Mikhail focused his thoughts, checked his pulse, his heart rate; he stared at the boy trying to decide if the balled fists were frustration, or the beginning of a foolish attack. The uncertainty was a temptation to let go of his self-control, to let his heart race and the adrenaline flow, but he knew that better results could be guaranteed by cleaving to his training. Nonetheless, he freed a dagger into his left hand as he watched the boy’s face and shoulders as the moments stretched out before his heightened senses like minutes.

There is was, a twitch in the shoulders, the arms rising. Mikhail looked at the floor and cursed in the back of his mind. Matrocite! The fool was casting; what a waste. The boy’s arms came higher, hands unfurling like blooms and then twisting into arcane gestures. Mikhail’s ears heard the shout of the casting, but he no longer cared, he had already activated his blink talisman.

He could smell the boy’s sweat as he laid his right hand on his young shoulder while the left pushed in deep.