This is the second story I submitted for the Los Angeles County Library Summer Contest. It didn’t win. I think I like it more than the one that did win, but I have always been a sucker for magic. So, what do you think?
I’ve held fire in my hand, captivated by its beauty and validated by its power. I’ve felt it sear my flesh in agonizing waves of triumph. I’ve swelled with maniacal pride as the flames, enthralled by my command, tasted the air in licks and lashes. I’ve smiled in purest pleasure as I unleashed it upon my enemies to watch them dance away to ash.
That was all before, in what I have come to feel was my previous life.
It is as if I have lived two very different lives. First, I was a power-hungry wizard intent upon destroying all who dared to stand in my way of becoming the greatest to ever live. My thirst for new spells and artifacts was unquenchable. My hunger for power insatiable. I feasted on all I could find and honed myself and my craft until I was the finest sorcerer in the land.
When I was at the pinnacle of my talent, witches and wizards challenged me to duels to try to dethrone me. These were dealt with, not always easily but dealt with nonetheless. Others, too insecure in their craft or timid in their pursuit of knowledge, came to try to learn from me instead. These I turned away. I would not freely give away what had cost me my life to obtain.
I was feared and respected. I was invincible and immortal. I was everything I had ever wanted to be. And, yet, then I was shown that I had only really become everything I had thought that I wanted to be. My dream had been incomplete. There was something else, something more, that I ended up wanting even more.
She arrived on my doorstep, the friend of a friend, and, in those days, I had few enough of the latter to turn any away. She was no magician but she had her own magic to be sure. She was a temptress.
She didn’t mean to be. But she was. Every bit. And I was every bit tempted as well. In short order, the temptress turned into a companion, and a companion to a lover, and a lover to a wife.
Then came a family, one child and then a second, and those responsibilities trumped my other desires. In those early days, the magic was never far from my thoughts, of course. Having tasted its power before, I would never be rid of the want and the need for more. But my love for my wife and our children was equally strong, and putting their needs above my own was easy.
There is, I found, a certain magic to a child’s laugh and the way they bounce with joy when being held. I also found a certain magic in giving myself to another person completely, just as I had given myself to my craft. And there is a certain magic in helping someone become greater than they were before.
I hadn’t understood that, obviously, when I’d turned away all those magicians. Helping them would have helped myself as well. I had missed those opportunities. I did not, and do not, miss the chances I have to raise my children up.
It has been wonderful to watch them grow into magic on their own. Both children are blessed with the gift to some degree. How much will not be determined for many years, as is normal. For now, I am delighted by their wide-eyed retelling of the minor things they accomplish through their will or accidentally through their rampant emotional outbursts. Children will be children, and with magical children that means that tantrums can be rather extraordinary and rather destructive, to their delight.
Preventing what I could and undoing the damages I couldn’t contain in time, have kept me well enough versed in my own craft. Plus, I have found it comforting on occasion to read through my scrolls and tomes to keep the magic fresh in my mind and blood, even if I’m not using it nearly as much as I once was or to anywhere near the same purpose. The thrill of use remains unchanged. If anything, the thrill has intensified because I am using it for those I love.
As for my enemies, those who were still alive before I became a family man, they have been around here and there over the years. Early on, some, emboldened by my absence, took strides to supplant me to become recognized as the greatest to ever live and practice the art of magic. I have noted their progress and, should they grow powerful enough and, perhaps, paranoid enough to think they must challenge me to really get what they are after, I will deal with them. Or someone else will.
My stepping aside created a vacuum in which the lesser magicians have scrambled for control and, in their jealous and hungry squabbles, have mostly just caused their own demise. They fight amongst themselves and plot and plan for their own gains without ever really achieving anything great. Perhaps the younger generations no longer have the stomach for what must really be done, what must really be sacrificed for the craft. I do not know, nor do I care as long as they leave my family alone.
Thankfully, none have been foolish enough to move against me directly in all these years. They either figure I am retired, or no longer a threat, or both. Perhaps I am retired in a way. I certainly no longer crave the power of new spells with the jealous fervor that once gripped my waking moments and my most vibrant dreams. The hours and days I once spent researching, obtaining, studying and perfecting new spells is now spent nurturing my loved ones. My dreams involve lifting my children to their greatest heights.
For the most part.
The odd dream still fills me with the sense of fulfillment that comes with the mastery of a spell and the dance that follows, almost always circling back to flickering flames weaving through my fingertips and reaching out from my upraised palm. I smile as I watch the oranges and reds waltz across my flesh before turning my hand upon a deserving foe. My breathing goes ragged with excitement. My eyes fly wide with anticipation. And then… And then I invariably wake.
My breathing quickly returns to normal, and my eyes are usually only half open as I struggle from the depths of the dream. No fire encircles either of my hands. The smile, however, remains, for my wife is still beside me and, in the quiet darkness, I can hear the sleepy stirrings of my children. Everything is as it should be. Everything is as I want it to be.