A sorcerer, a rebel, and a whole kingdom under fire...
As the sorcerer's new apprentice, Kia's fiery temper is bound to get her into hot water. Evander is obnoxious, arrogant, intolerable, and undeniably the most beautiful elf alive. Even if she passes his relentless testing, working at his side just might kill her.
Worse, her master has powerful enemies inside the palace. When their attacks turn personal, the sorcerer's apprentice becomes the perfect bait in a deadly trap set to destroy the man who has become far more than just her boss.
Two lost souls must defend their world, but even if they save the kingdom, they risk losing each other forever.
"That's a human," he said. "You're getting desperate."
"She's very good. The best I've seen yet." Lyssia's tone brooked no argument. She got one, just the same.
"And you're the expert on apprentices, I suppose. Perhaps you should stay up here and do my work, and I'll attend to your throne?"
"I am not unskilled, you'll remember."
"And I'm no diplomat." Evander sniffed and stepped away from the wall.
Kia forgot for a moment that they were debating her. The elf sorcerer moved like honey flowing. Each gesture was measured, considered, and then executed with the typical elvin grace, but melded with the deliberate intellect of a master sorcerer. He peered around Lyssia at her, and his eyes held her entranced, frozen as if they truly could cast her in ice.
"I don't need an apprentice," he said.
Kia felt the rejection like a slap that time. This room, this opportunity dangled in front of her, and he meant to snatch it away again without even giving her a chance to try for it.
"Yes you do," Lyssia said. "If for no other reason than to manage this disaster."
"What disaster?" Evander released Kia from the grip of his attention and turned the full chill of his mood on the princess. "This room is exactly in the order I prefer it."
"That book is on fire."
"What?" He spun that time, lost a fraction of his composure in the realization that one of his braziers had, in fact, caught a book on fire. His arms waved in an arc. The sleeves of the heavy red robe he wore billowed, and the flames died. A single line of smoke rippled up to the rafters. "Bother."
"You see?" Lyssia crossed her arms again and winked at Kia over her shoulder.
As if they'd won, Kia thought, but she very much doubted that they had. The way she saw it, they'd only irritated the beast.
"You bring me imbeciles," Evander complained. He kept his back to them now, as if they weren't worth noting, and he moved to the nearest table and adjusted a stack of papers. "Idiots. I can't work with them."
"You haven't even tried."
"What? This one? What does it matter? The last seven were morons. Why should this one be any better?"
"You will test her." Lyssia's tone shifted now. He'd pissed her off good, and Kia held in place when the princess marched toward the sorcerer. "You'll do it, Evander, or I'll schedule a full month of diplomatic dinners."
"You wouldn't." He stopped fiddling with the papers and stared up at the wafting smoke.
"Try me." Lyssia stood taller and stuck out her chin.
They left Kia to herself, standing alone inside the door, forgotten except as a topic for their argument. She was unwanted, invisible, and he'd never, ever let her work here.
"She probably can't even cast a column of fire."
"You are the most difficult man..."
Kia focused on the slate tiles in the center of the room. Don't speak unless addressed, Lyssia had said. Well, Evander was not about to address her, and casting magic wasn't exactly speaking. She drew the symbols in her mind, pulled the ambient magic out of the ether and felt the full weight of the room's history in that flow. Sparky wild magic with a mind of its own.
It tasted of him, of charcoal and orneriness.
She drew the power into her skin, molded it with her intent backed by the magic of the sigils she'd selected. Then, she threw it outward, anchoring the package with a final symbol, to a tile in the middle of the floor.
Flame lifted from the square of stone. It rippled upward. An eruption of fire rising in a dense, dancing column. It burned under her command and made a pillar seven feet high before flickering back on itself like a fountain. Kia held the spell, kept the fire alive and waited for anyone to notice what she'd done.
"....perfectly capable of maintaining my own affairs. What is that?"
It didn't take long.
"I believe it's a column of fire," Lyssia answered. She put a little triumph in her voice, but the look she cast at Kia held a warning.
Be still, it said. Don't push your luck.
"Barely." Evander sniffed, pulled himself out of his argument with Lyssia, and focused instead on Kia. The eyes. This time when they found her they had a darker edge. "So the monkey can do a trick, I see."
Kia held the spell together, but only just. The flames at the top shot a few sparks, sputtered as if a gust of wind had snatched at them. Evander seized up that weakness. He meant to force her to lose concentration, to distract her into failure. But at least he was actually testing her now.
"Can your pet manipulate it?" He still didn't address her directly either. He kept his words for Lyssia, but he unleashed a fully self-satisfied smile upon Kia. "Can she change its form?"
Kia focused. She ignored the sorcerer, even when he stalked closer to her. The column tried to resist her, and she couldn't help but suspect his hand in that. Still, she drew the lines in her mind, imagined the form she wanted, and pressed her full desire to succeed into the weaving.
The column shifted. It branched and flowered, transforming into a burning tree in full bloom.
Evander harrumphed and stepped directly in front of her. He leaned in, and her view of the column was replaced by a fall of white hair and a pair of eyes that darkened like gems, glinting, daring her to keep going.
"Make it taller."
Kia stretched the tree another three feet.
She cut it down to half size.
"Hotter," he said.
Kia sucked in a breath and stared directly into the blue of his eyes. The fire tree blazed white hot, but Evander didn't even turn to look.
"Passable." His lips moved like honey too, making soft graceful lines. "Now make it fly."