Interludes – Blessing life
Illustration by Mark Hansen
Shadows swirled around Kiffra in waves of blackness, the winds of darkness enveloping him in comfortably familiar oblivion. He breathed deep and drank it into his core, his heart, his being. He felt focused points of extreme emptiness and void, the fear, suffering, and sorrow of the people all around him.
His will surged within. Some mages described this as a warmth, but for Kiffra, it felt hollow, like an empty cup that he’d fill from the dark mists. This emptiness filled him, surrounded him, and he savored it.
He’d known how to use the shadow for years. It had been what had protected him and kept him complete in his youth, his servitude. When he’d been beaten or scolded, it had lifted him. When he’d been neglected or punished, it had preserved him. Shadow was always there for him. Wherever there was light, there was also shadow. Now, he knew how to make it work for others as well.
He reached out his hands to touch one of the sick ones on the bed to his left. He immediately sensed their shivering, their gasping, their pain. Holding his hand in place, he turned to face another dark void lying at his right. He reached to it and touched the chest of another soul stricken with the plague.
His chest hurt and became hard to breathe. He felt their aching muscles and their fevers. Under his will, he wrapped them in blankets of shadow and darkness. The deep swirled around them, through them, drawing out the sickness, the suffering, and the fear. The plague flowed from them through the shadow into Kiffra, and into his emptiness, sucked in, drawn in, and dispelled out into nothingness.
The darkness lifted from the now sleeping forms and surrounded Kiffra in a tight and cozy embrace. The shadows swirled even more closely around him, taking all of the disease’s hurting until they drained out through his will into void. Kiffra drew in a deep and healing breath as the sympathetic pains eased from his limbs.
With a tranquil sigh, Kiffra opened his eyes. The darkness fell, dissipating into the shadows under the beds and chairs, and in the corners of the room. He blinked. He nodded. His elbow twitched and he rubbed it.
He was a little light-headed. Tiredness replaced the magic. He sat down. The two people bedridden with the plague lay on their beds. One was an old man, just like Kiffra. He was frail. His hair and pillow were drenched. The other was on Kiffra’s right, a woman. Probably his wife. They both slept. Their breathing was clear and steady. They looked… peaceful.
“Are they…” A young woman asked, “Are they… well? Did it work?” She looked at Kiffra. Her eyes were wide and hollow. She looked exhausted.
“Yes,” Kiffra said. He stood up. “They’re well. Let them rest.” Tonklyn also stood.
“They’re well?” she whispered. The lady’s dress hem was ragged. She had holes in her shoes. She heaved out a sigh. “They’re… well.”
Kiffra turned to go to the door. The woman jumped to him and hugged him tight. Kiffra tensed. No hugs! No hugs!
“Thank you! Thank you, sir,” she said into his shoulder. He tried to back away. She kept her grip. Another set of arms embraced his legs. Kiffra stood frozen. His elbow twitched. He couldn’t move to soothe it.
Finally, she let go. He heard her sniffle and breathe deep. A young boy looked up at Kiffra. “Did you cure Gramma?”
Kiffra glanced away. “Yes.” The boy looked at his mom with wonder.
“Go fetch the pouch.” The woman said. The boy nodded and ran.
Kiffra’s tension eased. His heart beat slower, so he stepped away. He gestured Tonklyn to the door. Verd sat there on a stool. His feet dangled in the air. Kiffra smiled. Verd is the same size as that boy. And he’s a grown up. Kiffra nodded to him. “Let’s go.”
“Wait!” The woman called out. Kiffra glanced behind him. She shook a couple of coins out of a pouch, onto her palm. “Here! Take this!” She dropped the coins back into the pouch. She yanked it tight and held it out.
Kiffra waved his hands and turned away. “Oh, no,” he murmured. “Keep it.”
“It’s not much,” she said. “Only a little more than two silvers.”
Kiffra just shook his head. “No. Keep it.”
“You’ve saved our family! I would give you anything!” She held it out to Tonklyn. “Please, sir.”
Tonklyn stared at the purse. He glanced at Kiffra, then the lady. He looked back at Kiffra and shrugged. Kiffra shook his head. Tonklyn reached and took the pouch anyway.
Kiffra opened the door and stepped out into the street. Snowflakes floated down onto the cobblestones. Verd walked before him. Tonklyn’s footsteps followed.
Verd started walking backwards. He smiled up at Kiffra. Verd’s face was narrow and sharp and funny-looking. He had short blond hair under his hat. “Tha’ was great! They’re sure happy! How d’ya feel, Kiff?”
Kiffra smiled back. “I’m tired. I forgot my cane.”
Verd nodded and spun. “I’ll guide ye both home quick, so ya can rest!”
They passed the plaza. There were seven people walking back and forth. It was mostly quiet, though. There was a big wagon on the left. Two men in black cloaks and funny crow doctor masks loaded dead people onto it. Three bodies. The other people avoided the cart.
They walked back into the alleyway. It was the same one they’d been in before.
“Hey,” tonklyn said, “Why didn’t you take the silver?”
Kiffra kept walking. “It’s not right.”
Tonklyn asked, “Why not?”
Kiffra stopped and thought. Verd stopped too. He took off his cap, flipped it in the wind, and put it back on. Kiffra’s elbow twitched, so he reached across under his cloak to rub it. “It just isn’t. I don’t know.” He glanced up at Tonklyn. His face was awkward, confused. Kiffra shrugged and looked away. “I just help people.”
“Hmm,” Tonklyn said, “but if they had hired you to clean their house, wouldn’t you want them to pay you?”
Kiffra rubbed his elbow. “Yeah.”
“And if they had dropped these coins into your cup on the street, wouldn’t you be happy to bring it all back to the bond?”
Kiffra stretched his arm. “Yeah.” He sniffed and wiped his nose.
“So why won’t you let them pay you for saving their lives?”
Verd watched Kiffra, a concerned look on his face.
Kiffra shrugged and started walking again. “I don’t know. I think the Creator likes it when I help. I don’t need to be paid for it.” Verd fell into step beside him.
“Wait!” Tonklyn caught up behind him. “Another thing: You used shadow powers back there.”
“But,” Tonklyn asked, “you pray to your Creator every day and every night. You say you want to make the Creator happy.”
Kiffra just nodded as he walked.
“So, how is it that you’re a shadow mage? Don’t the priests only use Light powers? And how does shadow magic heal?”
Kiffra’s elbow twitched and his jaw tensed. He rubbed his elbow. Walk on. Walk on. His gaze drilled deep into the cobblestones in front of him. Memories filled his head. He could feel the pain of the rod on his back. He heard the shouts in his ears, “Shadow comes from the Destroyer!” He remembered shrieking and fear. He reached up and pulled his hood tight over his head. He pulled it far down over his eyes. Just walk on.
“I’m just asking,” Tonklyn said, “It doesn’t make sense.”
Kiffra drank in deep calming breaths. He tried to slow his pace and ease his heartbeat. Just walk on. Creator, bless my steps. Just walk on.
Author’s Note: Blessing Lives
Tonklyn’s in a bit of a spot, here. He doesn’t understand why Kiffra does the things he does. Kiffra goes around blessing other people’s lives, and refuses to take compensation for it. Tonklyn’s own experiences with shadow magic (Kirraxal making the dragonbonded soldiers, for example) has all been very dark and evil things. How can shadow magic be a blessing?
This is the start of Tonklyn’s turnaround. It won’t be easy, and it won’t always make sense, but he is getting a glimpse into a world where blessing the lives of others has value.
As you’ll see in a few more scenes, he still doesn’t understand the full meaning of what a blessing is, and how it can feel. So, he definitely doesn’t understand how he can be a blessing to others.
That might be one blessing too many.
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