It was three hours before Magnus finally arrived. Two big Lifers came with him, but Alfred was nowhere to be found.
“My goodness, you’re so tall!” I said. The little boy must have gone through a growth spurt since he was now a head taller than me even though we were the same age. I put a hand at my shoulder height and said, “You used to be this small.”
“No, I was this tall.” Magnus lifted my hand until it was level with my eyes. Despite his height, he hadn’t changed that much and still had a boyish look about him even though he was wearing a grey three-piece suit. His caramel hair with blond streaks was shorter, but his big hazel eyes were the same. He’d developed a hard mouth, and his movements were quick and decisive.
“How come you’ve hardly grown?” he asked.
“Stress,” I said.
“Let’s go to my office,” said Magnus. He ushered me into a large office with a spectacular view of the Kraej City skyline. When he sat behind the desk I felt like I was being interviewed for a job. The Lifers followed us in. They said that the Kraej were never alone and that at least three bodyguards followed them everywhere, even at home.
“What do you want from me, Mr. Kraej?”
“It’s Magnus, not Mr. Kraej. Why did you never call me?” said Magnus in an imperious manner as though once he had told someone to call him, they had an obligation to do so.
“Why would I call you? And why did you have your goons… I mean, your people kidnap me?”
“I’ve been waiting five years for you to call! I wasn’t even sure you were alive. Why didn’t you call me?” he repeated, leaning forward with his hands on the desk.
“Eh.” I scratched below my ear nervously. “Well, you know we were just kids. I thought you were lying about being a Kraej.”
“Lying? Why would I lie?”
“Because you wanted me to help you. Why would a Kraej be in a cave in Stone Valley?”
“What were you doing in a cave in Stone Valley?” Magnus countered.
“I played in those tunnels when my father used to work nearby and that was the farthest place from home that I had ever been. I’d just discovered my special skill and wanted to test it so I teleported myself there.” I had foreseen this question and had prepared a small circle of land in Lieceni that I had drained of anima.
“Lucky for me you did,” he said.
“What’s lucky is that I didn’t kill us with my skill. Did you know my skill drained the anima all around us then?” Since I didn’t want Magnus to think of me as a convenient teleportation machine, I reminded him of the drawbacks of my skill.
There were limitations to the things special skills can do.
I wanted to use Spirit Incarnate on other people, but that wasn’t feasible because of ontological inertia, or the tendency of things that exist to continue to exist. In simple terms, all things have chibis protecting their existence.
If I were to tell my chibis to take every cell in the body of a bunyip, the bunyip’s own chibis would fight my chibis. With enough chibis (anima), I could force the disincarnation, but the bunyip’s chibis would continue to fight my chibis as they flew off with the bunyip’s cells, and they wouldn’t stop fighting until my chibis arrived at the destination and the body was incarnated again.
Not only would this take a substantial amount of anima to do, the titanic clash of the chibis would produce too much noise and heat. According to the simulation I ran in the spiritual place, casting Spirit Incarnate on another person or monster would result in a tremendous explosion at the starting point, a stream of fire thirty meters wide while in transit, and another explosion at its destination.
That’s why I created the Star of Fate special skill. That one was simple. I just had to ask the chibis to read someone’s mind to know the destination they wanted, then punch a hole in space for that person to step through. The only drawback was that the anima cost of this was so great that it drained anima from the place where Star of Fate was cast.
That’s why I would hate for Magnus to ask me to teleport people.
Magnus said, “I know how risky that was, don’t worry. You still haven’t said why you didn’t call me. You must have realized eight months ago when I was in the news that I’m the real Magnus.”
His first public appearance had been during his coming of age party when he had been given his first position in the company. His face had been splashed all over the newspapers and magazines.
“Yes, but it’s been millions of years since we met. I thought you’d have forgotten about me,” I said, reasonably enough, I thought.
Magnus shook his head. “My father has had men looking for you all over Stone Valley and all the surrounding villages since that day. Why did you tell me you lived near there?”
“Oh, that’s because I thought you might not leave without me if I didn’t.”
Magnus reflected on that. “I must have left a good impression.”
“You seemed like a nice boy.” I stared pointedly at the Lifers who were standing at attention nearby.
Magnus was impervious to the implied criticism. “It occurred to me that you might be somewhere in Kraej City. I’ve had people on the lookout for a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl named Asteria.”
“Huh? There are millions of people here, how did they even find me?” The Kraej must have one heck of an information network.
“We have our ways.”
“Okay, okay. It’s late and I’m tired. Please tell me what you want,” I said.
For the first time, Magnus looked taken aback. “Don’t you remember I said I’d reward you?”
I laughed. Rolling my eyes, I said, “Yes, I want that train set you promised. I believe there was also talk of… a dollhouse, dolls, teddy bears, yoyos, and… did you say slingshot? Why don’t you throw in a music box? I’ve always wanted one.”
“I did also say that you would be able to buy all the dresses you wanted.” Magnus looked me over, his eyes lingering on the patch on my skirt. He pressed a button on the desk and an old man in a dark suit came inside. Another Lifer? The man handed a check to Magnus, who tried to give it to me.
“No, there’s no need,” I said.
“It’s fine, take it,” said Magnus.
“No, I don’t need it. I have a job, you know.”
“You can’t refuse. I don’t want to be in your debt,” said Magnus. His tone of voice was quite firm.
“Then have your secretary send me the toys,” I said.
“My mother was quite excited when I told her I’d have a friend coming over,” said Magnus. “She’s had a guest suite prepared for you and your family since five years ago. Your room is full of toys. Ivan, give her the keys.”
The old man tried to hand a set of keys to me, but I refused to take them.
“Please thank your mother for me,” I said.
“You can thank her yourself when you see her tomorrow.”
“Huh? But I have work tomorrow,” I lied.
“I think you’ll like what she’s done with the suite,” said Magnus, ignoring my protests.
“You can go back to your home after a few days,” said Magnus. “It’s just a routine background check, please don’t fuss. Ivan here will make sure you have everything you need.”
Magnus got up. I recognized a dismissal when I saw one so I got up, too. I made one last request before I let the Lifers show me out the door. “Can you at least make sure they’re discreet? People will think I’m a criminal or something if they know I’m being investigated.”
“My men are always discreet,” said Magnus. “See you tomorrow.”
“We do routine background checks for potential Kraej staff all the time, miss,” said Ivan. “Your neighbors will think you applied for a job, that’s all.”
“Good,” I said, relieved. I shook my head at Magnus disapprovingly. “See you tomorrow, Magnus.”
A background check shouldn’t turn up anything suspicious. It looked like I’d be spending the next few days in the lap of luxury. There were worse fates.
The only fly in the ointment was a certain person’s reaction.