Friday, June 25, 2010

Chapter 22 - MY BASILISK

Swords whirled in my mind. They did a beautiful kaleidoscopic dance, leaving ghost traces of their passing in my view. They glittered and spun and the tracery was fascinating. I could watch it forever.

A sharp blow stung my face and the lacy glow shattered. Stubbornly, I reconstructed it, noticing vaguely that the swords were different and the design had changed.

Another blow stung my face, but that didn’t matter; all I had to do was make another.

Another blow; I tried to concentrate.

Another blow; I was groping.

Another blow; I was getting frustrated. I couldn’t quite remember what I was trying to find.

Another blow - I cried out and tried to raise my hand. I’m not sure I succeeded.

Another blow.

“S . . . stop,” I said; I think I said it out loud, but I couldn’t be sure.

Another blow.

“Stop.” I pulled both of my hands up to guard my face.

Hands gripped my wrists and pulled them away. “Look at me,” said a voice from very far away.

I struggled with myself. Part of me still wanted to find that beautiful sword kaleidoscope, but part of me also wanted to figure out what had happened. Where was I? What was going on?

“Look at me,” the voice insisted.

I did it. I opened my eyes, but the first thing I saw wasn’t a face, it was round and it glowed with a soft blue light. I had seen it before somewhere. It took me a minute to remember that it was the big stone ball suspended over the altar in the outer chamber. It was glowing.

The hands on my wrists shook me. “Look at me,” he insisted again.

It took me a moment. The kaleidoscope of swords was becoming a fast-fading dream. I finally found the face of Durmas on the other side of my hands.

“Master Durmas.”

“Good. You know me. Now tell me what happened.”

My whole body began to tingle.

“No, Liam, don’t do that. You’re not strong enough to do it again. Step on it. Stop it.” He shook me again.

I felt like a rag doll in his grip. I curled up around his hands.

“Come on, you can do it. Control it.”

I could smell flowers, fresh tilled earth. It didn’t belong here.

“No, try not to draw on me. You have to find the strength to do this on your own.”

A cool wash of what felt like rain splashed through my soul and I could breathe again. I hadn’t realized that I was having trouble. After several heaving gasps I said, “I think I’m all right now.”

“Yes, you are,” he replied and helped me to sit up on the edge of the altar. “Come on; let’s go get you something to eat.”

On my feet, finally, I returned his question. “What happened?”

With his steadying hand on my arm, he guided my wobbly path down the hall into the next room. “I was hoping you could tell me that, but I’ve been thinking on it. The magic in you is acting like . . . well, rather like a basilisk. Normally the magic is as small and inexperienced as the host and the two grow and learn together, but apparently your magic, like a basilisk, is quite large already and it has a mind of its own. You are going to have to tame it.”

What was a basilisk? I think I heard Brom’s father mention one once, but I had never asked about it. Well it looks like I needed to know what one was now. “What’s a basilisk?”

Durmas chuckled. “I have to keep reminding myself that you haven’t lived here very long.”

“How could you forget? I’m barely taller than your elbow.”

He just laughed. “Perhaps that’s why your magic is so big. It’s trying to make up for your lack of size.”

We entered what I was beginning to see as my living room, though the table was its only furnishing. Tsan and my friends were waiting there.

Tsan started handing out large bowls of thick stew as soon as he saw us. He seemed relieved, though I couldn’t tell you why. After Durmas was seated at his usual place at the head of the table, I noticed that he looked older than I remembered.
I held my tongue about it though and ate my food instead. “How . . . how long . . . was I . . . . How long has it been?”

“You only wasted half a day,” growled Tsan. “What made you think you could refine a sword on your first try?”

“Take it easy, Tsan,” said Durmas.

“I honestly didn’t think about it.” I wanted to understand myself. “I just remembered something I had seen recently and then it happened. It hurt. I couldn’t stop it. I was helpless.”

He growled again, but Durmas interrupted any further comment. “I’m going to have Oskan show him a basilisk this afternoon.” He looked at me. “I’ll tell him to make it a big one.”

Tsan glowered, but he only nodded and handed Durmas another bowl of stew.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Chapter 21 - FIRST LESSON

Tsan took us further up into the mountains for our lesson and started it much like Durmas had done on the way to town. He took me by the shoulders and sat me down on a rock; the others grouped around to watch.

“We’ll start by making a sword blank today, and if you feel up to it, perhaps we’ll make another. Ultimately, you’ll be making swords for each of your friends.” He pulled my sword out of its sheath and handed it to Carm at his shoulder. “Hold that so he can see it,” he said then he took my hands and placed them on the rock between us. “I’ll show you how to do the first one. I want you to try the second one on your own, but I’ll help you if you need it. You should be able to do the third one by yourself. Now there’s a bit of a trick to it. Making food is easy, all you need for that is to know what you’re hungry for. Now, I want you to pick one of your friends and think of him. I also want you to look at your sword. Listen to me, boy.” He looked me directly in the eyes. “What you are going to pull out of the ground will not look anything like your sword. Your sword is a finished product. All you’re going to be able to manage is a big hunk of raw metal that has roughly the same shape. We’ll be refining them later, maybe tomorrow.” He didn’t let me digest this information very long before he continued. “Are you ready? Which boy are you thinking about?”

“Brom,” I said. He was sitting next to Carm, and frankly, he was first in line.

“Good - are you ready?”

I nodded. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

He laid his hands on top of mine and a burning rush went clear up my arms and into my chest to course down my spine. Moments later, a knob pushed up through the rock between my hands. I glanced up at my sword, over to Brom and then back down to this growing thing between my hands. As soon as enough of it was above the ground, Tsan wrapped my hands around it and I began to pull it from the rock (not unlike King Arthur drawing his sword from the rock.). I had to stand up in order to pull its entire length from the stone since it was almost as long as I was tall.

When it was finally free, I staggered and had to use it as a prop. Tsan still gripped my wrists and Brom had his hands around my shoulders in an instant, and then, quite unbidden, the memory of the huge sword in that sword shop flashed into my mind and a horrendous burning surged down my arms. I cried out in pain and surprise; I think everyone else did too. By the time my magic was through with us, a fair approximation of that sword was in my hands.

My hands were numb, as were my feet, I discovered, as I tried to find better footing and failed. Brom was on the ground. It was Lagge who caught me in an effort to make sure I didn’t crack my knees on the rocks as I collapsed and Tsan caught the sword as it fell from my numb fingers. I remember that part, but though I know that my eyes remained open and I remained upright, my brain had gone all numb too. The next thing I became aware of was yelling, or rather roaring. Tsan was furious, but I slowly focused on the fact that Durmas was there, then on the fact that Tsan was yelling at Durmas. It took a little longer before I figured out what he was saying, and it wasn’t until much later that Carm told me everything.

“He drew on me,” Tsan was yelling at Durmas. “And look what he’s done to Brom; he nearly killed him. I’ve never had a student draw on two sources before - not ever. How can I teach him when his magic is so strong?”

“Calm down, Tsan, calm down,” said Durmas. He didn’t do anything you couldn’t handle in your sleep, so just teach him. Let him do what he can and teach him how to focus it. Now show me what he did.”

I numbly watched them step aside with the big sword. Brom’s face suddenly swam into my range of view. Maybe I moved or something.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

I looked at him, struggling to make the words mean something and then I nodded. “I think so, are you?” I brought my hands into view; behind them were clouds. “I feel numb all over.” Those clouds looked so cool; I felt hot.

“Stop,” cried Carm. “Liam.”

If he said anything else, I didn’t hear it. My world spun and went dark.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Chapter 20 - THE RULES

We were wakened the next morning by the mountain ringing. It wasn’t a particularly loud sound; it was just that the entire chunk of granite we slept in seemed to reverberate with a deep gonging sound that had no discernible source. When we went to investigate, I saw Tsan and Larak in the outer chamber waiting for us.

Tsan motioned us to line up in front of him while Larak leaned against the table. “This is your first morning. Today you will learn the rules. The sound you just heard is your wake-up call. You’re all early risers by habit anyway, but you will soon find the need for that sound to tell you that it’s time to start another day. You can expect to be taxed beyond your best limit every day.

“Your days will start with a breakfast that you, Liam, will create, and then you will dress quickly and be ready by the time we arrive. At midday you will be given an hour to rest, during which time you, Liam, will make more food for you and your companions. For a while yet, the day will end when you, Liam, collapse, so supper will be provided for you.

“Brom, Lagge and Carm, you will work alongside Liam and learn the sword, bow and staff, but the lessons will not be anywhere as taxing on you as they will be on Liam. Your job, outside of those lessons, will be to take care of your friend. You will learn how to help him when he is down and protect him when he is weak. You will learn his limits and his strengths, and it will be up to you to learn how to help him through it all. Until he can do it himself, you will be responsible to see that he gets enough to eat in the evenings and makes it into bed.

“When you use magic, Liam, you will find that other things lose importance in favor of the use of more magic; your friends must learn to help you avoid this.”

That last statement was a direct reference to what I had told them about what happened on the ship; I was sure of it.

“Another small thing,” he continued, “you will all be expected to stay clean and presentable. You will be expected to bathe every day, and your clothes will always be clean and mended.” He turned to Larak. “Do you have anything to add?”

Larak just shook his head and stood up - then he was gone. I was stunned. It was as if someone had turned off the light that was Larak, which left his light not there any more. I was so surprised by that little thing that I almost didn’t hear what Tsan was saying.

“Eat now, and then dress. We’ll be back soon.” Then he too just vanished and I know I didn’t blink that time.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Chapter 19 - LATE FOR CLASS

When we got there, they had to put me down because the tunnels weren’t tall enough for this arrangement. We waited while I finished the thopper leg, then I turned the bone into a miniature thopper and set it on a tiny ledge beside the entrance to the cave. The four of us then entered the tunnel with as much irreverence as entering a barn. The darkness that had been so absolute last time I had entered here was no problem now. My magic ensured that my eyes functioned sufficiently for me to see what I needed to see.

We settled right down when Tsan met us in the outer chamber. He glowered at us and then raked me up and down with hard eyes. Then he drew his sword slowly and deliberately. I dropped one of my crutches and held the other one in my hand like an overlong cane. I’d be clumsy, but I’d have the balance of three points of contact with the ground since I didn’t have the proper use of my feet.

Our fight was over rather quickly; I knew it would be. If he was supposed to be my teacher, he had to be a lot better than I was. All I’d had was a dozen low gravity lessons, if you want to call what we did lessons.

He seemed pleased though. As soon as he had me pinned against the wall with his sword across my throat, he said, “I’m glad you came back. Let’s go on in and see the Master.”

Carm picked up my sword and handed it back to me, then Brom handed me my discarded crutch.

When we entered the next chamber, Larak said, “Well, how many did it take?”

“Four,” growled Tsan.

Larak just laughed. “You said you’d be able to best him with the second hit. You must be slipping.”

They had bet on the length of the fight we just had.

“One of your first rules, Larak, is never underestimate your opponent,” said Durmas. I missed that voice. “Perhaps you should study that one a little more.”

Larak just hung his head and chuckled, then he shoved me onto a bench and sat down beside me. When everyone had found a space at the table, Durmas said, “You come back to us damaged. Will you tell us about it?”

I looked around at their expectant faces. After a long moment, I started telling them of my folly. I had to explain some of the things in minute detail in order for them to understand what had happened. Brom had told me that he had seen one of the big ships take off once, but that didn’t mean he knew anything about the forces of gravity.

When I finally reached the part about the crewman dying, Durmas hung his head. “I am sorry to hear these sad events. If I understand the details you have tried so hard to explain to us, the strength of your magic may well be beyond anything we have ever seen; and this death you describe, you say that you think you fed on him somehow, but you don’t sound too sure. What makes you think that?”

“It’s just a suspicion, really. All I remember is holding him harder than he wanted to be held - harder than I should have been able to - and the next time I woke up, I felt so much better, not great, you understand, far from it, but much better. Mind you, I didn’t put all that together right away.”

“It’s entirely possible that you did exactly as you suspect. It’s not unlike creating something you might eat out of a bowl; the only difference is your source and your method of consumption. Well, it’s obviously long past time to teach you what you need to know. Climb up here on this table and lets have a look at your feet.”

I shuddered at his words; I didn’t want to do that ever again, even by accident; it was bad enough thinking of the worms and bugs that went into the makings of the really good stew Durmas made.

“The doctor said I should leave the casts alone for at least another two months,” I said, though I climbed onto the table anyway.

“You also said that almost all your ribs were broken; when did you discard those bindings?”

“I did that after my first shower on the trip back here. I couldn’t rewrap myself.”

“And you didn’t want to bother with it anymore. Do your ribs hurt?” He reached up and began to unbuckle my shirt. After pulling up my under shirt, he looked at my ribs. My body was still liberally laced with bruises, but most of them were turning yellow by now. His probing fingers found a few tender spots, but nothing that was overly painful.

Next, his hands melted my casts away. As he carefully manipulated my feet, I could tell that they seemed fine though they felt weakened. “I think your magic has healed your feet like it has the rest of your body. However, I recommend that you buckle your boots a little extra tight for a few days.