Estilian Linnear was the best wizard Holly had, but he was no Wodec. He’d only recently passed his Arcana Maldegas (the equivalent of a wizardly bar exam) and had never taught anyone outside of the classroom; he’d never given a crash course in tactical magic. When he’d first tried to teach Holly the basics, she’d knocked him out cold.
“What the fuck do you mean, ‘things happen without cause?’ ” she raged. “How the fuck is that possible?”
Estilian raised both hands in a please-calm-down gesture. “Please—try and understand. In order to—”
“Understand? Understand?” Holly fixed him with a murderous glare. “According to you, there’s nothing to understand! There’s no cause, no effect, there’s…there’s…there’s nothing whatsoever! How the hell am I supposed to conjure up something by focusing on nothing?” She grabbed him by the shoulders. “Answer me, you FUCKING CRAWLER!”
Before he could reply, she pulled him into a vicious headbutt. She didn’t put her weight behind it, but still—Kor’Thank was so damn strong that it was the equivalent of a regular person’s full-force side kick. While he was unconscious, she’d had to remind herself she needed him alive. When he came to, she crouched before him and he flinched back like a beaten dog. She gritted her teeth, forced a smile, and made herself utter the shittiest phrase in all of existence:
“I’m sorry.” She extended a hand.
He stared blankly at it, tempting her to slap him, but she kept a tight hold on her simmering rage.
“Please—forgive me.” Her hand stayed out.
Estilian reached out and grabbed her forearm. “I…I apologize, my king. I should’ve explained myself in a manner that—”
“Don’t be absurd.” Holly pulled him up. “I lost my temper. It was stupid and petty, and you didn’t deserve it.”
Gratitude flashed through Estilian’s eyes. Holly wanted to smack it off his sniveling face. But she bit her tongue and forced an amiable grin. It was the Indashi equivalent of the extra-shiny smile she’d thrown around as a teen-queen cheer captain.
“I…I…” Estilian didn’t know what to say. Kor’Thank had never struck him, but he’d never apologized either. “I am honored to be of service, my king.”
Holly searched Estilian’s face, trying to see if the mage was lying. If a dude knocked her out, they’d be in for a surprise castration. But in Estilian’s case, she wasn’t sure…
“I am honored to be of service, my king.” He said it firmer this time, with real conviction.
Holly relaxed. He wasn’t deceptive; he was just an idiot.
She clapped his shoulder. “Good man.” His eyes lit up, which only served to further her conviction: the mage was a dumbass, no doubt about it.
Yinhalka poked her head into the war-tent. “Milord…”
“Is it urgent?” Holly kept her eyes fixed on Estilian.
“No. I just wanted to inform you that—”
“Then leave us.”
“Of course.” Yinhalka slipped out of the tent.
Estilian said, “My king, I just want to express how much gratitude I—”
“Think nothing of it. I am sorely in need of your expertise. Magicians are made, not born, eh?”
Estilian nodded. “An old saying, but an accurate one.” He cocked his head, puzzled. “My liege…forgive me, but you are known far and wide as a competent wizard. Why seek tutelage in basic arcana?” He adopted a meek, submissive look. “Once again—I did not mean to overstep my bounds. If you—”
With a conscious effort, Holly maintained her expression. Disrespectful little fuck. “No, it’s a sound question. What kind of leader discourages open inquiry?” (It was fucking killing her to spew this bullshit. In Holly’s mind, a good leader smashed anyone and everyone who questioned their edicts.)
Estilian thought it over. “Yes…a canny sentiment.” He nodded slowly and met her gaze. “You are wise and forthright. I am proud to serve you.”
Fuck proud; you should be goddamn ecstatic. Fucking insect.
Holly nodded gravely. “You are a good magician, Estilian, and more importantly, a good man.”
Sudden panic flashed across his face. “My lord, when you helped me up, I did not wait for your command to rise. I apologize, I wasn’t thinki—”
Holly flapped a dismissive hand, simultaneously pleased and annoyed—pleased he was ready to shit a brick, annoyed that he hadn’t caught his mistake when it mattered. “I struck you out of turn. You’re the last person who needs to apologize.”
“Thank you, my king.” His eyes once again shone with gratitude
Holly let go of her smile and felt a surge of relief (the strain was on her cheek muscles was the facial equivalent of holding up a fatass cheerleader). “Let’s continue with the lesson. Senkilo’s cannon, right?”
Estilian shook his head. “I think we should proceed with something more basic.”
Holly raised an eyebrow. “And that would be?”
“Shindalthi’s cloud. An occlumentic spell.”
“Great.” Holly rubbed her hands briskly together. “Let’s get started.”