0.5.4 – Embers

Two hundred feet of rope is heavy. Heavy and nigh impossible to get; it occurred to me to wonder where Aidan had got the thing in the first place.  

There was an iron loop through the near corner of the forge itself, for drying laundry or some fucking other thing. Sturdy and deep-set; Mariead had threaded the rope through that, run it through another loop on the far end, and tied it off at the anvil. Around her waist she wore a makeshift little harness, a clever thing she’d pieced together from iron clasps and loops of rope.  

“Ready, Sister?” 

She came back around the forge, running her hand over the rope.  

“I am, sir.”  

I threw the coil out the trapdoor. It came loose in a lazy spiral, hitching and slipping over itself. I only realized the risk after I’d made the throw. If that rope tangles, we won’t have time to haul it back up and sort it out. I’ll have to… 

The weight pulled it down, which was lucky, as I’d no idea what I would have done if it hadn’t fallen straight. The rope went taut, unspooling foot after foot until its tail end slapped into the water and was pulled east by the current. I let out a breath. Looked to Mariead, set a hand on her shoulder.  

“Sister. Think you can make it down on your own?” Her face was pale, looking down to the water.  

A chill ran through her, so intense I could feel it through her chainmail. She’d found a quiver of arrows, slung them over her shoulder, and they rattled when she stiffened, all the wee muscles in her back going tight. She muttered something I couldn’t quite hear, a prayer, or a curse.   

Because I was looking at her, because I’d glanced at her expression, I got to see the exact moment her eyes lit up, when she went taut with excitement. 

This time of year, few boats crossed the Runing; navigating that mess of ice was a difficult feat for all but the most experienced. But, nevertheless, a serviceable little rowboat was tucked up against one of the pillars of the Angel’s Span. A bundled-up figure sat in the stern, tall even from this far away, two oars crossed in front of her in as she held the boat in place with one hand.  

I shook my head. 

“Eris fucking Malarin.” I looked back over my shoulder to the vault, pulled my gloves off, one, then the other. “You taking the bow, Sister?” I offered her the gloves.  
“I am, sir.” She held up her own pair of gloves, much smaller, one of them stained with blood. Taken from one of the corpses. “I am confident I will be able to make the climb alone. Thank you.”  

She put on her gloves, one after the other. I nudged her while I yanked mine back into place.  

“Get that chain off you, first. Slip and hit the water wearing that, you’ll go down like a rock.”  

She blinked. Nodded.  

“I believe I misjudged you, sir.” She unslung the bow from her shoulder.  

“Did you?” I tore my eyes off the armory door, looked at her.   

“I will confess, when first we met, I took you for just another brute.” She shucked the quiver and set it aside. Her eyes flicked back and forth between mine with the same mad, intense clarity I’d seen from her before. 

“And now you’re saying you’re sure of it?”  

That startled a laugh from her. She tugged the chain shirt over her head. It pulled at the quilted doublet underneath, both pieces coming up. I took hold of the corners of her doublet, held it down while she worked the chain off.  

She threw the armor on the ground, rearmed herself. I clapped her on the shoulder—too hard, harder than I’d meant–and she winced, rocked to one side. I pulled my hand back, steadied her.  

“Get to it, Sister.” I leaned on my knee and lurched to my feet. Must have looked a fright, with blood in my beard and hair, scarlet cloth bound about my temple, battered chainmail that didn’t reach my wrists. I didn’t feel like a fright. I felt tired. 

She bowed her head, murmured a prayer under her breath.  

Grannine rose from behind her, hands rising to grip Mariead’s thin shoulders, and kissed the top of her head gently, rising to Her feet in a swirl of white silk and vanishing between one moment and the next.  

We wasted no more words; Mariead clipped her harness into place and went down the rope, trusted her weight to the anvil, the rope very conspicuously and vulnerably taut across the entire length of the forge. I wasn’t tremendously fond of that choice, but it couldn’t be helped. Wasn’t much time for more than that.  

Lass?  

“Yes, my Dermot.” 

You be able to tell me how long it’ll take? Mariead was making slow progress down the line, feet cinched around the rope, eyes on her hands like this wasn’t her first climb. I can’t stand here watching her.  

Grannine put a hand on my side, slithering into the space on my left between one blink and the next. We watched Mariead together. She looked up, met our gaze, and flashed a strained smile.  

I nodded to her. Got her?  

“I’ve got her.” The lass tilted Her head. “Ten minutes, maybe. She might make it before they take the door.”   

Good enough. I went to the Vault. 

The doors had no handle. They opened the moment I made contact, without more than the lightest push from me.   

Inside it was dark. And then, it was not. The ceiling turned snowblind-white, no torches, no rushlights. There were no windows here, no trapdoors; we stood in a rounded box of solid stone, walls and floor and ceiling all of one piece, smooth as glass.  

The place was cluttered with weapons. Silver racks were mounted through the room—at least, I assumed they were mounted. They’d been fused into the floor by some miracle of artifice, marking out row after row of wealth almost beyond anything I’d ever seen.  

Spears. Axes. Swords in scabbards. Maces. Some shone like quicksilver, others were as dull as flint. Each was different, a work of art, and I didn’t need the lass to show me the beauty in each one.   

She spoke then, like an actress on Her cue.  

“This place is powerful.” Her voice was hushed, close to my left ear. “I understand now. Why you wanted to come here. Why you’d risk it. They’re old. This place is old.”  

I took a step forward. You’re in a better mood already, lass. The closest weapon to me was a wicked spear stored upright, taller than I was in silver and black, curved like a fang. I reached out for it, then hesitated. The tip of the spear was a vengeful silver talon longer than my forearm, and it looked more than willing to draw blood.  

The lass flickered into sight on the far side of the rack, hands clasped behind Her, bare feet padding softly down the row. She craned Her neck, examining weapons I couldn’t quite see.  

“There’s so many beautiful things here.” 

“Told you. Weapons of legend.” I withdrew my hand from the spear, looking over to Her. “The lad said his sword called him. See, what the fuck does that mean? This one sure as hell isn’t calling me.”  

“What is it makes them legends, exactly? Something special about the steel?” Grannine ran an intangible hand along the edge of the spear. “It looks more like silver.”  

“It’s not about the steel.” I squinted closer at the spear, at the inscription on its blade, some old, fluid script.  

The lass mirrored me, bending in from the opposite side. My eyes left the blade, went to Hers, as Her eyes met mine, brilliant ember-red. She winked.  

“This one is named for a constellation.” She put on an accent, more like the nun, poised, knowing. It didn’t quite match the smirk on Her face.  

You can read that? 

“I can.”  

I snorted. Might be old enough the constellation’s named for the spear. Without further thought, I touched it.  

Pain flashed up my arm, ice-cold and bitter, sharp like frostbite. It cut straight through the gauntlet like it wasn’t even there. My arm snapped back on its own.  

“Fuck,” I hissed, shook my hand out. Not that one, then.  

“See–” the lass twisted up Her fingers together, pacing further down the row away from me, Her voice contemplative. “…What happens when a Templar dies?” She shot a glance back over Her shoulder, dress slipping down more than was natural. “Do they have to carry the sword back with a pair of tongs? Or do they put it in his hand and use him to carry it back?”  

I laughed. The sound echoed back at me off the walls. Lass, I’ve got no answer for that. 

“Speaking of which–if you had tongs,” She went on, undeterred as She picked Her path through the vault, eyes shining. “Could you pick one of these up? Or would it make the tongs burn you?” 

A loud, booming impact echoed from the door of the armory, souring my mood.  

They’re here.   

A few more steps down the row. Weapon after weapon, each one more brutal than the last, more legendary, more elegant. Weapons fit for knights, for kings and heroes. None called me.  

Another impact hit the Armory door. Wood splintered.  

I touched the haft of a handaxe. It scorched my skin, left a numb spot on my palm, even through the leather glove.  

There’s nothing here. Maybe there’s no weapon for me.  

The only siren call in my mind was the one I already knew.  

“That cannot be the case, my Dermot.” When I looked for Her, She was gone, vanished, though Her voice carried on down the rows until Her hand landed between my shoulder blades, and She wove into sight on my left arm, twining Her hands around mine. “There is a blade for you here. We’ll find it together.”  

“There’s no time, lass.” I touched a mace, let it fall back ringing onto the rack as fire shot up my arm. “Fuck! Will one of you–” I snatched up a halberd that burned hot, not cold, and my arm convulsed, knocking it onto the floor. “–fucking call to me already? I don’t have the time for this!”  

The door shook under a third impact, and this time, I heard chain links and debris hit the floor. The low, rough sound of wood on stone followed, the door scraping slowly, slowly open.  

They don’t have time. I can’t linger. Nothing for me.  

“Of course.” I spat on the floor of the Templar vault, turned for the door. “Of course. All for fucking nothing!”  

“There might be a way,” Grannine’s hand touched my shoulder, gently. “I’m thinking…there are things I can make you feel.”  

“I don’t think that’s going to fix this, lass.”  

“Don’t be foolish, my Dermot.” She purred in my ear. “If I could make you feel something…” Her hand trailed down my arm, gently stroking—and the sensation of it disappeared. “Perhaps I can prevent you from feeling anything.” Her head turned, looking in the direction of the nearest weapon rack. “You could have your pick.” I looked down at my hand, flexed the gauntlet, listened to the leather creak for a moment. “But you would have to let me in.”  

“I don’t know what that fucking means.”   

“Say my name, Dermot.” She sounded so reasonable. Polite. Well-mannered, like a shopkeeper offering to help me select the perfect lure for catching trout.   

Another crashing sound from the door. No time.  

I grit my teeth.  

“Grannine.”  

Warmth flooded my arms, until the air felt cold.  

“Now,” She urged, “Take one!”  

I grabbed a sword off the rack, the closest one I laid eyes on, taking it by the scabbard. It was leaden in my arms, but it seemed to get lighter the longer I held on.  

The heat of my last fight was fading, and so was the warmth in my hands. Everything felt heavy; the air sank into my lungs like sludge, something I had to force in and out.  

The warmth in my hands faded. I wasn’t sure if that meant I was about to get burned to fuck, and didn’t wait to find out; I let go. The weapon hit the floor with an ugly clang like an iron rod. Lass? If it’s going to feel like that every time, I don’t know that I can do it. I didn’t feel so angry any more. I only felt tired, staring at the weapon at my feet. Not even mine. I’d have to steal it. To rely on a demon.  

I looked back at the vault. Weapons of legend, held by knights whose names I might have known, the stuff of myths. I’d wanted to spend hours here. Days. Somehow, I’d dreamed this moment might last longer. 

I looked down at the sword at my feet.  

“It didn’t burn.”  

I only touched the scabbard. The sword was right there at my feet, ready to take. Its hilt was wood set with thin plates of stone, veins of gold running through them. They twinkled in the white light, inviting. Deadly.  

The lass rested Her chin on my shoulder, looking down at it with me.  

“Does that mean it only burns if you touch the sword?” Her chin ground into my collarbone as She tilted Her head to one side, musing aloud into my mind. “So what’s to stop you from picking up one of these by the scabbard?”  

Lass. You were stopping it from burning. 

“I was!” She swatted the back of my head, playfully, as if there were no rush at all. “Well, I was going to try. But it didn’t.”  

It… 

“It didn’t burn.” She was insistent. Earnest.   

I knelt down, looking closer at the ugly thing laying at my feet. Blunt, undecorated. A mercenary’s weapon, hilt long enough for two hands. The handguard was black as wrought iron with a hunk of rock for a pommel. The scabbard was a dingy, brown-grey that might have once been black, bound in bands of metal, and there was a faded word painted on at the mouth. There were rings on the sides to thread it into a belt, but I wouldn’t live long enough to need those.  

I put two fingers on the hilt.  

It didn’t burn.  

Of course. How could I ever have thought I’d get something different? How could I ever think otherwise? How could I have thought I’d get to choose?  

Voices in the Armory outside.  

I closed my fist on the hilt.  

I get what I’ve always gotten. Exactly what I need. The thought sounded almost foreign, like it was coming from somewhere else, outside my head. I felt that sense of purpose flood me again, hot and invigorating, stirring the old fury in my veins. Exactly what I deserve. The nearest sword to hand when the fighting starts.    

*

0.5.3 – Trapdoor

0.5.5 – Fury

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