A Different Kind of Magic
The rider plodded along the dusty path, rocking steadily to the beat of his horse. Dunes of pale sand swirled around him like the tides of some ocean frozen in time, stretching as far as the eye could see in all directions. As the sun blazed overhead, Abram reared up on a ridge and looked out on those never- ending plains. “This is our world now,” he thought. “And it is dying.”
It had not always been that way. There was once a time when rivers flowed through those valleys like blood through veins, and rain showered the land, but now it was tears that watered those fields and magic was to blame. Magic had been everywhere, the whisper in the wind that breathed life into the trees each spring, or the twinkle in a newborn’s eye. It was the very spark of life itself, hanging heavy in the air like a summer storm. Now it was gone, and Abram would not rest until he found the man who stole it. A man he used to call a brother.
The thought left a bitter taste in his mouth, something he was used to nowadays, and after he spat and pulled the wide brim of his hat down low to shield his eyes, Abram took off again with a quick switch of the reins. His horse raced along the narrow trail that snaked through the hills, a path walked by many before him. They had all been searching for the same thing: salvation in this dying world. He was looking for something else, however, something he knew might be gone forever, but he had to know. Was magic really gone forever, and if not, could the world ever recover from the traitor’s wrath?
The day magic disappeared was one he would not soon forget, every time he blinked, the scenes were burned on his eyelids. It seemed so long ago, yet sometimes it felt as if it was only yesterday. He slowed the mare to a trot as he fell even deeper into thought, and suddenly the dying world of today faded to black,and the world of yesterday came into full view.
“Hello, Abram.” A man dressed in black said as he approached the altar of the Citadel. He stepped over the bodies of his sworn brothers carefully, so as to not get blood on his knee-high leather boots.
“What have you done, brother? You’ve killed them all.” Abram said, his eyes darting between the traitor and the bodies scattered throughout the hall in bloodied heaps. There had once been an ancient order charged with the protection of magic, the spellslingers, but now it would seem the order was quite dead. Abram looked at the man responsible, searching for any measure of the man he once knew, but in that moment he was unrecognizable.
“Can’t you see? Now we have it all, you and me. You were always my favorite, Abe. The others were so strict and so controlling, but now we can do whatever we want.” The man in black tried to explain, but the only person he was making any sense to was himself. “Come on, brother.”
“Don’t call me that.” The words were sour on his tongue, and there was a sudden burn in his chest that he hoped was courage. His hand moved to the gun at his hip and was met with the cool sting of steel and the faint hum of magical power, they were the spellslingers, after all. “You’re no brother of mine, sir. Leave now, Stranger, or die for your crimes.” Abram’s words were firm, but inside his soul was shaking; and with that the Stranger left, gone like the evening sun.
As the world of today slowly came back into focus, Abram cursed himself for not killing the Stranger when he had the chance. He supposed he still had too much love for the man. After that day, the Stranger disappeared without a trace somewhere into the desert. It wasn’t until word of the first massacre reached Abram that he began his pursuit, and he’d been on his trail ever since. He was the last of that fallen order, a lone rider out to save the world, but that was not going to stop him. The world needed magic, and he needed to make things right and do what he should have done so long ago.
The sun had begun to creep towards the western horizon by the time Abram came back to reality, and what waited for him turned his stomach into knots. Black smoke rose in thick plumes in the distance, staining the skies a menacing grey. It could only mean one thing, another raid, and this time he was close. Magic might be gone, but there were still plenty of artifacts capable of summoning great powers, and the Stranger would not rest until he had found each and every one. Abram had been mere hours behind him the last time, and it seemed the day of reckoning had come.
Driving his spurs hard into the mare, he took off towards the smoke, and before long, the rolling sand dunes gave way to a small market town stained with innocent blood. The carnage was undeniable. Bodies littered the streets like trash thick with flies, and blood gathered in puddles even though it hadn’t rained in years. The buildings lay in smoldering heaps, and the stench was so wretched it threatened to choke him then and there, but he found no sign of the Stranger. “How could someone do something like this?” he thought. Abram could not say, but power is a dangerous thing, and it makes dangerous people.
As he led his horse carefully through the massacre, he kept his eyes on the setting sun, distracting himself with the last beautiful thing left on the planet. He needed to get moving; the Stranger couldn’t be far, and there was nothing he could do for this place now. His hand once again moved to the gun at his hip, it still buzzed with some hidden power, though it grew weaker by the day. Abram drew the weapon and spun the chamber until a single shining bullet fell into his palm. This was the source of the power, and without the gun to contain it, the metal vibrated his bones. It was spell forged steel, the preferred method of a spellslinger, and it was all the magic he had left in this world.
He reloaded the gun and returned it to the holster, he would need that little bit of magic for the Stranger. He only hoped it would be enough. As he reached the edge of town, the carnage finally subsided, and at the end of the street stood a single log cabin, untouched by the magical fire that swept through it like a storm. It was quite strange, and before Abram could decide to investigate, a crash from within made the decision for him. He dismounted and raced inside, gun in hand.
The cabin was a single room, empty save for a closet door on the far wall, and unless he was mistaken, there were whispers to be heard. He approached with deliberate, silent steps, and reached for the door knob with his free hand. It creaked in protest as he turned it open, but it was not the Stranger who waited for him on the other side, it was a wounded woman and a small child.
“Please . . . you have to help . . . my Elizabel . . .” The woman said in strained gasps, the blood on her dress suggested she had been bleeding for quite some time. The girl cowering beside her looked up at Abram with tortured eyes, they were eyes that should not belong to a child so young, but the world was a cruel place.
“I’m very sorry, ma’am, but I’m on a mission of sorts, and it is not the kind of place for a child.” Abram said, though he couldn’t shake the feeling he was trying to convince himself more than the woman. “You see, I’m going to bring magic back, for everyone.”
He thought it was a fair response, the woman disagreed, and suddenly a fury burned in her eyes brighter than any magical fire. “Magic? Magic won’t help me when I’m dead. It won’t help my girl when she starves after I’m gone, either. You are a fool, sir, a fool, if you cannot see that magic is never truly gone, even now. Look around, look at the sunset, watch the stars at night, magic is all around us. Now please, let my Elizabel see it for herself.” With that the woman’s shoulders sagged, and she seemed mortal once more.
Abram looked at the girl and saw that twinkle in her eye, perhaps it was true. Had he been a fool, and if so, for how long? He holstered his gun and took a deep breath, he knew what he had to do. When he reached down to gather the child in his arms, the woman grasped his arm with all her remaining strength.
“Thank you, sir.” She said, and the last bit of light faded from her eyes as she shut them on this world.
With Elizabel in tow, he left the village, covering the child’s eyes anytime they passed an unpleasant sight. Once they were far enough away that the sky was unblemished by the smoke, they stopped to make camp for the night. It was the last thing he expected to happen that day, though maybe, just maybe, it was the best thing that could’ve happened. Then he had an idea.
For one last time, he drew the pistol from his hip to examine the spell forged bullet, and after a silent goodbye, he loaded it into the chamber and pointed it at the sky.
“Watch this,” Abram told the girl, and with a pull of the trigger, the heavens lit up with bursts of bright blues and vivid violets. He had seen many magical sights, but for the first time in his life Abram saw a different kind of magic. The beauty of life was everywhere, but it had never been clearer than in that little girl’s smile.
Isaac is an aspiring writer living in the Chicagoland area. He is studying creative writing at Waubonsee Community College, where he is currently the editor-in-chief of their literary magazine Horizons. “A Different Kind of Magic” may have been his debut into the literary world, but it was only the beginning.