“It’s beautiful,” Mary said. The young woman leaned over the counter and stared at the bullet before her. It was a small golden cylinder with a translucent, ruby-like tip. “How does it work?” Mary knew the answer; but, she visited ‘Sam the ‘Slinger’ hoping for a demonstration, if not more.
Against the advice of her friends and family, Mary decided she wanted to apprentice under Sam. She made the decision at seven years old when she heard about, ‘the most powerful soul mage’. 14 years later, she stood in his shop. She knew that he never accepted an apprentice since before she was born, but she was determined to be the first. She had to start out slow though. Play innocent until the right time, then ask him to teach her.
When she first heard about him, Sam was at the peak of his stardom. Things fell apart for him after that. Mary spent her 8th birthday crying because the council decided Sam’s methods were too different. They revoked his Wizard status and blackballed him in the magical community. Mary still knew she wanted to be his apprentice.
Mary worked hard in school to be worthy of Sam. She wanted to be able to keep up with the most powerful soul mage’. He was no longer considered a Wizard, but that was just a title. They couldn’t take away his magic, and she felt she could get him to teach her. The feeling that their destinies were intertwined kept Mary going until she graduated Top Magus of her class. Apprenticeship offers came pouring in even before graduation, but she ignored them all.
It was a bright, quiet Saturday morning, the first day after her official graduation. She made her way into the less savory part of town to visit Sam. Soul magic aged a person; Sam was a rugged, handsome man that appeared to be in his early 50s. His appearance was part of the reason for his scandal; other Wizards in his peer group appeared to be in their 80s. Instead of a long grey beard and silver hair, Sam was clean-shaved with a long chestnut ponytail.
Mary made sure her wand was visible, and after some small talk, they got to the subject of souls. He asked if she wanted to see something special. Of course, Mary nodded.
“It uses a different kind of wand,’ Sam chuckled. He opened the flap of his dragon-scale duster and unholstered his weapon. He set it on the wooden counter with a heavy thunk. At first glance, Mary thought it was an oddly shaped, single piece of solid black iron. Then, she noticed how it caught the light and noticed several moving pieces. She’d heard rumors about his ‘gun’ but almost no one talked about it. Wands were foci, and technically anything could function. Wands were just stupid-easy to magically attune, and therefore mass-produce.
“But,” Mary smiled. “How does it work?” she asked again.
“Follow me outside,” Sam grinned. He collected the gun and bullet and headed toward the back of his shop. Mary followed him out the door and into a dusty field. It was a long strip of land directly behind his shop. No crops, and almost no grass with only a handful of trees. A tall stone wall served as a fence around his property.
“That one,” Sam pointed at a tall, empty pine tree. It was dead, dry, and looked like it could be ignited by a warm day. “Set it on fire,” he said. Mary didn’t hesitate. She stared at the tree and imagined a flame growing in her soul. She breathed and used her lungs as bellows to stoke the flame. “Show me what you can really do,” Sam added. A note that Mary was grateful for.
She was so eager to do what he asked, she planned to do only that. Set the tree on fire and wait for the next step. But, his advice helped her realize she had the opportunity she waited for all her life. She meant to only use enough of her soul to ignite the spark, but she knew playing it safe wouldn’t get her anywhere with Sam. She would impress him so much he had to teach her. Mary breathed and visualized the fire glowing white hot. She gracefully lifted her wand, pointed at the tree, and released her spell all in one smooth motion. Mary’s decision to not vocalize while casting was also intended to impress Sam. Like the wands, magic words were helpful but not necessary.
A white puff of smoke erupted from the end of Mary’s wand. It seemed like nothing came out, but a second later the pine tree combusted. It took Mary a second a disappointment to realize the day was too bright to see her fireball. A loud ‘whoosh’ enveloped the tree. The fire wasn’t easily visible and it appeared that the tree spontaneously decided to disintegrate into ash. They watched the tree for several moments, then Sam nodded.
“Put it out,” he said. Mary suffocated the flame in her soul. Only about half the tree’s height and width were left smoldering.
“Your best fire spell couldn’t manage to consume an already dead tree,” Sam said. His voice was plain and straightforward with absolutely no judgement, but Mary still felt punched in the gut. He noticed it on her face and shook his head with a smile.
“You did way better than I expected,” he said. “It’s just a fact that the way the academy teaches Soul magic has its limits. Now, let me show you this,” Sam said. She watched him open a chamber in his gun and load the red-tipped bullet into one of the six holes. He closed it again, and to Mary’s surprise, he handed the big end to her.
“It’s not attuned-,” Mary tried protesting as he put the gun in her hands. It was heavy and she almost dropped it; the near-fumble interrupted her. “What do I?” She tried holding it the way she saw Sam hold it. He walked around behind her and reached forward. He grabbed her hands on either side and straightened her arms out to aim the gun forward.
“Trust me,” Sam said. His breath tickled her ear. “You’re casting the spell, not me. It’s not a wand, you don’t need to pour your soul into it.” He guided her grip with his calloused hands and gently placed her finger on the trigger. “All you need is a tiny bit of intention, and squeeeeeze.” He said, but didn’t squeeze.
Mary was so focused on him that she hadn’t realized what they were aiming at until she looked. It was a bushy, vibrant oak tree with thousands of leaves. She concentrated on using just a spark. She took a few breaths, then squeezed.
A coconut sized red-orange fireball blasted out of the barrel of the gun faster than Mary could follow. She heard a whoosh. By the time her eyes reached the tree she knew it was going to, the tree was entirely gone. A charred stump smoldered on the ground.
“Whooooa..,” Mary was awed. “How do you get your soul into them?” Sam let go of her hands, but remained behind her.
“You see, that’s the main problem with what the academy teaches,” Sam said with a chuckle. He reached up and caressed her cheek. It surprised Mary, but she didn’t mind right then and there. His hand trailed down to her neck. “It doesn’t have to be my soul. I’ll show you.”