Crossing the barbed wire had been fun. Without a wand Dad could manage just a hint of cantrips, the barest spark of magic. But he had decades of experience in coaxing sorcery from his fingertips, and coated Kade’s hands with a gauzy glow. The rusty wires felt gentle under his palms.

“Presto,” Dad said, on the other side. And not with the half-twist of his lip, like usual. He was sweating and paused with his hands on his knees, but he had done real magic.

“Yeah,” Kade said, to show he was deeply impressed. “Alright.”

“Heyyyyy presto,” Dad said, wriggling his fingers. “With a wand—” he stopped himself. Kade had heard hundreds of “with a wand” stories, until even Dad had called a halt. With a wand Dad would’ve tossed the entire fencing into the upper atmosphere. With a wand they would’ve turned into water and sluiced through the metal. With a wand Kade would’ve been a wizard.

The bombed-out ruins of Snall Academy were not far.

“Oof,” Dad said. He stopped short again.

Just in the past year the government had stopped blocking the display on Google Earth. From overhead it was rubble with a hint of craters. Dad had spent long hours printing available aerials at the library – not the local library, a distant drive. Just in case the government was still looking. Kade had been put in charge of watching the printer, snatching the prints and keeping them close.

“The entire air force couldn’t do anything,” Dad said, walking again. “Turned their engines into rocks. Or put a small but tasteful bureau right in the path of the turbine. All sorts of options.”

“Yeah, Dad,” Kade had heard this, from the backseat, on many drives. But this was actually it, the husk, formerly an edifice in towering pewter stone. Famous for its pennants, flags, banners, each alive with residents.

“Artillery, though. Artillery… Yeah. Those damn howitzers.”

Although from the pictures the area seemed flattened and empty there were still plenty of stones. There was the remnant footprint of a building, including some blackened rocks. And a pillar in chalky marble by a wide open space. It was a surprise to Dad, who went right over to it.

“A memorial!” he said, surprised. “To all their dead! They actually put something up!”

It had no acknowledgement of conflict and was simply inscribed with names. Many, many names, in a small font.

“Dang, Dad,” Kade said, uncertain. “Lot of carving.”

“Oh, we didn’t go down easy,” Dad said. He seemed uncertain, himself, about how to feel. “Even after the shells broke through we zipped over there on brooms and lit a brigade on— anyway. Join me in a piss?”

“Uh,” Kade went to the other side of the pillar. “Yeah.” He could just see Dad’s knees, peeking out, from the sides of the monument. Kade decided not to unzip. He didn’t need to go. Dad had insisted he went before they left, and it was not a far drive. He just listened to the tinkle.

“Alright?” Dad said, when he went back around.

“Didn’t have much,” Kade said. “But I tried.” Dad ruffled his hair. He hadn’t washed his hands or anything.

“I wonder if…” Dad put his hands on the stone, puffed out his cheeks. Another brief glow from underneath his fingertips. With a wand – even Kade did it, to himself, in his head – with a wand the monument could be driven deepwards down into the earth itself. Atomized into sand. Dad mouthed the words. A flash, and then the scent of burnt hairs. “There.”

A trickle of black lines networked from name to name, adding lines and curlicues and accents to the alphabetical rows. Francisco became Eramcisco. “Do you want to try?” Dad said.

Kade shook his head. In the old days he was guaranteed the words, wand, the candle, the rook. The books of lineage were gone but counted Merlin as just another entry, although a lengthy one. He’d been taught the words. The candle and the rook were symbolic. There were no more wands.

“Me and Cyrus lived… must’ve been here. A hundred feet up. Maybe more. Heck, maybe less, it was all criss-crossed with charms and half of everything was on the ceiling…” Dad rambled on, crater to crater. Not quite craters – the shells had plowed in and exploded. It looked like god had scraped the ground with both hands.

“Dad, you didn’t have a church or anything, right?” Kade ventured. This was a dangerous question. Chapels and the holy were Mom’s province. During Dad weekends he often pried into religiosity: Kade didn’t really believe any of it, right? No, Dad.

Dad was in a complicated mood. Ordinarily Kade could read the weather from Friday night arrival: stormy, overcompensating, wistful. “We’re probably standing in the chapel,” Dad said. They’d made their way almost to dead center. Here the furrows had turned into dunes. The stone itself had slagged, melting into the dirt, a stew of rock and clay. “We held it for a full day against the shells. They must’ve carted away the metal, it was piled high and red hot.”

“What kind of chapel?” Kade said. He was genuinely curious. Dad mixed lip-tight secrecy with slops of exceeding honesty. Kade knew all about Carolya, Dad’s first girlfriend, her hair a luminous green-gold and her eyes drifting with starlight. He had a fair sense of the destructive power at Dad’s fingertips, properly equipped. But nothing about ancestors– he refused, even when drunk, to give up the names of Kade’s grandparents.

“Not Christian. Oh no,” Dad tried to chuckle. “The statue survived, it must have. I bet its in a warehouse somewhere. I’d love to see what they do on crescent moons. I bet they keep engraving new names on that monument.”

He bent down, first to signal that the conversation was over, and then with real excitement. Kade watched him dust off what looked like the bottom of a black urn. Dad held it aloft. Now the smile was sincere. “A cambryion egg!” he exclaimed.

They shared ice-gray eyes, and Kade had resented it. They were weird eyes. Every teacher, every year, found a way to inquire about his genetics. The expectation was that he would be fey, withdrawn, spooky. It never fit his baseball photos: a boy, awkward smile, polyester outfit, and shiny steel eyes.

At age nine Dad had made the big reveal. He threw a blanket over the both of them and took Kade’s hand. He did the glow. “Do you know what you are?” he had said. The words was underneath his left hand, tantalizing, the cover full of unfamiliar letters.

Dad had known he’d say “wizard” and was ready to scowl at it. He’d turned his hand upright and formed a quarter-sized rose in his palm. “Not a WIZARD,” he’d rasped. The effort would leave him bedridden for three days. “You’re a MAGUS.”

The young magus eyed the cracked shard of egg. Dad had brought a backpack, and stowed the obsidian-black rind in it. “What’s it do?”

“Made people. Imprints. We’d capture a soldier – the higher the rank the better – show it to the newborn. Then off it went. We had a cambryion colonel for weeks, sending men off to melt.” The egg tore into the bottom of the Jansport backpack. “I bet there’s one or two still in the ranks. We had a whole menagerie, Kade, an entire zoo in the ranks. The army had to bring in steel plates. Otherwise our wyrms would dig up into the barracks.”

He tried to match Dad’s smile.

“Kade, let me tell you, until they got the artillery going, it was practically our exams. Shooting little bullets at us. At us! Slugs of lead! All because—” he stopped. Dad’s eyes glanced up. They matched the clouds. He shoved his hands in his windbreaker and kicked at the ground. “Let’s keep looking. It’s not like in the movies. It’s the size of a piece of chalk.”

He’d learned the words. Dad even complimented his pronunciation. They slipped out of his tongue, generally sibilant, and seemed to echo on the wrong corners. It was as close as Kade got. He didn’t have a wand.

Dad was resigned to it from the start—he never got frustrated that Kade couldn’t raise a spark from a single fingernail. “It’s like learning to drive without a car,” he’d told Kade, trading a pip of light between his thumbs. “But if you had one… you’d do some things.”

Fly. Transmutation, telepathy, alteration, conjuration. Kade let his fingernails grow very long for a 12 year old boy. None of it worked. “I don’t even know what they’re made of,” Dad had said. “Closely guarded secret. I was never in that inner circle. Pearl white, with a gem inset. Looks like a topaz.”

He’d never once told anyone the big secret. In part because Dad had made clear that they were fugitives. The government had milled good men to kill everyone in a school. But also: what was there to tell? That he knew a fake language? Tell one of his friends: come on over, my Dad has glow fingers. It tuckers him out for days.

“Here, Kade, over here!” Dad waved his hat. They’d separated, from the chapel footprint. Wandered alone. Kade had tried to imagine himself there: Lynx House, masked and hooded, hair shaved down to the roots.

A chunk of rubble had settled on top of itself. Dad pulled it up, heaving, and a seam appeared. Further Dad-son effort pulled it free. There was a crack leading down into darkness. Dad stuck his hand in, thought again, and pulled out a mundane flashlight. “Looks like the kitchen cellars,” he reported, voice thick.

Scent worked its way up through the new chimney. A rot that Kade had never experienced before. Flowers mixed with dead dog. Dad was already huffing his stomach in to drop down. His hands were shaking. They were artificially aged, parchment skin and slender bones, from the effort of channeling magic. “Drop in after me, okay?” he said, polo collar still just visible in the hatch.

“Okay, Dad,” Kade said. “Yeah. How far is it?”

“Well– I’ll tell you. Can you smell it?” He only had his eyebrows visible, now, and used them to signal excitement. “That’s goblin. I haven’t tasted goblin in nineteen years.” He dropped in. Kade listened for a thud. There was no sound at all.


“Sorry– yeah! Drop in! I landed in– just drop in! I’ll catch you!”

Dad did not catch him. He caught half of Kade’s leg, spun him around, and then made a frantic grab for the back of his hoodie. To Kade this came across as falling, flipping, and then having his face drawn across something wet and old. It took them half a minute to get unsorted. The smell took the chance to climb into his nose. It was twenty years of death stink, and Dad didn’t help by shining the flashlight right in his eyes.

“Oh– you’ve got – here,” Dad rubbed Kade’s forehead clean, the tip of his nose. Whatever it was, it was green.

They’d landed in dead goblin. The creatures themselves had settled and gone indistinct, but they’d left behind juices and effluvia. Dad was beside himself excited. He stamped his New Balances down for emphasis.

“Goblins, Kade! This is it, this is the real stuff. There’s so much I wanted to show you. Whenever it’s just my hands flaring I think – this is nothing, this is nothing at all, I’ve seen dragons disembowel a Vulcan B.2, I’ve seen the sun itself shit fire on normie troops, and it’s just these soggy memories…”

The flashlight darted around. There were dozens of patches of stink. They’d landed in the largest one. “They must’ve all been huddled here – I think we broke through a cocoon of mummies, you know, that kind of thing. I bet these guys served me breakfast.”

“Breakfast?” Kade said. He found a dry patch of ground and breathed in through his nose. The smell was terrible. They’d landed in a half-buried hall. There were hammocks strewn about in a corner of the room.

“Oh, yeah, they did all the cooking, cleaning, that kind of thing. Servants. We had an entire menagerie for the menial stuff.”

“So they were… servants?” Kade said. His voice hinted at: slaves?

“They were little green guys, Kade,” Dad said. He sounded amused. “They belonged to the school. Man, we used to play this game if we saw one. They were supposed to be basically invisible, you know. If you caught one like, doing his laundry rounds, we made him dance. That was the only way to tell them apart, they each had a different dance.”

Kade walked around the room, avoiding patches of green. They’d been trapped in there, then. This, this made it real. Smell, it smelled like something. Magic had never smelled like anything. It was just a glow.

“Dad, the war. How did it start?”

He’d asked the question before. Always it had been deferred. Sometimes with a half-knowing smile, more often with a curt shake of the head.

“They had to kill us,” Dad said. “The moment they learned about us. I don’t blame them for it. We were intolerable. Every one of us was an unexploded hydrogen bomb. All of us. I was a kid, I was your age, and you know how many— “he broke off. The flashlight went limp in his hand. “We should check for a wand. They’re supposed to be tailored to the individual but—”

“Yeah, I know Dad. I’ve been looking,” Kade said. Around the lumps of fetid skin were personal items: clothes, papers, bags, socks. “How are we going to get out? Shoulders?”

They pulled a table over underneath the gap, put a chair on top of that, and got out. The sun was dark and down in the sky.

“We should go,” Dad said, reluctant. “I don’t know, Kade. I could show you all this, if I had a wand. I could put all of it from my head to yours. Not the war, I wouldn’t even do the war. The Night of the Red Mon, the Sifting… and I was just one of the kids. Lecturer Metz just spoke inside all of our heads, he had his lips sewn shut. And the Headmaster… Cyrus caught just a glimpse of him and his eyelids burst into flames.”


“I bet Carolya is still out there. Hell, I bet a lot of us are. Not everyone lost their wand. There’s probably Academies all over, underground and well-hidden, and if I just hadn’t– lost my damn WAND…”

“Dad I see lights down by the lake.”

That was a lie. If Dad had his wand it would’ve glowed a foul green all over him. It would’ve stunk of mistruth.

Instead Dad peered off into the distance and misinterpreted a glint of fading sunlight off the water. “I guess we better get going,” he said.

Their hotel room was three hours away. It had been a very quiet ride.

The hotel was normal. Kade ran his hand along the wallpaper, the bedspread. He washed his hands, and left his shoes out on the porch. The scent of goblin had followed them, but just faintly, and not at all once his Vans were outside and in a tied-up grocery bag.

When Dad went outside, to smoke a cigarette, Kade went into the bathroom. He hesitated, decided not to lock the door. Dad would never come inside with a half-burned cigarette. He made a point of getting close to the filter. Out of his pocket Kade pulled out a white cylinder of his own, much like a piece of chalk. There was an inset hunk of red ruby in it. He’d pocketed it inside the goblin mausoleum. Dad’s flashlight had caught it, but just for a second, light passing through.

The wand floated in the toilet when he dropped it in. But when he flushed it went down no problem at all.

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