My name is Jon Wayward and I was one of the most unremarkable guys you probably never met. But then I was hired to find a mysterious pack of tarot cards and that changed my life forever.
Now I have inherited my grandfather’s occult collectors shop, his friends, customers and ancestor’s Book of Shadows called the Wayward Grimoire making me the newest member of the world’s secret magical community hidden in plain sight.
People now tell me I am remarkable, even famous as the heir to the Wayward Grimoire. But the only thing I seem to be remarkable at is running from reptilian hit men, running to a man that looks like a mole, and holding onto a rare and extremely important pack of tarot cards that have the power to control whom ever you want them to whenever you want them to.
They say you have to play the cards you’re dealt. I say it’s not the cards you have, it’s how you play them.
But what do I know?
Show of Power
I had insisted that I at least change my shirt before Sebastian showed me his proof, which wouldn’t shock me all that much if it turned out to be a large bag of dried mushrooms coated in LSD.
He told me that his proof was in the alley outside and as I finished buttoning up my new shirt and throwing my waistcoat back on over my burn-free light blue double-cuff shirt, which was a bit excessive as I could only imagine he wasn’t taking me out for a fine dining experience, I prepared myself for the worst. I followed him out through my not-so-secret sliding door down the metal spiral framed staircase into the shop and out into the street just as I flipped over the sign in the window from open to closed.
I reasoned to myself that outside with crazy was better than inside with crazy, and at least I could run away outside. It wouldn’t come to that anyway, I was sure. I followed a couple of steps behind, thinking Sebastian would try to show me his proof, and when it failed, I would threaten him with the police, a restraining order and anything else I could think of. I wonder how easy it is to have someone you don’t know committed to an institution? Once again, there was something niggling away, and it wasn’t in the back of my mind or a second guess but was more instinctual, and that worried me. My instincts had always been trustworthy when they rarely reared their heads, and they managed to get me through more scrapes than my brain had even been aware of.
The street we walked down was empty except for a drunken tramp humming to himself with his head down to his chest and his hood pulled over to stave of the daylight. He was taking a leak up the wall of the local pawnshop, which I occasionally did business with – the shop, not the tramp – whilst trying to find his long-lost balance. Luckily for me, it was the adjoining side alley that Sebastian turned down as I didn’t fancy wading through a stream of recycled triple strength discount lager. “Tell me, Wayward, what do you see?” he asked.
“What do I see?” I repeated sceptically. There was nothing to see but a muddy and overgrown path with puddles running down either side, two high brick walls flanking us, and a smouldering fire in a bin. I presumed the tramp had been using the remains of it at the other end. Apart from that, Sebastian was the only piece of the puzzle that really seemed to stand out. His back was still facing me with his white glaring suit that somehow seemed to be spotless in this filth-infested alley. My shoes and the bottom of my trousers had already been splashed as we came around the corner, and somehow I’d even managed to get some specks of what I could only hope was mud on my new clean shirtsleeves. “I see a normal everyday alley with a bat shit crazy man wearing too much white and another man who is a complete fool by letting himself be taken on a wild goose chase just to appease his own curiosity, and we all know how that ended for the cat who tried the same thing, don’t we?” I spat out in a flurry of words. To be perfectly honest, I was disappointed. I think I half expected there to be proof of some kind in this dark and dingy alley.
“You are no cat, Wayward,” Sebastian said in his matter-of-fact way that made me feel like I should have been wearing a dunce’s hat and sitting in the corner.
“Well, that’s cleared that up then. I guess you’re not crazy at all!” I wasn’t sure if sarcasm had a limit, but if it did, I was getting close. “It’s all been one great big misunderstanding.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” he said.
“What do you see?”
“I told you! I see you. I see me. Mud. Puddles. A burnt-out fire and my life slowly slipping away.”
“And what are these things to you?” he asked calmly.
“I’m sorry, Mr Dove . . . Sebastian. But what does this have to do with a book full of symbols ending up using my skin as their canvas, you almost setting me on fire and the chance to get my life back into some semblance of normality? You told me we were coming down here for some proof, and if I’m not mistaken, there is none. So unless you can give me one hell of an answer, I’m going back to my shop where I will lock the door behind me and ask you never to darken my doorstep again or, in your case, brighten my doorstep with your crazy white suit.” I was pleased I had gotten my rant finished but also a little worried. I had never been around a crazy person before when their bubble of imagined reality had popped.
Sebastian turned on me, his eyes pale blue and swimming into the colour of his shirt, coming alive with only the pupil as a fixed dot that looked deep into my own. He threw his hands out to his sides, which made me jump, and muttered something under his breath as if he were getting ready to dance or launch a karate move at me. “You want answers, Wayward? Here they are,” Sebastian said in what I felt was a threatening manner. He began to raise his hands, outstretched either side, towards the sky and murmured a word I could just hear: “Tenebris.” As he did, the alley we stood in actually seemed to be getting darker. “Every time your soul aches, every time you experience déjà vu, every time you feel a shiver down your spine, or the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, it is because of one simple and undeniable truth . . .” His hands were almost touching above his head, and the alley had become considerably darker. I literally couldn’t believe my eyes as Sebastian was stealing the daylight around us. “. . . Magic. Is. Everywhere.”
He sounded as if he were enjoying himself as his hands finally reached each other, and dusk fell over the alley like a table cloth being laid out across its surface. Beyond Sebastian, at the other end of the alley and behind me, where we had walked in, bright sunshine still shone as naturally as ever but unable to enter into the alley. I had never seen anything like it; he was literally breaking the laws of physics.
“Magic?” was all I could manage to say. I was half in shock and half in a dream in which my mind kept shouting, This can’t be real! Seriously! My eyes, body, and soul somehow knew it was; they all knew on some instinctual level that he was telling the truth.
“I can see you need a little more convincing before you are able to take my word as the truth of the matter,” Sebastian said with some relish in his regal tones, then muttered so I couldn’t hear him this time. Everything around us went still, the air moved slower than I ever thought possible, the puddle of rain water moved in a heightened slow motion as a ripple curled outwards, and the embers of the dying fire glowed their soft orange glow without fading. It was as if someone had paused time with the exception of Sebastian and myself and then played with gravity. The lack of movement made me think of being a child and climbing around my grandfather’s shop, pretending I was on the moon or a distant world with low gravity, making me take overly big and slow steps as I climbed up over a chair or display stand. Sebastian began speaking again, but now he had the attitude and inflection of a teacher or a performer making sure that his audience, me, understood. “Basic magic consists of five essential elements that have ruled our worlds since the dawn of time. Earth,” he said with a curl of his hand and sweeping flick of his forefinger as he whispered under his breath. “Terrae.”
The ground beneath my feet began to shift, and I almost dropped to the mud-plastered pavement. I was held in shock and disbelief, which was now only being added to by a circular wall of mud, gravel, and weeds rising behind me and being moulded into a wall from the ground. When the wall steadied itself and I could stand up without fear of falling or being consumed by the earth itself, I saw that the wall of floating earth and debris had stretched out from the two opposing buildings, completely blocking off the alley’s exit behind me.
“Fire,” he said next, then whispering, “Ignis” as the tramp’s poor attempt to keep warm exploded from behind Sebastian and engulfed him like a million wasps swarming. I let out a little scream, which was slightly more feminine than I’d like to admit. He exploded into flames and spoke again. “Water,” he commanded as clear and as calmly as he did before he whispered, “Aqua,” and amongst the fiercely dancing flames around his body, the puddles of rainwater lying at either side of the alley rose up and leaned in over Sebastian as he held out his flame-engorged arms. The occasional droplet that escaped his grasp hissed into vapour as it fell into his burning mass. The image stayed with me for a long time after that day. It was biblical; a man stood unharmed by flames with two walls of water parted like the Red Sea on either side of us.
The water swelled in over our heads where they touched, and as soon as they did, the rainwater came crashing down upon us. I was forced back against the wall of mud and weeds, knocked to the floor on my hands and knees, and by the time I was upright once again, I could see Sebastian standing with his arms and hands outstretched. A smile flashed across his face as he spoke his next words. “You might want to brace yourself for this. Wind!” He said, then whispered “Ventus.” Straightaway, I was knocked against the back wall, but I managed to keep my balance and lean forward into the blast of freezing cold air. I could actually feel my soaked clothes drying from the wind as I judged how far forward I had to be without getting blown off my feet. The sound was incredible, like two high-pitch whistles blasting into my eardrums with a million people screaming in time beneath it. I could feel my cheeks and lips being pushed back around my face, and as quickly as it had started, it stopped, and once again, I found myself on the floor.
I stood to find Sebastian in front of me as if nothing had ever happened, or what had happened was so normal it didn’t need all the protestations and disbelief that I had given it. “OK then. Magic is real, and that was proof,” I said in awe of what I just experienced.
“I am glad we are finally on the same page, Wayward.”
“Magic,” I giggled to myself for a moment, which was a true sign that my nerves had suffered. “You can use magic.”
“I’m not the only one, Wayward.”
“There’s more of you?” I asked.
“More of us,” he pointed out.
“Us?” I asked as I realised my nerves were about to go another ten rounds in a new world where reality was comparable to a very strong hallucinogen.