I pounded at the top of the chisel with the stone. It felt warm and smooth against my palm. Each blow jarred up through my hand, through my arm, and into my shoulder. I gritted my teeth against it and pounded again at the chisel. It had to be here! . . . Somewhere! Chippets of rock splintered off and tumbled to the ground. My calves and feet were dusty. A breeze from the cave mouth blew a tangled brown lock in front of my face.
I paused briefly to flick the hair back behind my ear. I couldn't wait for it to grow long enough to be tied back – I was regretting my attempt to cut it short. I set the chisel in the rock crack again and struck at it. Please let this be the right section, this time, I begged silently. I hit the chisel. Last time I'd done this, I hadn't come close, and it took a good deal of clever lying to get out of that fix. I rammed the rock on as hard as I could.
Clang! I was so surprised I actually jumped and dropped the rock and the chisel. The rock hit my foot. I bit back a curse and shook it off, hoping around until the sting faded. Then I crouched low by the wall, digging and worming my fingers into the gap I'd created. My fingernails caught an edge and I yanked towards me.
A huge slab of grey, black streaked stone flew out of the wall. It bounced off my stomach and clattered to the ground, where it shattered into five pieces. "Oof!" I clutched my stomach and fell to my knees. It took me several minutes to regain my breath.
I leaned forward and placed my hands on the wall next to the open hole. It was just taller than my hands, and about twice as wide. There was hardly enough space for the inch-thick slab that had covered it. Oh . . . I'm going to have to explain that, I thought worriedly. I stared at the iron-coloured metal. Silvery lines in an odd design traced across it, lighting up from the outside to flow the centre, were an oval gemstone of purple was embedded.
I traced my fingers over the stone and the ornate border of gold around it. My fingers thrummed with energy. Light twinkled from the depths of the stone. A sort of humming, like from wind, started in my inner ear. I took my hand away.
Taking a deep breath I focused on the rest of the slab. I didn't know what the obviously magical stone was about, but I vaguely recognized the slab from the magic books I'd read. It was an enchanted vault, that much I knew. If I hit the right words or tune or combination of both, then the various pieces would unlock and slide back. The lines the moving, glowing dots followed had to be the edges of the interlocked pieces.
I racketed my mind for the words and tune I had heard, some odd nights ago. "Egga navve nocha?" I tried. I winced at how out of tune my voice sounded. There wasn't even the slightest reaction from the slab. "Egna navva noche?" Nothing happened, again. I sighed in frustration; this had probably been made as impossible as possible for me.
Something crunched behind me and I heard a chuckle. "You'll be there until nightfall, if you keep singing like that."
I shot to my feet and whirled around. "Magnum!" I shifted so I blocked the discovered vault. "You weren't supposed to be back until eveningset."
Magnum gave me a dry smile. "I finished what I must early." His tangled black hair seemed to be sticking together with sweat, and there was either mud or dried blood smeared faintly on his face. "I see you have been busy, Thyra."
"Actually, it happened all on its ow –"
I folded my arms and straightened my shoulders. We stared at each other, hard. I refused to back down.
Suddenly Magnum smiled and relaxed. "I can see I've taught you well." He strode forward. "And in truth I should have known you'd find this eventually."
"You grew careless, Magnum. I heard and saw you open this twice."
He stood beside me and looked at the vault. "Then the contents within no longer need be secret." He held out his left hand, palm up, and sang, "Egana navvea noche." His voice was rich of musical, the voice of a sorcerer or wizard. In comparison, my voice sounded like a squawking bird.
The lighted dots all banded together, creating glowing lines that made the metal slab fragment. Each oddly shaped slice crept backwards into the stone with the sound of metal on metal. I leaned forward and looked inside. There was an old, dusty, leather bound book written in some foreign language. A silver chalice studded with jewels stood behind it, a crystalline blue pendant lying next to it.
I furrowed my eyebrows. "This is a bit disappointing," I said.
Magnum laughed. "That's because you haven't seen this." He reached into the vault, his hand moving further back than I would have thought possible and withdrew something long and gleaming. He offered it to me.
My eyes widened. "Whoa." I took it from him, metal cold against my skin. "This is one wicked sword." Double-edged and made of iron, the blade rounded gracefully to a point. The hilt and guard was a simple crosspiece, runes etched into the metal and a blood red ruby in the centre. The handle was wrapped in leather. I curled my hand around it. An absolutely perfect fit.
"Now this I can understand wanting to hide from me." I took a couple steps back and experimentally stepped into a couple forms with it. It was completely balanced and exactly the right length for me to use. Reluctantly I lowered it and offered the sword hilt first to Magnum. He didn't take it.
"You keep it."
I stared. "Really?" He nodded. "Really truly?" I was starting to grin. "Oh, wow. Thank you, Magnum!"
He smiled at me. "You've earned it." Still grinning I moved away, sliding through more forms. "And Thyra?"
"Mm?" I looked over my shoulder at him. His face was deadly seriously again.
"From this point on, don't ever go searching through my things."
"Yes, Magnum," I said meekly. Past experience had taught me that disobeying him was not pleasant. The retaliation was often humiliating, and I didn't have magic of my own to counter it.
Magnum's calm demeanor was back. Continuing through forms I watched him out of the corner of my eye. He unloaded himself of satchel, cloak, and broadsword, placing everything back exactly. His sword repolished itself automatically, by means of an old spell on the stand. He hid the contents of the satchel from my direction.
My bare foot landed on something slippery. I hit the floor with a thud and a groan. The sword I'd been using fell on top of me. I realized I was lying on a patch of ice.
"Don't let your attention waver," Magnum reminded me, not even looking over. "That's how your opponent wins."
"Heh, right." I ran a hand through my hair and got to my feet. The ice evaporated. I picked up the sword, determined to do better. As I flowed into position, I couldn't help but wonder, what opponent am I winning against? I've never even fought Magnum, and he's the only one I know . . . My balanced wavered and I forced myself to pay attention. Time for useless questions later.