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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