Fictober, Prompt 13 – “I never knew it could be this way.”
Warnings: none, I think? Slight creepiness, urban fantasy.
It wore the shape of a young man, though the pupils in its eyes were not quite round, and its teeth just a little bit too sharp.
It grinned at me. “Have I gotten it right?”
“Pretty close,” I said, and explained about the eyes and the teeth. Something in my vision rippled, and now it looked like a perfectly normal human was standing in front of me.
“And now?” It asked, with another smile. I nodded. “Very well. What next?”
“Follow me,” I told him – it – and turned to leave the clearing. I sensed its hesitation, but heard footsteps following.
I was taking a chance, turning my back on it, but it seemed more pleased than upset at being summoned, and I thought that it probably wouldn’t try to rip through the binding spells just yet.
It could, I suffered under no illusion about that. I hadn’t meant to summon something quite this powerful, but this had been the creature that answered, and I’d had no choice but to proceed with my plans. I was just fortunate that it was amused for now.
We crossed out of the woods and back into the town. I kept going, heading for my car, grimly intent on my goal, and didn’t realize that it was no longer following me until I was a dozen paces away.
The look of…was that surprise? Wonder? Curiosity? Whatever the expression was, it was not something I had expected to see on the face of something like this being.
Yet there it stood, looking up the small-town street of houses and shops and streetlights, and the distant skyline of the city, examining them with every sign of interest.
“The last time I was on this world,” it said after another moment of observation, “it was nothing like this.”
“Yeah, well, things have changed quite a bit in the last few hundred – or thousand – years,” I said, coming back to stand next to it. The view wasn’t bad, really, I just took it for granted. I’d lived here nearly a year now, and my mind had been greatly occupied with other things.
“Show me,” it said abruptly, the command not laced with any magic but still compelling. “Show me this world.”
I opened my mouth to protest. They were going to move soon, maybe even tonight, and it was a long drive into the city. I would teleport in, but I was going to need all my power, and so it had to be the car and there was no time—
Those eyes that looked right but felt wrong bored into mine.
Taking a deep breath to calm my incipient panic, I found a new question floating in my mind, one I hadn’t considered before: what did we really know about these beings?
This was followed swiftly by: what if instead of having summoned firepower, I had unknowingly summoned a potential ally?
That it – he – was dangerous was unquestionable. This being was far too powerful; there were perhaps half a dozen human wizards on the whole planet that could hope to compete. But dangerous to whom, and why were also relevant questions that, I suspected, no one had ever really asked before.
“Show me,” he demanded again, and I found myself saying “Okay.”
So, I showed him my world. We got in my car, which delighted him beyond measure, and drove. We drove through town, and I stopped for ice cream on a whim. He groaned in surprise and apparent delight over the flavor and temperature, and then demanded to try a dozen other things as we passed restaurants and food trucks.
The land opened up then, and we passed farmhouses and fields, the corn tall now late in the summer, cows clustering in towards their barns as evening came on.
We kept driving, and passed back into the suburbs, houses and malls and schools surrounding us as the streets narrowed and the city skyline grew ever larger through the windshield.
He commanded an explanation for the car and the tractors in the fields, inquired about the flashing advertisements we passed, half of them lit by electricity, the other half by magic. He stared with those wide, not-human eyes up at the city as we drew near and wanted to know about architecture and construction, about the standard transportation portals and the freeway and the train line.
I answered every question to the best of my ability and stopped whenever he asked. The seconds ticked by on the clock and I felt every single one, but I breathed through it. This was important.
It might turn out to be the most important thing I’d ever done.
I showed him what I could of the city, driving between the skyscrapers, through the good neighborhoods and the bad.
“We’re not perfect,” I told him, after yet another expression of wonder for all that humans had built, “not at all.”
He raised an eyebrow at me. “I did not say that you were.”
“We get stuff wrong, all the time,” I persisted, pushing. I had to know, had to be sure of what he seemed to think. “We’re cruel, sometimes, and even good people make bad choices.”
He waited, watching me.
“I…” My words ran out. I pulled over, parked the car, and stared ahead, gripping the steering wheel tightly. I wanted to hide my face, felt tightness in my chest that threatened panic, but I could not afford to show that weakness. Not to this creature.
“You summoned me for a reason,” it said, dropping the mask of humanity. In spite of that, there was something gentle about its voice. “What was it?”
“I need help,” I whispered, forcing myself to say it out loud. “There’s a group of wizards who want to take over and- and tear all of this down. They’ve got bigger goals, but they’re going to start here, tonight, and I need help stopping them. They don’t care about people, just about power and getting their own way.”
I took a deep breath and forced it out again. “No one else would believe me, not even when I brought evidence. This group, it’s got a hold on the city’s leadership, and no one else really believes that they mean to cause actual destruction. But I know that they will, because I’ve fought them before. I lost…”
I couldn’t say that. It had been two years, but it still hurt too much.
“Destruction is their goal, you say?” There was something…intrigued in the creature’s tone.
I froze. I had forgotten, just for a moment, what I had been speaking to.
There was a reason that all the tales and teachings warned against summonings, spoke of the destruction that inevitably followed.
With apparently only a bare twitch of power, it ripped through the binding spells that had been part of the summoning, as I had known all along it could. It vanished from the car, suddenly standing on the street outside.
I scrambled out gracelessly, summoning my power with some wild, half-crazed notion of trying to re-bind it—
My vision blurred, and suddenly it was the young man standing before me again, holding out a hand.
“This world, I never knew it could be this way. I would certainly be displeased to lose such an interesting place so soon after I have found it,” it said. “Even if there are other such places and cities, as you told me about earlier, I believe I have become partial to this one.”
I blinked, then blinked again. I opened my mouth, and the words that came out were: “Well, we do have pretty good ice cream around here.”
It laughed. The sound made my skin crawl, but I knew that if it had been a human laugh, I would have no doubt they were genuinely amused.
“It seems there is a battle we must not be late for,” it said, and this time reached to take my hand deliberately. “Show me.”
Shock and relief weakened my knees. I showed him, and then had the dubious pleasure of experiencing this creature’s version of a teleportation spell.
My pleasure upon suddenly finding ourselves in the midst of the wizards I had been trying to stop for so long, their expressions turning quickly to terror as they realized what had come into their midst, was not dubious at all.
I started writing this as one thing and it took an abrupt left turn into something else! But I like it pretty well, so I let it do what it wanted.
ETA: Now with a continuation here.