Nita Callahan was a fierce wizard. She was a devoted mother, loyal sister, and loving daughter. I am also proud to say she was my best friend.
We met in our early teens, Nita thirteen and me twelve, in a small clearing off a majoy highway. I'd been stumped by an early wizardry, and she'd just wanted to get her space pen back. We were both so new to the Art then that we'd had no idea what we'd gotten ourselves into. It had all seemed like one big game to us, played out in the real world but with reassuringly imaginary consequences. We quickly learned that wizardry is no game, though that doesn't mean it wasn't fun.
There were bad times, of course. We'd constantly find ourselves in tricky situations from which there'd seem no apparent escape, handed out last goodbyes with an ease that stemmed from constant repetition. Sometimes they would prove false alarms; sometimes not. Only with age have I finally been able to look death in the eye and lay myself in its path, calmly giving up my life for no other prize than the continuation of another's. Nita, however, was different. She was always stronger than me.
Maybe it was just because more things seemed to happen to her. She was constantly being beaten down, forced to get back up and wipe off the dirt and blood. I wouldn't go so far as to say Someone had a vendetta against her, but certainly no One was cutting her any slack. Looking back on our early experiences, I marvel at the strength she showed in the face of so many dangers: sharks, death (both her own and the death of the ones she'd loved), destruction, betrayal, and the heavy burden of the world's, and everything in its, well-being on her shoulders. To say that I, along with every other wizard, hadn't shared that weight would be fallacy, but Nita carried the responsibility with a vigour that most others lacked, including myself, when it was needed most. Even after her mother died, in what were to be her darkest days for many years, I still saw that spark of life, of a need to do right, inside her. That spark burned through my own grief and gave me the strength to go on, if not for my own sake, then for hers. I've made my mistakes, and have come to terms with my shortcomings. I'm sure Nita did the same in her time, but I still believe that a more ideal wizard, a more ideal friend, you couldn't have found.
As we grew, our relationship as partners in wizardry and as friends evolved with us. Nita and I were never romantically involved, to the disappointment of many of our friends and colleagues, but I like to think our connection transcended mere physical involvement. We had, on multiple occasions, risked our lives for each other. Is that not the greatest symbol of trust and love possible? We had no need for romance; we had our friendship, and our partnership.
Oh, we fought, of course, who doesn't fight with those they're closest to? But our arguments weren't due to a poor opinion of the others idiosyncrasies or way of life. Our fights were the result of two strong minds vying for clarity on our position and trying, usually unsuccessfully, to clear up the others "confusion". These spats never lasted long. We inevitably made up, both apologizing to the other whether we were right or not; it didn't matter. I hated it when we fought. Nita and I were so much better together than we were alone; had been from the beginning.
So, for several years Nita and I lived and worked in a kind of paradise, moving from wizardry to wizardry, guarding growth and easing pain. Our lives slowly filled out as our futures fell into place around us. I knew that one day we'd both leave for university and our paths would finally separate. When they did, our wizardry and history kept us close, as well as our mutual hometown, but our own lives gradually pulled us apart. I moved away to Washington to dabble in politics, while Nita stayed nearer our old stomping grounds, in New York City, to continue her father's business. For the intervening years, we kept in casual contact through the manual. We spent Christmases together, and whenever I returned to my old home I'd always make sure to stop by and say hello. Errantry brought us together occasionally, but since we lived in different states, we were no longer put on double assignments. Our wizardry separated just as our lives had.
The act of talking never got any harder, but more and more time started working its way between words. It was almost a full two weeks that Nita had been dating Teddy before I heard about him. In retaliation, I kept Gwen a secret for as long as I could before finally telling Nita about her. Nita and I decided to tell our significant others together about the art we practised, falling back on that old assurance of having someone else to face the music with. It was a bonding experience, and our friendship was revived.
When Gwen and I got married, Nita was front row and centre, cheering in a way better suited to rowdy college football games than a simple, quiet wedding. I, in turn, gave as good a performance, if not better, at her wedding. Shortly after, my attempt at changing the world of politics fell through and I found my wife and I uprooting our lives and moving back to New York. Nita, meanwhile, had wasted no time in starting a family, though apparently no one saw fit to tell me. Sadly, I couldn't get her back myself for the moment when I first laid eyes on her round belly, but soon enough I got my chance when Gwen and I had our child.
With our daughters came another hurdle, that of raising children we knew might one day be offered the same thing we were given, wizardry, and accept it as we had before. Those years were torture, hiding our practice, limiting what we told them, bending the truth in ways entirely counterproductive to the goal which wizardry helped us achieve. Finally, Izzy and Beth reach the age when the Powers showed most of us the Oath. The years dragged by, but neither child ever found a small, curiously titled library book, nor did they ever find their computer supporting a whole other kind of system. Tom and Carl, our old seniors, had once said that wizardry was prone to skipping generations, so we weren't too surprised. Nita sometimes sounded a little disappointed that she would never share wizardry with her daughter, though I know she never blamed Beth for it. Still, when Beth turned 15, Nita sighed and let go of her hope. I recognized that sadness in myself, directed, not necessarily at my own daughter, but at all the things my daughter would never experience firsthand.
Together, we considered what to do next.
It didn't take much thought. We told our daughters about our secret lives almost immediately after Izzy's 15th birthday, knowing that if there was ever a time when they'd believe us, it was while they were still young. That day remains one of the best, and worst, of my life. I remember Nita and I sitting in her living room, waiting anxiously. We'd finished our explanation, and Gwen and Teddy had gone off with their children to discuss what they'd just seen as non-wizards. In that instant, I remembered a scene from some 30 years before, when we'd had to convince another party that our Art was real and wholesome. Nita smiled when I told her, recalling that day with fondness, and sorrow. It wasn't long after that when our families returned, relaxed, though still a little confused, and life seemed to continue as usual.
Our children grew up, and moved out, and started futures of their own. Nita and I, along with our spouses, settled down in the neighbourhood where we grew up. Our friendship stayed strong, even after retirement. Our wizardly assignments had gradually waned, until we only ever got advisory jobs. Other wizards, by now all much younger than us, had started commenting how remarkable it was that we were still alive. We laughed, finding it hard to believe ourselves; Nita and I were the oldest wizards we knew. Still, we carried on with our lives, using our gift less and less; afraid we might break the bonds, suddenly so delicate, that connected us to wizardry. We were getting tired, losing the magic.
Except, instead of going because of a heart that was unwilling, wizardry was fading from us naturally, as beauty and power fade with age. It was almost too gradual to notice. Certainly for the first few years we didn't think twice about the fact that we rarely spoke in the Speech, no longer hearing it in the things around us as readily as we once did. We had our families to think about, after all.
Gwen was first to go, of a heart attack. Nita was there, with Teddy, as she'd been so many times before, through the good and the bad. Izzy and Beth were there, and their children, and I felt in that moment as if a part of me had gone. Indeed, after the funeral, I returned to Timeheart one last time while dreaming, and saw Gwen. That was the last piece of wizardry I'd do. I tried to pretend, to hide it from Nita and everyone else that the words were no longer there, that the universe no longer shared its secrets, but I knew she saw it in my face.
Teddy was next, and Nita spent the night in Timeheart as I had, for their final goodbyes. Nita was shattered, but unusually tranquil afterwards. One day we sat down, and she told me she was starting to lose it too. Nita had held on to her wizardry much longer than me, and we spent that night reminding each other as much as ourselves of what we had done, filling in for the other when they forgot. By the next morning, the Art was gone, though our memories remained of our favourite childhood game. An old beat up library book sat on our shelves, but no manual was found again. I think Nita was more upset by losing her wizardry than she had been when Teddy had died, though no one but me could have seen it. For a while I was worried I would go first, leaving Nita with that one final burden to bear.
Then she died.
Looking back on our lives as wizards, and as partners, I realize that the Lone One really will stop at nothing to bring pain to life, and holds grudges against no one person. All the things Nita had to deal with in her life seemed harsh stacked on top of one another, compared to my relatively shorter list of aches. But now I realize, in my final days, that the Lone Power has managed one final blow to me by making me the last one standing. I promised Nita once that no matter what happened we'd face it together, including death. It seems I've broken that promise, and the knowledge of that alone is pain enough to last a lifetime. Now I know exactly how strong Nita was to stand the pain, to get back up again and wipe the tears away.
But I've always known how strong Nita was. I knew she was brave and bold and could look death in the eye right from the beginning. She'd saved my life often enough to prove that. She was always saving lives, fighting to preserve what grows and lives well in its own way. Nita was the embodiment of the Wizard's Oath, of all good in the world. She was beautiful, and warm, and loving. She was everything that I've ever wanted to be, and she was able to make me a better person by knowing her. In Life's name, and for life's sake, she lived and fought bravely against those that meant her world harm.
I've missed her dearly, these few months, but I know I'll see her again. She was Nita Callahan. She was my best friend. We made a promise: partners forever, both in life and beyond, and I intend to uphold my end of the bargain. I have a feeling that when I make my way to the Heart of Time, I'll see a shadow just outside the light, waiting. We'll face our next adventure the same way we faced everything in our lives: side by side, knowing we'd end up together in the end. We'll turn to that final threshold, take a breath, leap, and wait to land.
And then: Timeheart.