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 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 that 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. She needed to learn from him as well.
So 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 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 him, but she bit her tongue and forced an amiable grin. The Indashi equivalent of the beaming smile she’d used as teen-queen cheer captain.
“I…I…” Estilian was at a loss for words. Kor’Thank had never struck him, but he’d never apologized either. “I am honored to be of service.”
Holly searched Estilian’s face, trying to see if the mage was lying. If anyone 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.
“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 do 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 fucking killed 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.”
Proud? PROUD? You should be goddamn ecstatic. Fucking insect.
Holly nodded gravely. “You are a good magician, Estilian, and more importantly, a good man. The reason I need your tutelage is that I have forgotten much of what I once learned. You have heard of my time in the desert, yes?”
Recognition arose in his eyes. “Ah, when you were ambushed by a rogue magician.” Then it turned to outright 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 caught his mistake 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 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.”