Chapter Eleven

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Unnoticed by Cornelia when she had first come into the sorcerer's illustrious cavern room, there was another door set in the wall further back behind the table. It was not of crude stone, as the first door had been, but was a slab of fine wood supported by hinges. When Severienus had asked her to follow him with the promise of giving her what she would require, he led her quietly to that door.

A thin hand reached out from beneath the sleeve of his robe, gripping an elaborate handle there. Pressing it downward in a quarter turn, the door swung open easily, and the enchanter went purposefully inside. The woman started after him, but upon the threshold, Cornelia stopped.

When she had first entered into the cave beyond the protective barrier, the room she had found was an architectural masterpiece that hardly seemed to be real. She had, nevertheless, accepted its existence. Now, this second door that had been opened to her led into a separate space that was more like what she had initially expected. Much too simply—as if stepping from a dream—she was looking into the dark hollow of the cave again, and immediately all her senses were assaulted by wretchedness that nearly overwhelmed her.

Her eyes were forced to adjust to the dimness, which opposed the great light of the entrance room. The stench of death and blood wafted past her nose, pressing her to turn away. Clearly, there was a great deal of blood on the stone, as if a whole herd of oxen had been slaughtered upon this floor—but it was suddenly not oxen that she was concerned with. Just like in the previous room, there was a long table, but it was not adorned with swinging pendulums and golden scales. The table was old, and it too was soaked with blood. There was a bronze plate set in the center of the table, empty, and wicked tools were scattered all around it. To the side wall, there was a smaller table set with alchemical vials and burners that seemed to put off a horrid smell all their own. Near there was a shelf of bottles containing an odd, gelatinous liquid.

Cornelia had certainly seen her share of horrible things, but she had never been in a place that gave her such strong feelings of illness and evil. She lingered in the doorway, determined to let her eyes adjust before entering into that room where her stomach would be weakened even more.

In her moment of hesitation, Severienus moved to the shelf and retrieved one of the thick, glass bottles.

"Did you expect that this would be pleasant?" the sorcerer asked, turning a red eye back to her. "You thought perhaps that I could snap my fingers and give you what you asked for? Oh no; to share my magic with you is much more gruesome and fantastic than that. But perhaps you have changed your mind?"

He stood there, holding the bottle in his claw-like hands, waiting for her response in whatever form it would take. Cornelia was still and stiff, thinking that her weapons were back behind her in the former room, resting distantly on the table—but it was not as if they would do any good against him. Now was no time to show uncertainty. She threw caution into the wind when she made her decisions, able to think aptly on her feet, and at this moment, she stepped into the room. That was answer enough for the old man.

The ancient one gave a nod of agreement and then walked with his shining bottle over to the table. He stood behind it as she approached the front, and he hardly regarded her as he set to work. Cornelia stood a few paces away, watching him carefully as her boots rested in a shallow puddle of blood. In a measured way, the sorcerer poured a certain amount from the bottle into the bronze plate. He then emptied a bit of it into his hands. The woman put a hand to her chin as she considered this silent process.

He coated his right wrist fully with the dark-colored salve from the bottle. Putting a bit onto the tips of his fingers, he rubbed it on his eyelids and the sagging skin around his sockets. Then, adding more of it into his hands, he reached within his robe at the neck and did something lengthy that she could not see, though the woman could only suppose that he was smearing the goop near the center of his chest. Cornelia tried to guess what this had to do with what she had asked for—or what he had planned to give her, in fact—but she supposed that all would be revealed soon enough.

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