My head snapped up as Briscott entered the tent with a man dressed in similar dark brown clothing behind him. The man’s black cloak was drawn back over his shoulders. Shaggy brown curls framed his rounded, ruddy face, his beard a patchy mess. Stern green eyes glared at me above a thin line of a nose. He was almost short enough to stand up straight in the tent, but had a stoutness that would make only an idiot dismiss the man’s strength due to his height. There were at least two knives sheathed at his belt along with a heavy-headed hammer with a leather-wrapped handle hanging from a strap at his hip.
I couldn’t remember if I had just been thinking about the day Max had revealed his ability to talk to me when I was ten years old, or if I had actually fallen asleep. My head was still a little fuzzy. If I had been asleep, it was a direct result of the tashave leaf. Emotionally, I was too worked up to allow myself to sleep, especially when I thought about what the new man’s hammer was for.
Briscott crouched before me with a pained expression. I had viewed his friendliness as an insult before, but now I found that I missed his easy smile and pleasant voice. “This is Oslen. He’ll be implanting the rock. I’ll be right here holding your legs. It’ll be best if you don’t struggle.”
Oslen spit something dark to the side as if chewing pipeleaf. “Yeah, those that struggled before got a shallow grave for their efforts,” he added gruffly without a hint of a threat. He was simply telling me the truth of it. Unlike my first conversation with Briscott, Oslen showed no sign of friendliness in his voice or expression.
“Oslen!” Briscott scolded. “There is no blighting cause for that.” Briscott reached to the chest across from me and turned back holding a bottle and a cloth. He wadded the cloth into a ball over the glass lip of the bottle and then flipped the bottle, soaking the cloth with whatever was in it. “This will give your skin a bit of a chill, but should help ward off infection.”
As he rubbed the cloth in concentric circles starting at the center of my chest and then expanding outwards, I shivered. There was a slight alcohol odor from the cloth, but I had no idea what it was. The solution was thin, and dried within seconds. Briscott had been right, though; it was not only cold to the touch, it also sent a chill deep into my skin that did not go away as it dried. My naked torso was already cold from the fall-day chill, but where he had applied the solution, it felt as if my skin were covered in frost.
My brain shouted at me to beg them to let me go, to simply untie me and send me away. However, I knew from what Briscott had told me, as well as from my knowledge of Contract magic, that they had been given orders and that they could either fulfill them or die. So, instead I just dropped my head to the side and closed my eyes.
“Don’t warn me when you do it,” I requested solemnly, fearing the pain while knowing there was nothing I could do to stop it.
“We can at least do that for you,” Briscott replied softly, a hint of his affable voice coming through. I felt his hands press down at my ankles. What felt to be one of his shins pressed down across my thighs right above my knees. “I’m so blighting sorry.”
I responded with a deep breath through my nose, keeping my eyes shut tight. I heard some movement and then felt a pinprick in the center of my chest. I tried not to think of the gem breaking through the bone of my sternum. I tried to not imagine the gem accidentally piercing my heart and spilling my life out in pints of blood on the ground below me.
But I did, and my heart sped and my breathing deepened in response. I could feel sweat beading on my forehead despite the cool air. I could feel my pulse throbbing at my temples, my bound wrists, and my chest.
Then, there was silence. I could only hear my own deep breathing and the thump of each of my rapid heartbeats. A cold tear fell down my cheek. Before it could drip from my chin, there was a rush of air against my chest, the clink of a hammer against stone, pain beyond words, and then, there was nothing.