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The Far Side of the Mirror

Chapter Text


 

Jonathan Strange's blood was pumping faster and faster as he listened to Mr Gatcombe's account, causing the copious quantities of wine that Grant had been plying him with all evening to saturate his entire system. He might've swayed on his feet were it not for the counteractive force of his own magic, which was faintly buzzing now throughout his body with a kind of electric current, charged and anticipatory. His indignation was growing more pronounced with every word the stranger spoke, until he could no longer keep up the pretense.

"Sir, I am Jonathan Strange, and I have never heard of you before today. You are the victims of a hoax."

Mr Gatcombe practically giggled at the suggestion, provoking Strange's ire even further.

"Yes, indeed... you are no more Mr Strange than my wife is!"

"Well, it is easily resolved," Grant interjected, setting aside his cue and sipping at his port to hide his amusement. "There are any number of magical things my friend could do to prove it."

"Oh, yes?" The gentleman laughed, exchanging a droll look with Mr Tantony, "And what might they be?"

"Yes, tell us, Merlin," Grant insisted with a broad smile, draining the last of his port and clapping a hand over the magician's shoulder. The small jolt he received at the contact was completely unexpected, traveling down his arm and dissipating in his chest, like a faint burst of invisible lightning. The effect was warm and unusually pleasant, settling inside him like a hearty sip of brandy. Grant's hand lingered for a moment in surprise, marveling at what he guessed to be some sort of physical manifestation of Strange's abilities — though if Strange had also felt the effect, he showed no sign of it. Instead, he marched straight toward the large Venetian mirror that hung on the wall across from them. Still mesmerized by the sensation he'd just experienced (and, in his near-drunken haze, rather inclined to feel it again), Grant followed him, watching him closely through the mirror as Strange raised a hand to its surface and focused on his own reflection with a rather fierce concentration. Grant smiled in satisfaction as that reflection began to fracture, sure that the Nottinghamshire gentlemen would be convinced of his friend's true identity, now, even if the display was slightly underwhelming compared to others Grant had witnessed. Anyhow, considering all the wine that Grant had poured for him, it was rather miraculous that the magician could even stand upright, let alone perform incredible feats of magic. Surely the men from Nottinghamshire had never seen a man distort his own reflection before?

With a proud laugh, Grant moved to pat Merlin on the shoulder again (perhaps more out of a desire to feel another jolt of his magic, than as a genuine show of approval), but when his hand made contact with the magician this time, what he felt was more of an outward lurch than an incoming jolt. It felt startlingly as if he were being pulled into Strange's magic—or, indeed, into Magic, itself—as if Magic were a place as well as a force, and he was being sucked into it somehow along with Strange. For a wild moment he feared that someone had poisoned his wine, and that he was experiencing some kind of terrifying hallucination; but then the sensation withdrew with a sudden snap, and both men were balancing themselves in a disorientation that had very little to do with alcohol. They were standing just as they had been a moment ago, except that their direction had completely reversed. Grant's hand was still gripping Merlin's shoulder—rather tightly, he realized—though he was disinclined to let go as he glanced around. They certainly were not at the Bedford anymore.

Slowly, Strange turned to take in his surroundings. The look on his face was one of such astonishment that Grant wondered if he'd meant to transport himself here in the first place, wherever 'here' was. It couldn't be anywhere in England...

"I've done it," Strange murmured, taking a few tentative steps out toward a very precarious–looking ledge. Though reluctant to let him go, Grant allowed his hand to drop away. "I've actually done it..."

"Done what? Where are we?" Grant asked, nervously regarding a stairway that rose so high that he couldn't make out where it might lead.

"These are the King's Roads..." Strange breathed, his voice reverential.

"The King of where, exactly?" Grant queried, quite sure that they weren't on any continent he would recognize.

"Why, John Uskglass, of course; The Raven King!" Strange declared, gesturing with both hands to a distant statue of a rather imposing figure, which he excitedly sprinted toward to get a better look. "There is his very likeness! And there, carved above that passageway!" Strange exclaimed, enthusiastically pointing to the face carved out of a massive keystone. "The roads have been here, all along... hidden behind the mirrors, just as Ormskirk said they would be! Oh, I cannot wait to share this discovery with Mr Norrell! Won't he be surprised to hear of it? He was so certain that they had been closed off forever!"

Strange had begun to wander off amid his excitement, talking as if to himself, even though he'd responded to Grant's questions. Unconvinced that these roads were safe to traverse, Grant hesitated to follow after him.

"Where are you going?" Grant called out, "Surely you don't plan on heading out there?"

At that, Strange faltered and spun around as if taken completely by surprise. "Grant?" He blinked, eyes gone wide, "What are you doing here?"

Grant thinned his lips and huffed impatiently in response. "I had hoped that you might tell me the answer to that question."

Strange shook his head with incomprehension, eyeing Grant speculatively as he strode back toward him.

"But what happened? How did you manage to follow me through the mirror?"

"Damned if I know! One moment you were manipulating your reflection for those brewers, and the next, we were standing here!"

"But how?" Strange demanded, halting in front of Grant and looking him over closely, as if an explanation might be found somewhere on his person.

Grant swallowed, feeling suddenly uncomfortable, as if he had somehow inadvertently intruded on something that was meant to be private. "I might've... touched you, before your spell was complete." Strange narrowed his eyes, as if Grant wasn't making any sense. "I must have fallen through the mirror along with you," Grant reasoned.

"This is most unusual. I can't imagine why the magic would have transported both of us..." Strange wondered.

"Hmm. There was... something else... just before you tried the spell," Grant recalled, embarrassed to bring it up even though the information might be relevant. "I had clapped you on the shoulder, and felt... something. It was... a kind of energy—magic, I suppose—jolting through me when I touched you. It was brief, but it was keenly felt."

"You felt my magic?" Strange asked, perplexed. The question's phrasing made Grant even more uncomfortable.

"It was unintentional."

"But you are not a magician," Strange objected.

"I know that."

"Then what you felt could not have been magic."

"What else could it have been?" Grant argued, dimly aware of the danger of his query. The speculation in Strange's expression only added to his nervousness.

"You did consume a rather large quantity of port," Strange supplied.

"It was not the port," Grant scoffed. "And anyhow, you are in no position to be accusing me of overindulging."

The lopsided grin that Grant received for his accusation was unexpectedly charming, causing something warm to bloom low in his belly and making him second-guess whether or not he had drunk more than his fill.

"If I drank too much, then it is your fault for ordering too many bottles," Strange teased. "But there is no use in arguing about it. The important thing is that you are here, now. So what will it be, Colonel? Shall I send you back through the mirror to De Lancey and those irksome Nottinghamshire gentlemen? Or will you come and explore the Raven King's Roads with me?"

If Grant thought that the grin Strange had favored him with a moment ago was disarming, then the one he was receiving now was altogether irresistible. He could feel the childlike eagerness beaming from Strange's eyes like a snare catching at his heart, drawing him in. Despite his reservations, he knew that he would not be able to refuse. Still, he felt that he ought to put up some show of protest.

"These 'roads' trouble me immensely," he honestly confided, glancing around with concern. "I feel quite out of sorts in such an otherlandish place."

"That is surely because you are 'out of sorts' here, Grant," Strange explained. "You are behind the mirror, now; behind every mirror, in fact. Everything here is backward, including us, from our usual point of perception."

"What do you mean?"

"Come, look," Strange invited, motioning to the darkened mirror behind them. "What do you see?"

"I see us... vaguely..." Grant replied, regarding his own murky reflection.

"Look deeper," Strange encouraged, "look beyond your reflection; beyond all reflection."

Peering into the void, Grant realized that he could barely make out another scene in the distance, though it looked very surreal to him.

"Why, it is the Bedford! There is De Lancey!" Grant exclaimed, "The poor chap looks very put out, doesn't he?"

"Do you notice anything unusual about him? About the billiards room?" Strange prompted.

After a moment, Grant remarked, "It is all backwards, isn't it?"

"How can you tell?"

"De Lancey's buttons are on the wrong side."

"But they are not," Strange asserted.

"Merlin, I am quite sure that I know on which side his uniform should button," Grant huffed.

"It is not De Lancey's buttons which are on the wrong side, Grant; we are on the wrong side. The wrong side of all the mirrors of the world!" Strange enthused, "Is it not wonderful?"

"I am not sure that it is," Grant worried, frowning at the mirror. "What does this mean?"

"It means that we may travel freely between any place we choose, provided we know the way."

"And do you?" Grant asked, "Know the way?"

"Of course not, I have only just arrived! But come, let us find it, ourselves!"

With that, Strange reached out a hand toward Grant, beckoning him to follow along on his mad scheme. Grant only hesitated for a moment before taking it.