The Magician's Companion

Chapter 1- The Magical Boy

Even at night, the cold northern sky was bright, illuminated by the huge sea of yellow stars splashed across the pitch black canvas. The air was brisk and chilly. The forest beneath them smelled like pine, sap, and that mushy, earthy smell that pervaded all damp and snowy forests. The fire in the woods was also bright, and licked and snapped greedily as an older, hooded boy sitting in front of it slowly fed it large pieces of wood. The boy was slouched over, with his head resting in his hands, breathing slowly and intensely. His eyes were a quiet blue, and had thick shadows hanging underneath in big dark bags. His face was gaunt and weary, but still handsome. He was obviously exhausted.

In front of the boy, a long wooden stick was hovering weightlessly over the fire, resting on nothing but air. It had a fish stuck on the end of it. After a few minutes, the young man flicked his wrist, and the stick very slowly spun, until the lighter, uncooked side was exposed to the flames.

The girl watching him felt herself shiver. The smell of cooked fish had filled the forest with a rich, meaty scent that made her mouth water with desire. She had not eaten in four days. If she had been confident, she would have simply strolled out from out of the bushes, knife in hand, and demanded that he feed her, but the boy was obviously some kind of demon, and in possession of strange powers. He frightened her terribly. If she risked taking his food, she would also risk becoming his next meal.

The girl's name was Sara. Her hair was red, and her eyes were brown. Her skin was pale, and her small, huddled body was that of a young teenager, like the boy. If she had been eating well, she might have been beautiful- as it was, she had a pretty face, but she was slender to the point of being unappealingly skinny from her poor diet. The nearest town was only a few miles off, but they had driven her, like all the beggars, away. The town she had been born in, and raised by her mother and sister, was gone.

The boy finished eating, and carefully wrapped up the remainder of the fish in a few sheets of white wax paper from his pocket. He stowed it in his bag. Then, he lay down and settled into a black sleeping bag which he had kept by the fire, and turned over, apparently done with the day and ready to sleep. Sara saw his eyes shut tight. A few minutes passed, and the sound of his soft, relaxed breathing reached her ears. He was asleep.

Seizing her chance, Sara slipped out of the bushes and crept cautiously towards the black bag in which she had seen the boy store his fish. The night was silent. The only sound she could her was her blood rushing through her ears. She reached the bag, and opened it up. The smell was glorious. She grabbed the fish, still in the paper, and scurried back over to her hiding spot behind the trees and bushes, as quickly and silently as her feet would carry her. Too impatient to wait, she slipped the wax paper off and contemplated her prize for only a moment before devouring it, bits of flesh and grease dripping down her chin.

The boy had known that he was being watched. He had been waiting for whatever it was to come out. He was wide awake. There was a sound in the bushes. The sound of white wax paper being discarded. The boy's eyes flicked open instantly, and his arms went out in front of him. There was a shriek, and the struggling body of a girl shot up out of the thicket, her eyes wide and terrified as she was suspended in the air in front of him.

"Who are you?" The boy demanded, his eyes wide and unblinking. Frightened but fierce. "Are you a Headhunter?"

"N-no I'm not." Sara frantically replied, struggling against her invisible bonds in desperation. The boy reminded her of a sick wild animal, ready to kill at any moment. "I don't even know what that is. My name's Sara. Please let me down!"

There was a silence, as he looked her over, like a hawk inspecting a mouse. "You stole my food." The boy accused.

"I did, but I'm really sorry." Sara apologized. "I haven't eaten in four days."

"In my village," said the boy, "We kill thieves." His expression was grim. "I should kill you."

"Please." Sara begged. "I was starving. I promise I won't ever do it again." She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to move even just a little bit, but the magic held her body in place. "Please let me down."

The boy regarded her coldly. "No." He said. "I know that you are a Headhunter." He informed her. "If I let you down, you will try to kill me."

"I swear I won't." Sara promised. How could she? "I'm no threat to you, honest." Her body was beginning to sway in the chilly wind, like a pendulum.

"If you're not a Headhunter," The boy said, "then why are you here in the wilderness with me?"

In despair, Sara told him her story. How less than a few weeks ago, a group of soldiers from the far south had raided her village at night, captured the people, and taken them away back south. How she had been out on the river when it happened, and how she had been able to hide in a fishing boat when they had set fire to the buildings: the only survivor. How she had been running ever since, and how, one week ago, her supplies had completely run out.

The boy listened, unperturbed. A small, pitying expression momentarily passed over his face, but it vanished quickly, replaced by a suspicious sneer. "Even if I was inclined to believe you, you're still a thief. And thievery is wrong."

This shocked Sara. "B-but if you kill me, you'll be a murderer!" She stammered. "Surely, just stealing some food isn't worth my life."

"It is." The boy said. "Especially if you're also a Headhunter." This was getting ridiculous.

"If I wanted to kill you..." Sara said, "Why would I have taken your food first?"

The boy thoughtfully considered this for a moment. "Good point."

He gave a curt nod, and the fairy magic holding Sara up started to loosen. She was roughly carried to the ground, and slammed rather than seated on a log by the fire.

"I still haven't released you." The boy warned. "Any funny stuff, and I will make your death painful. Do you understand?" Sara nodded meekly. "Good. Are you very hungry?" He asked. Sara could only nod again.

"Here." He made a slight motion with his hand, and a loaf and a large hunk of meat flew towards the girl, which she caught in trembling hands. She brought the bread to her mouth and slowly took a bite, chewed and swallowed. She gave a quiet sigh of delight.

"I knew they were going to send someone after me, but I thought they would be an adult?" The boy explained. "How old are you?"

"Sixteen." Sara replied carefully. "How old are you?" He couldn't have been much older than she was.

The boy narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "The same." He said, after a moment.

"Are you a demon?" Sara risked. Her voice was thick and sloppy from her mouthful of food. She dreaded the answer. If he was a demon, she would surely be eaten, no matter how polite he seemed now- demons were known to trick travelers into letting their guard down, and then cook and roast them while they slept. It could be that he had poisoned the food she was eating already, but she was too hungry to care.

There was a slight pause. "No. What's a demon?" The boy asked, after a beat.

This caught Sara off guard. "Um. An evil spirit, I guess. They eat humans." She said. "If you're not a demon, how did you do that magic?"

"Magic?" He was looking straight at her in curiosity.

"Yeah. Like, how you're holding me still right now." Sara said. "That magic."

The boy was quiet for a moment. Eyebrows raised. Confused, and contemplating her with a perplexed gaze.

"Can't you do it?" He asked finally, frowning is disbelief.

"No, I can't." Sara said. He leaned forward on his knees, and looked at her carefully. A look of sudden realization seemed to pass over his face, with his eyes and mouth opening wide in surprise.

"Are you a Lessling?" He asked, regarding her with a mixture of wonder and curiosity.

"A what?" Sara asked, astonished. The boy wasn't listening.

"I thought they were just a myth." He said absently, almost to himself. "To think I'd find one way out here... how could they survive... or are they all out here?"

"What's just a myth?" Sara asked, unhappy that she was suddenly the object of scrutiny.

The boy was relaxed now. Sara found she could move freely again. The bonds around her arms, legs, and body had completely dissipated. "So you're not a threat at all." The boy said, "Ha, you don't even have a proper grasp of your own mind. No real power."

He looked at Sara again. "Where are we right now, girl?" He demanded, in a tone that was suddenly condescending.

"Um, the Kingdom of Sutherland." Sara replied. The boy's face was passive. He obviously didn't recognize the name, but it obviously didn't bother him.

"Is everybody in Sutherland a Lessling?" He asked.

"You mean," Sara began,

"Can they use magic?" The boy finished.

"No." Sara said. The boy nodded, as if confirming something. This only made Sara more curious, but she tried to hold it in.

They stopped talking now, while Sara finished the bread, and took some fruit from the boy's bag, which she ate with relish. When she was finally done, she looked up at the boy, and gave him a warm grin.

"What's your name?" She asked him.

"Thomas Odysseus 2-44." He replied, looking over at her with cloudy eyes, as though just coming out of a trance.

"That's a mouthful." Sara said. That made the boy smile: weary, but it suited him. "Is there nothing else I can call you?"

He thought about it. "My friends call me Thom." He said.

Did she count as a friend? Probably not. Time to take a risk? Yes. "Are you still going to kill me, Thom?" Sara asked.

A short, awkward silence. He was considering it. "No." Thom finally replied.

Inwardly, Sara rejoiced. It may have been that he was lying to her, but she didn't think he was. There would have been no point.

"Can I sleep here tonight?" She asked, pressing her luck. Near him, she'd almost certainly be safe from wild animals.

The boy gave a careless shrug, and a large flock of twigs flew out from the wood, shooting deep into the fire, which ate them up like a hungry animal. "I suppose."

Many miles away, past the forest and the blue river that ran through it, and into the chilly mountain paths of the Nevertrack Mountains, a man sniffed the air, searching it for the scent of his prey. He was a tall man, with wild and brown hair, and dressed in a large black coat which hung past his knees. He was hunting a boy of generation 2-44, who had run away from the village. The man was not an evil man. He was only carrying out his duty. For many moons, the boy had slowly become more powerful. Too powerful. As it was, he now rivaled the heads of the Villages. It was an ancient custom that, to preserve their own freedom, the villagers purged any among them who showed the potential to overwhelm the Council. That was the fear. It was a good fear. It kept things organized, and it kept them safe. Most of those who grew too powerful recognized the problem themselves, and offered themselves up as a sacrifice to the villages, but this boy was a traitor. He had left the villages of the Blessed People, and gone to live among the Lesslings. It was an ancient sin to meet a Lessling. The Lesslings were evil and sinful. They would infect the souls of the Blessed People, and turn them away from the true path. That's why they hid from the Lesslings in their remote villages. The man sighed, and fingered the sword in his belt. When he found the boy, he would cut off his head and bring it to the High Priest, and he would adorn it on the walls of the Great Temple, where it would bring good luck and many blessings to the villagers for as long as it remained.

And done! How was it? I'm sure it wasn't great, so I'd love it if you would point out all the flaws in my storytelling. If anyone likes this, I'll probably post another chapter in a few days.