It wasn’t the sound of the explosion that drew Julia to the building as much as the odor. Some people talk about the smell of rain. This was the smell of magic, and it attracted her to the collapsed structure like a lamp attracts a moth.
Police were on the scene trying to keep people away from the rubble. Their presence suggested that the small house was unaffiliated; otherwise mages would have kept away prying eyes. She would need to avoid them if she wanted to get a closer look.
Several minutes were spent probing the rubble from afar. She was looking for any empty spaces large enough for her to shift into. From what she could gather using spells, the house had been only a single story with a basement. The explosion had occurred on the ground floor and caused it to collapse. While some debris had fallen into the basement, it was largely still intact. For now. Eventually, the damage would cause it to cave in. She doubted that the authorities could act quickly enough to prevent that from happening, which gave her an opportunity for some scavenging. Opening a portal next to her, she shifted into the basement.
The place was nearly pitch black, and dust choked the air. From her pocket, Julia produced a small marble, which began to glow after she muttered a few words.Then she began to search for anything that might have some value.
In one pile of rubble, she found a couple of books that were probably useless, since they were written in the personal code of the mage to whom they belonged. Still, she put them in her pouch anyway, just in case something might be gleaned from them. Mostly the place was just littered with useless debris. The scent of magic was still strong, but she couldn’t identify the source.
After moving a broken wooden beam, she found a crystal, one that stored magical energy. The crystal itself was valuable, and even more so with charge left in it. With hopes she had found a small cache of the things, she dug through the area looking for more. Instead, under chunks of the house, she found a person.
At first, Julia thought he might be dead, but the rise and fall of his chest indicated shallow breathing. He was unconscious and covered in soot and dust. The magic radiating off of him signaled that he had been in the center of the explosion. It wasn’t clear how badly he’d been injured, but she knew he needed some medical attention.
Every instinct she had screamed at her to leave, and she very nearly did. Yet there was something about him… He seemed so helpless, like a small animal injured on the side of the road. He needed help, and no one else was around to offer it.
It was a fantasy, she knew. She was no hero for anyone. And there was nothing special about him. Probably, just another mage whose ego had led to his own destruction. Perhaps he had even done horrible things. Who knew how many people his own self-importance had hurt? She needed to leave. Take what she had found, and let the consequences of his own pride finish him off.
Something stopped her, though. A ridiculous hope that not everyone was a lost cause; that she herself wasn’t so heartless. She wasn’t sure she believed either of those things. However, the moment she let herself consider them, she knew she wasn’t going to leave him.
Clearing away as much of the debris as possible, and before she could reconsider her decision, she opened a portal and shifted them both out of the ruined building and into one of the safe rooms she maintained for herself. Once there, she cleaned him off and tended to his injuries, all the while ignoring the voice in her head screaming at her to leave. His obvious helplessness made a demand on her she didn’t understand and couldn’t ignore.
Days later, when he regained consciousness, she still didn’t understand her own behavior.
He smiled weakly at her, his eyes barely open. “Who are you?”
She ignored the question and went about the tasks she had set for herself.
He tried again. “I”m Jason. I assume I have you to thank for being alive, so thank you.”
“Julia,” she replied. “Don’t think it’s going to be a habit.”
His laugh hurt her as much as it seemed to hurt him. “I hope not. I don’t plan on doing that again.”
That last must have sapped what little energy he had recovered as he slipped unconscious again. For a long time, she stared at this odd mage who seemed completely unconcerned that a stranger had complete control over his well-being. The exchange only served to magnify her confusion.