The word ‘tired’ can have a few meanings. Often when a person complains of being tired (or, in the case of small children, complains of being not tired, usually as a telltale yawn escapes their little mouth) they mean that they are sleepy and would benefit from a period of resting, eyes closed, in a horizontal position. However, sometimes being tired can mean feeling worn out, run down or just plain exhausted. And some people, like Auntie Jo, do not know the difference between the two.
‘It’s odd,’ Jo said to her niece that morning at the kitchen table. ‘I’ve been asleep for eight hours, but I’m still tired.’
Kerry had slept a bit, but her eyes felt a bit sore. It was also proving difficult to eat her toast, which seemed to be turning back to dough in her mouth. She swallowed. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, I’ve been asleep, you know, but then I woke up feeling like I’d been beaten up underwater. In my sleep. Just generally, I’m still a bit shattered, you know?’
‘I’m not sure that’s the same thing as being tired,’ Kerry started to say before Claudia and Payton walked into the room, both dressed in yesterday’s attire. Claudia sat next to Auntie Jo and offered her a pink-coloured cigarette. Payton took the head of the table.
‘Now, my old friend Ranajay has told me that you two are capable of doing Coin Magic.’
Auntie Jo nodded. ‘That’s how we got away from Dorus. It was sort of accidental though.’
‘I understand. It sometimes happens. Ranajay also told me that you two needed to learn Coin Magic while you were here as a means of self-protection. So, Claudia and I are willing to teach you.’
‘Cool,’ Jo said, lighting the pink cigarette. She seemed amazing superfluous to the magic and wonder that had unfolded over the last couple of days, and must have recovered from the encounter with Dorus the Silencer. This morning her curly black hair was pulled away from her face in a rough ponytail.
‘Kerry,’ said Claudia, lighting her own cigarette. ‘It helps tae be taught by somebody ye git on weel wi’. So wha dae ye want tae work wi’, me or Payton?’
Kerry was finding it slightly difficult to get used to Claudia’s accent, interesting though it was. And Claudia seemed better suited to Auntie Jo, at least where putting their breakfast in their mouths and lighting it was concerned.
‘I think I’d like to work with, er, Mr...’
‘Payton,’ Payton smiled. ‘We’ll have no formalities here.’
His wife laughed. Payton stood up and took a small tin box from the top of the microwave oven.
‘Is Payton your first or last name?’ Kerry asked.
‘Neither. I abandoned my real name twenty years ago.’
‘Why?’ Jo asked.
Payton sat back down again, setting the tin box carefully in front of him. ‘Back then,’ he told them, ‘I was targeted by a Wraith. I thought he was just a friend and I didn’t know at the time what it was or what was happening. It almost killed me. Luckily, somebody came to help, sacrificing his own life so that I could escape.’
‘Holy Jesus,’ Auntie Jo said.
‘Indeed. A week later, I was very surprised to meet this person again. He introduced himself as Ranajay Banker. So we had a long talk after that, and once I’d got my name changed and moved–’
‘Ranajay sacrificed himself, and then he... did he die?’
‘And he came back to life?’
‘Yes, he did. I thought he told you.’
Kerry sat back in her seat. ‘No, we didn’t know.’
Payton opened up the tin box, which contained a number of silver coins glinting in the light from the sunny window. ‘I imagine being targeted by Dorus was scary, yes? It’s possibly still scary to you now?’
Kerry and Auntie Jo both nodded.
‘Well, I’m afraid being targeted by a Wraith is much worse. Ranajay must have told you about them, at least. They’re soulless beings, who think nothing of killing someone else, especially if they have good reason to. What is more, they have extraordinary powers, like an acute sense of hearing, advanced speed and, of course, the Touch of Death.’
‘And why did they want to kill you?’ Jo asked, finishing her cigarette.
‘That’s just what Wraiths do, I suppose,’ Payton said, and he took a few coins from the tin box. He handed five each to Kerry and Jo. ‘But when I changed my name and moved to somewhere else – here – I was able to learn more about them. I had to learn in secret of course. Silencers don’t like anyone outside the Consortium to know about Wraiths.’
Kerry nodded, taking this all in.
‘What about you, Claudia?’ Jo asked.
Claudia looked up.
‘Weel, I didnae ken aboot them either, an' Payton didnae hae tae tell me. But he did, afore we got married. I'd inherited this place frae a recently deceased member o’ the family, sae we decided tae bide here.’ She laughed to herself. ‘I've had plenty o’ marriage proposals an' Payton's was the mast awfy I’d ever heard. But we've bin biding together quite happily, an' we're safe. Naebody kens tha’ we’re here.’
‘Very true,’ Payton said, wagging a finger at his wife. ‘But all the same, one should take proper precautions.’
‘So Claudia,’ what’s your surname?’ Jo wanted to know.
‘Mast fowk tek their husband’s last name when they git married, but I gave mine up instead.’
‘What was it?’
He fished another handful of coins from the box and shared them out between Claudia and himself.
Kerry took the opportunity to examine her own. These bore little resemblance to the flat silver discs she’d seen hung up on the wall in the library. The five coins she now held were the size of a two pound coin and half the thickness, fitting comfortably in the palm of her hand. They were brightish and silvery. On one side of each coin were a roughly-etched crescent moon and the words ‘Utor vestri animus’. The other side was blank apart from a long length of tiny raised dots running around the coin near the edge.
‘What do these words mean?’ asked Auntie Jo, squinting at the little silver things clasped in her long nails.
‘I think it’s Latin,’ Kerry said.
‘You are quite right, it is Latin,’ Payton said. ‘But the exact meaning of the words is uncertain, as animus can mean many different things. However, you should know that for centuries, every single coin made for this purpose has had those words carved into them, usually by hand, and they bear a very large significance.’
‘Interesting,’ remarked Auntie Jo. She rubbed a speck of dirt off one of her coins.
‘Now,’ Payton went on. ‘All the coins in this tin box have been familiarised to myself and my lovely wife, so that means they belong to us. But, as we’re giving these coins to you willingly, soon they will accept you.’
‘What do you mean?’ Kerry asked. ‘Are they alive or something?’
Payton shook his head. ‘No, but they work in a special way. We’re going to work on practicing Coin Magic with you as soon as the coins are your own.’
‘Well, how will we know?’ snapped Auntie Jo. She squashed her cigarette butt in a nearby ashtray. She did not seem to like the idea of magic too well.
‘All you need to do,’ the man called Payton said, ‘is carry the coins around with you for a day. Have them in your pocket, take them out and hold them, or even talk to them. Let them see that you are their new owner and tell them what kind of person you are.’
‘Hang on a minute, Payt,’ Jo interrupted. ‘Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. You want me and my niece to spend the day talking... to these coins.’
‘Well, it sounds a little silly.’
‘It does sound a little silly, but the only reason you and your niece survived when Dorus attacked you was because you could place your physical form into your surroundings. Where did you land incidentally?’
‘In a vase,’ Kerry answered quietly. ‘On top of the bookshelf, I think.’
‘Exactly. You trusted your personal belongings to take care of you, and quick as a flash you managed to place your physical form with them.’
Auntie Jo put her coins on the table. ‘Oh, for God’s sake...’
‘Aw, come on, hen,’ Claudia said. ‘It’s no’ tha’ difficult, really. An’ it’ll keep ye safe. If it helps, ye could use a personal item, like a hairbrush or the like, ye ken?’
Auntie Jo still wasn’t convinced, but Kerry decided then and there that she was going to give this Coin Magic thing a go. It couldn’t do any harm, after all, to sit in a library upstairs and clutch a few circular plates of metallic alloy in her hand as she read. She also assumed that, having done it before in a moment of sudden peril, it would be easy doing it again.
‘It’s just a matter of accepting the notion of placing yourself in another body,’ Payton said ominously. ‘That’s all it is.’