It was a strange closing of the circle as Jason watched his recordings with his family. Seeing himself with no way of ever knowing if the moment he was now experiencing would ever happen.
There was over a hundred and fifty hours of the recordings. Most of the early recording were of Jason exploring areas of Greenstone as he gave an in-depth narration of his experiences to date. His family did one of the few things even less plausible than magic by taking a genuine interest in a family member’s holiday videos.
They watched until the early evening, at which point Jason put a stop to it, not replacing the latest crystal after it was done. There were protests, but Erika and Jason shared a look, his eyes flicking in Emi’s direction. Erika picked his signal that not all the records were tween appropriate and helped quell the other’s insistence on continuing.
“There is plenty more where that came from and it’s all here waiting for you,” Jason said. “In the meantime, there is more you need to know. Specifically, about the state of the world here and now. You’ve all just become part of a wider reality, and you need to understand the new world you’re living in.”
Jason proceeded to explain the three hegemonic powers, how he had healed Nanna and the treatment she would need to give her the most effective recovery.
“Why are you telling us all this?” Ian asked. “You said yourself that at least some of these groups have a vested interest in secrecy.”
“Because the secret is going to come out,” Jason said. “Probably sooner than later. After the circumstances of my disappearance, Erika ran into that secret herself, before being crudely warned off. When the world finds out, it will be an incredibly unstable time. I want the family ready when that time comes.”
“What about Kaito and Mum?” Erika asked.
“I’ll bring them in,” Jason said. “I’ll tell them everything, the same as with you. But the people in this room will be responsible for keeping the family safe. Over the next few weeks and months, each of you will obtain magic for yourselves. We’ll select those powers together, from what I can get access to, and I’ll train you to use them. Emi too, but only once she’s old enough.”
“You aren’t going to give Mum and Kaito powers?” Erika asked.
“I don’t know about Kaito and Amy,” Jason said. “They have two young children, which leaves them essentially zero time to train. If I have enough resources to be going on with, then maybe. Mum, definitely not. I don’t have the time or patience for her trying to take charge of everything.”
“Can you show us an essence?” Emi asked. “We saw them in the recordings, but I want to see one in person.”
Jason took a plant essence from his inventory and handed it to her. The cube was a dark, earthy brown riddled with green like roots in soil.
“This is a plant essence,” he explained as the group gathered around the object Emi was holding in her hands. Jason pulled out some others and passed them around, along with some awakening stones.
Finally, Jason sent everyone off, except for Hiro and Taika.
“I’ve thrown a lot of crazy stuff at you today,” he told them. “It’s going to take a while to sink in. Take the night; you’ll think of a lot of things you want to know. I suggest you write them down and you can bring them to me whenever you like. Except Tuesday, when I’ll be negotiating with a secret organisation working with the government to keep magic a secret from the world. I never got to do that at the office supply store, but I was only an assistant manager. That’s probably store manager level stuff.”
Erika and Ian informed Emi that no, she was not allowed to stay on the houseboat with Uncle Jason as she had school in the morning. They took Ken with them to drop off on the way home. One of the advantages of a small town was nothing really being out of the way.
Jason, Hiro and Taika kicked back in the lounge.
“So you really healed all those kids in the hospital?”
“Yeah. I didn’t know the local players, so I needed to flush them out. If I can heal a bunch of kids while I’m at it, then all the better.”
“Are you going to do it again?” Taika asked. “There’s a lot more sick kids out there.”
“I won’t do it like that,” Jason said. “The media and political storm I kicked up was so big it impacted hospital operations. I’m told the Network has ways to do the same thing without kicking up a stink.”
“And if that doesn’t pan out?” Hiro asked.
“Then we’ll see,” Jason said. “Taika, now that you know more and you’ve heard what’s coming, you should give some thought to your own family.”
“What happens if all this magic stuff comes out into the open?” Taika asked. “Are they in danger?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Jason said. “It could be anything from a blip on the radar to the end of civilisation. It might be just one more thing the rich people keep to themselves and a month later we’re back to obsessing over celebrity scandals. Or it could be a new world war as everyone grasps for new power. I hate to think about what happens when religion gets involved. If we’re really lucky, it could be a dawn of peace and prosperity as magic helps us overcome disease, poverty and climate change.”
“Where would you put the odds of that?” Hiro asked.
“It’s seems pretty unrealistic,” Jason said. “And that’s coming from an interdimensional warlock ninja who came back from the dead. Twice.”
“Did you really come back from the dead?” Hiro asked.
“Oh yeah,” Jason said, tugging at the collar of his shirt. It revealed a scar at the base of his throat. “I got impaled through the throat. Amongst other places.”
“How did you come back?”
“That’s a secret I don’t have all the answers to,” Jason said. “I’m not going to answer that.”
“Can you do it again?” Hiro asked, but Jason responded only with a saturnine smile.
“Alright,” Hiro said. “Something I’ve been thinking about, then. You know I’ve been talking about a legitimate development project once the EOA handover is completed.”
“Sure,” Jason said.
“What if it was a residential community? Like the gated communities in America, except built to keep out dangerous magic rather than ethnic minorities. Is there some way we could plan to bake in magical protection, right from the planning stage? Secretly build a place where our friends and family can be safe if things do go bad?”
“That’s an interesting idea,” Jason said, thoughtfully rubbing his chin. “A very interesting idea. I’d need to advance my understanding of array and formation magic, but I just so happen to have an excellent library of appropriate theoretical texts. I’ll have to do some reading before I can tell you how viable that is.”
“It’s not like I need an answer today,” Hiro said. “I need to finalise things in Sydney before I even look at what comes next. I’d like to head into Sydney later in the week, if that works for you. I know enough now that I don’t want to meet them without you watching my back.”
“Of course,” Jason said. “Set something up and let me know a time. Anything Wednesday or later works for me.”
Casselton Beach had pleasant winters, but it was shaping up to be an especially fine day. The sky was crystal clear and the weather was projecting a high of 26 degrees. When Shade took his car form, it was open top, Jason patting the door appreciatively.
“Have I ever told you how awesome you are, Shade? Because you’re awesome.”
Jason took the wheel himself as he threw on some music and enjoyed the drive out of town as he headed for his father’s new place. It was just a few minutes out of Casselton Beach, which was still enough to leave the small town behind and hit pleasantly pastoral countryside.
Ken had picked out a good-sized patch of land that occupied an entire hilltop. It had panoramic views on all sides, with a vast open sky overhead, although parking was not ideal. There was a short, gravel drive off the access road on the far side of the property from the cottage where Ken was living. Jason parked next to his father’s flat tray Land Cruiser.
Jason picked his way through an expansive landscaping project that was currently little more than a hilltop covered in dirt, large holes and a scattering of native trees. Jason walked around dug-out dirt beds as he navigated towards the little wooden cottage where his father was living. Even the grass was largely torn out, with only some of the native trees left intact. They dotted the property, all the works careful to avoid their root systems.
Jason knew enough to realise how ambitious the project was. His father was literally reshaping the hilltop in preparation of establishing the foundational infrastructure. It was something that would take years to reach fruition.
The old wooden cottage was the exact opposite of Jason’s lavish magical home. He could just imagine the interior, all worn down wood and faded furniture. The only new things would be the big TV and the extra shelves for all the DVDs. Give his father a bunch of solar panels and the complete series set of Magnum P.I. and Ken would happily wait out the zombie apocalypse.
Jason found his father in a folding camp chair outside the cottage, overlooking the property with a pensive look. He had an old car stereo sitting on a brick and set to a golden oldies station. It was wired up to a loose car battery. Ken had watched Jason pick his way across the property, then got up to hug his son as he arrived.
“You know, Dad, both of those things are meant to be in an actual car.”
“If I wanted a car up here,” Ken said, “then there’d be a car up here.”
Jason chuckled as he moved to stand side by side with his father and look out over the property.
“This is ambitious,” Jason said.
“After what happened with you and then your mother,” Ken said, “I didn’t know how to go forward. I wasn’t feeling that excitement for any of the projects I was being offered. I needed something different; something I could lose myself in. I didn’t have any passion left. I’ve been lucky enough that money wasn’t a problem, so I packed in the business and went looking for that something. This is what I found.”
“You’re still getting ready to put the bones into place,” Jason said.
“Yep,” Ken said. “I’m not sure I know how to do this after what happened yesterday, though. The things you showed us. The world just changed around me, Jason, and once again I have no idea how to go forward from here. How do you go back to living a normal life after learning those things?”
“You don’t,” Jason said. “You can trust me on that one. Life is different now and there’s no going back. Change doesn’t have to be bad, though. I’m back, and I come bearing gifts.”
He took out an essence and placed it in his father’s hands.
“You have no concept of what it’s like to wield magic,” Jason said. “It isn’t that much of a sensation, at first. You can feel it inside you but it’s just a seed. As you grow stronger you can feel the power. You make it your own and then, when you use it…”
Jason shook his head, a smile on his face.
“It’s like feeling the universe wash through you. I don’t know if there’s a drug that feels that good, which is probably for the best.”
“Jason, I’m fifty-six years old. I don’t know that I’m up for whatever it is you have planned.”
“That’s the best part,” Jason said. “You’ll be healthy. Strong. Strong enough to maybe help me put aside old grudges. It’ll be awkward and uncomfortable. You’ll fight with Mum, I’ll fight with Kaito. And Mum, probably. But we’ll be there for one another. There are strange days ahead, and there will be things that I need to do.”
His voice dropped to a whisper.
“There are things I’ve already done. I’m not sure who I am anymore, Dad.”
Ken placed an arm around Jason’s shoulders as his son’s quiet voice broke.
“Don’t worry, son. You can tell the others as much or as little as you’d like. But whatever you tell me, I’ll listen, and you will never have to be ashamed.”
After unburdening his sins to his father, Jason was fearful of how Ken would look at him afterward. For a long time, Ken looked at his son in silence, Jason’s nerves fraying like old wires.
“I’m not going to tell you that the things you’ve done were right or wrong,” Ken said finally. “You can’t change the past, only the future.”
“I’m going to have these choices all over in the future,” Jason said. “I’m not naïve enough to think I can avoid that anymore.”
“Jason. In life, there are things that you want to do, and things that you need to do. That’s true whether you’re a dimension-hopping wizard or a landscape architect who only gets more handsome with age. Next time you’re in a position to kill – every time you’re in a position to kill – then you have a choice to make.”
“It’s not always a choice, Dad.”
“Like I said: some things you need to do. That’s not unique to you; it’s something plenty of people face. Soldiers, cops and yes, magicians from another universe. But don’t fool yourself into confusing what you want with what you need. If you get the choice and you realise that you want to kill someone, don’t think about whether to kill them or not. Think about whether you want to be the person that killed them or if you want to be the person who showed mercy. You’re more important than them and what they deserve. Those will be the moments that decide who you are, son, and every choice is a chance to turn a little more in one direction or the other.”
“The two wolves,” Jason said.
“Exactly,” Ken said. “You’ve got the good wolf and the bad wolf fighting inside you. You get more chances to feed them than most, and it sounds like maybe you’ve been feeding the wrong one.”
After letting everything out to his father, Jason finally felt a crack in the angry vigilance that he hadn’t been able to shake. He needed to start acting smarter and more diplomatically if he was going to keep his family safe and get them ready for the future. Playing chicken with ancient orders of magic would only hurt them in the long run.
He was back on the road when his phone rang and Shade closed the hard top on the car to cut down on wind noise. It was Erika.
“Jason, I’ve got a production meeting running long and Ian can’t leave the practice. Can you pick up Emi from the academy for us? She stays late for the advanced program, so she can’t take the bus back.”
“I’d love to.”
“Thanks,” Erika said. “Normally I’d ask Mum, because even she’s never too busy for granddaughter time, but she’s with Nanna out at Uncle Robbo’s farm.”
“No worries, Eri. You’ll come and pick her up from my place?”
“Damn right I will,” Erika said. “I’ve been writing down questions all day. Oh, Wally says g’day, by the way. He asked if you’d to do an episode; we’re filming all next week.”
“Give him a firm maybe,” Jason said. “I don’t know what my next few weeks are going to look like.”
“Alright, I’ll call ahead to the school and put you on the list of people allowed to pick Emi up. You’ll need to check in with the office, the first time.”
“No worries. See you this afternoon, Sis.”
Jason took the turn for Castle Heads as Shade retracted the roof once more.
“Back to school,” Jason mused.
Arriving at the academy, Shade, for once, was not wildly out of place. The cars present to pick them up all cost more than a teacher’s annual salary, from dark German sedans to bright Italian sports cars.
“Who needs a Lamborghini here?” Jason asked. “I bet none of these pricks need to outrun bikers hopped up on vampire blood.”
Most of the students had been picked up an hour earlier, with only those in extra-curriculars or the advanced program like Emi still around. That left a handful of cars in the largely empty parking lot, with a cluster of parents gathered outside, chatting as they waited. There were also what appeared to be a number of household staff sent to pick up young scions, who had also formed their own little group.
Jason parked and made his way to administration to register himself.
“I thought Mrs Asano’s other brother died,” the elderly receptionist said.
“Well, we all thought you died in 2006, Mrs Wilkins, yet here we both are.”
“Oh, now I recognise you. The one with the mouth. You know, we all really liked your brother and sister, here.”
“Story of my life, Mrs Wilkins.”
Jason headed back outside to wait for Emi. He felt the gathered parents turn their attention on him through their auras. One of the people wandered over.
“Excuse me,” the man said. “You look a lot like someone I used to know.”
“G’day, Silas,” Jason said.
“Jason, that’s really you? You look good, man. Especially given that I went to your memorial service. What happened to the whole being dead thing?”
“You’ve heard the saying ‘too sexy to die?’ Not just a saying, as it turns out.”
“Well, you did me a solid,” Silas said. “You remember Asya Karadeniz? She’s looking good too and I almost got a leg over with the whole shared grief thing.”
“You and Asya? Does she have self esteem issues, these days?”
“Wouldn’t that be nice,” Silas said wistfully.
“Aren’t you here to pick a up a kid? You should try and sound less date-rapey.”
“It’s my little cousin,” Silas said. “He’s on the soccer team. With your cousin, I think.”
“Right,” Jason said, remembering that Toby would be sixteen, now.
Jason had two cousins, on his father’s side; the children of his Uncle Shiro. Like His sister and himself, the brothers were separated by about a decade. The older, Koji, was Jason’s age and they had spent a lot of time together as children, although not by choice. The younger, Tobio, had been ten the last time Jason saw him.
Jason was contemplating how to handle meeting his cousin when Emi arrived in the parking area.
“That’s me,” Jason said. “Good seeing you, Silas.”
“See you around, I guess. Congrats on not being dead.”
Emi was positively bouncing as he climbed into the car.
“Shade, you’re a convertible now? That is so cool!”
“Good afternoon, Miss Emi.”
“I came up with so many questions,” Emi said.
“So did your mother, apparently.”
“So that Farrah lady is really cute. Are you and her a thing?”
“That’s what you want to ask? An alternate magical universe and that’s your first question.”
“That wasn’t a no,” Emi said.
“No, we weren’t a thing. She was a friend and a teacher. She meant a lot to me, but not like that.”
“Was?” Emi said, her excitement doused in cold water.
“Yeah,” Jason said. “You’ll see that when you watch more of the recordings.”
“About the recordings,” Emi asked. “Does it magically translate? I assume they don’t speak English in an alternate universe and it would explain why everyone’s speech is out of synch, like a seventies kung fu movie.”
“That’s exactly right,” Jason said. “They weren’t much more expensive than regular ones, and you were the intended audience, so I had to. The hardest part was calibrating the crystals to English, which took ages.”
“How did you talk to people there in person? Did you have a magic translator item?”
“I’m pretty good with languages,” Jason said.
“Is that so?” Emi asked in Japanese. “Mother told me that you were bratty about learning when you were at my age.”
Jason was getting better at paying attention to when he was switching languages and taking more active control over it.
“Your mother and your Uncle Kaito used to talk behind my back, except right in front of me using Japanese,” Jason said, also in Japanese
“You do speak it! You sound a little like the translation recording crystals, though. Do you have a translation power?”
“What languages can it do?”
“All of them, as far as I’m aware.”
“You’re going to find anime dubs even more annoying now, I guess. Okay, next question: Your friend Gary is really furry. Does he give good hugs?”
“Oh, they’re amazing,” Jason said. “It’s like being wrapped in a blanket made of friendship. But not as weird and creepy as I make it sound.”