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Shade pulled into an underground parking structure where they wouldn’t be seen and parked. Jason and Vermillion got out of the car, the others following suit. Hiro and Taika both looked stressed.

“I know things are coming thick and fast,” Jason said. “It’s overwhelming, but I’m afraid that there are miles to go before you sleep.”

He looked at Vermillion.

“Have you ever done this before?” Jason asked.

“Inducted someone? I have, and it’s rarely a smooth process. The gullible ones are the worst, because they’ll believe in the supernatural nice and quick, but convincing them the supernatural stuff they already believe in is wrong can be tricky.”

“Supernatural?” Hiro asked. “Are you going to tell us that you’re a vampire too, Jason?”

“No, I’m more of a ninja warlock. I know how it sounds. Long story short: Magic is real, the soul is real, vampires are real. Lots of stuff is real. Werewolves?”

“Not in this country,” Vermilion said. “There were some werecrocodiles, back before my time, but they were mostly wiped out during colonial days.”

“No kidding,” Jason said. “Anyway, magic is real, is the gist of it.”

“This is some crazy stuff, bro,” Taika said. “If you want us to believe magic is real, then you’re going to have to show us some magic. Like, proper magic.”

“That’s why we’re here. Shade, why don’t you start?”

The car they were standing next to exploded in a mass of darkness that was drawn into Jason’s shadow like he was sucking it with a vacuum cleaner.

“My car isn’t a car,” Jason said. “It’s my friend Shade. Come out and say hello.”

Shade’s shadowy form rose up from Jason’s shadow, taking on depth and substance while still being a figure of manifested darkness.

“It is nice to formally meet you,” Shade said. Hiro and Taika glanced over from where they were waving their hands through the space the car had just been.

“I knew…” Hiro started, before trailing off. Jason waited patiently for him to continue.

“I knew there was something going on that went beyond normal understanding,” Hiro said. “None of what I came up with seemed believable. Even seeing your car disappear, I mean… magic? Really?”

“It does seem pretty out there, bro,” Taika added.

“I know,” Jason said. “You need to see something truly impossible.”

He waved his wand over the ground, creating a line of crawling darkness like black fire. At an upward gesture from Jason, an obsidian arch arose from the dark line, which itself moved up to fill the arch.

Hiro and Taika walked around it.

“I’d ask how you did that, but you’re going to say magic, right?” Hiro asked.

“Yep,” Jason said.

“What is it?” Taika asked.

“A door,” Jason said.

“It doesn’t go anywhere,” Hiro said, shifting his gaze from one side of the portal arch to the other.

“If you step through, you’ll see the truth,” Jason said. “I’d call it a leap of faith, but faith isn’t really my thing. So let’s call it a step into a wider world.”

“You want us to walk into that?” Taika asked.

“Yes,” Jason said. “Think of it as your last chance to turn back. If you want, you can ignore everything I’ve just said. Go live a normal life and try not to think about it. Or, you can move forward.”

“When you said you weren’t going to tell me,” Hiro said, “you said that one of the reasons was that I wasn’t ready to face the dangers involved. What’s changed?”

“I said I couldn’t do it in a reasonable time frame,” Jason said. “Once you’re out of the EOA’s path, we’ll have the time.”

“To do what?”

“To give you magic powers,” Jason said.

“You can do that?” Vermillion asked. “Turn them into essence magicians?”

“Yeah,” Jason said. “If it’s something they want.”

“What’s an essence magician?” Hiro asked.

“Step through the arch and find out,” Jason said.

“Boss,” Taika said. “This whole thing is messed up. I’m just gonna go with it. See where it takes me.”

“Taika!” Hiro called out as Taika stepped through the arch and vanished. He didn’t even have to worry about fitting, as he did with most doors. The arch was large enough to accommodate even a leonid or a draconian, to which the mountainous Māori was actually comparable in size.

“Vermillion, would you check on him?” Jason asked.

“That’s a portal,” Vermillion said. “I’ve heard that some of your kind have them, but I’ve never actually seen one before.”

“Then this’ll be fun for you.”

Vermillion shook his head with a chuckle.

“Knowing you is an exciting lifestyle, Jason Asano.”

He shared a grin with Jason and stepped through.

“Jason, this is insane,” Hiro said. He was still walking around the archway, staring disbelievingly at the object that Taika and Vermillion had vanished into.

“Yep,” Jason agreed. “Just be lucky that you’re getting a nice, gentle introduction to magic.”

“This is gentle?” Hiro asked. “We were attacked by a bikie gang!”

“Just be glad no one tried to eat you. I’ll tell you about my introduction to magic later on. For now, it’s time to go. You aren’t going to leave Taika hanging, are you?”

As he said it, Taika came back through, looking around wildly, then throwing up.

“Holy crap, bro!”

He went back through the arch, vanishing again.

“See? No worries,” Jason laughed.

Giving Jason a trepidatious look, Hiro steeled himself and stepped through. Passing through the veil of darkness in the arch, he emerged atop a tall building in the CBD. Jason followed him through, to find Hiro also emptying his stomach. Vermillion was nearby looking peaky. Eventually Hiro recovered, wiping his mouth on a handkerchief.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“On top of Victor’s building,” Jason said.

Hiro looked at the arch, walking unsteadily around it.

“Can I go back, like Taika?”

“Go for it.”

Hiro went back through the arch, returning moments later and throwing up again. He staggered to the edge of the building, gripping the railing as he looked out at the city.

“This is crazy. It’s not possible.”

“That’s why I used magic,” Jason said. “Being impossible is kind of the point.”

“You said you’d give us magic,” Taika said. “Will we be able to do stuff like this?”

“Maybe,” Jason said. “There’s an element of randomness to what kind of powers you end up with.”

Jason turned to Vermillion.

“I’ve shown you one of my trump cards, here,” he said.

“I recognise that. You know I won’t keep it a secret from my people, but I will remember that you were willing to share this.”

“Consider it thanks for looking after my uncle,” Jason said.

“There is one more thing,” Vermillion said. “Victor.”

“Yeah,” Jason said. “Uncle Hiro, I know you just had your understanding of the nature of reality rewritten, but we have things to do. So, ask any questions you have now and I’ll answer them. Once you’ve had time to process, you can go ahead and ask me some more.”

Hiro rubbed his temples.

“I don’t know where to start. How did you find out about magic?”

“I was in a magical accident.”

“Your apartment.”

“Yes. It sucked me into a magical alternate universe.”

“What?” Hiro asked.

“You were serious?” Vermillion said.

“Bro, everything you say is weirder than the last. And the last thing was that magic is real. This is trippy.”

“This is… I don’t know what to ask,” Hiro said.

“I do,” Taika said. “You said we could get magic. How?”

“There is more potential power in your soul than you can imagine,” Jason said. “I can use objects to unlock that potential.”

“Is that where your power comes from?” Hiro asked.

“Yes.”

“Will our powers be like yours?” Taika asked.

“No,” Jason said. “I don’t have the right items to give you powers like mine, but you don’t want them. I’m very specialised.”

“In what?” Hiro asked.

“Things best explained when I have time for context,” Jason said.

***

“I’m not going to lie,” Victor said. “This feels like a betrayal.”

With Vermillion, Jason, Hiro and Taika lined up in front of him in his office, it had the feel of a confrontation.

“Victor,” Vermillion said. “Things in my world just got a lot more complicated. If you don’t let me negotiate a way out for you, things will end badly.”

“So now you’re spruiking for the EOA?” Victor asked.

“No, Victor,” Vermillion said. “I don’t need to. No one who can stop them is willing to stand in their way, and any support you might have been able to wrangle has gone now.”

“Because of that rolling fight on the news?” Victor asked.

“Yes. The people who keep that kind of thing off the news are on the warpath. Everyone else is hunkering down until the storm passes.”

“And I’m the one who suffers.”

“Victor,” Hiro said. “The things I’ve seen today. If that’s what’s coming for you, there’s no stopping it.”

Victor’s gaze panned from Hiro to Vermillion.

“He knows?” Victor asked. Vermillion nodded.

“How much?” Victor followed up. “Did you tell him more than you’ve told me? What happened to needing dispensation from your people?”

“I was the one who told my uncle, Victor,” Jason said coldly. “I don’t belong to Vermillion’s group. If you have a problem with that, you can take it up with me. I’m here because Vermillion and Hiro don’t want you in the path of what’s coming. I don’t care if the EOA bury you, so long as my uncle is well out of it.”

Victor paced back and forth, angrily rubbing his forehead.

“You’re telling me I have no recourse, but won’t tell me why. You realise that sounds like you’re feeding me a line, right?”

Jason sighed.

“Gordon,” he murmured.

A cluster of darkness appeared, shifting into the form of a cloak, within which a nebula of orange and blue light lit up in the shape of an eye. Around it, four spheres, likewise in the form of glowing eyes, slowly floated around it.

The others in the room were all wide-eyed at the sudden manifestation of the familiar. The floating cloak-entity was unmistakably alien and unfathomable, seeming to contain mysterious depths.

“This is my friend,” Jason said. “Notice that he contains what looks a lot like the Helix Nebula. The one they call the Eye of God. I won’t show you what he can do because it would be rather destructive.”

Jason gestured with his hand and Gordon vanished again. Hiro, Taika, Victor and Vermillion were all staring at the space it had just occupied.

“I speak from experience when I tell you that standing up to vastly more powerful forces comes with a price. If you’re willing to pay that price, then I won’t stop you. But if you try, expect to fail. You pay the price either way. Vermillion can’t tell you, Victor, but I can. There are forces out there far more powerful than you know, and sooner or later, the world is going to find that out. You have three options here. One, fight and die. Two, take the money and run. Grab everything you can and get to high ground before the wave hits. Three, throw your lot in with the EOA. If you want to go deeper into the world you’ve only caught glimpses of, they’re the only one’s who can offer that.”

“I think you’ve said everything you can,” Vermillion told Jason and Hiro. “Leave me with Victor, for now. Mr Asano, I’ll contact you to sort out the specifics of your own arrangements with the EOA.”

***

“How long will it take you to put your affairs in order?” Jason asked Hiro. They were driving back to Hiro’s apartment building, once again in the care of Shade’s car form. Taika and Hiro had shown some hesitancy about it when the car appeared from a swirling mass of darkness, but they had, after all, ridden in it before. Jason was in the driver seat, with Hiro and Taika in the spacious and comfortable rear.

“I keep my business under careful control,” Hiro said. “If they are really going to come in and take over, the actual logistics are simple, just a matter of business transfers.”

“You’ll be fairly compensated for everything,” Jason said, “or they’ll find my next negotiating position to be significantly more aggressive.”

Hiro and Taika shared a glance at the sinister expression on Jason’s face.

“My real concern is my people,” Hiro said.

“I made it clear that they were to be treated well,” Jason said. “Whether they want to stay under the new management or move on, they’ll be taken care of.”

“It won’t be just a matter of signing some papers and walking away,” Hiro said. “I need to speak to my people; explain the transition to them in person. Even if I get out of Sydney, I’ll need to make repeated trips back to go through it all.”

“That’s fine,” Jason said. “You just need to get the ball rolling well enough that we can leave town for the moment.”

“I can get the administrative affairs ready today and take tomorrow to talk to my people. I can be ready to go the day after.”

“Alright,” Jason said. “I need to deal with the ramifications of today’s excitement. We leave in the morning, the day after tomorrow.”

 

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Shirtaloon (Travis Deverell)

  • Australia

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