It was the most worthless bit of magic I had ever come across. The most amazing too, since magic and I did not cross paths very often; but still, damn near useless, except that the magic brought her to me.
The man said his name was Isaac. I’d heard of Isaac, he was well known in the world of dark trading. It wasn’t his real name, and he had a small army of minions, including lawyers, messengers, and mules to do his bidding. My collection was well-known, and when Callexis came into his possession, he was generous enough —and shrewd enough— to make me one of the first calls he made.
She was exquisite. Not studded with a myriad of precious jewels, only jade, but beautifully, masterfully, and lovingly crafted, with intricate patterns of vine leaves twining across her cheeks and around her eyes, the gleaming polished gold set off by the brushed, and inlays of copper, whose greenish tinge was like the venerable sister to the milky jade.
Of course I wanted her. I pretended to bargain. The back and forth lasted days, until, as Isaac fully realized I would, I conceded to the near-full asking price from fear another buyer would snatch her away from me.
But how to get her across the ocean and across the country? It was not my concern, as her safe delivery was an element of the price, but I still wondered, and worried, since I wanted her so badly and shuddered at the thought of her being discovered and confiscated before I held her in my hands.
I was to meet the train, and the transaction would take place in my apartment.
When we were safely ensconced in my private den, with orders not to be disturbed, I asked the gentleman— he was a distinguished-looking man in his sixties, French, by his accent —to show me Callexis. He had only a small case with him, at which I tried not to stare.
His smile was sly, but without aggression, similar to the smile of the beautiful Callexis. Instead of reaching for his case, he reached up to his face with his hands, and in the next moment he had her, in his arms.
She shimmered. She was perfect.
“What just happened?” I asked. Callexis had appeared out of thin air. I rubbed my forehead.
“I don’t know, Monsieur,” said the man, whose name I never did know. “It is not trickery, and I do not claim to understand it. It made my voyage simple, and detection impossible.”
“She did,” he said. And he brought her to his face again, and she disappeared!
I had no efficient way to determine if I was dreaming, awake, hallucinating, or witnessing a magic trick the likes of which I had never seen.
“It is no trick,” the man said again. He reached his hands to his head again, and when he brought them down Callexis was again in his possession.
“Does Isaac know about this?”
“He chooses not to consider it,” said the man.
We completed our transaction, and I remained in the den, alone, with Callexis. I put her on the black marble stand that I had readied for her, and sat in my high-backed chair and stared for quite some time. I got up, put her on my face, as there were loops to fit easily over the ears, and went to the mirror. There was no Callexis, just my own countenance, staring back at me in bewilderment. I felt a tingling in my scalp, barely noticeable. I removed the mask and put her back on the stand. The tingling dissipated.
What are you? I asked. What is the purpose of this worthless magic? In grand fairy tales the mask would make one invisible, it would take one to other worlds, propelled into fantastical adventures, not perform magic as mundane and pointless as the mask itself disappearing.
What is your power? I was unable to take my eyes from her face, now both glimmering brightly and cast into deep shadows by the lamplight.
Callexis stared back at me with her sly smile, a smile that was also, I suddenly realized, complicit and strangely intimate. She, here in front of me, was as different from her pictures, from the way she appeared in my dreams, as a carousel pony was from a wild stallion.
I tried to smile back, but could not.