“It’s for a set of twins, magic users in The Slums,” Ulani said, finishing the job offer. Ulani was a Mascara with yellow skin and antlers like a deer. She’d been giving us job tips for the past couple of years.
“It’s a lot of gold, Trace,” Asha commented.
“But we don’t really need to gold, Ash,” I reminded her. As I started getting older, and Asha really didn’t, we started to settle down a little bit. We’d made a good bit of coin adventuring, and we bought a house on the northeast side of Middle Anglachel. Many of our companions were able to retire, and about as many weren’t so lucky. Now that it was just the two of us again, we were able to be pretty selective on the jobs we took. “Is this really the kind of job we want? What did they even do?”
“The official job offer doesn’t say, it just has their names and descriptions,” Ulani answered.
“I think you know I’m not asking about the official job offer. You’ve had to have heard people talk about them,” I said, trying to coax the truth out of her.
“Only because it’s you, Miss Traci,” Ulani sighed. “You know you’ve always reminded me of my mother.”
I could have done without that last bit. I really didn’t think about the long-term of being in love with an Elf. It was getting pretty annoying when people started mistaking me for Asha’s aunt or mother. We were the same age, but she only looked about three years older than when I’d first met her. To most people, at least. I could always see the years of pain and hardship in her.
“People say that they’re messing with the balance of power in the city,” Ulani began. “See, the girl, Quinn, she can do necromancy magic. She’s been using it to heal up people in The Slums. It’s taking business away from the doctors in the market. The boy, Quincy, he can do Holy magic. He’s been putting blessings on people, and they’ve been staying healthier. The factory owners in the Business District hate it.”
“Why?” Asha asked. “I thought all they cared about were productivity. Wouldn’t they be happy that their workers can come in more often?”
“If you’re going to pick ‘em this young, Miss Traci, you should at least make sure they’re smart,” Ulani said with a laugh. Asha looked back at me and smiled. She thought it was funny when someone called her young.
“Why don’t you go ahead and answer her question, Ulan?” I said.
“Sure, sure. The factories count on their staff getting sick or breaking down by the time they reach middle age. If they quit before they get old, they can trade them in for someone younger. If their staff stays healthy, they’re going to get old. Even if they stay as productive, they have to pay them more for their years of experience,” Ulani explained.
“So the millionaires in the city want to nip this in the bud before they lose too much money,” I reasoned.
“That’s evil,” Asha said.
“Maybe she is smart,” Ulani said.
“You said they are magic users, but they live in The Slums. Did they go to Arcana University on a scholarship?” I asked.
“No, no, Miss Traci. These two aren’t even old enough to have started the university. They must have been born with their magic,” Ulani said.
“So they’re like me,” I said.
“What do you think, Trace?” Asha asked.
“Let’s take the job,” I told Ulani.
“Really? You gonna take them down?” Ulani said, surprised.
“Something like that,” I said.
Ulani gave us all the information she had about the job. My magic had gotten a lot stronger after the 30 years we’d been adventuring, and Asha finally stopped worrying so much about me using up my power. I teleported us to a fancy office in the Business District, and we negotiated a higher rate with the client. Apparently, they really do pay more for experience. I made sure the contract worded that we would “take care” of them. I’ve learned that vague wording is a lifesaver in these kinds of jobs. I teleported us to the edge of The Slums, and we began walking to the location of the twins’ most recent pop-up clinic.
“We’re saving them, right?” Asha said, knowing the answer already.
“Of course,” I said. “These two are obviously doing what they think is the right thing. They shouldn’t be killed for that. You know the other adventurers in town wouldn’t think twice about it.”
“Oh, I know,” Asha said. “And they’ll be great assets. Necromancy and Holy magic are pretty rare. Especially when it’s innate. Think of how easy it would be to clear out undead with them!”
“This isn’t a recruitment trip. We want them to help them choose what they want for themselves,” I chided Asha. She’d been like this for a few years now. I knew she loved me, but it felt like everybody else was a resource for her. She’d stopped caring about anyone that wasn’t us.
“Sure, but you know they’ll want to be adventurers,” Asha countered. “What kind of a life is there for two young people with powerful magic that’s not this life?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe we could pay for them to get into the university?”
“Are we adopting these kids?!” Asha guffawed.
“Would that really be so bad?” I asked. “To have a couple of people to look after us when we grow old?”
“I think you mean when you grow old,” Asha said.
“You’re just as old as I am,” I reminded her. “You’re going to start slowing down, too.”
“Whatever you say, babe,” Asha said before jogging ahead to check the cross street in front of us.
It took us a while to ask around and figure out where they would be, but we eventually got word that they would be setting up a pop-up clinic that night in an abandoned warehouse at The Docks.
“Why’s it always a warehouse in The Docks?” Asha asked.
“You’ve gotta love the classics,” I said. “At least they’re not doing evil things there.”
“What they’re doing is still illegal, Trace. They don’t have a permit to run a magic business here. What the rich guys are doing is wrong, but that doesn’t make what they’re doing right,” Asha said.
“Since when did you care so much about the law? Aren’t you the same Asha Alistar that stole 5,000 gold from the bank of Anglachel because a teller was rude to you once?” I asked.
“It was for more than that, but yeah, pretty much,” She said. “O.K., so they’re helping people illegally, who cares? They probably don’t know any better.”
“Now you’re getting it,” I said approvingly.
“Let’s go adopt these kids!” Asha said, racing ahead and throwing her fist into the air.
Hearing her say it made me feel warm inside. She actually wanted to let new people into our life. Really let them in. Maybe she wasn’t changing so much after all.
We finally found the warehouse, and we decided I should go in first. I could teleport in and try to explain what we were doing here. Asha would sneak in the back and provide backup if they weren’t initially receptive to our offer.
I looked through the front window, and I spotted a locked door outlined in light. They were here. I teleported to the door and knocked.
“Look, I don’t know how you got in here, but we’re not open yet,” A high-pitched feminine voice called out.
“Quinn, I’m here to speak with you. I think you’ll want to hear what I have to say,” I called through the door.
“Lady, I don’t know who you are, but we are busy,” a similarly high-pitched masculine voice yelled.
“I’m giving you a chance to come out here on your own, I don’t want to drag you out of here,” I tried. I didn’t want to threaten them, but they were clearly already on guard.
“Try us, lady,” Quincy snapped.
I teleported the door off its hinges to reveal the twins setting up chairs in a large room. They were just setting up for the clinic. They were humans with light skin and dark hair. Quincy’s hair was combed to the left side and draped in front of his eyes. Quinn’s hair was long, with bangs perfectly framing her face. They were really thin. Free clinics must pay as much as it sounds.
“I warned you!” Quincy shouted at me. He lifted his hand towards me, and it began to glow with a bright light.
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” Asha’s voice growled. She was suddenly standing behind Quincy with a sword held to his throat.
“Please, we don’t want any trouble,” Quinn said, panicked. “We just want to help people.”
“I know that,” I said, trying to reassure her. “We don’t want any trouble either.”
“Your friend’s sword tells a different story,” Quincy said. His eyes were moving around wildly, trying to catch a glimpse of his assailant without actually moving his head.
“Drop your hand, and I’ll move the blade away from under your chin,” Asha said authoritatively.
Quinn and Quincy looked each other in the eyes for what felt like an eternity. Finally, Quincy lowered his hand.
“Was that so hard?” Asha asked, slowly returning the blade to its scabbard.
“They’re scared, give them a little slack,” I begged her.
“Fine,” Asha relented.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” Quinn asked carefully, not sure what she was supposed to do.
“We were hired by some really powerful people in this city. They don’t like what you’re doing in The Slums,” I explained, trying to keep any inflection out of my voice. I wanted to give them the information without giving away what we thought about it.
“So why not just kill us?” Quincy asked. “Clearly, the two of you could have just done that without much trouble.”
“You got that right,” Asha agreed.
“I’m like you,” I explained. “I was born with the power to use spatial magic. I know what it’s like not to understand your own power.”
“We don’t need your help,” Quincy said, a little too quickly,
“Quinc, I would like to learn how to control my power. I almost made Mrs. Meadows a zombie. What would we have done if that happened?” Quinn asked.
“We’d have figured it out. I could have blasted it with my Holy magic,” Quincy said.
“And kill everyone at the clinic? You’ve never been able to control your blasts either,” Quinn retorted.
I began slowly walking up to Quinn.
“I can help you,” I said. “It has taken me years to learn how to control my magic. I can teach you how I did it.”
“Why would you help us? Do these ‘powerful people’ want to use us?” Quincy asked.
“I’m sure they’d love to,” Asha quipped. “But we don’t. We want to make them think you’ve been taken out. We’ll still get paid, but we can help the two of you build a new life.”
“Why should we trust you?” Quincy asked, narrowing his eyes at Asha.
“Maybe because I didn’t kill you when I had the chance?” Asha offered. “If you don’t trust us, you’re going to die. Not at our hands, but they’re just going to hire someone else. After decades of doing this, I can confidently say we’re the most merciful mercenaries in the business.”
“Decade? How old are you? You look like you’re our age?” Quinn questioned.
“We’ll explain everything,” I said. “But we have to get out of here. If we could find you, it is only a matter of time until someone else does too.”
“Could we do the clinic?” Quincy asked. “There are people counting on us. This can be our last one, but there are promises we made last time that I want to keep.”
“Asha, what do you say? Can we play bodyguard for one night?” I asked.
“Honestly,” Asha began, “Sounds like fun.”
“O.K., so we have a deal?” I asked. “We keep you and your patients safe for one night, and you’ll come with us.”
“Deal,” Quinn said, clearly before her brother could chime in.
I felt really good. We’d done it. We saved two kids, and Asha seems willing to get to know them better. I started to feel like my worry might have been misguided. I might have been seeing things in Asha that I expected to see instead of what was actually there. She pulled Quincy aside it made me smile. She must have seen some of herself in him, I certainly did.
“So you’re interested in learning more about zombies?” I overheard her ask him.
These stories serve as inspiration for the upcoming short story collection, Tyranny of the Fey. The collection will be released in Fall 2023. You can get a $1 preview now!