“You sure he’s alive?”
“Yes, now quit hovering over me.”
“He don’t look so.”
“Believe me, he is.”
“Who’s trying to save him here, aye?”
“Leave him be, mum. Let’s just get this over with.”
Although he didn’t know it yet, Arthen lay on his back on top of a straw cot. Sweat was still dripping down his forehead and down his neck and shoulder onto three layers of bandage that wrapped around his entire right arm from the right side of his torso to the tips of his fingers. Blood had now started to soak through the third layer.
Abner sat at Arthen’s side stirring a vibrant blue liquid in a circular tub that lit the entire room in an eerie sapphire light. Every now and then he would add another powder or some crushed root from a twisted glass phial. Every time he did this the liquid changed to a different shade of blue from navy to sky. When it had seemed he had reached the right color, his wife Esther started to put back the ingredients from the table back into the storage cupboard. Abner stirred the liquid with a spoon big enough to be a paddle; the light emitted from the mixture danced around the room’s walls and ceiling.
“The moon is out,” said Abner’s son who had been sitting in the corner of the room next to the window. He had been watching his father tend to Arthen and glancing at the window ever since sunset. “Clouds have cleared.”
“Is it full?”
“As full as it’s ever going to get!” Esther said irritably. “If you wait another night he’ll be dead.”
“He’ll die if the moon isn’t full. The brew is at the perfect viscosity and color.”
“Then do it already!”
“You sure about this, dad? Act like we never found him.”
“He’d believe us,” Esther said.
“I can’t do that. Not to this boy. Whoever he is.”
Abner’s son and wife looked unconvinced.
“He’ll be gone after tonight. Just remember that. It’ll all be done after tonight.”
They nodded. “Right.”
“The debt will be paid.”
“Is he waking?”
“Doesn’t matter. Now’s the time. Keep his bandages on. Hold on, boy.”
Arthen couldn’t tell where he was. His eyelids seemed so heavy and all he could see was a glimmer of dancing light on the ceiling.
Abner then put on two heavy leather gloves sewn with metal stitches and plated with steel that raced up his forearms.
“Here we go,” Abner said. “By the Sapphire’s Light.”
He took Arthen’s right arm, which was hanging limply off the cot, and raised it up a few inches. Then he slid the circular tub of sapphire potion underneath Arthen’s arm and slowly dropped it in.
Agony. The initial shock was as if lightning had stuck onto Arthen’s palm and surged all the way to his torso exploding every fiber of bone, muscle and skin he had on his arm in its path. Then the pain felt like fire had engulfed his entire right arm and it slowly melted any nerves that were left.
Even as Arthen was barely conscious, the pain was so agonizing it made him scream horribly from deep within.
I am going to die, he thought.
He felt the three layers of bandages disintegrate around his skin into the liquid. His skin felt abnormally open. He tried to pull his arm out of it, but Abner pinned down Arthen’s shoulder to the cot. The flow of energy then seemed to divert downward onto Arthen’s arm as his muscles jerked violently, making waves in the liquid and splashes out of the tub.
He thought that this pain felt like before. It felt like when Ketrian had first plunged the dagger into his palm.
I need to get back to Ketrian.
Now he was fully awake. He jerked his head to look down at the picture below him. The crystal blue liquid made every detail of his arm clearly visible, but as his fingers twisted and contorted involuntarily, the liquid started to boil and issue an eerie steam as if it itself was in pain. The three scars around his arm were slowly shrinking, even dying?
Please make this pain go away. I need to find Ketrian.
Then faint whispers erupted inside of his head. He thought at first it was the sound of the steam around them. But one word seemed to ring clear through the hissing:
Arthen struggled to lift his upper body from the cot as Abner struggled to keep his shoulder down with his son holding down his legs.
The steam started to darken and turn to smoke.
Something’s wrong, Ketrian. I can’t fight this. I’m sorry.
run… run… run… run…
I can’t. What did you do to me Ketrian? I’m so scared.
Arthen closed his eyes, the abyss taking him in. Flashes of that night raced through his mind. He opened his eyes again to find himself back in the village of Drywood as it burned that night. Wolves howled. The smell of flame and blood. Ketrian standing in front of him, looking gaunt and older. An enormous crowd of Folam surrounding the two of them creating a hurricane of chanting.
“Ruin! Ruin! Ruin!”
“This seems like the end, Ketrian,” Arthen said. Defeated.
Ketrian gave no inclination that he heard him. So Arthen turned around and walked to the roaring fire of the church. He reached out with his right hand to the fire and watched his arm crumble to black charr starting at his fingertips. Destruction reached up to his torso until his arm corroded to ash and was swept away into the hot wind in broken chunks. A gale roared through the village, extinguishing everything, dissolving Ketrian, the Folam, and the hurricane of their fanatic chanting. The ashened ground beneath Arthen’s feet sank as water pooled and flooded from the buildings onto the street. The earth collapsed around him into water as he and everything around him fell right into a glimmering lake of black crystal. Arthen could feel the open space and breathing in clean air into his lungs.
Hundreds of pearly white bodies glowed through the pitch black night walking toward him on the water, all several feet apart from each other. Their awestruck beauty radiated with their silvery hair that moved with no wind, white gowns flowed like white smoke on an extinguished fire. Starlight smiled across their faces and the comfort of resting in the center of the universe shined through their kind eyes.
One reached him and lowered her hand down to Arthen as he floated. He reached his own hand out to grab for helping up, but her hand bypassed his and rested on his soot-caked face, cleaning the worry from his body.
Don’t give in, Arthen, she said.
Feeling at ease, Arthen felt himself sink into the abyss of the lake.