Flash Fiction: Magic Origins
Hofenung ripped a streetlight free of its cast iron mooring with one arm, caked ice shattering off of it, and hurled it down the alley. A bolt of faefire caught the the projectile before it’d gone more than 20 feet, ripping through it with the same boom as a glacier breaking free of the icepack. The streetlight exploded in a cloud of dust and burning embers, filling the narrow space between buildings. Still clutching his charred side with his other hand, Hofenung staggered to the end of the byway and turned onto the next major street.
Behind him, he heard a chorus of buccasnickle cries of pain and anger. Though he could not smile, Hofenung allowed himself a flat-faced chuckle. The Fel Moroz wouldn’t make the mistake of assuming everything made by man was wood and stone again, but for now they had coated themselves in iron shavings far more efficiently than he possibly could have.
Still, the Fouettard would have the diminutive trackers whipped back into a hunting pack within moments, so his reprieve would be a short one. He bulled forward through the near-blinding snow toward the nearest doorway, using his good shoulder to burst the door in, popping it entirely free of its frame. He staggered a half dozen paces into the shop, plowing through a display of silk hats and gloves, before crashing down on a wooden bench, which groaned under his weight.
His form heaved as though he was breathing heavily, though he lacked lungs or need for air. He rolled onto his side, bringing the wound he had been clutching with his spare hand up from under him. Gently he peeled his fingers back to survey the damage. A chunk nearly the size of his fist was missing from his stone body. Worse, veins of shiny black silver were spreading from the wound, tiny spikes drilling through his granite form and cracking him apart.
At full strength, he might have been able to fight the curse. Weakened as he was, there was no chance of stopping it. He would break, and die, soon. He had even less time than he had feared.
Gingerly, Hofenung reached into the inner pocket of his tattered opera cloak. He pulled forth a single thread, a golden line of light, its tail end trailing into the fabric of his cloak. It resisted his pull at first, but when he gave it a determined tug it popped free. A chill set into his massive stone form, and he felt the animation begin to seep from him. The glowing thread curled one end of itself around his bulky fingertip, stroking the rock that was turning more gray by the second.
“It has been my honor to protect you.” Hofenung could no more cry than he could smile, but there was sadness and pain in his voice. “But I can carry this duty no longer. Your enemies ride fast. We must find you a new protector.”
It was scarcely a minute before heavy hoofsteps crunched in the snow outside. The light from the doorway was blocked by a massive form, hunched and shaggy, a long, barbed whip clutched in one hand and a massive wicket basked over its back. Around it, tiny, beautiful, perfect human forms danced and shook their fists angrily.
The hoofed figured pressed its head against the open space of the doorway, and for a moment was held in place. It pushed, and the entire frame of the building groaned, as if being pressed by a terrifying wind. Then, it’s passage no longer blocked by the invisible barrier of a place to which it had been invited, the creature stepped into the shop. It walked down the obvious path of destruction through smashed displays and toppled shelves, to find Hofenung lying on a broken bench.
“You have been a worthy hunt, protector.” The creature’s voice was deep and gruff, nearly closer a growl than speech. “But it comes to an end now.”
“That you have enjoyed my escape is my sole regret in evading you.” Hofenung’s mouth opened, but did not move with the words. His body was almost entirely stiff, lifeless rock.
The creature bleated once. “You evaded nothing, protector. The teacher’s gift shall now be ours. Produce it, or I shall rip it from your broken rubble.”
More than ever in his long existence, Hofenung wished he could smile. “It’s not here.”
“WHAT?!” The shaggy form stomped a hoofed foot in anger. “What foolishness is this? Left alone, it could be damaged, destroyed. I need it intact to harness it, and you would never risk a gift from the teacher!”
Hofenung nodded. “You are right, of course. I have stitched it anew. And it will find a new protector, and that entity shall carry on where I have fallen.”
The creature snorted, in a mix of anger and amusement. “A new protector? Oh, it has the power to bring another like you alife, it is certain. But you believe here, in this time in this place, someone will craft a new body for such a protector? Make a man-form, or close enough, imbue it with their love and joy and cheer, so the gift can embody it?” One of the tiny forms yelped in squeaky complaint, and the creature nodded. “Indeed, even if some student of secrets was so inclined, there is snow on everything!”
Hofenung felt his last moments come upon him. “Yes, I believe all those things. And until it selects a protector, it will be difficult even for your buccasnickle to find. You will, at least, be delayed.”
And then the protector was no more than a pile of rock.
The hoofed, shaggy whip-bearer stared for long seconds at the remains of its foe of centuries, then cracked its whip. The buccasnickle flooded into the shop, and began tearing apart everything within in. Hats were rent asunder. Coats split in half. Scarves unraveled. As dawn approached, the whip-bearer roared in frustration and, with a crack, drove the small searchers from the shop, back toward the alley.
As they marched past the window of “Professor Hinkle’s Magic Shoppe and Rabbit Supplies,” not one of them stopped to glance at an old silk hat sitting in the display, a bright pink cloth flower sewn to it by a single, golden thread.