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Written in the Stars · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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The Travelers
In was in the dead of the night when Swiftfooted’s incessant bleatings woke Galain from his sleep. He was moments away from pulling open his tent cover to yell at the gods-damned donkey when he heard muffled voices from outside.

Galain froze.

Gruff-sounding men, speaking in quiet, curt bursts. Two—no, three!—sets of shuffling, hurried footsteps.


Fumbling in the dark of his tent, Galain searched for his brush as quietly as he could manage. As he rummaged through his knapsack, his thoughts fell on the camp’s other occupant. Had they found Muriel? Had they killed her before he even woke?

Silently, Galain cursed himself for the several moments he had wasted, trying to stay asleep despite Swiftfooted’s whinnies. Just as he retrieved his spellbrush and ink in the dark, the bark of a gun made him jump. There was one last gurgling whinny from their pack donkey before it fell silent.

Blast it. They’re not trying to be silent any longer.

He was out of practice with casting on the fly, but he was also out of time. Galain only took a moment to wet his brush with ink before throwing aside the tent flap and leaping outside.

One crook was still standing by the fallen donkey, reloading the pistol in his grasp. His hands moved with experience; Galain guessed that he had no more than half a minute before the bandit was ready to fire again.

A second man was within arm’s reach, and he had just noticed Galain. As his brows rose in bewilderment, Galain noticed that the man was missing his left eye.


Galain threw a punch to the blind side of the man’s head. As he crumpled to the ground, his comrades yelled out in surprise. Galain ducked behind his tent. He hadn’t yet seen the third bandit, but a stream of curses from somewhere to his left told him that he was still a few moments away.

Working quickly, he painted a sigil on his left palm, and then he painted its sister rune on his right hand. In the darkness, he wasn’t entirely sure if he had made an error. But the approaching footsteps gave him no time to correct any mistakes.

The third bandit rounded the corner, and swung a heavy club. Galain stepped into the large man’s wide swing and swept his legs from under him with a kick. As the man lay stunned on the ground, Galain channeled through his sigiled hands.

“Aewa.” Sleep.

The man slumped, snoring, as the spent runes on Galain’s palms burned away in a pale ethereal fire, leaving behind scorch marks.

One more bandit, and by the sounds of frustration he was making, he was likely still reloading.

Before he could convince himself otherwise, Galain rushed forward to close the distance. The man was yanking on a jammed ramrod, cursing his bad luck.

But just as Galain came close, the bandit dropped his gun. In one smooth motion, he drew a broad, serrated knife and plunged it into Galain’s right shoulder, deep enough to immobilize his arm.

The bandit’s expression changed as the knife went in, shifting to one of confusion. Galain knew that an experienced cutthroat like him would have expected the resistance of tendons and the crunch of bones. Instead, the blade sank smoothly and evenly to the hilt, leaving the stabber off-balance for a moment.

Galain took the opportunity to grab a fistful of the bandit’s greasy hair and smash his face against a raised knee. The cartilage in the thief’s nose folded like paper as he went slack.

As soon as he was sure that the last assailant wouldn’t be getting up, Galain yanked the knife out, and examined the hole it left behind. It was a wide wound, and even in the moonlight he could see straight through it to the other side.

I’ll worry about it later.

“Muriel?” he called out.

Galain opened her tent’s flap, only to find it empty.


Something struck the back of his head, leaving his world spinning in pain. When he blinked the spots out of his eyes he found himself on the ground, looking up at the one-eyed bandit, who held his friend’s pistol in his grimy hand.

“I know what ye are, ye gods-damned abomination. I killed one just like you in the battle in Dalesrush.” The bandit leveled the barrel straight at Galain’s head. “May the High Lords have mercy on whatever’s left of yer soul.”


A small, thin figure leapt out at the arm holding the gun, throwing it off-aim. Muriel bit the bandit’s wrist, drawing blood and making him discharge the bullet into the dirt.

As the two scuffled, Galain held his brush between his teeth and painted a simple circle on his working hand. He knew only a few one-handed spells, and he prayed that this one would be enough.

The bandit landed a vicious backhanded blow on Muriel’s side, and she lost her grip on his arm. He lifted his boot to stomp on her, but Galain threw his open palm forward.

“Ar torti!” Be thrown.

A wave of magical force knocked the one-eyed man off his feet and sent him head-first into a tree. He collapsed and did not stir.

Ignoring the pain of the spell’s afterburn, Galain rushed to Muriel’s side.

“Muriel? Are you okay?”

The girl spit mouthful of blood—was it hers or was it the bandit’s?—before speaking.

“I’m fine.” She tried to smile, and all her teeth were stained dark. “I just need a second to catch my breath.”

Muriel sat up in the dirt, panting for several moments. She swished saliva around her mouth to gather the rest of the blood, and then she spat again into the grass.

“The bastard tasted like a cesspit,” she said, with a cocky smile.

“Are you bleeding?” asked Galain. “Have you any broken ribs?”

“I said I’m fine.” She pointed at Galain’s wounded shoulder. “What about you?”

“It will mend itself in a few hours. But for now, I’m down to the one hand.”

For a few moments, the pair of them surveyed their ruined campsite.

“What do we do, now?” asked Muriel. “Those fellows aren’t going to sleep forever.”

“Take the rope in my tent and tie them to a tree. I’ll bring them there.”

“Wouldn’t it, well, just be easier to…” Muriel brought a finger to her throat and stuck her tongue out. “Grrrk!”

“Absolutely not. There will be no death tonight.”Galain stood up and began dragging the first bandit to the big oak tree where the one-eyed man had been thrown.

“Have you always been this gentle-hearted and slow to violence, Gally?” teased the girl.

“No, I have not,” he said, as he dragged the last bandit to the tree by a limp leg. “It is the greatest regret of my life.”

“Psshaa, way to kill the joke.”

Muriel worked quickly, wrapping the rope around each of the unconscious men’s wrists before tying them tightly to the tree. She tucked the knot underneath a few coils of rope, where it would be very difficult to reach.

Meanwhile, Galain rummaged through Swiftfooted’s pack, selecting essential items that wouldn’t be too heavy to carry.

“This ought to hold them for a while, but they’re bound to wiggle out of it in a few hours,” said Muriel as she finished.

“We’ll be long gone before then.”

Muriel knelt down in the grass next to Galain, and stroked Swiftfooted’s mane.

“Those sons of bitches got you right in the chest,” she muttered. “Those big-headed bastards.”

“I’m sorry, Muriel. I know you loved that beast,” said Galain.

“My ma and pa bought him before I was even born. He’s been there my whole, entire life.” Muriel ran her hand down Swiftfooted’s still-warm coat. “My ma named him. She thought names were prophetic, you know? Thought it would help him be better, if he were named like some noble steed instead of a donkey. My pa would always just laugh at it, though.”

Muriel reached out to close Swiftfooted’s eyes.

“But she’s dead, and so is he. And now Swiftfooted’s dead too.”

Galain placed a hand on her shoulder.

“He was as noble a steed as there ever was,” said Galain. “I think he’d be happy to know that he brought us this far, almost to the very end.”

“I wish he could have been there to see Tristan again, though. Tristan always thought Ma’s names were the best.”

An empty silence stretched out for a little while.

“We’ll find Tristan in Isemholm, right?” asked Muriel.

“It is the last city.”

“Yeah, it is.”

Muriel stood up, grabbed a satchel and began filling it with some of the items from Swiftfooted’s pack.

“The tents are too big and heavy. We’ll have to leave them here,” said Galain. “We’ll take only what we need for the night, and all of our coin as well. Hopefully, we’ll be able to buy everything else at Isemholm.”

It didn’t take long to finish packing what they could carry. After Galain placed one of their wineskins and the last of their traveler’s bread in his pack, he looked over to where Muriel was already waiting for him, her own pack slung over her shoulder.

“Let’s go,” she said.

Without another word, the two left the camp and continued east down the road.

After a couple of miles, Galain noticed a stumble in Muriel’s step. She yawned frequently and often paused to rub her eyes.

“We’ve gone far enough,” Galain decided. “Dawn is only a few hours away. You ought to rest while you can.”

Sleepily, Muriel nodded in agreement.

The pair headed a little ways off the road, where a wide, old oak tree gave them a little shelter from the wind. As they sat, Galain offered Muriel the wineskin and the bread. She took both, and pulled the cork from the skin with her teeth.

After she took a sip of wine and a mouthful of bread, Muriel’s eyes were drawn towards Galain’s shoulder, which was now almost fully closed. As she continued to eat, Galain began to idly rub off the scorch marks that his spells had left on his hands.

“You know, we’ve been traveling together for near half a year now, but I don’t think I’ve ever asked you,” she said. “What’s it like having a body like that? You don’t eat, you don’t drink, and you don’t bleed.”

“I’m always cold,” replied Galain, “And I’m always tired. I miss having a body of flesh and blood. Everything feels distant, as if it were happening to somebody else, a long time ago. It could be that the magic holding me together is beginning to run thin.”

“Are you going to die?”

“Sometimes I think that I might have already died when they made me like this. Whatever happens when my soul finally unbinds itself from this clay, it won’t be like death for anyone else, methinks.”

Muriel swallows a bite of bread, with a contemplative look in her eye.

“Why did you let them do it to you?”

“I was foolish and shortsighted,” said Galain. “We were hotheaded soldiers, and we knew we were losing the war. We thought we were all going to die, and I was desperate to give my death meaning. So when they told me that they had found a way to let mages cast dozens or even hundreds of spells a day, I was seduced by the idea of that kind of power.”

“Did… did it hurt, when they put you in there?” asked Muriel, eyes wide.

“No, not in the usual sense. I was asleep when it happened, and I woke up only just after they bound my soul to this golem.” Galain pinched the bridge of his nose. “I knew something was wrong. I felt it. I think they accidentally left some of my soul behind in my body. I should have said something, but then they took a knife and cut my old body’s throat. It was done so quickly.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Yes, it was.” Galain idly rubbed his wound. “One of the hardest things was learning how to move again. I was like an infant, and my body was a clumsy thing of rubble and dirt. It felt like I was trapped in the earth for an eternity—buried alive.”

“I’m sorry they did that to you, Gally.”

“It was my decision.” Galain met her eyes with his. “But learn from me. Do not make my mistakes.”

Muriel shot him an odd look.

“If you mean not to let some rebels put me in a pile of dirt, I don’t think there’s much chance for that.”

“No,” said Galain. “I mean to say that your life is precious. All life is precious. Don’t let people fool you into thinking otherwise.”

“Even those bandits?”

“Yes, even the bandits. They may be cruel, but there is no cruelty greater than death. There is no cruelty worth death.”

“That sounds awfully naïve of you,” said Muriel.

“Maybe people ought to be naïve,” said Galain. “I’ve justified doing terrible things when they gave me this body. And I’ve come to regret it all.”

“I don’t know…” replied Muriel. “Bad things happen all the time. Maybe we all need to be a little bad to survive.”

Galain thought about this for a minute.

“Muriel, do you believe in the stars?” he asked.

“Whaddya mean?”

Galain pointed up to the sky.

“Do you see their light?” he said. “It twinkles and shines the same way my runes and sigils do, when I cast them.”

“Yeah, it’s nice and pretty.”

“Some people think that the light that shines from a casting is the same as the twinkle of a star.” Galain sighed. “I heard this from a pair of mages I met back before the war. They said that in the beginning of time, the High Lords cleaved great runes into the very fabric of space itself. And it is through the magic of these great sigils that everything came to be. It’s said that the stars are the afterburn of that great spell, the one that ties this entire world together and breathes existence into the void.”

Muriel blew a raspberry. “That sounds like hogwash, Gally.”

Galain couldn’t help but chuckle. “I thought the same when I first heard it. But then I thought about it while I was in the war.”

He idly rubbed his palm.

“When you write a sigil,” he said, “and when you command it to change the world, you must describe exactly what will happen. It is why mages speak in Aelish to cast their spells. The tongue of the elves is the most precise, the most concise known language of all the Seven Realms.

“So if the stars are great sigils that cast us into being, they must be inscribed with everything that will ever happen. When the High Lords spoke power into the magic, they must have known everything that will happen as a result of it. Could it be that up there in the stars, our destinies are burned into the cosmos with thaumic fire?”

Muriel scrunched her nose. “I don’t think I like that. I want to be free. I want to do what I want to do.”

“Aye, that’s what many say.” Galain nodded. “But as for me, as for me, I’ve seen dreadful things. I’ve done dreadful things. And I loathe the thought that all these dreadful things were simply of the whim of man. It’s comforting to think that there might be some purpose to it all, even if this is all just wishful fancy.”

“Yeah, I see.” Muriel yawned, and put away the wineskin.

“Go to sleep, child. We’ll arrive at Isemholm tomorrow afternoon.”

“But what if the bandits come back?” she asked, as she struggled to keep her eyes open.

“Then I’ll stay awake to keep watch until dawn.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’ll be here when you wake.”

“Thank you, Gally,” she said, resting her back against the trunk of the oak.

“Think nothing of it.”

In just a few minutes, the girl was snoring peacefully. The meadows around them were quiet, and the wind was gentle tonight.

Galain looked up to the stars for the hundredth time in his life, and he contemplated their existence.

“Excuse me, good man,” said Galain.

The two of them approached the farmer, who was pulling weeds from a bed of turnips. He paused and rubbed his brow when the two of them reached the edge of his field.

“What can I do for you, travelers?”

“Does this farm of yours border the town of Isemholm?”

“Ye.” The farmer pointed with his chin. “The town’s down the road”

“And has the town an infirmary?” asked Galain.

“Ye. It’s a little ways out of town. It’ll come up on your left, little less than half a mile,” he said, motioning with his palm.

“Thank you, good man. We’ll be on our way, then,” said Galain with a wave.

“Lords protect you, traveler.”

“And you, as well.”

As soon as they were out of earshot, Muriel leapt ahead in joy.

“Eeeeeeha ha ha! Did you hear that? We’re going to see Tristan soon!” The girl threw both fists into the sky and let out a whoop.

“Our journey has been long,” agreed Gallain. “And we are at its well-deserved end.”

“Half a mile!” said Muriel, with an ear-to-ear grin. “Whooo! Naught but half a mile!”

Galain let Muriel bound ahead, her skips uneven from the weight of the pack slung over her shoulder. When she reached a bend in the road, she stopped and looked back.

“Hurry up, you clod! I can see the place from here!”

Her excitement was infectious, and Gallain couldn’t help but put a little more spirit into his gait. Yes, he could see it too, now. A group of half a dozen or so large, white plastered buildings, surrounding a small courtyard with a well.

The two of them approached the nearest of the buildings, and Galain knocked on its door. It was answered shortly by a tall young man, with spectacles.

“Hello,” he said, looking them both over. “What can I do for a pair of weary travelers, today?”

Before Gallain could open his mouth, Muriel leapt forward.

“Is this the infirmary? Do you know Tristan, from the town of Farreach?”

The man was clearly taken aback.

“Yes, this is the infirmary,” he managed. “Tristan of Farreach? Who is this man?”

“Forgive my companion’s excitement,” said Galain. “We’ve been on the road a long time, searching for her brother, a soldier in the Army of the King. We had heard that Isemholm was among the cities that accepted wounded from the battle of Fogmyre. We’ve been to all the others.”

“Yes, we have men from Fogmyre.” The man nodded. “Some of them have moved on, but many of them still stay with us.”

“Would you mind if we searched for Tristan among your patients?”

“Of course not,” said the man. He opened the door and motioned to them. “Come inside. I’ll take you to meet our head physician. She can help you find the man you’re looking for.”

“What’s your name?” asked Muriel as they stepped in line behind the young man.

“Roland,” he replied. “I am our head physician’s assistant.”

“And how many patients have you from Fogmyre?” asked Galain.

Roland thought for a moment.

“Perhaps a few more than fifty. We have several wounded who cannot speak, so we are unsure of which battle they came from.”

The three of them reached a long corridor, lined with doors to bedrooms. Roland opened the door to one of these rooms, where a woman lay napping in her bed.

“You’ll have to excuse her, she’s always working very hard.” said Roland. He opened the door a little further and spoke gently but firmly. “Eleanor?”

The woman was roused in a moment.

“Yes, Roland?” she said as she sat up, rubbing her hair from her eyes. “What is it?”

“We have visitors.” Roland motioned to Galain and Muriel. “The girl is looking for her brother, a soldier from Fogmyre.”

“I see,” said Eleanor. She looked the pair of them over.

Galain was surprised by how young she was. She had golden-brown hair and blue eyes. Her thin hands were wrapped in bandages that were splotched pink with blood.

A mage.

Eleanor sat upright on the edge of her bed.

“Here, child, take a seat,” she said, as she motioned to a stool. “What is your name?”

“Muriel,” the girl replied. She perched on the stool like a bird.

“Muriel, can you tell me about your brother?”

“Yes!” said Muriel. “His name is Tristan of Farreach, and he is called Tristan the Stout of Heart by his friends. He is tall and very handsome and very strong. He is black of hair, like me, and blue of eyes, like me.”

“I see,” said Eleanor. “And are you sure he was in the battle of Fogmyre?”

“Yes,” Muriel said, as she pawed through her pack. “He sent me letters while was in the army. In the last one, he said he was going to go to Fogmyre to root out a rebel stronghold.”

Muriel produced the letter in question and handed it to the head physician. Eleanor looked it over for several moments.

“Yes, I see.” She handed back the letter and turned to address her assistant. “Roland, would you take Muriel to the mess hall? It seems like a good place to begin looking. And make sure she gets a proper meal while she’s there.”

“Of course, Eleanor.” Roland motioned with his hand. “Come now, child. Follow me.”

“Yes, sir!” Muriel scampered to the door. “Thank you, ma’am!”

When the two of them left the room, Galain spoke.

“Thank you so much. We’re so—”

Eleanor interrupted him with a raised hand.

“Don’t thank me,” she said, wearily. “Take a seat.”

Galain took the stool that Muriel had left empty. Eleanor waited for a moment before speaking again.

“We have no patients from Fogmyre matching the girl’s description of her brother,” she said.

“But we’ve been to all the other cities! Surely there could be—”

“You are a soldier, are you not?” She off-handedly waved at Galain’s posture. “The way you carry yourself. You’ve fought in the war, yes?”

“I have,” Galain said.

“Then you know perhaps even better than I that Fogmyre was a slaughterhouse. We lost half our patients within the first three days of their arrival. Many more died on the way here.”

Galain sighed and slumped in his seat. “Muriel will be heartbroken.”

“Are you the girl’s father?” asked Eleanor.

“No,” said Galain. “She has no family, now.”

“Then, forgive my curiosity, but how did you two come to travel together?”

“I found her on the side of the road in Farreach,” Galain said. “Her parents were dead of the plague, and her brother was lost in the war. She tried to sell me her donkey for a few coins to buy food. And I thought that perhaps I could do some good in this world, instead of doing it ill.”

“What a shame,” said Eleanor. She pulled another wisp of hair out of her eyes. “What a shame.”

“Your bandages,” said Galain, motioning to the bloodstained gauze. He was eager to change the subject. “How often do you cast?”

She idly picked at the dressing around one of her hands..

“Twice, or maybe three times a week.”

Galain’s eyes widened. “Three times? You will lose your hands at that rate!”

“We have some patients who need restoration spells cast weekly or even daily. Others need spells to tolerate their pain.” She rubbed her bandaged palms together. “I have a several doctors who are magically gifted, so we take turns. It is difficult, but we manage.”

“But, three times a week?” Galain shook his head. “My captain used to worry for me if I had to cast more than three times a month. And I was a soldier, too!”

“That’s the difference, I suppose,” said Eleanor. “You don’t always need magic to kill someone, but sometimes you need it to keep someone alive. Fixing messes are a lot more difficult than making them.”

Galain bit his lip.

This is not right.

“Then let me help,” he said. “I can cast spells for whichever patients of yours need it right now.”

Eleanor gave half a smile.

“Thank you for your generous offer, but we have four patients today alone that my colleagues and I will need to cast for.”

“I can do them all.” Galain nodded. “I am a soulbound mage.”

“A soulbound?” Eleanor’s eyebrows crept higher and higher. She leaned forward and peered intently at Galain’s face. “You do not look like a golem to me.”

“Have you a scalpel, doctor?”

“Wait a moment.” Eleanor got up and strode to a desk by her bed. She opened a drawer that was full of little wooden carvings of ducks and horses and princesses, and she retrieved a small whittling knife. “Will this do?”

“Yes, perfectly.”

Galain took the knife and carefully ran it across the top of his palm, taking off a thin layer and revealing the clay underneath. He showed his hand to the physician.

“You may feel it, if you’d like.”

The bewildered doctor reached out with both hands and brought Galain’s palm up to her eyes. She dabbed at the exposed wet clay with the tip of her finger.

“By the High Lords…” she muttered as she released his hand. “How is this possible?”

“As near as I can tell, this is happening to all of the soulbound,” said Galain, as he rubbed away the slight injury. “The clay is rendered living, to allow for the channeling of spells. And once bound, our souls shape the life in the clay. Perhaps at some level, the clay realizes what shape it is meant to take, deliberate or not.”

Eleanor slumped back into her bed.

“So you were a rebel, then?”

“Yes. But I have rescinded my past ways in whole,” said Galain. “I have come to loathe my actions in the war, but I understand if you might still be distrustful.”

“No, no,” she said, waving her hand. “We’ve treated many former rebels here, and one of our doctors used to be a rebel medic. I just found it funny.”

Galain smiled. “Oh yes. A rebel soulbound, traveling with a young girl, looking for her brother in the King’s Army. I suppose we make quite the pair.”

“That you do, sir, uh…” She slapped the palm of her hand to her forehead. “Gods above, I seem to have forgotten to ask you your name.”

“It’s Galain.”

“Well, Galain, my assistants and I will be much indebted to you if you’re still willing to lighten our load.”

“Of course I am.”

“Wonderful.” Eleanor walked back to her desk. “I have brush and ink somewhere, along with an Aelish glossary if you need it.”

“Nay, I have my own supplies,” said Galain, patting his knapsack. “just point me where I am needed.”

“Then come with me.” Eleanor strode to the door. “We must make haste. Aedan may already be preparing to cast his spell for the day.”

“Yes, of course.”

Galain followed the young woman as she quickly strode through the halls. The two of them rounded a corner, and Eleanor strode into a ward where perhaps a dozen patients were sitting or lying on thin cots. A doctor with bandaged hands sat on the floor in the corner, flipping through a medical reference book.

“Aedan, have you cast restoration on Sir Bowing yet?”

The physician looked up in surprise. He seemed a little older than Eleanor, with the starts of grey tuffs in his sideburns.

“Not yet, ma’am. Shall I do it now?”

“Nay. You need not cast it today.” She motioned behind her. “This is Galain. He’s a soulbound, and he’s offered to take care of spellcasting duties for the day.”

The older man’s brows raised slightly, and he looked over Galain with a new eye.

“Well, I appreciate the help, sir,” he said. “These hands of mine are beginning to feel very worn.”

“It is no trouble at all, doctor,” said Galain. “Could you direct me to the patient?”

“Yes, right this way.”

The doctor led them to a man in a cot who wheezed as he breathed. Bloodstained dressings covered a deep chest wound.

“He’s asleep right now, thank god Lords,” Aedan whispered. “But his wound grows worse by the hour.”

“What manner of injury has he sustained?” asked Gailan.

“A cursed blade, right through the ribs. Every week the wound reopens, and he bleeds into his lungs. It’s been getting better as the curse wears off, but it is a slow process.”

“I see,” said Gailan. He lifted the gauze and examined the dark, oozing gash.

“None of us are very learned at spellcrafting,” said Eleanor. “We mostly use simple commands—ar gracyn or ar kalin—for fear of using the wrong words.”

“That is likely very sufficient.” Galain began painting healing sigils on each of his hands. “My own spell will be not much different.”

When he was done, he lifted his open palms towards the injured man.

“Rin yar, ki ar gracyn.” Breath easy, and be healed.

As white flames engulfed Galain’s hands, the sleeping man sighed in relief. His wheezing quieted and gave way to peaceful snores.

“That’s your third spell in as many hours,” said Eleanor, late that afternoon. “Do you need a rest?”

“No, I can still cast.” Galain rubbed the scorch marks from his hands. “Where is the last patient?”

“He’s in the burn ward,” Eleanor said, as she walked. “Dragonfire over most of his body. The burns have almost fully healed, but the pain is still as bad as the day he received them. He’s one of our daily casts.”

“Dragonfire?” Galain asked. “How did that happen?”

“We don’t know. He simply arrived at our door one night, screaming and covered in red-hot blisters. Two of our nurses badly burned their hands trying to get him inside. By the time we pieced together what was happening, the burns had already reached his throat. He hasn’t been able to say a word since.”

“I see.”

“We’re nearly at his room now,” said Eleanor. “Our spells have had little effect on his wounds, so we can only change his bandages and help him manage his pain before we—”


Gallain turned to see Muriel running at him, with Roland following behind. The girl leapt into his arms, and Galain stumbled to catch her. And then he realized she was crying.

“He’s not here, Gally,” she managed between sobs. “Tristan’s not here.”

“Oh, Muriel. I’m so sorry, child.”

“This is the very last city, and he’s not here.” Muriel took fistfuls of Galain’s cloak and buried her face in his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, sir” said Roland. “We’ve asked the entire staff, but none of them are familiar with the name. And of the men from Fogmyre, none recall a tall man of black hair and blue eyes.”

Galain stroked Muriel’s hair and picked her up as her sobs turned into quiet gasping breaths.

“I miss my brother, Gally. I miss him dearly.” Muriel sniffed and hiccupped.

Galain stayed there, holding her for a few minutes. Eleanor and Roland stood a little further down the hall to give them room. Finally, Gallain spoke, but he was unsure of his words.

“Muriel, I need to help a man who’s very badly hurt. These doctors need me to cast a spell on him to keep him from terrible pain.” He paused a moment as Muriel wiped tears from her eyes with his hood. “Can you be strong for me? I need to help this man.”

Wordlessly, she nodded and allowed him to put her down. But she still grasped his hand as they walked across the short distance to where the others were waiting.

“Thank you for giving us a moment,” said Galain.

“It’s no trouble at all,” said Eleanor.

“Is this the patient’s room?”

“Yes.” Eleanor opened the door and led them inside.

On a cushioned bed there lay a man whose face was covered in gauze, from his eyes down to his lips. Bandages circled up and down his arms and legs and crisscrossed his chest and belly. There was hardly any part of him that was visible.

“May I examine his burns?”

Eleanor nodded. She slowly and carefully took one of the burned man’s arms, and ever so gently undid the dressing. As she peeled away layers, the bandages became wet from the weeping skin underneath.

When she was done, she carefully showed the exposed flesh to Galain. He studied it for a moment, and sighed.

“The skin leaks and bleeds. This is not dragonfire.”

“What?” Eleanor said. “How could this be? What other flame ignites the skin like a hot coal?”

“We called it balefire.” Galain rubbed his temple. “It is man’s attempt to magically imitate the properties of dragonfire wounds.”

“How do you know this?” asked Roland.

“I’ve used this spell before,” said Galain, simply. He reached into his knapsack and retrieved a book. “The command is ar tani menso. ‘Burn forever.’”

There was a silence of several moments while Eleanor redressed the man’s arm. When she was done, she turned back to Galain and looked him dead in the eye.

“Can you fix this, then?” she said.

“Yes. It is a man-made curse, so I need only to formulate a counterspell.” Galain flipped through the spellbook in his hand. “Given… my familiarity with the original spell, this should only take a moment.”

He creased the book open at a certain page, and studied it while he painted two large and complicated sigils on each hand, giving the ink plenty of time to dry. When he was done, he removed his shirt and added two more sigils to his wrists, and one more on his shoulder.

“That should do it,” he said, after the ink set. Raising his arms, he began to channel.

“Kalen ra.” Become undone.

Galain’s arms lit up in flames, and the room was filled with the smell of burnt earth. When the afterburned died out, Galain brushed the ash off of his body.

“Did it work?” asked Roland.

“Yes, I believe it did,” said Galain as he put his cloak back on. “His burns will remain, but the curse is lifted. They will heal naturally, and the pain should begin to fade soon.”

“Thank you so much,” said Roland. “You have done this man a great deal of good, and you have helped us immensely.”

“I am glad, then.” Galain smiled. “But perhaps we should watch the patient for a few hours, just in case.”

“Yes, that does sound wise.” Roland nodded.

“I’ll bring us some chairs,” said Eleanor. “Galain, would you come and help me?”

Galain was confused for just a moment, before he saw the pointed look in Eleanor’s eyes.

“Of course, ma’am,” he said. He left his books and his pack on the floor, and followed the doctor out of the room.

“Galain,” she said, as soon as the two were a bit away from the room. “I am sorry to hear that Muriel wasn’t able to find her brother here. I am sure that your journey will take you elsewhere, now.” She paused fora moment. “But what if it didn’t?”

Galain studied her face. He saw unsureness and desperate sort of longing.

“What is this about?” asked Galain.

“I’ll be blunt. We need your kind of help, here. Our mages are inexperienced and worn thin.” Eleanor sighed. “I wouldn’t be able to pay you as much as a magus normally would make, but I can offer you a room, and meals for Muriel. We can teach her, too. She’ll learn a trade and she’ll be well taken care of.”

Galain ran his fingers through his hair.

“I need to think about this. I’ve never really made any decisions for Muriel.”

“Talk to her if you wish,” said Eleanor. “But to me, it sounds like you’re a man who’s been waiting to make a difference. This could be your chance. Perhaps you couldn’t find Muriel’s family for her, but you can give her a life here. And you’ll help a lot of people along the way, too.”

Just as Galain is about to reply, a set of hurried footsteps approached them from behind. Panting from his sprint, Roland pointed back to the burned man’s room.

“Ma’am. Sir,” he managed to gasp out. “The patient speaks. You need to hear what he has to say.”

Eleanor and Roland were already moving by the time Galain processed it. When he arrived at in the room, Roland was kneeling beside the patient’s head. Several bandages had been undone, allowing the burn victim to open his sharp black eyes.

“Gally!” Muriel bounded forward and seized Galain’s leg, excitement twinkling in her eyes.

“What is it, child?” Galain asked, confused.

“Listen!” she said, pointing to the patient.

“That’s right,” said Roland, leaning closer to the man in the bed. “Tell the gentleman and the lady what you just told us.”

The man rasped for several breaths, and then his voice came in a dry whisper.

“Ye was talking in the hallway. ‘Bout a man from Fogmyre.” He paused to catch his breath and lick his dry lips. “Tall, with black hair and blue eyes. I knew a man like that.”

“Was his name Tristan the Stout of Heart, from Farreach?” asked Muriel, eagerly.

“I dunno, little miss. We only shared a trench for a few hours,” said the burned man. “But he said he couldn’t die, ‘cause he had some sort of unfinished business in Riverside.”

“Riverside?” Muriel asked. “That’s on the other side of the Shining Sea. What could Tristan possibly need to do there?”

“I dunno,” he rasped. “I’m sorry little miss, that’s all I remember. A shell hit near us, and when I came to again, I couldn’t find him.”

“That’s okay,” said Roland. “Thank you for your help, sir.”

“Wait, wait,” said the burned man. He fixed his eyes on Galain. “You. Your voice. You’re the one who healed me.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Thank you, master mage,” the man said, teary eyed. “Thank you.”

Galain simply stood there, dumbstruck by it all.

Late that night, there came a knock on the door of the room the infirmary had lent them. Galain awoke, and carefully made his way to the door, taking pains to leave Muriel undisturbed. He opened the door and closed it behind him.


“Galain,” said the young doctor. She still wore her work clothes, and she carried a gas lantern.

“What can I do for you, ma’am?”

Eleanor sighed.

“I hear from Roland that you two plan to head out to Portville at dawn’s first light,” she said.

“Yes.” Galain nodded. “I’ve told Muriel that the man he described may not be Tristan, but she needs to see for herself. She needs to know for sure.”

“What of my offer? Have you given it any thought?”

Galain took a deep breath.

“I’m sorry, Eleanor, but Muriel must come first. We’ve traveled for so long, we need to see this through together. We may find Tristan, or we may not, but we cannot leave this book open.”

“But will you come back from Riverside when your journey is complete?” asked Eleanor. “I know its not in my place to ask, but we desperately need your kind of help. And I know that you long to correct your past mistakes as well.”

“Eleanor,” said Gallain. “… When I heard that man thank me for healing his burns, I realized—it was one of my brothers in arms who burnt him. It may even have been me. I’ve always known it in my head, but to hear him thank me for having the knowledge that put him in agony for more than a year was altogether wrong. I don’t know if I can live a life where I need to face that truth every day.”

“I know it’s difficult, but you can right your wrongs. Your past need not dictate what you are today. Please, help us, Gallain,” she pleaded.

Gallain sighed. He sat down on the floor, back against the door. After a few moments, Eleanor tentatively followed suit, taking a seat next to him.

“Do you believe in the stars, Eleanor?” he asked.

“Yes.” Eleanor brushed her bangs out of her eyes. “Before he passed away, my mentor was the chief physician of this place. He taught me about magic and about the stars when I was still a little girl.”

“Then you know that our future is written up there, as is our past. I know my past is inescapable, but I struggle to know its meaning, sometimes. Life is tumultuous, and memory is fickle.”

Galain sighed before he continued.

“I know not what our jouney to Riverside will bring, but I’ll spend the time to ponder your offer. And if I can broker a peace between it and my past, I will come back.”

Eleanor nodded. Reaching over, she fished around in her purse before extracting two large gold coins. She pressed them into Galain’s palm.

“Two gold sovereigns,” she said. “One will buy you passage across the Shining Sea, and the other will buy you passage back.”

“I can’t take these,” said Galain.

“They’re already yours, Galain,” she said, standing up. “We owe you something for the work you’ve done today.”

Galain studied the coins, and then looked up to Eleanor.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Think nothing of it,” she replied. “All I ask is for you two to have a safe journey, to Riverside and back. And perhaps, stars permitting, we will see each other again, in happier times.”

“Stars permitting,” Galain repeated.

Eleanor turned and walked away. Galain watched the light of the lantern fade down the hallway, until for a moment, it was nothing but a twinkling point of light in the dark distance.

“Have you ever been on a boat before, Gally?”

The two of them were sitting on the docks, waiting for their turn to board a clipper headed for Blackwood Port. From there, it was a week-long walk to Riverside.

“Yes, I have, Muriel. Several times, in fact.”

“Have you a spell that’ll cure seasickness?” she asked, tentatively.

Galain smiled. “No, child, I do not.”

“Rats!” She stomped the pier. “I haven’t ever thrown up before. Not since I was a wee baby, and I’m deathly afraid of it. Does it hurt?”

“It is certainly unpleasant.” Galain smiled. “But you have nothing to worry about. Children get their sea legs faster than grown men do. You’ll be fine.”

“Okay…” She did not seem altogether convinced. “I never really thought about it, you know? What does it feel like for food to go the other way? What does it taste like when it comes back out?”

“Sour, with just enough sickly sweetness to make it worse.”

“Euwgh! Nasty!” Muriel stuck out her tongue and gagged.

She settled down by Galain’s side, and together they watched the morning boats leave port. All around them were the sounds of seagulls, of waves, and of men hard at work. The air smelled of salt and water and fish, and the breeze was warm against their skin.

“You know, Gally,” said Muriel. “I miss Roland, and Eleanor, and the others at Isemholm. They were really nice to us, weren’t they?”

“Yes they were.” Galain nodded. “Would you like to visit them, when our business in Riverside is done?”

“I think I’d like that!” Muriel danced across the dock, making it a game not to step on the cracks between the planks. “Wouldn’t it be great if they got to meet Tristan?”

“Yes, that’d be quite the day.” Galain looked out across the sea, and pretended that he could make out the future on the other side of the great blue waves.

“Stars permitting, that would certainly be quite the day.”

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