In the middle of the grassy field sits Mr. Harris in an old wooden chair that looks like it belongs in a farmhouse kitchen. Beside him are a small, three-legged table and a second, empty chair. He is facing away from me, but I can make out that he’s wearing a plaid button-up shirt with slacks rolled up to the knee. I’m pretty sure his feet are bare.
A cool breeze caresses my face and blades of grass tickle my bare legs and sandaled feet as I step out of the elevator. The sun beats down but a cool wind makes its persistence pleasant. I walk slowly towards Mr. Harris who is several metres ahead of me and I try to take in the entirety of my surroundings. When I glance behind me, I see the metal elevator doors standing out starkly against the infinite horizon. If I squint, I can almost make out the concrete walls on either side.
Just before I reach Mr. Harris, the Irish Setter lifts his head from where he is lying, concealed by the long grass at his master’s feet. Mr. Harris turns to see me approaching, then stands and waves at me.
“So glad you could make it,” he says, smiling. I steel myself and thrust out my hand.
“Selene Kondo,” I offer, belatedly. If he’s a skin mage, there’s not much I can do about it at this point anyway, “I’m sorry I never gave you my name.”
His grin grows amicably as he accepts my hand. “Nothing to worry about, Selene. Have a seat lass. What do you have there?” he asks, gesturing to the white bag in my hand.
“Some pastries and stuff. From Sugar Treaty down the road,” I pass the bag to him and he opens the box, eyes wide.
“You’ve found my weakness I’m afraid. Never could resist a sweet,” he places the box on the table and takes out a cherry-topped empire cookie.
“And I’m sorry for intruding before. I didn’t know the entire floor would be… well… this,” I wave my hand at the overwhelming landscape, “How did you know I had been here before?”
I sit in the chair beside him and he pours me a cup of tea from a beautiful antique teapot. The entire tea set is matching: pale green with gold trim, handles and spouts.Tiny gold and purple ivy creep over their surface like delicate cracks in the porcelain.
“Even if it is hidden from the non-magical, I still have defences. After all, mages and the few who know of us, can find me easily enough. You wouldn’t have had such an easy time stepping out of the elevator without me here though,” he explains. I’m relieved that he isn’t upset about my accidental intrusion.
A sound like drums beating draws my attention and I look past him to see a horse galloping freely in the distance. It is brown with a golden mane and light, spotted rump. I don’t know much about horses, but I remember this kind from county fairs as a child. Appaloosa, I think they’re called. The dog leaps to its feet and bounds after the animal, barking wildly. Mr. Harris laughs jovially. “Mariposa loves harassing the horses. And the ducks. Just about anything that moves really.”
“She’s a gorgeous dog,” I tell him, watching her shrink into the distant fields, “How far can she go? How are you doing all of this anyway?”
“She can go as far as she can imagine, we’re in her dream after all,” he says casually as he sips his tea. I can see his smile grow mischievously, as he observes my stunned reaction from the corner of his eye. He doesn’t wait for me to respond before elaborating, “This field is a memory. Even that energetic pup in the distance isn’t really my Mari. She’s asleep near the southwest corner. She’s old, maybe older than any dog that ever lived before. She sleeps and I use my magic to bring her dream to life.” His tone sinks from humour into melancholy, his eyes drifting to the horizon.
“What kind of mage are you?” I ask to change the subject.
“Hmm… have you heard of craft mages?”
I nod. “I’ve never met one though, so I don’t know much.”
“If you had to put me in a box, it’d be that one. Though I’ve never cared much for boxes, tend to think outside of them,” he chuckles.
“Craft mages make things, right? The put their magic into objects?” I try to remember what Yagher told me. Though it was only a few days ago, it feels like years have passed.
“It’s a bit more complex, but that’s the heart of it, yes. Many craft mages were once smiths, forging swords and armour. They imbued their materials with strength and unnatural lightness while they heated and banged away at the metal. But that’s ancient history,” he says whimsically. The mischievous grin returns in force as he continues, “This is the digital age, and I’ve always been the forward thinking type. It’s a shameful waste, thinking that magic and technology are mutually exclusive.”
I’m beginning to build a vague picture of what he means, “So, you’re like a craft mage that enchants technology?”
“Very good. Only, it’s a bit different than craft magic because I’m not just imbuing some dead object with magical properties, I’m integrating it into the already existing functions of electronic devices. Well… that’s the long and short of it, though it’s so much more complex, more elegant, than words can describe. Influencing the flow of electricity through wires and circuits that I’ve designed. Writing programs like others write incantations, giving instructions to both the machinery and the magic so that they can work in harmony. Hearing the two commune in a language no other person has even tried to understand. It’s… it’s remarkable,” he closes his eyes as he finishes, and I wonder what it is that he hears. I find myself wishing I too were privy to the secret conversations of magic and machine.
“The results are certainly breath-taking,” I say quietly as I kick off my shoes and press my feet against the warm earth.
“I lived here, once,” Mr. Harris confides, “A long, long time ago. Used to work for the family.”
“Were they mages?” I ask him.
“No, just regular folk,” he answers, “My family were mages, but there weren’t many of us left. My sister died when she was a child, and aside from my parents, everyone else had died off or married into other families. I was their last hope to continue the line, but I didn’t want anything to do with it. I ran away and did odd jobs until I ended up here. I thought I’d found my home, my happiness.”
Though he speaks of happiness, his face grows stern. His eyes are glassy, and he sips his tea distractedly.
“What happened?” I hesitate, feeling guilty for prying and add, “I mean, if you want to tell me.”
“I hate secrets. They only cause pain,” I wonder then, why he has decided to keep his entire presence a secret. He continues before I can point out this incongruity, “They’re afraid. The mages. I’m sure you’ve seen it. The way they cover everything up so neatly, even if it means spilling blood. The way they try to kill each other before someone comes after them first. The way they try to keep the families from falling apart. Hell, they’re too afraid to even share their own names with their children.”
I am reminded again of Yagher. I wonder how much of his righteousness and anger stems from fear. Fear of losing control, fear of people getting hurt, and maybe even fear of being wrong.
“I was a loose end,” he continues, bitterly, “They came for me eventually and I lost everything. Everything except Mari.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, though I know it means nothing. I can’t tell you how many people offered their apologies when I lost my singing, but not a single one brought it back.
He nods once, then turns solemnly to me, “I just wanted to tell someone. I got the feeling you know what it’s like to be dragged into a world you didn’t want no part of.”
It’s my turn to nod, but I’m not entirely sure it’s the truth. I still haven’t decided how I feel about this new world. Just when I think it’s filled with war and violence, I start noticing all the beauty still persistently creeping in through the cracks.
I prepare to share my own story, when I see that his mouth is hanging open. I follow his eyes just in time to see a tall figure run behind the barn. I’m sure I hear a man laughing, a man that is not Mr. Harris.
“I’m sorry, Selene, but would you mind giving me some time alone,” he says without looking at me, “Please do come by again sometime. I’d like to hear your story. If you’d like to share it, of course.”
He finally looks at me, and though he’s smiling again, I can see the desperate impatience in his eyes.
“Of course. I’d love that,” I say as I stand, “I’ll see you soon.”
I hurry towards the elevator doors, pressing the up button as I reach them. They open after a moment and, before they close, I see Mr. Harris disappear behind the barn where I’d seen the figure only moments before.