Back at our quarters, before Oskan left us to our own devices, I asked, “Oskan, I would like to speak with Master Durmas, please, alone.”
He looked like he might be inclined to object, but then he just nodded. Then we were in another chamber. This one was much like the one we had just left except that it looked much more lived in. “Wait here,” said Oskan, and he left.
A few minutes later, Durmas appeared. “Yes, Liam, what did you learn today?”
Oskan and the others reappeared as I answered. “I have learned that I must be alone. I must force my magic to submit to my control and no one must be allowed to come near me until it’s over. I’m thinking we’ll all know when that time comes.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” said Durmas.
I retold the part about my recovery, about how my magic had fed from another when it could no longer feed off me without killing me. My idea was to go beyond that point. I felt certain that I wouldn’t die; my magic wouldn’t allow that. I also felt certain that I would know the instant it bowed its great alligator head in submission, and I needed the teachers to make sure that no living thing came close to me; it wasn’t something I thought I could do on my own - not well enough.
Durmas was reluctant, but he agreed. They took me to another rock chamber. This one was about twice the size of my bedchamber, but there were no furnishings at all. The walls were different too; they were made of a glittery black substance that at first I thought was wet. Instead, I found that it was quite dry though very cold.
“Are you sure about this?” asked Durmas. The others looked dubious too.
“Yes. Don’t let anyone come close to me, not even you, no matter what I might do or say. I expect I may end up begging.”
Larak looked appalled, Tsan glowered, but they all eventually nodded. “We’ll be looking in on you, often,” said Durmas. “This is no place for you to be left alone.”
It was very cold so I figured he meant that the place must be high in the mountains or perhaps beneath one of the ice capped poles. I had no idea how far off I was.
They left me then. What was I to do now? Waiting would only leave me hungry. I needed to spend magic, a lot of magic and I figured the faster the better. I walked around the chamber. If the freezing cold wall was any indication, I was already spending great gouts of magic just to keep me warm; it was a start.
Tsan was my first visitor and I was glad he came. I was glad for the company. I was bored. I had never been very good at waiting. His presence also gave me an idea. I moved to the other side of the chamber away from him. “Master Tsan, I still have two swords to make. I can do that here, can’t I?”
“Yes, I suppose you can, but are you sure you want to try that again?”
“Yes, just stay over there and tell me what to do.”
“Remember what I said; think of what you want and who you want it for, and then draw it out of the ground.”
He continued to coach me through it. It wasn’t nearly as easy without his help, but I did it. When I held the massive heavy blank in my hands, I was elated and stunned. I never got a very good look at the other sword I had created. I was also more than a little dizzy, so I propped myself against the wall at my back.
After he got me started on the refining part, I had to cry out. Last time, I had drawn on Tsan’s magic, and even Brom for energy; I didn’t have either source now. I found myself on my knees long before I was finished, but finish it I did.
My hands felt numb again. I suspect that the rest of me was rather numb too, but I was concentrating hard on staying awake.
I didn’t know how long I stayed like that, but eventually, I was able to string a few words together in my head and make them come out of my mouth. “I did it.”
“Yes you did,” said Tsan. “It looks every bit as good as the other one.”
“I didn’t see it.” I was still sitting on my heels with the big sword across my lap, wholly thankful for the solid stone at my back. As feeling slowly returned so did my hunger.
“I looked at it,” said Tsan. “I figured I might have to do some finishing, but all that was necessary was a little stoning on the edge.”
My hands didn’t feel numb any more, only heavy, so I ran my thumb down the edge; it reminded me of the backside of a butter knife. That move called my attention to the fact that the metal of the blade was black; I’d never seen a black metal before. Actually, it wasn’t totally black, but it was gray; not the shiny silver color I was accustomed to when thinking of steel.
I struggled to my feet, and as soon as I felt steady enough to do it, I tossed the blade to Tsan. “This one’s for Carm.” He caught it deftly though the throw ended up being rather clumsy. “Why is it black?” I asked as I once again retreated to the support of the wall. With its slick surface at my back, my slide to the floor wasn’t a fall.
He studied the blade closely and then hefted it experimentally, testing its balance. “Another good blade. It’s black because of the metal you have to use here in this rock. It has more carbon in it, but you’ve compensated for that just fine. You rest for a while.” He left.
His comment made no sense to me, but then, I wasn’t a blacksmith or a sword smith; I wasn’t even sure if there was a difference. It took me a while, but eventually I could stand on my own two feet; I swayed for a moment. I was starving, but I wasn’t about to make anything to eat. I walked around the chamber, making about three pointless rounds, and then I lay down on the cold stone floor.
I was ravenous when I woke up. I was surprised that I had fallen asleep, as hungry as I was, but I was determined not to make anything to eat or drink. I was alone so I didn’t feel any embarrassment in curling up around my aching belly for a few moments. It didn’t help any.
Oskan came, asked how I was doing and then left after I growled at him. Some time later Larak came and then left as well. All of the teachers showed up briefly in turn. They intended to keep a very close eye on me.
Eventually, my solitude began to wear on me again, so I buckled down to making Lagge’s sword. The next thing I became aware of was someone calling my name. The hilt of the sword was under my hand. I slid it across the floor toward the sound and then I pushed myself over onto my back.
Still unable to open my eyes, I raised one hand at the elbow and made a feeble attempt at a wave. “I’m okay, I’m okay,” I whispered. I heard the sword being picked up. I guess he left.
I think I started to become delirious after that second sword, but I was determined to weather the storm.
I opened my eyes to see Durmas kneeling over me. Fear washed over me. “No,” I said, and forced myself to roll away from him.
Oskan was there next and he was holding a thopper leg. “You need to eat. You’re starving,” he said. Helplessly I reached for the meat, but it, and he, melted at my touch. I think I cried.
Next, I became aware of a dripping sound. Water was dripping in a well with an echoing sound. I rolled over to locate the source of the sound and saw it on the other side of the chamber. I made a cup. It was rough and heavy but it would hold water. I looked up toward the dripping water - it was gone.
In desperation, I pulled on my magic and sought to bring water into my cup. The effort caused me to pass out again. The next time I woke, I found that my cup had been broken in my fall - it was dry.
I struggled to my hands and knees, and then, when I had caught my breath, I pushed myself to my feet using the wall for support. I had attained the middle of the floor on my own two feet when Tsan showed up. I smiled at him and slowly reached one of my hands out, but he must have seen the glint of insanity in my face and he stepped back.
Furious at his retreat, a sword of shiny black glass was suddenly in my hand and I was swinging it at him with all the force I could muster.
He vanished before I had even begun my swing and the sword hurtled into the wall and shattered, thrown there by the force of my swing and my inability to hold onto it. That same force spun me back onto the floor with bruising force.
With a gasp, I felt myself being drawn into a cocoon. Larak appeared and tried to speak to me, but I didn’t have the strength to respond. Soon after Durmas was there and he was almost too close.
“Not . . . yet,” I managed. The effort to speak was tremendous. I held up my hand. I had made an apple before. It was such a good apple, but the orb that appeared in my hand was made of stone and in an evil, angry frustration, I threw it against the wall where it shattered into a million tinkling pieces. Then I found myself reaching toward him and I heard my traitorous voice beg. “Please, please help me.”
Durmas looked grieved. “I can’t, Liam. I don’t dare. I’m sorry.” He left and I screamed a stream of curses after him that would have made my mother blanch. My father might even have slapped my mouth if he had heard the words pouring out of my soul. My anger spent, I slept again.
I woke to a cool rag on my forehead and opened my eyes to see my mother there. She was smiling at me. Helplessly, I watched my hand reach out to her and just as helplessly, I watched her reach to accept it, but just before our hands met, I realized there was no way she could be here now. She vanished. I sought comfort in her memory.
I’m not sure how long this sort of thing went on. A parade of people I knew came to me; all of them were willing to sacrifice themselves for me, but none of them could have been there.
When the parade was finished, I felt my heart tear open. Surely, I was bleeding all over the floor, yet I was still breathing. The air was cold, very cold and so dead. I was beginning to shiver.
Oskan was there. “Liam?”
Air was good; it smelled of sunshine on rain-wet grass. “Wait,” I whispered. My cocoon no longer huddled around me. It had become a small shell around my heart.
The others came and went, and each of them brought a wash of fresh air. Eventually, I found the strength to curl into a shivering ball. My muscles were cramping from the cold.
Durmas and Tsan appeared together next. They took one look at my haggard face and said almost in tandem, “It’s over then.”
I only nodded. I fervently hoped it was over. I don’t think I could go through that again. It’s easy to endure what you don’t know; it’s almost impossible to repeat the act knowing full well the horrors that went before.