royce?’

‘No.’ They separated, slightly embarrassed. ‘I’m ready now, Master Ord,’

‘Good. Step up to the mirror, please.’

ENGLAND

Danny’s bedroom was so crowded that Arthur had shoved the bed against the wall to make room in front of the mirror. This was the day Danny came back. It was a bitter-sweet moment because it was also the day that Garreth left. Gloria, he noticed, had a pack of tissues in her hand, just in case.

Emily had been crying. But this time there was no eye shadow to run down her face, no smudged lipstick. The silver studs, the gothic looks had all gone; it was as if they had never been. She really, really hoped that Danny would understand… that he would still like her.

Garreth had said his farewells to everyone and they had left a tightness in his chest. He liked it here; he liked Gloria and Arthur and Emily. He even liked the customers at the car-yard. He would miss them so much. On the other hand… there was Jemma and his own friends and family. And he would like to see Luther again. And Master Ord. And…

…the mirror clouded

…swirls of iridescence filled the frame

…then slowly dissolved

…and the mirror cleared.

Garreth and Danny faced one another, and Danny’s eyes went to Garreth’s black hair. His face broke into a smile and he laughed…

‘Time to come home, Garreth,’ he said in Anglic.

Emily looked past Danny and the wizard to the tall girl with strawberry hair. Their eyes locked, and each gave the other a wan smile.

Arthur nodded to the wizard who had appeared in the mirror once before. ‘Thanks for everything,’ he said. ‘I wish we had been able to help more.’ The wizard consulted Danny, who said, ‘Master Ord says… “Maybe next time”.’ He grinned at his Dad.

Then the two lads were face to face

…inches apart

…stepping forward

…into a seamless transition

…and Danny stepped into the room and into the arms of his parents. Then, eventually, into Emily’s.

Behind him, in the mirror, Garreth had his own arms full.

ANGLAND

Epilogue... Three months later

The town square was filled to overflowing as the brass band played with gusto and the crowd applauded every tune. The Mayor of Chester, resplendent in morning coat, top hat and gleaming chain of office, stood on the small podium along with Garreth, Jemma and Rufus Pendragon. Afferton was also there and, much to his disgust had been bathed and shampooed for the occasion. The Aldredges, the Redgraves and the Pendragons lined the front of the crowd, faces beaming with pride.

Garreth let the music wash over him unheard as he filtered through the events of the last few months. Danny’s memory had absolutely floored him, and it had taken many days to absorb and come to terms with everything. Days when he had been grateful for Master Ord’s help. The evil and horror of the mandrake’s mind had been received all in one rush, there had been no drawn out period of time to deal with it, he’d had it all in one, stunning, sickening jolt. But with a little mental massaging from the wizard, and a lot of attention from Jemma, he’d managed to integrate the experiences and they were now his own.

And what amazing experiences they were… a mad wizard… a mandrake! And a were-wolf he could talk to! And a dragon! The trip through the interface…the battle in York. The vision of the skeins of magik haunted him. Somewhere in the wizard’s mind, he knew, there was a reason for that disclosure.

And yet, Danny had been so close to oblivion, and he himself so close to being trapped in Danny’s world.

Master Ord though, had been brilliant! The wizard had arranged for Jemma’s uncle to take him on as a junior partner-in-training, and he could see his future in his mind’s eye… Garreth Aldredge: Attorney-at-Magik. His prospects were looking up, and his luck was definitely changing for the better.

First, there was the light in Jemma’s eyes, and the way she held his hand tightly as they waited for the Mayor to finish his speech; they brought a warmth to his cheeks that he’d never known before. The whole Danny experience in his memory was now his experience and everything had more depth… more colour… more feeling. He squeezed her hand in reply and let his smile say it all.

And now… this! The unveiling of a statue to a true hero, one who’s sacrifice had caught the hearts and imagination of everybody… or so the Mayor had said in his speech. Macabre or not, he knew, there was something in the story that forever changed people’s perceptions and prejudices.

Applause rippled through the crowd as the Mayor finally stepped forward and grasped the cord that would release the cover. He turned for one more photo opportunity.

‘I give you, dear people, a true son and hero of the town. I present you with the only statue…’

…he tugged the cord and the cover slithered to the ground

‘…ever erected to…’

…the cover hit the ground and the crowd collectively gasped in admiration

‘…a were-wolf!’

The guest of honour sat by Rufus, trying very hard not to let his tail thump.

His face, sunglasses included, had a regal pose as he looked over the crowd, and he wondered how many of those good folks had cowered indoors when the Bishop’s Bell used to ring its werewolf warnings.

Won’t be able to do that anymore. Still, he reasoned, you win some… you lose some. Fame has its own rewards. His nose wrinkled at the fragrance of soap that emanated from him, and he desperately wanted a good scratch… but dignity won the day and he sat as still as a… statue.

Jemma Mayhorn was very, very pleased at the outcome. And happy, too. Garreth was back. All her worries and fears and doubts had finally been put aside and Garreth was back. Or rather, she thought, a new Garreth, because he was definitely different from the one who had disappeared into the mirror. And she had to admit to herself that she liked that difference, although a little tendril of uncertainty crossed her mind when she realised that some of that difference was due to… Emily. Hmmm. On the bright side, there were some rather daring experiments into fashions that showed some promise; and Garreth now had the use of his parent’s steam buggy and that was definitely a step in the right direction.

Rufus Pendragon had bitter-sweet feelings as he watched the monument unveiled. His old friend was gone. Old Afferton Smythe would never snuffle away in his office or complain about his arthritis again. On the other hand… now that he was legally Afferton’s guardian… courtesy of some slick talking by Salamander… the two of them were bordering on celebrity status. When they walked around the Old Town or took a stroll along the top of the Roman Wall, people hailed them and some even asked for Afferton’s autograph, which usually consisted of the were-wolf sinking his fangs into articles of clothing they would offer.

Hats were very popular.

In his darkened study, surrounded by a pool of light from a solitary reading lamp, Salamander Ord, Wizard Emeritus, was putting finishing touches to the paper he had just completed. It was a total account of the Null Affair and was to be submitted to the Review Board of the Academy of Thaumaturgy for critical comment. Then, if approved, it would become part of magik’s operating paradigms.

It’s nice, he mused, as he peered through his spectacles at his written work, to finally finish it.

‘Vanity, vanity,’ said his ego-savant from its position above the fireplace. ‘Don’t even pretend you think it’s finished.’

Salamander turned his head and squinted up at the painting that was barely visible in the shadows. ‘What now, you cheap daubing? What disturbs your feeble intellect?’

His painting turned a skeptical eye towards him. ‘The mirror world. You took advantage of Theolonia’s crime, didn’t you? You set up a permanent doorway there because of the possibilities you fear. You set up the two lads because…’

‘Hold it, just a minute! I made no conscious decision to…’

‘I’m your conscience, you doddering fool,’ said his painting, ‘and I know what you did. Whether you have the mental capacity to understand yourself is a moot point, but I do.’

Salamander removed his spectacles and massaged his eyes; it had been a very long day. ‘Very well. If you’re such a clever two-dimensional genius, what are these other things that I supposedly fear? Hah?’

‘Other doorways. That’s why you set up Garreth and Danny… to be your eyes and ears. That’s why you went to the dragon-folk… you wanted an alternative to the Book of Null. Just in case, eh, Ord? Just in case.’

‘Oh, I give up. Your thinking is as convoluted as your brushstrokes. In case of what?’

‘Convoluted brushstrokes indeed! You painted me, you amateur! You could have had a professional do a good job, but oh, no. Not you. You did a cheap job and now you get cheap advice. In case, dear boy, Theolonia surfaces. In case others from here surface over there. In case they find a way back… or somewhere else. Hmmm? In case, you transparent fraud, you want to go there yourself. By the way, that was a very clever guess about the dragons, you know. ’

Salamander nodded. He had seen dragons fly before, but no-one had ever seen a rider. No-one had even suspected a rider! Except him! Why? Because he had worked out why dragons existed.

They had been made! Crafted to fly between realities! Two unanswered riddles hovered in the recesses of the wizard’s mind… made by whom? and the old dragon’s words… … “dubbed by those who sought it”.

Salamander pushed back his chair and stood up. A yawn split his face and he reached to extinguish the light.

‘Maybe,’ he admitted, ‘just maybe. It was a good adventure, though, don’t you think?’

The ego-savant declined to reply.

The light went out.

ENGLAND

The nurse looked at the broken glass and sighed. Either the old girl was deliberately breaking them or she was incredibly clumsy.

‘Mrs. Grey! Not another one! I don’t know what we’re going to do with you.’

‘I think you should let me go home, don’t you?’ Penelope Grey sat on her bed and contemplated the nurse with interested eyes.

The nurse was clearly confused. ‘Well,’ she began slowly, ‘you have been making amazing improvements, Mrs. Grey, but that doesn’t mean that you’re ready for the outside world. Now does it?’

‘Oh, I think a full recovery is entirely probable. Say, in another week or two.’

‘Do you really think so, Mrs. Grey?’

‘I most certainly do, young lady,’ said Theolonia Crabbe.

If Danny Royce had thought that his life would return to normal, he was mistaken. When he swapped back with Garreth he picked up on all the new memories Garreth had experienced. Like the fight with Barry Oldham… how sweet that was! And Luther! Flying between realities! The dragon-folk! He had been stunned when he had absorbed it all. Then there were the guises and such that Garreth had crafted; his Dad’s ability with selling. His own ability now! Oh, yes. It was wonderful.

And it got better. A few weeks after returning, his father bought his own car yard; and Danny had gone to work with him when schooling allowed.

‘Daniel! Get up or you’ll be late for work!’

Gloria Royce drew her dressing gown around her as she rapped on her son’s door, and then made her way downstairs to put the kettle on. Some things, she told herself, never change.

‘Morning, mum,’ Danny said, sitting down at the table and pouring a cup of tea. ‘Early start today. Dad wants me to meet the painters on site, so I’ll pick Emily up on the way in.’

‘Speaking of Emily; how is your new receptionist?’ Emily had acquired a sense of style and proportion from somewhere, which delighted Gloria, and her casual offer to help man the phones and do the office work when the business started was turning into a full-time job. She was very good at it.

‘Fine,’ Danny smiled. ‘It’s actually good working together.’

Gloria Royal was happy. Her son had grown up fast. And smartened up, too. Long gone were the monosyllabic mumblings and the surly disposition. A young man sat before now, one smartly dressed and filled with confidence, the light of a great future in his eyes. Gloria felt very proud of her son; although she had reservations about his strange preference for wide, brightly coloured braces.

‘Are you taking the bike? You know how I…’

‘Mum. I’m warded. Full protection. OK? Everything’s cool.’ As if to demonstrate the point, Danny held his index finger above his cup of tea and made circular motions in the air…

…and the tea in his cup began to stir itself.

Emily nestled into Danny’s back and put her arms around him.

The cool breeze that chilled her legs was a small price to pay for the fun of riding pillion and there was no other form of transport that she knew of where it was compulsory to cuddle whilst in motion!

The noise of the motor echoed around the car-yard as Geoffrey piloted his shiny yellow motorscooter around to the side of the office and parked it in the workshop. He preferred to keep it under cover, not because of the rain, but because of the sun. These days there invariably seemed to be an opening in the clouds just above the yard, and pale sunlight nearly always bathed the cars. They looked good.

The sunlight also reflected kindly off the new sign that dominated the entry…

ROYCE & ROYCE, it read, WIZARDS WITH WHEELS

The end

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