Dragon Magic(6)

By: Megan Derr

Mahzan leered. "Be good, dragonet, and I'll give you milk later."

"Fool!" the High Priest snapped from where he sat at the king's table. He was puffed up like a fishwife with a cheating husband and looked about ready to scream twice as loud. "You go too far!"

"If you think that is going too far," Mahzan retorted, turning to face him, twirling his marotte in one hand, "you had best leave now before my next set of jokes makes you blush like a virgin on their wedding night."

The king laughed and motioned, his heavy, jeweled rings flashing in the light of hundreds of candles. The High Priest fell reluctantly silent, and Mahzan did the same. Still laughing, King Yavuz said, "Now, Mahzan. No picking fights before the fourth course."

Mahzan swept a deep bow, his head nearly touching the floor. "Sire, as you command." Rising, he whipped back around to face the priests and gestured imperiously. "You heard the man. You may not be offended by me until he's had his fish! Go along, then. Tell the cook to give you bread and milk, and if you behave, you may have half a tart each!"

Rolling their eyes, some of them muffling laughter, the priests bowed to the king and then moved to their table on the far left side of the room, beneath a banner of the Church—dark blue, with the Great Dragon in green and gold, bands of silver along the top and bottom.

"Lords and ladies, dearest king and queen, thank you for coming to see me today," Mahzan said to the room, sweeping another exaggerated bow as they all laughed and clapped. "Now that evening prayers have been said, let us undo the hard work of the priests by beginning the evening with tasteless jokes and stories. You, there, sir! In the blue doublet! You remind me of a tale of a man deceived by a lovely set of twins…"

He told stories and jokes for two hours—easy entertainment while people ate and talked and relaxed. As he finished one of his most popular stories, involving the follies of a man who tried to pretend to be his brother, the king beckoned him forward and handed him a cup of wine. "Well done, Mahzan. You are never disappointing."

"Your Majesty," Mahzan said, and bowed respectfully, then drank the wine and returned the cup. Refreshed, he returned to the center of the room and raised his marotte high in the air. "Now that you are warmed, mine audience, shall we—"

He stopped as the doors crashed open and several people spilled inside, collapsing to the floor in a pile of blood and bile. City folk mingled with castle guards, all of them shaken and pale. The terror pouring off them gave Mahzan a headache so sudden and strong he fell to his knees, marotte tumbling away as he cradled his head and tried not to vomit.

"Fearmonger!" one of them finally got out—then fell over dead as his wounds got the best of him. Around him, two others died, and the rest did not look as though they would survive the night.

If any of the remaining survivors said anything, it was lost in the cacophony of screams and rush of people either trying to help, or trying to get away. No one took lightly the scream of fearmonger, especially as more people came rushing in, bleeding and burning and dying.

Mahzan ignored them, turning and bolting for the royal table, even as a soldier—North Captain Sule—did the same. "Get the king to safety," Sule bellowed as more soldiers appeared to do precisely that, but he didn't bother to wait for them to act, simply grabbed King Yavuz's arm and hauled him up and away from the table, toward the archway that led deeper into the castle—

Right as the high, arched ceiling exploded. Stone, plaster, and wood came crashing down, causing a full-fledged panic. Mahzan saw Sule, Yavuz, and other soldiers and nobles vanish through a doorway. Looking around at the dead already filling the Hall of Kings, he mourned that only Yavuz and those with him would get away. He jumped out of the way as more ceiling came crashing down, and heard someone scream as they did not get out of the way in time. Mahzan's eyes blurred from the pain of trying to block out so much overwhelming misery, pain, and anguish.

Someone grabbed his arm and Mahzan whipped around with a snarl—and drew up short as he stared into the eerie blue-black eyes of Warlock Binhadi. "Calm them," Binhadi ordered. "If people do not stop panicking, we will never save any of them. Right now, you are the only one with mind magic strong enough. I know you can calm—look out!" He shoved Mahzan hard, sending them both the ground just as a large piece of stone fell where they had been standing.