Conniption, Chapter One

“The most painless way to kill a man…or a girl,” he said with a professional, calculated smile, “is to place your fingers beneath their jaw and with a quick…” he clicked his wrist up in a swift, smooth movement and the apparition of gold and green slumped to the floor – its neck broken – before dissipating into nothing.

“Why are you showing me this, Magellan?” Rennoc asked, his finger lightly tracing the embroidered title on the book before him.

“Because you may well float around this castle with not a jot of air or grace about you, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a job to do. A job that may…and don’t you look at me like that…may, or may not, involve killing someone. I’m trying to stop you from making someone’s last seconds on this earth like that stone over there.”

It was cracked in two, each half only an inch away from one another. All he’d had to do was raise it up and place it in the battlements above them. Simple. But nothing with Rennoc was ever simple. Nothing. It had cracked in half like the splitting open of Pandora’s Canyon and now each dead half lay by its brother in cold silence.

“I’d never kill someone,” he lied.

“Look, m’boy, you can read all you want on the reformation of magical practices against “wicked witches” and their encumbered stereotypes, but that doesn’t change who you are,” Magellan said as his milky grey eyes darted covetously towards the glass pendant hanging by the boy’s heart. “You’re the Sahrail. And sooner or later, that’s going to bring trouble.”

“It’s already brought trouble,” Rennoc was on his feet, his hands clenched furiously by his side. “Are you too old or too blinded by the pendant that you can’t see that? Liza is going to lose everything, everything, because I am the Sahrail. I live in fear of the day Herthallin brings his armies here and…,” he broke off. “Don’t dare talk to me about consequences.”

“Peace, m’boy. Peace. Let the guards down,” the old man’s hand was outstretched, his elongated fingers like five wands pointing at his heart.

He hadn’t even realized he’d done it, though now Magellan had said it, he could feel the life of each guard in his grasp. They were engulfed in panic, their power useless in their chests, their magic a futile wind against the mountain.

“Sorry,” Rennoc mumbled, letting them fall back down to the ground, the stone walls behind them, the ones that lined the little courtyard high above Torrdunaigh, scuffed with metal scratches. Magellan nodded, dismissing them. Reno kept his eyes trained shamefully on the ground.

“It’s OK, lad. It’s OK. Sit,” Magellan gestured to the stone table Rennoc’s book sat on. “At least you didn’t split them in two.”

It was meant as a joke, but it made the boy’s blood run cold.

He’d been drunk only once before. He and Her Royal Highness Elizarine Lucaelic, had celebrated the Sepermeru festival of Set – though they were hundreds of miles away and neither of them religious. Glass after glass of chilled TeMor had burned both their throats, filling them with laughter and joy and a frivolity that did not, if ever, frequent Draothair’s Queen and the Saviour of all Thair often. He’d woken the next morning, his head against the soft feather pillow that was all his own, in his rookery, atop one of Torrdunaigh’s tallest spires, remembering nothing. His tongue was thick and dry, clicking as he pulled it from the top of his mouth. His room looked the same, though he could feel at least ten guards in the reception chamber beneath – eight more than usual. He couldn’t remember much after they’d taken a shot and dedicated it to Seth, the devourer of the sandy cities, and laughed at how ridiculous it all sounded. He remembered crying. Blood. Raised voices and…nothing else.

He’d gotten out of bed, the drink still in his system making it impossible for him to return to sleep, and before he’d even reached the window, dread swamped him with the terrible understanding that he’d done something awful. Beyond awful. Terrific.

The smell of fire and burning came leisurely through the little archway that peered out onto the city below, a sign that the kitchens were preparing breakfast. His stomach rumbled and then changed its mind, threatening to fill his mouth with bile if he didn’t step away. But that dread, along with its companion, guilt, wouldn’t let him walk back to bed where he could pretend that nothing had happened and the world was good.

He flicked open the little curtain and immediately looked to the sea, for, surely an armada had arrived in the night and attacked the city. The Palace of Spires was aflame. Scorch marks beneath the Queen’s Tower told him that it had been worse earlier, this was the dying days of the fire, shrinking under the approaching dawn, a hundred Thair all weaving their spells to quell the flames. That in itself was odd to Rennoc, who knew that every one of them was capable of snuffing out a bonfire twice the size of the little puddles of flickering fires they were each combatting. That was the moment dread and its friend guilt stepped aside and let clarity crash down on Rennoc with the force of a thousand horse’s hooves. The bile came then.

“I don’t remember doing that,” he said as he stepped out of his memory, talking about both the fire and his assault on the guards.

“I know you don’t,” Magellan’s smile was kind, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

“What if I…” he couldn’t finish the thought.

“That’s why I’m teaching you,” the old man smiled at the broken boy and prayed the tears building behind his eyes wouldn’t show. “Because maybe the part of you that takes over will remember and then your guilt won’t be quite so unbearable when it comes.”

And that was that. That was his choice, his life in a nutshell.

Kill them kindly or kill them terribly.

But kill them all the same.

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