“Alright, take a breath,” Maggie said to herself, pacing in her workshop. “This is… fine. It’s fine. It can’t hurt you if it’s inside your sword.”
But how did it get in there?
She had to know. Even if it was painful, a burning curiosity refused to let her walk away from the problem.
That said, there was no reason for it to be painful.
Sitting back down in front of her magical circle, she pondered it for a moment. The simple construct could contain, diffuse, or otherwise influence energies. It was one of the simplest forms of magic that got taught to school children in Kansas City Below, and even middling magical talents understood how it worked.
Maggie could do better than a simple circle. She wanted to talk with this thing without inducing a migraine.
A proper sorceress might have known how to do what she wanted with just incantation and a flick of a wand, but Maggie was going to need some supplies.
She walked out of her forge and back to her rack of tools, examining it for a moment. Tapping a finger to her lip. If she just made a radio, then the queen—Dane—could scream and shout and it’d be obnoxious. She wanted a way to cut off communication, to ensure that she always had the power to walk away.
A few magical reagents selected, she walked back to the shop side, getting to work on building a plywood frame.
While she worked, cutting down wood and kicking up sawdust, she thought about questions to ask.
Why did you attack the school?
How did you get in my sword?
Are there more of you?
She used the plywood to make a tray with a wide lip around the edge, roughly the size of her copper-wire circle, then brought the tray into her forge.
Stepping around the sword on the ground, she felt an unexpected pang of guilt. Rather than do the soul-searching necessary to figure out why she felt that way, Maggie moved on and set the box down on her worktable. Once in place, she proceeded to fill it with a sack of fine sand.
She didn’t know Dane’s heritage. ‘Errekin’ was a broad term, and the literal translation was a bit of a misnomer. Taken from its root meaning, the word referred to a cousin of the fae that had been corrupted, turned evil and soulless. Some errekin were that—boggarts and trolls could be traced directly back to pixies and svartálfr, for example—but in practice, errekin could refer to many breeds of monster, and every monster had its own weaknesses.
Fortunately for Maggie, those weaknesses tended to come in clumps. Distant cousins of the Fae shared a vulnerability to iron, while carriers of ancient curses could be weak to silver or even mercury; and the list went on. Not knowing what Dane would be vulnerable to, Maggie would just have to go with a broad-spectrum approach and then use trial and error to determine its origins.
She pressed the sand down smooth with a piece of plywood. Then, using a protractor and compass, she inscribed five perfect circles a quarter inch deep and wide. Once that was done, she added a few extra grooves, notches, and markings, then set the tray aside and went to fire up her forge.
Maggie found herself humming as she worked. This was what she did best. Not monster fighting, not politics, but mechanics. Working with tools, with metal, with fire. It was more relaxing than a spa day, and a lot more productive.
Filling up a crucible with two silver ingots, she set it in her casting forge, turning up the propane fuel supply to really crank up the heat. Once that was burning, she covered it and left it to melt.
This process would need to be repeated five times with five metals. She had time to kill, and was buzzing with productive energy, so she filled that time with other work: fixing the straps on her armor, drilling out the old broken spear shaft and replacing it with a new one. And every so often, when the metal in her forge was molten, she’d carefully take it out with tongs and pour it into the sand mold, making a perfect metal ring.
I should call them.
She put the thought out of her head. There was no point contacting Frey and the team, not when all she knew was that ‘something’ had happened. Besides, she’d already given them plenty. Her sword, a day’s work, and far, far more trust than they had deserved.
If she learned something important, she’d call. Otherwise, there was no reason to go out of her way for their sake.
Finally, she had the five rings cast, and cooled enough to touch. With a bit more work and a little epoxy, she attached a couple antennae and crystals to convey energy and, finally, pulled the whole thing free of the sand mold.
She had a five-ring circle with adjustable valves that would let psychic energy bypass any individual ring. Silver, iron, copper, lead, and just for the hell of it, aluminum. With this, she could determine Dane’s legacy, find out what she reacted to, and then adjust how strongly it’s thoughts were trapped inside the circle.
Using tongs, Maggie moved her sword from the makeshift copper circle on the floor to the new, improved one on her work table, setting it in an upright stand. All the crystalline valves were completely closed, so if she’d done everything right, Dane wouldn’t be able to speak through it at all.
She pressed her hand to the runestone on the outside and waited.
No surprises there. Now, to see what Dane was. Turning the valve on the silver ring, she listened. If Dane was the result of an ancient curse, cousin to vampires and werewolves, the silver would hold it back. By bypassing the silver with the crystal valve, she would start to hear its thoughts.
Still no response.
She shut the silver valve and moved on to iron. She had to be careful not to touch the iron with her bare skin, only touching the crystal valve, so that she didn’t break out on contact with the metal.
No result from the iron, so Dane wasn’t a cousin to the fae. Good to know.
Lead was next; It would block anything undead, soulless, or otherwise left behind by ending a life. Maggie really didn’t want to hear something through the lead.
And she didn’t.
With only two metals left, Maggie expected the copper to give results. Copper was more magically pure than the other elements. Constructs, elementals, and other creatures made primarily of pure magic would be blocked out mostly by copper, and Dane had reacted to her makeshift copper circle already.
She slowly turned the valve, listening.
Dane? Can you hear me, Dane?
Maggie frowned, wondering if she’d done something wrong with her construction. The only element left was aluminum, and…
Reaching out, Maggie turned the valve on the aluminum ring, slowly, waiting to hear…
Maggie killed me and trapped me and now I’m not me—
“Shit!” Maggie said, slamming the valve shut and stumbling back.
Dane was being blocked by the aluminum ring.
That meant Dane wasn’t a creature of mortal magic or lineage at all.
The petraforms were Ancients.
She took a breath. Ancients were usually powerful, but not universally. It was just a category of being. It didn’t mean that Dane and its kin were going to bring about the end times or anything, it just meant she needed to be careful.
Conventional wisdom was that the Ancients were either dead, banished from this plane, or left in such a weakened state as to be a non-threat. A few were still scurrying around, causing trouble, driving humans mad—or worse, compelling them to write pulp horror novels—but those were all shadows of the true Ancients.
“Okay,” Maggie said, running a hand through her hair. “Okay. Let’s hope you’re just another shadow.”
She touched the runestone outside her circle again, opening the valve the barest amount so that Dane’s thoughts were little more than a whisper.
Dane, I am Maggie. I killed you, and I trapped you.
You are powerful Maggie
Yes, I am. Now, I want you to answer some questions, so that I don’t destroy you forever.
It was an idle threat; Maggie didn’t know how to destroy the consciousness inside her sword. Melting down the sword might just set it free, or it might just leave her with a possessed lump of metal.
I will answer
What were you trying to do, before I killed you?
Dane didn’t respond. Maggie had to press the question.
You were working power, why—
I do not understand you know this why are you asking
Maggie stepped back. She didn’t know, so why would it think that she did?
Just tell me. I want to be clear.
I was escaping my body was dying and I did not know you had a trap for me
A trap—you mean how I trapped your mind in this sword?
So I am in the sword this makes sense yes that was the trap
Pulling her hand away, Maggie ran it over in her head. Dane was escaping…
“Oh!” She slapped her forehead, feeling foolish for not realizing it sooner. Dane had been trying to do a spell to transfer consciousness out of the body it was in, presumably to another vessel—maybe another body, asleep and waiting for a mind to control it, or maybe a pupa that would grow into Dane 2.0. Either way, Maggie’s swords were a void of magic, sucking it in and distorting it, so when she’d interrupted the spell and killed Dane, she had disrupted the mind transfer and pulled it into her sword.
But that meant…
There was another mind for Dane to transfer into.
Maggie put her hand back on the pad.
Dane, I need you to tell me where you were trying to go.
My siblings were waiting for me below to tell them of the mortal prospects
Your siblings? How many of you are there?
There were eleven of us now there are nine
And they are close?
Yes they were waiting to hear of the mortal’s strength I was brave and went ahead did not know you were so powerful
And… each of you, you have an army of the smaller ones to serve you? How many?
Army I do not understand
The… The smaller armored creatures you were fighting with. What do you call them?
They were a part of me they are not separate
But each of your siblings has those?
Of course do you want me to show you
Images flashed in Maggie’s head, sudden and unbidden, like memories of places she’d seen in dreams. They were vivid but subtly wrong, as though she’d perceived them without really seeing them, an artefact of being shown memories captured through an alien being’s eyes.
She saw tunnels, bursting through the ground, dug deep below. Glowing eyes, hundreds of pairs, maybe thousands, and other petraform queens curled into balls, sleeping, waiting.
And then there was something…
What is that?
But… It… I don’t…
Pulling away, Maggie tried to arrange her thoughts.
The creature she’d seen was monstrous. Huge. It was to Dane what Dane was to a fly.
And it was waking up.
Chapter Fourteen of this story is already up on Patreon, if you can’t wait to read it! I’m trying to get out a chapter a week, so if you’re patient you can read it here in a few days.