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© 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!


	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

	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

	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.


	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

	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.


	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

	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

	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

	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

	"What's the difference?"

	That's where it gets philosophical. (Pass the hot sauce there?

	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.

	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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