PART THREE: THE EDGE OF THE BLADE
When Wil regained consciousness, he felt like he had been out for years and he had a massive headache. Surprisingly, however, his skull was the only source of pain. Considering the tongues of invisible fire that had licked his body, that was perplexing. No portion of his skin was suffering the aftereffects of burns.
For some reason, he didn't have the strength to open his eyes. Normally, such an action required little effort but, at the moment, it seemed a herculean task. As he contemplated why this might be so, Wil became aware that his thought processes weren't working properly, either. His quick mind was moving sluggishly, evidence it had been inhibited, most likely by drugs.
"He's awake - or at least as awake as he's likely to be," stated a voice Wil thought he should recognize. It seemed to be coming from far away.
"Wha..." was all he managed to groan. Controlling his vocal chords seemed as difficult as opening his eyes.
"Are you sure he's safe?" said another voice. "Why don't you just kill him and get it over with?"
"I don't know how you, as a scholar and student of magic, can make such a shortsighted suggestion. Assuming he wasn't lying, this man has uncovered one of the most important 'tricks' in the history of apaths. Understand what he claims: it may be possible for us to use our powers without giving up any emotion. If that isn't worth the risk of keeping him alive, I don't know what is."
"Won't Grundig be annoyed?"
"Grundig will believe what I tell him - that Wil is dead. That creature is so assured of his supremacy he won't consider the possibility I might lie to him. He believes me to be in his thrall as a result of some novice mind-trick, and I'll use that to my advantage. He may be an apath with tremendous power, but he's not as invincible as he thinks he is."
"Who is Grundig?" asked Wil, surprising himself that he was able to enunciate the words. The fog around his thoughts seemed to be clearing.
"Coherent, are you? That's surprising. You must have a stronger mind than I suspected. Or the dosage wasn't high enough. Do you know where you are or who I am?"
Ignoring the question, Wil focused on what he had asked. "Who is Grundig?" he repeated.
"The organizer of the current quatic uprising. You'll be pleased to know he has considerably more intelligence than the norm for his species. Our race can take solace that we're not being beaten by an idiot. Now, perhaps you can explain how you managed to escape my firestorm unscathed. Don was burnt to a crisp, and I hadn't been aiming at him."
The name came to Wil in a flash: Urv. The voice he was hearing belonged to the leader of the Wizards' School. So, he hadn't escaped after all. But how had he managed to avoid Urv's magic?
"I don't know," he croaked. "Perhaps I was lucky."
"Somehow, I doubt that. Then again, given your history, I wouldn't rule it out. Anyway, since you're still alive, we might as well let your continued existence benefit both of us. I'll keep you confined until this situation with the quatics is resolved, then we'll begin exploring this talent you've uncovered. Until you decide to be cooperative, you'll be kept on a dosage of mrin strong enough to inhibit magic use but not so strong as to totally incapacitate you. In the event of a quatic attack, we may need your aid. Don's death was unfortunate and leaves us short-handed. I hadn't anticipated the fool would want to join you."
"I will not help you."
"Obviously, you feel that way now. I think, over time, you'll have a change of heart. I've studied your career, Wil and, if nothing else, you're practical. You side with the winners - that's how you've managed to stay alive this long. And, if you decide to remain intransigent, there's always force or coercion. I'd prefer to avoid either - I'm not a monster - but I'm determined to capture your knowledge - one way or another."
"Charming," muttered Wil. "Our race is on the brink of extermination, and all you're concerned about is learning a few tricks."
"You oversimplify the situation, but you're not that far wrong. We'll talk later, when a change in circumstances might make you more communicative. Until then, I suggest you lie here and get some rest. You won't be able to do much else. If you need anything - not that I expect you to - someone will be right outside." So saying, Urv and his companion departed.
Alone, Wil lay unmoving on what appeared to be a bed. He was husbanding his strength, trying to gather enough to open his eyes. He didn't know much about mrin, but it was a potent narcotic. Certain legends stated it was the only sure way to tame an Apath - the only drug powerful enough to mute the ability to transform emotion to magic. Under its influence, Wil believed those stories. He couldn't imagine summoning the mental strength to attempt a magical act, let alone successfully carry one out.
With little else to do, he considered his situation - how he had gotten here and why he was uninjured. The last thing he remembered was stumbling blindly in the streets outside the Wizards' School, his mind and body on fire. Then he had collapsed. After that, he awakened here, moments ago. In between, there was nothing but partially remembered half-dreams.
Eya was involved somehow, he was sure. The more he considered it, and tried to remember her part in what had transpired, the more sense it made. She had been there, not in person but mentally, using her powers over distance to heal him - a tremendous strain, to be sure, but the only rational suggestion for what had happened. And, if that was the case, she had undoubtedly left behind an open link between his mind and hers. Unfortunately, his thoughts were too uncertain for him to probe for it. If contact was to be made, she would have to initiate it, but her healing efforts had likely exhausted her. That sort of magic was difficult if the physical proximity was negligible, but nearly impossible over such a great distance. Had he been more coherent, Wil knew he would have been in awe - if that was in fact what had happened.
There was something else to ponder, as well. Who was Grundig? Urv had called him the leader of the uprising. But a quatic and an apath? As horrible as it was to consider, it answered a lot of questions. And it posed a shocking danger to those who would defend Vorti and were relying on magic as a decisive edge. Suddenly, it became crucial for Wil to communicate with Eya. But the mrin would not allow him even to make the attempt. Frustration building, all Wil could do was wait.
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