I know that I am walking to my death. I know that the magic will become too much for me. I have been receiving visions of it since my son was born.
So I’ve had this short story siting on my computer for a while, and I have a rather soft spot for it. It’s a fantasy tale featuring a tough heroine, and magic battles, which is something I like to read about as well as write about. Unfortunately, an earlier version was posted in a livejournal community long ago, and a lot of markets won’t published something if it’s been posted online already. So I decided instead of waiting for a market that might be okay with it, which may result in the story never properly seeing the light of day, why not post it here on the blog? Maybe someone will like it. And because I know a lot of people have tablets, I made a pdf version of the story and formatted it to look a little more book like, so you can download it and read it on your reader of choice. I’ve already tested it on my kindle fire (and the sight of it left me strangely giddy), so I if you have a kindle and need help, just let me know. And feel free to let me know if you read it/downloaded it/how you feel!
Interested? Then either download the pdf, or click on “Continue Reading”. It’s about 4000 words.
Oriana and the Magic Lines (PDF version)
Oriana and the Magic Lines
A Short Story by Nancy O’Toole
In three days, my son will be two years old. His brown hair has grown into glossy waves. His green eyes are wide and questioning. He’s starting to learn how to string words into simple sentences, and he’s become a strong enough walker that I’ve lost him a couple times at the market. When people see us on the street they sigh and say “oh, he reminds me of his father!” but when I look at him, I only see fragments of me. I see my dark hair, my alert gaze, and I can feel my strength in his tiny fists.
As I walk out of the gates of Saria City, I tighten my grip on my wand. I cross the field with my head held high, my thoughts on little William. The white hair and purple robes of the woman that waits for me stands out against the green grass and gray sky. Her hands are clenched into claws, ready to spell out the magic symbols that I curse myself for never fully learning.
I know that I am walking to my death. I know that the magic will become too much for me. I have been receiving visions of it since my son was born. The sight has prepared me for the strange numbness that will fill my insides as the magic begins to burn, and how I will not feel the agony of fire until it breaks through my skin. I don’t know what it will feel like when my soul leaves my body to join the world of the dead, but I know what I will experience when my heart stops beating and my breathing ceases.
The grass whooshes as the wind whips through. By the time I reach her, droplets of rain are falling from the sky.
She knows that I will not run away this time.
I first met Rina Darkflower when I was seventeen and living in a small village a few days ride from the capital. Her weathered face was heavily lined, and her hair was the color of silver. My first clear memory of Rina is of her smiling face as she patted a girl of ten years on the head.
“Do you think you can help her, great wizard?” My teacher Darius asked, inclining his head.
She smiled, probably used to such treatment. Most people never get a chance to meet a wizard, especially one as long lived as Rina Darkflower. Our village had been buzzing about her ever since she had arrived a few days previous.
“I will do my best. What ails her?” Rina replied. Her voice sounded much younger than her face.
“Missy Hazelton was born a month too early, she was sickly as a babe, and ever since then has been weak. She cannot catch a cold without courting death. Every winter is a trial for her family. We worry that this year’s may be her last. I, and my apprentice Oriana, have done everything we can to help, but we are inexperienced. We need your wisdom.”
I cast Darius an annoyed look. Inexperienced? Who was it that saved the village from a wandering spirit while her teacher hid under the covers? I clenched my jaw and focused on the rough paper in front of me, forcing my quill to copy another magic symbol.
“So old… and still learning Kismet’s symbols?” Rina said, referencing my work.
“The task is more difficult when one does not know how to read,” I replied, keeping my eyes on my work. “I have my own strengths.”
“Oriana is a bit of a blunt instrument,” Darius explained, reaching up to rub his bald spot. “She has great reserves of power, but is unable to use them with much subtlety. I wish that she could find the motivation to focus more on her studies.”
“That is dangerous. To use great power without the magical language… that could mean death for one so untrained.”
“I do my best,” Darius said, lifting his hands, palms up, in front of him.
“But only when it benefits your coin purse,” I muttered under my breath.
The two began to discuss Missy Hazelton’s cure. In the end, Rina took out a long sheet of parchment from her bag and placed it on the table. I made an excuse to walk past it, and glanced over its contents. Hundreds of magical symbols were arranged in a pattern that reminded me of a flower. I was ashamed to admit that I could only recognize a dozen of them.
Missy stood at the back of the room, staring down at her folded hands. Occasionally, she reached up to tug a strand of her blonde hair behind an ear. She must be used to this, I realized, having people talk of her poor health and early death with such bluntness, as if it were nothing more than an inconvenience. It seemed unfair for someone so young to be accustomed to such treatment.
Rina placed her right hand over the paper, and with her left, traced out a few golden symbols in the air. The writing on the map began to glow, then rose from the parchment to her open hand. They entwined themselves between her fingers and warped around her wrist, flowing like snakes. The cords grew thicker and tighter, spreading out over her skin until they formed a golden glove that undulated slightly as if breathing.
Rina walked over to Missy and rested the pointer finger of her gloved hand on the girl’s forehead. Missy’s eyes widened as the wizard drew the symbol for health on her skin. I saw a line of magic enter her, and travel down her body, branching out along her limbs. Rina withdrew her hand and the glove disappeared.
Missy swayed a little bit. Darius was too busy gawking in awe to notice. I stepped forward, reaching Missy just in time to catch her before she fell
“She is not well enough for such powerful spells,” I said, gritting my teeth.
“Such a young thing should not criticize the work of her betters,” Rina replied.
I looked up to see the wizard glaring at me. Her gray eyes narrowed in dislike, a look that seemed wrong on her grandmotherly face. I was suddenly filled with the urge to push Missy behind me, to reach deep into my reserves of magic for… something, anything to protect her.
I blinked, and the dislike on Rina’s face vanished, replaced with a small, soft smile.
“Oriana,” she said, “a beautiful name, is it not?”
I nodded slowly.
“A beautiful name for a beautiful mage,” she continued. “I urge you to keep practicing Kismet’s symbols. There have been many a mage who has dared to use great power without the help of the magical language. More often than not, they end up as nothing more than ashes. You’d be wise to learn from their mistakes.”
I did not say anything as Rina bid Darius goodbye. It would have been useless to correct her error. Rina may have been a wise wizard with decades, possibly centuries of experience, but she wasn’t the only one that demanded respect when she walked down the street. I, Oriana Hunter, was no mere mage. I was a sorceress, and even after knowing me for almost ten years, the people of the village were still wise enough to fear the magic that lay inside of me.
Months after Rina left, I had the dream.
I stood over Missy Hazelton who lay still in her bed. Her pale skin was covered in sweat. Her wide eyes were open and unblinking. I reached down to pluck a gold and silver thread from her forehead. When I touched it, my body was filled with unexpected warmth.
Then suddenly, she was there. Her wrinkled face was not kindly but twisted in anger. Her eyes were narrowed, her teeth bared like an animal. She reached out to me, bony hands jerking as she cast a spell.
I woke up, gasping, reaching across the bed for my husband, only to find twisted blankets and sheets.
Stupid Ori, I cursed myself, Casper’s been gone for months.
He was away in the north, fighting against the Sanfarians in yet another war. I did my best to keep my mind busy, so I wouldn’t dwell on his absence, but in the moments when I realized that he was gone, I felt the empty spaces where he should have been. The world was so quiet in the winter, lacking the chatter of animals or the rustle of tree leaves. Without the comfort of his gentle snoring…
I closed my eyes. Don’t think about it, I thought. Concentrate on the dream.
The sight had always run strong in me, often producing clear pictures instead of the cryptic messages muddled up by one’s own subconscious, as many magic weavers experienced. This message had been clear enough. Missy was in trouble. My inclusion in the vision had to mean that I would be the one to save her.
Pulling myself from the bed, I pulled on a couple of my warmest dresses. I layered on several thick socks and shoved my feet into Casper’s spare boots. I laced them up tight, and pulled on my heavy winter cloak. A knitted hat and mittens completed my outfit before heading out into the night.
Winter had come swiftly that year. Our tiny village was buried in snow by mid November. During January, the air was so cold that frozen clouds rose from the rushing river on the outskirts of town. Most days were too cold to work with Darius, so I spent a lot of time in my empty home. The walk to Missy Hazelton’s home was short enough, but the biting cold made it hard to breath. The hair in my nostrils froze the second I stepped from the warmth of my home. By the time I arrived, my skin was red and numb. Any warmth that had been spelled into my garments for winter had been exhausted. I reached for the iron door knocker and let it fall.
Calling on the village miller during the dead of night was not exactly polite, but my vision had filled me with a sense of urgency. I could not wait.
The door was opened by a maid who looked alert enough to let me know that she had probably been up and about for at least an hour. At the sight of me her eyes widened.
“Madam Hunter,” she said, reaching out and grabbing my hand. “Thank Ameril you’re here.”
“I had a vision about Missy,” I said, walking inside. “I know that she needs my help.”
The maid nodded and shut the door behind me. Thanks to the vision, I knew how to find Missy’s bedroom. I threw off my cloak and mittens as I walked, not caring where they fell. When I got to the child’s bedroom, the hinges on the door screeched as I pulled it open.
Madam Hazelton jumped up from her place at the side of the bed.
“Sorceress!” She gasped. “You must help us!”
I pushed past her, eyes glued on Missy who, like in my vision, was lying in the bed, her eyes unblinking as if she were already caught up in death. Her father held her arms tight by her side, as if she might strike him. From the three fresh scratches on his face, I could tell that she already had.
I knelt down beside her.
“Missy?” I asked, reaching out to touch her face.
She let out a scream so piercing that everyone in the room jumped. She began thrashing back and forth in her bed with such violence that her father, far from a weak man, had problems holding her down.
“Thieves, thieves,” she snarled. “Life stealers! Black magic users. You cover me with insects and then watch and laugh as they eat me alive!”
Her eyes rolled back into her head. Spittle flew from her mouth. She thrashed for a minute more and then lay back, growling like an angry dog.
“Is it a wandering spirit? Like last time?” Master Hazelton asked in a whisper, “The boy died and his mother… she was never the same. Is Missy going to-”
I raised my hand to cut him off.
“Let me check,” I said.
I closed my eyes for a second, reaching deep into my mind for the box that held another version of the sight, the one reserved for sorceresses.
I blinked, and saw that parts of the room glittered. Almost any magic weaver can see the presence of cast spells like this, but I could see the lines of power that led every spell back to its caster. The mirror on the dresser glistened with magic. The green-gray thread attached to it ran across the room. Eventually, that would lead to Darius. The calming spells that lined the sheets had a dusty red thread that led straight to me. I blocked the familiar magic from my sight, focusing on the gold and silver thread attached to Missy’s forehead. As in my vision, I reached down, and picked it up. Warmth ran through me, and I felt a pull, insistent as a rip tide, carrying me away. Ignoring the risk, I closed my eyes and let myself flow down the line of magic, away from Missy and back to its caster.
I was taken away at a great speed, crossing miles of land in seconds. I began to look through the magic symbols of the thread that surrounded me, trying to find a pattern. Only I didn’t recognize any of them! For the first time, I realized that I had been foolish in my reluctance to study the magical language. If only I had listened to Darius more, then I could at least read the words around me. Maybe then I would have a better chance of saving Missy!
Something caught my eye; it was the symbol for “health,” a blessedly simple symbol. Next to it were several characters for pulling away. I furrowed my brow. It was foolish to put these two symbols together. They naturally pulled apart from each other. It was not part of golden magic to drain health from someone. That was black magic.
But if you had the strength of a wizard behind it…
Feeling that I was coming to the end of the journey, I pulled myself away from the spell. I emerged in a small, sparsely furnished room, probably located in an inn. The great wizard Rina sat on a chair, her chin resting on her chest, snoring none too quietly.
It was then that I noticed what I had not thought to look for the day we had met. Attached to each of her fingers were dozens of lines of magic. Lines that, no doubt, led to dying people like Missy.
I felt myself grow hot with anger. The part of me that had traveled to Rina grabbed at the dozens of silvery gold threads and pulled with all my strength. I heard a loud ripping noise as the delicate magic tore.
In that moment, Rina Darkflower’s eyes sprung open. At the sight of me hanging onto her magic, her face contorted into the ugliness that I had seen in my vision.
“You… foolish girl!”
She lifted her hands. The severed threads that were still attached to her fingers raised into the air, twitched and swaying like the tails of irritated cats. In my fear I dropped the strings in my left hand as I reached for where I usually kept my wand, only to realize that I did not have it in this form! Most of the fallen threads flew back to her, eager to return to the spell. The gold in the spell started to glow as if she were reaching through it to her victims to obtain the extra strength required to destroy me. In my head, I heard a shrill scream that sounded marginally human. Oh Goddess! She still had Missy’s thread in her hands!
In a panic, I threw myself at the great wizard Rina Darkflower who had lived for hundreds of years and tamed more magic that I would ever be able to comprehend. She must not have been expecting a physical attack, for when she raised her hands up to cast a symbol, I was already there, grabbing at her hands, and tearing the threads left and right. The wizard tripped backwards into her chair. For all of her power, she was still frail with age.
Before the magic had a chance to leap back, I reached deep down into my magical reserves and pulled out two black flames of pure power. I commanded one to attack the magical threads scattered around the room, and it eagerly obeyed. I shoved the other flame at Rina’s chest, directly into her heart.
But Rina had already recovered, and deflected my spell with ease. The backlash of her casting threw me across the room, into the pile of golden threads that burned with my magical flame.
The old woman stood up with a wince, one hand placed on her back. With the other she reached out and drew out a single symbol: extinguish.
My magical fire burned out in a matter of seconds. The severed threads shivered at first, as if they were trying to remember what they were meant for. The wizard began to trace new symbols in the air. There was a crack in the air as she finished with the final symbol. In her hands appeared a quivering sphere that fought to escape her tight grip.
The shimmering threads around me inched towards their master again
I reached for my magic, and found that between the journey and my attack, it was almost gone. A blunt instrument was what Darius called me. Despite all my pride and flashy abilities, I had proved him right.
Rina took a step towards me and raised the glowing sphere, her yellowing teeth set into a grimace. I winced, but forced myself to keep my eyes open. I would face my death with courage.
In that moment, the woman’s eyes went wide. She let out a little gasp, and the magic sphere went out. The magic threads crumbled and died. Her face grew twice as wrinkled as it had been before. Her hair changed from silver to pure white then began to fall out in chunks. Her cheeks grew hollow, then she pitched forward as if she had been shoved.
The last thing I saw before Darius pulled me back to my body was the great old wizard, now a corpse, falling towards me, her arms spread out as if expecting an embrace.
When I reached my body, I saw what had made Missy scream. In Rina’s last attempts to draw strength from her victims, she had drawn most of her life away. The once young girl now had hair as white as snow, and delicate skin as wrinkled as a crone’s.
It took a few weeks for Darius to discover the truth about the great wizard Rina Darkflower. Like many powerful magic weavers, her lifespan had been extended due to her constant exposure to magic. Still, by the time she had reached two-hundred, Rina discovered that her long awaited death was lingering close by. She designed a way to stay alive by feeding off of the lives of others. To quell her conscience, she only chose people who were sickly, and showed little sign of recovery. By drawing from dozens of victims at a time, it took weeks or months for each person to pass away. After months of being exposed to such a draining spell, some lost not only their health but their sanity as well.
Darius did not openly blame me for Missy’s state, even though it was my brash decisions that forced the wizard to drain most of the life from her. He explained to Missy’s parents that had I not acted swiftly, their daughter would have died within weeks, or even days. Now, she had years in front of her. This was true, but the fact that he forcibly ended my apprenticeship that night let me know how he truly felt. For the rest of the winter, I rarely left my home, unsure of what to do with my newly purposeless life.
Casper’s return filled me with great relief. As a result of his heroic actions in war, he was to be made a knight, and the King had invited him to serve as one of his personal guards, a position of great honor. This change of station would move us to Saria City, where I didn’t need to face Missy’s wild, accusing gaze. For close four years, my life was quiet.
But soon after William was born, I began to receive visions of Missy. I watched as she threw herself into the study of magic, rejecting Darius’s teaching and focusing on more destructive spells. I knew her goal of course, for just as often, I received visions of my own death.
Visions that I am about to see come true.
In the field outside of Saria City, Missy Hazelton stands not twenty feet away from me. The rain and wind has matted her white hair against her face. Her lips spread into a twisted grin that stretches just a little too wide. Her old-young eyes are filled with a manic fire that has grown in the years that we have been apart.
“I knew that it was the right move, of course I knew,” she says, her voice rushed and broken. “Threaten the baby of course. All mothers are the same. Protect the child at all cost. That’s why my mother let you do this to me.”
I shake my head.
“Missy, I am sorry that my actions have cursed you so,” I say. “There is nothing in my life that I regret more. I would like you to understand that I was only trying to save you… but I know that you never will.”
Missy begins to pull and turn at her knuckles.
“All the sorceresses fault. Wicked girl that sorceress, my mother always said. She warned me that you all turn out the same… mother isn’t talking to me anymore.”
“She will forgive you,” I say with a smile. “Mothers always do. I know that now.”
Missy giggles. The high pitch sound makes my skin crawl.
“Can’t forgive me when she’s no longer breathing, sorceress.”
“Missy? How could you? She loved you so. How did you…”
In answer to my question, she reaches into a small bag and pulls out a handful of twisted black symbols.
“I will destroy you sorceress,” she says, “and then I will take Sir Casper, and little William too. It’s not fair that your family should not suffer as mine has.”
“No Missy,” I reply, “you and I will die today. My son, and my husband have years in them yet.”
Those who have the sight carry a heavy burden. Regardless of how horrible the vision they receive, there is no power on earth that can change it. In the past two years I have been haunted by images of my own death, but blessed with just as many of my son’s life. I have seen William at six as he struggles to read and write. I have seen him at ten, learning how to fight with a sword from his father. I have seen him at thirteen, mourning the sudden death of Casper, a vision that left me shaking and sobbing. And I have seen him as a man, carrying not only the sorrows of his past but a purpose as well. A purpose far greater than any over confident sorceress that never bothered to learn the language of magic could ever carry.
And for him to become this man, he has to be able to reach his second birthday. Missy and I must finish this now.
I tighten my grip on my wand and begin to draw out the symbols for defense in the air. A tendril of the quivering mass in Missy’s hand flies towards me like an arrow. I prepare myself for the spell that will draw us both into death.