This is the final part of my fortnightly serial. If you missed Part 11, you can read it here.
Part 12: Earth’s Magic
Janet sat up and waited for the world to stop spinning.
“How did you get here?” Telar snarled. His white cloak was slightly smudged, and it had settled on his body, still for the first time.
Janet blinked. The room was mostly empty, but there were still chairs and tables stacked in the corners. Tendrils of tarnished silver stretched from the walls, pulling other threads with them. Was he calling other magic to this room? She stood up. That was going to end.
Just as soon as she could figure out how to end it.
“You’ve been behind all of this,” she said. “Since the beginning. Hela didn’t know how Robin and Paxton got through — you let them through somehow. That’s why you knew they were here.” She could see that the door they had come through had vanished. In fact, there were no doors in this room at all. Her heart sank. There was no way out.
“Why would I want to do that?” Telar was moving his hands, forming something with the strings.
“To keep this place out of balance. You wanted to make it all more unstable, until the doors closed, and nobody but you could fix it. Or at least to the point where you could convince Smith that nobody but you could fix it.” Janet was aware she was babbling, but she needed to stall. “Then when I tried opening one, you plucked us all out and put us near Hela, so we’d be caught. Only that sent the entire hotel to breaking apart. Maybe you wanted that too.” Telar flung out a net of magic in Janet’s direction, but she ducked and rolled before it could settle around her. “I just don’t understand why you want to do this.”
“You don’t understand a lot. This isn’t your world. You don’t belong here. This isn’t your fight.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” Janet eyed the walls of the room as she talked. The threads here that weren’t dark shone bright gold. “Are you trying to get all the portals to open here? What? You want to make your own hotel here, one you can rule?”
“Of course not. See how little you grasp.” He flung another net of magic at her. Janet ducked beneath a table. The strings around her moving. Were they protecting her?
She had to keep him distracted. If she had learnt nothing else about magic, she knew it required concentration. “That’s what it seems like you’re doing. Stupid plan, if you ask me. Smith or anyone else could just put the portals back when you’re not looking.”
“They can’t control the portals. And once I’m done bringing the worlds together, they won’t be able to put anything back.”
“Bringing the worlds together?”
“That is what should have happened before, during the war. What would have happened, only they built this place to stop it. This time, I can choose which parts of each world to keep. I will be the one in control.”
“What will happen to Earth?”
“Who can say? Perhaps it is destroyed. Perhaps it will simply be left to drift alone, without magic. It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes it bloody hell does!” Janet took some deep breaths, trying to focus on the golden strings, to untangle them from the black. She couldn’t move them. She couldn’t concentrate. Her head throbbed.
“I’ve let you be a nuisance for too long.” Telar flung another ball of magic at her.
This time she couldn’t dodge. It was too fast. On instinct, she went to block it with her hands.
String of magic sprouted from her fingers, knocking Telar’s magic out of the air.
Telar stared. “That’s impossible.”
The strings that sprouted from her were pale gold, tinged with green, a colour she had not seen before. Her magic. Janet smiled with a confidence she didn’t quite feel. “Of course it’s possible, because I’m the anchor.” She focused her mind, and the strings stretched forward. Telar brought the tendrils from the walls in towards her, trying to snuff out her magic. She didn’t try to stop him. Instead, she sent her threads through the gaps, through the dark web of magic, until they came out the other side. She flung all of her strength into her magic, parting the black threads, forcing a way open.
In the wall, a door formed. It swung open just as soon as it took shape.
Smith stepped through. He was taller than Janet remembered, taller even than Telar. He wore a black cloak over his suit. “I am disappointed in you, my son.” He thrust out a hand, and Telar went sprawling on the concrete.
“Disappointed?” he coughed out. He raised his head off the floor. “This is exactly what you did, my lord, when you left. You think nobody wants to follow in your footsteps?”
“When I left, I left to protect the people of two worlds. When you left, you only cared for yourself. You would have destroyed two worlds — possibly three — in your quest for power. It is time you faced the consequences.” He clapped his hands together, and strings of red-tinged silver flowed from him. They pulled the dark magic away from the walls, back into Telar, and surrounded Telar until he was barely visible. Smith turned and ushered two workers into the room. “Take him to my office and see that he touches nothing on the way.”
Only when Telar was out of sight did Smith look at Janet. She stood with her back against the wall. “He’s your son?”
“I will explain, Miss Ling,” said Smith. “But first, could you please put the portals back where they belong, and set this all back to normal?”
“I don’t know how.”
“You do. You’ve already done so. You can see how it all works now. The roots remain. They just need to be untangled. The magic knows where it needs to be.”
Janet shook her head, but she could see in a sense what he was getting at. She could see past the strings now, to where they were tied to the world. Her world. They were wrong when they said Earth had no magic. Now she could see that, she could see the general structure of the place. The portals were the largest spells, and bent the shape of the magic around them, so she straightened those out first. A push with her mind was all it took to set them moving. Smith was right. They knew where they belonged. As soon as they were allowed to drift, they slid back to where they were supposed to be. After that, it was simply a matter of untangling the other strings in the same way. Soon, everything was straight and orderly.
Janet looked up. Smith looked down on her with a small smile on his face. She was on the floor. She didn’t remember sitting down.
“How on Earth did you do that?” asked Hela from the door.
”I’m not entirely sure myself.”
“I think,” said Smith, “that some explanations are in order.”
Hela placed her hand against the doorframe. Janet’s vision of the magical strings was fading slightly, but she thought she could see a silver ripple beneath Hela’s hand. After a moment, Hela said, “That’s really it. Everything’s back to normal.” She stared down at Janet. “What happened?”
Janet stood up, words stumbling over her lips as she tried to make sense of the last few hours. Smith cut her off. “Telar was trying to bring Himmeria and Durridel together into one space. Miss Ling stopped him.”
“I did? You were the one who took him down.”
Before Telar could respond, Hela said, “Wait.” She leaned against the wall, looking as tired and confused as Janet felt. “Why would Telar want to bring the worlds together? How could he have gotten this close without you —“ she glared at Smith — “knowing about it?”
“He wanted a world he could rule. One where he could make the rules. It didn’t exist, so he set about making one. As for my knowing about it — well, of course I knew about it.”
“Wait, what?” said Janet.
Smith raised an eyebrow. “This is my place. I know all that occurs within these walls. I knew he was making things less stable, that he was trying to bring more people through, including the refugees that Janet granted shelter to.”
“You mean Robin and Paxton?” said Janet blankly. “You knew about them?”
“Telar couldn’t have let them through!” Hela burst out. “He is a guest. He has no authority. Or at least he had no authority, until you gave it to him.”
“He already had some measure of it, through me. Of course, he never had as much power as he thought. But I did not have the authority to banish him with only my suspicions. I couldn’t take action until he had shown his hand. So I let him do so.”
“What do you mean, through you? He isn’t really your son?”
“No. But he is of my lineage.”
“Mr. Smith was once the Overarching King of Durridel,” said Hela. “He kept that position until the end of the Great War between the worlds, when he gave his place up to manage this place between the worlds. Sir, what you did was reckless. If Telar had succeeded —”
“You do not need to chastise me. I am capable of doing that myself.” Smith sighed. “I gave him free rein, confident that I would be able to stop him when the time came. I was wrong. He had woven his magic into the very walls, to seal himself from me. When it came down to it, I could not get to him. I am lucky that Janet was there.”
“Lucky? Are you sure that was what it was? You didn’t manoeuvre me into the exact place where I could stop him?” Janet thought back on the weeks she’d spent worrying about being found out, worrying that at any point, they would kick her out for what she’d done. And all the time, he knew! He’d been manipulating her this whole time.
“Yes, I was lucky. I didn’t know you had such a grasp on your magic. Normally anchors do not use their own magic, only link to the essence that makes up the portals.” Smith gave an embarrassed cough. “I supposed I should tell you the truth. I hired you because you seemed particularly unsuited to this role. You were looking for a temporary job, and out of all the candidates, you seemed most uncomfortable here. Had I hired someone who could bring stability, Telar would have been less likely to act. I did not expect you to form the connections you did here, and to master the magic of the place so quickly.”
Janet stared at him. “Paxton taught me,” she said faintly. “Paxton and Robin, who felt like they weren’t welcome here, because of you. Hela nearly turned them out! You let them think they weren’t meant to be here. You made me feel like I wasn’t meant to be here, like I was on the verge of being fired. All so Telar could mess things up?”
Hela asked, “What will happen to Telar now?”
“We will return him to Durridel, where he belongs. The current Overarching King should never have exiled him. He will find a fitting punishment.”
“What will happen to Robin and Paxton?” asked Janet.
“You have granted them shelter. You made an exchange with them. So they will have shelter here until they decide to leave. If they wish to go to Himmeria, they will have to seek agreement from the Council first.”
“And me? I mean, you can’t really fire me for doing things you already know about. But you obviously never meant me to actually be good at this, so —”
“Miss Ling. When I hired you, the hotel was already unstable. Nobody would have been able to set it to rights, especially with Telar working to upset the balance. However, you exceeded my expectations. You managed to link to the magic here with hardly any help, and you opened a door where I could not. We owe our lives and livelihood to you.”
“He doesn’t like to admit it,” said Hela, “but we need you here. We can’t fire you.” She shifted. “I owe you an apology. I shouldn’t have tried to get that knowledge out of your head. If I had known about this, I wouldn’t have. That knowledge belongs there, and you belong here.”
“Huh.” Janet ran her hand along the wall, feeling the magic that ran through it, that ran through the whole building. It knew her. “I’ve never been needed before.”
“You will stay, won’t you?”
“I’d like to see Robin and Paxton first. I need to know you’re not going to throw them out without telling me or something.”
“We wouldn’t —“
“I don’t know that I trust you fully yet. I want to see that they’re fine.”
“Janet!” Cory ran across the lobby and caught Janet in a full embrace. “You’re all right!”
“I think I am.” Janet managed to stay upright. “It’s good to see you’re fine.”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
Janet smiled and stepped out of his embrace. She looked past Cory and saw Robin and Paxton standing at the reception desk. “What happened to you two?”
“The hotel was breaking apart,” said Robin. “We couldn’t take more than a few steps without being taken somewhere else. And we couldn’t control it. Finally we came out here, and she —” Robin gestured at Felicia — “set a freeze spell over everything that entered. Trying to make sure nobody moved around too much, I think. Of course we struggled, but she said we could stay once everything was sorted. Promised to give us a proper room for as long as we liked. We don’t even have to pay.”
“They already made their exchange with you,” said Felicia. “That’s the check-in done. Here’s your key.” She laid a large silver key on the desk.
“So what are you two going to do now?” asked Janet. “Go back and see if things have changed there? Or are you going to try to get into Himmeria?”
“Actually we thought might stay here, at least for a while,” said Robin. “It will take a while for both worlds to settle down and become stable. Things in Durridel might improve, or they might not.”
“We never really wanted to get to Himmeria,” said Paxton. “That just seemed to be the only place that might be safe. But it’s safe here now.”
“Not to mention Paxton’s talents might come into useful here. I might try my hand as a server. We’ll see how that goes.” Robin smiled. “What about you?”
Janet looked around. They were all looking at her. The lobby, once so grand and forbidding, now seemed comforting and familiar. “I can’t work here as often as I have been,” she said. “I start uni again in a few weeks.”
“But you will keep working here?” asked Cory. His eyes were hopeful.
Janet looked at Smith. He’d lied to her. He’d deliberately made the place less stable just to catch Telar, endangering people in the process. Could she stay here, working with him, knowing that?
Then again, if she walked away, she’d never be able to change that. This was her place now. She had to look after it.
“As long as I never have to go through this type of thing again,” she said, “I’ll stay and be your anchor.”
Smith nodded. “A fair bargain.”
Angela dropped her luggage when she saw Janet. “Hey!” she called, and they hugged. “It’s been ages.”
“Yeah. How was Europe?”
“Oh, it was fantastic,” said Angela, and launched into description after description. It wasn’t until they had reached the car, loaded the luggage, and were driving out of the carpark that Angela stopped and said, “But what about you? How was the new job?”
“It was alright. Pretty uneventful,” said Janet, and turned the car towards home.
That’s it. Thanks so much for reading! Let me know what you thought below, and sign up to my newsletter for more updates and insights.
An oddly cosy fantasy story! Good pacing, except perhap the part where she went from no magic to full control of her magic was a bit rapid – but maybe that suits the format of the story anyhow.