Eric was still cold.
He clenched his right hand and opened it, studied the lines in his palm, the faint blue of veins beneath, the striation of muscles when he extended the fingers. He could feel temperature again, pressure against his skin, the slight pain of digging nails into his palm. It felt like flesh but something more.
He called his sword to hand. It flaked away from his skin and became a long sword of silver-blue metal, with a black pommel in leather and golden sigils blazing across the blade. He called his shield to the other hand, and it appeared much the same, a heater of bright cobalt with faint argent streaks and flecks all throughout. Its sigils formed a circle of golden fire.
Eric pushed the sword into a section of broken wall. It slipped easily through, cut past solid stone in bright sparks and left the edges molten.
His suspicion was confirmed. It wasn’t actually flesh he was made of. His golem body had continued to evolve, grow stronger and only appeared to be human.
He pulled the sword free and sent the shield away. The sword shrank to a dagger by thought alone. He put the tip against the palm of his left hand and pushed. It didn’t break the skin. He pushed harder, enough to grit his teeth. He still felt the pain of it pushing against him, but only a pinprick of blood appeared. It vanished in the same instant he pulled the blade away, healed closed with only a tingling of warmth.
He sent the sword away and picked up a rock. With the same effort it might’ve taken him to crush an apple, he reduced the rock to rubble and dust. He was stronger than he’d been as a metal golem.
There was a time he would’ve taken comfort in the thought, even relished it. To be powerful, unafraid, was all he’d ever wanted just five years ago. Now it made him feel isolated and alone, despite the hundreds of spirits so closely connected to him.
It made him wonder what there was to go home to.
Ready, master? Griz asked.
Eric wiped his hand against his thigh. Show me how to do it.
Once Griz finished teaching him the portal spell, Eric opened one to the keep. He touched its beryl surface and stood in the courtyard. The black goblins arrived shortly after.
People were slowly waking from unconsciousness and delusion. The place was littered with bodies and blood and the debris of a way of life that once was. Fires burned, lit the night in a pale orange glow. The keep, its wall and the inner buildings were in a shambles.
So were its people.
Eric approached Sebran, offered a hand to help him stand. The lord took it and gave thanks. His eyes were still haunted, by whatever visions he’d endured and the terrible one before him. The smell of battle and death was overwhelming.
“Do I know you?” Sebran asked.
The way Eric was dressed, how clean he was, made him stand out in the carnage.
“I’m Eric. I’m – I was… the golem.” Eric helped him with the others, walked them toward the steps where they could rest without sitting in blood and filth. “I went to Westorval. It’s over.”
“Is it?” Sebran asked. His gaze was distant, his voice too soft, his movements slower and shaky. “Good. That’s good.”
Eric assumed he was in shock.
“The castle is yours,” he said. “I’m gonna go home.”
“I see.” Sebran stopped to face him. “You could stay, you know. You have magic. You could help. It would be much appreciated.”
There was something off in the proposal, like he’d asked Eric to take charge. Eric did want to help. He thought it would be a good way to honor Ella. But as much as he sometimes hated it, he missed home.
He missed his family.
“I dunno.” Eric shook his head. “I don’t really belong here. I don’t really belong there either, but we have pizza and video games, so…”
Sebran clapped him on the shoulder. “Whatever you decide, you’re always welcome at my hearth.” He turned to help another.
It sent a shock of warmth through Eric’s chest, a tug and tingling in his middle. It was so rare to receive any sort of approval that he didn’t know how to deal with it. He nodded and turned away, found a clear spot and opened a portal back home. With a hand out to its beryl surface, he paused to consider.
Eric stood there in the cold, undecided.