The Generous Patron

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This story is dedicated first and foremost to my generous and supportive patrons ♥

“Damn.”

Alan sighed and dropped his hands. A moment later, the half formed construction of fire that hovered before him vanished. Without its flickering light, the market stall was cold and dark.

He’d tried to make a Phoenix. Not an actual living creature that could take to the sky, but a forging of elemental magic, a work of art, a tribute to nature’s greatest and most breathtaking creatures.

But nobody had come to visit. Nobody had come to see his spectacular figures of ice and fire, so what did it matter that he hadn’t gotten this last one right?

His big brother’s words came back to him.

There’s no money in magic. Go out and find a real job.

But Alan had been young and idealistic. He believed the world needed magic, that without its beauty, the awe that it inspired, life wasn’t worth living. Now, Alan thought maybe his brother had been right all along. Maybe there was no place for his kind of talent.

Cold and alone, Alan started packing up for the night.

He was about to unravel the cord that anchored his tent to the ground when a soft female voice startled him.

“I’d like to see what you have to offer.”

Alan spun, almost knocking into a nearby table, and spied a young woman dressed in a dark coat, eyes catching the light of distant lanterns so they seemed to glow.

“Sorry, ma’am,” he said, catching his breath. “I’m closing.”

“That’s a shame.”

“You wouldn’t be interested, anyway,” said Alan, years of bitterness rising to the fore. “Just worthless avatars, nothing of actual value.”

“I’d like to be the judge of what I find interesting.”

A breeze swept through the dwindling market, kicking up dried leaves, yet the fabric of her coat remained untouched. There was something about her stately presence that unnerved him, and he felt suddenly as if he were dreaming.

“I only dabble in magic,” he found himself saying, averting his gaze. “Surely you’d prefer something of more practical value.”

“I happen to like magic.”

He stared at her for a moment, then nodded. Fine, he could cycle through a few forms. When she tired of his art he could send her on her way and be that much closer to going home.

“All right,” he said, and he sat down before the broad oak table he’d almost toppled a moment before.

What should he make for her? He tried to think of something captivating, but found he was too self conscious to think clearly.

As if sensing his vulnerability, she sat down in an empty chair across from him and took one of his hands into her own.

“Go on,” she insisted. “Form whatever’s in your heart.”

Now, the light in her eyes radiated patience and kindness, and he found a comfort so unexpectedly powerful that the walls inside his head began to weaken.

Whatever was in his heart. Yes, he supposed he could do that. He didn’t know this woman, but in this intimate moment that passed between them he was certain he could trust her, that he would be safe expressing a piece of his truest self.

Alan closed his eyes.

The form that leaped to mind nearly arrested him with heart stopping wonder. An expression of vulnerability and longing, of an age old passion, once dusty and dry, its dying flames stoked at last.

His hands started to move, animated by a force not entirely his own. The woman, the tent, the other stalls, they all fell away, burned to ash before a blinding interior vision. The form he beheld was a soul without a body, an essence in need of life. Alan was the vessel through which it could achieve that life, and he was eager to fulfill its need. He reached beyond himself, beyond the world, into the vast, limitless universe and its roiling sea of unrealized power and potential.

He channeled that boundless reservoir of energy, dividing what he took into its constituent parts. From one, he drew scintillating fibers of bright, orange fire, serpentine tongues that lashed through the air in bright, sparkling flashes. From another, he drew frosty tendrils of ice, subliming into the wind in gentle, billowing wisps like smoke.

Then, like an artisan weaver, he wound these two elemental threads together into a single, seamless fabric, a bold, exotic material of contrast and extremes. When he’d spun enough, he tied it off, holding it suspended in the air, now a lump of clay to be molded, shaped and refined with each pass of his deft and dexterous hands.

The basic form complete, he reached out once more, spinning invisible threads of wind and air. These became the life force that would bind the whole together.

Finished at last.

Alan opened his eyes. The world came back into focus, and he almost jumped when he saw the woman sitting close. He’d been so lost in what he was doing he’d forgotten she was there.

Above both their heads, there now hovered a bright, fiery dragon, shot through with strands of icy blue, broad wings flapping in the air, sending down heavy gusts of frigid winter wind as well as hot, baking heat. A masterpiece.

The woman clapped her hands.

“It’s wonderful!” she exclaimed. “The best I’ve ever seen.”

Alan blushed. “Thank you. It’s not much, but it’s the best I can do.”

Alan let the elemental form persist until he felt the fibers begin to buckle, eager to be released. Sadly, regretfully, he let the cord that anchored him to his creation go. The dragon above their heads vanished in a puff of smoke.

“It is everything,” she said, with such gravity that he was taken aback. “There are those who do practical things, and they are important, because without them the world cannot function. There are also those who do beautiful things, and they too are important, because without them the world cannot remember why it functions.”

Tears sprung to Alan’s eyes as the idealist of his youth burst from its hard, cynical shell.

“You are a maker of beautiful things,” she continued. “You are important and necessary, and I would like to be your patron, if you would have me.”

“My— What?” Alan’s heart seemed to stop.

She wanted to be his patron. He nearly trembled with shock.

“Your magic must live on. You won’t survive here, in this world of practical things. You were made for a different life, and I would like to be the one who makes that life possible.”

“Thank you,” he whispered, his voice suddenly husky and hoarse. “Thank you.”

“Come on,” she said, “I’ll help you tear down. We have a lot to discuss.”

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The Magic Returns

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He sits in a cold, dark corner, alone and afraid. It’s been too long, he thinks. He’s like an ancient, dried out riverbed, where the magic hasn’t flowed for ages. What makes him think he can summon it now?

Once, he was capable of great things. Through his unique talent, entire worlds emerged from nothing, whatever the heart and mind could conceive. He took it for granted, thinking it would always be there to serve him.

But he was soon swept up by worldly concerns. He stopped using the magic, stopped creating, and though the fire inside never stopped burning, it grew small and ashen through a chronic lack of practice. He was too busy with work, he told himself, too busy trying to feed his family, too busy doing a hundred other things. Only later, when it seemed too late, did he realize those were excuses, that he could have retreated to his study for as little as five minutes at a time, because there were always pockets of time to be found if only one was dedicated enough to search for them.

He hasn’t created for so long now that the channels through which the magic once flowed have closed up. It’s too late, he thinks. Only the fire inside still burns, no longer just a pile of dying embers as they’d been for so many years, but a raging inferno.

He sits at his old desk because he doesn’t know what else to do.

“Is this what you want?” he whispers to nobody in particular, “To mock me? To remind me that I gave up?” Mad with grief, he hardly knows what he’s saying.

Anguish reaches a climax. He feels small and helpless, like an ant caught up in a sandstorm. There’s nothing to lose anymore, only an ache that will grow deeper and fuller the longer he stays away.

He reaches into the void and at long last does the only thing he’s ever known how to do.

He closes his eyes and opens himself to the magic.

At first, nothing comes. In a moment of despair, he’s certain his worst fears have been confirmed. But then he hears it building as if from a great distance, and the shriveled conduits in his mind quiver with anticipation. The dam breaks, and the dried up riverbed floods once more, a raging rapid of pent up magic he thought forever inaccessible.

He doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting in the dark before the colossal torrent finally ebbs. When he comes back to himself, he stares at his latest creation, mute and disbelieving.

At last, a work of art he can call his own.

Tears blur his vision as he realizes the truth, that the magic never left him. He turned his back on it for a while, but it was always there, waiting for him to embrace it. Like a guiding star, it reorients him. Old priorities wither before a renewed sense of purpose.

For the first time in decades, he can call himself an artist.

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The Music Within

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The music called to him, and Steve skipped work early to follow after it.

He rushed home, head down, walking back to his apartment. All the while that spectral, otherworldly tune twined through him, shooting feelers into his heart, penetrating the darkest corners of his soul. He bolted up the stairs, dug through his pockets for his key, opened the door and slipped inside.

The room was dark, with only a sliver of late-afternoon sun seeping through the shuttered window. But he didn’t turn on the light. Instead, he sat beside the coffee table where his violin lay, the polished surface catching the minuscule light from the window so that it seemed almost to glow.

He took the instrument into his hands, and the music within swirled, coalesced. He ran a finger along the smooth, wood-grain surface. An electric charge surged down his spine. The music was pounding at his skull now, demanding to have its way with him, and he was ready to oblige.

It was going to sweep him away, he thought, carry him to that other world once more, a world where music was the language of creation, a world under siege, a world that needed his help if it was going to survive. He was afraid, but the music had embraced him like a lover, and Steve was powerless to resist.

He held the bow above the strings. Paused. Sighed.

He began to play.

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Planter of Worlds

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Andi reaches into a faded leather pouch and produces a handful of seeds. She scatters them about the ground. Waters them. Moves on.

She waits for them to grow.

She is a Sower, a planter of worlds. She wanders the cosmos, the last of her kind, spreading her celestial seed. Wherever she goes, worlds spring up in her wake, quivering with wild, newborn magic.

Long ago, her people filled the fertile fields of the universe, sowing and nurturing celestial objects of every kind. Stars burst to life in the darkness of empty space and bore an abundance of planetary fruit. It was their greatest work, their crowning glory.

But when they were finished they moved on. The canvas had been filled, they said, and they were ready to plant bigger better gardens. But Andi couldn’t let it go. She saw that it was beautiful, but also imperfect, and she knew that with time she could make it better.

So Andi picked up her seed pouch and got to work, planting a world here, a star there. Each sowing brought the cosmos that much closer to perfection.

Andi knows her work will never be complete, that perfection is an eternal struggle, something to be aimed for but never reached. She understands something the rest of her kind did not, that a labor of love is never finished, that it must be tended to assiduously.

She hopes that one day they’ll return. Perhaps if they lay eyes upon her work, they’ll stay to help.

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