“The Ruler is second in all things to the best. The second in knowledge of the past and future. The second in healing. The second in judging the thoughts of others. The second in finding and not being found. The second strongest warrior of the Pack.”
Justin twirled his short katana, though awkwardly. “Is this safe? What if someone gets hurt?”
“Don’t worry—I won’t let you hurt me.” Francisco was holding an identical sword. “I’ve been using one of these a lot longer than you.”
Justin swallowed. “I was thinking about me. I’ve…never really liked…uh…physical exercise.”
Buncombe, sitting against a tree in a dry patch, rolled his eyes and coughed. Loudly.
The tanned Warrior ignored him. “You let Iridess at you, ya? She healed you up a bit?”
“She can’t make the muscle, but she can strengthen what you have. Don’t worry. Just do what you can. Surely you feel it?”
Justin flexed his biceps. They did feel better—at least stronger. And he wasn’t tired as he should be—especially after the intense hour and a half of exercises that Francisco had been putting him through as part of his contribution as the Warrior. It seemed that those in the Pack were determined to make the best of him…though Zerihun, Buncombe, and the Judge—Justin couldn’t remember his name—seemed more inclined to get rid of him that help him.
Justin’s mind snapped back to the present as Francisco drew his weapon with a long metallic scrape. Francisco whirled his own short katana in a swift series of spins and flips, ending with it cocked above his shoulder. “Initiate.”
“The word is ‘begin’,” the Englishman watching called. “‘Initiate’ is a synonym, aye?”
“Cinnamon. Got it.”
Justin laughed. And stumbled back a step as his opponent moved.
Francisco leaped, bringing his sword down. Justin tried to move, but he thought for an instant too long. Francisco twisted the sword away from striking with one hand and wrenched the sword from Justin’s hands with the other. It fell to the snow silently.
Cold steel across his throat and nearly bent over backwards, Justin couldn’t move.
Francisco released him. “Don’t worry. You won’t have to fight anyone with these…The Senoras are just for practice. They help keep up the…balance. The instinct. Daldion can help you learn other ways.”
Wiping his forehead, Justin took a breath. Calm. Cool. Calculation. No, wait. Instinct.
“Ok. One more time.”
“Si, mi amigo…we go.” Francisco stepped back, flourished his sword, and leaped as he did before.
Justin was ready. He moved—but towards his attacker. The short katana was up, and angled to let the other Senora slide off, leaving Justin in control with his sword at the Warrior’s throat.
It was Francisco’s turn to laugh. He met the blade—and Justin’s strategy was no match for Francisco’s strength. Justin’s slim sword was pushed back—deep into his shoulder.
Justin didn’t scream. It was like nothing he had never felt—far worse that when he had broken his arm. It was cold, numb pain. As blood welled from the torn shoulder of his sweatshirt, Justin’s fingers let the sword drop. Francisco caught it before it hit the ground, had his Senoras back in their short sheaths, and was cradling Justin to the ground before Amber could stand and start towards them.
The blade had been cold…so cold. And now, as it was wearing off, Justin was feeling it. He tried not to make noise. Not to groan. Not to swear. Not to move.
“Suck it up, chap. It’s not the worse you’ll get. Might as well get used to it.” Buncombe hadn’t moved. He was chewing on a pine needle.
“Let me take the pain. The red—the red light you see. Give it to me. I can handle it better than you can.”
Daldion was with him, back from wherever in the depths of his mind he had been. Justin, aware now of his body on the snowy ground and his mind-world, tried to send the light surrounding his gray mist world to Daldion. Pushing it away
The pain lessened—but not by much.
Francisco was pushing a cloth—maybe a handkerchief—against the wound. “Sorry, sorry, sorry…”
Amber pushed him aside, the hair on her arms standing up as blue light, the blue electricity of the Thin Places, began to crackle around her. In a moment the white wolf, the Healer, was leaning over him, eyes examining, nose twitching.
Justin heard Iridess’s voice in his mind as if she was speaking beside him—but he did not see her in the mist.
She noticed his confusion.
“Because I am not confined to Amber’s mind, I can communicate freely here. But I cannot read your thoughts, as we can when we commune.”
Justin nodded. The words were taking his mind off the pain—and immediately as he thought of it a fresh wave of red flashed over him. He arched his back, clenching his teeth. Why did it hurt so much?
Then Iridess was lowering herself to his side. She moved forward bending her forehead. Blue light formed around her, moving in circles, ever growing and compounding circles—like the runes he had seen on his internet trawls. But he couldn’t place them.
“You may recognize it as Celtic”—came Daldion said, watching from his corner of Justin’s mind as the blue ate away at the red filling Justin’s world. “They knew more of our kind than most—or at least of the Thin Places. It was they who coined the term. They were not the first to realize that their world was not the only one—or that humans were not the only intelligent creatures in existence—but they experienced them more than most. The Thin Places are strong in that land.”
The blue light burned his skin, and his hand shot to it. To feel fresh, smooth skin. Only a thin scarring line showed. The pain was gone—but in its place came weariness.
“It will fade,” Iridess said, moving backwards to stand in her full regality. “But for now…sleep. Healing is tiring for the patient. Rest your body”
Justin’s eyes were already half closed.
His last sight was Iridess rising up, back into the tan-coated form of Amber. And his last feeling was that of Francisco carrying him back into the cave.