This is a Tomorrowlands universe story; they are listed at http://www.tomorrowlands.org/story/stories.html.
© 2001, Kaijima A. Frostfang
The Fringe ---------- Heh! You know, a few years ago, that's a question you never woulda heard somebody come up to you and brazen out. "Are you, like, a mage?" You just walked up to me right there and blurted it out. Here, let me toast your gonads with my drink. What? No! Not at all. I ain't making fun of you. I'm really saluting you. Why? A few reasons. I really am a mage, by the by. Yes, a willworker ... ... you don't realize just where you are, do you? Embarrassed to admit it? I saw you trying to look overly casual at the bar. Heh! You're good at it! But I'm a mage, and I've got that creepy evil eye, you know? Seeing the unseen, peering into your soul ... Don't let my patented "scaring the rubes" toothy grin I use when I say that get to you. Hey, I just took a glance at your aura. You've got a real strong one, you know; at a glance I might have taken you for a willworker yourself. Hmm? Oh. Not here; this isn't some kinda exclusive club for the 'enlightened ones' to hang out in. It's just Montego's TexMex Grill and Bar; old place, been here since way before The Wave crashed and it all came tumblin' down, as they say. Hah! Hah! No, this isn't a hot spot for the fringe crowd. In fact, the fringe crowd hardly knows this hole in the wall, here in Fresno, California even exists. They have much trendier and more "mystical" places to hang out. Better places to be seen at, and all that. There are still a lot of magicians and ... others ... who wander by this place, though. Probably not the kind you came here looking for, though; I have to wonder just who gave you the tip-off. Oh, her? What? Yeah, I know her. Well, I know of her; she's one who goes around trolling, as she calls it. I think, my friend, you've been misled. The sort of people you're after don't tend to come around here. It's too mundane for them, of all things. Me? What am I, Mr. Magician and Sorcerer Supreme doing here then? Heh! I think there's some confusion! You're looking for the Enlightened Fringe, the Neo-Pagans and Granddaughters of Aquarius, and the New Witches. I'm kidding about the Sorcerer Supreme part by the way. I'm just a magician. Hmmm? Oh, I see. You're also looking for the changeling folk ... the therianthropes. Real ones? ... Real how? Magical? The dragons and gryphons? Look, set down your drink and glance over there. See that guy? He's a bear. Damn straight; 100% purebred Kodiak. He's as real as they get. I don't know where you got this idea that the "magical" ones are the most real; everybody is magic, dude, and that goes doubly for all theris. A rat is just as magical as an emperor dragon; if you're even thinking about courting that scene, damn well get that straight before you even stick your foot in the door. Just why are you looking around, anyway, if you don't mind my asking? ... Really? Well, I would have taken you for the typical, truth be told; the people who are looking for a literal magic bullet to solve some trouble of theirs. A mage for hire, or an herbalist, or something of the like. So you're looking for 'enlightenment,' eh? Heh! Heh! Pardon me. I'm not laughing at you. I'm amused at that word. There's some days I wake up and wonder if it has any actual meaning. But anyway ... Here; I'm bloody hungry. You're in a restaurant; yeah, the fate of the world may get decided here every Saturday night, but it's still a building you're supposed to eat in. I'm going to order something. I'd suggest you do the same; it might seem odd to walk up to a complete stranger and start having a meaningful philosophical conversation, but I suspect you wouldn't be here if you at least didn't recognize the old rules just don't apply anymore ... even to something as simple as conversation. Ah, yeah -- the fajitas are great. Good move. Don't let that 'fate of the world' stuff get to you; it's all relative. But we do tend to have get-togethers here. Who are we? Just a loose group of, well, us. Magicians, mystics, a really good card reader, and a smattering of therianthropes. And I can assure you, we're not the Metaphysical Fringe that society is so hot to categorize and deal with these days; trying to find a place to put the results of The Changes into their old cosmology. They don't realize the old one is DOA at the Reality Bank, but then, people will be people, you know? We call them a few things ourselves, you know... sometimes just The Fringe, other times, The Fanboys, or even a few cute nicknames like Crystal Bitches or the Power Players. Those are the people society sees when it looks for the avatars of the new reality. They're the visible ones, out strutting around, and imagining reality is now their playground. Personally, I blame it on that game. You know ... the one published by that wolf-themed studio, back before the Changes. Those guys actually hit the nail on the head with some magic theories; people ate it up even before the big one, and when the big one hit, they took those old game books as a new guide to reality. The Feds outlawed that game, you know. You didn't? Really? Heh! Surprising; not a year after the First Sighting, it looked as if with the way reality was now workin', people who believed enough in something like one of those old live action role-playing game worlds might accidentally make stuff real by playing it too hard. There was this minor panic, you see; they were afraid all these role-playing troupes would unleash chaotic "reality adjustments" when they ran their games. It was a wild theory, but of all the initial wild theories, it had a kinda ring to it, enough that they took it seriously. So, they did what they could, and banned it from publication. I hear they talked with the publisher, and were reasonable about it, though; paid 'em a load of greenbacks to lay off the business ... a "fair compensation" act or something. Other companies stopped publishing their games, as well, afraid of running into the same problem. Ah, here's the food. Two platters of Montego's trademark fajitas. Watch yourself! Monty makes 'em the right way; that platter is sizzling. But anyway, hey; my little group actually still plays that game; we have all our old books. It's a great game, and they did get a lot of things right, as it turns out. Perverse? A bunch of real magicians and changelings playing this role-playing game about magicians and changelings? Not quite the right word? Ah, that's the word you're looking for. Yep. That's it. Craven. No, I don't think so. We're not hiding from reality; it's just a fun game. I mean hey, who's going to play a werewolf better than, umm, a werewolf? So just what the hell are we, that we sit here and play LARPs and eat fajitas? We're what the Fringe is hiding, you see. We're what's beyond it - we're what would be the real fringe, except that name already got taken before we got too organized. What makes us beyond the Fringe? Well, we're for real. Heh! How are we for real, compared to everyone else? Nah, I'm not being arrogant. At least not intentionally; it's just that, at the edge of society, you always have people who flock to whatever seems to rebel from that society. Beatniks. Flower Power. Rock and Roll. Crystal vibrations and dolphin spirit guides. Lately you have the big M - Magic. As in real magic. I suppose that's a misnomer as well; there's always been real magic. In some ways, everything is magic, to varying degrees. But I mean overt magic -- to use one of those really useful LARP terms, vulgar magic. Yeah, out here in reality we've got it better than a lot of fictional magicians had it in the past; we can levitate, throw fireballs, and perform miracles without having some cosmic force slap us down for impressing the rubes with it. Well, usually without. Even reality has its limits. Just ignore that one, really; that's a long story, deep topic. But the point is -- them's some good fajitas, yeah? -- there are always people who act different, and dress different, and talk different and claim to uphold different ideas only for the sake of being different, to try to give themselves identity. Then there are the people who do all those things because they are different. Somewhere, deep down inside, there's like this little row of switches, and these people, honest to God, have theirs flipped in a different sequence. Sure, they may rebel as well, they may talk funny or dress funny just to designate their differences, but they're doing it not from a lack of something inside ... nope, they're doing it to bring forth what is inside. Huge, huge difference. Or really, really small one. All depends on the magic of perspective. So, basically, in the modern world you got this big mass of people who want to be in on the magic, all huddling at the edges of society, and society sees them and goes "hmmm ..." and assumes it knows the score. I suppose, in a way, this is a good thing. It means people like me -- or the bear over there -- don't actually get bothered as much. Fanboys, as it turns out, make positively excellent human shields. Aw damn. Damn, damn, damn. You hadda ask it, didn't you? It shows you have some real insight there ... hey, I didn't ask your name. Carl. Ok, pleased to meet you. My name isn't all that important, but you can call me Cassidy. So, Carl, you had to ask that one damn question. "What's the difference?" That's where it gets philosophical. (Pass the hot sauce there? Thanks.) I suppose the difference is people like me, well, I have to wax silly and poetic here; we do things with clear mind and clear heart. We do magic and live in the magical world to honor the universe that allows such things to exist, and we don't take anything for granted. I guess that hardly matters in a practical sense, doesn't it? Well, of course, we also tend to swap all the dirt between ourselves, which means we know some stuff -- and some dirty tricks -- that your average Crystal Bitch wouldn't even dream about. Yeah, that's the practical hook. We seem to know more about how it's all going down, and that makes us more "powerful", though that's a dangerous word-concept to casually throw around in relation to magic. It's all in the head, as they say, you know. Are we annoyed by the less authentic group? The stereotype? Sorta. I mean, the Fringe scene tends to also give magicians and stuff a bad name ... something like making us all seem like freakin' super-ultra-neo-new-age idiots. This gets annoying when you have to apply for a job, and they somehow figure out you're a magic person. It's sad, really. It used to be if you applied as a legal secretary and said you were a witch, they'd consider you unbalanced or insane and slink away with a wide nervous grin. These days, if they find out you're a witch, they just think you're a moron. I'm not sure which is worse. Seriously. I can deal with somebody thinking I'm crazy -- after all, isn't everybody crazy by some mythical standard of absolute sanity? But insulting my level of intelligence is another matter. Oh, what the hey; it's not like I'm college educated or anything. I didn't even finish high school, so I can't feel too highbrow. Eh? Surprised? Why? Oh! Because of how eloquent I am. Well, thanks! But no, I don't have fancy book learning. At least not of the instructional type; I've read a lot on my own to make up for it. Heh. Ah ... so you'd heard that high education was vital to magery. Mmmm hmmm. Yep, that's another thing the Fringe has given us ... another kind of stereotype and snobbery rolled into one. You have to understand, just because somebody is on the Fringe, doesn't automatically mean they're an ineffective moron. There are some big-mojo guys and gals out there. To hear them say it, they just fall back on the old Mental Science lectures, and their fancy-pants college psychology and philosophy, and work it around so that all this reality-bending requires the most sophisticated mind; like you have to know the exact nuts and bolts of the mind and reality and life, the universe, and everything, before you can be "effective". I suppose there's something to that; I can see how such things might help you get a grasp on some things. But required? Heh! Heh! More bullcrap. They mainly use it as a method by which to show themselves as being elite. From the perspective of us back here hiding under the bleachers, it's really kind of sad and funny; it's like they're the elite of the Keystone Cops. Who are the Keystone Cops? Never mind. It's really not important. Honest. Well, that was a heck of a dinner. Yes? I'm glad you enjoyed it. We're all kind of protective of Montego's here; we're happy when somebody new comes into the fold. Oh! No, I just mean a new fan of the food. Sorry about that. So, tell me. What exactly do you think of all that? You're not sure? That's a good answer. You know, I feel guilty. When that woman sends someone this way, for all I act like a grumpy old dra-, man, I tend to get carried away myself. Something of the crusades still in the blood. Crusade for what, you ask? For the sake of crusading, probably. The Holy Grail is a myth, after all. ... Probably. But hey, let me say I didn't mind talking at all. I hope you get something from it, after you have time to ruminate. That'd be good. Then you can decide where to go -- or what to do yourself, if nowhere. Because I should be fair and let you in on a little secret. Lean closer. A bit more. Now ... this isn't for everyone. This life, I mean. Problem of being way down here where it's all real is that you gotta deal with it too. That's why people are afraid of a magical world. Let me ask ... how would you like it if, when you got out of the shower in the morning, hadn't had coffee yet, and were stumbling around in the bathroom, in addition to all the other problems in your life, some demon thing or something could reach out of your mirror and snap your head off? Oh, a little dramatic, yeah. But that's the principle. A really magical world creates basic uncertainty about the flow of life. It doesn't work the same anymore. It's a grander and that much more dangerous world; it can be worth it. It can be. No guarantee that it will be. So that's kinda what a person like you standing at the crossroads has to get a grip on. Just how far you're willing to go. When you step out that door, I may never see you again, Carl. You may file this conversation away as a curiosity, be quite thankful for having your questions about the magical fringe of society answered, and lead a perfectly "normal" life. Or you may try to keep your distance from the depths down here, and find something a bit more mainstream to bury your interests and curiosity in. Or hell, who knows; you may be back here talking to me, or a similar place with a similar person. You may end up hanging with this crowd; you may even become one of them. You may go and do a little willworking of your own. I think it's fair to warn you that you may even get killed. A bit of a shock? Yeah, people die in magic as well. It's not just drive-by shootings and car crashes anymore. Magic in the world gives you a multitude of new ways to meet Gaia, up close and personal. I can see the trepidation in your eyes, my friend. I don't blame you. Once it really sinks in, you may seriously never think about magic again. I'm sorry about the mirror thing -- that one could give you nightmares, if it gets under your hide. But whatever you do, well, I hope you're happy with it. There's no real reason for anyone to be unhappy, you know; doesn't mean plenty aren't, but when you go in with eyes wide open, then you know what you're getting into. Yes, it's more than a bit late. The sun is already below the horizon. Heh! No, I didn't use any magic tricks to stretch out out conversation or anything. That's just the mind getting absorbed in a good talk and losing track of the clock. Rather speaks for a lack of good conversation doesn't it? If you get disoriented when you do have some, I mean. And with that, I have places to go. Yep, even this late at night. Have a good trip, wherever you go from here. It's entirely up to you. Remember that. It really is.
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