Three years ago, I met him. I come from a long family of mages. It was expected that I learn the art of magic and use it to benefit my family and the people around us. Though mages are widely accepted, there are a percentage of people who fear us, and thus shun us. But it doesn’t happen too often. In this world, many mystical creatures can be feared by those who do not understand who we are. I thought the same thing when I met Leon.
As I traveled in the forest close to my home, I found myself surrounded by a pack of wolves, enchanted to protect an area of land. I had wandered into an area another sorcerer had claimed and deemed it forbidden for anyone else to enter. Being a mage, I had spent much time learning defensive and offensive magic to protect myself. I was highly skilled in fire-based magic and preferred that as my method of attack.
Even with my skills though, I couldn’t protect myself from a full pack of wolves. I was trapped and was likely to die there. Having spent some time fighting off some of the beasts, I continued to run through the forest, trying to evade them. They were faster than I was though. As I ran, the air filled with drops of water as rain escaped the clouds.
I arrived at the bottom of a cliff and found no escape from the remainder of the pack. My back was against a wall as the wolves drew closer to me. I closed my eyes tight and turned away, hoping that the situation I was in would end soon.
A gust of wind blew passed me as I heard a loud thump land in between me and the wolves. I heard an inhale just before a deafening roar echoed through the woods. My eyes shot open as I looked at the back of my savior. The wolves ran away, knowing that his power was much stronger than they could handle.
He let out another breath but didn’t turn to look at me. He was a large being, with a shield on one arm and a halberd in his other hand. His armor gleamed in the rain as accents of gold connected to silver colors of iron. A bright red cape fell from his shoulders. I thought him to be a knight of nobility.
Thoroughly drenched, I clutched my arms and stayed close to the cliff wall as I waited for him to move. After a short time, I noticed his head turn. And I learned the fur that fell over his back and shoulders wasn’t part of the cape.
“Are you alright?” He asked me.
I nodded and said in a staggered breath. “Yes.”
He seemed hesitant to turn around.
“Thank you,” I began. “For saving me.”
I saw a small nod from him.
“May I see the face of the man who saved me?” I asked, feeling awkward in the situation.
“I fear you may regret that request.” He responded politely.
He paused for a moment and thought. After a short time, he lifted his halberd and brought the end down to pierce the ground, forcing it to stand. He dropped his shield against the weapon and stood straight, his back still to me. He still was hesitant to show himself to me.
Once he turned, I let out a gasp of fear and stumbled to the ground. He didn’t seem surprised at my reaction as he walked over and gently placed a hand under my arm and helped me back to my feet. Unclasping his cape, he pulled it off and draped it around my shoulders, trying to warm me from the rain.
“I warned you.” He said in a deep voice. He gave me a small smile before pointing a direction. “A mile north is a village you can find shelter and food. You don’t want to stay in these woods long.”
I stared at his face, taking in every feature. Upon a closer look, I could see that this was not his original form. He was cursed to look like a lion. The fur I originally thought was part of his cape was a mane of black. The rest of his face, and his hands were covered in a dark copper colored fur. The only semi human feature I could find in his face was his eyes. They had a normal human color, but the pupil of a feline. His left ear had a chunk missing, now scarred over and jagged. The more I looked, the more I found a man trapped in a cursed form.
I watched as he walked away and grabbed his weapon and shield before walking back into the forest. I stood there for a moment longer thinking about what had just happened. Eventually, I walked back to my village and my home, taking the time I needed to tend to my minor wounds.
That night, I was restless in my bed. My mind wandered back to the cursed man, having not learned his name. I wanted to help him, but I didn’t know the details of the curse and how powerful it was. He acted as though he had adapted to life with the curse, which told me that he had been cursed for a period of time. I needed to learn more about him before I could help him. And at the same time, I had to find him again.
I made my decision. I was going to go find him and help him with his curse. That meant I was going to travel with him as well. I would start my search the next morning. My excitement made it, so I couldn’t sleep much, but I didn’t feel the fatigue in the morning as I explained the situation to my family.
I could tell they were initially concerned for my welfare, but they didn’t stop me from packing a few essentials and left the village. I found my way back to the forest where I first met him and began to trace my steps back to the cliff. I looked over the area, trying to find a way to track him. Luckily the rain made the ground soft so, his large lion like feet left prints in the dirt. I began to follow them, hoping I would catch up to him soon.
I followed the prints to their end point and began searching for a new way to track him. I bent down and looked at the last set of prints, finding that their indenture was deeper and slightly deformed, as if he had jumped.
I looked up into the trees, squinting my eyes to see in the shadows. After a bit of searching, I was his form hidden among the branches of one of the larger trees. I crossed my arms and smiled up at him.
“You shouldn’t be here.” He stated as he jumped back down and landed with a loud thud.
“I wanted to help.” I responded, taking in once again how large he was. My head came up to about halfway of his chest.
He walked over and looked down at me. “Why are you here?”
“I may not look it, but I am a mage.” I explained. “I know you have been cursed, and I want to help you break it.”
“I’ve searched for years to find a way to end this,” he turned away from me. “I believe the only way is through the one who cursed me.”
I reached over and placed a hand on his arm. “Then let me help you find them.”
He paused for a moment and looked at me. “Just yesterday, you were terrified to look me in the face, now you ask to join me.”
“You showed me that you were not going to harm me.” I stated while pulling his cape from my bag.
He looked at the fabric before looking me in the eyes. “You don’t know me. You don’t know what danger I can pose to you.”
I bit my lip. He talked as if he had experienced this once before. I didn’t want to give up though. I knew I could help him if he just gave me a chance. Looking down at my hands, I considered my options, and was fairly certain I could protect myself if something happened. He just needed to understand that.
“I am well adept in fire magic and have skills in many other forms of magic as well. I can protect myself. I can help you.” I insisted.
He let out a short laugh. “If you could protect yourself, why didn’t you with the wolves?”
“You weren’t there at the beginning. I fought off a number of the pack. I was otherwise ambushed and couldn’t take them all at once.” I argued.
He opened his mouth to fight against my words, but his ear twitched at a sound I couldn’t hear. His head whipped around as he looked towards where the sound came. He pulled out his halberd and armed his shield.
“We’re surrounded.” He told me. “It’s the wolves again. We need to leave this forest. Stay out of the way, and you won’t be harmed during the fight.”
“I can fight.” I said as I got ready to defend.
“Don’t!” He shouted.
Before he could stop me, I lifted a protection barrier as a wolf pounced at us. His claws clashed with the magic as he fell to the ground. I dropped the barrier and began to cast spells at the wolves in my view as he fought several others.
“Duck!” He commanded.
I dropped to the ground. His halberd swung around in a circle, catching hold of the wolves as he threw them into a tree. I cast a fire ring around them, trapping them. Before they could find a way to jump out. The cursed man grabbed me and pulled me to sit on his shoulder. Taking off in a sprint, I held on as he made his way through the forest and found his way out to a field.
He came to a stop and carefully let me down onto the ground. He remained in a crouch allowing me to be at more of an eye level with him.
“It is dangerous to travel with me, mage.” He explained. “I am not only surrounded by danger, but I, myself, am dangerous to the people around me. I don’t wish to cause you harm.”
“You’ve seen me fight.” I told him. “I don’t care for the dangers. I can care for myself. I can help you.”
I noticed a cut on his arm, where the armor didn’t cover him. I reached over and lifted his arm and hovered my hand over it as I summoned the magic to heal him. A small yellow light ignited in my palm and the wound quickly closed.
He stared at the newly healed spot and let out a sigh. “You are not going to cease, are you?”
I smiled and shook my head.
He let out a sigh and stood up straight. “Very well, but I must warn you this curse has more power to it than I have ever encountered before. There have been times where I have lost myself and become more animal, posing a threat to all around me. If we can find the trigger, we can prevent it from happening.”
I nodded. “And during these travels, we can find out who did this to you.”
“That won’t be as easy as you hope.” He responded. “I am not welcomed in many villages or cities. Unlike you, who surprisingly came to find me, most shun me or even drive me out.”
“Then having me around will be a benefit. I can go where you can’t.”
He rubbed his eyes and began to walk. “I am still skeptical about this.”
“You won’t regret this.” I responded, chasing after him. “What is your name?”
Now, three years later, I have continued my travels with Leon. We have spent many hours talking and becoming the closest of friends. He has even told me that I was right, and he didn’t regret allowing me to join his travels. Though we haven’t found anything on who cursed him yet, we have been able to help many people as we made our way through many kingdoms. Little did I know that the biggest part of our story would take place in our travels after this point. And the biggest danger wasn’t from the people around us, but from Leon, and my affections for him.