Friday, July 29, 2011

Chapter 79 - TO BEGIN AGAIN

Two days later, Brom and Lagge reluctantly returned to their families. Carm remained, and he, Haines, and I took up my lessons again. I found out that, though I retained the knowledge, I needed to recover the strength and confidence. I had been ‘knocked down’ to the point of death, and as with all major injuries, there is a time of convalescence and therapy before recovery can be complete. My convalescence was winding to a close; this was my therapy. I was starting almost from the beginning though I was much better with a sword and a staff.

It wasn’t long, however, before I noticed Patricia’s prolonged absence and questioned where she had gone.

“She is staying with a family in the village,” said Tsan when I asked him one morning.

He spoke so matter-of-factly, but I was at a loss. “Why?” What was wrong with her staying here?

“Master Durmas determined that you would pay more attention to your lessons if she wasn’t here. He will determine when the two of you can be rejoined, and Liam, before you think to change this, you should know that the Master has something special planned for the two of you. You would be very disappointed if you screwed it up.”

Something special? What is he planning for us? “Can I send her a message?”

“Write her every evening if you like. I’ll see to it that she gets it.”

That’s what I did. I redoubled my efforts with my lessons and wrote Patricia every night. I found myself pouring my soul out onto the paper. I wanted her to understand everything about me and I wanted to understand things about her as well, so I sprinkled many questions into my letters. Her answers were waiting for me every evening. It wasn’t as good as feeling the warmth of her body, but I was determined to make it do.

There were occasional letters from my parents too. These came by special messenger through Mr. Preston’s office and Tsan saw to it that my answers to those letters got sent too.

Carm and Haines didn’t hit it off very well at all. Carm felt that Haines was too high and mighty, and Haines thought Carm was the worst example of a back-country hick. My teachers saw this dissension as well and designed their lessons accordingly, much to my dismay. The tasks were brutal and required meticulous cooperation from all of us to accomplish. We suffered many failures because of small disagreements between Carm and Haines.

Finally, after one four-day campaign that ended with the three of us trussed up like hogs to be taken to the butcher, I turned on my two friends. “You know why we failed again don’t you?”

“We failed because he…” started Carm.

“We failed because you both are more interested in out doing or defeating each other. Haines, my god, you were the captain of the emperor’s guard and my senior by at least fifteen years, you should know better. This will stop or I will send you home, Carm; and Haines, I will send you to live with Mr. Preston. I’m giving you one more chance to sort this out between you. If you stumble over each other again, I wash my hands of you both.”

They left us tied up like that for two more days, but as soon as we were allowed to go back home, I went into my room and left them to their own devices, which meant that I left them hungry unless they begged a meal from someone else.

I don’t know what they did or said. They never said anything to me about it, but apparently, they came to an accord of some sort because it never happened again.

After a full six months of hard work, I began to feel much more normal. Durmas felt it too and gave me permission to visit Patricia.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chapter 78 - MY RECOVERY

I don't know how long I slept. I vaguely remember someone pulling me out of the chair and propelling me to a bed. I might even have eaten something, but I don't really recall. When I woke, I was alone in the bed. It took me a moment to figure out why I had come awake so fast.

Then I heard a voice. "I found the others and came as soon as I received your message. How is he?

"He's just fine," I said, as I pulled myself out of bed. I felt stiff and sore, but otherwise rested enough I guess.

I changed the sleeping gown I wore (someone keeps changing me into that thing) for a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and went to see who had come.

At first, I didn't recognize the three men who stood facing me. Haines had just handed the last of them a glass of something when I entered the room.

"You're still a shrimp. Do you still make what you call apples?" said one of them.

Then, almost as if a veil had been lifted, I realized who these men must be. "Carm, is that you?"

"Yup, it's us. How come every time you come back here, you're all messed up?"

I didn't answer his question; I just went and gave them a big hug. At least it was as big a hug as I could, considering I could scarcely get my arms around them. It was good to see them again. I had missed them. They had grown so big.

Durmas appeared then. "Good, the team is back together again." He too greeted the three newcomers, but in a more formal manner. "Are you all ready to take up where we left off?"

Brom was the first to speak up. "My wife is expecting our third child. I'm afraid I cannot stay long, But I couldn't think of staying away when I heard the news."

"Your wife has you tied too close to her apron strings. Mine insisted I come. I think she wanted me out of the way for a while. She says I don't get out enough," said Lagge.

"That only means you're a pest," said Carm. "She runs that store much better than your father ever did."

"Store? Your father didn't run a store," I said.

Lagge turned to me. "After you left, the guards gave our families a lot of trouble, so Master Durmas moved us out of the village to another town over the mountains. He also arranged the sale of our families' properties. My father used the money to buy into a store. Eventually he bought out the original owners completely. Now my wife and I run it. Brom married the blacksmith's daughter and has been working in the smithy ever since. Carm here is still unattached because no woman will have him. He works the vegetable farm his parents started."

"Your mother would send us news of you from time to time," said Carm. "I'm impressed that you were working so close to your emperor. You must be the best."

"If I were the best, I wouldn't be in the condition I am now. I have a lot to learn."

"Yes you do," said Durmas as he invited everyone to sit at the table that was conveniently large enough for all of us. As soon as everyone was seated, (Patricia was nowhere to be seen) Durmas touched my hand. "Are you up to a meal?"

"Oh, of course." My friends had traveled a long way, it was only right that I should greet them with a full table. I reached for the elements I needed to fulfill my desire; I found my hands shaking. I could feel Durmas watching me closely, but he made no comment about the tremble he surely saw.

When I was finished, I was glad to be sitting. The meal was one I had learned while living in the 'empty' palace that had belonged to the emperor's mother. I wanted to treat my friends to some of the outside, even if it was only unusual food.

The meal was a success. Everyone said they liked it and I actually felt like they meant it and weren't just being polite. I thought it tasted good too, but it didn't seem to satisfy me like I was used to food doing if I got enough.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Chapter 77 - BECOMING WHOLE

They withdrew to the limits of the room and waited for me to calm down. I did calm down, eventually. I was very full, and since further hunting was out of the question, I wanted to sleep, but I couldn't sleep while I was being watched, so I just sat there and watched them in return.

Then, as if someone had turned a light on in a dark room down the hall, it occurred to me that I knew these men. I knew their names, and with the names came memories.

"M...Master Durmas?"

"Good. We can begin now. Come to the center of the room and sit down. Make yourself as comfortable as possible; this might take a while.

I found myself shaking as I did as he asked. "I feel like I'm going crazy."

Durmas knelt down in front of me and looked me directly in the eyes. "You're not; hold onto that thought. You're not going crazy. Now, what we're going to do is manipulate the energies that flow through your body. To you, this might seem like you are hallucinating. Are you ready?"

"Hallucinating? What will I be hallucinating?"

"Most anything and very likely a sampling of about everything, just try and deal with what comes as if it were real. You will essentially be relearning how to use your magic - relearning your union, your trust. Once this starts, don't dwell on the fact that this is a hallucination. Immerse yourself in what is occurring. There will come a time when your thoughts will bring you back here. That's when this will stop. That is when you will be fully whole again."

My four teachers sat down in a circle around me. Durmas and Tsan were in front of me and Larak and Oskan were behind me. I felt my skin crawl between my shoulders at the fact that someone was behind me, but I refused to give in to the feeling. Sitting knee to knee, they joined hands with each other and engulfed my hands in theirs at the sides of their circle.

The magic of earth, wind, air and fire, stabbed through my soul and washed my present away.

I woke up early trying to breathe; I was safe. The knife was not protruding from my chest.

I made an apple and took full advantage of Brom and Carm as they held me on my feet while I ate it.

The cold was so intense; I had to be warm.

I needed food; anything would do.

I touched a table and felt it turn into an elegant vase of wood. I felt sorrow at parting with my parents.

I drew a blade blank out of the rock at my feet. I could do anything. I turned it into a real sword.

I hunted a basilisk and made it submit to my control, then I made it ride on my shoulder wherever I went.

Men broke into my home and shot me. My sword burned a fiery path through metal and the flesh behind it.

I went looking for my mother and found her cowering behind a mound of gold. The baron was throwing handfuls of it at her and telling her to make her son make more so he could throw that at her too. I turned the entire palace into gold, him included.

I went to the center of the space station and began to dismantle the substructure there. Then I remade it stronger than before.

I took the meat hanging in the freezer and turned it into a friend. I got it all wrong and he had no hands, no eyes. His face looked like it went through a meat grinder before it was smeared on the front of his head. Master Durmas took me through a thorough anatomy lesson and I made everything the way it was supposed to be. I see Colin standing in the emperor's livery; he's so happy.

I do a sword dance with a water sword in a large arena where everyone can watch. The sword is so large that it splashes through the stadium and gets everyone wet.

The emperor makes me his bodyguard and I put him in a glass bubble so no one and nothing can touch him without my approval.

The emperor's son throws a bomb at his father and the glass shatters. I... I...no... My magic surges and I put the glass back together. The emperor puts a hand on my shoulder and says, 'well done'.

I walk into my apartment. Someone...I...shredded it. I put it all back together the way I remembered it. Why was that so hard?

A girl with silky black hair and a silky gown was in my arms. "Patricia, I need you," I called out. "I need you so much," I whispered. "Please don't leave me."

I felt myself stand. I felt my hands come away from others. My magic bucked and I opened my eyes in surprise. I had never felt that before, but that didn't matter anymore. Patricia was in front of me. Or rather, I was standing in front of her. She was curled up in a big chair reading a book. I sank down to my knees in front of her. "Please don't leave me. I need you so much."

She was on the floor in front of me. Her hand was on my cheek. I felt the roughness of it under her hand. "I'm not going anywhere, Liam," she said. Her voice was gentle fingers through my raw nerves. I wilted and she caught me. Somehow, we ended up curled up in the big chair together.

I roused enough to hear "Good. I was hoping he had made it here." Durmas chuckled softly. "Love is the best healing magic there is." Then I felt a huge hand on my head. "Sleep, Liam."

Just before I drifted off again, I heard Patricia whisper from where her head rested on my shoulder. "I do love you, Liam. I have for a long time."

I was content. I was whole - so very whole, I could feel it. I was so tired.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Chapter 76 - BLOODLUST

Oskan and I left the complex. Patricia wanted to come with us, but I stopped her. "No, Patricia, this is not for your eyes," I said. I wanted to protect her from what I was, from what I had become.

"You should at least dress properly," she said as she indicated my sweats and bare feet.

She was right of course, so I changed into my leathers and instead of boots, I made the moccasins I had been using lately.

Patricia reached up and touched the basilisk across my shoulder. "So this is what it's supposed to look like; it's beautiful.

My basilisk, not a dragon, which reminded me, I rolled up my sleeve, the tattoo was still there, good. On my other hand, I remade the clawed gift the emperor had given me for my birthday shortly before entering his service.

Patricia looked at it, turning my hand over in hers; I could have melted. "Where did you get this?"

Her voice woke me from her mesmerizing touch and I remembered her other question too. "This..." I touched my shoulder; it was difficult drawing my hand from her touch, "is a basilisk. I colored it blue because my magic is water based. And this..." I displayed the ornament on my hand for her to see again and guided her hand to trace it's contours up to my elbow, "...was a gift from the emperor." I wanted so badly to keep her hand on my arm, but Oskan brought me back to reality.

He looked me over critically and nodded, then he handed me my sword belt. At a glance, I could tell it was mine and not a remade one; the belt was new but nearly identical to my old one. It served to remind me that there were still things I needed to learn. Then, with a wrench that took me away from Patricia, we left; I could have cried at the loss.

He took us to the edge of a forest where it didn't take me long to find the trail of a herd of thoppers. The hunt could have been fairly quick and clean if it weren't for the basilisk that came upon the herd before we did.

Oskan saw it moments after I did, and sought to hunt elsewhere, but I wasn't listening to him anymore. This was familiar, this I had become good at. The hunt was on.

I ran after the basilisk and quickly caught up with it. It was only medium-sized and it became my target. Always before, I had avoided them or ran away, but no more, I had a mate to impress. Her, I would protect and provide for. I could - I would do anything to protect her, to provide for her.

The basilisk was easily a hundred feet long, and if I had been half as sane as I thought I was, I would never have gone anywhere near it.

I tagged it on the tail with my 'claws'. I had retracted them when Patricia's hand was touching them, but now, they were at least two inches long and very sharp.

The basilisk coiled on this unexpected pain and I used my grip to help me jump over the tail to land next to its back foot on the outside of it's coil. I sliced the foot from the body with my sword, causing the thing to roar and coil in the other direction.

The herd of thoppers bounded away unscathed while we danced this dance of death. I jumped, rolled, and even slid under, over and around it, dealing damage or pain wherever I touched, until the creature was so maddened that it began attacking the trees in the vicinity. After that, it was only a matter of time before it bashed itself senseless. As soon as it was still, I leapt onto its head and drove my sword into it's brain.

I drew my sword out of the carcass, and was about to lick the blood from my hand, but Oskan was there. "NO! Liam!" he cried out and vanished the blood.

With an inarticulate roar of rage, I leapt at him, but he deflected my attack. I charged again in blind anger. He was another hunter trying to take my kill - trying to take my mate. He put me down hard. "Liam, snap out of it."

I heard his words, but they were just meaningless sounds. I roared and struggled as he held me down on the ground with his weight and his magic, and then we weren't there anymore.

With the smell of blood gone, with the hunt, the kill, far away, I returned to my senses quickly. I was so hungry by now that I curled up around my aching belly and groaned.

"How did the hunt go?" asked Durmas from somewhere behind me.

"He killed a basilisk," said Oskan.

"A basilisk, no. Did he...?" asked Durmas aghast.

"No, I was close enough to prevent it, but then he attacked me. I had to bring him here. He still hasn't fed."

"That's unfortunate. See if he'll take this. He must be sated or this could be very dangerous for him."

Oskan came around in front of me again. "Liam, are you better now?"

I looked up at him. "I don't feel any better. I'm sorry I attacked you." I didn't bother to repeat that I didn't know what I was thinking. This must be what it feels like to have a split personality or schizophrenia.

"Try this; if you can't eat this, I'll take you on another hunt." Oskan handed me a bowl.

In it, I saw chunks of raw meat. The smell didn't drive me away, but the sight was...questionable. I picked up a piece. It was cold. I caught a drop of blood on my finger and put it in my mouth. It too was cold. I tried to warm it up, but it was no good. I had to set it aside. "I can't," I said as my stomach roiled.

"I thought so, but I thought I'd try." said Durmas.

"What's wrong with me?"

"You know by now that your magic has a bit of a personality of its own, right?" said Durmas as he knelt in front of me.

"I guess that's true," I replied.

"You were badly injured. Steven told me what happened and Patricia told me about your recovery. Instinctively your magic kept you alive, but all that was left was instinct. A wild creature operates on instinct. It hides in fear. In lashes out in anger. It kills to feed hunger. It finds a mate in order to breed. Rational thought has little to do with instinct and your rational self has been subdued for a long time allowing your instinctive self to grow inordinately strong. You need to rebuild the union that makes us all whole. The wild creature in you needs to be comforted and nurtured so that it will trust the rational you again. Together you will be whole. Here, drink some water. It will help with the cramps."

I drank the water and it did help, then Oskan took me out again. This time the hunt went quickly. Oskan watched over me from a distance, but since he never came close, I devoured my kill in peace while only keeping a wary eye on him.

When I was finished, I turned to join the herd, after all, I had a mate to hunt for, but Oskan was there, in my way.

"Liam," he said as he wiped all signs of my hunt away.

I backed away; I had nothing to fight over. My hunt was finished and I was full. I wanted to sleep soon.

"Liam, who am I?"

I hesitated only a moment and then continued my retreat, but he was there again, so I struck out at him. He wouldn't leave me alone.

Once again, I was pinned to the ground like a misbehaving kit. I struggled and squalled. Then I was in a different place. It was made all of black stone. I curled up and snarled at those who surrounded me.

"Well, I can tell he has fed," said the gray haired elder of the group.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Chapter 75 - CAUGHT

Her words must have registered somewhere though, because moments later there were four very large men in the room with us. Suddenly my arms were pinioned behind me and there was an arm across my chest and a hand across my mouth. Somehow, this was familiar, but that didn't stop me from struggling. I even lashed out with my magic, but it felt numb and useless. I looked to the woman for help, but she was so small and now she looked so frightened.

She reached out to me anyway. "Liam, calm down. Don't fight them. They're your friends. Don't you recognize them?"

I stopped struggling. I would do anything to hear her voice and my struggles made too much noise, coming close to drowning out her soft voice.

Now that I was quiet, she stepped forward and pulled the big hand away from my mouth. "Liam, don't you recognize us? I'm Patricia; you remember me, don't you? And this is Tsan, Larak, Oskan and Durmas, your teachers and friends."

As I drank in the sound of her voice, the names she said began to register, and with the names came memories. I turned my head and tried to look at the giant behind me. I looked the other way and there stood a ghost with another behind him. No, they were not ghosts. Ghosts could not pin my hands together. Ghosts did not expel hot breath. Ghosts did not have the huge heart that pounded beneath the hard chest behind my ear.

The rest of my memories flooded back, and with them came all the emotions I had forgotten to feel: relief and exhilaration at having a whole body again, joy at seeing friends I had thought dead, grief at the thought of having lost them, and love I had refused to acknowledge for so long.

I felt tears streaming into my beard and leaned my face into her hand as she reached up to wipe them away.

"Clean yourself up, boy," said a familiar voice over my head. "You smell like an animal."

I began to laugh through my sobs and the hands and arms began to drop away.

I did as I was told. I straightened my hair. I made the months of sweat and grime go away with my tattered and furred clothes, dressing myself in a T-shirt and a pair of sweats at the same time. I did all of it without taking my eyes off of Patricia.

"I'm sorry. I don't know what I was thinking," I said, finding my voice unaccustomed to speech. I reached out; I wanted to touch her hair again, to feel her skin. I caressed her shoulders through her silky gown instead. "I'm sorry," I said again.

Durmas rested a massive hand on my shoulder. "Will you trust us to finish your healing?"

"Finish?" I couldn't think of anything left to heal, but I trusted them. I did. I trusted them with my life. "Yes, but can I eat something first? I haven't eaten..." I tried to remember how long it had been, where I had been. All of it was like a fading nightmare. "...in a long time."

Tsan sat me at a table where Haines found us. He made me a large bowl of stew. It was familiar. I recognized the smell, but it turned my stomach and I had to step away from the table.

"I didn't think you would want that, but I figured if we didn't try, you would be insulted and confused."

"Why? I don't understand?" I asked. I was indeed confused.

Haines picked up a spoon and tasted the stew. "There's nothing wrong with this," he said. He was confused too.

"No," said Durmas. "There's nothing wrong with it; it's part of the healing that hasn't been completed yet. Oskan, Why don't you take him hunting? We'll meet you at the Chamber of Contemplation."

"Chamber of Contemplation? What place is that?" I asked.

"I'm sure you'll recognize it," said Durmas. "You've been there."