The music was dying.
Way far away, so far that Malcolm shouldn’t even hear it, the music just barely, barely played on. Just a whisper. Just a melody that his ears strained to catch. Even cupping his hands behind his pointed elven ears didn’t help. Nor trying to hum along.
But it was out there. Playing for him.
So very far away.
Dying… bit by bit.
And very soon, it would be gone forever.
Malcolm opened his eyes when Donovan’s deep voice covered the music. “Bloodhounds are trackers. It’s what you do best.”
Even though the breeze tugged at Donovan’s night-black hair, the movement of the rock dust in Donovan’s magic only stirred to that Sidhe’s will. Malcolm could see Donovan’s strength of focus through the tight, slow coil of power. You might not know it to look at Donovan, who seemed pretty controlled most of the time, that he commanded such devastating magic. He could tear a gash open in the world big enough to swallow this whole town and not even tense a muscle. Donovan was that kind of badass. Sometimes, when he was close, Malcolm could even smell the earthy scent of his magic and hear the crushing grind of rocks. And as impressive as all that magic was— and it was truly brilliant stuff— that wasn’t even the most amazing thing about Donovan. Not by a long shot.
Malcolm shook out his hands, like that could cast off some of his nerves. Getting ready for business, he shoved up the long sleeves of his t-shirt, showing off the leather bands around his wrists that Donovan had given him to cover the scars. “I’m ready. It’s just… It’s real faint.”
“We’ll find this Sidhe. Just point the way.” Donovan bound a blindfold over Malcolm’s eyes, and then lifted the headphones slung around Malcolm’s neck and settled them into place. The cushions completely encased his ears, so that if Donovan said anything else, Malcolm couldn’t hear it.
With the world closed out, all that Malcolm sensed came from magic. Even from the rooftop of his apartment building, he still caught glimpses of the lights whizzing and flickering out of the Glamour Club across the street. The magic noise from the club wasn’t too bad, though. Not so much that he couldn’t still hear the music. Straining to catch the tune again, Malcolm gripped the headphones with his hands, like that might help pick it up somehow.
Once before, he’d tracked magic; his own magic that still lingered on one of the humans that he’d Touched. And he’d found a fragment of his magic and followed it back to the person attached to it, only it wasn’t the exact human he’d been looking for. Magic was tricky. Slippery. Constantly moving and flexing. And very weirdly, it reached into the fabric of everything. Like little bitty threads. It moved through the sky. It moved through the ground. It went all over the place. Picking out just the thread that he wanted from the current flowing around them was extra tricky. Especially this faint little tune.
But he’d studied it real good. When he’d found the human whose body still held traces of his own magic, Malcolm had found this music, too. The human stole the magic; Malcolm was straight-up positive about that. That human witch, Flora, was all about stealing people’s magic. And this music belonged to a Sidhe, no doubt about that either. It was Touch magic, and only the Sidhe could make that.
A little less sure, Malcolm figured this Sidhe was a lass. The tune had a girly sound to it, he thought. Kinda higher pitched. Like violins or flutes. Kinda… well… pretty. Dainty, even.
He didn’t know. Whatever. Didn’t matter. Lass or bloke, Malcolm meant to find her. Him. Whatever.
Reaching out toward the fibers of magic flowing all about him like neon gossamer strands of ghostly pixie hair, Malcolm stretched out his hand. Shifting his fingers through the energy like caressing the soft whispers of a stream, Malcolm listened for the music he knew by heart.
And the thread he sought curled about his fingertips. A fine thread so fragile it might snap if he tugged on it. Rather than pull on it, Malcolm tilted his head to follow it with his blindfolded eyes as far as he could see before it was lost in the ocean of magic. “That way.”
The solid warmth of Donovan’s hand gripped Malcolm’s shoulder. And in the next second…
The stretching, sliding sensation of teleportation startled him. The lurching movement nearly upset his stomach. Just like in a dream where the ground suddenly drops out so you jump to catch yourself, Malcolm jolted. Only Donovan’s hand kept him steady-ish on his feet. Malcolm widened his stance, hoping to overcome the sense of tilting. If he could open his eyes maybe he could orient himself better, but he didn’t want to mess with the magic. Not now that he had a grip on the thread he wanted.
Donovan’s hand stayed tight and when the wooziness settled down, Malcolm whispered, “I’m alright.” But he couldn’t hear himself outside his own head, which was weird and only made him feel even more disconnected from the ‘real’ and more immersed in the magic.
Malcolm lifted his hand. The thread still interlaced about his fingers. The slack lessened. Turning with it, Malcolm faced the wind. The scent of grass and trees brushed over his face. Other magic sounds reached him through the silence of the headphones, but Malcolm ignored them. Only the music mattered. The fragile, fading song that tugged at him. He pointed toward it. And…
The ground seemed to slide beneath him, stretching to someplace new, and then snapping into place again. Malcolm pitched backward, losing his balance in the massive sense of moving. They’d teleported a lot farther this time. A lot farther. The slip lasted like forever… or about five seconds really… which was forever in teleportation time. He’d always thought of it before as instant. Only it totally wasn’t.
Donovan gripped Malcolm tighter, jerking him back to his feet before he fell on his bum. The ground beneath him really did move under his feet this time, as Malcolm worked at getting his footing. It was soft, like sand. The smell of the sea filled his lungs as he caught his breath.
Taking a moment to orient himself, Malcolm glanced out and then up. Out a ways, maybe a kilometer or so, although he couldn’t be at all sure about that, a massive curtain of magic rose from the ground and arched overhead. “What is that?” The colors flexed and shimmered with a rainbow of hues. He’d seen the curtain of magic in the sky before. For a long time, he’d thought the sky was like a ceiling way, way overhead, but his parents told him ‘no,’ that it just seemed that way. But they couldn’t see like he could see. They couldn’t see magic like him at all. Malcolm had been right. There was a ceiling over them, just made of magic, and it curved into the ground right out there a ways, like they were inside a giant bowl turned upside down.
The squeeze on his shoulder woke Malcolm out of his pondering. “Right, right. Find the music first. I’m on it.” He sucked in a breath and then blew it out. They’d gone so far, he didn’t keep hold of the thread this time. Malcolm lifted his face toward the sky. Ignoring the bowl thingy, he watched for the current of magic. The thread he wanted drifted along with the others, close to the surface. Malcolm reached for it, and like it had come to anticipate his caress, it floated out of the mass and stroked over his outstretched hand. The music played for him. So familiar now, but no less beautiful for it. “Getting closer now. Just there.” He pointed.
Donovan’s hand disappeared from his shoulder, and Malcolm turned to see if he’d left him. But he could still see the man, even with the blindfold on. Now he saw the magic of him only. The way it moved and twisted inside him like watching a neon rendering of the circulatory system. The dust moved about him, defining the shape of him. And like always, the magic reached down into the earth below Donovan like a pipeline of power.
Looking at this magical version of Donovan, Malcolm pointed again. “Just… Right that way a piece. We’re not far now. Just a bit past the curtain-bowl thingy.”
He felt the headphones being lifted from his head and the blindfold removed. Malcolm blinked against the setting sunlight still sparkling off the water. “I don’t understand.” He frowned, accepting the headphones Donovan handed off to him that he needed to give back to Emma, the Glamour Club DJ. “What’s with the curtain? Why can’t we go past it?”
“I think you are seeing the Great Veil. It covers Ireland and keeps out the wizards.” He nodded out to sea where Malcolm had pointed. “I know what’s out there, and you’re not ready for it. You’ve done your part, Malcolm. This is as far as you go. I’ll take it from here.”