"You are conspiring against me and my art," he declared. "You are a pack of conspirators."
He began to play again. Catarina stopped him by putting a hand on his arm.
"No, but seriously, Magnus," she said. "That noise is appalling."
Magnus sighed. "Every warlock’s a critic."
"Why are you doing this?"
"I have already explained myself to Ragnor. I wish to become proficient with a musical instrument. I have decided to devote myself to the art of the charanguista, and I wish to hear no more petty objections."
"If we are all making lists of things we wish to hear no more . . . ," Ragnor murmured.
Catarina, however, was smiling.
"I see," she said.
"Madam, you do not see."
"I do. I see it all most clearly," Catarina assured him. "What is her name?"
"I resent your implication," Magnus said. "There is no woman in the case. I am married to my music!"
"Oh, all right," Catarina said. "What’s his name, then?"
His name was Imasu Morales, and he was gorgeous.
The three warlocks were staying near the harbor, along the shoreline of Lake Titicaca, but Magnus liked to see and be part of life in a way that Ragnor and Catarina, familiar with quiet and solitude from childhood on account of their unusual complexions, did not quite understand. He went walking about the city and up into the mountains, having small adventures. On a few occasions that Ragnor and Catarina kept hurtfully and unnecessarily reminding him of, he had been escorted home by the police, even though that incident with the Bolivian smugglers had been a complete misunderstanding.
Magnus had not been involved in any dealings with smugglers that night, though. He had simply been walking through the Plaza Republicana, skirting around artfully sculpted bushes and artfully sculpted sculptures. The city below shone like stars arranged in neat rows, as if someone were growing a harvest of light. It was a beautiful night to meet a beautiful boy.
The music had caught Magnus’s ear first, and then the laughter. Magnus had turned to look and saw sparkling dark eyes and rumpled hair, and the play of the musician’s fingers. Magnus had a list of favored traits in a partner – black hair, blue eyes, honest – but in this case what drew him in was an individual response to life. Something he hadn’t seen before, and which made him want to see more.
He moved closer, and managed to catch Imasu’s eye. Once both were caught, the game could begin, and Magnus began it by asking if Imasu taught music. He wanted to spend more time with Imasu, but he wanted to learn as well – to see if he could be absorbed in the same way, create the same sounds.
Even after a few lessons, Magnus could tell that the sounds he made with the charango were slightly different from the sounds Imasu made. Possibly more than slightly. Ragnor and Catarina both begged him to give the instrument up. Random strangers on the street begged him to give the instrument up. Even cats ran from him.
But: "You have real potential as a musician," Imasu said, his voice serious and his eyes laughing.
Magnus made it his policy to listen to people who were kind, encouraging, and extremely handsome.
So he kept at it with the charango, despite the fact that he was forbidden to play it in the house. He was also discouraged from playing it in public places by a crying child, a man with papers talking about city ordinances, and a small riot.
As a last resort he went up to the mountains and played there. Magnus was sure that the llama stampede he witnessed was a coincidence. The llamas could not be judging him.
Besides, the charango was definitely starting to sound better. He was either getting the hang of it or succumbing to auditory hallucinations. Magnus chose to believe it was the former.
"I think I really turned a corner," he told Imasu earnestly one day. "In the mountains. A metaphorical, musical corner, that is. There really should be more roads up there."
"That’s wonderful," Imasu said, eyes shining. "I can’t wait to hear it."
They were in Imasu’s house, as Magnus was not allowed to play anywhere else in Puno. Imasu’s mother and sister were both sadly prone to migraines, so many of Magnus’s lessons were on musical theory, but today Magnus and Imasu were in the house alone.
"When can we expect your mother and sister back?" Magnus asked, very casually.
"In a few weeks," Imasu replied. "They went to visit my aunt. Um. They didn’t flee – I mean, leave the house – for any particular reason."
"Such charming ladies," Magnus remarked. "So sad they’re both so sickly."
"Their headaches?" Magnus reminded him.
"Oh," Imasu said. "Oh, right." There was a pause, then Imasu clapped his hands together. "You were about to play something for me!"
Magnus beamed at him. "Prepare," he intoned, "to be astounded."
He lifted the instrument up in his arms. They had come to understand each other, he felt, his charango and he. He could make music flow from the air or the river or the curtains if he so chose, but this was different, human and strangely touching. The stumble and screech of the strings were coming together, Magnus thought, to form a melody. The music was almost there, in his hands.
When Magnus looked at Imasu, he saw Imasu had dropped his head into his hands.
"Er," Magnus said. "Are you quite all right?"
"I was simply overcome," Imasu said in a faint voice.
Magnus preened slightly. "Ah. Well."
"By how awful that was," Imasu said.
Magnus blinked. "Pardon?"
"I can’t live a lie any longer!" Imasu burst out. "I have tried to be encouraging. Dignitaries of the town have been sent to me, asking me to plead with you to stop. My own sainted mother begged me, with tears in her eyes – "
"It isn’t as bad as all that – "
"Yes, it is!" It was like a dam of musical critique had broken. Imasu turned on him with eyes that flashed instead of shining. "It is worse than you can possibly imagine! When you play, all of my mother’s flowers lose the will to live and expire on the instant. The quinoa has no flavor now. The llamas are migrating because of your music, and llamas are not a migratory animal. The children now believe there is a sickly monster, half horse and half large mournful chicken, that lives in the lake and calls out to the world to grant it the sweet release of death. The townspeople believe that you and I are performing arcane magic rituals – "
"Well, that one was rather a good guess," Magnus remarked.
" – using the skull of an elephant, an improbably large mushroom, and one of your very peculiar hats!"
"Or not," said Magnus. "Furthermore, my hats are extraordinary."
"I will not argue with that." Imasu scrubbed a hand through his thick black hair, which curled and clung to his fingers like inky vines. "Look, I know that I was wrong. I saw a handsome man, thought that it would not hurt to talk a little about music and strike up a common interest, but I don’t deserve this. You are going to get stoned in the town square, and if I have to listen to you play again, I will drown myself in the lake."
"Oh," said Magnus, and he began to grin. "I wouldn’t. I hear there is a dreadful monster living in that lake."
Imasu seemed to still be brooding about Magnus’s charango playing, a subject that Magnus had lost all interest in. "I believe the world will end with a noise like the noise you make!"
"Interesting," said Magnus, and he threw his charango out the window.
"I believe that music and I have gone as far as we can go together," Magnus said. "A true artiste knows when to surrender."
"I can’t believe you did that!"
Magnus waved a hand airily. "I know, it is heartbreaking, but sometimes one must shut one’s ears to the pleas of the muse."
"I just meant that those are expensive and I heard a crunch."
Imasu looked genuinely distressed, but he was smiling, too. His face was an open book in glowing colors, as fascinating as it was easy to read. Magnus moved from the window into Imasu’s space and let one hand curl around Imasu’s callused fingers, the other very lightly around his wrist. He saw the shiver run through Imasu’s whole body, as if he were an instrument from which Magnus could coax any sound he pleased.
"It desolates me to give up my music," Magnus murmured. "But I believe you will discover I have many talents."
That night when he came home and told Ragnor and Catarina that he had given up music, Ragnor said, "In five hundred years I have never desired the touch of another man, but I am suddenly possessed with a desire to kiss that boy on the mouth."
"Hands off," said Magnus, with easy, pleased possessiveness.
The next day all of Puno rose and gathered together in a festival. Imasu told Magnus he was sure the timing of the festival was entirely unrelated. Magnus laughed. The sun came through in slants across Imasu’s eyes, in glowing strips across his brown skin, and Imasu’s mouth curled beneath Magnus’s. They did not make it outside in time to see the parade.
Magnus asked his friends if they could stay in Puno for a while, and was not surprised when they agreed. Catarina and Ragnor were both warlocks. To them, as to Magnus, time was like rain, glittering as it fell, changing the world, but something that could also be taken for granted.
Until you loved a mortal. Then time became gold in a miser’s hands, every bright year counted out carefully, infinitely precious, and each one slipping through your fingers.
Imasu told him about his father’s death and about his sister’s love for dancing that had inspired Imasu to play for her, and that this was the second time he had ever been in love. He was both indígena and Spanish, more mingled even than most of the mestizos, too Spanish for some and not Spanish enough for others. Magnus talked a little with Imasu about that, about the Dutch and Batavian blood in his own veins. He did not talk about demonic blood or his father or magic, not yet.
Magnus had learned to be careful about giving his memories with his heart. When people died, it felt like all the pieces of yourself you had given to them went as well. It took so long, building yourself back up until you were whole again, and you were never entirely the same.
That had been a long, painful lesson.
Magnus had still not learned it very well, he supposed, as he found himself wanting to tell Imasu a great deal. He did not only wish to talk about his parentage, but about his past, the people he had loved – about Camille; and about Edmund Herondale and his son, Will; and even about Tessa and Catarina and how he had met her in Spain. In the end he broke down and told the last story, though he left out details like the Silent Brothers and Catarina’s almost being burned as a witch. But as the seasons changed, Magnus began to think that he should tell Imasu about magic at least, before he suggested that Magnus stop living with Catarina and Ragnor, and Imasu stop living with his mother and sister, and that they find a place together that Imasu could fill with music and Magnus with magic. It was time to settle down, Magnus thought, for a short while at least.
It came as a shock when Imasu suggested, quite quietly: "Perhaps it is time for you and your friends to think of leaving Puno."
"What, without you?" Magnus asked. He had been lying sunning himself outside Imasu’s house, content and making his plans for a little way into the future. He was caught off guard enough to be stupid.
"Yes," Imasu answered, looking regretful about the prospect of making himself clearer. "Absolutely without me. It’s not that I have not had a wonderful time with you. We have had fun together, you and I, haven’t we?" he added pleadingly.
Magnus nodded, with the most nonchalant air he could manage, and then immediately ruined it by saying, "I thought so. So why end it?"
Perhaps it was his mother, or his sister, some member of Imasu’s family, objecting to the fact that they were both men. This would not be the first or the last time that happened to Magnus, although Imasu’s mother had always given Magnus the impression he could do anything he liked with her son just so long as he never touched a musical instrument in her presence ever again.
"It’s you," Imasu burst out. "It is the way you are. I cannot be with you any longer because I do not want to be."
"Please," Magnus said after a pause. "Carry on showering me with compliments. This is an extremely pleasant experience for me, by the way, and precisely how I was hoping my day would go."
"You are just . . ." Imasu took a deep, frustrated breath. "You seem always . . . ephemeral, like a glittering shallow stream that passes the whole world by. Not something that will stay, not something that will last." He made a small, helpless gesture, as if letting something go, as if Magnus had wanted to be let go. "Not someone permanent."
That made Magnus laugh, suddenly and helplessly, and he threw his head back. He’d learned this lesson a long time ago: Even in the midst of heartbreak, you could still find yourself laughing.
Laughter had always come easily to Magnus, and it helped, but not enough.
"Magnus," said Imasu, and he sounded truly angry. Magnus wondered how many times when Magnus had thought they were simply arguing, Imasu had been leading up to this moment of parting. "This is exactly what I was talking about!"
"You’re quite wrong, you know. I am the most permanent person that you will ever meet," said Magnus, his voice breathless with laughter and his eyes stung a little by tears. "It is only that it never makes any difference."
It was the truest thing he had ever told Imasu, and he never told him any more truth than that.
Warlocks lived forever, which meant they saw the intimate, terrible cycle of birth, life, and death over and over again. It also meant that they had all been witness to literally millions of failed relationships.
"It’s for the best," Magnus informed Ragnor and Catarina solemnly, raising his voice to be heard above the sounds of yet another festival.