Before I turned 26, Lask killed an Ancient Demon. It was the end of January 2016, and the culmination of many months of careful planning, recon, and ally-wrangling. I imagine I’ll post the prose of their exploits at some point, so you can read for yourself how the island came to be under siege, how Stefin raised a mighty army of converted Demons, and how Lask stole the fire of an Ancient Demon from Times Before. It’s all very exciting, but there’s two things that stick out to me as personal, lasting, implications:
One, in stealing the Demon’s fire, Lask pushed himself to the brink of… well, call it critical mass, and started a downward spiral into what (at least in part) led to my “episode.” God, I can’t say that with a straight face, sorry, Glinda… Let’s not beat around the bush: I went batshit insane for some 36 hours. I’m a writer, I can only call things what they are. I was a madwoman for a while. That’s a fact. Lask has at least 50% stake in that madness– also inescapable fact, since we’re conjoined at the brain, or whatever it is we are.
Two, Lask was broken– irreparably. In the midst of his tangle with the mighty foe, he found himself flung to the floor and under the enemy’s iron mace. The result was a shattered femur. It might have killed a human. He survived, made it home to where a surgeon friend of his was waiting in the infirmary, and had to send another friend back to look for bone shards so his leg could be pieced together. For reasons unclear to me, Lask refused to have rods or pins put in his leg, and there is only so much magic can heal. The surgeon suggested it might even be better to amputate the leg and attempt to magically regrow it– another option Lask balked at. In the end, he told the surgeon to do what he could, and hope that Lask’s own regenerative powers could do the rest.
They didn’t. For days, he lay in agony, until he forced himself up because he “had things to do.” He was as graceful as a one-legged crane, tottering about his castle in yelping dismay, until one day, the wound started bleeding through the cast and he recalled the surgeon. Turns out, the Demon’s weapon was enchanted, and only it could undo the curse on Lask’s still-freshly-shattered leg. Having conquered the Demon, getting access to the weapon wasn’t a problem, but finding a fresh supply of the Demon’s blood a week after you’ve killed him… that’s problematic for some. Not as problematic for Lask– he can open doors in time, so in theory, he could open a door to the day he killed the Demon, and send someone to collect fresh blood off the floor.
In theory. The trouble came with drawing the door. Lask’s natural fire had been joined with the fire he stole from the Demon– that’s a lot of fire for one person to contain on the best of days. When it’s new to you and you’re teetering on a splintered pillar of pain, well… let’s just say it didn’t go so well. Some people got burned. They survived, but Lask felt terrible, and started looking for ways to better control his volatile new firepower.
Fortunately, he did manage to get some people through time to return with the Demon’s blood, so the curse could be lifted. They redid the surgery, and his leg started to heal, but it never healed quite right. The surgeon said he was lucky to walk at all, but for Lask, the reality of a lifelong limp was a tough pill to swallow. After all, he’d only “been in the world” 26 years. He was supposed to be at the height of his Darkslaying career, and suddenly he found he wasn’t as quick on his feet as he used to be. Much of his swordsmanship lived in his footwork. He was a dancer on the battlefield, swift, elegant and deadly… except now, if he turns too quickly on his right leg, he loses his precise footing, and one enemy sweep could send him toppling.
Combined with the fact his magic has been so overloaded any magic-work runs the risk of toasting passersby, Lask doesn’t go near the battlefield much these days. It’s been a listless year for him. In many ways, he’s felt left behind– laying plans in his strategy rooms, moving pieces on maps, then watching from his tower as others go out to fight the battles he used to lead. While he enjoys teaching, his self-conscious pride keeps him from finding real joy in his classroom. Heaven forbid a student should see him stumble, you know.
It isn’t the first wound he carries, but it is perhaps the most irritating. His nearsighted vision has never been the same since he was rendered temporarily blind by Dark blood, but I think he feels a certain sense of romantic scholarly fashion when he pulls out his reading glasses, and gets to blink down his long nose at books (or people). While he will carry, on occasion, a gentleman’s walking stick to lean on when his leg starts to tire, he hasn’t yet embraced this wound as he has others. He misses chasing his children, and being able to spend hours in the saddle without complaint. He rejoices in his wings, but loathes his wobbly landings.
“Why does it bother you so much?” I asked him recently. “You have done more in your time here than many of your colleagues have done in three times as many years. You limp because you fought. You carry dangerous magic because you won. Those are not things to be ashamed of.”
“But they are things to be afraid of,” he replied.
Sometimes it hurts my heart how badly he wants to be loved and included, and how much his life makes it so he can’t be. There’s no getting around the fact his fire is dangerous now. He’s taken a lot of precautions, developed a number of ways to control and vent the excess magic in his system, and he’s mastered things his own friends laughed at him for attempting. Yet in his pursuit to be better, stronger, (faster) more able to protect the things dear to his heart, the more he’s grown into something which requires a certain isolation.
It’s often seemed unfair to me I should so hate and avoid social situations, and yet Lask is an extrovert who genuinely loves people, but can’t often be around them. Sometimes I wonder if our personalities were switched at some point. I would be fine alone in a tower; he would love the access to people my life provides. It’s a shame we can’t trade lots. Even when I let him make contact with people in my life, there’s always the, “oh… you’re not human. No body, may or may not actually be there.” That tends to make things awkward.
Even so, I find myself looking at him these days, and loving him more than ever. I watch him move with slow steps, so as to not limp noticeably, and take a seat at his piano, where melodies flow from his fingers, until one pinkie trips over a chord, and he cringes in dismay at his own mistakes. I watch him balance his glasses on his nose and peer at a newspaper, like a heron scanning the shallows for fish. I catch a glint of white-gold hair at his temples when the wind blows, and smile before he can make sure his mane is shaken just so to conceal it. I pretend not to notice when he disappears for a few hours in the night, because he can’t sleep and simply must go to his watchtower to check on his comrades in the field. Once in a while, he doesn’t come back until dawn, and I secretly love the tired pride around his eyes when he tells me he was able to save someone.
“Why do you look at me like that?” he asks. “I’m not the man you came to know and love. I am no more a commander in the field, or a hero by night. Instead, I’m getting old before my time, and turning into the definition of friendly fire. I limp and worry, and I’m not at all right in the head.”
“Tempy,” I tell him, “That’s part of why I love you. Those things may not make you better, but they make you make you more human. Maybe that’s why your own kind don’t stay around much. We humans have tainted you. You care too much for us, and become too much like us.”
“I like humans,” he says, “They invented movies and ice cream, and no matter what you do to them, a few always keep looking up. Most of them want to be good, to do good. They just don’t always go about it very well.”
“That’s why we need you guys,” I remind him. “You teach us how to be human with grace.”
“I don’t know about that grace part,” he grumbles, “Have you seen me try to put pants on recently?”