“Here he comes,” someone whispered.
I ignored the chatter as I passed through the town center, head held high. Everyone always talked about the Reapers, the ones with ‘death’ magic as they so aptly named it. Magic was pure unless it was the kind that I wielded. I couldn’t even blame people for being terrified of me but I was a child when I had come into my magic.
The sheer amount of hatred I received for it had damaged my poor innocent little soul. Instead of being able to flourish as all of the other mages had growing up, I was stuck in a corner and told not to practice my magic.
So I did what any respectable young adult would and fucked off to the forest to learn it on my own. There were very few Reapers in Risrntwood and it was frowned upon for them to hang together, not that I minded. I preferred the silence.
I continued walking until I hit the edge of the forest that surrounded the town. The magic protected our little safe haven, Risrntwood holding only one rule – No Outsiders Allowed. I had never truly figured out what the reasoning was behind it but the general fear that outsiders would tarnish our magic was the bullshit I usually received.
Not that it mattered. I wanted nothing to do with anyone that lived beyond the boundary. There was no need to find more people disappointed in me or terrified of me for what I could do. The funniest thing was the fact that my ‘death’ magic had nothing to do with killing and everything to do with an afterlife most people didn’t believe in.
My magic did not take. It guided. I was a shepherd, in a sense, helping nature to cross over peacefully. In exchange, I was rewarded with their essence, boosting my magic. Sure, there were a few other tricks I could pull off and I could forcefully steal essence if I wanted to, but that kind of magic burned.
“Whatcha doing?” Kenley sing songed as she popped up by my side. A full smile spread across her lips as she fell in step with me. Her parents strongly disapproved of our friendship, what with her being a green witch but yet again, since no one did their goddamn research, Hayden couldn’t tell them that green magic and ‘death’ magic worked best hand in hand.
Kenley nurtured life and I helped guide those who could no longer make it or who were ready to pass on. It was a symbiotic relationship, one that we rarely spoke of because people couldn’t see past the stick up their ass.
“Hey! Hayden, you in there?” She knocked on my cheek, giggling when I stopped walking, realizing that I was already halfway to my favorite clearing.
I sighed, turning around to face her, the little specks of green in her eyes lighting up. “Sorry, just a lot to think about.”
“You’re looking a little pale. Did you eat today?”
I grunted, knowing that Kenley wasn’t talking about actual food. While all of the mages in the city relied on actual sustenance, much of their energy came from their magic. Without a constant supply, they’d die just as easily as if they neglected food. The mages who freely practiced their magic never had to worry about that but I had to be subtle using mine. If anyone found out, I’d be reprimanded. Worst case scenario would be someone from town hall placing one of those magical cuffs on my wrists to prevent me from using magic at all.
Kenley dragged me farther into the forest and sat me down on the earth floor. “Stay here.” She took off down a small pathway before returning with a small chipmunk shivering in her hands. She sat down beside me, her saddened expression cutting into my heart. “The little guy is suffering. Take what you need, Hayden.”
I stared at the poor creature and shook my head. Sometimes I hated his designation. Why couldn’t I have been born as a fire mage or a metal mage like my father and older brother?
She sighed. “Hay, look at me. Look at me. I know you can hear the call of death, the same way I can hear the call of life. You try to block it out but it’s hurting you. Listen to him. He’s asking for your help. Who are you to deny that?”
I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the chipmunk as I let the whispers of the creature’s soul permeate my conscience.
It was always the same little phrases – ‘please, help me, I want to rest’. I had been running from them for so long that I could tune them out but letting that little chipmunk back in gave room for all the rest that were screaming for relief. A tear escaped, running down my cheek as I reached over to pick up the creature. I held it against my cheek, closing my eyes as I let my magic take over.
Go forth, little one, I whispered along the wind. The shivering slowed to a stop, the creature taking one last pained breath before being put to rest. I couldn’t help the sob that slipped from my lips as I held the chipmunk in my outstretched hands. This was the part that terrified everyone, the part that everyone believed was a sign that his ‘death’ magic was dangerous. In reality, it was the part that helped nature return to nature.
It was the most important part and the most surreal part of the process.
The wind picked up, swirling around the two of us, thanking me for his gift. The chipmunk’s body began to fall apart, disappearing into the air, sparkles glistening in the clearing as its flesh returned to the earth from where it came.
I drank in the energy that it provided, his magic thrumming through him. Kenley laid a gentle hand on my thigh, watching the scene with rapt attention until the clearing became still again and the serenity of nature returned.
“You alright?” Kenley asked, squeezing my thigh before standing up again.
I nodded as I pushed to my feet, letting out a deep sigh. “It’s just a lot.”
“It is. And it’s beautiful. If only everyone else could – shit, I’m sorry.” Kenley clamped her mouth shut but the damage had already been done, the memory of my first time coming back to haunt me.
I had just learned how to use my magic, that it wasn’t in opposition to everyone else’s but a way to compliment theirs. I had heard the cries of a little wolf and helped it cross over. Someone had crept up on me just as the wind was taking my gift and ran throughout the town, yelling and screaming about my ‘death’ magic. It had been almost a decade ago, but at 30, I was still reeling from the effects.
Brushing Kenley off, I stalked farther into the forest, looking for a place to disappear. My feet moved of their own accord, drawing me to the whispers of another pained soul. The sound was much deeper, and richer than the little animals and plants I usually helped. The push for help came as a chorus this time, unearthing a small circle of nature dying before his very eyes. A symbol in the middle that could only stand for death stared back at me, my heart shattering at the thought that someone wanted death so bad that they had summoned it.
Finding out who it was would be difficult, especially since there were only four Reapers in town and I was 99% it wasn’t any of us.