Jason walked alone along the street, not paying attention to anything other than the voices he could hear. Some of the wishes were ones he would never even contemplate fulfilling, because they were selfish or they’d affect someone else adversely, but then there were others, more heartfelt, that tugged at his empathy. Not all wishes could be granted, so he spent much of his time learning about each person he wanted to help. That was what everyone with wish magic did. Every day they heard the voices of the many races of the Web and made their choices about which wishes they could grant.
When Jason was a younger he had granted wishes that he probably shouldn’t have done, the way almost everyone with the ability had, because it was harder then to look at every wish dispassionately. All granted wishes were recorded, as were the effects, so he knew that none of the wishes had done any real damage to a person or timeline, as he could hear wishes from people who had lived hundreds of years before him. There were those who could also hear wishes from people in the future. That was why some said that they knew more about the Web than the Walkers did, but he wasn’t sure that was necessarily true. He would admit that they probably knew more about the people of the Web than the Walkers did. The Walkers, or those he’d met, knew much more about the worlds themselves.
Each wish that was granted had an effect on the Web and sometimes it wasn’t possible to know what sort of an effect it would be until it happened. Jason had seen some innocuous wishes that seemed as though they couldn’t have any major effect turning one of the worlds upside down, while there were those that could have changed the worlds and didn’t do anything much at all. No matter how much research they did there was no way to be totally sure what would happen, so all they could do was guess and hope for the best, knowing that there were times when things world go very wrong.
There were rules about the wishes they could grant, but not everyone followed them, and there was no way to keep track of everyone with wish magic. Jason had first realised he had the ability when he was thirteen, which was the normal age for the races of Siaral to gain their power. He’d thought it was likely, because his mother had wish magic, and it had missed his older sister. It was something she was glad of, as she’d always wanted to be a unicorn breeder. If he’d wanted to keep his ability to himself it would have been easy enough to lie, because his power didn’t show outwardly, and he didn’t have to do anything to grant wishes. However he knew how badly things could go if someone granted the wrong wish. He’d seen that even before he found out the truth about himself.
Sighing, Jason told himself to stop thinking about the things he couldn’t change. When there were rules there were always going to be people who wanted to break them, and people who were doing their best to stop those rules from being broken. He had always followed the rules they were given, knowing it was for the good of the Web, even though there were times he could have broken them to help people who needed it. That was the same, he believed, for everyone with the ability to grant wishes. When you heard the pain of some people when they were whispering or screaming their wishes it was hard to make the decision not to grant it, but it was often for the best. No one made wishes at time when they felt they were able to cope with everything that was happening to them – they made wishes at times when their ability to cope with everything life tossed at them had failed and they wanted things to be easier.
Learning to make informed decisions even when other people were hurting so badly was something they were all taught at the beginning of their studies, before they even had a mentor, as it was the most important thing for them to learn, although it wasn’t something that all wish mages could cope with. Some wished for their magic to be taken away, and those wishes were only granted after a long time spent being counselled by one of more of the other mages. Jason had been a counsellor more than once. They liked to have a counsellor of the age of the mage who wanted their magic removed as well as a couple of older mages, as it made things easier. He remembered talking more than once about the choices he had made himself, unable to believe he might be able to convince someone to keep their magic, but he had a couple of times.
Once that had happened he worked with them both for a few moons, getting them used to the choice that they’d made, and often they found themselves writing more records than they did granting wishes. No one had a problem with that, though, as it was useful having wish mages there who were willing to work on the admin. Like others with unusual magics they didn’t trust people who weren’t wish mages. They knew that if the fae found out about them the most dangerous race in the Web, even though they were mostly magicless, would do everything they could to eradicate something they would have believed was truly dangerous. Wish magic wasn’t dangerous though.
It was the people who could wield it that might be, although that wasn’t something the fae would have taken into consideration, the same way they hadn’t when they decided that the natural Walkers were too dangerous to exist. All that matter to the fae was that the ability was dangerous. Some people had misused it. Those who hadn’t misused it were, unfortunately, tarred with the same brush as those who had, so they ended up having no choice but to leave Athare behind. During that time the wish mages had been very busy. Jason had read about it in the journals, as the older mages were certain that a time of change was coming, and everyone had learnt to listen to them when they said things like that. If they believed it was coming then it probably was, although they wouldn’t say what sort of changes were coming.
That might be because they didn’t know or because they didn’t want to scare people. Certain wishes were being granted that normally wouldn’t be. Others that would have been weren’t. Every decision that was being made was based on a future that might not be coming and that could end up being a mistake, although it never had been before. It was a strange situation to be in, as Jason never thought he’d be alive during a time of change. They happened rarely, fortunately, but they all knew about them. Studying the times of change was something they’d all had to do in order to get to where they were. Had they not done that he knew for a fact he’d been more confused than he was. He understood the choices that were being made, because they needed to be.
When he reached the door to the building where the wish mages gathered Jason pushed the door open. It wasn’t a surprise to hear the voices of multiple people arguing about something, because arguments often happened when someone wanted to grant a wish that shouldn’t be cast, and he’d been involved in more than one himself. Often he was the one advocating for people to think before they did anything. He was the one who was careful not to do anything that might end up leading to problems no one could solve. The one terrifying thing about wish magic was that it was impossible to change what had happened. A wish, once granted, couldn’t be taken back, time couldn’t be turned back to return things to how they would have been, and not even the fae had the magic needed to be able to fix the damage a badly granted wish could do.
“Jason!” The person calling his name was coming up one of the sets of stair that led underground, and he turned to look at them. Voices were hard to recognise when they echoed, but he had a feeling he knew who it was, and when his eyes met with Adam’s he did his best not to show his emotions. “I need to talk to you about something.”
“This isn’t something you can discuss with someone else.”
“Not right now.” Adam brushed a hand through his hair. “Can you come to my office?”
“I have got things to do.”
“Look, I don’t like you anymore than you like me. I wouldn’t have done this if anyone else could have been involved. You, however, are the best man for the job, so can you please come with me.”
“The best man for the job?”
“Have you ever heard of the shadow Council?”
“I’ve heard of them, but I don’t know anything about them.” Jason studied Adam. “Okay, I guess I can spare a few minutes.”
“Thank you.” Adam breathed a sigh of relief as the two of them started walking in the direction of his office. “This is something too important to screw up, and you’ve always been the person stepping back to look at things from another perspective. Some of us are far too emotional to do that. Some of us don’t care enough. You’re different, and different is what we need right now.” Before Jason really wanted to be there Adam was opening the door, and he stepped into an office he’d avoided stepping into almost his entire career. “We need someone to talk to the shadow Council without giving too much away.”
“Hasn’t that been done before?”
“It has, but this time is different. You know a time of change is coming. As the days pass it’s getting closer, and we need to be ready for it, which, in this case, means working with people we haven’t worked with before.” Adam shook his head. “We’ve been contacted by Emrys. He’s going to be around, because he’s needed, but we’re also needed. Everyone is going to be needed. Everyone… this is a change that’s going to affect the entire Web, Jason, and we’re doing what we can to prepare for it.”
“Emrys knows more than we do?”
“Emrys always knows more than anyone else. His close connection to Athare means we have a little extra time to sort things out, but it’s not going to be easy.” Adam sat down at his desk, gesturing for Jason to do the same, and, for the first time, Jason sat without arguing. “We have a magic that might not have existed had it not been for the volcanoes. We’re special, because, from what he’s said, there are no other Webs with this magic. It means something. No one’s quite sure what, exactly, but it does mean something, and because of that the time has come for us to offer certain people assistance.”
“They need it?”
“I believe they do. I believe Emrys, because of who he is, and I don’t think he’d guide us into making the wrong choice. You are the person who’s been chosen to talk with the shadow Council, and I think it’s the best choice that could have been made.”
“You hate me.”
“I don’t hate you. We just have different points of view. It wasn’t until recently that I realised how important that was, and I need to thank you for convincing me that granting a certain wish was a very bad idea.”
“As I was certain you were wrong I asked for a simulation spell to be cast, to show me what would happen, and it’s just shown me exactly how badly things would have gone. I couldn’t see it. I didn’t want to see it. If I had wanted to see it I would never have argued with you in the first place.”
Jason shook his head. “Is that an apology, Adam?”
“It is.” Their eyes met. “We always butted heads, didn’t we? I’m sorry for that. Seeing that you have a far better understand of the consequences than I do is the reason I convinced everyone it should be you. As I was the one to do that they told me I needed to have this conversation with you. I was glad of that. I never thought I’d have a chance to apologise to you for being such a fool. Next time, no matter how much I don’t want to, I will listen, and I’ll do my best not to react the way I did before.”
“Your apology is accepted.” Jason looked down at the desk, trying to get things straight in his head, before looking back at Adam. “Do I have some time to think about the meeting with the shadow Council?”
“Not a lot, but some, and I suggest you look into other meetings, because they have happened. I have no idea who you might be dealing with.”
“I do.” The voice came from the door, and Jason didn’t turn to look. From the power coming off the person there was no one else it could be. “If you need to talk things through, Jason, then I’m the person to ask.”
Nodding, Jason shared a look with Adam, before turning, knowing that was the polite thing to do. “Hello, Emrys.”
“You might have been right, Adam. It’s good to see you know who I am.”
“There’s no other person you could be.”
“Well, actually, there are a few, but that’s not for me to talk about right now. Do you want to talk?”
“Right now I want some time to get my head around this. I never thought it was possible I might be asked to do something like this.” Jason shrugged. “After that I think it will help to talk things over with you.”
“Good.” Emrys smiled. “I’m at the bed and breakfast on Main Street. Just ask for me, and they’ll let me know you’re there.”