After Minkus had finished neutralizing the toxin that had already begun to spread from Jindel’s wound, Ventyr decided that further healing of the wounds themselves could wait until the morning. The thing that everyone, including Jindel, needed the most that night was sleep, and they were only going to get a few hours before the sun rose and another day of travel began.
When that day did begin, the party found themselves even more indebted to Clarence. As it was, the old farmer and his assistant, now done with their business at the lodge, were already set to return east to his farm outside Beetletun. With their covered wagon now emptied of its load, there was plenty of space for the four travelers to ride along, saving them the further exhaustion of foot-travel and protecting them from any unwanted attention along the road.
The ride was anything but smooth in the farmer’s wagon. Penny bounced along beside Clarence and the assistant on the bench at the front of the wagon, while the others road beneath the arched canvas that covered its bed. Three humans driving the roads of Queensdale weren’t anything unusual; it was the injured woman, sylvari, and asura that would have made them noteworthy. For them the trip wasn’t quite as hospitable. Years of weathering and hard use had proven the wagon’s sturdiness, but it was that very sturdiness that made the bed so unforgiving as the wagon rattled sharply down the forest road. The coarse pinewood rocked and creaked, jarring Minkus every few rotations of the wheels as he tried to focus the energy flowing through him into Jindel’s leg.
Though the cover concealed it from any onlookers outside, the asura had been illuminated by the pale glow of healing magic emanating from his hands for the better part of an hour. Ventyr, seated at the front end of the wagon bed, had watched him throughout the process, basking in the peaceful blue glow that tinted everything in the shaded wagon. He was intrigued by the asura.
Finally, Minkus opened his eyes and sat back from his human patient, shaking his head a little.
“You’ve been at that for some time,” Ventyr observed.
Minkus smiled at him weakly, looking almost dazed as he slid back against the tailgate of the wagon. “Yes, I suppose I have. I need just one moment— if you don’t mind.”
Ventyr nodded. “Of course.”
Taking a deep breath, the asura spread his arms out to his sides, palms up. Eyes closed again, he raised his face toward the canvas top and released a steady breath. Several more times he did this. With each inhale, his palms glowed as though charging, brighter and brighter, until he exhaled, and the buildup of light flowed up his arms and disappeared into his chest.
When he’d finished, the dim yellow of sun filtering through the canvas was all the light that remained. Minkus was clearly still worn, but he seemed to be recovering from deep inside himself.
“Self-healing?” Ventyr inquired, pulling his knees toward his chest.
“Something like that,” Minkus said. He looked satisfied.
Ventyr quietly considered the asura again. “I’ve never seen a magic-wielder continuously heal someone for so long.” He leaned forward to look over Jindel’s leg. She’d been asleep through most of the journey. “There’s not even a scar. I’ve seen few healers capable of that.”
Minkus shrugged shyly, losing eye contact for a moment. He scratched the back of his head as he replied, “It’s not really me, but thank you.”
“Every wielder, no matter how well trained, is responsible for how and to what degree he uses his ability,” Ventyr commented. He wished to credit the asura for his gift.
Minkus squinted, seeming to wrestle with what the sylvari said. He finally pieced his thoughts together, looking up curiously. It was perhaps the first time Ventyr had seen him exhibit a typically asuran expression.
“How does an elementalist use his magic?” Minkus asked, scrunching his face. He paused, suddenly abashed. “I mean, we haven’t discussed it, but I assume from what you did in the cave that you— I mean, you seem to be—”
“An elementalist?” Ventyr interjected with the smallest groove of a smile.
Minkus nodded, an embarrassed grin spreading across his face as well. “Yes, an elementalist.”
“I am an elementalist,” Ventyr replied, stopping momentarily to consider his staff and the things he’d been able to do with it in the years since his sprouting. “Elementalists are taught a deep respect of the elements. It takes a fear of what fire, earth, air, and water are capable of to be worthy of harnessing those powers. Once an elementalist has that, it is only time and practice that limit how he can manipulate them.”
Minkus nodded slowly, his ears drooping beneath the weight of serious thought.
“So,” Minkus asked, “you’re saying that when you move earth or air, it’s you, not the element, that is in control?”
The sylvari shifted, giving the words time to sink in. “Yes,” he finally said, as if instructing a child, “fire has no mind. It’s only a tool.” He paused again, considering. “Is that not how guardian magic works?”
“No,” Minkus quickly replied, before tempering himself. “—or at least not that I was taught. Royston—my mentor— he taught me that the role of the guardian is to surrender to greater magics: compassion, love, kindness, justice. They exist before the guardian, outside the guardian, and after the guardian.” He was obviously quoting that.
He went on. “We don’t use those magics. We let them use us. Then,” he gestured from his hand outward, “the greatest forces in the world flow through us and out to people who need them.” He shrugged. “I mean— before I met Royston, I didn’t know there were methods to magic at all. It just seemed like— well, it seemed like something people were born with, like strength or smarts. After he taught me— well, what he said just seemed to make sense. But I guess that’s not how it works with you.”
Ventyr considered it a minute, giving no sign of how he’d received it. Minkus fidgeted with the tip of his ear. The wagon went on, jolting down the road, swaying both the asura and the sylvari as it went. Rare though it was, the silence seemed to make Minkus uneasy as he watched Ventyr.
“If I’m wrong,” Minkus conceded, “or if I’ve offended you, I’m sorry. You’ve practiced magic longer than I have, and—”
“No,” Ventyr interrupted, low and gentle, leaning against the wall at the front of the bed. “There is nothing to apologize for, Minkus. You are the expert on guardian magic. I’ve never heard of such a practice, but that does not mean it’s untrue.”
“I am curious,” the sylvari continued after a long pause. “You’re a living person, with a mind and soul, a will. How do you surrender yourself to a force, an ideal— something without a will?”
Minkus exhaled sharply and pursed his lips, deep in thought at the question. For a few moments, he remained quiet, sliding over the rough surface to nestle himself into the corner of the wagon bed. “I can’t say for sure,” he finally said, “but if I had to guess, based on what I’ve experienced—” He fumbled for words. “I— I don’t think it’s without a will.”
For the first time in the conversation, Ventyr felt befuddlement creeping into his face.
Minkus shrugged again, momentarily looking even smaller than usual. “I don’t know. I can’t explain it, really. Even though Royston taught me to surrender to those magics, and I do— well, I sort of feel like— like it may not be me giving my hands to compassion, but maybe something— or someone, whose will is compassion.” He grimaced uncertainly and scratched his head again. “I don’t think the Eternal Alchemy is supposed to have a mind— or maybe it’s the human gods— I don’t know. I’ve never said that to anyone before. It sounds silly.”
Ventyr shook his head. “No, not silly at all. Magic is a hard thing to—”
Suddenly there was a pounding on the canvas at the front of the wagon that cut Ventyr’s words short. “Hey wizards,” Penny called out from the other side, “keep it down back there. We’re coming up on someone.”
They looked at one another and quieted. Minkus closed his eyes to rest for a moment, while Ventyr, shifting to his knees and moving a tad closer to Jindel, pulled a water skin from behind him and uncorked it, preparing to do some healing work on the remaining wound in her shoulder. As he rolled back the tunic beneath the faint, verdant glow of his bioluminescence, he was surprised to find that wound almost entirely healed as well; only a subtle scar remained. Even the collarbone and shoulder joint felt as they should, whole and sturdy beneath his touch. And still, Jindel slept deeply.
With a raised brow, he glanced up at the asura, who still lay quietly against the rear corner of the weathered wagon bed, resting as serenely as his patient—apart from the satisfied grin etched across his round face. Ventyr couldn’t help but smile with him as he re-covered the young woman’s shoulder and leaned back against the front wall of the wagon bed.
There was more to this asura than he’d thought.