xiv. Winterhawk

Surprisingly, it wasn't as hard to open the door the second time.

Stone had stood out in the hallway for the remaining time after Terry had left, his mind fixed on what he had to do. Terry's words had made little impression on him, and he had spared no thought about what his friend's reason for wanting to stay in the area might be. Right now, he simply did not care. Once, he heard a low moan from Nigel inside the room, and had to fight back the impulse to hurry into the room before the allotted time had passed. Still, he managed. He, too, needed his time to prepare.

When he re-entered the room, he saw that Nigel had propped himself up again. The boy had carefully arranged the stack of books that had been strewn about the bed on the nightstand and straightened his covers. He looked strangely at peace, though his face twisted in an occasional pained grimace that he could not hide. He smiled faintly at Stone. "I...wasn't sure you'd come back," he said.

"Neither was I," Stone admitted, sitting back down in the chair next to the bed.

"I'm ready, though."

Stone nodded. "Nigel..."

"Yes, Dad?"

The mage reached out his hand and took Nigel's gently. "I'm...notI never was good at...telling anyone how I felt. But I...I wanted you to know...Before..." He paused, gripping the boy's hand. "I wanted you to know how very sorry I am for the way I treated you. You'rea fine boy. I'm...proud... that you're my son."

Nigel's eyes glistened with tears. "Thank you, Dad." Then he gasped and paled, his grasp on Stone's hand tightening. "Make it stop, Dad. Please...make it stop..."

"All right, Nigel...all right..." It was time. Stone drew several slow deep breaths, preparing himself. "Just lie back...try to be comfortable...This will be very quick..." He leaned forward, helping the boy to lie down on the pillows, then removed his right hand from Nigel's grip and replaced it with his left. Slowly, carefully, he moved his right hand upward, laying it gently over the boy's pale, damp forehead. Nigel watched this, his eyes bright with tears and fever. He still had his tiny, faraway smile.

With utmost care, Alastair Stone formed the pattern in his mind, opened the familiar connection to astral space, and channeled the magical energy through his right hand. The force of his most powerful and deadly spell flowed through his fingers, tingling with the energy. As he had promised the child, it was very quick. The spell contacted Nigel; in his depleted state, he could not have resisted it if he had wanted to. He did not even try. He jerked once, just a bit, and lay still beneath his father's hand. His face, formerly stiffened with pain, relaxed into repose.

Stone drew back his hand and looked down at the child. There was an angry red spot on his forehead where the spell had been, but it was already fading. He looked at his hand, then at the boy's face, really noticing for the first time how much Nigel resembled himself as a child. Then, his exhausted defenses finally unable to hold back his grief any longer, he sank down across his son's body and allowed the grief to take over him.

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