“Sloppy,” Naberius says, the point of his sword just barely brushing against Austin’s throat. “Try it again.”
He shifts in his chair, crossing one leg over the other, and leafs forwards a few pages in the book he’s been reading. With his free hand, he makes a loose, wrist-flicking gesture, sending the hovering sword back into a resting position across from Austin. Austin eyes it warily, the weight of his own sword straining his muscles, his upper arms throbbing with the effort of maneuvering it.
“This isn’t working,” he says, trying and failing to keep the exhaustion out of his voice. “I can’t swing this fucking thing around. Do you have anything lighter?”
Naberius raises an eyebrow. “Like a polearm?”
“Like a dagger, asshole.”
“I’m not sure how efficient a dagger will be for killing someone in direct combat,” Naberius says, “but to each his own, I suppose.” He pulls a different, smaller book out of an inner pocket of his jacket, along with a pen, and begins to scribble something inside. “Morse?”
Morse, spectating from the second floor landing of the library, makes an affirmative sort of humming noise.
“Be a dear and take this over to Abyss’s estate. I think they have some weapons that would benefit Austin more than any old sword we have lying around here.” Naberius rips out the page of the book he’s been scribbling on, waving the handwritten note in Morse’s direction as Morse descends the stairs. He eyes Morse very seriously as he hands over the note. “And no staying for tea. This isn’t a social call.”
Morse blinks innocently. “But what if Lord Abyss orders me to stay for tea? I can’t go disobeying a demon who outranks me.”
“You have my full and explicit permission to be as rude as you like to them,” Naberius tells him. “And you may tell them that as well.”
“I will, thanks.” Morse laughs, folding the note in half, then in half again, and slipping it into the pocket of his vest. He walks towards the library doors, but pauses just before leaving, looking over his shoulder. “Isn’t this going to put a dent in your whole training plan?”
“There are other things I can teach Austin while we wait for you,” Naberius says. He waves a hand in Morse’s direction, shooing him off. “Now, go. Do be quick about it.”
“Back in a flash,” Morse promises. It doesn’t particularly sound disingenuous, but Austin still gets the sense that he’s teasing.
“Right,” Naberius says, standing from his seat, as soon as Morse’s footsteps recede down the hall. He snaps the book he’s been reading shut and sets it aside, his hovering sword clattering to the floor as well. His eyes are focused intently on Austin, who shifts uncomfortably in place. “I take it you’ve never performed magic before.”
“I can see ghosts,” Austin offers.
“Mediumship and magic are two different things.” Naberius crosses the room briskly, examining a bookshelf, his fingers hovering over the faded spines as he scans their titles. “Mediumship is passed down genetically, through your bloodline. You either have it, or you don’t - it’s not a learned skill. Magic is like a muscle. Everyone can use it, but how they choose to train and exercise it is completely up to them. Most humans never learn how to perform magic. Others never get beyond intermediate summonings and conjuration.”
He plucks a large book with a faded leather cover off the shelf above him, flipping through its pages. “Because of your inexperience, there will probably only be time to teach you one or two basic spells before the duel. Is there anything in particular you think would be most useful?”
Doing what Walker can do, Austin thinks, almost immediately. But I’m pretty sure that’s not magic so much as it is the way Walker is.
“What about making a new weapon?” he asks. “In case I get disarmed.”
“Only advanced magicians can make something from nothing,” Naberius says mildly, turning a few more pages of the book in his hands.
“So that’s a ‘no’, then.”
“There are other ways to accomplish what you’re after,” Naberius tells him. “An easier way might be learning to conjure your weapon back into your hand.”
Austin considers the two swords on the floor. It would be handy to be able to summon his weapon back if it got knocked away in the fight, or Gen managed to wrench it away from him. Especially if he’s going to be using something lighter to fight with.
“How?” he asks Naberius.
“It’s one of the easiest, most invaluable pieces of magic you can learn.” Naberius crosses the room, laying the book down on a table. “But you are a novice, and we don’t have much time for you to perfect the skill, so perhaps a shortcut…”
He trails off, poring over the book and murmuring to himself. Austin tries to catch a glimpse of the pages, but they’re written in a different language, the letters completely alien. Naberius seems to be able to read them just fine, and twists a thin, golden ring off of one finger, clasping it between both hands and speaking a few words under his breath. When he opens his hands, the ring tumbles down on top of the book. It looks scorched black, not a trace of gold left on its surface.
“Was it supposed to do that?” Austin asks.
“Yes,” Naberius says. He picks up the ring delicately and holds it out to Austin. “It should help you visualize the magic you’re using, and act as a focus for any spells you perform.”
Austin takes the ring, turning it over in his hands. It’s still shiny - there’s no indication that the metal used to be any other color at all. “I’m allowed to have this in the duel?”
“Demons are allowed to give their champions any gifts they like to aid them in a duel,” Naberius says boredly, as though he’s reciting the rule from some unseen manual. As though it’s a fact Austin should already know.
Austin decides not to argue, and puts the ring on - if he’s trusting Naberius, might as well go all in. A shock runs through his finger and up his arm as soon as the ring is secured against his skin, making his body seize for a moment, a gasp bubbling unconsciously out of his throat. The pain only lasts a split second, but Austin’s arm is left with an uncomfortable, pins-and-needles feeling, prickling underneath his skin. He grimaces, rubbing his wrist.
“You could’ve warned me it would do that.”
“Does it hurt?” Naberius furrows his eyebrows in concern, reaching out to take Austin’s arm in his hands and study it. Austin wrenches away from him quickly.
“Not anymore.” He curls his fingers, staring at the ring. “How do I work this thing?”
“Close your eyes,” Naberius says.
Austin does so. Startlingly, he finds he can still sense the placement of everything around him as though he was staring right at it, down to the individual books on the shelves and the items scattered across the library tables. It’s a sort of hyper-awareness he’s never experienced before, an innate knowing of his surroundings.
“Open,” Naberius says.
Austin opens his eyes. Half the room is glowing, objects scattered throughout the library pulsing with a dark, red-violet hue. The color surrounds the chessboard in a pulsing, glimmering aura, smaller wisps of it floating around the hilt of the sword Austin was dueling against. Each object has a small string of the same translucent light leading away from it. Austin has a feeling he knows where they go, but he picks the one from the sword and traces it with his eyes.
As he turns to look at the source, another gasp bubbles up in his throat. Naberius is practically bursting at the seams with red-violet light, his veins lit brilliantly underneath his skin, cold, dancing flames of it emitting from his eyes. Austin blinks, his eyes watering.
“Jesus fucking Christ.”
“I take it the focus worked,” Naberius says, a hint of amusement in his voice. “Now, let’s see if we can’t get you visualizing your own magic.”