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Fantasy Adventure

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

“Don’t pick a favorite spell.” This is the wisdom they give to young aspiring mages. At mage academy, the professors notice early on that their pupils like to pick a favorite and stick to it. There are so many to learn, thousands upon thousands. Young mages get frustrated, they flub their spells, they try to set a target ablaze with flammas but hurl dung in their faces with fimus instead. So they start forming a bad habit of sticking to one spell. The professors have to work hard to break it.

Stories are the best way to get those mages to break that bad habit. Don’t you know the Decerto Mage? The Bestia Mage? The Caecus Mage? The mages who picked a favorite spell? They aren’t memorialized by those spells because they mastered them. They’re memorialized because they died by them. Because, you see, when you’re backed into a corner by monsters and you’re panicking, you’ll resort to your favorite spell on instinct, even if it’s not the one that will save you. You’ll die, your favorite spell echoing through the chambers of a dungeon, minutes after you’ve been slaughtered. That’s what happened to them. So stay flexible. “Don’t pick a favorite spell.”

Salvus is my favorite spell. Favorite by default. There are mages and then there are healers and healers only learn one spell: salvus. Rather than learn a long, complicated vocabulary of spells in mage academies, we go to healer trade schools instead. We scour forest floors for small, injured animals walking with limps. We set up med stations in towns, tending to the sick and elderly. Then after years of practice, after salvus has ingrained a place in our mouths even our own names don’t occupy, we can heal those close to the brink of death.

Close, I might emphasize. Anything closer and that’s necromancy, which is strictly forbidden. 

Most of us make a modest living this way, accompanying travelers and small parties, more as a safety precaution than anything. But the ambitious, the ones who deep down wished they could’ve gone to mage academy instead, set their sights on the royal court. Problem is, you can only find so many injured animals to practice on. So some make injured animals to continue perfecting their craft. 

Outside of the inn, a black cat shivers as he stretches out his back before resuming his comfortable position on the windowsill. I shiver myself; I can’t imagine hurting an animal like that. I’ll take all the crummy jobs I need, including this one, if it means I don’t ever cross that line. Before I can open the door, it swings open and a small, old woman emerges from inside.

“Ah, saluto! Are you looking for a room, young man?”

She gives me a smile, the wrinkles around her eyes deepening as she speaks to me.

Saluto. No, actually, I need some directions if you don’t mind. I’m looking for the entrance to the goblin forest?”

The wrinkles lessen. “Don’t expect a warm welcome. It’s dangerous there, you know. The goblins have been unfriendly for the past few years. There’s been a rash of grave robbings, so the goblins have been on edge. They think it might be a human, going in there and stealing bodies. It’s a shame, they were my best customers. Are you a mage?”

“No ma'am, just a healer. I’ll be alright, I’m meeting some knights there.”

“If you say so. I can direct you to the forest, certainly, but finding the entrance is a bit tricky. Let me go write down the directions for you. Come in.”

The old woman scurries through the lobby, behind the bar, into some backroom with a warm glow. I can hear the rustling of papers and the scritch scratch of a quill. I take a seat. The lobby of the inn is simple, wooden chairs and tables surrounding a fire pit. It’s not quite the season for travel yet, but when it is, I’m sure this place is teeming with visitors telling stories about their adventures around a fire. The walls are plastered with job listings, missing posters, and newspapers detailing the exploits of the famous Poet Mage. The illustrations of her face are colored in, her golden hair and blue eyes apparent even in the dim morning light. 

She’d certainly find a life like mine quite boring. The Poet Mage earned her reputation as “poet” for her expansive repertoire of spells that she strings together into even more complex spells. She’s been an incredible service to the kingdom, tracking down lost artifacts and spearheading wars to expand the empire. A headline reads, “POET MAGE ANNOUNCES CANDIDACY FOR ROYAL COURT MAGICIAN.” The position is currently vacant as the last royal court magician, now known as the Arceo Mage, met, as you can probably already guess, a tragic end. 

The old woman shuffles back into the lobby, folded paper in hand. “Here you are, my dear.” Before I can accept it from her, she withdraws her arm back into her chest. “Sorry, I just…” She looks down nervously, twiddling with the edges of the paper. “Could I possibly ask a favor of you first?”

“Sure.”

“My cat. He’s been limping for a few days. Would you take a look at him?”

A smile sneaks onto my face. Requests like these over the years have deepened those wrinkles next to my eyes as well. “Of course.”

✦✦✦

Looking up from the old woman’s paper, I survey the forest. A line of thick trees stretches from west to east with a small clearing in the middle. Just beyond the clearing, a hooded figure sits in a large horseless carriage, apparently waiting for someone. Not a knight in sight.

I dig around my bag and pull out the healer request form. It’s as straightforward as I remembered. Healer is to accompany party into goblin forest and assist in carrying out arrest warrant. Journey will take 3-5 days. Risk minimal. Meet party outside entrance to goblin forest at sunrise in three days. Pack light. 600 gold

I suppose the form didn’t explicitly say I would be meeting with knights. But who else would be making an arrest, especially in goblin territory? I look back at the hooded figure. They haven’t moved from their spot on that horseless carriage for five minutes now. The longer I hesitate, the longer I keep my clients waiting, and the smaller my bonus will be. With a groan, I approach the bottom of the carriage.

Saluto! Can you help me? I’m looking for a party of knights, have you seen them around?”

The hooded figure looks down at me, the light catching the bridge of what appears to be a broken nose. A smile forms on the stranger’s face, shadows pooling in shallow creases by their eyes. When they finally speak it is a woman's voice, or rather many women's voices. Some voices are soft, some grainy, some young, and some old. This quality of voice is called “jinxed” in the mage community, the sign of magic mastery. 

“Are you Valens?” Many voices ask.

“Yes?”

“Excellent, you’re with me. Name’s Illia. Get in, you’re late enough as it is.”

Throwing my bag on top, I swallow the temptation to question her.

 “Settled? Good. Let’s be going then. I can brief you on the way. Motus.” The wheels roll to a start. As we cross the border of tree branch shadows, I pray that the mission is as “risk minimal” as she claims.

✦✦✦

“Please sit still, Illia. Salvus.”

My incantation can barely be heard over Illia cussing me out in her many voices. The flesh on her arm is wet with blood and jagged. “Useless, useless, useless! Did I not ask you to scope out the area?”

“I did! I don’t know where those wolves came from. Salvus.”

“I am livid right now, Valens, absolutely furious. I hope you weren’t expecting a big bonus.” I take one hand off of Illia’s wolf bite to search my bag for bandages, smudging blood on the bag’s white exterior, and continue to mutter salvus. “Just how long is this going to take?”

“Probably three hours, the wound is pretty deep. Salvus.”

“Pathetic. A court healer could get this done in thirty minutes. Ow!”

My grip had hardened. “Please just sit still.”

“Listen to me.” Her voices commanded.“The goblin we’re looking for will be over there tonight in that graveyard we’ve been staking out. You get me healed up as quickly as possible. I will sleep to restore my energy. The only time you get to utter any word out of your mouth other than salvus for the next three hours is if you hear something, do you understand me?”

“Yes ma’am. Salvus.”

With that, she slumped back against the tree. Even without seeing her face, I could tell she was trying to force herself to sleep. Every once in a while she’d mutter out “Ridiculous. Just ridiculous” and shake her head. But as the time went on, her grievances became quiet and more spaced out, until she was nothing but slow, steady breaths. 

The smoke from our campfire floated up into the night sky. The glow of the fire illuminated the scratches and burns on uprooted trees. Illia had been a true spectacle of power protecting us from those wolves. She would utter one spell after another, all so different from each other. Deputo. Depulso. Deridio. At one point she even wielded a grand sword to defend us using ferrum. With her vast spell lexicon, I wondered if a mage like her ever had a favorite spell, just one word she clung to that she felt safe with. “Salvus.” 

Looking down I noticed a blonde strand of hair had become untucked from her hood. I remembered that broken nose I noticed earlier. I could deal with that too while she was asleep. Pulling the hood back, I realized what should have been obvious. 

I was healing the Poet Mage. She looked exactly like the newspaper illustrations, with the exception of the broken nose, which was bent and bruised. It looked like she had sustained it rather recently. I softly cupped my hand around the bridge of her nose and continued my healing. 

✦✦✦

When I woke up, she was no longer slumped against the tree. In fact, she was nowhere to be seen. I checked her lump of sleeping bag next to the dying fire. Empty. I could hear a creak from the graveyard. When I looked up, the gate to the graveyard was swinging back and forth, unlocked. “Illia?”

Then a cry rang out. I raced to my feet, snatching my bag off the ground as I ran. “Illia!”

Storming into the graveyard, I saw Illia at war with a goblin, her bright blue eyes looking crazed in the starlight. “You!” The goblin roared, pointing at Illia. “You filthy body snatcher! How dare you come back here!” It charged at her, swinging its club at her face.

"You won't break my nose again, you disgusting thing. Repulso." The goblin went flying and slammed into one of the headstones.

"Illia?" She looked back at me and began to snigger, her voices seeming to echo from everywhere, some cackling, some giggling, some howling with laughter. "Thanks for the nose job, kid. Too bad you found out my secret. Now I gotta kill you both."

She dug her palms into the ground and revealed exactly what she does with all those goblin bodies. "Resurrectio." Pale green hands shot out from the graves and crawled onto the surface. But before they could come to attack us, they began to crowd around Illia.

"What are you doing? Kill them! Obedio!"

"Please heal us. It hurts. Heal us. Or let us rest." The choir of their pain outnumbered even Illia's jinxed voice, spitting out the same useless spell as they cornered her. You see, Illia never learned how to heal. Only to resurrect.

It wasn't too long before the Poet Mage became the Resurrectio Mage. Not too bad being a healer in times like this.

April 29, 2023 03:58

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11 comments

10:18 May 04, 2023

Very nice writing! Flows really well and the breaks are effective. Liked the job from entering the woods to dealing with the aftermath of the wolf attack, and the dialogue there was fun. Thanks for sharing this one! Will look out for more of yours!

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Noelle Trost
02:22 May 05, 2023

Thank you, Derrick! Glad you enjoyed it.

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Judith Hansen
05:47 May 02, 2023

Quite a story! Fascinated by the world Noelle has created...complete with a vocabulary that might become popular. This could certainly be made into a longer chapter story. Loved it.

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Noelle Trost
00:46 May 03, 2023

Thank you, Judith! I had a lot of fun writing it. Glad you enjoyed it :)

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Mary Bendickson
00:34 May 02, 2023

All hail the healer!

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Russell Mickler
19:26 May 01, 2023

Hi Noelle! Yay another fantasy author! Fantastic! I loved the rules and restrictions concerning spellcasting; the specialization for each spellcaster was a great touch of human propensity; the setting and situation was fun; horseless carriage, great - a good story, too! Yay! Well done! R

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Noelle Trost
00:45 May 03, 2023

Thank you, Russell! This is my first fantasy story I've ever written so your words mean a lot to me. Glad you enjoyed it!

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Russell Mickler
00:52 May 03, 2023

Your first?! Wow well, I think it’s excellent work -! R

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Brain Changer
18:33 Apr 29, 2023

Good characters with strong motivations.

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Noelle Trost
00:44 May 03, 2023

Thank you!

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22:38 Apr 30, 2023

Great pay-off on why selecting a favorite spell is a bad idea.

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