There are tiny red shards all over the floor that glimmer unpleasantly in torchlight. Theodius kneels down in front of Giendei and tilts back his head without saying a word. The elf’s eyes are dilated and strangely unfocused, and he doesn’t reach to the touch at all. Theodius exchanges a look with Luuneyd.
“Don’t,” she says firmly.
Theodius turns back to Giendei. The curse has hit him hard; there’s no indication that he can even hear them or understand where he is. Theodius presses his fingers above Giendei’s jugular, feeling his pulse thrumming against his touch, and reaches out to the flow like he always does. Only, this time it’s different. It’s like there’s a wall dividing the source in two – the one that nordlings like Theodius wield, and another, fainter one that glows a sickening light he’s not meant to touch. He pushes into it. It makes a wave of nausea bloom at the pit of his stomach and sends out a sensation like static electricity up his arm that makes his jaw clench up. Giendei must feel it, too, for he jolts but doesn’t snap out of the spell.
Luuneyd doesn’t flinch, but her expression hardens as Theodius’s eyes pool black from the channelling.
“It would wear off in a day or two,” she points out.
“That’s a day or two without a second sword-hand.”
Theodius hisses between gritted teeth as he draws from the source and slowly releases the flow, timing it perfectly with the beating of Giendei’s heart. One, two, three. Like administering medicine straight into his bloodstream.
“You do know elves are hardier than the rest of us, right?” Luuneyd says. “He’s in no immediate danger—“
“Either lend a hand or shut up.” His voice has taken a rough edge, almost a growl. He can taste the taint on his tongue; there is an acidic aftertaste to it that his own source doesn’t have. A mage is only ever meant to touch and draw from one source, their own, and never from another.
One more heartbeat, and he continues channelling. He focuses on the green of Giendei’s eyes and, methodically, one by one pictures each and every thread of magick between them unravelling, until the flow goes silent. Another heartbeat, and the tether connecting him to the source is severed.
Giendei inhales sharply and blinks, the film clearing from his eyes instantly. He looks startled to find Theodius bending over him.
“He’ll live,” Theodius announces and gets up. Luuneyd rolls her eyes, but Theodius knows she shares his relief, even if she doesn’t show it.
Giendei remains sitting on the floor, gaze flitting between the two of them. His eyes meet Theodius’s briefly and he looks away, face flooding with colour.
“What happened?” he manages, addressing the other man’s boots instead.
“Oh.” He has a distinct memory of picking up a gemstone the size of his fist and then, a red gleam. “I felt nothing when I touched it. What even was it?”
“Just a curse posing as something valuable. It’s gone now.”
Theodius doesn’t tell him the weave of the curse was elven-made, likely ancient, made to be handled by none but someone who knows how to manipulate the elven side of the source. He feels shards of the gem crunching under his soles and grinds them to dust with his heel.
Luuneyd helps Giendei to his feet and doesn’t let go immediately; he still looks punch-drunk and sways slightly where he stands. She gives his hand a pat.
“The feeling will pass in a bit. Walk it off,” she says, not unkindly.
Giendei flashes a quick, embarrassed smile at her. His smile falters when he turns to Theodius, and he scampers off with a muttered ‘thanks’.
As soon as he’s out of earshot Theodius sinks on an upturned chest and groans.
“I told you,” Luuneyd snaps.
“Shut up and close the door.”
She glances down the hallway. The faint glow of light in the other room declares that Zirekel has succeeded in starting the campfire she promised. She and Giendei are already talking. Luuneyd nudges the door with her foot, leaving it slightly ajar.
“You stupid idiot. You know the weave is different in elves, even the young ones. You’re lucky the original magick is spent. If he were of the old blood, you’d be dead.” Now that Giendei is out of the room, she looks more animated than Theodius has ever seen her. Her brown eyes are wide and fearful. “The elven source channels through a different flow. You should know that.”
“Polarities,” Theodius mutters. He massages the bridge of his nose wearily.
“That’s not how it works. Even the most powerful mages can only channel very little of another source, and that was not a small trick you pulled there.”
Every mage knows that there is a thread of the same common source in magicks that are considered opposites of each other; the theory of polarity. A hint of water thrives in fire, lightning can conduct itself through earth and minerals, threads of life are woven through the fabric of death. If you can touch one, you can feel – and sometimes even channel – an inkling of the other.
Luuneyd sighs. She’s kicking the floor with the heel of her boot and sending red shards everywhere. “I hope it was worth it. You can’t keep doing that endlessly.”
“He would have puked his guts out and spent the next day bedridden.”
“You channelled without a conduit.” She stresses every word as if talking to a five-year-old.
“And he’s better off for it. No need to thank me.”
Theodius wipes his nose on the back of his hand and isn’t surprised to see blood. He wipes it off on his already dirty travelling cloak. He stares at his palm, slowly flexing his fingers. His hand still tingles.
Luuneyd is watching him with an unreadable expression on her face. “You’ve never touched an elf before, have you?”
“Sometimes I question your choice of words,” he scoffs, which earns him a smirk. “I could feel the other side of the source immediately, even when I wasn’t channelling. I didn’t think it would be that strong.”
“Remember when I healed you for the first time? It put me off food for the rest of the day.”
“Yet you keep doing it. Does the feeling wear off after repeated exposure?”
She just looks at him, a long, steady look, and it’s only after a while that Theodius realises what she’s thinking.
“It’s not like that and you know it.” It comes off irritable more than anything, and he recognises instantly that he’s just made it worse.
She quirks an eyebrow. “Oh? Like what, exactly?”
“It’s just professional interest. How am I supposed to know these things? There are no elves in the Northlands.” He feels something warm trickling from his nose and wipes it on his sleeve. “Look, I’m not here to have dalliances with anyone. After we get to the border I’m off – without you lot in tow, mind.”
Later, he finds himself taking a seat next to Giendei by the fire. They don’t speak, but when Giendei passes him a bowl, Theodius makes sure that their hands touch briefly.
And he feels the other side of the source again.