The Tally Master, Chapter 11 (scene 57)

Gael awoke to splinters of brilliant light—amber edged with gold—darting through the cracks where the cupboard doors touched their frame. Groggily, he reached for his pillow to dive under it, but no pillow met his searching fingers. Pulling at his sheepskin covering, seeking darkness, he froze.

Was it energea—dangerous gold and orange—producing these coruscating scintillas?

He sat up abruptly, stopping himself again just before he banged the doors of this cupboard open.

An energea-wielding intruder could only be the magus. Was Gael fit for a confrontation—potentially a lethal one—with his old enemy? Seven years ago, he was Nathiar’s equal in magery. Now? Nathiar had brandished his energea all seven of those intervening years, while Gael had eschewed his own.

No. Confrontation would not be his best course. Especially because he really wanted to know what in hells Nathiar was doing, before he accused the magus of . . . Exactly. He needed to know what precisely his accusation should consist of, beyond stealing copper and tin from the regenen’s mines. Subtlety, not belligerence, would be the better part.

Sitting upright in the gold-spattered darkness, he checked his physical condition. The bruises on his torso remained tender to the touch, but his innards felt less delicate. Apparently he’d continued to heal in his sleep as Keir had promised. What of his legs? Would they bear him?

He eased the cupboard doors open.

The darting glints of light became a flood of it, flaring and dimming in an irregular flicker, and accompanied by a crackling hiss and the scent of heated bronze. What in the north?

He set his feet on the stone floor and stood. His legs felt fine, so long as he didn’t crouch. He stifled a groan as he aborted that particular test. Right. Standing, sneaking, no clever positions requiring crouching with the idea that he might stay better hidden that way. Noiselessness and stillness must suffice.

He crept through the room’s door, still ajar, and along the passage toward the receiving room. Pressing himself against the wall, he peered around the corner.

A silhouetted troll stood facing the outer wall with its window casements shuttered and leather-muffled. It was Nathiar. Even from the side and back, Gael recognized the magus’ stance, arms upraised in a flamboyant angle, fingers spread wide, the littlest flared forward, and his head flung back.

The light flowed from a sword hovering in midair, its metal not molten, but glowing cherry-red, flaring to amber as Nathiar twitched his fingers, dimming as the magus stilled his gestures.

So, it was heated bronze, not dangerous energea, that had awakened Gael, but Nathiar was performing magery.

Gael allowed his breath to sigh out, very softly, and then to flow back in, equally gently. His inner sight bloomed, and he stood amazed. A living heart node glowed green within the sword’s hilt—or what would become its hilt when the metal was riveted between carefully carved and smoothed wood. Silver traceries through the blade—living arcs—pulsed with the heart node’s rhythm.

Was Nathiar creating a cursed sword to match the cursed gong lying at this very moment in Gael’s storeroom? Why would he do such a thing? And how had he known it was possible without ever seeing the prize dragged from Olluvarde? For Nathiar had not seen it, Gael was sure.

Gael studied the array within the sword, trying to understand its configuration, to compare it to his memory of the gong’s configuration. Their shapes were so different, the one circular, the other linear. Were the differences in their energea lattices due to that? Or was there some other difference? He thought he perceived some other discrepancy, but could not identify it.

He allowed his attention to move to the energetic manipulation performed by Nathiar, for the magus was doing more than merely suspending the sword in midair. Each time the light flared and the metal hissed, a lance of energea bolted from Nathiar’s fingers—safe energea, aqua blue—to touch down along the blade’s edge, sometimes right at the edge, sometimes a short ways in.

Ah, this Gael recognized and understood. It also explained why Nathiar had not bothered with hammer and anvil. He was hardening the edge with blows of energea, rather than blows with a physical tool. Which made sense. Gael suspected the magus would make a poor smith, while his control of magery was superb. Clearly, given that he must have shaped the blade in midair as well, without any mold.

Gael returned his scrutiny to the weapon’s energetic lattice. The heart node throbbed rhythmically, pulsing silver sparks along the arcs toward their scrolling ends where they glittered. Ah . . . but there were no arcs flowing into the heart node, only those flowing out. What could that mean?

For the answer, Gael suspected he would have to ask Nathiar. But he definitely had better questions now than heretofore.

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The Tally Master, Chapter 12 (scene 57)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 11 (scene 56)

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