Prompt as ever, Sir Malchior stood just inside the door of the preparation room in the manor’s basement. Arms crossed, he glared at me over his spectacles. He had a prominent nose and long, brown hair so dark, it was almost black. I never recalled him smiling and thought his face might break if he tried.
“You are ten minutes late, Lady Caliphany. My time is precious. Shall we get on with this?”
I took a deep breath and stepped onto the dais, mumbling all the way. “You are five hundred years old. What’s the rush?”
Sir Malchior took his seat and raised his head from the scroll he studied. He pushed up his spectacles. “What was that?”
“Nothing. I’m ready.”
“Very well.” He narrowed his eyes and studied my face. “Are you quite all right?”
He shrugged. “Let’s begin.”
My hands shook from the near-kidnapping. But I steadied them the best I could, closed my eyes, and drew from reservoirs of concentration deep in my mind’s recesses. A tiny flame appeared in my palm. The fire never burned anymore, but merely tickled. It had taken me some seventy-five years to get to this point, from when I first joined the academy. My father was counting on me to succeed.
I began to rehearse the words I would use to present my dissertation. “Fire, one of the four primary elements, instrumental in both destruction and creation, is not one single entity, but consists of four distinct components. I will now show you each of these components as I separate them from the mother flame.”
The flame grew larger and brighter, a flickering mixture of yellow, red, white, and blue in my palm. I glanced at Sir Malchior, who watched from his seat in the small auditorium. I lifted my other hand, palm up, to hover beside the first hand. Concentrate, Caliphany. Concentrate. Four metal stands sat on the bench before me, waiting for each component.
“The first component.” I carefully enunciated every word in the spell. “Pyronea icterica.”
Pure yellow fire jumped from the mother flame to my empty hand. I gently deposited it on the first stand. Sir Malchior scribbled some notes. He gestured for me to continue.
“The second component, pyronea ruberica.” I separated out a bright red flame and placed it on the second stand.
“The third component, pyronea albidica.” A stunning white flame leapt from the shrinking mother flame into my empty hand. I placed it on the third stand.
Sir Malchior scribbled again. The nearly perfect tear-shaped flames danced on their stands in front of me. Only one more—the blue flame remaining in my palm.
I continued, with unexpected confidence lacing my words. “And now the hottest component of all, pyronea azurica.” This was the part where I would show off, surprising Sir Malchior when I bounced the flame from one hand to the other, making it leap to the last platform.
The flame leapt to my other hand, but then my mind lost its focus. Unwanted visions of those brutes on the dock flashed before my eyes. I imagined their hands upon me, and could barely resist the impulse to rub their lingering stench from my face. I realized everything was falling apart when I finally pushed aside the memory of those green eyes.
Galadin, his name was Galadin.
The blue flame jumped from my hand to the bench, flared and projected itself directly toward Sir Malchior, who raised his head just in time to notice. His eyes flew wide open; he screamed and ducked. The flame hit the stone wall behind him and shook the room. The others flickered and faded until they were gone.
“I-I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. Are you all-?”
Sir Malchior shot from his seat and removed his hand from the top of his head. Smoke rose from the patch of bare scalp and the ring of singed brown hair around it.
“You…are…hopeless!” He stormed out just as my father entered the room. Sir Malchior wagged a finger at him. “Your daughter. Your daughter!”
Father blinked, then turned his disappointed gaze on me. He winced when the front door slammed. I tried not to cringe. Hands behind his back, he stepped toward me. I swallowed, wishing my mouth wasn’t so dry. I willed my eyes to meet his, framed in the stone of his unsmiling face.
He calmly brushed his platinum hair behind his shoulder. “You were late this morning.”
“I know. I’m sorry, Father.”
“Come with me. I would like a word with you.”
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