2019-12-05 - Magic is a Lie


Zatanna drops some magical philosophy.

Log Info:

Storyteller: {$storyteller}
Date: December 5th, 2019
Location: A Performance Club, NYC

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Theme Song



Zatanna always liked close-up shows. Magic is in its purest form that way, just a close crowd of watchers as she does some very very silly tricks very very solemnly. When she steps out from behind the curtain toward the small podium where she'll do her magic, she arrives silently despite the applause, carrying a Tibetan bowl in one hand and her wand in the other. She taps her wand against the bowl and produces no sound; she taps again, faster, and still nothing. She taps again, this time so fast her white-gloved hand blurs, and a beautiful resonant ring sounds. Why wouldn't it? Her wand has vanished in her hand, replaced by a much shorter, thicker instrument of brown wood. The crowd applauds again as she sets the bowl down and raises her hands, smiling.

"Now, not that I don't appreciate the affirmation, folks" The crowd laughs. "but if you can, I'd ask you to hold your applause until the end. You see, this is a Tibetan singing bowl, and all the power of its magic is in its sound. For example, when I struck it just now…" She reaches into the bowl and pulls out a small, red, sponge ball. There is scattered applause, quickly stifled, which Zatanna indulges.

She picks up the bowl and shows it to everyone, empty. She strikes it again and this time, transfers the baton to her mouth to run a white-gloved finger along the inner rim of the bowl, modulating the ringing noise, before reaching in to pull out another sponge ball. She sets the ball down on the podium and drops the baton neatly into her hand to do it all again! Three balls now, and she sets the bowl upside-down on the table. It's silent against the black felt tablecloth covering it.

Still silent, Zatanna makes a loose fist of her left hand and, with the right, pokes the three balls into her hand to squeeze them until they vanish. She picks up the baton and rings the bowl once: she opens her hand to reveal there are only two sponge balls inside. She closes her fist again and rings the bowl again, then opens her hand to reveal one ball. Another ring, and her hand is empty. She lifts the bowl to show all three balls inside.

The crowd is not wholly silent, little gasps and laughs escaping them, but Zatanna isn't put out by it. The woman in half a tuxedo and half a pin-up outfit, with a Tibetan singing bowl that produces red sponge balls you can buy twenty for a dime of at any magic shop, continues her work in earnest silence. She collects the three balls off the podium into her right fist and waves the baton at her fist like wand once, twice, three times; when she opens her hand, it is empty. She tips the bowl back to show the three balls beneath it, which she removes and arranges in a straight line for the audience to see while she flips the bowl right-side up again. At this moment, she pauses, looking out at the crowd until she finds… Betty, whom she points at with her baton, then makes a 'come here' hand gesture, smiling. Looks like she needs a volunteer from the audience.

Betty Brant kept her silence during the show. It was requested, after all. The display causes her to smile and there are fewer things more enchanting than magic. She shifts at her table, moving for comfort's sake, crossing her legs and holding around her knee lightly. That smile lingers as the bowl sings, the balls zip in and out of existance, and the woman in black and white weaves her work. When pointed out, however, the dirty-blonde's expression startles, eyes growing round and doe like. A hand to her chest, she asks in silence if the woman is sure. Before long, however, she stands from her table and moves to the stage.

Moving up the side-steps, her heels clicking gently, she stands beside the woman and offers her a kind smile. Her cheeks are lightly flushed pink; clearly, Zatanna caught her off guard.

Still in silence, Zatanna smiles at Betty and takes the other woman's hand in both of her, coaxing it to hold out to receive, palm up toward the sky, fingers flat. This done, Zatanna takes two of the sponge balls off the table and rests them in Betty's hand, then carefully folds Betty's fingers over into a fist. Zatanna picks up the last ball, squeezes it and immediately opens her hand: the ball is gone. Zatanna picks up the singing bowl, rings it, and brings it slowly over to Betty's hand, tipping it over as if pouring the sound onto Betty's clenched fist. She sets the bowl down and, eyebrows raised at Betty suggestively, opens her own (empty) hand, then nods at Betty's to suggest she do the same and reveal there are three balls inside.

Zatanna gently guides Betty's other hand to join the original one, cupping them into a bowl of their own. She sets the singing bowl down on the podium and rings it once, then opens her other hand to reveal three more sponge balls have appeared in it. She arranges them in a straight line on the table and puts the last ball in Betty's hand, making four now; she rings the bowl and another ball appears in her hand. She sets it down, transfers it to Betty's hand, rings the bowl, makes another ball appear. The tempo is picking up now and Betty's hands are rapidly filling with sponge balls, but Zatanna isn't done!

She rings the bowl once hard, giving it a long chime. She collects the three balls in one hand, fingers splayed, one ball pinched between first and second finger, one ball pinched between second and ring, one pinched between ring and pinkie. As the bowl continues its long chime, she tries to pluck a ball out of her own grasp but fails: there's another ball in her left hand now but still three in her right. She gives Betty the new ball, and the one after that, and the one after that, balls appearing rapidfire without ever reducing the number on display in her right hand, balls spilling out of Betty's grasp now, the crowd unable to hold back laughter as Zatanna's hand flashes from her own to Betty's again and again and again, dropping sponge ball after sponge ball, at least twenty now in an uneven pile overflowing from her hands and falling to the floor; but once the ringing sound finally stops, she seems to run out of balls. She finally plucks them all from between her splayed fingers and drops them heedlessly into Betty's hands, then bows to the applause of the crowd.

Betty Brant does as she's moved to do. Keeping with silence and allowing the bowl to sing, her hands move and feel the pressure of those spheres in her grasp. Then more, and more still, bubbling up and flowing over. Biting at her lower lip to mute herself, she looks at the collection gathering before giggling and beaming in childlike joy. Went all was said and done, she offers the woman a playful smirk, the expression pressing dimples into her cheeks.

As the woman gives a bow, Betty continues to laugh. Her hands are full so she can't clap, but she can whistle. So she does.

Zatanna takes Betty's hands in hers, looking at them intently but briefly before stealing a quick look up at Betty's eyes through her lashes. Her grip is always gentle as she tugs Betty's hands apart, letting the balls that still remain tumble to the floor. "Let the janitors get them with a pushbroom," she suggests, smiling, before turning to the crowd, then releasing Betty's hands from her white-gloved grip. "Everyone, I'm glad you came and I hope you had as good a time watching as I did giving you something to watch. I'm going to clear out for the next magician now, so please feel free to return to your tables and enjoy your meals with my compliments." The crowd applauds, and Zatanna, bowing, steps back through the curtains to head backstage again, where Betty will catch up with her for the interview.

After the ball drops (literally) and the show is over, Betty slips from the stage and returns to her seat to claim her things. With a rolling her shoulders, she situates her bag and moves toward the back stage area. Offering a press pass and a name, she finds her way in the company of Zatanna once more. That smile present on her ruby lips, she greets the woman with a warm gaze. "Miss Zatara, it's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Betty Brant of the Daily Bugle. If you have some time, I'd like to ask you a few questions." Hand out for a shake, she keeps her sights on the woman.

"If we need to set up a different time, that's more than understandable. You did an amazing show tonight."

"Ms. Brant, it's pleasure. Thanks so much for participating in the show tonight." Zatanna smiles, but doesn't shake just yet; with an apologetic look, she tugs off her gloves and tucks them into a pocket before shaking. She has a ring on every finger, and two on the index. "Sorry, I just hate to shake someone's hand with gloves on. It feels so impersonal." She holds Betty's hand tightly as she starts walking, leading the other woman away from the stage, away from where performers are practicing and crew is doing its work. Once out in the hallways that leads backstage, she finally releases Betty's hand. "So please, call me Zatanna, and tell me what I can do for you!" she invites.

"It was my pleasure to be part of the show. I was wondering if you did that on purpose." She muses, accepting the woman's hand and being lead by it. "Zatanna," she repeats and nods. "Well, I was actually curious if I could get a few words from you. You put a great deal of care and love into your show. I was wondering if you'd be willing to share the importance of magic to you?"

Zatanna smiles, almost grinning. "Sure. And thank YOU for not opening with a line about wanting me to reveal the secrets of magic. That joke was old when I was still wearing trousers." She gives it a beat to see if that joke lands, then continues, "Magic is lying to people. I get up on a stage and do my best to lie to every one of you so well you know I must be lying but can't figure out how. To me, the magic isn't in the tricks I use to keep you from seeing what I'm doing. It's in you, the audience, wanting to be lied to so you can enjoy the performance. That enjoyment is the honest part of the show, but it can only come out if I'm the best at lying. You see the contradiction?"

Digging out a notepad, the woman starts scribbling down a few words in short hand. After a pause, she pulls at a small recorder and shows it, offering Zatanna to say 'no' to a recording if she so desires. Setting the device down, she begins again. "I see the contradiction, I suppose I just saw magic as something more…pure, I suppose. Wonderful and awesome. Do you feel it's all a lie then, or is that just magic that's on a stage?"

Zatanna nods at the recorder without speaking. "Oh, it's all a matter of deception. I just don't think it's inherently bad to deceive people. If it is, then my entire job makes me a monster. It can be done for the right reasons, and when it is, that's a beautiful thing, I thing." Her hand strays subconsciously to her thigh at this point.

"A white lie that makes you happy is a good one?" Betty asks gently, no hint of judgement on her features. "I'm not disagreeing. Sometimes, you have to give someone happiness over a full truth, and that in no way makes anyone a monster." A scribble, she shifts in her stance. "With how odd the world is around us, do you believe there is only stage magic or is there a possibility of real magic?"

Zatanna laughs. "I mean, I guess it depends on what you think magic is. I know a lot of people think it's formulae and chants and stuff that will always produce predictable results, but to me, that's just science. I think magic would have to be an irrational, unpredictable one for it to not be a science of its own, and could something like that exist in a world of Iron Men and Thors? Sure, why not? I just hope they stay out of my line of work. I'm not looking to compete with wizards."

Betty Brant giggles. Shaking her head, she keeps writing and gives a few understanding nods. "Oh, trust me. Even in such a world, I doubt anyone would be coming after your reputation and crown control." A few more scribbles, she looks back up and toward Zatanna. "Do you think all magic should be so random? Some methods would be used for that almost scientific outcome of knowing what's should happen, right?"

"Didn't think I'd be giving a speech on sorcery, but I guess you do have to think about it if you're a magician," Zatanna muses. "Okay. Yeah, I do think magic is irrational. I think it's the act of manipulating the contents of your inner world until that causes an effect in the outer world. Like, the whole voodoo doll thing. There's nothing magical about knitting a doll from cotton, thread, whatever fabric is lying around, and someone's hair, right? But in the process of creating the doll, you engage in a ritual behavior that allows you to treat the symbols as real acts. The hair becomes your target, the sewing becomes the weaving of magic. You focus down on it while at the same time trying to transcend your focus until your belief in the reality of the magic becomes powerful enough that someone feels the pins and needles you jab them with. That's inherently irrational, and built on a foundation of your own attitude, such that the efficacy of the results will always depend on what you're thinking and feeling."

Betty Brant listens and allows her hands to stop moving. Putting the notebook away, she reaches over and clicks the recorder off. The information was satisfactory, for sure, but there was something else lingering on the tip of the woman's tongue. Putting the recorder away, notebook as well, she clears her throat and looks to Zatanna directly. "This may sound stupid, and I apologize for that," she begins. "Zatanna, are you magic or…just an enthusiast of its principles?

Zatanna, back stage at a public show, giving an interview to an accredited member of the press, doesn't hesitate a moment. After all, lying is what she does for a living. She laughs airily. "I suppose if you accept the theory I laid out, then even having the knowledge I described would make you magic, wouldn't it? Sort of like reading the Necronomicon or whatever from Lovecraft. Once you have the knowledge, that's it, you're a part of that world whether you want to be or not, because you've accepted a basis of irrationality into your mind instead of rejecting it with rational thought."

Another smile, softer than before, the woman gives a shrug of her shoulders. "Opening a door or breaking a window, you have another way to go, I suppose." Adjusting the strap of her messenger back, she shifts on her heels and then glances behind herself. Back to Zatanna, she speaks again. "I'll write something promising for your show. You don't need the press, but anything to make people happier is a good thing to me. Is there anything you want the readers to know? Anything you want to express or ask?"

"Just one question, I guess. What are you really doing?"

Zatanna looks at Betty steadily, shrewdly, a little exasperatedly. "You're a real reporter with a real byline. You're good at your job. You don't come to interview one of the biggest names in magic just to ask three questions and get ready to leave when you don't get the answers you want. So what's really going on here, Ms. Brant? Because this wasn't an interview, it was a test you're acting like I failed."

Betty Brant frowns. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to come off that way at all. It wasn't a test and you didn't fail anything. I like knowing what people think on a truthful manner. You don't need the press to be popular; you're amazing already. What you've said about what you think as far as magic goes, to me, is far more interesting than me asking you the same questions anyone can ask. How old when you started? Tell me your secrets. How do you look so amazing in that get-up." She smirks gently. "No, I like what you said more and that's worth writing to me."

A pause, she continues. "I…guess I also want to find out who else in this city is magically gifted. Like I said, with how the world is in our city alone, it's not too far fetched to think magic is out there, right?"

There it is. Zatanna sighs to herself. She gets itshe's been speaking in code most of her life; she doesn't wear six rings on five fingers because it's comfortablebut the implications here…

"Look, Ms. Brant. Did you ever read The Shining? In the book, the ghosts in the hotel aren't very real for the cook because he doesn't see them very clearly, so he thinks they won't be very real for the little boy. But the little boy sees them much more clearly, and that makes them so real they hurt him, hurt his family, hurt everyone. Seeing them made them real." She looks steadily at Betty. "So, if I thought there were ghosts out there, it would be pretty irresponsible of me to hang out where people could hear me talking about ghosts, because that might help anyone nearby see them when they couldn't before. You get me?"

"I get you. I get the shift in perception and everything. If it helps, with the press, I can put something generic up. Smile, a fluff piece." She nods and thins her lips. After a moment of silent consideration, she gives another nod and that warm, thankful smile. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bother you or try to get something out of you you didn't want to openly share. I was hunting and poking about, I do that, and sometimes it's not proper, so I apologize again." Hand out, she straightens her spine. "Thank you for speaking with me, Zatanna. I'll take your lesson to heart."

Direct and honest. That can be a good or a bad thing, in magic. Zatanna considers Betty briefly and asks, "A lot of people know if I meet someone backstage, I usually invite them out to do something that might or might not be a date. So it wouldn't raise any eyebrows with my peers, at least, if you and I went somewhere. Dunno if that'd be kosher with your job, though."

Betty Brant lowers her hand, holding around the strap of her bag. "I'm not on the clock." She explains. "Lead and I'll follow." She's holding it in, that joy and happiness, even surprise, at not being turned away. There is a chuckle, however. "Should I ask how many people you meet backstage?"

"Only if you want to know the answer," Zatanna answers with a little smile, unperturbed. "Tell you what. I'll get a hotel room, because you're not ready to see my house yet, and you can come meet me there. I'll be staying at… oh, let's say the Palace on the upper west side. You head on down that way, show your ID at the desk, and they'll let you up. Sound fair?"

"I think I do." She decides. After taking in the instructions, she nods and takes a step back. "Fair. See you there, Zatanna." Beat. "And thank you."

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