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Fantasy Coming of Age

Her tutor stood in front of her, garbed in a colorful flowing robe. He’d set up a table between them and spread out a variety of items on it. A wilting plant, a rock, and a flickering candle.

“Come on, Raye. This should be simple for you. Concentrate. Expand your mind to the rock, and lift it.”

Raye took a deep breathe and closed her eyes. She collected her mental energy and imagined the rock that laid in front of her lifting, flying, darting around the room like a sparrow! She pushed outwards with her mind and heard a rattle. Her brow furrowed and she concentrated harder, encouraged by the sound. She thrust her hands towards the rock as if that would help direct her mental energy into it. The rattling grew louder and quicker.

“Enough.”

She opened her eyes. The rock was in the same spot.

Gaius sighed and rubbed his forehead. “You shouldn’t require that much concentration to move a pebble.”

Raye frowned and said, “At least it moved this time. That’s progress, isn’t it?”

The mage shook his head. “Untrained children can do that. You’ve been under my tutelage for two weeks now. They warned me you were quite behind on your training, but this is unheard of. It’s not normal.”

He was right, of course. Raye was fifteen now and still working on mastering the fundamentals of magic. All of her peers had long moved past their Mastery of the Mind classes, most were even wielding elemental magic. But it never came naturally to Raye. Her mother had hired an older mage to teach her one on one, in hopes he could coax out her potential.

With his help, she had learned to feel the primal energy around her, the energy that bent to her peer’s will. She felt it flowing through the ground under her feet, heard its light crackles in the wild winds. But her probing mind could never touch it, much less harness it. Even manifesting her own mental energy was a struggle.

It was quite embarrassing when she would see the younglings throwing a fit about this or that, and crack- a vase would break, or a ball would levitate and bop an unsuspecting head. They weren’t even trying.

The basics of Mastery of the Mind were taught as soon as a child was old enough to understand speech for just that reason. As far as she knew, she had never thrown such a fit. A good child, they had called her. What control she has! They had said when she was young. Little did they know, there was nothing to control.

She subconsciously lifted a hand to her rounded ears. All elves had sharp, long pointed ears. Not her. Her ears screamed, I’m different. She kept her dark, long hair pulled forward for that reason.

Her mentor noticed her distress. He put a hand on her shoulder.

“Ah, I’m sorry, dear. I should mind my words. Frustration gets the best of even me sometimes. You’ll get it.”

She twisted her shoulder away and stepped back. “No. You said what you meant the first time. You’re only backtracking now because you don’t want to put a stop to my mother’s gold pouring in.”

His eyes narrowed. “Dismissed. I will refrain from reporting your lacking manners to your mother, as today was hard on you. In the future, mind your tongue. We’ll try again tomorrow.” He turned around and started gathering his things from the table.

Raye left the small home they met in without another word. The world around her was vibrant and green. The village was built into a massive forest and nature was disrupted as little as possible. A creek flowed through the center of their village and small wood huts were dotted along it. Great trees towered overhead, providing a leafy canopy. Sunlight filtered in through the leaves, providing a green tinted glow. The sound children laughing and giggling reached Raye’s ears, and she turned her head towards the creek where a group of children were skipping rocks. Mentally. Of course. She stalked past them in the direction of her home.

As she approached the little hut, she saw her mother ahead, kneeling in the dirt beside a wilting shrub. She saw her lips moving and the browning plant turned green, its leaves lifting towards the sun. Raye scowled. Everywhere she looked, this place reminded her how weak she was- even her own mother.

“If you’d take care of them, you wouldn’t need to be reviving them every other day,” Raye snapped.

Her mother brushed her hands over the newly green leaves and looked up. “You’re right, but the shrub needn’t die for my negligence.” She stood and wiped her hands on her dress. “You seem to be in quite a mood. How were your lessons today?”

Raye pushed past her into the house and sat at their modest kitchen table. She sighed. “Lessons were same as every day. I feel the magic around us. I sense it. But I can’t touch it. I can’t even lift a pebble with my own energy. I made one tremble today, but that’s hardly an achievement when I see the younglings by the river skipping rocks. It’s all a game to them. Even Gaius is becoming weary with me.”

Her mother sat beside her. “Gaius can be… blunt… but he’s a wise mentor. Stick with it. Progress however slow is still progress.”

Raye slammed her fist on the table. “I’m not progressing! Stop lying to me! You know what Gaius said today? He said I’m not normal.” She reached up and touched her ears. “Now isn’t that the truth? I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Her mother sighed and leaned back in her chair, staring up at the ceiling. She closed her eyes and breathed in, then out. The silence was deafening. Then she reached out and grabbed Raye’s face between her soft hands. “Raye, look at me. The way you’re feeling… the anger, the frustration, it’s my fault. I’ve done you a disservice by denying you half of yourself.”

Raye’s eyes widened. “What are you talking about?”

“This is about your father.”

Time stopped in that moment for Raye and her heart sped up. Her father was a forbidden subject. Whenever she would ask about him, her mother would get a sad, distant look about her. Your father died, long ago, she would tell her and that would end the subject. No paintings of him, no mementos. Any further pushing and her mother would shut her down.

Raye’s mother took another deep breathe and her face was twisted up as if the words she was trying to say were physically painful for her. “Your father was a human,” she said slowly. She stared at Raye’s face, searching her eyes for a reaction.

Raye’s eyebrows scrunched together in confusion. She understood this was supposed to be a huge shocking moment but.. “A… hooman?”

“You don’t know what a human is?” her mother exclaimed. “Has your history class not taught you of the other races?”

“Yes, of course! We were separated from the Shifters and Elementals after the war. Are you saying my father is one of the great races? I don’t recall ‘hoomans’ in our lessons.” Her voice grew excited and she gasped, “Is that a Shifter? Can I shift?”

Her mother’s jaw dropped. Raye wondered why she was looking at her like that. Her mind was racing. History class had taught them all about the other races that they were separated from in the Great Divide. Fearsome, incredible beings. She stared down at her hands. What unknown power did she hold?

“Let’s…let’s slow down here,” her mother stuttered. “I suppose I need to break this down. Humans are like us. They look like us, but their ears are rounded and they only live a short while. They don’t possess any magical ability. I admit I’m shocked that your lessons didn’t mention them. I suppose because they were irrelevant to our war efforts.”

“All I’m hearing is negatives,” Raye deadpanned. “They’re us, but worse.”

“No. Not worse, different. Humans are not a powerful race, that is true, but the way they see the world is so different from those of us who are immortal. Humans know their time is limited and they live for the day they’re given. They find joy in the simple things. They’re a breath of fresh air.” She flicked her fingers and a flame appeared. “How easy it is for me to make fire. Humans have to work for what they have. It makes them resourceful and creative. A spark that’s gone out in our people.” She stared into the distance and sighed. “How else shall I say it? Humans are like flowers that blossom and grow, beautiful for a season, then they wither and they’re gone. An elf is a mighty tree in the forest, standing strong and unchanging through the centuries. Is one superior to the other?”

Raye tucked her hair behind her ears and felt them for the first time with curiosity, with a tinge of pride instead of disgust. Her ears were something from her father. There was so much information to take in. “Does that mean I am mortal like the humans?” Rayed asked softly.

Her mother smiled sadly. “I don’t know. You’re one of a kind. There are no known cases of elven-human children to compare you to.”

“What happened to my father? How did you even meet?”

“Where to start? During the war, I was separated from my battalion. They thought I was dead, and they were forced into a retreat. Alive I was, although barely.” She stood up and walked towards the window. “In those days, humans would scour fresh battlefields for treasures. They would loot the bodies, once the coast was clear enough.” She shuddered. “A disgusting living. But our soldiers often had trinkets in their pockets or jewelry on their fingers, and the scavengers made a good profit reselling such items to the richer humans.” A vase cracked. Her voice was low and biting, almost a growl. “They hated us and feared us, but oh, our trinkets were of great interest to them. Grave robbers, the lot of them. They’d never dare step foot around the living.”

The kitchen cabinets trembled, the doors slamming to and fro and the china within them tinkling against each other. Raye’s eyes

widened. “Mother!”

Her mother pinched the bridge of her nose and took a deep breath in, then out. Her face smoothed and her shoulders dropped. Silence resumed in the house. A forced smile played on the corners of her mouth. “I’m sorry, love, I digress. Some things still enrage me.”

The war was a taboo subject. It was simply understood that it was bad manners to ask an Elder about their experiences. The dry retelling of the history books was all that was taught. Curiosity about such morbid detail was discouraged. We live in peace now, the Elders would say. On the few occasions that an Elder could be roused to share a story, it was always followed by a lesson. The Outside is cruel and dark, and a high price was paid for your safety. Your generation are coddled and spoiled to long to return to the days of old. It was a disrespect to long to leave, to wonder at what the Outside held. Most were content with their peaceful existence. But Raye longed to see the sky unblocked by swaying branches; to see the great oceans that were pictured in the books, to see a Shifter change form and an Elemental ride the winds. She drank in every detail her history books said about the days before the Divide. Now the Elves remained confined to their corner of the world- their forest, protected by countless barriers to prevent anyone from leaving or coming in without the express approval of the Elders.

“You never talk about the war.”

“I prefer not to think about such things, but it is necessary. Walk outside with me. I need some air.”

They walked outside together, her mother leading the way and came to a stop far outside the village. There was a small break in the trees where sunlight shone down unfiltered, and flowers grew in a field. The air was sweet and cool and the sound of running water trickled behind them. Her mother sat down and patted the ground beside her. “This place brings me peace, and reminds me of your father.”

“Because of the flowers?” Raye asked, sitting.

Her mother smiled wistfully. “Indeed. Because of the flowers. Now where was I? Your father and his cohorts came to the battlefield where I lay to scavenge.”

Raye’s eyebrows shot up. “Wait. My father was a scavenger? But-”

Her mother held up a hand. “Peace, Raye. Most would have either run or killed me before I could wake, but not him. He came back for me later, without the others, and smuggled me into his home where he nursed me back to health. Your father was a good man, despite his living. He was kind to me in a time when terror drove humans to terrible deeds. It’s not a time I like to remember. I thought I’d never see our people again. So I stayed. Our existence was simple and happy.” She grabbed Raye’s hands and looked at her intensely. “He knew about you. He was so excited. He loved you. I need you to know that.” Her shoulders slumped. “But an opportunity came for me to return home. It was an opportunity I never imagined I’d have, and I had to make a choice then. Your father or my people. I was pregnant at the time. I based my decision on you. I believed you’d be safer-”

“You chose to separate me from my father?” Raye pushed her mother away and stood, her eyes burning with fury.

“I chose to protect you! Is my story romantic to you? Don’t be fooled. Many humans feared magic and I’ve seen that fear turn them to monsters. I wanted you to be safe, to be accepted and able to embrace your Elven heritage without hiding. I refused to raise you in fear and shame if I could avoid it. It’s one thing to read about a war and another to live through it.”

Raye flushed. “You didn’t save me from shame. My ears tell anyone with eyes that I’m different. You don’t think the others notice? They look down on me. The humans would have respected me.”

Her mother laughed. “Have you heard a word I’ve said?” Her eyes narrowed. “The humans would have executed you at the first sign you weren’t entirely human. I’d rather you hide your ears in embarrassment than hide them for fear of your life. I don’t regret my choice.”

Raye sat back down and rested her head on her knees, hugging herself close. Too weak to be an elf, too terrifying to be a human. Not for the first time, she noticed the array of scars that decorated her mother’s hands and arms, this time with a renewed respect. Perhaps the world outside was a place to be feared, yet still she longed to know it.

Arms wrapped around her, soft and familiar and the scent of honeysuckle filled her nose. Her mother leaned against her back and rested her chin on Raye’s shoulder, hugging her close. “His name was Samuel Blackthorn.”

“Is he still alive?” Raye asked, gently pulling away.

“I don’t know.”

“Why didn’t you ever find him?”

“Come now, you know the rules. No one leaves. Besides the obvious though, my being pregnant was quite the scandal. Your heritage was hidden from all but the top Elders.”

A silence settled between them. Raye drew circles on the ground with her finger, mind racing. For years she watched her friends move on without her. What took months of effort for her, took hours for them. At least now she knew why. “I suppose I’m cursed to never touch the magic that surrounds me, huh?”

“Perhaps, or perhaps not.” She pinched Raye’s cheek. “You have your father’s determination. Those to whom power comes naturally stagnate. When someone is born standing at the top of the mountain, they never learn how to climb. But the one at the bottom, who struggles and works for every step up- they’ll eventually climb past those who once looked so tall. You will bloom, my flower, and be the spark that ignites our people.”

Raye remained in the field long after her mother left, watching the leaves above her sway. The breeze ruffled her hair and changed directions this way and that. It lifted the fallen leaves and dirt and played its games. A longing to feel its freedom, to follow its paths, filled her heart. A fool’s task, certainly. Who was she to harness the indomitable wind? She was an elf and human. Breaking the rules ran in her blood.

She extended her mental energy, reaching out the tendrils of her mind to catch the wind. It brushed the edges of her mind, electrifying and hot and wild and just out of reach. The farther she reached, the farther the wind flew, like a mouse running from a cat. Perhaps you aren’t meant to be dominated, she thought. For a brief moment she grasped it- for a precious few seconds she was the wind, soaring and flying, endlessly falling, utterly weightless and free- and it slipped away from her, like sand through her fingers.

Her mind snapped back hard. She stumbled back, her steps a hundred pounds heavier. The wind danced by her fingers, as if challenging her. Chase me if you dare. Raye laughed in spite of her pounding head. Perhaps she would never be a mage or bend the elements to her will- but today she had touched the wind and that was enough. 

March 09, 2022 22:47

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3 comments

Shea West
03:19 Mar 17, 2022

This was a really cool story! I loved the twist of her being half human and having to take magic lessons. The mother's confession and ending were very well written

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Michelle B.
14:21 Mar 17, 2022

Thank you so much for the feedback! :)

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Mike Panasitti
14:28 Mar 17, 2022

Thanks for sharing this piece. I outgrew elves and the fantasy genre eons ago, but I will recommend this story to younger family members. The contrast between how humans are depicted by the mother (delicate flowers/scavenging brutes) might provide a note for developing the story further.

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