Chapter 17 (McCarthy)

McCarthy had been reading in his study before bed – another one of his rituals, when a knock at the door interrupted him.

“Come in,” he called.

The door opened, and a young woman entered. She was in her late teens, with a slender build and long, dark hair that was straighter than the edge of the knife at her waist. This was Mao, McCarthy’s apprentice.

McCarthy relaxed in his seat when he recognized the figure. “Mao, what brings you here so late?”

“Sir, the guards have spotted Kyzella approaching the castle.” Her tone was terse, businesslike.

McCarthy nodded. “I suppose we should see what she has to say, then.”

The girl bowed and stepped aside from the doorway. McCarthy carefully marked the page of his book that he’d had open and set it on his desk. He rose and strode across the study. Mao waited for him to exit before closing the door behind them and following. She was even better at following his rituals than the angels were, McCarthy noted. He’d taken the girl in two years ago because he needed someone to stay at Doronhine castle while he traveled to conduct research for the angel project.

He’d learned about Mao when he’d heard news of a family of nobles in Doronhine with an unruly daughter. As he’d soon discovered, she was more than unruly. She was cruel – methodically cruel. Her parents had simply seen the physical and emotional bullying of her siblings as the actions of a maladjusted girl who needed to mature. McCarthy’s experienced eyes saw what was really happening. Mao’s actions weren’t the result of some childish misbehavior or a dysfunction in her family life. She simply enjoyed making others suffer. It had only taken a single trip to her parents’ manor to see the pleasure she derived from inflicting misery on her siblings and the control that it gave her over them. At the end of that same visit, McCarthy had offered to take the girl up as his apprentice. What she had was rare and powerful, if cultivated correctly. Anyone could be mean and hurtful. What separated Mao from common bullies was her mind. The way she could pick apart a person’s every weakness and insecurity and find a way to turn those things against them.

In the two years since then, Mao had been an ideal apprentice. She’d performed every task that was asked of her, however menial, and she had no qualms with the angels and what it took to create them. No, it wasn’t cruelty that needed to be instilled in his apprentice, it was self-discipline. Mao was still too impulsive, a vice that McCarthy had cleansed himself of long ago. Before he could trust her to command the angels, he needed to teach her the importance of planning, of deliberate speech and action, and of rituals. Tonight would serve as a good lesson.

McCarthy and Mao climbed several flights of stairs until they reached a locked door. McCarthy produced a key from the ring around his belt and inserted it into the large metal keyhole. He twisted the key and heard the heavy iron bolt slide away, unlocking the door. He pushed it open and led Mao onto a platform of flat stone on the roof of Doronhine Castle.

The view was incredible. The cobbled streets and thatched roofs of the town sprawled out before him. Beyond that, acres and acres of lush farmland extended into the distance – freshly tilled soil waiting for the first seedlings to emerge from the ground and reach skyward. It was a sight that few residents of Doronhine would see. The section of roof where McCarthy and his apprentice stood was a landing pad of sorts, made especially for Kyzella. Only he, King Valen, and the most trusted castle guards had access to this place.

McCarthy raised his eyes from the landscape and looked to the sky. Sure enough, against the purple-green light of the falling sun, he could make out a pair of large glowing wings carrying a lone figure through the air. McCarthy and Mao waited in silence as the figure of Kyzella grew larger and larger. Finally, the woman arrived. She glided down onto the section of the castle roof, just a few feet from where McCarthy stood. Her golden wings faded as her feet touched the solid stone platform.

Slowly, as if the motion were causing her pain, the angel knelt before McCarthy and Mao. She spoke the established greeting.

“My lord, you have made me into who I am. I thank you.”

While he waited to respond, McCarthy looked Kyzella up and down. She had an ugly purple bruise on one of her cheeks and spots of dried blood still flecked her face. The robe that she wore had once been pure white. Now, it was smudged with streaks of dirt. He could make out small rips and tears in the tattered fabric.

Finally, he responded to the angel. “You are welcome, my child. Rise.”

Kyzella stood, and McCarthy waited for her explanation, an impatient expression on his face. She’d returned empty-handed. She’d failed her mission, and she knew that he wouldn’t be pleased.

“I found the boy, Everin. He was travelling with his two companions through the Elderwood Forest, as you’d told me he would be, my lord.”

McCarthy nodded. “So, if you were able to find him, why have you not brought him to me?”

It was fast, but McCarthy saw Kyzella’s face twitch with nervousness. He was sure Mao had noticed it, too. She had a keen eye for those kinds of things.

“I know you warned me that I might have to fight another angel, but this boy, he caught me by surprise. Just as I was when you first created me, he didn’t appear to know how to use his powers, but he kept revealing new abilities as the fight progressed.”

McCarthy didn’t react. “You’ve trained for years under my guidance. You’re telling me that you were beaten by a boy who’s barely begun to grasp powers that you’ve been honing for over a decade?”

Kyzella let her shoulders fall in a defeated expression. “I can’t explain my failure. As the fight progressed, I felt my powers growing weaker. I felt the like I’d been fighting for hours rather than minutes, and near the end, he produced this blue energy that was incredibly strong. He grabbed me with the energy and started demanding that I tell him about you, my lord.”

McCarthy stroked his chin as he considered what Kyzella had said. “Hmm, that is interesting. He asked about me?”

Kyzella nodded eagerly, anxious to divert McCarthy’s attention away from the details of her failure. “Yes, he wanted me to say what I knew about you. He seemed appalled when I told him that you had made him into an angel. I suppose he’d been lying to himself about what his powers meant up to that point.”

“Yes, I suppose that could explain his shock,” McCarthy agreed. “Did you tell him anything else?”

“No. I had an opportunity to escape after that, so I took it. Although, before I left, he said something. He asked why you let him ‘see these auras’. Do you know what these auras are that he’s talking about?”

McCarthy stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Hmm, I have a suspicion, but I’ll need to discuss it with King Valen. Is there anything else that I should know about?”

Kyzella shook her head.

“I see.” McCarthy turned to face his apprentice. “Mao, what do you think we should to about Kyzella’s failure today?”

The corners of the girl’s mouth twisted upwards in a sadistic grin. She licked her lips. “I believe a punishment would be appropriate. Perhaps we could ask King Valen if he could help.”

McCarthy saw Kyzella tense out of the corner of his eye. “I would usually agree with that,” he said. “Although, Everin is still loose, so I think we’ll give her a chance to redeem herself.”

McCarthy saw the disappointment on Mao’s face as he turned back to the angel. “I’m going to give you another chance to collect the boy. Get yourself patched up in the castle, and then find your brother and sister. I suppose you’ve shown that you’ll need some help in bringing him down.” McCarthy knew that the other two angels, Ichoron and Saphine, weren’t really Kyzella’s siblings, but he’d established the practice of addressing them as such. It implied a paternal relationship between himself and the angels, another subtle ritual to consolidate his power over them.

Kyzella bowed. “My lord, I won’t let you down again.”

“See that you don’t.” McCarthy stepped aside and allowed the angel to enter the door to the interior of the castle. He waited for the heavy door frame to swing shut behind her before turning to address his apprentice.

“How do you think Everin knew that you were involved with the angels?” she asked.

McCarthy shrugged. “It doesn’t matter, not as long as the angels can collect him quickly.”

Mao nodded thoughtfully. “I suppose it will be easier to control him before he learns too much about how to use his abilities.”

McCarthy shook his head. “If what Kyzella told us is true, then we likely won’t be training Everin at all. He’ll be under the control of King Valen.”

“I thought you were in charge of the angels, not King Valen,” Mao said.

“I am,” McCarthy replied. “But this is bigger than the angels.”

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