Harder Trick Than Heart

by E. Cather­ine Tobler

So it was like this.

Abasi didn’t mean noth­ing by it, right? Man steps onto your ter­ri­to­ry, you have to step right back, defend it. And Geb knew—he knew whose zone he was in. Not like that minaret was unpaint­ed and stand­ing silent. It screamed with the voice of Abasi’s muezzin and Abasi’s col­ors was writ all up and down that stone work. Green and vio­let slashed like some oth­er-nation hol­i­day, splat­tered over with crim­son. Crim­son for the true blood, the blood you can see just beneath your skin that Abasi will spill when you step into his zone. It’s a warn­ing. Ain’t no one in the zone don’t know those col­ors and who they belong to. Women don’t wear those col­ors less they want to belong to Abasi. Only one woman wears those col­ors, right? I’m care­ful to wear black alone; black is the col­or of those of us who are Magi, with­out Court. The col­or of the Nile-soaked land that rolls beyond this city. The col­or of the night before our fin­gers strip it apart.

Even Court­less, Abasi uses us, calls us to do his bid­ding when he needs things stripped, when he needs the world pulled open so that he can look upon its guts and rearrange them as he will. Abasi does not leash us—knows he can­not. You can­not hope to tie a rope around the dark­ness and make it answer your call. There have been them who tried, who failed. We pulled them straight down into the hell­fires, didn’t we? Used them to fuel the ways of the magi.

So it was Abasi asked me to come, to han­dle Geb the way I knew he had to be han­dled once Abasi told me the tale. Geb had mis­stepped, gone to a place that was not his. Attempt­ed to claim a thing he could nev­er own. This day, Geb, unlike me, was leashed and leashed tight. Tied down to the shat­tered blue and green mosa­ic which fills the cen­ter court of this zone. Arms and legs spread wide, brown flesh get­ting brown­er under the burn of summer’s sun. He was naked, bel­ly down, and squirm­ing the way a bug might when it knows the fin­ger is upon it.

He screamed mer­cy. They do, espe­cial­ly when they sees we com­ing in black robes that stretch out like dark­est night though the sun stands high yet in the sky. My two came with me, just for the show of it, flow­ing black and steam­ing cold. Abasi wouldn’t let them touch Geb, no way and no how. They let they ener­gies bleed from they fin­gers, to spark with cold in the heat of the air. Fog curled round our feet, kicked out with every step we took. I let my cold bleed straight into Geb and he shrieked, sure­ly feel­ing it curl hard and icy around his very heart. The thing Abasi want­ed me to take.

So it’s like this.

We magi are paid in hearts or souls, these we might nev­er oth­er­wise own. Souls be a hard­er trick than a heart, writ with­out col­or, only unseen weight. This beat­ing heart which flowed over with sen­ti­ment and want, was eas­i­er to claim than Geb’s soul, which seemed already flown. That soul buried in she who crouched in deep­est shad­ows and tried to suck back her tears, but they flowed like paint down her cheeks, mark­ing her like a minaret. She drew her breath like those Geb took.

Soul­same, that. Them. A thing Geb could nev­er own, a thing that was not hers to give, but had yet been taken.

She in deep­est shad­ows kneeled to bro­ken stones as my hand closed hard around Geb’s beat­ing heart. Fin­gers clawed into mus­cle, bleed­ing fire through ice until he screamed. She kneeled and her robes they spread across those stones, green and vio­let giv­ing way to bril­liant yel­low and not crimson’s splat­tered warning—the yel­low of sun­rise, the yel­low of a smeared egg. 

The yel­low not of Abasi, but of Geb. I would yet have souls to eat this day. Her own and Geb’s buried low­er down, down in they deep­est parts of her. In they deep­est parts.

E. Cather­ine Tobler lives and writes in Colorado—strange how that works out. Among oth­ers, her fic­tion has appeared in Sci Fic­tion, Fan­ta­sy Mag­a­zine, Realms of Fan­ta­sy, Tale­bones, and Lady Churchill’s Rose­bud Wrist­let. She is an active mem­ber of SFWA and senior edi­tor at Shim­mer Mag­a­zine. For more vis­it www.ecatherine.com.

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