Full Summary: In 1800s London-Aldwych, stage magic always comes second to the scientific and engineering advancements that are quickly becoming the new marvel of the age. But Charles East (The Enchanting East, Monday-Saturday at 1:30PM, half-price on Sundays at 4PM) stumbles upon other magic that is practiced by an altogether other sort of Londonite. And sometimes when you pull a rabbit out of a hat, there is no place to put him back.

Catalyst: watching The Prestige on the flight to Tokyo. People have argued between The Prestige and The Illusionist. I argue Prestige because it has less pointless romance and more vengeance. And TESLA.

This is a bit of a love letter to the stories of my youth: Howl's Moving Castle, Sorcery and Cecila: The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Mairelon the Magician, School for Sorcery, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Neverwhere, and the webcomic Girl Genius.


On the way to work, there was a new surprisingly detailed caricature sketched out on the wall next to the butcher shop. It had the famous symbol of London-Aldwych, a plump woman with a crown of spikes and classical dress, with her head resting on her folded knees as two blindfolded men stumbled around her unawares with their arms out.

Charles East stopped and had to stare at it for a bit before understanding the joke.

"Oh, look. Another one." Two washerwomen stopped behind him, and one of them said, "Well, that's Old Ruth, I know it."

Many of the genteel educated class of London-Aldwych called their city's symbol Our Lady of Light. Most everyone else just called her Ruthie. It just felt more comfortable in his opinion, like the easy familiarity of the neighbours next door, like the only way London-Aldwych would ever carry a torch would be to commit arson with it. God, he loved this city.

"Who are they supposed to b- oh, I know. That's Charlemagne and Wenton."

"Ooh yes, the Bellcroft brothers. Don't see much of them around, do you?"

"Well I suppose they're keeping them cloistered."

"Hmph, they don't even come out to see who they'll be ruling over."

"Too high-nosed for my liking."

"Last time I even saw Wenton Bellcroft was at the New Year's speech."

"'Spect the old woman wants to start having him fill her shoes."

"Don't even see Charlemagne anymore."

"Well, they say he was in some kind of accident- went a bit messy upstairs."

"You think it's true they've put him in the sanatorium?"

"My taxes have got to be going somewhere."

And after muttering about this for a while longer, they left, and Charles stood staring straight ahead trying to squash down a laugh. He had once told his landlady that washerwoman gossip had utterly displaced his need for newspapers, and he could have probably saved a decent number of pounds per year. His landlady had replied that it was wonderful, and would he then perhaps pay his rent on time for once?

He sighed, hefted his briefcase, and started off for his workshop, which had temporarily been relocated from their last theatre to Henry's dining room. Most people didn't know magicians went to work just like everyone else- it wasn't all wearing suits and kissing the hands of pretty assistants. If the new show didn't bring in a crowd, he was going to be at least a month behind on rent, which was something he had promised would never happen again.

Well, there was nothing to be done about it. They would either come or they wouldn't. He had just been practicing ten hours a day to make sure they would. Today was just to make sure everything was sound and operational, because if he had to cut things in half or make teacups out of doves one more time, he was going to go mad. But he had to be ready, because he, Henry, and Margaret had plastered posters from Upper Aldwich to West London. They had to come.

Unless they went to Perceval Fletcher's show instead. Charles sighed and jammed his hat more firmly to his head. It was frustrating too, because aside from a friendly professional rivalry, Charles couldn't hate him even in the slightest. He'd even gone to one of his shows once.

Charles thought boredom was something that always happened to masters of the art. They had studied everything before in order to rise to the top of their professions, so the royal bakers could probably replicate anything they tasted, artists could pick out mistakes in seemingly flawless paintings, and similarly, magicians knew how most illusions worked. They were at the top of their class, and at the same time they were utterly bored with it.

So to say that Fletcher's show had made him feel like a dazzled young boy again was perhaps the best way he could have ever described it. He had gasped and clapped along with the rest of the masses and had forgotten to hunt for all the secret wires and false panels.

He would never forget it. A few minutes after the show had been scheduled to start, a somewhat harried looking man with wild uncombed dark hair and a faint stubble had come up on stage looking a little out of breath as if he'd run all the way to the theatre. Charles had thought this was some assistant coming to announce that Fletcher had been detained, but to his surprise, the man said, "I'm sorry, it's been quite a day. I've barely had time for lunch," and took out his handkerchief. The apple sitting at the far end table on stage flew up and across the room into his hand. He polished the apple a bit and bit into it absently as the audience loudly applauded.

Charles sat dumbstruck for a moment but then snapped back as the man, obviously Perceval Fletcher, reached out to take a tea biscuit from the sleeve of a very surprised audience member.

"Now then." Fletcher sat down in the chair on stage, put down his hat, and put the tea kettle on top of it. The top of the hat immediately burst into a neat circle of flame and began to boil the tea.

The hat has some kind of flammable material, Charles thought and wasn't very impressed but was distracted as Fletcher's elbow knocked the tea kettle over. Tea should have gone everywhere, but lid rolled offstage and the kettle was completely empty.

Fletcher tsked and picked it back up. "Clumsy," he muttered, and as he tipped the kettle a stream of hot tea came pouring into his cup.

Charles stared- the pot was steaming. He was suddenly glad he hadn't asked Margaret and Henry to come with him- they would have badgered him with questions and broken the wondrous stillness of this long perpetual illusion of one impossible thing after another unpunctuated by applause or the sound of voices.

There was such a casual elegance to the way Fletcher did magic. There was no finger snapping, no meaningless stage patter or explosions of smoke or little distracting mechanical automata, just an expertly slapdash method that he ran through as if taking for granted that everything he did would work. It was like a work of art.

He started a little as a teacup was thrust at him for inspection. He looked up and found Fletcher looking at him intently. He looked even worse up close- he had missed a button on his jacket, and his eyes were a little bloodshot.

"A bit too bitter for my taste," Fletcher said to him, eyes going toward his waistcoat pocket. Charles reached in and found two sugar cubes tucked in beside his pocket watch.

He stared at them a moment before hazily asking, "One lump or two?"

"One will be sufficient, thank you."

Charles complied and then looked back up at Fletcher as he popped the other sugar cube into his mouth. Fletcher just smirked at him and went back to his chair to sip his tea. Charles tried to breathe deep, wondering if Fletcher had recognised him and cursing himself for sitting so close to the stage.

The sugar cube had broken into a sweet slightly lingering taste on his tongue (ordinary sugar, nothing suspicious. Maybe a little slow to dissolve but that might have been because he kept forgetting to swallow) when Fletcher finally sighed and checked his watch.

"Thank you for coming." Which was perhaps the first thing he'd said all afternoon that acknowledged that all this had been part of a cheap conjurer's show where tickets went for tuppences. "But I'm late for an appointment, so I'm afraid I'll have to leave you now."

He lifted something that had been leaning against the back of his chair all throughout the act. Charles could see now that it was just a door in a frame. Margaret had used something similar when they'd had a false back built into one of their vanishing cabinets. But there was nothing to fit it into-

Fletcher propped it against one of the pillars with a grunt, ran back hastily to drain his teacup, and opened the door. Charles strained to see, because the door was blocking his view, but he could still see the slight shadow of Fletcher's shoes going forward-

And then the door slammed shut and shook the frame, and the whole thing fell to the floor with a bang.

Fletcher was gone. And suddenly the show was over.

People were clapping all around him, and some of them went up to the stage to push against the pillar and exclaim, because it was too narrow for a man to hide in, and furthermore, Theodore Briggs would have drawn and quartered anyone who put the slightest scratch on his precious theatre.

Charles didn't climb up onto the stage and join them or take advantage of Fletcher's absence to rifle through his things. All he could do was quietly get up and leave Fletcher's show, still disoriented and speechless and a little bit in love with him.


Charles was a little breathless as his audience roared into a single mass of clapping in front of him. He took Margaret's hand, and they both bowed. The stage lights were blinding him, and he was quite sure he had sweated through his undershirt. He had been too nervous to eat and drink much before the show, so he felt a little dizzy and felt grateful for Margaret's tight grip. Her curly hair was messy and sticking to her forehead, but she was beaming, and offstage he could see Henry clapping loudly and mouthing 'perfect' over to him. He grinned back and then out towards the audience as Margaret pulled him into another bow.

Sometimes he worked long hours till even Henry stopped making tea and Margaret dozed on the workbench under someone else's coat. And sometimes one of their devices injured him or cost him a month's pay so that he lived off watery soup and hard stale biscuits for weeks. Sometimes he thought he would give all this up, because he had been educated (Titus Salt Academical at Leeds: publically known as the Titans but privately known among his fellow graduates as the Salty Dogs), so he would have had no trouble finding some other employ at a bank or a mechanical shop. But sometimes it was like this, and he was reminded that it was worth it, everything.

The curtain finally closed on them although Charles could still hear the muffled sound of the audience through it. Henry came flying out of the wings waving his arms. "It was spectacular! Spectacular! I would have never believed- our practice run-throughs were never this good! My god, they'll be talking about this for weeks."

He reached Margaret first and grabbed her around the waist for a kiss. "You were marvellous, darling," he said with her bright red lipstick all over his mouth, and she smirked at him. He looked over at Charles, "Oh yes, and you weren't too bad either." With his other arm, he grabbed Charles around the shoulders. "We're going out to the pub- drinks are on you, you rich bastard."

"Rich?" Charles demanded. "How much exactly did we earn tonight?"

Henry thought about this for a moment. "Less poor," he amended and seized Charles's tie. "We'll hash it out tomorrow- right now we've all of us got to get enormously drunk."

Charles laughed and let himself be towed, still dazzled by spotlights and applause.