MAGIC THAT FLOWS BETWEEN
by S. L. Saboviec
Warius Soulton was a rising star in the Syladori military when his daughter slid writhing into the world. Dolanna was the child he’d longed for. He even chose her name, which meant “my little love” in the ancient language. When she shrieked her first cry, he instantly fell in love with her wrinkled, angry face. He was the first to hold her, to gaze at her fluttering eyelids, waving arms, and ten tiny toes, wanting to press her against him and hold her for always.
At night, while Warius’s wife slept, father and daughter walked the halls of their bark-sided house in the heart of the city. He cooed songs and rocked her, waiting for her secret, night-time smile. She never smiled during the day, only in the dark, after the nyra beetles stopped singing their songs and the twin moons shone through the window.
Warius finished her favorite song. “… and a rose in her hair, in her hair.”
When he kissed her forehead, the room flashed brilliant white and then fell dark again. Warius’s chest pounded an unnatural cadence, and beneath his fingers, Dolonna’s heart stuttered. At first he thought she was surprised, but then he realized that their hearts were beating as one, thumpity-thump-thump-thumpity-thumpity-thump.
Warmth spread through Warius’s fingers, crawled up his arms, and engulfed his body. Dolonna’s body grew hot, too. He placed her gently on the changing pad while the unnatural rhythm beat through his body and hers.
A year ago, curled up in a foxhole while enemies advanced and his cannoneers fell, Warius had been filled with grim determination–not fear. He’d dashed to a cannon, set the wick afire, and saved his platoon from the encroaching army to turn the tide of the battle.
But for as long as he could remember, he’d wanted a child. Something in Dolonna filled a hollow space inside him. So here, in this hallway, with the baby daughter he’d longed for, he trembled with fear for her life.
Still, she did not look afraid. She smiled her impossible smile and, for the first time, reached out a hand to grab his finger. Calmness spread through him where the strange heat had been, and though it made no sense, he knew it came from his baby daughter.
“Don’t fear, Daddy,” she was saying, “for I shall come to no harm.”
The pounding of their hearts died away. Hers went back to its steady, quick thump, while his faded into its slower rhythm. An ache seized him, an ache that they no longer shared whatever strange thing had occurred. He wanted it to happen again, to share this thing, whatever it was, with her.
He gathered her against his bare chest and took her to the bedroom. His wife, Vessyn, was asleep, and he climbed in next to her. Dolonna snuggled against her papa and nodded off.
Perhaps it had been a fantasy brought on by too little sleep. He could not admit what he feared most: something had awakened, something magical that connected his daughter and him. He fell asleep clutching Dolonna and praying to Kisise, the Soulton family deity, to keep her safe from vile magic.
Dolonna loved her father as deeply as he loved her, but Papa was gone for months at a time on military campaigns. Saying goodbye left her crying for days, and an ache pulsed in her heart while he was gone.
One day when she was thirteen years old, she missed him so much she sneaked into his study. He’d been gone a month, and the pain grew worse as she aged, as though a piece of her had left with him. Though he betrayed no emotion with his parting kiss to her forehead, she knew he felt the same. Lines marred the corners of eyes that relaxed when he first set eyes upon her after a time away.
Next to Papa’s well-worn desk sat a purple-wooded chest with leather straps, ornate symbols carved into the top, and a sturdy lock. He’d opened it for her once, proud to show his trophies from skirmishes, until Mama appeared at the door with angry eyes and a snapping voice.
The key to the chest sat inside a false drawer bottom. She giggled to think that Papa put a false bottom in only one drawer–of course she could tell which one was more shallow than the others. She pulled it out, took the key, and unlocked the chest.
Opening the lid, she surveyed the contents: armbands denoting magical rank from generals he’d killed in battle, sparkling jewelry that held an impossible light deep within, and strange, glass figurines that looked like nothing and something all at once. She picked one up and turned it over. The glass had been folded upon itself many times, bubbling and rippling. Was it a bunny? A horse? A carriage? No, this one was a mother and daughter embracing. She put it back.
Underneath the pile of colorful armbands sat a book. She reached a hand toward it.
Papa had explained that the Quartzians were an evil race, intent on converting everyone to their beliefs. Three years ago, the Quartzians had intruded on the fringes, converting the Syladori citizens to their foul magical religion. Papa had joined the military to defend their borders and protect his people from the encroaching armies.
Magic was anathema in Sylador now, an evil that loyal citizens guarded against.
The book was beautiful, with smooth leather she itched to touch. Before she could talk herself out of it, she brushed aside the armbands and pulled it out.
She placed it into her lap and caressed the warm ,soft cover. She should be afraid because of the magic, but the ache from missing Papa had subsided.
She couldn’t stop herself. She opened it.
Written inside was:
To my darling daughter,
I hope you cherish this spell book as I have cherished mine. Hold strong to the faith. When I am gone and my hand is no longer there to hold, may your beliefs carry you to the end of your days.
Your always loving Father
That inscription stirred something inside her. It was something her own Papa could have written if he didn’t hate magic so much. Clearly whoever had gifted this held deep beliefs he’d shared with his daughter. Papa loved her, but he’d never spoke of religion, instead leaving it to Mama to bring her to the temple to offer sacrifices to Kisise.
She blinked back tears and turned the page.
Chapter 1, it read, Cultivating a Magical Life. Underneath was a symbol, a circle with three triangles inside. As Dolonna blinked down at the page, she felt as though the meaning of the mark was whispering around her consciousness. If she concentrated hard enough, she could understand it.
She gasped. The chapter heading she’d just read was in a strange, runic language. She flipped back to the inscription page. Although she understood the dedication, it was not written in any of the native dialects of Syladori.
Dolonna’s body buzzed. Magic was real! Perhaps a part of her had never believed; perhaps a part of her had questioned her Papa’s rants about the depravity and lies of the people he fought. But here, with this simple, almost undetected display of magic, she was ecstatic. She couldn’t help herself. She needed to know what the rest of the book said.
Besides, coming from a father so loving, this book couldn’t be evil. Could it?
Dolonna set it aside, arranged the trinkets inside the chest, locked it, and replaced the key. Glancing to and fro, she sneaked out of the office, shut the door quietly behind her, and hurried to her room. She jammed her desk chair against the door handle to keep out her mother. Then she slipped into bed, opened to the first chapter, and plunged into the enchanted book.
Warius’s victories were the talk of Sylador. His presence at every battle guaranteed victory, and with every successful campaign, his righteous belief in magic’s foulness solidified. From the smallest hamlet to the busiest Braufeldon street, his name was on every pair of lips. His rise to general was swift and legendary.
Warius declined repeated requests for his presence at a feast in his honor at the castle. He desired nothing of the accolades heaped upon him, and he turned aside the advances of wanton women. Instead, he took pleasure in his successes and returned to celebrate with his wife and especially his Dolonna.
When she turned sixteen, he missed her birthday. Saddened that his work had kept him from her party, he searched for the perfect gift, but he could find nothing satisfactory.
Finally, Warius remembered a trinket he’d taken as spoils during one of his earlier victories, a necklace made of colorful crystals. Upon his arrival at home, even before he greeted his family, he hurried into his study. He closed the door and found the key, opened the chest and searched within.
But something was wrong.
Where was the book he’d taken from that old witch? It was an unnatural thing, something she’d clearly had for many years but looked as new as the day it was made. And the pages had been an odd material–not paper, but perhaps the skin of an animal. Disgusting and filthy. Why had he kept it?
Disturbed, he rose and went into the kitchen, where Vessyn was preparing dinner.
“Have you gone into my study?” he said.
“No. If this is about the dust, you told me not to disturb–”
“One of my prizes is missing.”
“I’ve touched nothing. I haven’t been in that room for years.”
He needed answers, not excuses. “Who would have taken it? How many times do I need to tell you that those things are dangerous? How many times–”
“Papa.” Dolonna stood in the doorway.
Without her saying a word, he knew.
Her mahogany skin as of late had begun glowing. He’d assumed it was because she was blossoming into a beautiful young woman. But her face held an age-old wisdom that couldn’t be faked with face-paint or baubles. She had knowledge of something. Something forbidden.
“Come with me.” He led her into the hallway. “My little love, what have you done?”
“I didn’t want you to find out this way, Papa.” She bowed her head. “I’ve… been reading.”
“Reading what?” Please, let it not be–
“You know what. The book.”
“You have to stop immediately. Magic,” he swallowed, barely able to squeeze the word out, “is wrong. It’s terrible. It corrupts.” He’d seen it, in the enemies’ eyes, flickering with an ethereal light during the terrible battles he’d prefer to forget.
“It doesn’t.” She squared her shoulders. “Papa, we have magic. Both of us. I know it. I can feel it. Can’t you?”
“That’s blasphemy.” How could he be winning the war yet fail to protect his daughter? “You have to give me the book. I’ll burn it, if the vile thing can burn.”
“It’s too late. Why do you think you’ve had so many victories? I’ve harnessed my abilities. I’ve fed you strength.”
“Don’t say that.” His heart was breaking. His little love, his Dolonna, spoke filth. “My tactics are what win battles, not magic.”
“I’ve heard what people say. You know the locations of troops without cause. You know their tactics. You predict how and where they’ll attack.”
“Military strategy. That’s what it means to be a brilliant general. I use my knowledge of military tactics and I make informed decisions.” That had to be the reason. He would believe no other.
“And how many times have you been wrong in the past three years?”
He reached for her. She must have seen something frightening in his countenance because she cringed. But he only gathered her in his arms and crushed her against his chest, as he had when she was a tiny baby.
“You have to stop. We have to rid ourselves of this book. You must never use magic again.”
With a strength that he feared wasn’t physical, Dolonna extracted herself. With one tear leaking from her eye, she shook her head.
“It’s too late, Papa. ‘The floodgates are open, the magic is free, embrace it for you, embrace it for me.’”
“You mustn’t…” But he’d run out of words. She was quoting the runes he’d pretended he couldn’t read when he flipped through it all those years ago.
“I can’t stop it. And neither can you. We’re connected, and it flows between us. Don’t you feel it?”
The ache following him on every campaign was absent. With Dolonna standing before him looking so radiant and wild, he felt complete.
Her eyes turned vacant, and warmth grew inside him. For an eye blink, he was in the dark of night, with his newborn daughter cradled in his arms. His heart beat faster, and he knew that if he pressed a hand to her chest, they would be beating as one.
“No,” he said. “Stop.”
But she didn’t stop.
The magic washed over him, tingling out from his chest to his shoulders and legs and elbows and knees and fingers and toes. He felt strong and powerful, as he always did after a victory. He caught a glimpse of himself in the hallway mirror, and his face was shining as Dolonna’s was.
He slapped her and the feeling cut off.
“You mustn’t,” he whispered. “Never again.”
Without a word, she turned and fled.
An hour later, he went to her room to find a note written in the runic language. “I’m leaving, Papa. I’m sorry. I love you but I can’t stay.”
The only thing she took was the book.
Warius and Vessyn fought over their only daughter running away from home, but he couldn’t speak of the book–the true reason she’d left. Instead, he returned to his troops. A month later, Vessyn sent a letter begging him to return and apologizing for blaming him. Warius didn’t reply, instead losing himself in his mission: to eradicate the evildoers from the land.
Within half a year, whispers of a Quartzian girl who had defected from Sylador, now training at their prestigious academy, reached his ears. She called herself Dritchia, which meant “love gone sour” in the ancient language.
Bellain, Warius’s second-in-command, urged him to take time off, but Warius refused. “The Quartzians are a blight, and I will rest when all their bones bake in the sun.”
They marched through Quartz lands, taking quarter in villages and burning down houses when they left. Warius’s war chest grew full.
But his ache only increased.
Inside one such village, Warius stared down at the map laid out on the table of the inn they’d taken over.
“Listen to me,” said Bellain, “you will be no good at the battle tomorrow without sleep. Even brilliant strategists need rest.”
A Quartzian girl appeared at the door. For a brief moment, Warius thought she was Dolonna. Her hair was dark and shiny, just like his daughter’s, and they were of a similar age.
When he blinked, she was only a village girl in roughspun clothing. “M’lord, I’ve brought you lithwa soup.” The bowl rattled against the saucer as she set it down.
Warius swept the bowl off the table to smash against the wall. “Swill! Do we not deserve better than vegetable water?”
Something sparked in her eyes, a defiance Warius had seen in his daughter. “We have nothing more to give, m’lord. You’ve taken it all. What more do you want of us?”
Those eyes–the same as Dolonna’s–set them afire by magic.
“You dare defy me?”
Still she glared.
Bellain put a hand on his shoulder. “Easy, Warius.”
But the girl wore no deference. She wore instead a smirk, telling him the Quartzians were not, as they claimed in their bills to the Syladori people, afraid of him. She wore an assurance they would cling to magic until every last one was ground to dust.
The ache inside worsened. Then, with his rage, it began to fill.
As on the day when Dolonna left, as on the day when he’d cradled his infant daughter, the aching place inside of him grew fuller and fuller. The heat tingled over his limbs, sparking and leaping across his skin. With one final burst of rage, he thrust it outside himself.
The girl’s eyes went wide. Surprise cascaded away her smile, and she fell to the floor. Her lips and fingernails turned blue, her hair white, her eyes glassy.
Bellain rushed over to the girl, his eyes alive with fear. The man had stood by Warius for years, through the worst of the battles, as their soldiers died screaming under horrible spells, yet he’d never shown fear.
“Dead,” he whispered.
“As well she should be.” Warius strode to the door and threw it open. “They must all die. Every one of them.”
Warius marched to the house next door, where six families huddled on the floor, displaced from their homes. Bellain scurried behind him. Warius felt as though he was peering through long tunnel. The tiredness, he reasoned, was catching up to him.
A man stood in front of the families. His lips were parted as though he was about to speak.
Warius thrust his rage outward, and the man crumpled to the floor, lips and fingernails as blue as the girl’s, greying hair now white.
“Don’t let them leave,” he said to the soldiers who’d gathered at the door.
Methodically, he went through the room, killing each Quartzian. When the families realized what was happening, they tried to run, but Warius was lost. With every death, the ache glowed with warmth.
When he was done in the sweltering room, he sauntered into the cool, night air. He opened the door to the next house and then the next, killing every magic user in the village.
It was fitting.
If, as Dolonna had insisted, he was wielding magic, they should all die by their own evil.
Dolonna now attended the Quartzian Magical Academy. When she’d arrived on a border town, bedraggled and weeping, a family took her in until an Academy recruiter came to evaluate her. Dolonna had taught herself well, so they placed her in advanced classes.
But despite her quick learning, she was growing ill.
Word of the general’s slaughter reached her. Though Quartzian peace envoys begged the Syladori to understand the terrible things Warius was doing, the citizens of Sylador refused to believe their beloved general could kill women and children with magic. His soldiers, well-trained and pleased at victory, never spoke of what really happened, claiming his military brilliance. Talk of magical interference was thrust aside as propaganda of the Quartz.
Every time Warius massacred another Quartzian, Dolonna felt it. His magic resonated in the hollow place inside her, draining her own. The magic they’d awoken was shared, though as Chapter Nineteen: Magical Oddities explained, this was exceedingly rare. Every victory took tremendous reserves of magical strength, and she could not refill their shared pool fast enough.
She attempted to erect a wall but found that impossible. Instead, she was wasting away, her body consuming itself trying to replenish the void.
Dolonna spent sleepless nights trying to decide whom to confide in, finally deciding on the Magical Oddities teacher, who might know the most about this situation. After class, she forced herself to march up to him.
“I need help.”
He rose and shut the door.
Encouraged, she said, “I’ve kept my family a secret for a reason. I’m not just any Syladori. I’m the daughter of the Warmonger.” She rushed onward before he could react. “I’ve discovered we share a well of magic. He’s drawing upon mine. I can’t stop him, and I can’t keep up.”
The teacher’s his eyebrows were drawn together in his usual dour countenance. “I can’t help you.”
This was what she was afraid of. “I know–I’ve looked everywhere myself. I can’t find anything about this. I was hoping that–”
“No. Even if I knew what to do, I can’t in good conscience help you. If you refill your energy, he will only grow powerful.”
“What can I do? I think… I think I’m dying.”
“Sometimes we must sacrifice for the greater good.” He pulled out a papyrus. “Please leave. I can’t help you.”
Overwhelmed, she fled to her quarters and cried herself to sleep. Would she die now? And once she was gone, would her Papa die, too? She awoke exhausted. When she stepped outside her room, two young teachers, twitching nervously, were waiting to take her to the headmistress’ office.
“I understand you’ve made a discovery,” said the headmistress.
“No, no discovery. I…” She wanted to defend her father, to justify the pain she knew was her fault. “He doesn’t understand what he’s doing.”
The headmistress’ crystalline gaze took her in. All who had harnessed their magic had the same bright eyes. “Child, I need you to think long and hard about the answer to the next question. If you could stop your father’s atrocities, would you do it?”
“Yes, but I can’t just kill myself!” Wasn’t that what the Oddities teacher had suggested? They were wrong. They had to be. After all she had suffered, must she make the ultimate sacrifice?
“No.” The headmistress raised her hand. “I want to send you to the next battle site. I want you to confront your father. I’ll gather volunteers to feed you magic until then. Besides, if we do nothing, killing yourself will not be necessary.”
Dolonna bowed her head. “My father won’t listen to me. We argued because I was using magic. I ran away, and now he’s angry. This is my fault. He’s punishing your people because of what I did.”
When she looked up, the headmistress’ eyes sparked with fury. “Then you owe it to my people to make right what went wrong. Go, and prepare to leave in three days.”
Stomach knotted in despair and confusion, Dolonna rose from her seat. She’d thought her father wrong about the Quartzians, but what sort of people would blame her for this pain?
Warius no longer needed to sleep.
At night, he wrote a description of every Quartzian he killed in a giraffe-hide journal. When they were all dead, he would find where they’d been keeping Dolonna, his darling daughter, whom they’d bewitched and stolen from him. They might hide the location of their Academies–for the good of the children, pah!–but he would find her.
“You must eat,” said Bellain. He’d long since ceased trying to convince Warius to sleep, but the general grew weak without food. They were winning the war, finally–Warius’s magic was overcoming whatever the Quartzian mages unleashed against them–so Bellain no longer questioned.
Warius ate some bread and cheese from the tray, sating his hunger while he stared at the maps. A battle was coming tomorrow, one that they would win, if he could–
Wait, what was this?
A blue haze hung over the map, floating just above the paper, showing him the Quartz troops–to his eyes only; Bellain had confirmed this. The darker the blue, the more troops they’d brought. Sometimes a crimson splotch stained the map, marking a windmancer. But this wasn’t a red splotch, it was purple. Glowing. Brilliant.
A warmth filling his limbs told him who it was.
“Bellain!” he shouted. “My daughter is here. Go fetch her.”
The second-in-command appeared at the tent opening. “Sir…”
Warius met his eyes, and the man pursed his lips. What must he see?
“Yes, sir.” Bellain departed.
What a mess Warius must look, with hair flying and months’ worth of beard. It would take some time for the man to fetch Dolonna. He went to the bath house. He scrubbed and scraped, rinsed until the water ran clear, and scrubbed and scraped again. He used far more than his daily water ration, but then, he hadn’t been using it. And what would someone say? He was their general, their conqueror.
Warius found himself chuckling as he trimmed his beard.
They all thought him stark raving mad, no doubt. But still they followed him. His men’s loyalty impressed upon him the utter truth: the Quartzians were evil and must be punished.
He returned to his tent and dressed in his finest uniform. When Bellain again reappeared, Warius was waiting, hands at his side, lost in the feel of Dolonna’s approach. Warmth and contentment built within him, whispering silkily through his limbs.
“Sir,” said Bellain, “your daughter.”
He stepped back to allow her entrance.
So different was she. The same glow that had told Warius she was dabbling in magic burned twice as strong. Her eyes crackled, and the well-cut dress and jewels she wore paled in comparison to her shining countenance.
But she was thin, so thin. Was that a faint tremble in her hands? The still-small hands that he had kissed when she was a newborn, the fingers that had wrapped around his when she was so young and vulnerable?
Why had this evil befallen them?
Dolonna bowed before him, a gesture both respectful and insulting. She was his daughter. She need not bow. “Papa.” When she lifted her head, tears glimmered in her eyes. Past the tent flap, Quartzian soldiers stood waiting.
His voice boomed. “Are you being held prisoner?”
Dolonna gasped. “Papa, please.” She clutched at her chest. “You must stop this.”
“Tell me what they’ve done to you, my child. Tell me!”
Again she sucked in a breath. The heat within him, the place where he felt the strange glow, surged. “It’s not them. It’s… It’s you.”
He blinked. He blinked again. “No.”
“Yes.” The word was little more than a groan.
She wavered, and he rushed forward. Before she could fall to the floor, he caught her. Her thin fingers were so cold, her shoulders so slight. She was ill, wasn’t she? Was she dying?
“Please, listen to me.” Her voice was breathy. “Your magic–”
“Stop!” He couldn’t bear her speaking of magic, not now, when she was so frail.
She shuddered with his outburst. “Please, Papa, listen. Every time you kill someone, you suck away my magic. We’re connected, and you’re stronger than I. You’re using up all my energy. I tried to tell you…”
His daughter was wasting away, and it was his fault? No, that couldn’t be. The familiar rage built, warming the place that ached when they were apart.
And she gasped, her hand at her throat. “Papa…” Her eyes met his. “Please…”
With monumental effort, he pressed aside his rage. “I believe you, Dolonna. But…” He opened his eyes to look down in her wan face. “…what do I do?”
She sighed and sagged in his arms.
“Dolonna?” He shook her. He laid her down. Her wrist flopped, lifeless, to the floor. “Dolonna?”
No. It couldn’t be.
“I believe you, my little love. I believe you! Please!”
But she stared, glassy-eyed and still, off over his shoulder.
The spot inside his heart proclaimed the truth: it had stopped glowing, and was now still, cold, and dead.
He pulled her close. “Dolonna, no, please, don’t go, Dolonna. I love you, and I’m sorry. I won’t– I’ll stop– I’ll–”
Bellain shook his shoulder. “What happened, sir?”
Warius clutched his daughter, so beautiful, so cherished, unmoving now. Her lips and fingernails were blue, and her collarbone thrust from her too-thin body.
Bellain bent down to take her. Her head lolled toward Warius, her eyes wide and glassy. Her dark hair swept the floor as his second-in-command stood.
“I will tell them that we’ve rejected their envoy,” said Bellain.
Warius rocked forward.
“I’ll tell them that she’s been executed for treason. I’ll tell them to give up their magic and convert to our beliefs or suffer the same fate.”
Warius pressed his forehead to the floor.
“I’ll tell them we’ll show them mercy when they surrender.”
A rustle came from the entrance.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Warius.
But the flap had fallen across the door, and the tent was empty save for a half-eaten loaf of bread, the war maps, and Warius’s chest of spoils.
Samantha grew up in a small town in Iowa but became an expat for her Canadian husband, whom she met in the Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game Star Wars: Galaxies (before the NGE, of course). She’s the mother of a preschooler and twin babies—a houseful of girls will definitely keep her husband on his toes.
In October 2017, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Modern medicine is amazing, which means her prognosis is good, and she’s continuing treatment indefinitely. She’s hopelessly behind on her blog, but she’s spoken frankly about her journey at http://www.saboviec.com/blog/.
Samantha’s short fiction has appeared in AE, Flash Fiction Online, and elsewhere. She has three novels out about angels and demons: the first two and a companion novel in her Fallen Redemption trilogy. You can find out more of her writing athttp://www.saboviec.com