Magic was dying.
That one idea haunted Yashmar, no matter what he did.
Sitting in the half-empty hall, he tried to focus on the lecture, as the professor skipped through the presentation slides. His mind was elsewhere, though.
Spring had just started. The one time in a year when the looming death of everything he knew seemed less threatening. With nature coming back to life, his heart saw a spark of hope, as the power inside him blossomed together with the flowers.
But even spring couldn’t save his people. Magical races gradually weakened as humans spread to all corners of the earth. Seers prophesied the end of their world, as their light faded year by year. Children were a rare occurrence and the populations dwindled as more and more of their elders succumbed to despair and ended their lives. And every spring the hope brought by nature’s rebirth grew fainter.
Being on the verge of extinction didn’t force them to unite, though, the ages-old hostilities as strong as ever. Elves despised dwarves. Goblins had a grudge against elves. Halflings resented goblins. And everyone hated orcs, their devotion to tribal traditions seen as savage. But divided, guided by prejudice, they had no chance to survive.
Being a child of two shamans, Yashmar’s gift was more powerful than most. He felt all the other Hidden. There were only a few on his campus and he never spoke to any of them but he sensed their presence and recognised their races, even through their human masking.
He was grateful others didn’t have similarly acute magic senses. Human lands were considered the neutral territory of absolute truce, but if the others learned he was an orc, they would find ways to bully him.
There was one elf boy among them who joined last autumn. His human mask was just a quiet nerd ignored by everyone, but Yashmar saw glimpses of his real nature. It wasn’t really the physical beauty that drew him to the elf. It was his peace, the enticing tranquillity that always helped Yash control himself.
The elf went by Nate among the humans, just like Yashmar was Lars here at university - the cover of a foreign exchange student from Sweden matching his height, muscular build and strong accent. Masking had its limits and required a lot of energy to keep up at all times, so it was best to make it as simple as possible.
Yash dreamed of getting close to Nate, imagining someday he could be trusted enough to maybe get to know his real name, but he was terrified of the hatred he’d have to face if the elf ever found out his real heritage. Unable to overcome his paralyzing fear, he just admired the boy from a distance, secretly basking in the aura of the elf’s inner peace whenever he had a chance.
Sending their remaining children to learn the human ways was the last resort for the elder races. However, Yashmar didn’t really understand how that was supposed to help. It was his second year at the university and he hadn’t learned anything useful, except confirming what he already knew. Humans were just as divided as the magical races were, but had this insatiable hunger inside them. The hunger to conquer and rule everything.
The professor was just explaining Operation Overlord, when Yash suddenly felt a ripple in the web of magic. A call for help!
He jumped up, recognizing Nate’s aura in the panicked plea.
Mumbling an apology to the shocked professor, he ran outside. The overwhelming scent of nature’s rebirth confused him at first, but he shook the sensation to focus on the faint thread of the elf’s presence.
Fear for the boy took over his mind, quickening both his heart and his steps. Why was he reacting so frantically? He didn’t even really know Nate. Yes, he was one of the Hidden too, sharing similar loneliness. But he was an elf. He would surely hate him, seeing only a primitive brute like everyone else.
No! He had no time to think about that. The magic thread of the call was fading fast. What happened? Was Nate okay?
Pushing his chaotic thoughts aside, he ran through the campus, following the faint strand of energy.
Out of breath, he almost fell into the dark narrow alley between two buildings.
“Who do you think you are? Huh?” A guy Yash remembered from rugby practice shouted, kicking Nate. The elf’s body hung limply in the grasp of two other bullies.
Yash’s fury spread out of nowhere like wildfire. He charged towards the three guys, his masking fading as his energy flowed elsewhere, fueling his desire for vengeance.
“Leave him alone!” Power poured unrestrained into his voice, thundering inside the alley, as all three assailants suddenly fixed on him. Yashmar’s clenched fists burned with magic, his heart accelerating to an impossible rhythm, as the world around him melted in the flames flooding his mind.
He froze in place, realizing what he was about to do.
Breathe in. He had to regain self-control.
Breathe out. He had to hold back.
He couldn’t just kill the humans. That was not what he was taught.
‘If you master your fury, you master yourself, Yash. Your rage doesn’t define you. You define yourself.’ His father’s words echoed in his mind, as he felt the faint presence of Nate beside him.
He wouldn’t surrender to his anger. He wouldn’t hurt the humans even if they were scum. He was better than that. He was not like them.
He took another deep breath and contained his emotions, directing the magic to the wall of his camouflage again.
The bullies stared at him dumbstruck, their pale faces dominated by eyes wide with fear. Did they notice his real shape as the veil wavered?
“You will forget what happened here. You will never hurt him again.” He recited as the strands of magic swirled around him, but humans were not sensitive enough to notice them.
As the guys ran away, he brushed his fingers over the amulet he always wore, thanking the reborn goddess for her patronage. Little specks of gold shining inside the green stone swirled around, mimicking the delicate hurricane of flower petals from nearby trees disturbed by his power.
He turned to the elf, who was unconscious.
“Nate… can you hear me?” His voice sounded much softer than he intended.
He couldn’t risk healing Nate here. It was way too dangerous, as he couldn’t keep up his masking during the spell. He also had no idea where the elf lived and if he had any roommates. The only thing he could do was take him back to his own place and hope for the best. Even if hatred was his only reward, he couldn’t just leave the elf like that.
“Don’t worry, Nate. It’s gonna be all right. Just hang in there…” He kept muttering, more to reassure himself than the boy who couldn’t hear him anyway.
Pouring some magic into his fingertips, he checked Nate’s condition. The lights danced around the elf’s body before fading as quickly as they appeared, weaving an image in Yash’s mind. Nothing was broken.
“I am taking you to my room. I promise you’ll be safe. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
Yash gently picked up the boy and started walking, hoping nobody would ask any questions. Fortunately, at this time of day, most people were busy with their classes, so only trees and flowers bore witness to his hurried walk.
Nate groaned a few times but didn’t wake up.
Finally, Yash gently placed the elf on the bed and focused his magic on the boy’s pain. The soft strands of energy floated into Nate’s body and Yash felt the usual aura of serenity growing stronger. Sensing the elf would wake soon, he rebuilt his mask and let the healing energy fade.
“Yashmar…” The melodic voice took him off guard. The elf knew his name?
“I am an elf. Our power is to know the true names… and spring made me strong enough.” The boy smiled. “I’m Elnaril. Thank you. I knew you’d come.” He reached out to caress the orc’s cheek, but Yashmar pulled away.
“I’m sorry… You can’t… We can’t…” he stammered, fighting the urge to lean into the touch. He was still an orc and Nate–no, Elnaril–was an elf. And eventually, he’d find out. It couldn’t work.
Elnaril shook his head. “No, Yashmar. You’re wrong. I know who you are.”
His eyes widened in shock as fear clutched at his throat. So Elnaril knew? How…?
“Can’t you feel it?” The soothing voice continued. “Your fire of emotion and my peace of deep water. They are meant for each other. We can make each other better.”
Yash opened to the words, feeling them trickle in and melt his fear. Elnaril didn’t hate him. The tranquillity embraced his heart and he let the elf touch him, the warm pleasure flooding his whole body, as the power inside him flourished.
“Elnaril…” he whispered, looking at the elf, unable to say anything more.
Maybe magic was dying.
But it was spring again.
And hope shone brighter than ever.