Estilian Linnear was Holly’s best wizard, but he was no Wodec O’Thonkian. Estilian had only recently passed his Arcana Maldegas (the wizardly equivalent of a bar exam). He’d never taught anyone outside the classroom, never taught 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 a cause?’ ” she raged. “How the fuck is that possible?”
Estilian raised his hands in a please-calm-down gesture. “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 do I conjure something by focusing on nothing?” She grabbed him by the shoulders. “Answer me, you FUCKING CRAWLER!”
And 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, it was the equivalent of a regular person’s full-force side kick. While Estilian was unconscious, she grudgingly reminded herself she needed him alive. When he came to, she crouched before him, 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 grasped 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 him, but she bit her tongue and forced an amiable grin—the Indashi equivalent of her cheer captain smile.
“I…I…” Estilian was at a loss for words. Kor’Thank hadn’t struck him, but he’d never apologized either. “I am honored to be of service.”
Holly searched his face, trying to see if the mage was lying. Woe to the fucker who laid hands on her, because 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’s eyes stayed fixed on Estilian.
“Then leave us.”
“Of course.” Yinhalka slipped out.
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?”
“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 do not mean to overstep my bounds. If you—”
With a conscious effort, Holly kept her composure. 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 met her gaze. “You are wise and forthright. I am proud to serve you.”
Proud? PROUD? You should be ecstatic. Fucking insect.
Holly nodded gravely. “You are a good magician, Estilian, and more importantly, a good man. The reason for your tutelage…well, I have forgotten much of what I once learned. You know of my time in the desert, yes?”
Recognition arose in his eyes. “Ah, when you were ambushed by a rogue magician.” It turned to panic. “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 corrected himself earlier, when it had actually mattered. “I struck you out of turn. You’re the last person who needs to apologize.”
“Thank you, my king.”
Holly let go of her smile and experienced a surge of relief (the strain on her cheek muscles was the facial equivalent of holding up a 300 lb. 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.”