Author's Note: I consider this a fairly light hearted story, but it does deal with heavier themes such as PTSD, panic attacks, passive suicidal ideation, and past acts of homophobia. Rated M for consenting adult sex scene later on.
Drexel sighed. His misty purple robes rose and fell around him as the air escaped his lungs. Patches of graying material covered the once majestic fabric, now equally faded and lackluster. Pale blue eyes stared past the golden instrument in his hand as he absent-mindedly set it back down on the desk. He leaned his slender face onto a hand, elbow resting on the desk. His lips pressed together in thought. Drexel sighed again.
Early morning sunlight spilled into the windows, cascading over piles of books, parchment, magical tools, and exotic items strewn about the small cottage. Tiny particles of dust danced around the windows, landing beside numerous comrades already settled on the assortment of items. The fire had gone out over a large pile of ash and in the corner, his patchwork quilt nearly slid off the unmade bed.
Drexel's stomach announced the need for breakfast and he pressed his lips together a little tighter. He stood from the stool by his desk and wandered the small cottage to the kitchen nook. He opened the cabinets with little enthusiasm, finding bare shelves. He leaned against the counter, arms crossed. Red eyebrows, matching his unruly hair, furrowed together in thought as his lips turned towards a frown. He'd have to go into town.
As he shuffled back into the main area, something tickled the back of his mind. He sensed magic. Young, overflowing with power and optimism, it moved through town, at least in the direction of the town and about the distance of the town. His mouth hung open and his breathing slowed as he focused on the aura, too wild and untamed to be masked.
He had not noticed the magic before, so it wasn't a townsperson growing into their powers. This had to be a traveler. His sudden moment of optimism faded. Surely, they were on their way to find a powerful, respectable wizard to study under. He snorted and his shoulders drooped a little further. Northwick sat a good days walk between Kingsfellow and Stormhaven, both much larger than Northwick. There were a few inns, places to barter, but generally travelers did not stay. Anyone with magic that wild must be looking for the highest of wizards, not a has-been hermit.
However, magic that young and unruly is dangerous. The new mage would be aware of their powers, perhaps even wanting to test them. Drexel put a hand up to his goatee, stroking it in thought. There were a few in town who had magic potential. They most likely sensed the new arrival as well. They could do parlor tricks, but that seemed about it. Their foolishness mixed with an unruly energy would certainly be trouble. At last, Drexel decided to descend from his hill and make his way down to the quiet hamlet.
The late summer sun, uninhibited by the cloudless sky, dried out the dusty road that led down into the small town. Barely big enough for a single wagon, it stretched for a mile. It had a gentle downwards slope, one that a traveler only noticed halfway back when they felt more tired than on a flat road. Large trees provided occasional shade while farmers' fields rested just beyond.
With each step, Drexel felt the magic grow stronger. The young person didn't seem to be leaving the town anytime soon. He felt it flair, ebb and flow in a wild fashion. It likely raised the suspicion of the town's people. With the town in view, he paused, the magic slowly moved towards him.
Drexel waited until the young person appeared down the road. Covered in a cloak, despite the summer heat, they moved at a slow pace. They stopped ten feet in front of him.
"Drexel?" The figure asked, obviously female.
"I have come in search of you, to take me as your apprentice," The young woman said. Her hands, barely visible under her long sleeves, curled into fists.
"What could you possibly want with an old hermit like me?" Drexel asked, crossing his arms.
"You were the one who burned down the town of Resultum?" She asked.
The slightest hint of a smile on Drexel's lips quickly fell into a deep frown. His blue eyes glared at her.
"Then take me as your apprentice."
"I don't take apprentices. There's a respectable ma-"
She cut him off, "Then fight me."
"Fight me. Let me show you."
Drexel rolled his eyes. "It's not a question of power or prestige. I can sense the magic coming off of you."
"Then take me on!" She demanded, stepping forward.
"There are plenty of good mages that could teach you. I don't take apprentices."
Without warning, she hurled a fireball at him. Drexel waved his hand, dispelling the energy around him. Stepping into a defensive stance, she prepared for her next attack. Drexel pointed a finger at her and she froze in place. Even the slight breeze did not move her robes, only her chest moved as she drew breath.
"Yes, you can cast without hand signs or words. It's very impressive and you have a lot of potential. Potential you shouldn't waste on the likes of me. I haven't the slightest idea of why you sought me out. But you're better off with a respectable mage, of which there are plenty and always willing to have a promising pupil such as yourself."
Drexel waved a hand, releasing her from his spell. She held her pose, contemplating on her next move.
"Resultum wasn't your fault," she said, barely audible.
Drexel sighed, "You would have been a child if you were even born. Regardless, there's no changing the past. Let me deal with my demons in peace."
"You don't work for anyone," she said after a pause, relaxing. "All the other mages, they work for someone, a king, a city, they have someone to answer to."
"It's a good life, everything is paid for. You eat well for hardly any work."
"I don't want it."
Drexel scoffed, "You want to be poor?"
"I want to be free. I don't want any more demons."
"Humor me, but take off your hood. It's mid-summer."
She paused. Shaky hands raised to remove the hood of her robes. Wild, bushy hair sprang out. She kept it pulled back with a loose tie. Her medium skin contrasted the brilliant blue veins running along her face. Magic glowed from her. Dark eyes watched Drexel as her full lips pulled down.
"You haven't learned to contain your powers yet. It shows up in your skin. It takes some practice, but it's an easy fix." Drexel approached her, pressing his thumb to her forehead. "Take off your cloak, it's hot today."
She looked down at her arms, the blue glow fading. Then glanced up to him, jaw dropping in excitement. "Will you teach me?"
"I'll give you a week, a trial period," Drexel said with a sigh.
She squealed in delight. "You won't regret it, Mr. Drexel."
"I'm sure," he replied, not bothering to hide his lack of enthusiasm. "Tell me your name and we'll go get breakfast."
"Mira, Mira Thornback."
"Very good," Drexel said as he walked past her, heading towards Northwick.
Mira followed, removing her cloak and stuffing it into her bag. She wore a plain tan dress, lighter than her skin. She looked relieved to have removed the heavy cloak as they walked down the empty road. Near the first row of houses, a boy around the age of 12 met them in the road.
"Drexel, Mr. Drexel," He called, waving his arm.
"Yes, Rowan?" Drexel asked, stopping as the boy ran up to him.
"Mom sent me to find you. There's a piece of pie if you help her with giant rats in the basement."
"Giant rats are very tricky," Drexel said in a playful tone.
"They sure are! So you'll help?"
"Of course, run and tell your mom I'll be by soon. And I'll have some help."
"Thank you, Mr. Drexel," Rowan said, turning and running back into the town.
"Mrs. Longbottom makes great pies," he explained, continuing his walk at a normal pace.
As Drexel and Mira walked into town, Mira began to notice the villagers' behavior towards them. She followed slightly behind Drexel, eyes constantly scanning back and forth while Drexel walked at ease. The townspeople fell quiet as they passed, even the busy bazaar at the center. People stared, often with a dark overtone. They whispered to each other, too low for Mira to hear. She grabbed onto the sleeve of his robe, staying close as if he provided some sort of comfort.
Only when they were on a quiet residential street, did Mira ask, "Was that because of me?"
"They were all staring at us."
"They were staring at me," Drexel explained. "They're still wary of me. Even people who can't cast are aware of my abilities."
Mira released his sleeve, unsure of how to respond. She folded her arms around her, trying to ease the uncomfortable feeling the town had left her with.
Drexel led the way to a house at the end of a row. A whitewashed fence encompassed the yard of the moderately sized house. Colorful shutters lined the windows, opened to let in the fresh air. Drexel opened the gate, holding it open for Mira. He approached the door, raising a hand to knock when it opened to a homely woman. Her chestnut brown hair was pulled into a tight bun and warm eyes, set in a round face, watched them.
"Mr. Drexel," Mrs. Longbottom exclaimed.
"Yes, and my helper for the day, Mira," Drexel acknowledged. "How many rats are we looking at?"
"There's at least three down there. We finally got the storm door fixed so they can't get in anymore. They can't get out either."
"Do you have a preference of dead or alive?"
"Alive, just not in my basement," Mrs. Longbottom specified.
Drexel nodded. Mrs. Longbottom led the way to the inside basement door. Drexel defended half-way down the stairs. Mira followed, glancing over her shoulder to Mrs. Longbottom, who watched them out of the corner of her eye. When she met Mira's gaze, she glanced away, smoothing out her apron.
"Do you know any spells?" Drexel asked, soft enough it wouldn't carry all the way up the stairs.
"Just how to throw a fireball and move earth," Mira admitted. "Everything else has been an accident."
"I see," Drexel said in a light tone. He held out his hand and three globules of light appeared from his palm. They floated over the small basement, shedding light in the windowless space. Three rats, roughly ten pounds a piece, scurried to the corners, attempting to hide behind old boxes. With a wave of his hand, the rats froze, their squeaking paused. He descended the final steps into the basement and picked up two rats, one in each hand. Mira followed, picking up the third.
Drexel walked up the stairs and exited the house, which sat on the edge of the forest, where Drexel released the rats. As Mira sat hers down, he released the spell, allowing the creatures to scurry into the woods.
"They're much easier to move that way." He said, leading the way back inside.
They went back inside and washed their hands at the kitchen sink then sat at the kitchen table. Mrs. Longbottom reappeared, presenting two plates of beautiful cherry pie. She set them down in front of Drexel and Mira.
"You're so thin, Drexel, I made sure you had extra filling," Mrs. Longbottom said with a smile.
"Thank you," Drexel replied. "I get busy in my books some days."
Mrs. Longbottom left the kitchen, glancing over her shoulder with a look of disdain for Drexel. Mira caught the sideways glance and Mrs. Longbottom gave her a warm, genuine smile before continuing on her way.