This story is by Jasmine Schnurpel and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A scarred fist slammed against the counter, causing the adolescent behind it to flinch “I don’t need your stupid elixir!” the man exclaimed, offended by the implication.
Lena forced herself to keep smiling like a good little saleswoman “Of course, sir! This potion would be more of an enhancement.” He’d been interested in it until the boy behind him caused this mess.
“I’m strong enough as is!” the mercenary didn’t give her a chance to respond before turning to leave.
“Wow, so confident!” Aedan nodded, messy hair already going right back in front of his eyes. He seemed to not even realize he helped ruin that sale. “Well, since he won’t be needing it…!” The stable hand downed the potion without missing a beat.
“No!” Lena jumped over the counter, attempting to stop the gullible boy from dooming himself. She rammed into him, knocking them both to the ground in the process, but it was already too late.
The empty vial shattered beside them. “Lena, don’t worry! I won’t let my new strength go to my head,” he promised, moving to stand. “Even if I can defeat dragons now.”
“What? It wasn’t a strength potion!” the glare returned. “Those monsters destroyed our home! Why would I help them?!” It was something she never thought she’d have to explain. Aedan knew what these men had been doing! He’s the one that saved her from them!
“Wait. You’ve been poisoning people?”
Lena opened her mouth to argue, but changed her mind once Aedan’s youthful face started sprouting hair. They didn’t have time to discuss this! “We need to leave.” She grabbed his arm, leading him out of the shop.
“Lena, what did I drink?”
She didn’t face him. Instead she turned a corner, making her way to the stables. “An aging potion.”
His silence lasted mere moments before, “You have magic. Can’t you—”
“I haven’t practiced in years.” She’d always worried about being seen, a fear that stayed with her even as she got to know the humans. “And… healing never came easy to me.” Her own failings at using magic weren’t something she enjoyed talking about to the one person that admired her abilities.
When they reached the stables, there was only one horse waiting for them, but Lena doubted it would have much trouble carrying them both. She mounted first, while Aedan stared. “First poisoning, now stealing?”
“Lecture me later, alright? We don’t have long and there aren’t any decent healers in human cities.” She led the horse away from the town, catching the attention of a few guards along the way. Taking a horse belonging to the baroness may have been rash, Lena realized, as the guards were quick to notice the theft.
The ride was far from quiet with the shouting guards and Aedan’s occasional groans as his body aged, but Lena was at a loss for words. The only healers that had been close to the city were driven away years ago, so the best information she had on the mages was a mercenary’s rumor of a settlement near Galdale. It would be at least a day’s ride, but if they could lose their pursuers, Lena was confident they’d make it.
The guards showed no signs of stopping, their horses’ pounding hooves becoming louder as they drew near. “Stop, thieves!” one man shouted, but Lena raced on. With each passing second, the armored men grew closer and her friend grew older.
An arrow flew past, grazing Lena’s shoulder, and spooked the mare. She whinnied and kicked while the young mage attempted to calm her without getting thrown off. Out of all the abilities magic users have, a calming effect on beasts was never one Lena thought she’d need, but she was grateful for it. The horse was now calm beneath her, but danger neared as the guards closed the gap.
After years of living without magic, she knew attempting to use it in a fight against armed warriors was a bad idea, but she was running out of both time and options. Fire came easiest to Lena, but she’d no intention of killing them. Instead, she relied on her surroundings. Long tendrils of grass began climbing up the legs of the guards’ mounts, tightening around their calves and causing panic. They reared and bucked, trying to break free only to end up throwing their riders, now trapped in the grass as well.
“Good. Let’s go.” The magic would wear off soon and she didn’t want to be around when it did.
“You shouldn’t have done that, Lena.”
She rolled her eyes, “I didn’t have a choice. We don’t have time to go back.”
“No, I mean… they won’t let you go back home now.”
Lena was aware of the consequences and, while she enjoyed her life there, she wouldn’t trade Aedan for it. “That’s fine.” she muttered, “If this can all lead to saving you, then it was worth it. Think of it as repayment.”
For a time, they rode in silence, broken only by quiet groans of pain as Aedan’s body matured further. Lena could think of no words to comfort him. He was the talkative one, always going on about weird stories or adventures he’d read about. The quiet was disturbing.
The plains turned to forests and the moon replaced the sun before Lena saw the faint glow of fire ahead. She urged the mare onward, they were so close! As the mount rushed into the unknown, they almost rammed right into the campfire.
“Whoa!” Lena pulled back on the reigns to stop the horse. She looked around to see small brown huts and tents, as well as a crowd of shocked onlookers sitting around a large fire.
She jumped from the horse, but just as she did a vine sprung from the ground, wrapping itself around her leg to keep her still. Lena glanced at the plant, then to Aedan and gasped. His once brown hair was now grey, reaching his lower back, and covered his eyes, now a milky white instead of the hazel Lena was used to.
“Who are you?” an old woman questioned, pulling the girl from her thoughts.
“I’m Lena. This is Aedan.” She motioned to him, “We need your help.”
The woman’s eyes darted between the two. “Help?” She repeated, suspicion clear in her tone.
Lena explained the situation as quick as possible, knowing they were running out of time. It took some convincing, but the woman was easier to persuade after learning Lena was a mage as well. With that settled, the two followed her to the healer’s hut nearby.
“Lay him flat.” The woman ordered before calling out to one of the mages, “Clio, dear, we’ve need of you.”
The girl rushed over, getting a quick summary before shooing away the both of them. A faint yellow glow surrounded her palms, hovering over Aedan’s chest, but the moment of calm led to cries of pain. His heavy breathing grew ever louder as Clio tried calming him, to no avail.
Lena watched in silence as Aedan’s features aged to the point of looking skeletal. The healer’s quiet groans of frustration did nothing to calm Lena’s nerves. She tried to keep from speaking, from moving, lest she make things worse. Her hands were fists at her side, nails digging into her palms as she watched.
When the shallow breaths ceased, Lena froze. She watched him, waiting for any sign of change or movement.
“I-I’m so sorry.” Clio’s voice was small and Lena had no doubt of her sincerity, but that didn’t make her feel any better. “The poison had spread too far, if he made it here just a bit earlier…”
Lena spun to face the healer, the anger and blame replacing the dread. “Earlier…?” the girl repeated, “Maybe if you were the least bit competent—”
“Clio did what she could, girl.” The older woman cut in, “He was half dead when you arrived. We aren’t miracle workers.”
“You…” she trailed off, fists clenched. She couldn’t argue, couldn’t admit to thinking mages were all-powerful when they just proved otherwise.
The group was kind enough to hold a funeral for him, despite his human origins. Lena was the only one who spoke, as few had knowledge of human funeral rights and none of those in attendance knew Aedan. Those with skill for fire magic offered their assistance with cremation, but Lena insisted on doing it herself. She did, however, accept their help carrying him to a clearing where she was left to say her goodbyes.
“I’m sorry.” was all she could manage. Lena had always been terrible at goodbyes, never sure what to say. After the death of her parents, it was Aedan that helped her move on. He made a human village seem like home and, while he disagreed with her methods, he remained by her side. “Easier to nag at close range.”, he’d say. Now he was gone and Lena, for the first time, was alone.