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Fires of Hope
By Emmanuelle El Maafer
"The secret is fire, okay? You must master it because it’s yours. Modulate it to make it as fierce as a blazing fire stoked by high winds at noon; or keep it like the flame of a candle in a silent night."
My students were already deserting the hall, my last bit of advice sinking into total nothingness. I sighed. A sour feeling of disillusionment was dawning in my belly, but I pulled myself together and shook my head to clear my elf face from my long hair. Well, if these people didn’t want to learn how to fly I shouldn’t take it personally. They were going to my classroom, working more or less obediently at the exercises I gave them, and then paying me. None to report. Of course their lack of will caused their irreparable return, since they were still not flying, and, as a result, my salary increased. Nevertheless it had never been a goal for me to do this for the pecuniary remuneration. What mattered to me was that everyone could spread their wings.
All dedicated to my daydreams I began to gather and store the material, closing the books and putting them back in the library’s complicated filing system, when I heard the door open. An inner smile warmed my heart. One of my students had probably realized that no one can rise without putting a bit of a righteous anger into it. Or was he trying to regain an inner peace and asking himself to do so?
To be quite honest this arrival also irritated me somewhat, because it was late, I was tired, and I longed to regain my comfortable and calm den. I nevertheless composed an affable and professional expression, gently put the hourglass back on the low table, and turned around.
It was to my surprise to find in front of my rounded eyes of astonishment a perfectly unknown face!
The man smiled at me nicely, greeted me emphatically, taking off his headgear, and sketching an elegant reverence. After that, he took his place directly on one of the chairs – the most mellow one, I could not help but notice it and think that it was someone of good taste – but it did not seem to me to be intrusive or rude in the slightest. Truth be told, a strange impression accompanied this curious gentleman who filled the whole room with an imposing and warm aura. My impatience to leave the place had vanished, leaving room for a most lively curiosity.
I was assessing my future student’s potential. But even before I had time to think about reminding him that he had to go to my secretary to get the registration forms, I knew he did not need a lesson at all.
I was adamant, but soft. "You don’t need to learn how to fly, you already know how to do it brilliantly."
He radiated something elusive from my unknown, yet I had to confess not to standing on my guard as usual when I meet new people. I’m a very suspicious person. And reserved. But today, watching the gentleman comfortably seated in front of me, charming and screwed into the plump cushions, it seemed I’d known him forever. It was like seeing an old friend, one of these friends of forever, one of these who have always been so present that they become indivisible from your existence, and as comforting as a rhubarb pie from granny.
My intuition told me he might be headstrong so I was preparing to give him a great speech about the splendor of his wings and the dire lack of space in my schedule; however, something in his gaze made me mute. As if he already knew perfectly everything I could say. So I decided to sit next to him. I felt perfectly at ease and felt as if I could smell a fleeting aura of spice in the air when he opened his mouth to speak his first words.
"Are you coming? I need you."
I crossed my arms and bent my head sideways, mentally repeating these curious words. I did not even care to correct the familiar tone, as my amazement at this individual fantasy was great.
"Huh? Where? What do you mean? You know you don’t need me to learn how to fly."
"Indeed. But what about you? Can’t you see that to let others fly, you get bogged down?"
He cast an eloquent glance at my figure, which made me look down. I was indeed into the ground to the waist, at the navel. The shiny parquet, the fine white and fluffy carpet, all these objects that should have legitimately stood under my feet surrounded and totally enclosed my legs and hips.
"It’s because I give a lot of myself to help my students."
"And that’s why you have to come with me, I have something to show you."
My sense of reason prompted me not to leave with this stranger, but my sense of adventure quivered with curiosity and impatience to discover what it was all about. Besides, I’ve never been the type to let myself be dictated by the reluctance. Moreover, there was something emanating from this man, something that deserved my trust, something that suggested to me that there was a bond between us. Had it just been created when our two auras came into contact with one another when we were finally reunited in the same room? Or was it always there, nestled inside our souls like the nucleus in the fruit, indissociable, one that cannot exist without the other, one growing the other, and did only reveal today?
I stood up smiling, nodding my head, and reaching out to him. He gently grabbed my hand and the landscape around us blurred before disappearing. My eyes barely had time to discern a purple and luminous halo before the walls and furniture of my classroom were replaced by a dark and cramped alley.
"Oh, you’re already dragging me down a lonely little street, man, it's fast! You are a such a romantic!"
My remark made him laugh, then he shook his head in a sign of denial, indicating to me that I had nothing to fear and that this was not the subject. Although he had no need to defend himself because I well suspected that it was not a brigand plan.
That said, he hadn’t let go of my hand.
"Get ready, they’ll be here soon."
"But … what should I do?"
I did not get an answer, for the shadows of several silhouettes were seen on the asphalt. I felt the magic crackling around my companion and it almost took my breath away. The magic was very strong in him. There stood by me a true sorcerer, capable of prowess I could not even dream of! What could I do for him. I, who was just a flight teacher? Casting spells were simply beyond my abilities.
My cheeks began to blush and my brain to mist. I’m not someone with a knack for action. When it's necessary to react quickly, I am paralyzed: the motionless deer staring with her big eyes at the headlights of the car that is about to overthrow her.
And then I saw the enemies. They looked like big, greasy, oily insects standing on too many hind legs, and many others along their fat bodies. Their appearance repulsed me as much as the toxic aura that surrounded them.
Everything happened very fast, too fast. They were on us. The wizard unleashed his powers. A large purple wall, as transparent as it seemed hard, stood between us and the creatures. They bounced on it and groaned in frustration. I panicked. The insects soared above the ground and remained there, hovering with a dumbfounded expression. My confusion was as great as theirs, though I had full awareness that their levitation was my doing. The magician worked again. He threw the filthy beasts on the wall, which broke into a myriad of sharp pieces, cutting their reflections and trapping them in the glass. The insects disappeared in the rain of sharp fragments that poured over them.
My companion had a satisfied smile, the expression of a job well done, as I began to mope, wondering why he thought he needed me. I had shown no use.
"Are we going to eat something now?" he said with a complicit wink.
I stammered in the affirmative and that’s how I ended up dining in a brewery with a man I had just met. Me – who never allowed anyone to approach me. We took the time to savor our burgers and fries, with beer to make all this go down, because we were having a big discussion. The words fell from our lips quite naturally and we deviated many things and others, all matters mingling, our tastes, our past, last gossips, our hopes, and our problems. We constantly opened new subjects, then returned to a precedent, completing it, adding a parenthesis, without ever getting lost in the meanderings of our minds. It turned out that we understood each other very well and that we were similar in many ways. Laughter was present at our table.
Like a tiny animal poking in its muzzle, the subject of magic came back.
"What were those ugly beasts?" I asked him.
"Oh … that …" His eyes became serious, and his hesitation began to worry me, when he pursued with a slow voice. "There is an evil eye on you, and those beasts are the physical manifestations."
"But I’ve never seen them before in my life!"
"But they were there from the beginning. Only, you hadn’t see them yet."
"And what changed then?"
"I have the ability to detect this kind of spell. My presence will help you see more clearly, too. But everything was already inside you, I’m just helping you a little."
"It wasn’t me who was supposed to help you, buddy?"
Yes, I had decided he was now my friend from the first bite of the burger.
My new friend replied with a mysterious smile. I resumed the conversation with a new question, hating to repeat myself in my questions for something I had already asked just before. "How is it? Clairvoyance, a magical super wall, you’re too good!"
"But no," he humbly replied, but his eyes were sparkling. "Besides, you have as much magic in you as I do, you are just as competent. Of that I am convinced. "
I thanked him warmly for his confidence and our discussions continued. According to him, bad shadows were weighing on me and we were going to get rid of them together, a team of two. He explained to me that I was the only one who could break my curse. He was going to help me track down the bugs, trap them and weaken them, but the final point was mine. He would teach me to increase my faculties, but the filthy beasts would lose all their power over me only when I would be able to see through them, like him, and fire them forever.
My head was spinning after all these discoveries and I felt the need to give myself some time to think and assimilate all that. Fascinated and overwhelmed at the same time, I took leave of my new partner. My sleep that night was deep and refreshing.
It was a few days before I saw my new friend again. I was now trying to take advantage of the knowledge I learned from him and to teach my students to spread their wings without bogging me down. I could see again my waist above ground. I wanted to see the magician again because I already fully appreciated what he was in essence, but even if our paths were never to cross again, the lesson I had learned from our meeting was precious: we can help others without taking anything away from ourselves, giving without sacrificing.
Fortunately, our paths crossed again. He showed up one evening at the end of my classes dressed in purple. I conceived a great joy and was not surprised, for I knew that we were bound and therefore destined to see each other again. In addition, we had agreed on a certain night to kick some villain's butt around some feast and drinks, and such sworn oaths cannot be broken.. As we fell into each other’s arms, he declared to me that I was ready to face the curse. And I believed him. A newly born trust dwelt in me.
"To carry out our mission, we need you to be in a place where you feel confident. At your place, for example."
I spared him the bad flirt joke this time and I brought him to my humble abode. A very small apartment which I had occupied alone since the death of my feline companion. The sweetest black cat in the world had supported me for fifteen years, leaving a big void that would not easily fill,
The voice of the wizard took me from my thoughts.
"Magic does not work as we imagine it in our wildest dreams. Although I am able to manifest certain elements such as the famous wall you saw the other day, I concede to you easily, most of the time, it happens differently. We’re not gonna throw a fireball at your monsters to defeat them."
He took my hand. "Everything will be in your mind and in your heart."
On the way, he introduced me to the basics of his arcane abilities, enlightening me on the questions of spells and exorcism of monsters. There would be no bright flashes, glittery clouds, and even less magic formulas to apply to the letter or articulate carefully. The important thing for this to work is to think sincerely about every word that comes out of my mouth, without trying to play on words. He had finished his speech when we came to my door. I invited him inside, offered him to sit where he wanted to, and went to prepare some tea. Might as well be hydrated if the insects showed the tip of their antennae. When I was back in my small living room, teapot and cups in hand, sugar pot under my arm, I was surprised to find that he had gathered various objects on the glass coffee table: an hourglass; book; plush, dragon figurine; paint pot; pen; and one of my blouses decorated with moon crescents and stars.
"It takes seven channels for your magic. It’s very important!"
"I see that you like the number seven as much as purple, my dear!" I replied, smiling and a little indecisive to determine if this was one of his eccentricities or a very serious plan to ward off the evil eye. "Would you like some tea, my friend?"
"Yes, please! Tell me, do you have cinnamon?"
"For the spell?"
"No, for the tea!"
I nodded while laughing and served the steaming drink before returning to the kitchen to get my Cannelle powder jar. We savored our tea, then my guest placed the seven objects in a circle on the floor, on my carpet. He explained to me that I had the power to make insects appear when I wanted since, he reminded me, it was only physical representations of the evil spell that never left me anyway. For now, he gave me an encouraging wink. I was deeply inspired. I was ready. With the purple mage at my side, I felt capable of anything.
The insects materialized in front of us, threefold. Their appearance seemed even more repugnant to me than the previous time. Adipose, an abnormal number of legs, and small eyes in which the malice, the bitterness, and the jealousy shone.
They were ugly but they didn’t scare me. That’s all they were: simple bugs of disproportionate size. Creatures that inspired only pity… easy to banish. In the center of my circle of channel-objects designed by the purpleness wizard, I was determined to look straight into theirs eyes. I began to levitate above the floor.
"You no longer have any power over me. Not only do I not need you, but I also chase you away. Go. You don’t exist."
It was precisely at that moment, while the beasts fainted away forever and the evil eye that weighed upon me faded, that I perceived the other curse. The one which was clasping the wizard. I saw it clearly, this myriad of unhealthy pairs of eyes swarming behind him. I understood two things: I now possessed the gift, as he had predicted it, and I would also help him defeat the monsters that were trying to weaken him, vampirise him, destroy him. It also occurred to me that it was perhaps this that he wanted to show me, at our first meeting, when he burst into my classroom, upsetting the trajectory of my life: his wounds. Not only mine.
He wanted to show me that we could stand shoulder to shoulder. Together, both of us, cast out demons and protect each other. We were now an unwavering team, an inseparable duo of magicians capable of triumphing over evil.
Copyright © 2020 by Emmanuelle El Maafer. About the author: Born near Paris in the late 1980s, Emmanuelle studied literature in La Sorbonne. She has always lived in her own mind, although she's lighthearted and appreciates going out. Imagination runs through her veins and she can't consider breathing without fantasy, magic, or enchantment in her daily life. Emmanuelle devours books in any genre: literature, fantasy, scifi, philosophy. She's nuts about J.R.R Tolkien, Robin Hobb, Haruki Murakami, and many others. As a little child, she used to tell stories to her aunt, and when she learned to write it was the first step on her journey to give life to her creations. Her mind never stopped producing worlds and characters, and now she's eager to share what dwells in her spirit!