Teleportation magic was fairly simple, in theory. With a pinch of material from a familiar, a short incantation, and a clear image of the destination in their mind, any mage could take one step and travel anywhere they desired.
Of course, if your mind wasn’t focused upon the destination — say, because your familiar was causing a ruckus and you had blurted out the incantation while trying to grab said familiar at the end of a long overnight shift — then you might end up anywhere but where you meant to.
For example, on the bottom of a mountain when you were meant to appear at the top where your house was.
Adam craned his head back and looked up, up, and up, all the way to where his nice, warm cottage was nestled. He knew from experience that it was a long hike upwards, because he had had to walk up and down for years before he got his teleportation license. He put his hands on his hips and glared down at his cat.
“This is your fault, you know,” he told Eira.
Eira curled her tail around her legs and licked innocently at a paw, as if she hadn’t bitten Mason’s dog familiar for the third time that week.
“Just because you don’t like Mason—
Eira put her ears back and hissed.
“Just because we don’t like Mason,” Adam revised wearily, “does not mean you get to bite his familiar! We work as a team, Eira. I know you understand this. You work well with Sara, don’t you?”
Eira gave him a disdainful look and resumed grooming herself. Adam sighed and rubbed at his face. To be fair, Sara had a cat familiar too, and cats generally got along with each other. And Adam had known from the second he picked Eira and she picked him that she was proud and stubborn. It was what usually made her a good familiar, because magic ran on willpower, and Eira had that in spades.
Unfortunately, she also had a deep and abiding dislike of any familiars besides cats.
Adam squatted down with a sigh and reached for Eira. He had to look on the bright side: at least she hadn’t scratched out the dog’s eye.
“Let’s just go home, okay? We can have fish for dinner,” he said, pleased when she came towards him and let herself be picked up. Then they took off towards the winding path up the mountain.
Eira got bored after a few moments and climbed up his shoulder, but she settled like a scarf around his neck and the warmth was welcomed, so Adam didn’t try to dislodge her. He also didn’t bother preparing another teleport spell; casting any more spells would require more material and strength from Eira, and she was as drained as he was after a long shift.
So Adam dreamed of his soft, warm bed and kept climbing.
He was just rounding a corner where Eira hissed. Adam stopped; as a familiar, Eira was very sensitive to the eddies of magic, and if she was wary of something, he would be wise to trust her.
He reached up and petted along her head. “What are you sensing, Eira?”
“Probably just me,” came a voice from above.
Adam spun around, a protection spell half formed on his lips. Mages weren’t really territorial – the land belonged to everyone – but it was considered polite to notify a mage if you were moving into their territory, and no one had sent Adam a message. “Who goes there?” he called as Eira lashed her tail.
“Up here,” came the voice again.
Adam looked around, found nobody, and then looked at Eira. Her luminous eyes were fixed upon a point in the trees above, and Adam followed her gaze.
The voice, it turned out, came from a man perched halfway up a tree. He was swinging his legs casually, and he gave a small wave before he jumped off the branch and landed in a crouch in front of Adam.
“Hi, I’m Lance,” the stranger said cheerily.
“Sorry if I startled you,” Lance said. “I’m just not used to seeing other mages in my neck of the woods.”
“Neither am I. That’s Eira, by the way,” Adam said, as his cat jumped off his shoulder and prowled towards Lance. She was clearly wary, with her ears half back and her tail poker straight, but Lance gamely knelt down and held out his hand. “Um, she bites. Just so you know.”
A streak of blue and black flashed at the corner of Adam’s vision. Keeping one eye on Eira, who was now sniffing curiously at Lance’s hand, Adam turned his head and found himself being stared down by a bird. Its eyes were wide and intelligent, and when it tilted its head, Adam saw the telltale spark of magic in its eyes.
Sure enough, Lance stood up and, when he saw where Adam was looking, said, “Oh, there’s my familiar, Ava.”
“You better not call her over,” Adam advised with a laugh. “Eira’s already bitten someone’s dog today.”
Lance blinked. “Noted.” He stepped closer and raised his hand, conjuring a small ball of fire in his palm. It filled in the shadows where the sun’s rays were blocked by the trees, illuminating the face of a handsome man with black hair and a wide smile. “So, where are you headed to, Adam and Miss-Eira-Who-Bites?”
Adam jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “My cottage is up at the top. Kinda missed my mark with my teleportation spell.”
Confusion filled Lance’s face. “You were aiming . . . for the top?”
“Yeah. You’ve never messed up a teleportation spell before?”
Lance shuddered. “I prefer to fly, honestly. Especially with Ava. But,” he said, taking another step closer, “there’s no cottage at the top there. It’s protected land.”
“What? No, it’s not. I checked the permits before I raised the cottage. And honestly, I’d like to get there before the sun fully rises. It’s been a long shift.”
Lance bit his lip. “The local council enchanted the protection themselves. And that’s not the sunrise. That’s, um, that’s the sunset,” he said, gesturing at the glorious array of reds and oranges and yellows peeking through the trees.
Adam eyed him, but Lance’s expression and body language were open and didn’t contain a hint of trickery. And Lance had been perched in a tree above; if he wanted to rob Adam, he could’ve just jumped him without waiting for Eira to sense something was amiss.
Adam crouched down and put a hand onto the ground. He closed his eyes and reached out, feeling for the magic that ran like a current underground; he knew his mountain well, having lived there for years, and he knew what the magic felt like: cold running water, refreshing and icy.
This mountain’s magic, though, felt different; it oozed and bubbled, like lava, and Adam could also feel the telltale structures of protections laid deep around the area.
Adam opened his eyes and cleared his throat. “So. I think I missed my mark with my teleportation spell by a lot.”
“Yeah, I think you did, if you were aiming for the other side of the world,” Lance said with a grin. “Sunrise, huh?”
“I work the night shift,” Adam explained. “Sunset?”
“I like meditating before bed, the view’s really nice,” Lance answered. “Can you teleport again?”
Adam sighed. “Probably not. Eira’s all tapped out, and so am I. If I tried again, I might end up in the middle of the ocean.”
“Well, I can help,” Lance offered. “Me and Ava.”
“It wouldn’t be any trouble.” Lance leaned down, offering his hand and a bright smile. “Take my hand.”
“Sun’s setting,” Lance pointed out. “Come on, it’s not every day I get to offer help to a hot stranger who accidentally teleports into my forest.”
A frisson of heat rippled through Adam’s cheeks; he took Lance’s hand and let the man help him up. “Resorting to flattery, are we?”
“If it works,” Lance said with a sly wink.
He waved his free hand at Ava, who obligingly fluttered over to his shoulder, and she groomed her wings and emerged with one sleek feather clutched in her beak. Adam grabbed at Eira, fully expecting her to leap at Ava, but to his surprise Eira only settled in his arms and purred.
“Now you choose to behave,” Adam said with a sigh. He looked at Lance, pointedly avoiding the sight of their entwined hands. “Thanks for this, Lance.”
“Thank me when you get home successfully,” he said wryly. “I’m not going to pretend that teleportation spells are my strong point.”
Which was fair, they were difficult to master and most mages preferred traveling by conventional means. But as long as Adam kept the focus and Lance provided the energy, in theory everything should go through without a hitch. And, worst case scenario, if it did fail . . .
“Hey, if it doesn’t work, I don’t suppose you’ve got a spare couch I could crash on?”
“Can do you one better, I have a foldout bed,” Lance said. “But let’s try this first, shall we? On three?”
“Yes. Three, two one—”
They spoke the teleportation incantation as one, Ava’s feather growing hot in between their palms, and the magic rose up all around them. It was at once strange and familiar – Adam had cast with other people before, but he’d never felt the magic flow together so smoothly and beautifully. Usually it was a fight, trying to balance the give-and-take without being overwhelmed by the other’s magic or losing too much of your own, but Lance’s magic settled alongside Adam’s like two perfectly made puzzle pieces.
He looked at Lance and Lance looked at him, and Adam thought, briefly, of asking for Lance’s number—
And then the spell took effect, and Adam stumbled into the doorway of his home.
Adam cursed. He would have no way of figuring out where he had teleported to, since he had no idea how he’d gotten there, and trying to track down a mage with only one name would be impossible.
“You liked him too, didn’t you?” he asked Eira, who purred and licked his palm. “Damn.”
Eira head-butted his palm.
“Yes, I know I’m an idiot,” Adam said in exasperation. “I don’t need — ow! Don’t bite me.”
Eira laid her ears back and bared her teeth again, and that was when Adam realized that his palm was still clutched tightly over a sleek blue and black feather. It was pristine, gleaming softly in the light of his entryway, which didn’t really make sense, given that the feather should have been burnt to ash to help power the spell. Adam turned it over, marveling at the beautiful colors, and had a wild thought that maybe, just maybe, Ava had picked two of her feathers and given them both to Adam – one to burn up in the spell, and another to serve as a reminder of their chance encounter.
Then he realized that there was tiny silver scribbling amongst the pinions, and leaned closer to squint.
A touch of magic brought the scribbling into focus, and the silver lines resolved themselves into numbers. Specifically, two sets of three numbers and one set of four numbers, and Adam felt a grin unfurl across his face before he could stop himself.
“Should we call him?” he asked Eira, who purred like a thunderstorm. “Yeah, I agree.
“Hey, Lance. Yeah, it’s me, Adam. Yeah, I got home safe, thank you so much. Hey, I know it’s a bit late on your time, but would you like to go out for a drink sometime?”
Regina Jade (she/her) is an asexual Asian American writer and poet. She loves chocolate, custard tarts, and cats. In her spare time, she can be found trawling the depths of libraries for new books to add to the to-be-read pile, which never seems to get any smaller. Her recent work appears in Ink Drinkers Magazine, 3cents Magazine, A Coup of Owls, and is also featured in an anthology titled “Imaginary Creatures” from Carnation Books. She tweets from @thereginajade.