We'd gone to dozens of shelters and pet stores looking for an animal to be my familiar. Birds, snakes, rats, cats, frogs, dogs, rabbits, iguanas ... my mind was reeling by the time
we'd gotten to the Ferret Rescue League. When the attendant put the second
slinky ball of fluff in my hands, I felt a strange warm humming buzz along my
spine. And before I had a chance to think, I'd already said, "This is the one.
Let's take him and go home."
And, honestly? I'd sort of been hoping for a
cat or dog. The ferret was sheer adorableness, sure, but we couldn't let him out of his cage without him
immediately finding the most damn inaccessible place in the apartment to dive
into and hide. Like the bedsprings, or the coils behind the refrigerator.
Cooper finally had to cook up a ferret retrieval charm.
However, the ferret was still a bit stinky.
The musky oils in his fur took a half-dozen hand washings to get off my skin.
Cooper refused to do a deodorant charm on the grounds that a ferret ought to
smell like a ferret, and I was Just Being Picky. So I became resigned to the
ferret funk, and waited for the magic to happen.
"Should I be worried that he's not talking yet?" I asked Cooper. "I mean, I could've picked wrong. How do I know what a good connection is supposed to feel like if I've never felt it before?"
Cooper shrugged. "You just know. I've
seen a dozen apprentices pick their first familiars, and so far things seem normal to me. I wouldn't worry about him yet. He isn't fully grown. Sometimes
it takes a while for a familiar to awaken. Probably he just needs a little more
exposure to magic."
Cooper snapped his fingers and the radio
tuner face lit up, the dial spinning over to his favorite oldies station.
"Stairway to Heaven" was just fading out.
The DJ's voice broke in. "Hope all you
night birds have found your own little bit of Heaven tonight, even if it is
too darn hot out. Don't you wish it was Christmas? A little Christmas in July?
Here's some Doug and Bob Mackenzie to make you think cool thoughts ..."
"The Twelve Days of Christmas"
lurched through the speakers.
Cooper jerked and swatted the air. The
speakers squealed as the radio sparked in the dashboard. The stench of scorched
wiring filled the car.
"Jesus, Cooper, you didn't have to
"I hate that goddamn song." The
color had left his face, and a muscle in his left eyelid was twitching.
"I know. But jeez." He'd
never been able to explain to me why he so disliked any version of the song, no
matter how silly, but usually he could suffer through a few stanzas until he
could change the station or leave the room. I'd never seen him react so
violently to it before.
"What are you going to do if we get carolers next December, kill them?" I asked.
He didn't reply. The bad post-nightmare madness was back in his eyes. I rolled down my window to air out the car.
"Hey, are you okay?" I asked him
gently. "If you're not feeling well, we should put this off until tomorrow
"No." He shook his head as if to
clear it. He gave me a quick, unconvincing smile, then fixed his eyes back on
the road. "I'm fine. Let's do this thing. I told the Warlock we'd hit the
Panda Inn for karaoke and a late dinner tonight."
You mean late drinks, I thought,
irritated, but didn't say anything. I couldn't really fault Cooper for wanting
to hang out with his half-brother; it was good to see Cooper happy, and he and
the Warlock always had fun. The Warlock's boozy come-ons were tolerable. I just
wished their nights out didn't always end with Cooper puking up Suffering
Bastards and Mai Tais at five in the morning. As with stinky ferrets, Cooper refused to use any anti-poisoning
charms on the grounds that a night of drinking ought to feel like a night of
We left the freeway and drove up Broad
Street. On one side loomed the St. Joseph Cathedral (which had been home to
more than its share of miracles because it was so close to the Grove), and on
the other the high stone garden wall that surrounded most of the park. The
fence had gone up in the '60s when traffic got bad enough that wandering Grove
creatures started running a real risk of getting squashed by cars.
The only open side faced the Statehouse, and
it was also the only part that attempted to masquerade as a standard city park.
There was a half-acre of mowed lawn, some decorative cherry trees, a goldfish
pond surrounded by concrete benches, and a few picnic tables. A line of ward-charmed rocks marked the border between the lawn and the western edge of
the Grove. The wards were subtle, but effectively kept most mundanes out of the
Grove and reminded most Grove denizens to stay put.
Cooper turned the Dinosaur left onto 3rd
Street and then took another left into Taft Park's tiny parking lot. He gunned
the motor to get the huge car over the curb and drove it across the grass,
dodging picnic tables and startling a small flock of sleeping Canada geese. The
tires left no marks on the turf; Cooper had long ago enchanted the wheels.
"Yuck. Grass is probably covered in
goose shit," he said as the geese flew off, honking alarm. "Annoying
"Could we use it for anything?"
"Use what?" he asked. He hit the
brake and put the car in park. We were about a dozen yards away from the
ornamental fish pond.
That's the core of ubiquemancy: magic is in
everything. The spell-caster just has to figure out what kind of magic, how it
can be used, and then invoke it in a spur-of-the-moment chant that sounds like
a Pentecostal speaking in tongues to those who can't understand the primal
languages. Unlike other magical disciplines, ubiquemancy seldom involves
calling on spirits directly. Instead it relies on instinct, improvisation, and
imagination to focus ambient magical energies.
Some people think that we can do any kind of
magic with ubiquemancy, and while that's theoretically true, in practice it's a whole lot trickier, especially if things have Gone Terribly Wrong. It's not just about coming up with the
right words. It's a lot like singing -- some spells are about as hard as
"Mary Had A Little Lamb", but some of them are as challenging as La
Bohème. Few singers can do a difficult aria the first time out of the gate,
and if they don't have the right natural range they might never be able to do
it. And even if a singer has range and skill, being able to improvise and
perform a brand new aria right there on the spot while the audience is ripping
the chairs out of the aisles and throwing them at your head ... well, like I
said, it's tricky. But then again you can get lucky sometimes.
Ubiquemancy worked very well with Cooper's
manic, live-for-the-moment mindset. People who dismiss the style call Cooper
and our kind Babblers; the name's stuck enough that even those who respect the
art use it.
Magical talent is the biggest thing that
makes a good Babbler. And Cooper had talent in spades. On his good days, he was
one of the best wizards I had ever seen; I couldn't have asked for a better
master. Unfortunately, on his bad days he had a tendency to give in to his
self-destructive streak and drink himself senseless. At least after we became
lovers he'd mostly kept away from the bottle.
I sometimes got frustrated with
ubiquemancy's magical anarchy and Cooper's pat "oh, you just know"
replies to my questions. Sometimes I thought I would have been better off
learning a more formalized magic like Mother Karen's white witchcraft.
But darned if Cooper's crazy magic didn't work.
"Goose shit," Cooper mused. He turned
off the ignition. "It'd be great for curing barren earth ... fire tricks
... controlling geese ... summoning predatory animals ... spoiling food and
water ... plant growth ... and maybe flight. Lots of stuff we don't need to do