Mage had been in the city four months before she saw the wolf. Four months of pacing the endless streets, searching every dark alley and abandoned building for evidence of the two men she’d been sure she’d find here. Four months of trading haiku and short stories scribbled on the backs of paper scraps for meals and scavenged baubles for a place to spend the night. Four months of disappointment tainting every glimpse of tempest eyes or snow white hair. Four months spent clinging to hope while she tried desperately to pretend this hadn’t been a colossally bad idea. Bordertown, for all its magic, for all its elves and shimmering graffiti and sense of endless possibility, was turning out to be just another crowded, overwhelming city.

And then she met the wolf, and nothing was ever the same.

~ * ~

Another day of failure. Mage dropped onto a street corner and inspected one purple striped tennis shoe, frowning at the spots where the rubber sole had worn through completely. Her quest had taken her up to Dragon’s Tooth Hill again in the hopes one of her boys had taken up residence with the Fair Folk. No luck, though, and after enough cold stares the girl had trooped back down to the friendlier sections of the city. Now, with evening falling and the bright city coming alive for a second time, she turned her attention to acquiring dinner and a safe place to pass the night.

“I lost my life that day and I lost her too / My glass is empty / I drank most of it down / I like the burn coating my throat / As long as I don’t feel the burn I’ve hidden…”

Mage glanced up from digging in her backpack for something worth trading and searched for the source of the music. Her eyes fell on a singer standing on the opposite street corner, an open guitar case at her feet and dark hair falling in her face as she belted out the haunting tune. In one breath Mage was on her tired feet again; in another she was crossing the street, pulled by song and singer both.

Another memory / Another drink / More truth than lies now / I can’t stop thinking of you, of you / Can’t stop thinking of you…”

Bordertown was filled with musicians plying their trade and Mage had heard it all; rock ballads, rap lullabies, gibberish and mirror words and languages from lands unknown. She’d never heard music like this, though. This music was raw, brutal, vulnerable. Honest. Familiar, even, like something she had never heard but should have, long ago.

“I hate the memories coating my eyes / They won’t stop pouring down, down…”

For a moment their eyes met, ocean gray to rich velvet brown, and Mage felt an unfamiliar flush. Breaking the contact quickly, she reached into her pocket and tossed a doodle into the guitar case before hurrying away – a faceless man with the wings of an angel and a crescent moon held like a scythe in his hand. Maybe it’d be enough to get the girl a cup of tea or something. That was all Mage had to offer; words and doodles and fiction.

~ * ~

With a sigh, Mage turned away from the unnaturally red Mad River. It had been a good idea in theory; the lost and alone were often drawn to the river’s promise of temporary relief and she could picture Tanim seeking its protection from the ghosts in his mind. None of the huddled creatures by the river’s shore or hidden in the shadows beneath the bridges and docks had been him, though, nor his pale companion. As Mage trudged back into the city her broken shoe sole made a desolate flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop sound.

“You were so elegant and so tempting / I was so blinded and so wrong / What made me think you wanted me? / What made me think you wanted her? / What made me sacrifice her to you?”

Later on, Mage would wonder whether she had truly been wandering or if her feet had somehow known where she wanted to go even when she herself didn’t have a clue. Evening found her once again on the street corner where the exotic guitarist played another song that spoke of ghosts whom crossing the border hadn’t been enough to shake. Mage paused on the sidewalk and stared. The lyrics moved past and around and through her, speaking to the weary, defeated core of her heart.

“Something strange is coursing through me and I don’t even care / I’m lost in the pull of it all / Something strange is tearing through me and I wish I could care / But I’m lost in the pull of it all…”

Around her people flowed by down the street, Truebloods and halfies and humans, but the girl paid no attention. Every atom of her being focused on what this song, this singer, was trying to tell her. And not just her as the listener – her. Mage. This song had been written for her to hear, for her to understand. And she did.

“I saw what you wanted me to see / I played the part you wrote for me / Why did I think I breathed for you?”

Silence followed the final chords of the song and Mage found herself loathe to break it, too respectful of the mood the girl had set on the warm night air. Finally she worked up the courage to approach, a tanka this time in her hand, and as she let it flutter into the guitar case she asked, voice barely more than a shy whisper, “What’s your guitar’s name?”

The other girl blinked as if she hadn’t expected Mage to speak to her at all, let alone ask something so odd. Then a small smile broke over her face and she replied, “Pharaoh.” A powerful name for a powerful instrument. Mage approved heartily.

“I’m Mage,” She offered the name without hesitation, a first for her in this city of strangest strangers. Mage wasn’t her real name, of course, but she’d done her research before coming to Bordertown and knew what power true names wielded here. They weren’t to be traded lightly. Nicknames could tell just as much about a person yet prevented someone from weaving a spell around you. Spells. At least the stories had been right about those.

“Fenris,” the girl bestowed in return. Mage nodded. Yes, of course that was her name. It suited her perfectly, though Mage didn’t know why. It just felt… right. Fierce and wild and beautiful. A creature longing to be free. Even if you tried to choose a name at random, somehow it always spoke to some sliver of your inner self.

“Can I buy you a cup of tea? I’ve got a short story about a coral city by the sea I think is good enough for two cups, or maybe even some pancakes,”

And thus Mage came to know the wolf.

~ * ~

“There are specters everywhere / Chameleoned in folds of curtains / That are pulled back at six ante meridiem / They always come back / But the fire is so warm / And it cancels out the chill / From the lazy hand of Zeus / Who didn’t want the girl to survive…”

Arms around her legs, head resting against her knees, Mage let the newest song wash over her. This one didn’t want to haunt or condemn; it wanted to comfort, to inspire, to kindle a guttered flame. The sunset sank to chilly darkness but she didn’t notice, too wrapped up in the music and the warm presence sitting beside her on the stone stoop. For the first time since entering Bordertown, Mage felt no urge to wander or search. She felt content simply to be.

“Surprise / She had wings tucked into her jacket / And when she jumped / She knew she would soar…”

The song came to a close but Mage didn’t open her eyes. In the ensuing silence drifted the remnants of those final notes and she let them settle over her like ash. And then even they faded and all that remained was the sound of her heart in her temples and Fenris’ breathing beside her. That was a music of a sort, too, she realized.

“What are you looking for?”

Mage smiled at the question and unfolded as she glanced at her companion. It was rude to ask someone flat out why they had journeyed to Bordertown but everyone came looking for something – a way out, a way in, something stolen or lost or never known – so it was usually safe to ask about that instead. The search for, not the flight from. She considered giving a false answer, something cliché about magic or elves or something, but the fierce sincerity in Fenris’ eyes made her pause. Somehow Mage knew this girl would understand. Giving her a false answer would be more than a mistake – it would be a betrayal of their burgeoning bond.

“It’s silly…” Mage kicked at the pavement, searching for the right words. “I thought… I thought I might find them here. The Sun and Moon. Back in the World I could only see them in text, on paper, in my dreams, and it drove me crazy. I thought maybe here… I mean, this place is full of stuff that’s supposed to just be fiction, so I hoped they’d be…” She shrugged, sighed more heavily than she meant to, and shook her head, the peace of a moment before fled with the reminder of her failure. “It was a stupid idea. I should just stop looking.”

“No!” Fenris’ exclamation was nearly a cry of despair as she took Mage’s cool hand in both of her own. “Anything’s possible in Bordertown,” the musician swore, clutching the hand to her breast. “Your Sun and Moon are here somewhere, I’m sure of it. Don’t give up.” She hesitated, staring down at their clasped hands as if only now realizing what she had done, then turned her sweet, dark gaze back up and asked, “Maybe we can search for them together?”

Together? No one had ever offered such a thing to her. No one had ever understood why she sought, let alone who, nor how the longing drove her like a compass needle embedded in her chest. It had drawn her here, to Bordertown, to a place of danger and beauty and wonder. Could it have led her to this girl as well?

“I…” Mage nodded, swallowing the sudden lump in her throat. “I’d like that. Thank you.” They shared a silent, comfortable moment, and then Fenris freed her hand to take up her guitar once more. Mage watched her calloused fingers wander over the strings, mesmerized by their confidence, their mastery over this familiar landscape. She found herself asking the question before it even formed in her mind. “What are you looking for?”

Fenris just smiled and strummed the last few chords of the song again.

“Surprise / She had wings tucked into her jacket / And when she jumped / She knew she would soar…”


2 thoughts on “#1252

  1. Unfettered will fare the Fenris Wolf
    and ravaged the realm of men,
    ere that cometh a kingly prince
    as good, to stand in his stead.

    This is different and really good. I’m a big fan of Fenris. 😉

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