From my bag I retrieve the down feather of a phoenix and lay it upon the mage’s chest. It rises and falls with shallow breath, and I hold back the tears a hero is never permitted. She watches me, strong even in this, and I am reminded of all she has conquered. We have crossed the sea, battling demons of the water and the sky alike. With her staff she has cleaved monsters in two, though she is a healer at heart—the white mage who tends to our party, ensuring our health and happiness and safety.
I lay my bag on the floor and search through my potions and items for anything that can alter her fate, refusing to give in to the words of the healers who surround her bed, or the strange machines which tell of her decline. I throw aside soft potions for curing those turned to stone. She is not stone, nor has she ever been. She is softness and care and comfort. I retrieve antidotes, but her healers stop me with gentle hands. They look into my eyes and I know they have already given up. They are not healers at all, but enemies who linger, not random encounters but mortal nemeses. They fill her veins with poison and claim it is her only chance. They press needles into her skin and fill her veins with foul fluids that weaken her body until all she can do is lie in wait as life slips from her lips.
I hurl my sword to the side and clutch the mage’s hand, careful for the needles taped to fragile skin. I hold her hand and weep, and I am not a hero at all. My father stands beside me, hand on my shoulder. Tears fill his own eyes, and I feel no shame for him. He is the greatest warrior ever known—a rare barbarian with quick wit and strong heart.
“It’s going to be okay,” the maiden says, and I bury my face in her bedsheets. I can’t be without her. Our party will be incomplete in body and in heart. I cannot bear the thought of fighting without her, or of existing, or of waking in the morning knowing she is not there, and never will be again. “Artoth,” the maiden says.
“Cheryl,” my father says behind me, and she hushes him with a slight gesture and weak breath.
“Artoth,” she says again. “You know what is happening. You are wise. The wisest druid I know. You know where I’m going.”
I nod, tears wetting the sheet against my face. I raise my eyes to look into her own, and in them I find serenity. “You’re going to the Plains of Etherea,” I say. “You’re going where warriors go when they can fight no longer.”
The maiden nods—a movement barely perceptible. “Tell me, Artoth. When a warrior goes to the Plains, are they truly gone? Or do they live on in the warriors of the day? Do they not lend their strength to those with a sense of adventure and valor? Do they not speak to them in the Halls of Sanctity, whenever their guidance is needed?”
I lean my arm against her hospital bed, unable to hold my own weight. “It’s not enough,” I say. “I need you here.” I am small and weak in her presence, no matter how she raises me to be strong. “I am not strong enough for this.”
The maiden smiles and it is holy light. She lifts her hand and my father tries to stop her. She gives him a loving look, and understanding passes between them. She lifts a thin chain from her neck, and my father, the great barbarian, unhooks the clasp at its back, the necklace chain pooling in her palm. “Do you know what this is?”
I stare. It is a necklace. It is pretty and would fund many adventures, but I could see no magical properties. I tell her this and she grins.
“You have much to learn,” she says. “There are magics that cannot be seen. This amulet is enchanted with my essence. It binds the wearer to me, no matter how far apart.” She slips the necklace around my neck, closing the clasp with nimble fingers.
I rub my eyes, raw and red, and see the same tears in her own eyes. Heroes do cry, I know, because she is the greatest hero I have known.
“I’m scared, Mom.”
She holds my head in her hands and whispers in my ear. My father puts his arms around us and promises to take care of me. We stay that way a long time, until the machines quiet and the sheets go still.
About the author:
Addison Smith writes weird science fiction, fantasy, and horror. His stories have appeared in over fifty publications, including Fantasy Magazine and Daily Science Fiction. His first flash fiction collection, “Parallel Worlds Omnibus,” can be found at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0BRJSMCDP