London, Ontario wasn’t exactly a dull place, but it certainly wasn’t exciting, either. Wedged between the big city of Toronto, the border to the U.S.A., and the heavy expectations of its namesake in England, it was a seemingly mediocre, ordinary place in the middle of much louder, more extravagant cities.
Ella Masterson had lived in London all her life and she had also lived with magic all her life, due to open-minded parents who shared her fascination with offworld concepts. While it hadn’t even been fifty years since magic was introduced to Earth by a large hole in the sky to another dimension, it was a normal fact of life for Ella’s generation and how they approached life.
But not everyone felt that way.
At HS Bear Secondary School, there was a large stairwell with windows on three sides that was not air conditioned and always completely full of students between classes. It bridged the four floors of the school and its hot and bright atmosphere hardly lived up to its nickname of the ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ In the warm months, like this very September, students did not hesitate to call it the ‘Stairway to Hell.’ Fittingly for such a nickname, there was a heated brawl about to begin on one of the large landings.
“What did you say, shrimp?” a tall, very annoyed-looking boy growled at the girl in front of him. He was gripping the black-feathered wing on the back of a very uncomfortable-looking boy, whose other wing was awkwardly spread behind him.
“I said to leave him alone!” she exclaimed. Ella had been ascending the staircase when a flurry of black feathers and a yelp caused her to go back down a floor to confront the source of the bedlam.
The tall boy raised his eyebrows in amusement. “Listen, this birdbrain tried to—”
“Yeah, yeah, he did something that insulted you and now you’re going to beat him up.” She huffed. “Typical bully routine, I get it. It’s dumb as all get out, but it’s the standard.”
The tall boy looked surprised. “Wait, what?”
“You’re not very original, you know, just following the cliché. Simple as that.” Ella continued, “But you know… ‘save the cat’ is a cliché too, right?” The girl smiled, then pointed a finger gun, which began to spark with a pale amber light as she faced the assailant.
“This shrimp is a mage?!” the tall boy exclaimed, letting go of his victim, who immediately tucked his wings in and ran behind the much shorter girl who had come to his aid.
“That’s right!” Ella exclaimed excitedly. “And the name’s Ella Masterson, not shrimp.” She gestured in front of her, causing the bright sparks hovering before her hand to flicker. “Now, you wanted a fight, right?”
The tall boy grimaced. “Screw this, I ain’t fighting you!” he exclaimed before running in the opposite direction… only to crash into a passing member of the school staff.
“M-Mr. Gabriel!” the tall boy exclaimed as the stoic-faced older man in a suit glanced between the three of them and sighed.
“Aren’t you all supposed to be in class?” he inquired dryly.
“I was just on my way!” Ella said quickly.
“As was I!” the winged boy said.
Mr. Gabriel gave them a deadpan look. “You do know magic isn’t allowed outside of designated classes in this school, don’t you?”
Ella was silent, as was the winged boy.
Mr. Gabriel eyed Ella. “And what would your fathers say about this?”
The girl looked down shamefully.
The teacher shook his head. “All three of you, my office, now.”
“It was awful, Beth! That stupid generic bully guy got off scot free and I got detention for using magic to help that Skylian guy!” Ella exclaimed, putting a textbook in her locker.
“Well, I mean, you did break the rules. Did you actually intend to fight that guy?” Beth asked. She was an athletic-looking girl with taupe-coloured skin and curly dark hair, thick-rimmed glasses perched on her nose in front of dark brown eyes.
Ella laughed. “Naw, I was just gonna scare him off. I don’t think I could take someone as big as him, even with magic.”
Beth shrugged. “By the way, do you want to play some HYDEOUT today?” she asked. “The new expansion set just came out! I’m hoping to get the new Phantom Beast card for my deck.”
Ella shook her head. “No, I gotta go job hunting so I can afford that expansion,” she said, sticking her tongue out in distaste.
Beth patted her friend on the back. “Good luck with that. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see over the McDonald’s counter.” Ella rolled her eyes as Beth laughed and reassured her, “I’m joking, I’m joking. Are you still holding out for a magical job?”
“I mean, I don’t really have any other talents…” Ella said with a shrug.
“Other than spouting story clichés like they’re your religion.” Beth laughed.
“Other than that.” Ella sighed. “I need a chiller, I’m gonna hit up the café first.”
“Good idea, maybe they’ll be hiring,” Beth said excitedly. “And then you can get me free chillers!”
“I’m charging you full price for those,” Ella said haughtily.
Beth laughed. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, Cinderella.”
Meanwhile, elsewhere in downtown London, a large stack of books fell over.
“****! *** **** ** ****** ** ****?!” A tall, bespectacled man exclaimed in frustration, although all that could be heard to any onlookers was a long string of shrill, almost static-esque like noises.
A cat yawned from the windowsill. “Because you never stack them like a normal person?” she asked smugly.
The man shot her an angry look, causing her to roll her eyes, get up, stretch, and walk off down the nearby hall.
“Having trouble there?” a tinny voice asked him from a very outdated-looking laptop on the desk. The room itself was one of a few rooms in a cluttered-looking book shop, filled with small magical doodads and books literally falling off the shelves.
“Yes!” the man announced, taking off his spectacles to rub his forehead, and then putting them back on before opening his eyes again. “Nothing stays in place!”
“Well, maybe if you organized the shop instead of just putting everything wherever?” the tinny voice asked with a laugh.
“Maybe if you came downstairs to help?” the man said accusingly.
“I seem to remember part of the deal with me doing your finances is no physical labor,” the voice huffed.
The man gave the books a defeated look. “Right. Can you at least try to help me catalogue this stock?”
The voice made a muffled exasperated sound through the speaker. “I can certainly try.”
It was another sunny day in downtown London. School had just recently started and the weather had gone from swelteringly hot to pleasantly warm. Ella dodged wasps buzzing in search of sugar as she made her way along the sidewalk. As she reached the café in the centre of town, she opened the door and stopped dead when she saw a wizard talking to his computer.
“I don’t know how we’re going to do this, Zach,” the tall man with silver hair said, taking a sip of his tea. “I can’t keep up with all the fixing work and organizing the shop when nowhere else in town sells verified magical goods. It’s in the job description.”
“You could always just hire a part-timer, Denji,” Zach, or rather a tinny voice from the computer, said plainly.
Ella, who was frozen in place, noticed the image of a ginger-haired young man occupying the screen, although most others just passed by and assumed some sort of video calling service was being used.
“Well, sure, but between the effort to teach a newbie and the paperwork involved, on top of the alert going out yesterday that Gemini Artifacts are missing here in Ontario, is it really worth it to risk getting some overly enthusiastic kid hurt over keeping the shop clean?” the silver-haired man protested.
“I mean, I get we can’t hire just anyone, but it’s worth looking into. Maybe someone in the city is worth your time,” Zach said.
Denji groaned. “It’s not that simple,” he said with a sigh. “I’m not relying on some one-in-a-million chance to find someone with—”
“Excuse me?” Ella called, interrupting Denji. He looked up from his computer to see a petite, blonde teenager looking at him with curiosity-filled brown eyes.
“…Can I help you?” he asked, looking her up and down.
Ella nodded. “Yes, um… I overheard you saying something about looking for a part-timer,” she said nervously. “…Are you the town Fixer?” she followed up, seeming to force out the words as quickly as possible, as if ripping off a bandage.
Denji took a casual sip of his tea, eyeing the girl as if sizing her up. “In answer to both your questions, yes, I am a Fixer. I assume you know what that is?” he asked, and Ella nodded.
“It means you fix magical problems. You help people,” she said. She seemed to have caught the nervous shaking in her voice, and refused to be seen as weak.
Denji stoically observed the girl’s small frame and innocent eyes. “I don’t know how much experience you think you have with magic, but I can’t hire kids. This is dangerous work,” he said, looking back at his drink. “If you need a part-time job, I hear the used bookstore off Dundas is hiring.”
Ella nodded sadly. “Right. Sorry to bother you,” she said and departed from the café with a discouraged expression.
Zach shook his head disapprovingly. “You didn’t even give her a chance!” he exclaimed.
“Yeah, because we do dangerous work! A random kid would just end up getting hurt or worse!” Denji replied angrily. “We need help, but in case you didn’t notice by that alert, we’re not in any position to hire nobodies!”
Zach crossed his arms on screen. “Random kid, huh? And what am I, then?”
“You… you’re different, you know that,” Denji explained distraughtly.
“You didn’t even check her,” Zach huffed.
Denji glared. “What, are you suggesting she be the exception to the rule?”
“You’re the one always going on about how everything happens for a reason.”
“That’s because…” Denji stopped and looked around, seeing that he was getting strange looks from other café-goers. “Never mind. Look, if I find her and check her magic, will you leave it?”
Zach shrugged on screen. “It’s worth a shot, I think.”
Ella sat sadly in the nearby park, wishing she’d gotten a strawberry chiller before leaving the café. She had stopped everywhere she could to drop off a resumé, but no one was hiring beyond a bookstore that required prior experience. The conversation with the town Fixer had been a blow to her pride and now she was taking advantage of some time alone to mope.
The bench she occupied was made mostly of wood, with a metal frame, and it sat on the path between the World War II tank that was on display at the edge of the park and the plaza that would be turned into an ice rink come winter. Green grass and equally green trees surrounded her, as autumn hadn’t begun to claim the foliage with its warmer palette just yet. Ella herself held a small, warm spark of soft amber magic in her hands. It was comforting to know this power came from her and nothing else.
She wasn’t exactly surprised by the Fixer’s response to her approaching him, but it didn’t make her any less discouraged about the outcome. Every Earthen child dreamed of performing magic. Ella was fortunate enough to have supportive parents who got her the tools to learn, but she likely wasn’t going to end up in a magical career or traveling offworld anytime soon.
It reassured her to toss the spark in the air as if it were a ball to play with, although she knew from experience that it could float and not be affected by gravity if she wanted. She knew very little about magical classifications and abilities from school, except that hers manifested as a soft, warm, amber coloured light, like the magic wielded by the frilly dress-wearing heroes of her childhood.
As she tossed the ball around, a glint in the grass caught her eye. Looking down, she saw a small, jagged stone lying in the grass, a shimmering object colored in purples and yellows.
“What’s this?” Ella wondered aloud, picking up the stone and examining it. A pale amber light began to wrap itself around the stone as she held it in her hand.
Ella looked at it quizzically. The barrier beginning to surround the stone seemed to come from her, as it was the same pale amber as the spark she held in her other hand. As she watched, the violets and golds of the stone seemed to be trying to break through the pale amber barrier.
A small blast of electricity came from her side and hit the stone out of her hands. Ella yelped and looked for the source of the electrical attack, only to see the town Fixer standing down the path, looking both alarmed and determined, a sparking hand outstretched.
“Hey!” Ella exclaimed. “What was that—” She halted upon seeing the man’s furrowed brow and serious expression as he began walking towards her.
Ella noticed his clothes as he approached. She’d been star-struck when she saw him at the café and hadn’t really noticed his shabby attire. His dark turtleneck seemed to be missing a sleeve, another, lighter grey sleeve haphazardly sewn on instead. Grey, loose pants and a bright red scarf wrapped tightly around his neck completed his ensemble. His hair was as grey as his clothes, lying slightly frizzed around him and just past his shoulders. His skin was a borderline sickly pale colour and bags under his eyes made him appear tired. While at first glance, his eyes were simply dull grey as well, closer inspection revealed them to be different colours, a dull cool shade and an equally faded yellow, barely framed by a pair of small, round spectacles. As he approached, Ella quickly realized he was rather broad shouldered and several heads taller than her, more so than the average person, something that intimidated her more than a little.
“Erm…” she began, but he walked right past her and knelt down in front of the stone.
“You’re very lucky I was here,” he began, looking relieved. “This is a very dangerous magical artifact…”
“E-eh?” Ella stammered.
The Fixer formed a cube-shaped silver barrier around the object, then waved a hand in front of it, causing it to vanish with a ripple in the air.
“And I just picked it up like it was nothing…” Ella muttered as the man in front of her stood up to face her. “No wonder you wouldn’t hire me, I really do know nothing… Gonna be stuck as an accountant or something,” she muttered, slumping down on the bench and reforming her ball of light.
“Accounting pays well, at least,” the man said, firing the remaining small jolt of electricity crackling around his arm into the ground with a loud clap.
Ella jumped at the sound, her orb falling to hit the ground with a burst of soft amber sparks. Soon after, the grass under the orb shot up even taller than Ella in height, shining a lush green colour before gravity took hold and bent the thin grass blades over to the ground.
The Fixer raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know how helpful that will be in accounting.”
Ella sighed and slumped over in defeat as he sat down next to her. The man was clearly trying to look as casual as possible and failing miserably, due to his height and strange appearance.
“What are you still doing here?” she asked cautiously, and he shrugged.
“Taking a chance,” he said nonchalantly. “Why is it that you want to be a Fixer?”
Ella looked startled, and then thought about this for a second, choosing to seize the opportunity. “I mean… if I had to say, it’s because Fixers are like magical girls,” she said wistfully.
“Magical girls?” Denji asked, raising an eyebrow.
Ella nodded. “Heroes. I grew up surrounded by my sister’s animé DVDs and video games, like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura, and all of them were really cool. I wanted to be strong like that, to help others.” She laughed. “I know that’s a selfish reason to want to be a Fixer, but I don’t think I have any shame about that.”
Denji raised both eyebrows this time. “Not the worst reason, honestly,” he said with a lopsided half-smile.
Ella shrugged. “Why did you even come over here? You said you can’t hire ‘kids’.”
“Well, to be honest, I still don’t really want to hire you,” Denji said plainly. “But someone I trust convinced me to at least give you a chance to prove yourself.”
Ella’s eyes lit up. “Really!? How?”
Denji looked over at her, tipping his glasses down to the end of his nose, and winced as he stared her down with mismatched eyes.
“…What are you doing?” Ella asked in an unamused tone. To her, his expression made him look like he was having some difficulties on the toilet.
Denji gritted his teeth and then pushed his glasses back up with a startled expression. “** ******… Heart, then…” he began, his first words a short, indiscernible string of beeps, then shook his head. He snapped his fingers, causing a notepad and pen to appear in the air in front of him. Snatching them out of the air, he scribbled something down and handed it to Ella. “Come by this address tomorrow at four PM. You’ve earned an interview.”
“What? Wait, how did you—?” Ella began to ask about the beeping noise, but the silver-haired man had already snapped his fingers again and vanished with a ripple in the air. Ella stared at the empty space in front of her and uttered another, “What?” before looking down at the paper at the scribbles on it.
“Sheesh, he’s got a doctor’s handwriting…”
The door to the London and Middlesex County Fixing Bureau slammed shut behind a very distraught looking wizard as he stormed up the stairs in the back of the shop to the apartment he had fashioned out of the second floor.
“Welcome home!” a familiar, not tinny voice called from the kitchen. The source of the voice, a ginger-haired teenage boy with copper-coloured skin and bright blue eyes, turned from the eggs he was scrambling to find a sullen looking Denji looming over him.
“Zach,” Denji said, forcing calm.
“Eep!” Zach exclaimed. “Y-yes?”
“How did you know about that girl from the café?” Denji asked, brow furrowed.
“Know w-what?” Zach asked, noticing storm clouds gathering quickly overhead out the window.
“How did you know she was different!? How did you know she could protect herself against the artifacts?!” Denji demanded, and lightning cracked outside in sync with his shout.
“She WHAT!?” Zach exclaimed. “I had no idea!”
Denji blinked. “…Oh. Really?”
“Yes! I just thought she was cute, I had no idea she’d be…” Zach stopped. “Wait, what?”
Denji sighed and pulled up a seat at the nearby table. “She has a high potential for Heart magic, I think… I don’t really know, though, it’s hard to tell. I could have been seeing things…” He shook his head. “Sorry for yelling at you,” he added quickly.
Zach shrugged, being both used to Denji’s occasional rash reactions and sympathetic to why he had them, then went back to salvaging his scrambled eggs. “It’s okay, you had every right to be upset,” he said sagely. “If we need to know more, should we call Auntie Soul?”
Denji grimaced. “How long do you think we can keep her out of this one?”
“I give it three months, tops,” Zach said flatly, serving his slightly burnt scrambled eggs onto a slice of toast.
Denji gave a lopsided smile. “Let’s hope we can get the girl prepared before then. No offense, but your aunt is kind of…”
“Controlling?” Zach added between bites.
“So, then she just starts pointing some sparks at the guy! Right in the middle of school!” the dark winged boy said into a cell phone, sitting on the roof of a suburban home.
“While that’s fascinating, why should I care about some wannabe hero, Crim?” an exasperated woman’s voice came out of the cell phone.
“Because…” Crim continued, grinning, “she went to talk to Denji afterwards, and him and the cyber kid think there’s something interesting about her.”
“For once, your skills are useful for something,” the woman said slyly.
Crim shrugged, as if she could see. “It hasn’t been that long, I told you I’d come in handy.”
“Well, it seems we’re going to need a plan, then. Keep me up-to-date with what they’re doing, will you?”
“Oui, can do!”