Forged in Blood and Iron: Conditioning
"Is that actual fucking metal?" It was, he could see it already, sunlight glinting off the blade's edge, a blatant tempt.
"It is indeed. I even sharpened it for you," fingers ran along its side, pushing deep against Drogan's death pale skin without breaking; he held the weapon forward, "Go on. Take it."
Canaan did so, tentatively wrapping his hand around the hilt, still expecting it to be snatched away. He had never, in recent or distant memory, been allowed a weapon that wasn't a wooden imitation.
"I may have expected more enthusiasm," Drogan's voice held that slightly wounded note it did when he tried to do something nice and was uncertain how it was received; Drogan didn't do the human thing very well, but he tried.
"From the shit on your walls, I'd have expected something flashier." Though plain, it was a well made sword, Drogan had drilled into him how to spot quality. He was surprised it was a sword, as well; he would be allowed to discover his own preferences, but Drogan made no secret he thought there were better weapons.
"Flair is for inspiring fear and awe. You'll get neither from me, boy," spoken with a smile, a flash of metal teeth, "It is a practice sword, it need not be attractive."
He didn't really care, "And what is it for?"
"Practicing, of course. You are ready to move into the next phase of your training. Congratulations."
What phase were they at now? Hard to say, Drogan's ordering systems didn't make sense to anyone but him. The prior phase (or two) was endless years of training with wooden imitations until the moves were instinct, until the enhancements functioned at optimal levels, until he could throw any human opponent in the dirt before they could touch him.
"So, where are we going then?" he hoped it was the hills, the desert got dull much quicker, the vast expanse of bright empty sameness.
"Where would we go?"
"Well, who am I training with?"
A chuckle, "I hardly think I'd be forgiven if I let you go through their limited supply of men, like so much mortal refuse."
Oh. He hadn't thought of that. Before the only real risk was bruising and the occasional broken bone, none of which affected him as much as the other. Drogan paid careful attention to every injury, inspecting him after each bout, measuring bruises, testing breaks, writing everything down in another book, initial severity and how quickly it healed.
Drogan took a step forward, "I will be your opponent."
"Who better?" A hand outstretched, liquid gathering in the palm, extending and solidifying into a dark red mirror image of the weapon in Canaan's own hand.
He smiled at the display, "You'll get nothing from me either, you know."
That won him a laugh, "As though I would waste precious energy trying to impress you." He tapped the side of Canaan's face with the flat of the blade; it was still warm.
"Because I do not break."
"You can also end a fight in five seconds by appearing behind me. Or is that the point?" Learning to counter tricks like that would be much more interesting than tossing people around was anymore.
Drogan's smile vanished, "Nothing of the sort. A fair fight, as you would find anywhere, if more skilled than you're apt to find elsewhere."
Less interesting, but he'd take it; Drogan would have to be more of a challenge, if nothing else.
Drogan raised his weapon, an easy stance, garnet eyes appraising, "You asked me for this once, do you remember?"
"Not surprising, it was very early in your existence, before you were marked. You begged and needled at me for this, bringing it up whenever you could."
"That doesn't sound like me."
"You were very young."
It was hard to picture, Canaan hadn't been young for a long time.
"I told you then I would remind you of that, when the time comes, and so I have."
"All right," he wasn't sure what to make of that, but he refused to be intimidated, moving into his own stance, "Is that all?"
A smile, blackened metal, Canaan often wondered if those teeth were as sharp as they looked, "A fight to the death, as it were. Hold nothing back, and neither shall I."
When the first blow came, Canaan felt it as a punch, a strike with a blunt instrument, no different than what he was used to. It was on the tip of his tongue to offer a sarcastic congratulations when Drogan wrenched the blade free, having to pull it from where it caught in the bone of his upper arm, and he remembered.
The pain came slowly, a blooming fire through exposed nerves; blood trickled then poured down.
Canaan stepped back, gritting his teeth against any traitorous sound that might emerge; the arm hung limp and useless, the cut gaping wide, gushing black, he could see through to the muscle, fuck, how deep did that go?
What the fuck - ?
Why - ?
Why did you - ?
The words wouldn't come, even when he caught movement, Drogan stepping closer and not to help. He held his hand up, trying to ward it off, trying to ask for a minute.
"No. That is not how this works. You'll get no reprieve on a battlefield, and you'll get none from me. You want me to stop? Pick up your weapon and make me."
The dark red sword swung a second time.
A slap jerked his head to the side, not for the first time; everything was numb, his ears were ringing.
"Calm yourself, Canaan. You are not human, this will not kill you."
Fingers lay in the dirt, among dew wet grass, still now, like some dead animal. Familiar black and red burns decorated its skin, around a bent elbow, to a ragged stump.
Is that – was that - ?
It was unreal. A dream or a trick, an illusion, something Drogan had cast on hm (could he even do that?). If he could move his limbs, prove the lie, the spell would break; only one hand floated up in front of his eyes, smeared in red.
"Well, you have stopped bleeding. That's good. Could be quicker, but good, yes?"
Numb, unreal; the arm lay still in the grass, a beetle crawling over the knuckles, a light tickling sensation of small insect feet across dew wet fingers and he couldn't feel a fucking thing.
"You're not going to make me carry you inside, are you? Come on now, Canaan, your legs do still work. Up and at them. I believe in you, yes?"
He was dropped in his own bed, a welcome comfort, carefully undressed and tucked into the dark silk sheets. A moment's reprieve, and he felt a warm hand brushing hair off his forehead.
"I left you some water, on the table. Do not neglect it," a curved claw traced a path around his eye, "It should start soon. It will not be pleasant, I'm afraid."
What? It was on the tip of his tongue to ask, he wasn't certain why he didn't.
"Hold out until morning. I will check on you then."
It started a few hours later, jerking him out of the last bit of sleep he'd get for a while.
Pride kept his reaction in check, his lips sealed shut and his remaining hand curled into the sheets. Morning, Drogan had said, surely he could hold out until then.
Pride left before the darkness did.
In three days, he was desperate.
"You do look awful," that hand again, brushing through hair matted to his skull with sweat and that watery green foul shit Drogan said was aether changed by body chemistry, that oozed out his pores and up this throat; that god fucking revolting acid burn he didn't think would ever leave him.
"Are we making any progress?"
Not the sort Drogan was after, but Canaan thought the ability to grab the other's sleeve before the hand could stray too far, to grip tight and actually feel the grip, was quite progressive. To open and focus his eye, see something other than a blur. It was his voice that would be difficult, even the screaming had all but stopped.
"Knock. Me. Out."
"Canaan, I can't do that."
"Fuck you," did he actually get the word out, or did it catch in his sore, acid burned throat and turn to incoherent noise? "I don't – don't...this is-"
This was worse than anything he could've imagined. It felt like a thin metal rod being pushed into the broken bone, scraping past raw nerves, up as far as it could until it hooked something inside and pulled, hard and sharp, trying to tear what was left of his arm off. His skin was on fire, hemorrhaging that vile green shit, and-
He was monitoring as well, when he could think straight enough to check. Three days, and there was maybe on inch more on the stump than there had been. Three days, and they hadn't hit the joint yet; three days, and more than halfway left to go.
"I don't need to be awake for this," and, begrudgingly, "Please."
"Canaan...nothing in my skill set can remove your pain. I can't give you drugs, they won't work."
"Please," desperate, that might've been an understatement, "Anything." Kill me. At least then it would be over.
Drogan took a deep breath, glaring at the opposite wall, thinking; at least he was listening. "I have one idea." And the man laid a hand over his mouth and nose, lightly, asking permission.
Canaan nodded, trying to hold still, to slow his breathing. Drogan's hand, it smelled like metal, like blood; he hadn't noticed before.
The hand clamped down, and Canaan, despite this new enhanced body, had not lost its mortal survival instinct: he fought, hard. His nose was broken, most of his lower lip torn off, his cheek hanging from his face in two flaps.
And worst of all, he wasn't even unconscious long enough to matter.
He made his way down the corridor, slow and careful; his legs muscles hadn't atrophied, but his mind was still in that exhausted fog, not used to registering more than agony. But Drogan's summons had been waiting when he woke this morning, not to be ignored, and so here he was, on his feet once more.
The study was on the other side of the manor from his bedroom, like Drogan was trying to make it difficult, which could well be the case. He let the long walk clear the cobwebs from his mind, so maybe he wouldn't embarrass himself too much.
With the door in sight, Canaan stopped in time to see Drogan's unpleasant brother come out; he could hope to go unnoticed but there was little chance of that and, indeed, Drake turned right to him.
If asked, Canaan could not tell you why it was he didn't like Drake, he didn't know enough people (or, well, anything else) to make a proper comparison. There was something though, he'd swear on it. Something in the way Drake looked at him with those bright blue eyes; something in the way he spoke to him, even where he couldn't understand half of it, the individual words yes but not their clear alternate meaning. His manner reminded Canaan of taunts at Dahakran duels, or words that would proceed a mass brawl among the hill tribes – confrontation, with every word and action, trying to make a home under Canaan's skin, just to see what he could make him do.
Drogan encouraged him to trust his instincts, so he wasted little time trying to reason himself out of it; he doubted Drogan had meant that to imply to his own family, Canaan had yet to say anything about it.
"Well, look at you, then," Drake's eyes raked slowly over his body; he'd thrown a robe on before leaving, the first stitch of clothing in weeks, didn't bother closing it, the sleeves covered what was needed, there was nothing for Drake to see, "Lovely to see you again, after so long. Of course, we all heard plenty from you, in that time. Your caterwauling does so carry, you know."
And everything he said that could be understood was pure mockery.
"Like a pig to slaughter," lips curled into a smirk, a glimpse of gleaming white teeth, "Not a grown pig, either. A baby one. Piglet."
He couldn't have said anything now even had he wanted to; Canaan clenched his jaw and tried to remember how to look indifferent.
"Are you going to let me see it? Come on, don't be shy. I appreciate a cut man."
Just like that, nonsense. He didn't move, not a muscle; he wondered what he would do if if the issue was forced, if there was anything he could do in his present condition.
"Drake?" a calm voice drifted from out the open door.
"Yes, brother dear."
"Do you not have somewhere to be?"
"Yes indeed," never broke his stride, never lost that grin. Canaan kept his eyes straight ahead, counting footsteps that came closer, closer, and alongside him, and paused.
Warm breath touched his ear, sweet smelling in a way that was only pleasant for a second before it became sickening, something close to rot. "Pity I couldn't have seen it on the first day, all wet and raw. A butchery, I'm sure, my brother never was gentle with his toys." Closer, an oppressive line of heat down his side, closer than he'd ever normally get, "You should ask for me, next time. I know a thing or two, to make the human body sing." More unsettling nonsense; fingertips, sharpened nails, ran up his arm, the lightest brush, "The sounds I could drag out of you."
Canaan stepped to the side, swinging his arm out of the way, smacking it into the wall. He managed to swallow down any sound, but it must've showed on his face anyway; Drake smiled, having gotten what he wanted.
"You think about that, and maybe next time, yes?" before vanishing down the hall.
In the study, Drogan removed the robe with care, directing him to stand in the light. When a hand wrapped around his wrist and extended the arm, the pain gasp could not be contained; no matter, those garnet eyes were only concerned, "That hurts?"
It was stiff, it ached constantly just hanging there like a useless decoration, anything more was impossible. He couldn't convey it with more than a look, his swollen throat would catch and smother any sound before it became a word.
For the first time, Canaan let himself look. The limb was pale and scrawny, a stretch of skin over bone and sinew; the black and red burns aggressively bright against the sickly pallor, trying to reclaim their territory. He held up his other arm alongside, darker and fleshed out, muscle defined through lifetimes of work; the new limb was a malformed shadow of the one it replaced, likely rotting on the manor grounds.
"Can you move this? Twitch your fingers for me?"
It had taken a long time for his brain to accept there was nothing there, still convinced he could feel it twitching days after; now, his brain couldn't accept it was back, denying what his eyes could see. He forced the command, down past the void below his shoulder; his middle finger flexed, barely.
Drogan wasn't impressed either, blue tinted lips frowning, "Likely take another two weeks for the muscle and function to be what it was. That is not good, more so than I thought."
Canaan let the arm drop as the god walked away, behind his desk and the open book atop it, making note of his findings. Canaan sat himself in his chair on the other side, waiting for instruction or dismissal.
"Have to see how it goes next time."
A cold feeling grew in his chest, a sense of dread; his eyes turned to Drogan, still with his head bent, writing, unnoticed.
He tried to make himself heard, forcing his throat to work, "You – you're...you-" it degenerated into coughing and pain too quick.
"Do not strain yourself unnecessarily," Drogan tore free a blank page in his book, laying it out in front of him, handing Canaan a quill.
Grateful, Canaan let his hand do the talking. You're planning to do this again?
"Of course," Drogan's eyes looked on his, his face a mixture of calm and sympathy, "It is like any skill, any talent, it requires practice to perfect. More so here, as this skill is so new, foreign to your natural biology, your body needs time to figure out this new function."
Won't I get plenty of practice eventually?
"Canaan, this took two months. And its not finished yet. You couldn't lift a fork with that arm, let alone a weapon. Were we in the middle of an active campaign, my plans would hinge on you and your continued health, I would need you to bounce back quickly. No, this will be worked out now."
Canaan took a deep breath, pushing back any complaint; there was no point, it wouldn't change anything.
"It should not take near three months. It will be better for you as well, not being incapacitated so long. I know you didn't enjoy it."
He debated with himself, before asking: The pain?
"The process not taking three months would improve on that, do you not think?"
That was answer enough, he supposed, but the evasive nature of it goaded him; he underlined the previous words, giving Drogan a pointed look.
"The human body adjusts itself to pain. You will grow used to it."
A more honest answer, and the best it was going to get. Though easy to forget at times, he was under no illusions: Canaan was a tool, and he'd be used as seen fit.
"I am sorry," strangely, he believed Drogan sincere, at least in part, "But I did tell you you wouldn't like it."
He had only one request, adding it to the bottom of his notes: Leave your brother out of it.
"Why on earth would I involve him? I'm well equipped to train you on my own. He has his own duties to attend."
Canaan balled the paper, tossing it in the fireplace. It would have to be good enough.
A solid metal thunk rattled the small table; Canaan glanced up from his studies. Language, again, the fifth now he'd be trained to fluency in, more difficult without a human population to learn from but he was expected to do so anyway.
Drogan stood in front of him, a pleasant smile on his face and a battle ax in his grip, curved blade digging into the polished wood.
Canaan's eyes lowered back to his books, "That new?"
"What? Oh, no, not at all. Quite old, in fact."
"Okay," a pause, "Do you need something?'
"Put your hand on the table."
He glanced up again, "What?"
The ax rocked a bit in its groove, nicks in the metal showing long term use, "Put your hand on the table."
Canaan closed the book over, hesitating, "What for?"
"Fingers," came the response, "Very easy to lose with bladed weapons if you are not being careful. And that is the brilliance of you, is it not? You don't have to be careful." The ax rose from the table, swinging out in a casual gesture, "They are also rather simple appendages. I believe you can be trained to reproduce them in a day, two at most." A smile, black metal sword points, all in a row, "Starting small. Should be easier on you, yes?"
"Very good then," the ax came to rest on a shoulder, the grin got wider, "Well, shall we get started? Lay your hand out, whichever you want."
The book set aside, Canaan chose the left to start, reaching the arm out as far as it would go, lowering it to the surface. Movements slow, but he did not balk and did not tremble and did not make a sound.
Only flinched once, when the ax came down.
The utensil managed to stay balanced in his diminished grip for a whole minute before clattering down again; Canaan resisted the urge to kick the whole table over, this time.
"You'll get the hang of it."
"Will I?" the impatience he couldn't resist, speaking through tightly gritted teeth, "Have a lot of experience in these areas, do you?"
"Can't say that I do. But I have seen it done, by lesser men than you."
Pathetic, the way that empty flattery could work, preventing him just dropping face first onto his supper plate, lapping it up like an animal. Canaan turned his attention back to the utensil, trying to pick it up with what remained of his fingers, a new configuration each time: ring and thumb on one side now, index and middle on the other.
"What is the point of this?" he asked, "Planning on bringing me to a fancy dinner where table manners are expected?"
Drogan laughed, that charming musical quality to it that spoke of genuine amusement. The god lounged in the chair across from him as he did most nights, the plate in front of him held pieces of fruit, "Pardon me. I'm just imagining bringing you along to one of those dreadful gatherings. Oh, how the court would love you."
Judging from the inflection, that was quite the lie, "I'm sure."
"One day. One day, I will do so. If only because it will amuse me."
He managed a grip on the utensil, carefully hovering over the plate; he didn't think he could stab the meat, but might be able to scoop a piece up, "And that's where table manners come in?"
"Its court. Fuck table manners, you can piss on the entree for all I care."
The miserable tool slipped out of his fingers yet again, clattering down onto the plate amid the food he would likely never eat at this point; he blew a harsh breath out through his nose.
"Skills transfer over," Drogan said, "You learn how to work around injury, here, where only your hunger drives the pace, and you can learn to do similar at other times when matters are more pressing."
That gave him pause, "You made that up. Just now."
"Not at all," there was humor in Drogan's tone and expression, but also enough signs he was serious, "I have thought much of this through, you know."
Canaan took a deep, calming breath, trying to push the frustration from his mind, before returning once more to his present task, determined to win.
Skin was easy, fast and simple; lay back in bed with a gaping flesh wound, he could almost feel himself knitting back together. Two days at worse, and all that remained was a faint scar that would smooth out by day's end.
Broken bone, as well, lying still on the ground with his arm flung out and waiting for the hammer fall. A clean break took a day to repair and quickly took less; a shattered bone was more difficult but he was never incapacitated more than a few days. Sometimes bone fragments were too damaged, select pieces regrown and the rejected slivers pushed out through his skin. Drogan had been fascinated with that, leaving an arrowhead inside a wound he sewed shut himself, watching as it tore out again hours later.
Skin regrew as well, just as easy; ruined layers flaking and peeling away, revealing healthy flesh beneath. A wide enough area and he'd be in the tub all night, scrubbing it off until the entire surface of the water was covered in dead skin.
A colorful sight, a confetti of raw red and charred black, it still smelled like fire.
"Are you still with me?"
Canaan blinked, sunshine in his eyes, such a bright and cloudless day.
"Oh good. Does it hurt?"
"Well, that is to be expected. You keep your wits about you, though, very good."
He'd landed on a rock, it was digging into his spine; what a thing to notice, at a time like this.
A shadow fell over him, smirking red eyes staring down at him. The blood sword planted in the ground just above his head, whatever recent contributions made to it blending in easily with the rest.
"You leave yourself open, you know. You don't watch your side."
"And I need to fix that, right?"
"Not at all. What I want you to do, is pivot."
"Pick the weapon up in your other hand, and keep on going. That is the point."
The agonizing fire had dimmed down to a sharp throb, his mind separating itself from the pain, blocking it out. It wouldn't last, he knew now what was coming.
"Might be a while before I can manage that."
"And until then, I do hope you enjoy the taste of dirt."
He'd remember those words, in the bad days to come, and after; it would make the eventual victory that much sweeter.
The only thing worse than losing one limb was losing two. And just below that, being pushed around the manor halls in a wheeled chair.
"I would rather pull myself down the hallway on my own two hands."
"Yes, but then I would have to slow down to wait for you. And I don't want to do that."
At least the chair was comfortable, and he fit easily into it now that he was down half his height. Canaan tilted his head up, found himself staring up Drogan's nose. "Why are you dragging me out here?"
"We're going to try something new."
"Quiet. You're coming into the study, and at the very least, you will keep me company. See if we can't take your mind off the pain."
The itching had started, the first step, that would grow, deepen, into that unending sensation of being torn inside out. It was worse than usual – doubly so, of course. His breathing was harsh already, heart rate rising, sweat dotting his brow.
"I don't think that's going to work?"
"No reason not to try."
It only lasted a little more than an hour, and Drogan carried him back to his bed where he was left in peace.
Canaan refused to even see that chair again, accepting instead a pair of wooden crutches. And he needed them, when his legs buckled after three whole steps.
"That is even worse than the arm."
The disappointment was palpable, he had an insane urge to apologize though he'd done nothing wrong. Canaan could no longer remember learning how to walk, he did not relish having to do so now.
"This will need to improve as well."
He knew by now what that meant.
"Put your hands on the table. Both of them. Stretched out, just so."
Deep breath in, his mind sought that detached place where adrenaline blocked out pain. He curled his fingers, pushing his palm up off the table; iron scraped against bone, pulled and tugged at torn skin. Deep breath in, control, mind and body, sensation and reaction; up, until the hands were standing on the tips of his fingers. Deep breath in, once, twice, and he jerked his hands up that last inch of cold, scraping metal until progress was halted.
Finally, reached the hilt. And now what?
"You're almost there."
He very much doubted that.
"Come on, now. Keep going."
Not as helpful as Drogan probably thought.
"Coming up on two hours, you know?"
Canaan's eyes snapped open, glaring across the table, "Do you have any idea what this feels like?"
Lounging comfortably like an asshole, Drogan at least had the good grace to look admonished, "No, I don't."
"Then shut up and fuck off."
Shut up, but did not fuck off, the man returned to whatever doodling he was doing in his book, leaving Canaan to think.
If the sharp edge had been facing outward, he would've torn himself free between the fingers, perhaps sacrificing one or two in the process. But no, Drogan was more careful than that, and the sharp edge faced inward. He didn't think there was another choice, he was going to have to dislodge the knives from the table if he wanted to be free.
They were also stuck in too deep to be gently nudged free; it would require momentum.
Steeling himself, Canaan let his hands sink back to the table, slowly, then raised them again. Again and again, until he was accustomed to it. He bit the inside of his mouth to keep silent, spitting blood out when necessary.
"Are you hungry?"
"I can hardly eat like this."
A pause, and a piece of meat appeared suddenly in front of his face, pierced on the end of a red claw.
Canaan was shocked out of words, at first, "No. Thanks."
Drogan shrugged, the meat disappearing into his own iron maw, "Let me know if you change your mind."
Canaan could go days without eating, if he had to, but it probably wouldn't be that long before he'd need something.
He had to get free before then.
Two arms held up, side by side: they were identical in every way.
"Twitch your fingers," he did so. "Make a fist," again, easy, and he held it tight through Drogan's attempts to pry it apart.
"Excellent!" blue tinted lips stretched in a wide grin, "And that only took a week. Which may be the best it will get."
Canaan had figured as much.
"Dare I ask, how it went from your end?"
That question had not been raised before, he hadn't expected it to be, his discomfort was of little consequence. The answer was well known, sound carried here; Drogan never mentioned it, but Drake never let an opportunity for mockery pass him by. He didn't think that was what he was really asking.
"It is what it is," he said, "I can live with it."
He managed to watch out for his limbs, but missed the blood sword cutting for his side. The blade bit deep into unprotected flesh; rather than pull it right out, Drogan ripped it across.
Blood pooled out, his hands raised in an instinctual gesture, trying to keep his entrails inside; futile, they slipped through his fingers, spattered his boots, steaming in the autumn air.
His legs buckled, knees falling to the ground in a wet splat, organs squished under his weight. The smell, gods within, it was enough to-
Canaan laughed, or tried to at any rate, a breathless half mad sound he couldn't stop.
"What is it?"
"Just thinking..." deep breath, his sides ached, "This smell...kind of thing, could make you throw up, everything inside."
Sudden, surprised laughter, Drogan raised a hand to cover his mouth, it did little to smother the sound; red eyes gleamed, "Oh, that is a good one. I will have to remember that one."
He let himself fall over on the wet ground, hands still at his midsection, over a gaping, leaking wound. His mind flashed back to Dahakran duels, the vanquished champion torn apart, Drogan's hands holding the torso open wide, inviting him closer, take a look, get your hand in there, learn how it works.
His fingers slipped inside, just past the thin layer of fat, muscle, but the pain was too great and he had to retreat. His other hand felt along the ground, through blood and bile until it found something solid. He should be able to recognize it from feel alone, he'd handled other people's often enough, it was no different, was it?
"You don't need that, you can grow new organs."
It was the small intestine, a piece of it anyway.
"Then again, your body does also need to learn to shift the organs back into their proper place. Oh, where to begin?"
A beginning, it was always a new beginning.
Being deafened was disorienting, unnerving how easy it was to be snuck up upon; Drake had a ball with that the day he stopped by, until Canaan lost it and threw a chair at him. It was effective in that it got Drogan to kick him out.
He learned to read lips, sat across from Drogan and drilled over and over until he got it right; months later, and he could've drawn Drogan's mouth from memory, with perfect color and shading.
In comparison, being blinded was centering, pulling all focus inward to work on making up for what he lacked. He learned the manor in a whole new way: counting steps, sound and smell.
Most fascinating of all was Drogan, with his sight shut down Canaan found he always knew exactly where the god was – an energy that vibrated in the air.
The study again, five steps from the door and three to the left and there was his chair, "Something's changed."
"Hmm?" Canaan listened carefully for what he was pulling Drogan's attention from, the scritch of a quill or the turn of a page – page turn.
"I can see...not, some thing, but grey. A lot more grey."
With his other senses temporarily enhanced, Canaan had felt his eyes forming in their empty sockets, an unpleasant as well as painful sensation he had no wish to repeat, though he knew he'd have to. His sight didn't return immediately, not the way his hearing had done; the grey was the first sign of improvement in near a week since the regrowth completed.
Silence, before his vision turned to bright grey and a sharp pain that knocked him off his chair, diving for any cover, "Fuck! What the fuck was that?"
"A light," it was removed again, "My apologies." The scrape of a chair leg and footsteps coming toward him; he counted to five in his head and felt that warm hand on his shoulder, "It is a sign of progress, yes?"
Yes, he supposed it was.
Last he remembered, he was sitting on the work room stool, the sound of metal in the background, Drogan sharpening his tools in preparation for the latest extraction. He'd watched his hand, fingers tapping against the battered, stained table, running along the deep gouges in the wood, looking for what would be the last time for at least the week.
(but wasn't there something else?)
(a little house by the river, one he used to wade in, pants folded up to his knees, while the woman-)
(-would wash clothes near by, keeping an eye on him, that troubled look both her and her man often turned his way...)
He looked at that hand now
(a little house by the river, and a little room that was all his own)
the same damn hand – small, soft and unmarked.
(and a little bed to sleep in, but not that night, the last night)
He tells it to close, and it does
(something was different about that night, something was going to happen)
tells the fingers to stretch and they do. His head is clear, as far as he can tell – it is his hand.
(when the door slid open in the dead of night, he only half expected the familiar faces, the man or the woman)
His body was thin, fragile, untried, unenhanced – weak.
(the red eyed stranger was unknown, but not unexpected)
It made his skin crawl, his mind reel.
"What happened?" oh gods, that voice, "Cut too deep?" A child's prepubescent squeak; how could that be coming from him?
"Indeed," that familiar touch on his head, he didn't remember that hand encompassing so much of his skull before, "We knew the brain was vulnerable, but I did not know how much. It is good to know, yes?"
He had to look up to meet Drogan's eyes, way up; he was used to looking down, albeit not by much. "I want a break."
"Of course," metal teeth flashed in a grin, "You did not think I would resume your training, in this condition? By all means, take your time."
Time... How old was his body now? Four, wasn't it? To the day. Twenty-three years, before he even started to look familiar to himself.
"In the meantime," and a book was shoved into his arms, "Get to work on that."
He almost dropped it on his foot, too large to carry anymore; he found better purchase while glancing at what he had: the language lesson, from so long ago now.
"There's nothing wrong with your brain. Anymore. You can use it."
"Fuck," the curse sounded humorous in a child's tone; might have to lay off it for a while.
A laugh, "Oh, I have missed you, Canaan."
Canaan...that's my name.
(was there another?)
(the man and the woman, in the little house by the river – they called him-)
It didn't matter. Not anymore.
The swipe taken at his forehead was more of a problem than he first thought, as blood ran into his eyes and Drogan pressed his attack. Canaan could do without sight for short bouts at least, keeping up a defense for the time it took for the veins to close, before forcing a distance and wiping his vision clear.
Drogan paused, nodding his head, "Very good."
Canaan had expected another assault; he relaxed his stance, "Naturally."
"Well, you are newly back in top form, it is good to make certain, yes?"
"Don't go easy on me now."
A grin, sharp metal teeth, "I had no intention."
Canaan eased back into a proper stance, stepping forward to take the advantage-
-and ended up on the ground before he knew what had happened.
All his limbs were intact, he wasn't injured, he could see Drogan's feet still planted where they had been same distance off; if it was a trick, it was a new one.
The ground shook violently beneath him.
Earthquake. He'd read about them, they weren't supposed to occur anywhere near here.
It lasted more than ten minutes, pressure building around his head until his ears popped; it stopped as abruptly as it started, every bird in the trees taking to the air.
Canaan sat up cautiously, "The fuck was that?" in a casual, half laughing tone, seeing nothing to be concerned about. An odd natural event, it happens – until he saw the look on Drogan's face.
Wide red eyes focused on the distant horizon, the god stood still, features blank in way he'd never seen before, and that was alarming itself; there was tension in his stance, in his hand wrapped too tight around the sword hilt.
"Did you feel that?" voice near a whisper.
"...you mean the ground?" it was such a stupid thing to ask, it couldn't be what was meant.
"No, I do not mean the ground," the red sword reliquified, thin streams pulling up to his open palm and disappearing, absorbed into that death pale skin, "That will be all for the day. Entertain yourself for a while."
Drogan vanished into his study, shutting the door behind him, and didn't come out for days. Canaan knocked, once, the following night; when it went ignored he didn't try again.
"I'm going to be leaving for a while," Drogan appeared again, very suddenly, in the center of his room.
Canaan paused in his reading, "Where are we going?"
"There is no we. I am going to court, I can not take you with me."
Canaan set the book aside; he considered if it was worth it, then decided to ask, "What is going on?"
"I don't know. I'm not sure anyone does. But we're going to find out."
Nothing else was offered, Canaan didn't ask for clarity; it must be serious, to bring Drogan willingly to court when he'd rather be anywhere else.
"I expect you to keep up your studies. I don't know when I'll be back, but I'll want noticeable improvement in some arena."
He waved it off, "We'll see."
The same old routines, learned long ago, burned in his mind...so fucking boring now. It had been days, and he was itching for a fight. He missed that adrenaline burn, the burst of pain, the ache afterward.
Knife throwing, a skill that took some time to acquire, but once he got the trick it was easy; it wasn't a bad way to waste time, a break from dull drills and reading, which seemed especially pointless now – learning another language, with no one to speak to.
He walked the distance to the dummy, made in blue at his own request; Drogan never seemed to think anything of it, but Drake, he understood perfectly. He worked the blade out of the dummy's thigh and walked back to the spot, flipping the knife in his hand.
His thumb pressed against the blade, kept deadly sharp even with nothing to kill; the digit slid up and down the cool metal, pressing harder.
He felt the moment the skin tore, microscopic fibers breaking apart, small veins penetrated, blood leaking. Harder, past more layers until metal hit bone.
Canaan raised his hand before his eyes, blood flow changing direction, the thin red line just managing to reach his wrist before drying up. He gazed at the damage made, the pad of a finger, split open like a fruit.
The knife transferred to the other hand, blade tracing down the peeled digit, touching the web of flesh between it and the next, and pressed down again. When the bone was reached, he increased the pressure, until he felt the first snap.
A second snap broke the bone entirely, allowing the blade to pass through and sever the remaining connective tissue; his thumb fell to the ground.
He watched the wound cease bleeding again, a throbbing pain and deep itch in the marrow. He kicked the clipped finger into the bushes to rot.
The thumb was back by the end of the next day, with full range of motion.
Canaan sat at a table, the same knife in his newly intact hand, the other laid flat. The blade's tip pecked his skin, feeling for the perfect spot right between the bones.
He pressed down, coaxing a tiny drop of blood to the surface; harder and the tip encountered bone, scraping down alongside it. Canaan grit his teeth, determined to make it through without a sound, working the blade down, through the palm, touching the wood below.
He paused now, changing his position to lean against the top of the hilt; one hard push should do it.
A low cry tore from his throat, the knife jostling in the wound, driving in at an angle; he cursed himself for the slip. The blade was only halfway down; deep breath in through the nose, teeth clamped together, and a second push drove it all the way through, the hilt tight against the back of his hand.
Breathing slowly, the pain a hard lump on his tongue he worked to swallow down; his other hand balled in a fist, striking the table once, twice, three times, until his knuckles split and stung. It helped to get his head straight.
He tested what give there was; the hand was pretty tightly nailed down. He flexed his fingers, curled them as much as he could, primed and ready.
Drogan had enhanced his strength, it wasn't an overall improvement as he might've thought from earlier reading, but an addition feature he had to tap into. Eventually it would be instinctual, but he wasn't there yet and needed to concentrate.
A light mental touch, and his arm jerked, the screech of metal and wood and quick sharp pain. The knife was a quarter free.
His hand lowered to the table, fingers curled; once more, one more time and that should do it.
The knife went flying, clattering to the floor; the back of his hand was torn and deeply bruised, an angry black and purple, the pain near blinding.
The skin should close over shortly, the top few layers; then he would do it again, as many times as it took to achieve silence.
And now the littlest finger, grown back and with full range of motion. That was the full set.
He ran the ax along his fingers, one after the other; it was the easiest thing he could think of, but it seemed pointless to repeat, two days was as good as it would get individually.
Lower, the curved blade dragging over the back of his hand to the wrist, that network of delicate bones. It took three swings to cleave through that network, sawing past the last clinging scraps, pushing the discarded appendage off the table, a wet smack on the floor.
He could do it without blinking, without hesitation, but not as yet without a sound.
"You have been busy, haven't you?"
After so long alone, another voice was jarring, coupled with Drogan's propensity for appearing wherever he pleased. Canaan set his book aside, waving his half formed hand, "That took a while."
"Yes. A grueling, mind numbing, terribly boring but sadly necessary time. Did you miss me as much as I missed you?"
"Probably not. So what was that about?"
A long drawn out breath, Drogan grabbed a chair and dragged it over across from Canaan, an amusing mirror image of their usual circumstances, dropping into it with his customary sprawl.
"There has been a death in court."
He just stopped himself from asking so what, people die all the time, when the full weight of the statement struck him. "Meaning what?"
"Exactly what I said."
"Is that even possible?"
"I would not have thought so, had I not seen the body with my own eyes," those eyes met his own from the other side of the table, an excitement shining in their depth he'd likely hidden from his peers.
"That is a very good question, and not one anybody has an answer to. The earth court felt only what we did, they've been scrambling for a cause, but the empty husk has told them nothing and the land has shut them out."
"It was one of the earth court?" that somehow seemed the most unlikely, the one race as ancient and eternal as the land they governed. He wondered if it was one he knew, Drogan had drilled him endlessly on those who were his targets until he could draw their glyphs in his sleep, but they were a vast court, impossible to know them all.
Drogan's smile was tight, "The Lord of Whitecapp." That was a known name, a well known name, "One less barrier in my way, I suppose. How lucky."
Lucky indeed; Canaan might've thought there was more to it than luck, but felt certain Drogan would be bragging if he'd done it. "You're not concerned?"
"With what? That I'll be next? No, and neither is anyone else. The mood at court is more one of frustrated curiosity than all out panic," a snort, "Except for the Snow Queen, of course. Bawling her eyes out the entire time, with her sisters in a circle around her. Such a fucking tragedy! It was all I could do not to laugh."
Canaan thought that sounded familiar, something from Drogan's extensive notes; it probably wasn't important. "What happens now?"
"That is another very good question. An unprecedented situation this is, as far as I know, a land without its lord. All we can do is wait and see. I will be paying particular attention to this one, myself, it should be interesting at the very least."
"I meant for us – for you?"
Drogan gave him a look, "We proceed according to plan. There is no need to jump ahead. Whitecapp sits without its guardian, the court can not appoint another, it is mine for the taking and it will wait for me. On the other hand, if I were to move too soon it would alert the blind fools to my intentions. And why give them the time to prepare."
Canaan tapped his fingers on the table – stubs of fingers, only up to the first knuckle. It didn't hurt much now, the hard part had been the hand itself. "I can't tell if you seem glad of this or not."
"I'm not sure of that myself," Drogan let out a breath, "I met Whitecapp, once or twice, in the past. Never liked me, of course, but none of them do. Him though, he didn't treat me like a lowly human based upstart – or, well, not just that. I think that crotchety old bastard knew what I was up to, knew I intended to try something, one day. I sensed a challenge from him, almost, like he had a trick up his sleeve just waiting for me. I suppose I almost looked forward to that confrontation, just to see what he would do."
Whitecapp had been their planned first stop, after Drogan was done hiding his existence; that was as good a reason for it as any.
"The rest of them, even now, continue to underestimate and dismiss me. Miserable cunts, the lot of them. Knocking them down off their pedestal, that I do look forward to, though in a very different way. But a challenge, that is something precious, when you find it."
"I know exactly what you mean," Canaan took the knife off his belt, drove it through the table in the space between them, "Am I going to see one again some time soon?"
A smile, "Oh, I think you have missed me."
"What do you expect? Its boring here on my own."
"And I thought you had matters well in hand. So to speak."
"Very funny," and it was, now. His stump fingers made another show of tapping on the table top, a display of dexterity.
Drogan leaned forward, garnet red eyes almost eager, "So, have you something new to show me, then?"
He saw the move before it happened, recognized the signals that gave away the body's intention. He had a split second to decide what to do.
He allowed it, walked into it even, pushing his arm into the blood sword, and the by now familiar feeling of sliced flesh, muscle, snapped bone, what bits of skin still clinging stretched tight by the dead weight until they too tore, and the limb hit the ground.
He positioned his feet to the side, already bending at the waist; Drogan would still be moving, he had another few seconds before the advantage was lost. Time enough to grasp the halberd in his remaining hand, out of the dead one, spinning around just as Drogan did the same, turning that pale white throat into Canaan's waiting blade.
Smiling, Canaan drew the metal edge, feather light, across his neck.
"Very good," the blood sword vanished, Drogan bowed his head, "Well done, Canaan."
Adrenaline numbed everything, for now, he could feel the warm torrent still running down his side. The weapon lowered to the ground, his arm growing heavy; his breath burned in his lungs, heart pounding between his ears.
He'd never felt so fucking good.
"Don't do that."
"You don't let your guard down on the battlefield. Keep yourself together, get back to friendly territory."
A raised brow begged the question.
"Just go to your rooms."
Canaan stood straight, pushing the halberd into the dirt, folding the staff one handed, tucking it into the harness on his back. Then down to his thigh, the hilt of a knife that was buried deep in the muscle, a handicap added at the start to make things interesting; he wrenched it loose from the bone, pulling it out an inch at a time, a liquid fire racing down to his toes. He straightened the leg, shifting more weight on it, until the pain was a distant throb – and that ever present itch that would grow and consume before the night was through.
Drogan watched with approval, "Go on now. I will follow behind, take care of you tonight."
"Really? And what does that mean?"
A wide grin, black metal teeth, "Anything you want, tonight. Ask and its yours."
The exposed nerves in his arm stung and burned in the wind, the blood flow had stopped – he'd be back together in a week, good as new.
In the meantime, he had to envision a decent reward.