Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 10
An instant later, my situation grew far more serious. Even as I started to grow light-headed with blood loss, Namid hit me with a second casting, this one a fire spell. I was not only bleeding, I was burning, too. I didn’t know if the flames were real enough to threaten Billie’s house, but they were hot enough to sear my skin and to scorch my lungs every time I inhaled.
Panic gripped me. Which was the greater threat: flame or blood loss?
I couldn’t think of a single spell to combat both attacks, and so I went for the flames first. Me, the fire, and a dousing of water.
The flames sputtered and went out.
But another spell struck at my chest. It felt as though the blaze had rekindled inside my body, charring my heart, heating my blood to a rolling boil. This was all too familiar, though not because Namid had ever used the spell against me. Back in the spring, Etienne de Cahors had tortured me with a similar attack; he had very nearly killed me with it.
I tried to sheath my chest in a magical shield that would block the pain, but it didn’t work. I was growing dizzy and weak. The flow of blood from my wrists was slowing, not because I had done anything to heal the wounds, but because I was dying. I sat in a pool of my own blood. If Billie had come out into the dining room at that moment she would have screamed.
I tried the spell again, but with a twist this time, and seven elements rather than three. Namid, me, my heart, his attack, the pain, a magical warding within my chest, and all that blood to fuel the casting. The room seemed to hum with power. Namid’s eyes widened. But the pain stopped. Relief flooded me, brought tears to my eyes. It was several seconds before I realized that the blood around me had vanished. I cast another spell. In recent months, Namid had taught me some healing magic, and I used it now to repair the arteries and close the gashes on my arms. When I finished I raised my gaze to meet Namid’s. His features seemed to have turned to glass.
“You cast with blood,” he said, an accusation in the words.
“Yes, I did. And I’d do it again if it meant saving my life, or Billie’s, or my dad’s. Or yours, for that matter.”
“That is dark magic, Ohanko.”
“Why? Because my intent was evil?”
He blinked. I couldn’t keep a small smile from my lips. It wasn’t often that I managed to render the runemyste speechless.
“I was protecting myself by using every magical tool at my disposal. Including my own blood. I didn’t take it from someone else; you know I would never commit a murder to strengthen my magic. I didn’t even have to cut myself. The blood was there, a consequence of your attack on me. How can my use of it be dark?”
“Because it is,” he said. He had recovered from his surprise at my initial question. “Blood magic is dark magic. This has always been true.”
He held up a finger, stopping me. “I cannot argue with what you have said. Neither your intent nor your means of harvesting the blood was evil in any way. And I will even admit that as an act of desperation a blood spell might be forgiven. But the fact remains that blood magic has always been the province of the dark ones.”
“I used blood to fight Saorla and her weremancers. That day when we fought them on my father’s land.”
I stared hard at him, trying to read the thoughts lurking behind that impassive clear face.
“This is why you cut my wrists. That wasn’t some random choice. You were trying to tempt me with all that blood and those other attacks.”
“We should have spoken of this long ago,” he said. An admission. “Weremystes who use blood for spells soon find themselves relying on blood. It strengthens their runecrafting, and so spells cast without blood begin to feel weak. With time it becomes like a drug, something they cannot do without.”
“An addiction,” I said, my voice low.
I started to say that I hadn’t used blood to strengthen a spell since that evening out in Wofford, when my father and I, joined by Jacinto Amaya and his men, fought Saorla and a number of her dark sorcerers. But I stopped myself. Because I had used blood in a spell only a few hours ago, when I fought the weremancers outside the Casa del Oro motel.
“You have used blood to cast recently,” Namid said, perhaps sensing my hesitation or reading the doubt in my eyes.
I considered denying it, but I knew about addiction. In addition to being well on his way to madness by the time I was fifteen, my dad was also an alcoholic. These things were genetic. I’d been well on my way to becoming a drunk myself before Namid came into my life and took responsibility for my training. And I had the sense that addiction to drugs or booze couldn’t have been so different from an addiction to blood magic. More to the point, I knew that lying about problems like these made matters worse.
“Yes,” I said. “I did earlier today. I could tell you that this was the first time since our fight with Saorla, but I don’t know if that’s true. To be honest, I can’t remember if I’ve done it other times or not.”
“It is good that you did not lie to me.”
“I guess I’m not that far gone down the path to hell. Not yet at least.”
“Blood spells are more powerful,” I went on. “They allow me to do things my magic might not otherwise do.”
“Then you must continue to train, and thus refine your runecrafting. A true runecrafter does not require blood to cast. He knows that power resides in all things. Blood is a crude source.”
I thought of what Kona had said at the restaurant, about the mom drawing power from the building’s electricity. “When you say power resides in everything –”
“I mean precisely that. For a long time now, I have wanted you to cast without reciting elements, without having to put your purpose to words. When you cast by instinct, you are more apt to draw upon the energy around us, and, as a result, less apt to rely on other sources of power for your runecrafting.”
“I’ve never suggested that blood spells can replace training,” I said. “I even understand what you’re asking of me, what you want for me to do. I’d like to be able to cast that way. But I’m not there yet. And if I’m up against a dark sorcerer, and he’s my equal in terms of skill and power, he’ll beat me every time, because he’s willing to use blood in his castings, and I’m supposed to resist the temptation.”
The runemyste considered this. At length he lifted his liquid shoulders in a small shrug. “I cannot argue with this logic. I do not believe you will often find yourself in a battle with a conjurer who is your exact equal in ability, but if you do, then yes, until you learn to harness other sources of power, you will be at a disadvantage. That is the price of adhering to the laws of the Runeclave.”
“And you don’t see a problem with that?”
“The problem is irrelevant,” Namid said. “When you served on the police force you were bound by a set of regulations and laws, were you not?”
“Yes,” I said, my voice flat. I knew where he was going with this. I really hated arguing with Namid when he was right, which was most of the time.
“Breaking those laws might have helped you catch the criminals you sought, but still you did not break them. Why?”
“Because to break the law in pursuit of criminals makes me no better than they are,” I said, as dutiful as a school boy.
“This is no different.”
Of all the things I had said this afternoon, this seemed to surprise him most.
“That is all? You do not intend to argue further?”
“Would I have any chance of changing your mind?”
“Then if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to lose this argument and get on with my evening.”
“Very well. I will leave you. You trained well today. Each day, I see the improvement in your runecrafting.”
He inclined his head and faded from view.
I climbed to my feet, my back and chest and legs aching, from my fall, from my confrontation with the fashion models, and from sitting for too long. I noticed that there was no sign of blood or burn marks on Billie’s floor. Moreover, my arms were completely healed; there weren’t even any scars. No one who saw them would ever guess that I had nearly bled to death a short time before. If I had. Either Namid had healed me and repaired the damage to the floor before leaving, or the magic he had used on me had been nothing more than an illusion. I couldn’t decide which option I found more reassuring.
I stumbled into Billie’s kitchen, my stomach making enough noise to rouse the dead. I was famished, and whatever she was making smelled great.
Billie stood at the stove stirring a pot of deliciousness. “You’re done?” she said, glancing my way.