Green or Red? – A Short Story
“So with the simple shift of color, green or red, you can summon the magic of healing or of destruction.”
Faline watched the master pace across the front of the lecture room, his white robes trailing behind.
“It is best that you stick with the standard symbology. In the end, the only thing that really matters is what it means to you. The magic will coalesce around your thoughts, your intentions. But the symbology is a simple means of focusing that intention.”
Most wizards got into the craft because of their grand imaginations, a benefit when it came time to cast spells. Spells–magic made manifest–were created through the meaning in a wizard’s thoughts. The magic knew what you were thinking and its effect was drawn from the meaning in your mind. Faline had trouble making images appear in her mind.
She had grown up on a farm, a life centered on practicality and realism. Most of her peers at the academy were Highborn who had never worked a day in their lives. They passed their time in daydreams, whereas Faline had needed to live in the moment. She wondered how she had managed to make it this far.
When the lecture finished, Faline gathered her books, brushed off her simple blue novice robes, and left the hall. She headed off towards the large campus gates and the cluster of restaurants and inns just beyond. She wanted a cup of tea. That was something real, something practical. She knew what to expect with tea.
The golden campus doors were opened wide, a sweet breeze passing through them. Faline nodded to the armored guard who stood watch outside the gate. She thought she glimpsed a twinkle in the handsome young man’s eye. The rise of his nose, the sharpness of the lines in his chin—that was practical. She gripped her books tight to her chest as she passed, hoping he wouldn’t see the uncontrolled smile on her face.
She had managed so far to cast the few basic spells that were part of the exams, but the healing spells were particularly difficult. They were too abstract. Fire was hot and red; that was easy to grasp. It left her wondering if she was fit to be a wizard.
She entered one of the cafes and took her regular seat, back against the wall and close to the bar. There was a window there that was the right angle so that you could see out into the street but the sun didn’t encroach on your comfort. There were only a couple other people in the room. A cup of steaming black tea was brought to her table without her asking.
Faline opened her textbook and started reading over the standard symbology again. Green for healing spells–a shard shape for anti-venoms, a square for mending flesh. Red for fire–a line for a spout of flame, circle for a fireball. It was all about simplifying the images in your head and assigning them a specific meaning, a desired effect. But why a square for mending?, she wondered.
Faline’s head shot up as a pain-ridden scream came from the kitchen. She heard the deep voice of the cafe’s owner shouting in panic. She stood and ran to the bar.
“Is everything alright, Nerian?” she shouted to the owner.
“Orva cut herself,” the man yelled. “She’s bleeding badly. Can you run for help?”
Faline panicked. She didn’t know where to go for help. And the cafe was now empty except for her. What could she do? She shook her hands, fussing, searching around for an answer. But I am a wizard after all. A novice at least…
She lifted herself over the bar and dashed into the kitchen. She saw Orva, the man’s thirty-something daughter, on the floor in a pool of blood. It flowed from her wrist like wine. The woman’s breathing was labored and uneven.
Faline had seen blood before–quite often, in fact–on the farm. With such an extreme wound, you had to do something to control the bleeding or the animal would go into shock, or even die. The method you used depended wholly on the situation.
She thought back to her magical training. She knew some healing spells, but wasn’t sure they would be strong enough for such a deep laceration. And she often failed in casting them. Is there any other option? Sometimes, if time was short, her father used a hot iron to cauterize an animal’s wound. It was crude and painful, but effective.
Those were her choices, green or red. Healing or fire. She grabbed Orva’s hand and pulled it close, eyeing the oozing wound. She raised her other hand with two fingers extended. In her mind she pictured a thin line with a sharp point, giving it a bright red tint. Then she released the spell.
A tiny spout of hot flame erupted from her fingers, singeing the woman’s skin. The air sizzled and cracked, filled with the scent of burned flesh and the echo of the woman’s screams. Orva pulled her hand away in pain. When she dropped it down again in exhaustion, Faline saw the bleeding had stopped.
“What made you think to do that?” Nerian asked.
“I don’t know,” Faline lied. It was probably better she not mention her experience with farm animals.
“Thank you,” Orva said, the words coming slow and hard, as if huge boulders needing to be heaved.
“Let’s get you to a bed,” Nerian said to the weakened woman. He turned back to Faline, a half-smile on his old face.
“This is a debt I can never repay…I think you will make a fine wizard someday. And you will always be welcome under this roof.”
The old man’s praise filled Faline with warm pride. She realized this success had been as much the result of her unique experience as her spellcasting skill. Maybe there is more to being a wizard than just symbology.