“This, too, could be a trick then,” I suggested.
He smiled proudly.
“You are starting to understand.”
“That there is nothing that can be trusted but what you feel within.”
This only confused me more. My feelings had so often been my most deceptive and unreliable senses, yet he was telling me to depend on them more than anything else.
“You can’t now of course,” he clarified, intriguing me. “But with the gift I can bestow, the one you desired without knowing, you will eventually be able to truly comprehend the meaning of what I imply. That is if it doesn’t kill you first.”
“Kill me?” I replied nervously.
“What for one person provides salvation can be another’s condemnation. You must be strong to receive the gift, and even stronger to control it and stop it from destroying you.”
“Is it painful?”
“Yes,” he answered sympathetically, walking back from the altar with a dark stone in his hand. “But before I begin, you must be sure. What I grant you will shield your mind from the influence of others possessing such power, but it will also prevent me from protecting you. You will be on your own.”
“Will I feel any different?” I continued surprisingly excited.
“Not at first,” he said. “In time, however, you will start to sense it building within you. Your fears and doubts will still remain for some time, but there will be a corner of your mind that becomes firm and unshakable. That will be your place of last resort when you wander in darkness. When those even more powerful than me attempt to shatter your will.”
A foreboding twinge suddenly entered into my heart at that moment, leaving me unsure if I should continue, if I was really ready for what was to come. It felt almost like the Necromancer could see into my future. He spoke with vagueness, but it felt like he was certain of something yet wouldn’t reveal more. I was too afraid to ask, so I pushed that thought down and stepped forward with feigned confidence.
dy,” I said firmly.
“Place your finger on the stone,” he instructed.
No sooner had I done so than my whole body became paralyzed. I could sense it, still, every inch of me, but it was all numb, unmoving, like the wet touch of icy water. Better yet, like lightning was shooting through me, leaving my mind in unparalleled shock. I felt strong. I felt weak. I felt the sensations of pain and peace like never before, like a fire was burning within me. Then it left, and I collapsed to the floor.
I was dead for a moment, or so it seemed. I could see myself, but I stood somewhere nearby, shapeless, formless. The Necromancer stood over my body, uttering something under his breath. I watched him, wondering if he would look over, if even he knew where I had gone. And then he disappeared.
Rather, I was the one who vanished, instantly transported to the dark realms where my dreams took me. I saw myself falling from the sky and through the clouds into snowy mountain peaks. But I continued through them, down to the land’s dark underworld where those faceless beings from my nightmares wandered in blue light. Then I somehow awoke here in my bed, next to a still-sleeping Astor.
“Wake up,” I order him, then rising and shaking his shoulder.
He pops up, his face flustered.
“Is it morning?” he panics.
I don’t know why, but it calms me to see him so anxious, and to my surprise, I feel instantly at peace despite the events of the night. If only Astor knew. I open my mouth
to tell him, but an uneasy premonition stops me before the words leave my lips. It feels unwise, like maybe he’ll misinterpret what happened. He wasn’t really ever that fond of my idea to come here, though he went along with it as Julienne had promised. I’ll tell him at some point, but not right now.
“Let’s get going,” I suggest.
Astor gets up and places his pack over his shoulders. I do the same, and we set out, though we don’t have any direction on where the Necromancer might want us to meet him. I’m surprised he didn’t summon us like he had me, but perhaps he wanted us to wait until we were well-rested. That was his explanation yesterday for why he wanted to delay our departure until morning. Then again, I wonder if that wasn’t simply so he could get me alone.
We walk the same way I did in the night. I try to make it appear to Astor like I’m unsure of where to go, but he glances at me suspiciously a few times. I ignore him and call out to the Necromancer, but there is no reply.
The still of the palace is troubling. Not only do the lingering spirits from the night seem strangely absent, but I can’t feel the Necromancer’s shadowy aura either. Maybe this is a consequence of what he did to me, though I don’t feel any other difference, any dramatic change within, but should I?
“Does something seem off to you?” I ask when we near the staircase.