Being enslaved was better than dying but only barely. Kennet did what he had to in order to survive as a slave with the knowledge that freedom would risk being found by the people who drove him into slavery. Kennet saw no reason to do anything extra for the men who bought him. They didn’t care about him and he didn’t care about them.
That was true until the royal family of Penhale purchased Kennet guard Prince Didymos. Protecting Prince Didymos from the assassins seeking to kill him dragged Kennet into the world of national politics and onwards to face an enemy that threatened to destroy not just Kennet but the whole world.
Kennet didn’t want to deal with any of it, the assassins or the magic that lurked around him but if he wanted to survive, Kennet would have to not just face down the threats surrounding them but also track the assassins back to their shadowy leader.
What he found at the source of the chaos changed Kennet in ways he could never have anticipated, taking him in all new directions. Hopefully Kennet’s new skills would be enough to let him save the world, his lovers and himself.
Artifacts of Awareness
By Meyari McFarland
22: Host to Power
“Painful?” Kennet squawked. “What do you mean by ‘painful’?”
The artifact, entity, whatever it was, struck before Kennet had a chance to brace himself. It darted out of the water and struck his poisoned arm. Kennet shouted, automatically trying to smack the thing away just because of the sheer pain it set off by landing in that spot. His arm was already sore and it felt like he’d just been stabbed in the exact same spot. Blood spurted out of the wound into the cold blue water.
Batting at the artifact did no good. Kennet’s hands didn’t connect with it. All he did was stir the blood in the water until it billowed like a cloud of smoke around his body, shifting and swirling as the magic holding Kennet flowed into his body. The snake-like sword transformed as it forced its way into his body into something that Kennet couldn’t see.
It was a blur in the water, a bright spot, something cold and alien that pushed into his body while the water around him changed from cool blue to blood red.
“Don’t… bleed… me dry!” Kennet gasped as more and more blood flowed out of his body and more icy water flowed in.
The sensation of cold was so bad that it burned as the artifact sliced into his flesh to get at his veins. Kennet’s whole body shook with tremors from the cold. He couldn’t move, could barely breathe which was probably a good damned thing given the air bubble around his face was shrinking by the moment. Cold spread from his poisoned arm down to his fingertips and then up to his neck. As soon as it hit the side of his face Kennet moaned and went limp.
Too much, it was way too fucking much! Magic slid into his brain, warping how he saw the world as well as altering his body and sucking all the heat out of him. Instead of water around him there was power, flowing and shifting with as much power as the river he’d fallen into. It wasn’t blue but cornflower and lavender, indigo and black, shifting color and texture as it moved into him, through him, as it consumed him.
“I don’t want to be a fucking mage!” Kennet managed to growl at the artifact despite the way the cold had stolen his breath and ability to move.
“Don’t worry about that,” the artifact chuckled. “You’ve no power at all, Kennet. I can fill your body with my power but it won’t change the fundamental nature of who you are. You’re an ordinary human. Magic isn’t something that you can touch. I can only loan my power to you, guide you in how it’s used. It won’t actually be you that is the mage. Nothing can change that.”
“Thank all the fucking deities for that,” Kennet grumbled a good deal less angrily. “Last thing I’d ever want to be is a fucking mage.”
The cascade of memories that set off seemed to startle the artifact. Its power was still moving through Kennet, filling him with the cold fluid magic that seemed to be what it was made of, but its mind sifted through Kennet’s memories of Elder Danek as if searching for something in particular. Whatever it was, the artifact didn’t seem to find it. Instead it sighed and Kennet’s body sighed with it.
“What the fuck?” Kennet demanded. “You can control me that completely?”
“Of course,” the artifact replied. He had the mental image of someone older, about King Rihab’s age, raising an eyebrow at him. “You’re not a mage, you know. How else are you to use my power? You have no innate ability to manipulate the magic.”
“I didn’t think it meant you taking over my entire fucking body!” Kennet complained. He blinked as the wheel of light over them got larger and closer. “Now what the fuck are you doing?”
“Your young friend is about to have visitors,” the artifact explained. “I would have thought that you’d welcome the chance to avenge your torture.”
“Well, don’t jump straight out into the middle of them,” Kennet said. “We need to know what the hell is going on and what we’re facing before we charge out and start swinging, you moron.”
The artifact snorted with amusement, using Kennet’s body to do it. His head swam for a moment, thrown off by all the changes happening to him, but after the disorientation cleared Kennet realized that he could see exactly what was going on above the surface of the water. Actually, he could feel everything that was happening for miles around, much less right by the water hole that seemed to be shrinking by the moment.
He’d expected at least a hundred soldiers to be on their tails but Kennet only saw twelve. Four were right there, grabbing Idris and demanding that he tell them where Kennet was. Another four were searching the bushes while the other eight rode around the edges of the oasis as if looking for their path, not that there was a path for them leaving. None of them showed any signs of magical ability that Kennet could see but every single one of their swords and armor had magic glowing through it. While Kennet felt cold from the artifact’s watery magic, the armor and swords felt like fire, like the heat of the sun.
“That is my younger brother’s element,” the artifact observed. “I’m sure that you are an excellent fighter, Kennet, but I was made for battle. If I may suggest, allowing me to control your body would cause a fair degree of fear among your enemies. They are expecting a human and to encounter… me… would be…”
“Fucking terrifying,” Kennet completed. He chuckled, looking at the soldiers with the artifact’s senses. “Yeah, that’s not a bad idea but only if you’re completely sure that we can get all of them. I don’t want any of them escaping to tell Rihab where we are.”
“He already knows,” the artifact replied with the mental equivalent of a raised eyebrow. “There is no way for him not to know. He can feel me moving in the world as clearly as I feel him.”
Kennet’s perception of the world swung again, opening up so that Kennet could feel a huge chunk of the world. He was in the middle of the Rudrash Desert, which he knew, but the weird thing was that it didn’t feel natural. Something was making the area hotter than it should have been. It took a moment for him to realize that it was magic, magic coming from King Rihab. The Rudrash Desert existed in its current form only because of the artifact that burned inside of King Rihab.
As he stared at that fiery column that Kennet knew was actually King Rihab, it flared into a bonfire that felt of fury and, interestingly, consternation. Kennet could almost hear King Rihab snapping orders to his people, gathering his forces so that he could come after Kennet to destroy him. Moments later, men were running around the camp to follow his order.
King Rihab did something complicated and magical as Kennet watched, shaping the fiery magic that filled his body into a burning disk. Kennet could see it swirl faster and faster like a tornado forming its funnel. The funnel arced across space without actually traveling the distance between King Rihab’s camp and the oasis, somehow twisting and folding the world itself until there was a short blazing tunnel that led directly from King Rihab’s fingertips to the dunes surrounding the oasis.
“Aw, fuck!” Kennet cursed. “He can come straight here?”
“He will certainly try to catch us here,” the artifact said entirely too calmly as it contracted their shared awareness back to the immediate area around the oasis. “It won’t be as easy as he appears to think it will, especially if we move quickly.”
“Right, well, let’s get going then,” Kennet said. “We need to kill these fuckers and then ride for the far side of the desert.”
“A very good choice,” the artifact said as the pool disappeared around them, raising them out of the water and back up into the air. They ended up standing on a dry patch of earth with bushes all around them with water swirling around them like a cloak. “The closer we are to the ocean the more powerful I will be. At this moment, I am somewhat at a disadvantage.”
“Now you tell me,” Kennet grumbled.
The water was still surrounding him but it flowed up his body and into his arm, taking with it all the blood he’d shed and the remainder of the artifact’s power. In moments Kennet was as dry as he’d been before riding into the oasis, drier actually because he wasn’t sweating from the heat of the desert. He couldn’t feel the heat anymore. All he felt was the cool power flowing through his body as the artifact settled into place and assessed what was going on around them.
Kennet’s actual eyes, as opposed to the weird magical ones he was sharing with the artifact, were staring at the earth under his feet. The physical pool had been even shallower than Kennet thought, only a couple of inches deep at the center instead of a couple of feet. The water wrapped around his head flowed into his arm last of all. Until it did his ears only heard muffled sounds from the warriors holding Idris.
“What in Haraldr’s name is this?” one of the men shouted in a language that Kennet distinctly didn’t understand but which suddenly made sense. “What has happened?”
“I don’t know!” Idris wailed in the same language. “I told you! He fell in and disappeared and I don’t know what is going on. I told him this place was cursed. I told him and told him but he did not listen to me!”
“You translating for me?” Kennet asked the artifact.
“It seemed appropriate that you understand what was being said,” the artifact replied. “If I may? We do have people to threaten and kill.”
“Heh, have at it, kiddo,” Kennet said. “Try not to tear my body up too much though I have to admit I feel a hell of a lot better than I did. Just cold.”
“It is, unfortunately, one of my effects on my host,” the artifact said, amusement flowing through Kennet at being called ‘kiddo’. “I am afraid that it will continue as long as you host me.”
“As long as I don’t freeze anyone to death I don’t mind,” Kennet said. “Make with the impressive killing, will you? We don’t have a hell of a lot of time. I’d rather escape and learn how to use you before trying to kill King Rihab.”
The artifact’s amusement and approval at Kennet’s impatient words was strong enough that Kennet felt like he should be smiling. His face stayed blank and still instead. As the last of the water flowed into the wound on Kennet’s arm, sealing it shut without a mark, his head slowly raised so that his eyes swept across the dry mud basis of the now extinct pond. In his mind he felt the men surrounding Idris shiver and hesitate but he didn’t see it until his eyes swept on up across the grass to rest on the little cluster of men around the boy.
“And now to free your young friend,” the artifact murmured, its pleasure as sharp as the blade it had seemed to be.
Kennet’s body suddenly lunged at the men holding Idris, startling him so badly that he shouted into the vault of his mind. His mental shout didn’t become a physical one. The artifact had too strong a hold on Kennet’s body for him to do anything other than go along for the ride. It was strangely like riding an out of control horse as Kennet had no idea what was going to happen next or how they were going to free Idris and then flee.
Their sword hand had been empty when the artifact lunged but as they darted across the three or four paces separating Kennet from Idris, the artifact’s magic flowed out of Kennet’s hand. A rush of cold accompanied the magic, wrapping around Kennet’s arm to flow into his fingers. Suddenly there was a blue-bladed sword in his hand, long and perfectly balanced.
They swung at the first soldier, aiming to cut across his neck and down his armored chest. Kennet expected some resistance as the sword edge impacted with the shoulder armor but instead the magic blade cut through the metal tab reinforced leather armor as though it wasn’t there. It kept right on cutting, going right through all the bone in the man’s shoulder and down into his ribcage as if he was made of water instead of flesh.
The artifact controlling Kennet’s body pulled the blade back slightly as it cut downwards, slicing through the man and pulling the sword free with ease. There was very little blood, surprisingly little. Kennet has just enough time to see ice forming on the edges of the wound before the artifact whirled their body and cleanly lopped the head off a second soldier. The third died with a quick thrust through the chest that made the man gasp and stiffen as ice formed over his face and hands.
Idris screamed as the bodies collapsed around him, startling the fourth soldier into turning to run.
“Oh dear,” the artifact murmured, abruptly giving control of Kennet’s body back to him as it’s attention swung out and away from the bloody little scene inside the oasis.
“Fuck!” Kennet snarled.
He stumbled but immediately recovered, charging after the remaining soldier before he could dart outside the edges of the oasis. No way could they let any of these assholes survive! Kennet struck that one down by chopping his head off, a little annoyed that the artifact hadn’t taken care of that one as well.
“What the hell?” Kennet demanded. “I thought you had this! Why’d you give up on the fight like that?”
“Not quite accurate,” the artifact murmured as a flaming wave of magic swept over the area, igniting the trees and shrubs surrounding Idris and Kennet.
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