Maggie slumped through her front door, locking it behind her.
It was still early enough in the day that she could have opened up the shop. All she’d have to do was flip the sign on the door. A random walk-in customer wasn’t too likely, but she was too drained to deal with anyone at the moment. She kept the shop closed.
“I’m an idiot,” she said, speaking to an empty room. Leaving her cello case by the door, she walked over to the couch, collapsing into it.
She’d been tricked. Maggie had tried to outwit a being of ancient power and impossible cunning, somehow not realizing that it was another trap. She should have known better, she did know better, but she’d walked right into the trap anyways.
“I shouldn’t have gone to see the Leannán Sídhe,” she said, pressing a hand to her face.
But that wasn’t it. Her mistakes started sooner.
None of this would have happened if she hadn’t been conned by Mich, by the Tribunal, by her people in general. Things had been fine, if a bit cash-poor, until she’d gone back to work for another elf. Everyone wanted something from her, and she’d been naive to the point of lunacy to think that she’d be accepted on her own terms, as a mechanic or as a warrior.
Her swords. That’s all anyone wanted, no matter what they said at the start. Even if they didn’t try to take one of her blades, they would use her swords as leverage.
“We want you to come along, it’ll be dangerous,” Maggie paraphrased what Frey had told her. As though Frey could hear her, she said, “You wanted me to come along so you’d have something to bargain with.”
She balled up a fist and slammed it against a couch cushion, her furious blow defused by comfy padding. Relitigating the past few days in her mind wasn’t going to accomplish anything, and Maggie knew she was just winding herself up.
Maggie got to her feet, determined to put the events of the day behind her. She could put away her swords, find a project that’d been on the back burner, and start working again. Work would give her something to focus on that wasn’t exploitation or betrayal.
Crossing the room, Maggie dragged her cello bag over to the locked forging area so she could put her weapons away.
The spearhead would need a new shaft, but there was no hurry on making one. She set it aside, taking out her swords.
Her three swords.
She’d left one behind.
“Wait a minute…” She leaned in, frowning. “You’re not supposed to be in here.”
The cello case had spots for her left and right-handed swords, but it was mostly a nominal difference. The blades were shaped identically, and were practically interchangeable. That said, Maggie knew her blades like the back of her hand. Each had a fingerprint, and the blade packed into her case was, traditionally, the blade she held in her right hand.
She’d given Frey the wrong sword.
It didn’t really matter. The story would be the same—people would say that the sword the Leannán Sídhe had was the one that had killed a petraform queen—but it wouldn’t be true. She just had a bit of well-made star steel, and Maggie had the queen killer.
Somehow, that felt better to Maggie. The Leannán Sídhe didn’t deserve a sword with a legacy.
“Hey there, girl, I’m glad you made it home,” Maggie said, reaching in and taking the shortsword. “You—”
WHERE AM I THIS IS NOT ME WHERE AM I THIS IS NOT—Maggie screamed and stumbled back, dropping the sword. It clattered on the ground, and she winced instinctively. Steel on cement wasn’t good for the edge.
“What the hell?” she thought, stepping forward cautiously, crouching down on one knee next to the blade. Reaching out, she touched the hilt of the sword again, gingerly picking it—WHO ARE YOU THIS IS NOT ME WHY AM I—Maggie didn’t scream this time, but she pulled her hand back as though burned. This sort of contact hurt. Not a physical pain, but… it felt as though her mind was being split into a thousand pieces. A psychic assault, but not a direct one.
She wasn’t going to just pick up the sword again. Instead, she got up, looking for one of her heavy leather gloves that she used when forging. Putting it on, she flexed her fingers, returning to the blade.
Nothing. When she picked it up, it was just a sword in her hand.
Reaching out with her left hand, she touched the blade with her index finger—NOT ME NOT ME NOT—“Nope,” she yelped, pulling her hand back and setting down the sword.
The thoughts she had when she was touching the blade were distinctly not her own. There was a consciousness inside her sword.
Maggie didn’t even understand how that was possible.
She also wasn’t about to leave a soul trapped inside her blade. If someone’s mind had gotten trapped in the sword by accident, that was horrifying, even Kafkaesque.
“How—” she started, but there weren’t many options.
Either the Leannán Sídhe had done something behind her back, or…
It was the queen’s magic. It had been doing some kind of spell when Maggie killed it, with the sword that was now screaming. It was the most likely culprit, but Maggie couldn’t imagine what the queen would have done that left a person’s soul trapped in a sword.
No matter what the solution, she needed to talk to it, but she couldn’t just grab the handle. The mind-scream would turn things into a pretty one-sided conversation if she tried to hang on for long.
Leaving her forge, she walked to the storage room, where she kept her magical supply surplus. Perks of selling raw supplies to locals; it meant she always had whatever bits and bobs she needed on hand for a bit of magic.
She wasn’t a witch, but she could do a little, and the spell she had in mind was simple. It wasn’t even a spell, really, just an insulator.
Some copper wire, a handful of crystals, a couple runes, and a pathfinding stone. Normally, the pathfinding stone would be used to pull magical power from the air and transfer it into the construct, but she could misuse it a bit to direct the power radiating off her sword, and hopefully, the consciousness inside.
Putting together the construct took about ten minutes. Five crystals connected by copper wire created a neat circle, which she set around the sword. Runes on the inside, and the pathfinding stone on the outside, and she was done.
“Alright,” she said, taking a breath and sitting cross-legged in front of the stone. Pressing her hand to it, she waited, thinking as loudly as she could.
Hello? Can you hear me?
I can hear me why can I hear me I did not think that why—Maggie gasped, pulling her hand away. Even muted, the thoughts in her head felt wrong. Not just the wrongness of thinking something that she hadn’t thought, but… slimy. Evil.
She tried again.
Please listen to me and try not to think. It hurts when you think, and—
Get away from me go away I will hurt you go away and—
No! Stop it! I want to help you, but I can’t if you’re hurting—
Why am I here why am I not me—
Panting, Maggie pulled her head away. She felt dizzy. It was strange and uncomfortable to have her own mind interrupted by thoughts that weren’t hers, and deciphering the communication was… fraught.
“What am I doing?” she said aloud. She should just… turn this over to…
She looked down at the blade. It was petty and stupid, but she didn’t want to let someone else deal with this problem, because giving someone else the problem would mean giving them her sword. She’d already given up the blade’s twin. She wasn’t giving up this one too.
She put her hand on the stone.
Do you understand what I’m saying? Can you understand me?
Yes I can
Then listen, and try to answer my questions. Okay?
Okay I will try
Good. What is your name?
Maggie pulled back her hand. This hadn’t just been psychic discomfort. When her brain tried to think this thing’s name, her whole body tensed and physically recoiled as though shocked. She pushed away on her butt until her back bumped into a shelf, as though afraid that the entity in her sword was going to come after her.
It… wasn’t an elf, that was for sure. Or any sort of fae, or human, or anything with a mortal mind.
She thought she knew what was in the sword, and she didn’t like it, but she had to know. Crawling forward again, Maggie reached out, touching the stone.
Do not think your name. I am going to call you Dane.
Because I have an ex named Dane who gave me headaches like you, and—It doesn’t matter. My name is Maggie. You are inside my sword.
Maggie you killed me you KILLED ME YOU
Maggie pulled her hand back again, before the thoughts could coalesce and form into anything more painful. Just this brief conversation had been exhausting, but there was more she needed to do. She had to learn more, and that meant she had to keep talking to this… thing.
Dane had said that Maggie killed it, and that confirmed what Maggie was afraid of.
The petraform queen was inside her sword.