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When I wake up my fingertips have been bandaged, food has again been placed before me, and Xanenax once again sits cross-legged opposite from me. The demon’s eyes are closed in what I assume is meditation. Xanenax’s chest barely moves as he breathes and a faint glow of purple pulses from beneath his eyelids. With Xanenax’s hood and shirt removed, I see a long braid of black hair, bound with metal bands that resemble a snake, falling down the demon’s back to pool onto the floor. The demon wears baggy black pants with a matching sash. Other than that, Xanenax wears no decorations, save innumerable scars all over his body that meld together like a tapestry of cobalt slashes over his otherwise light blue skin.
“You’re awake,” the demon states simply.
I nearly leap off the floor. Even though quieter than normal, the demon’s voice still reverberates like a drum.
Xanenax slowly opens his eyes. “Are you ready to begin?”
I eat the fruit, bread, and water that lie before me, and once I have finished, Xanenax rises without a word and strides to the bridge leading deeper into the keep. I quickly get up and follow. As we pass from column to column, ever further into the rows of spires, Xanenax takes me through laboratories that look like the ones Essa had had in Ma’ro’s temple, although these are much more sophisticated.
We arrive at the first room I have seen with water in it, complete with a tub and bathroom facilities. The water pours in steadily from an aqueduct that snakes through the mountains into the distance.
“You may refresh yourself here,” Xanenax tells me and leaves me to return to the previous pillar.
I haven’t realized how grimy I have been feeling, and I marvel at the cleanliness of the water. As I wash myself, the runoff nearly turns black from the dirt and blood that have covered me. Once I have finished making use of all the facilities, I notice that a set of clean black tunic and breeches has been left near the entrance. I put them on and cross the bridge to meet with Xanenax, who silently continues walking toward the center of the keep. I follow, and we walk through an armory, a storehouse, another armory, and a room largely empty with runes etched into the rock.
“What is this place?” I ask.
“I call it my Room of the Eye. I used to conduct large-scale evocation here.”
“You may think of it as magick I project, such as viewing things from afar.”
“As opposed to?”
“Invocation. Calling forth forces from another source, usually as some form of aid.”
Xanenax chuckles grimly. “Quite.”
We traverse in silence until we arrive in what looks at first to be another armory, only this room is much larger than the others, and most of the weapons lie in racks which enclose a sparring ring.
“How much do you know about the martial arts?” Xanenax asks me.
Memories of training with Captain Rimor, the city guard, and Sarya flash into my mind, but I force them down along with the accompanying flood of emotion, unwilling to show weakness in front of the demon. Now that I have purpose, I can’t afford to be weak anymore. “...I had some training. Mostly strength exercises. Some combat.”
“Good. I will be testing you to see how well you know the basics.”
“Fine. Can we start already?”
“We already have.”
I think Xanenax is being coy until the demon rushes me. Although I had hunted wild deer before and almost managed to shoot one down, I can’t follow the demon’s movements at all. One moment, the demon stands over ten feet away and then I feel a knee crash into my stomach, the contents of which promptly spill onto the floor and all over me as I am knocked head over heels, skidding until I hit a rack of weapons, some of which tumble off, barely missing me. The blow wasn’t enough to knock me out, but it still leaves me reeling.
“Pick a weapon,” Xanenax instructs.
I fight to regain my breath, all the while glaring at Xanenax. Eventually, I manage to rise to my feet and quickly scan the room for something I can use.
Something I could lift would be nice, I think as I stare at the gargantuan maces, swords, and other armaments. All of them look as if they had been forged for a giant, which, given Xanenax’s size, they might as well have.
Xanenax begins pacing opposite me and I begin to wonder if Xanenax is playing some kind of sick game with me.
He is a demon, after all. Maybe he is tenderizing me before he-
Without warning, Xanenax grabs a mace from a nearby rack and hurls it at me. As I throw myself to one side, I can feel the wind that the weapon creates as it misses me before it crashes into the weapon rack behind me.
Turning my shoulder to the ground, I roll out of the dodge unsteadily and rise again as fast I can, anticipating an attack. Across the room, Xanenax resumes his pacing, quietly watching me. Frustration and rage ignite in my veins, and I grab a small sword lying on a nearby rack. Although the blade is the nearest weapon I can feasibly lift, I still have to grip it with both hands. I charge at Xanenax, positioning the heavy sword awkwardly for an overhead slash and throw all my weight into the strike as I come within a few feet of the demon.
Xanenax turns out of the sword’s path, causing me to tumble past him and crash down in a sprawling heap. I stand up again, and the sword feels lighter, easier to handle as anger and adrenaline pump fire through my body. I charge at Xanenax again and scream as I slash horizontally, but Xanenax leaps backward and the momentum of the strike causes me to fall over. I pick myself up immediately, heaving the sword to attack again.