Rule No. 1: Do not cast unsupervised.

Kennick laid out his supplies: his notes, the spellbook he’d taken them down from, and the small lumpy stone from the garden.

He planted the latter right in front of where he sat crosslegged on his bedroom floor. He took a long, slow breath, carefully pulling the energy he’d swiped from the master reserve into a mass inside the center of his chest. He extended his hands over the stone, consulted his notes.

He took another breath. Channeling the energy up through the bones of his ribcage, through his shoulders and down his arms, he stared intently at the rock and said, “Náothrë, täthümkáel.”

The energy burst from his fingertips and wrapped around the stone in a glowing, sparking halo.

Náothrë, täthümkáel,” he said again, focusing hard. He hunched over, trying to blot out everything that wasn’t the rock, the energy, the words, the warm, buzzing connection with the Lifeblood. The words sounded perfect to him. Perfectly memorized, perfectly executed.

Irix probably wouldn’t say so, but it was working, regardless.

He imagined exactly what he wanted. His clear purpose for the stone. Every time he uttered the phrase, his connection with the stone strengthened, a gradual stiffening of his spine.

And as the connection grew, the stone levitated, pulling slowly up toward the space between his palms.

A slow smile stole across his face.

He tripped over the last syllable of the fourth repetition, and the stone flashed suddenly to the side, crashing straight through a pane of glass in the balcony doors and disappearing over the terrace.

The energy cord snapped unbidden and Kennick gasped, pulled slightly aside by the distinct feeling of its ripping from each wrist.

He sat there on his knees, gaping at the circle of broken glass across the room. Massaging his wrists, he slowly raised himself to his feet and stole over to the doors to look out.

Cynneth the groundskeeper was in the yard below, picking something up out of the grass. She glanced up, and they made eye contact. Kennick backed up, abruptly. He stood still in his room, eyes wide, heart pounding. He looked at the books on the floor.

Irix was going to kill him.

He turned and padded urgently to the door, down the hallway, and down the stairs. He grabbed his shoes by the door and cut through the sunroom toward the garden.

Cynneth met him on his way out the door at the back of the sunroom. The stone was in her callused hand, which looked small and dextrous when free of her heavy gardener’s gloves.

“What is this, Master Kennick?” she said, eyebrows raised.

Kennick swallowed his deep sense of mortality. “A rock, ma’am.”

“Did you throw it through your bedroom window?”

Kennick nodded and hung his head, hoping she would think him destructive, pass it off as a symptom of early puberty, and leave it at that.

She was studying the rock.

“There’s soot on it,” she said.

Kennick swallowed.

“You were practicing without the master’s permission, weren’t you?”

“Please don’t tell her,” Kennick said, fearfully.

Cynneth’s lips tightened sympathetically.

“Sorry, boya. You know I can’t do that.” She tucked the stone into the pocket of her overalls with a sigh. “So…Do you want me to tell her, or shall I let you do it?”

Kennick felt a sucking sensation in his chest. His head was still buzzing with traces of the extra energy in his system, the rumor of the broken energy cord like nails on a chalkboard in his sensory memory.

“I’ll tell her,” Kennick said.

“Good,” Cynneth said. She didn’t hand over the evidence. “Sweep up the broken glass. I’ll go up and tape the hole until we can replace the panel, all right?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Kennick said.

Cynneth nodded. Before she turned to go, she pointed a finger at him. “As soon as she gets home, you tell her.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Kennick said.

The edges of the house seemed to loom in over him as Kennick stole back into the house and crept into the kitchen, hunting for a broom. Open, breathless, waiting.

He glanced at the square clock on the kitchen wall. Irix would be home in an hour.

He stared at it, clutching the broom in his fatigued, jittery hands. One more hour to live, he thought dismally.

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