Most see resonance and feedback as an immutable force, but magic changes over time. Like wine, it pulls energies from its environment, slowly adapting until once was dangerous becomes mundane.
— Betany Cal-Robin, The Life of a Solitary Tuner
Beauty’s head throbbed. She clutched it and sat up even as she tried to pry her eyes open. Underneath her, a mattress shifted with her weight. A heavy blanket slipped into her lap. Inundated unfamiliar sensations and smells, she froze as her senses came into focus. She blinked a few times until the world sharpened around her.
They were in a cottage, Beauty guessed the other one near the bottom of the tower. It had a small cooking area, and a half dozen bookcases filled with books and trinkets. A cozy-looking chair sat in the middle of the cottage and near the fireplace on the far wall.
At the bottom of the bed, between her feet, Pid sat while rolling dice in the space between their legs. The red and blue cubes sparkled brightly in the light that streamed in from a widow. She sighed and scratched a bandage over her brow.
Beauty groaned and reached out to her side, looking for her bag. A quick glance down told her that shew as still dressed, though her clothes were scorched and stained. “W-What happened?”
Pid beamed at her. “You’re awake!” She crawled up and over to Beauty, twisting in place until she sat down in the space between Beauty’s body and her arm while using her shoulder as a pillow. “You got knocked out when he exploded.”
“Explosion?” Memories slammed into Beauty. She gasped. “The prince! Is Daman okay?”
Pid leaned against her and giggled. “He’s fine. He got up right away but he was cranky, so Lanier sent Jorul and him out to hunt down the weasel.”
Beauty tried to untangle her legs from the blanket, but a twinge stopped her. “What happened?”
“Well, I won—”
The door opened and Pid snapped her mouth shut.
Lanier entered. He had bandages on his hands and one on his face. “Ah, you’re awake. Good, I was starting to get worried. I’m not equipped to handle a concussion.”
Beauty gave him a pained smile. “I’m better, thank you. What happened?”
Zi set down a tray with bandages and sewing supplies. “There was feedback between the curse and your love. I thought I patched the struts so the shell could handle the feedback, but obviously there wasn’t enough of the original spell’s framework to handle that disparate energies.”
Beauty stared at him, confused.
Lanier sighed. “The fairy’s curse plus my magic produced a great deal of feedback. When your magic was thrown into the mix, the interaction produced a violent reaction and exploded.”
“Me? I can’t use magic.”
Zi gave her a hard look. “You love him, right?”
“With all my heart.”
“Love is magic, it can change the world faster than any spell.” Lanier shrugged. Then zi frowned. Reaching up, zi rubbed zirs nose and zirs fingertips came back bloody. “Neither of you can stay long. Your affection is causing feedback with my powers.”
Feedback was the reason mages gravitated away from the cities and towns. If they didn’t, encountering different sources of magic. The more powerful the mage or artifact, the more violent the reaction. For a mage like Lanier, encountering the curse was the reason he had nosebleeds. Zi would have experienced more severe reactions if the curse had been any more powerful.
Beauty cringed. “Sorry.”
Lanier sighed and leaned back on the counter by the cooking area. “I know that longing you talked about. That was the entire reason I specialized in transformation magic.” Zi tugged on zirs skirt. “I was born into a body that never felt right. A shape that felt like a puppet, a poorly cut suit. No one really understood that feeling of wanting something else. To be something else.”
Beauty sighed. She knew the feeling too well.
“I learned magic and specialized in transformations to turn me into what I thought I wanted to be.”
“I failed,” Lanier said sadly. “I thought I wanted to be this… beautiful woman in my dreams, but I got to this shape and couldn’t get any further.” Zi gestured to their body. “The magic wouldn’t turn me any more. No matter how much I tried, how much I studied, I just couldn’t.”
Zi closed their eyes for a moment. “Then that damn war. Tarsan doesn’t ask questions when it comes to serving. The bastard yanks you in battle and sacrifices you on altars of blood. Six years of service, twenty-one battles, and seven ambushes. I… killed so many people. When I had the chance, I mustered out as fast as I could and ran away.”
Lanier started to move the supplies off the tray. “I’ve been here almost a century now, just living alone. Occasionally, someone would come up, cause some trouble, and then they would go away. I thought I was happy being alone. Then Jorul showed up about a decade ago and you can imagine how that went.”
“Always trying to get into your skirt?” Beauty said with a smile.
“Not really. He goes for those who look more masculine. And I… I was never like that.” Lanier shrugged. “I never wanted to look like it either. But I enjoy his company and he appears to enjoy mine.”
Beauty didn’t know what to say.
“But…” Lanier said, “That longing is hard to fight. How many years have you been looking? Four?”
She nodded slowly.
“I looked for almost twenty-eight years before I realized it would never go away. I wish I could say I accepted this body that magic has given me, but even have a century, the urge is still there. Faded, quiet, but occasionally shows up in the dark of the night.”
Tears blurred Beauty’s vision. Decades of searching? Was it worth it? Would they still be in love if they spent most of it traveling and searching for curses, fighting their way out of traps and escaping fell magics? Her shoulders slumped as she considered her options and imagined the possibilities.
“I’m not saying give up. Just realize that what you get is not always what you want, more so when you already have so much.”
Lanier smiled and gestured toward the door. “How many people find love? How many want to even try? You have something amazing with Daman. You found true love. True love! That is the thing you read about in stories, not experience in your life.”
She ducked her head.
Pid frowned as she looked up. “Beauty?”
Beauty smiled and kissed the top of Pid’s head. “Sorry.” She looked up to the mage. “We didn’t mean to intrude.”
Lanier shrugged. “I’m also not going to send you without advice or suggestions.”
She looked up.
Lanier pulled out a piece of paper and started writing. “If you are going to keep looking, you need to think bigger and taking more time. You are never going to find a random person who has the ability, desire, and will to curse him. Even if that worked, it isn’t going to take long for people to realize that you are following after him and making things right. It’s hard to hate someone enough to create a curse when you know someone else is going to drop a few hundred jems in your lap the next day.”
Beauty blushed. “I don’t want to hurt people.”
“Then don’t. Stop pretending and do this properly. Look for specialists who can handle transformations and curses. Once you find someone who can do it, you need to address the bigger problem: getting three sets of energies compatible enough that your mage can create a transformation spell that has no feedback with either the curse or your love.”
Lanier flipped the paper and continued on the back. “You want to find someone who is third circle or higher, to say the least, at least in terms of skill. You might find a talent, but I wouldn’t hold your breath for those. A transformation talent may not have the perceptions or focus to make this happen. Now, I’m giving you a list of mages I know that might have a chance to help you, but most of them are in Tarsan.”
“Could you do it?”
Zi looked up at her. For a long time, they said nothing. Then a sigh. “Yes, I could. The second part is your problem. My energies do not mesh well with yours. We can attune, which is to change all of our powers slowly and over time to adapt to each other, but ‘slowly’ is the key word. You are talking years, probably decades.”
Tears burned in her eyes.
“It can be done, but you would have to move into the town and visit almost every day or at least twenty years before there was a chance it would work. It might take longer, thirty or forty years. It’s an art, not a science.”
She sighed with the possibilities. She wasn’t even sure if she could live as long as Daman could, or if Daman’s lifespan had been shortened once the curse has been removed.
Lanier walked over and sat on the bed. “Try to find someone better for a few years, maybe a decade. If you two still want it, then we can try the reattunement. I’m willing to help, but I’m just not the best option.”
Leaving the paper on the bed, Lanier got up and headed to the door. “Talk to your love and decide. If you find that the need is still there after everything and you are willing to spend the rest of your life waiting to have your beast back, then come back here. We’ll get you through it. It just takes time. A lot of time.”
Zi stopped at the door. “You’ll need to leave soon, but I wish you the best of adventures and you find what you are looking for.”
“Thank you, Lanier.” Her heart ached from zirs words, but there was a truth to them. It was also more advice than they had gotten in years.
The mage smiled sadly. “I wished I could give you something better.”
Beauty wiped a tear from her eye. “You’ve given me so much already. I… we have an idea of what to do next and… and…” Her mind drifted to that one perfect moment she had her beast back. “I got to see him again.” She smiled happily. “I got to touch him.”
Lanier smiled back. Then zi gestured to the little girl. “Pid, you should take them home. Your mother is going to be asking where you are and it’s getting late.”
“Will do!” pronounced the little girl.