Where We Are Right Now
I work in the magic industry. I think you’ll agree it’s pretty glamorous: a life of spells, potions, and whispered enchantments; of levitation, vanishings, and alchemy. Of titanic fights to the death with the powers of darkness, of conjuring up blizzards and quelling storms at sea. Of casting lightning bolts from mountains, of bringing statues to life in order to vanquish troublesome foes.
No, magic these days is simply useful, useful in the same way that cars and dishwashers and can openers are useful. The days of wild, crowd-pleasing stuff like commanding the oceans, levitating elephants, and turning herring into taxi drivers are long gone. We had a rekindling of magic two months ago, something we called a Big Magic, but unlimited magical powers have not yet returned. After a brief surge that generated weird cloud shapes and rain that tasted of elderflower cordial, the wizidrical power had dropped to nothing before rising again almost painfully slowly. No one will be doing any ocean commanding for a while, elephants will remain unlevitated, and a herring won’t lose anyone on the way to the airport. We have no foes to vanquish except the taxman, and the only time we get to fight the powers of darkness is during one of the kingdom’s frequent power cuts.
So while we wait for magic to reestablish itself, it is very much business as usual: hiring out sorcerers to conduct practical magic. Things like plumbing and rewiring, wallpapering and loft conversions. We lift cars for the city’s clamping unit, deliver pizza by flying carpet, and predict the weather with twenty-three percent more accuracy than SNODD-TV’s favorite weather girl, Daisy Fairchild.
But I don’t do any of that. I can’t do any of that. I organize those who can. The job I do is Mystical Arts Management. Simply put, I’m an agent. The person who does the deals, takes the bookings, and then gets all the flak when things go wrong—and little of the credit when they go right. The place I do all this is a company called Kazam, the biggest House of Enchantment in the world. To be honest, that’s not saying much, as there are only two: Kazam and Industrial Magic, over in Stroud. Between us we have the only eight licensed sorcerers on the planet. And if you think that’s a responsible job for a sixteen-year-old, you’re right—I’m really only acting manager until the Great Zambini gets back.
If he does.
So the day this all began, it was once again business as usual at Kazam, and this morning we were going to try to find something that was lost. Not just “Misplaced it—whoops” lost, which is easy, but never-to-be-found lost, which is a good deal harder. We didn’t much like finding lost stuff, as in general lost stuff doesn’t like to be found, but when work was slack, we’d do pretty much anything within the law. And that’s why Perkins, Tiger, and I were sitting in my orange Volkswagen Beetle one damp autumn morning at a roadside rest area six miles from our town of Hereford, the capital city of the Kingdom of Snodd.
“Do you think a wizard even knows what a clock is for?” I asked, somewhat exasperated. I had promised our client that we’d start at nine thirty a.m. sharp, and it was twenty past already. I’d told the sorcerers to get here at nine o’clock for a briefing, but I might as well have been talking to the flowers.
“If you have all the time in the world,” replied Tiger, referring to a sorcerer’s often greatly increased life expectancy, “then I suppose a few minutes either way doesn’t matter so much.”
Horton “Tiger” Prawns was my assistant and had been with Kazam for two months. He was tall for his twelve years and had curly sandy-colored hair and freckles that danced around a snub nose. Like most foundlings of that age, he wore his oversized hand-me-downs with a certain pride. He was here this morning to learn the peculiar problems associated with a finding—and with good reason. If the Great Zambini took more than two years to return, Tiger would take over as acting manager. Once I turned eighteen, I’d be out.
Perkins nodded. “Some wizards do seem to live a long time,” he observed. This was undoubtedly true, but they were always cagey about how they did it, and changed the subject to mice or onions or something when asked.
The Youthful Perkins was our best and only trainee wrapped up in one. He had been at Kazam just over a year and was the only person at the company close to my age. He was good-looking, too, and aside from suffering bouts of overconfidence that sometimes got him into trouble when he spelled quicker than he thought, he would be good for Kazam and good for magic in general. I liked him, but since his particular field of interest was Remote Suggestion—the skill of projecting thoughts into people’s heads from a distance—I didn’t know whether I actually liked him or he was suggesting I like him, which was both creepy and unethical. In fact, the whole Remote Suggestion or “seeding” idea had been banned once it was discovered to be the key ingredient in promoting talentless boy bands, which had until then been something of a mystery.
I looked at my watch. The sorcerers we were waiting for were the Amazing Dennis “Full” Price and Lady Mawgon. Despite their magical abilities, Mystical Arts practitioners—to give them their official title—could barely get their clothes on in the right order and often needed to be reminded to take a bath and attend meals regularly. Wizards are like that: erratic, petulant, forgetful, passionate, and hugely frustrating. But the one thing they aren’t is boring, and after a difficult start when I first came to work here, I had come to regard them all— even the really insane ones—with a great deal of fondness.
“I should really be back at the Towers studying,” said the Youthful Perkins fretfully. He had his magic license hearing that afternoon and was understandably a bit jumpy.
“You know Full Price suggested you come along to observe,” I reminded him. “Finding lost stuff is all about teamwork.”
“I thought sorcerers didn’t like teamwork,” said Tiger, who enjoyed questions more than anything other than ice cream and waffles.
“The old days of lone wizards mixing weird potions in the top of the North Tower are over,” I said. “They’ve got to learn to work together, and it’s not just me who says it—the Great Zambini was very keen on rewriting the rule book.” I looked at my watch again. “I hope they actually do turn up.” In the Great Zambini’s absence, I was the one who made the groveling apologies to any disgruntled clients—something I did more than I would have liked.
“Even so,” said Perkins, “I’ve passed my Finding Module IV, and always found the practice hiding slipper, even when it was hidden under Mysterious X’s bed.”
This was true, but while finding something random like a slipper was good practice, there was more to it than that. In the Mystical Arts, there always is. The only thing you really get to figure out after a lifetime of study is that there’s more stuff to figure out. Frustrating and en...