Street Magic

I knew better. The mundanes weren't supposed to know a thing about us. Technically, I suppose, I hadn't broken that rule. Yet. When they saw me pull the correct card out of thin air or guess their name, they called it mentalism or sleight of hand. Or called it nothing at all, which worried me more than anything else. But worry over nothing. They didn't know that this was magic. They didn't know anything about the other part of the world—my part of the world. But not every magician would agree with me. I knew better, and yet I still walked among them and displayed my skill.

I let the cards run from one hand to the other, and then nudged one out. I could still feel a tiny trace of the woman's energy clinging to it, right where her fingers had touched when she grabbed it. "Is this your card?"

She leaned forward and scooped it up. "Oh, my God!" She held it up to the crowd behind her. They'd seen it. I hadn't, but I didn't need to. The mundanes couldn't control their energy; they left spots of it everywhere they went.

I plucked the card from her grip and slid it back into the deck. A few well-placed taps and slides along the surface of the cards banished all traces of her energy from them. They felt clean again. I almost sighed. I'd gotten a large crowd with the card tricks, including a few regulars I knew how to work. Which meant a lot of energy cleaning for me. But magician or not, bills had to be paid. I'd put up with the hassle and just... persuade them to drop a little extra into my hat. That persuasion had already netted me twice as much cash as I probably would have gotten otherwise.

After a few more final tricks, I slid the deck inside my coat, into the pocket I'd extended to hold all my supplies, and then tipped my fedora and smiled. "It's past my bedtime, folks." The streetlights flickered to life above my head, but I could still hit some of the later crowds. I also knew enough to let everyone think they were the last—think they were special in all this. I spun on my heel and walked away. Once I got around the corner, I turned into an alley. I'd used it often enough that I'd finally left a transport sigil scribed on the asphalt. It glowed to my eyes, but was invisible to the mundanes. A circle of complex swirls, intertwining symbols, combined for one effect—instant movement.

I put both feet in and felt the tendrils of warm power sliding up my legs, tightening. I closed my eyes and pictured my destination, the cramped shops along the rough pavement, the bars, and the useless, dead street lamps.

And then I let go. The power enveloped my body. When I'd first started traveling this way, I'd tried to fight against it. But that had only resulted in getting lost, spat out in the wrong place. It was tight, with all that power surrounding you. You couldn't breathe, couldn't think.

But it was only a few seconds. I sucked in warm, oil-scented air and opened my eyes. Not a glamorous part of town, not rich and corporate, but they liked me well enough, here. Well enough that I maintained a sigil. I slid out from between two tiny brick shops and glanced over my shoulder at the familiar glow of the sigil behind me. Money wasn't the only reason I'd put it here. The other reason was a tattoo artist on the corner.

I marched down the street, drawing attention. The zoot suit always drew looks, though less so in places like this. Not a whole lot drew attention around here. Every other shop along this street was a bar, each with its own theme, its own décor, its own energy coating the doorway, glowing through the windows. Traces everywhere, illuminating better than the street lights ever could.

I got to the corner and leaned against the signpost, James Plaza hovering above my head. One-handed, I shuffled the deck of cards, teleported back out of my pocket by a touch to the brim of my fedora, and scanned around me. The street running perpendicular to James Plaza had once been active. I'd seen it in old photographs and newspapers. A few people around here were old enough to remember it. But now, it was just foot traffic, all the entrances and exits closed off by concrete dividers. The one at this intersection bore layer after layer of graffiti.

I sighed and scanned around me. A few people, all lost in their own thoughts and conversations. Which didn't work for me. I worked a little magic over the cards, amplified the sound of the shuffling, and stepped it up. The cards glided together in higher and wider arcs every time until, finally, I saw attention shift over to me. I let them all fall back into place on my palm, a neat stack once again, and waited.

A young woman approached me. She wore a red and gold corset and matching miniskirt, but nothing else. Steampunk bar on the far corner. She stopped about a foot away and I offered her my deck and my best smile. "Pick a card."

She snorted. "And then what? You flip the deck upside down while I'm not looking so you can pretend to be magic? Fat chance."

I pressed the whole deck into her hand. "Now pick a card. Don't tell me what it is." I watched as she shuffled the deck. People like her made this part of town so profitable. When you broke down the walls of their skepticism, they paid.

"I've got one."

She offered me the deck, but I shook my head, put my hands up in front of me. "You hold onto that. I just need one finger." I tapped the deck with my index finger and hooked onto her energy. She'd shuffled, so all the cards carried tiny traces of her. But one in particular held her essence to it.

When I jerked my hand back, one of the cards came with me. I flicked it into my palm and flashed it at her. "Is this your card?"

Her mouth opened just a little. "How did you do that?"

"Magic."