4 Nevrine (continued)
The mage shook like a dog, and fire flew off him like water. “Bitch,” he screamed, and fire wrapped me again. This time I went insubstantial and jumped away from it, which made his eyes and mouth go wide. He flung fire at me again, and again, and I let it pass through me, or dodged it when I had to breathe, and lashed out at him with my own fire, which he dodged in turn.
The other man, the one Jeddan wasn’t wrestling, turned and ran from the clearing, shouting to people I couldn’t see. I didn’t have much attention to spare either for him or for Jeddan, because I was trying to come up with a way to end the little dance I was having with the increasingly maddened mage. He didn’t seem to be tiring at all, but I was becoming light-headed, and at some point I would have to stop going insubstantial, and that would be it for me.
Maybe it was the light-headedness. Maybe it was the hours of practice finally coming together. But as I went insubstantial one final time, I could see the shape of the pouvra as if it were rods and curves spun from spider’s silk, as insubstantial as I was, and then it shifted and I saw a new shape that emerged from the old one. Without stopping to think, because I could never have done it if I analyzed it, I bent my will to the new shape.
It was as if—I’ve thought about this a lot since then, thought about it to avoid thinking about other things, and it felt as if the world blinked, and when its eye opened, I could see everything differently. It was so strange I forgot I was fighting for my life. I was about five feet from the mage at that point, keeping my eyes on his chest because its movements told me where he was going to fling fire next, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to turn the pouvra on him.
Thinking back on it, I don’t know why the pouvra’s revealing his innards didn’t disgust me. I must have been more light-headed than I thought. Mostly I was fascinated by what I saw, heart and lungs pulsing, arteries and veins quivering as blood flowed through them.
I was too distracted, I suppose, because he was able to grab me in a moment of solidity and shake me so hard I couldn’t summon fire. “I am going to enjoy raping you, over and over again,” he snarled, and that woke me up. I tried going insubstantial, but I was too tired and breathless, and I couldn’t burn him without burning myself, and his innards were pulsing queasily just inches from my face.
I could see his heart throbbing, rapidly because he’d exerted himself as much as I had. I remember thinking how strange it was that all the blood went in and out through those few slender vessels, and again in that dreamlike state I reached out with the mind-moving pouvra and crushed all of them until they twisted and broke.
Nothing happened for a moment. Then the mage released me and clutched at his chest. His expression was so surprised, so normal, that it was hard to believe he’d been trying to kill me seconds before. I stepped away and watched him collapse. He didn’t move much, just twitched as his face went ashen, and then he was dead, and I just stood over him, breathing quietly. It still didn’t seem real. Even the memory, as I look back on it now, seems unreal, like I’m remembering someone else’s life.
Jeddan must have said my name several times before I heard him, but what I remember next is him putting his arms around me and holding me close, his chin resting on the top of my head. “What did you do?” he whispered.
“I killed him,” I said. “It was easy.”
Jeddan didn’t push me away, or make sounds of fear or disgust. “He would have killed us both,” he said.
“I know,” I said. “But it was easy.”
Then he let go of me to hold me at arm’s length, and I was startled at the intensity of his gaze. “You’re not a killer,” he said. “I’ve never known anyone less callous about human life than you are.”
“Okay,” I said, which was so inadequate, but was there anything I could have said that would have made things better? Then I turned away and went rummaging through the mage’s clothes. I remember thinking if I was going to kill someone, it should at least be worthwhile, and if he had money on him, we could use that. Jeddan didn’t say anything else, and I was grateful more than ever that he has a gift for silence. I know he doesn’t understand how I feel, but I know he realizes talking about it now will only make me feel worse, and he won’t push. So grateful for such a friend.
The bandit had a little purse with fifteen crowns and a handful of smaller change, and a fire opal pendant that looked too feminine to be his, and wore a gold ring on his left hand. I left the jewelry, but Jeddan collected it, along with the other bandit’s purse; Jeddan hadn’t killed his man, but he wasn’t going to wake up any time soon.
Then we struck camp and moved on down the road, though it was so dark we almost couldn’t see to find another campsite, even with the see-in-dark pouvra. There weren’t any horses when we emerged onto the road, so I think the bandit who escaped probably warned the others the mage had referred to. I almost wish we’d been able to take a couple of horses, even if we can’t ride; how hard can it be to point a horse’s nose in the right direction and hang on to the saddle? But there’s no sense worrying about it now.
It started snowing as we put up the tent, then Jeddan guided me inside and told me, “Lie back to back,” so I did. I waited for him to fall asleep before I started writing, just in case I was going to cry, but I don’t feel tearful. I don’t feel much of anything except overwhelmed.
I used a pouvra to kill a man—not by accident, the way I did when I worked the fire pouvra for the first time, but deliberately, consciously choosing that man’s death. It’s fitting, in a way; I’m already a thief, and it seems I’m now an assassin, because what else can you call that kind of pinpoint, fatally accurate attack? I know my mind-moving pouvra is never going to be as powerful as Cederic’s, but then he can’t manage the kind of delicate movements I can. The kind that can crush blood vessels and—true God help me, I can’t stop thinking of the possibilities now.
It scares me that I can so coldly consider ways I might turn this combination of pouvrin to my benefit. And the worst thing is I don’t dare swear never to do it again. What if using the pouvra that way meant saving someone I love? Meant bringing Balaen and Castavir together in peace? I wouldn’t even think twice about it.
I can’t write anymore, and I don’t think I can sleep. I’m glad Jeddan’s here. I wish he were Cederic.
4 or 5 Nevrine, don’t know
Dreamed again, dragged myself out of it before it was embarrassing. Finally cried.