Lazarus Jones and the Burden of Brilliance

With great power comes great responsibility – and friends who expect you to bail them out of trouble.

I’ve got it!” Lazzy said, triumphantly presenting Keighlan with the unicorn’s tooth.

She brushed a strand of hair out of her face and leaned in for a closer look. “Where was it?”

In his desk drawer, underneath a pile of pens,” Lazzy said proudly. “I knew Professor Lindzen would have one!”

That’s the last ingredient for the counter-spell,” Keighlan replied, her smile beaming right into Lazzy’s heart. “Now we just have to mix it all together, and then we can save Dash and Gearix!”

An ominous knock on the door ruined their celebration. “Professor?” a familiar gravelly voice asked. “You all right in there? You’re not normally up this late.”

It was Ranster, the groundskeeper. Lazzy would recognize that growl anywhere—and if Ranster caught them trespassing in a professor’s office after curfew, there’d be hell to pay. They might even get expelled.

Ranster’s keyring jangled as he searched for the one that would open the door.

His heart in his throat, Lazzy’s eyes desperately searched the small room for a solution. That door was the only way in or out. Bookshelves packed time with tomes and papers stretched from the floor to the ceiling, covering the walls. A little sitting area with a pair of chairs and a small table offered no help.

The desk.

Keighlan’s sharp mind was already there. She grabbed Lazzy’s wrist and led him around the massive desk. The space underneath would just barely accommodate a pair of teenagers. He waved Keighlan under first. If it came to it, he could hand her the tooth, give himself up, and tell Ranster he was alone. At least then she wouldn’t be expelled, and she’d have a chance to save their friends.

It was, indeed, a tight fit. Even though Keighlan had scrunched herself in as deeply as she could, Lazzy still barely managed to get himself into that space. They sat facing each other, legs pulled up tight against their chests. Lazzy was acutely aware of the warmth of her body and the way her left knee pressed against his right. Butterflies performed complex aerial maneuvers in his stomach as his fingers grazed the soft fabric of her skirt. Their gazes locked, and Lazzy lost himself in her beautiful green eyes.

The door opened–

“Hey, Amila!” Rondy gasped as he burst through the bushes and into her favorite reading nook behind the high school. He stumbled over his own feet, crashing to the grass at her side and knocking the paperback she’d been reading from her grasp.

Amila shoved the boy’s hand out of her lap. “They’re after you again, aren’t they?”

Blushing, Rondy rolled onto his back and sighed. “Yeah. Chad hates it when I beat him at Fortnite.”

She picked up her book and shook dirt out of it. “You are very lucky I didn’t lose my place.”

Lazarus Jones and the Curse of Obedience,” he read from the book’s cover.“Really, Am? That’s kid stuff.”

She fixed him with her most pointed sixteen-year-old stare. “And your videogames aren’t?”

“I’m going pro someday. You’ll see.” He sat up, smiling that cocksure smile that had convinced her to bail him out of so many dumb problems of his own making. “I’ll make sure you have a prominent role in my entourage.”

She slapped his arm with the book. “I am no one’s entourage.

Rondy flinched away from the blow, feigning pain. “Did I say entourage? I meant bodyguard. Clearly your talents would be wasted elsewhere.”

That wasn’t quite what she wanted either, but she knew that was the best complement she was going to get out of him. “How many is it this time?”

“Chad, Todd 1, Todd 2, and all three of the McLeary kids,” he replied. He slipped the onyx ring off his finger, killing the magic that kept his pointy ears cloaked. “Chad says he’s going to break both of my thumbs and shove my controller up my ass.”

She stifled a giggle. “Think it’ll fit?”

“Hey! This is my future livelihood we’re talking about here!”

“Then we have two choices,” she said mischievously. “I can give you my own talisman so you can slip past them—again–or we can electrocute them.”

“The second option,” he replied quickly. “I like that one.”

Amila had been hoping he’d say that. She’d wanted to show him what she could do all week. Knitting her brow in concentration, she pressed her thumb and forefinger together and then slowly drew them apart. A little bolt of lightning danced in the space between her digits.

Rondy gasped and flinched away. “Whoa! I was just joking! I didn’t think you actually knew how to do it!”

“I’ve been practicing,” she admitted. Speaking broke her concentration and killed the spell.

“I thought your mother hates magic.”

She didn’t like his accusatory tone. “I’m sixteen, Rondy. I can make my own decisions about this kind of thing.” And I’ll be damned if I’m going to get caught defenseless ever again, she added to herself.

“Well,” he said with a frown, “just be careful. Especially around the humans.”

“Can you imagine?” she asked happily, all the possibilities popping into and out of her mind. “One burst in Mrs. Emerson’s science class and they’ll have to throw out the whole damn book.”

“Your mother won’t like it if Evitankari comes sniffing around,” he said. “My parents wouldn’t like it either.”

We could be so lucky, she thought. Her happiest dreams all involved elven agents descending on their Chicago suburb, identifying the obvious talent in Amila and Rondy, and bringing them back to the capitol.

No more dumb humans. No more obnoxious hiding. No more pretending to be something she wasn’t.

“I’ll be careful,” she replied. “I assume you want to borrow it, as usual.”

He pressed his palms together in a desperate gesture. “Pleeeeeeeeease.”

She made a show of thinking about it, even though her answer was never in doubt. “Fine. But you owe me one.”

“Thanks, Am! I owe you like twenty.”

“I know.” But really, she’d brought it upon herself. The first time had been her idea. Any small inconvenience was worth it to help her only elven friend.

She looked away as she unclasped her pendant and pulled it away from her neck. Her ears and face vibrated as the magic cloaking them dissipated. Before she turned back to Rondy, she brushed a few locks of her hair down over the scarring on her cheek. He’d seen it before, but that didn’t stop her from being self-conscious about it.

Sometimes she daydreamed about telling him where it came from. What would he think if he knew her father had wounded her with his magic as she and her mother had fled their former home in Germany? Would he encourage her to explore her magic if he knew her father was still out there? Would he do the dumb boy thing and get overprotective? Would he abandon her entirely? She didn’t know, and that lack of confidence stilled her tongue as it always had.

He took and the pendant and handed her his ring. Even on her thumb it felt a little loose, but it would do. The air around the tips of her ears went fizzy as the magic hid her most prominent elven characteristic from the world.

The pendant Amila used was significantly more powerful than his ring. Her mother had splurged on a talisman that projected an unscarred version of her face as a means of covering up her scars. One moment, Rondy was a handsome teenage boy with a bright smile and piercing blue eyes. The next, Amila found herself looking into the mirror. She gasped. Seeing her own face plastered over Rondy’s, above his thick neck and underneath his short, sandy hair, was always a shock.

He tossed her a pack of gum he pulled from his pocket. “Thank you so much, Am! You’re a lifesaver!”

And then he burst back through the bushes, safe once more from those who would do him harm. Amila shook her head and returned to her book.

Keighlan pressed her hand to her mouth and whispered into it. Her fingers tightened around the words and her eyes flashed as she imbued them with power. Then she flicked her fist toward the hallway, releasing the enchanted whisper as if she were tossing something over her shoulder.

Ranster, come quick!” a girl’s voice echoed from the hallway. “Lazzy’s in the begonias again!”

Damn that kid!” the groundskeeper growled. His footfalls pounded the floor as he left the door and hurried down the corridor.

Lazzy raised an eyebrow at Keighlan, who stifled a giggle. “I’m in the begonias again? Really?”

She shrugged. “I couldn’t think of anything that would make Ranster angrier.”

Amila paused before turning the page. “Come on, Lazzy,” she said to the paperback. “Kiss the clever magic girl who keeps saving your butt.”

Author commentary

This was actually the very first idea I had when I set out to write a bunch of Deviant Magic short stories. A pair of teenagers messing around with magic for their own ends is right in my wheelhouse–but I pushed the idea back, because it’s not necessarily the best introduction to the world.

It also took me a while to figure out the characters. What’s interesting about a pair of magic children trading magic? Not much if you don’t have motivation. Amila’s a character I could see myself coming back to. This story is a great example of my approach to world building. I always have the macro picture in my head, but the micro happens organically as I recognize opportunities to flesh everything out further within the space of a narrative.

For instance, I knew I wanted Rondy to interrupt Amila while she was reading…but what was she reading? How could that relate to the little story between the two of them? And was there a way to tie it into the other stories I’ve written in the setting? Taking advantage of the Lazarus Jones characters in Stranger than Fiction seems like an obvious solution in hindsight, but when the idea hit it felt like a brilliant lightning strike. Think about the fact that these characters are real, that they’re not as heroic as they seem, and that Amila wants a future in the elven capitol where they live…and now the story says even more about about that character and opens up further possibilities.

I also intentionally left the physical descriptions a little light. They’re just not important for a story like this. It’s about the dialogue and the relationship between the characters. Describing the berries on the bushes doesn’t help with that.