Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Reappearance of Long-Lost Short Stories: Tinni and the Chain

"Tinni and the Chain" was the first short story I published when I began my writing spree toward the end of November 2009. It appeared in an online magazine called Absent Willow Review (Which, sadly, no longer exists). 

Gone Too Soon!

Anyway, without further ado, here is that story.

Tinni and the Chain
Jeff Miller

“Tinni, bring me my tea,” the old man said, one hand poised over the leather-bound tome on the desk before him.
Tinni rose from his place in the corner, grunting as a great thundering pain pierced his back. The chain hurt more than usual. Some days it felt like little more than a finger nagging at his spine, but today it burned like fire. He pressed a gnarled hand to the place where the iron links poked out of his flesh and struggled to cross the room.
“What’s the matter with you?” the old man asked, though his eyes didn’t leave the page he was reading. “Are you stalling for sympathy?”
“No,” Tinni replied, his voice a thick whisper spilling from mangled lips.
As he hobbled across the dark study, the chain dragged loudly on the wood floor. Tinni reached behind himself to pull up the slack, but a sickening stab of pain brought him up short. He paused, clamping his eyes shut to fight back the tears, and waited for it to abate.
Finally, with a lurch, he resumed his passage to the kitchen. The kitchen in the study was as far as he could go. The chain pulled taut at the far end of the room. This was not the real kitchen, of course. Tinni had heard of a dining room and kitchen in the lower part of the house, and, from what he could gather, it was a much more lavish place. There, apparently, the old scholar kept a long, fancy table and many, many shelves stocked with food items too exquisite to describe. He had been told these few things by some of the other servants, though they rarely dared speak to him.
“The water is already hot,” the old man said, turning a page in his book. “Just steep the tea and bring it here.”
Tinni attempted a “Yes, sir,” but it came out as a groan. The chain was off the ground, dangling between the post in the far corner and the anchor in his back. For a moment, he thought the pain might make him vomit, and he struggled to stave off the sickness. He dared not make a mess in the old man’s presence.
“What did you say?”
Tinni rested his arm against the edge of the stove, comforted by the warmth bleeding through the metal. He breathed slowly, deeply, and large drops of sweat ran down his forehead and cheeks. Gradually, the pain became bearable, and he reached for a rag to lift the steaming kettle.
“Tinni, did you hear me? I asked you a question.”        
Tinni heard the scrape of the old man’s chair on the wood floor. If the old man was distracted enough to get out of his chair—well, Tinni did not care to speculate on what he might do. He hadn’t the strength to contemplate punishment.
“Yes, yes, yes,” Tinni replied, cringing against the stove. “I heard you. I am bringing the tea.”
“Very well,” the old man grumbled. “Answer me when I address you. I have little patience for your foolishness today. I am studying. This is an important day for me. My new pupil will arrive this afternoon.”
“Yes, yes.” Tinni slid the dirty bit of rag around the kettle’s shiny handle and lifted. It was a thin piece of cloth, not enough to hold back the heat, but Tinni’s palms were such a patchwork of scars and calluses, he barely felt anything. “Tea is coming.”
“Steep it.”
“Yes.” Tinni poured the steaming water into a large ceramic cup, then retrieved a silver tea bulb and dropped it in. Immediately, the water discolored, rivulets of brown streaming out of the silver bulb. There was something familiar and beautiful about the changing of the water, and Tinni stood frozen, transfixed by the sight. He had an image in his mind, a vague image, but one that returned to him often, of a large body of water, like glass stretched between green hills, and something else, a terrible darkness falling, disrupting the calm water like a knife piercing an eye.
He was roused by an explosive thud, the sound of the old man’s book slamming shut. He stumbled, crying out in pain.
“What are you doing?” The old man yelled. “It doesn’t take that long to steep. Get over here.”
Tinni slipped the dripping bulb from the cup and set it on a pile of rags. “Coming, sir.” He took the cup in both hands, balancing it clumsily between crooked fingers. As he turned, his elbow caught on the chain, causing it to tug at his back. Tinni’s vision dimmed, and he stumbled, dropping the cup. It turned over, spilling its contents before hitting the floor and shattering into a thousand pieces.
“You stupid, stupid animal! You creature! What have you done?”
Tinni stared numbly at the mess of tea and ceramic at his feet.
“What have you done?”
       Tinni’s gaze rose reluctantly to find the old man towering over the desk, his palms pressed against the closed book. His dark hood had fallen back, revealing a pale face, wisps of white hair, and cold eyes.
“I’ll clean it,” Tinni said, wincing as he reached for a rag.
“Hold out your hand,” the old man hissed.
Tinni froze, swallowing a sudden lump in his throat.
“Hold out your hand, Tinni.”
“No, no, please…” Tinni drew his hands to his chest, tucking them under his armpits.
The old man bared his teeth. “You do as you’re told.”
Tinni drew a shaky breath and held one trembling hand in front of him. The anticipation was the worst part of it, sticking in his belly like a hot coal. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to, sir.”
“Stretch out your arm.” The old man demonstrated, thrusting one withered, white arm in front of him.
Tinni did as he was told, but he couldn’t keep the arm from trembling, the bent fingers from clutching at the air.
“You are clumsy, and you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing,” the old man said, his voice flat, calm. “And this will serve to remind you to do better.”
The old man’s wrinkled hand clenched. As it did, the air crackled between them, and Tinni’s hand erupted in red flame. He cried out, but he dared not move. He could feel the flesh of his hand peeling away, fingers crisping, until his knees buckled, and he collapsed on his side. He writhed on the floor, grinding against the spilled tea and broken ceramic.
“Enough,” the old man sighed, and, with a wave of his hands, the fire disappeared.
Tinni blinked tears and tucked his injured hand against his chest. He felt a black hatred for the old man, but it was a hatred tempered by pain. He hadn’t the strength to move, and, for a while, the old man let him lie on the floor, the tea soaking into his clothes, jagged bits of ceramic digging into his side.
“When you’ve recovered, get up and make another cup of tea.”
Tinni grunted and sat up. He examined the pink ruin of his hand, fresh tears spilling down his cheeks. He hadn’t meant to spill the tea. He hadn’t meant to. Why did that count for nothing?
Distantly, from some place in the house that Tinni had never seen, a bell rang.
“Ah, my new pupil has arrived,” the old man said, sliding his chair back and rounding the table. He hopped over Tinni’s chain and hurried for the door, pausing only a moment to glance down at his crumpled slave. “Clean up the mess, Tinni, or you’ll have more of the same. Understood?” Before Tinni could answer, the old man rushed out of the room, his footsteps fading down the hallway.
Tinni picked himself up, favoring his wounded hand. He leaned against the stove, staring at the smeared mess on the floor. He had made it worse by rolling in it, and the thought of cleaning it up made him dizzy. His burned hand was beginning to throb, and he knew it would be useless to him.
Tinni sighed and scraped bits of ceramic out of his tattered robe. It was just another day, really. Every day had its punishments of one sort or another. He told himself this, but it gave little relief.  He snatched up a handful of rags in his good hand and dropped them to the floor. As he stooped to his work, he felt a tug on the chain.
He drew in a sharp breath, his good hand grasping protectively for the small of his back.
“Well, look at you.”
Tinni stumbled out of the kitchen to find a small boy in the old man’s study. The boy was holding the chain in his hands, rubbing the dark metal with tiny fingers. Dark curls of hair framed his face, accentuating an angular jaw, narrow eyes.
“Don’t, don’t touch that,” Tinni said, waving him away from the chain. “The Master wouldn’t like you to bother me. I am his servant.”
“Oh, his servant? Is that what you are?” The boy gave him a puzzled frown and let go of the chain. He was dressed in many layers of fine cloth, robes that flowed one over the other. As he spoke, he ducked under the chain and glided over to the old man’s desk. “A servant doesn’t get chained to an iron post. A dangerous animal does.”
Tinni stumbled toward the desk, panic clenching his throat. “You…you mustn’t touch the Master’s things.”
Ignoring him, the boy hopped up on the Master’s chair and dragged the book toward him. “I can touch the Master’s things if I want to. He’s out of the room.”
Tinni approached the edge of the desk, careful to shield his burned hand. “Who are you?”
The boy glanced at him, and Tinni noted a peculiar intelligence in his eyes. “Why, I am the Master’s new pupil, of course,” he said with a smile, casually flipping open the old man’s enormous book. “And right about now, he is throwing open the front door to greet me.”
“You tricked him?” Tinni gasped. “But why?”
“Because I wanted to,” the boy replied, feigning interest in the intricate lines of prose scribbled on the pages the book. “And because I can. That’s a gift of mine--I can move about undetected.” As he said this last word, he waved a hand in front of his face and winked at Tinni. “But enough about me. Tell me about you.”
Confused by the boy’s request, Tinni said nothing.
“Have you nothing to say for yourself?” the boy asked, drumming his fingers against the open book. “Doesn’t the master teach you to be polite when you’re asked a question? He’s going to make me as great as he is, you know.” Something about the boy’s tone of voice struck Tinni as odd, but he wasn’t sure what to make of it.
“Sorry, sorry,” Tinni muttered, backing away. His hand was hurting so badly, it was becoming harder to concentrate on anything else.
The boy rose suddenly, sweeping his robes back. “My name is Yurei. What is your name?”
“Tinni? That’s an odd name.” The boy pursed his lips. “Are you sure that’s your name?”
Tinni nodded as he backed toward his corner. He gathered up the chain with his uninjured hand and carefully piled it around the iron post, safely out of the way.
“Tinni,” the boy mouthed. “Tinni. How did you come to be in the Master’s service? Do you recall?”
Tinni shrugged. “I’ve always been in the Master’s service.”
The boy came around the table, his robes swishing with each step. “Always? Don’t be silly. Do you think you just blinked into existence with that chain stuck in your spine?” The boy shook his head.
Tinni cowered against the cold iron post. “Yes, yes.”
The boy leaned in close. “Can I tell you a secret? Will you keep it to yourself?”
“If the Master asks me--”
“Oh, I doubt he’ll even know I was here.” The boy winked again, his voice falling to a whisper. “Here’s the secret: I’m not really his pupil. He doesn’t have a new pupil.”
“Why did I come here if I’m not his pupil? Very good question, Tinni, though awkwardly delivered. Mostly I came to implore you to escape. As soon as you have the opportunity, get out. Until then, don’t tell your Master about me. Normally, I would trust you not to say anything, but I’m afraid he’s stolen your memory. Do you remember the lake?”
“The-the lake?” Tinni eyed the boy, confused. “What is that?”
“Don’t worry. It will come to you.” The boy glanced over his shoulder. “Your Master will be back soon, so I’d better go. When you have the chance, pull that damned chain out of your back. I would do it myself, but I’d hate to wind up like you. That wouldn’t do either of us any good, would it? No. So you’ll have to do it yourself.”
The idea of pulling the chain out, a thing he had never dared to consider, much less attempt, made Tinni’s head spin. “No, no, I couldn’t. The Master would be unhappy.”
“Well, of course he would be unhappy,” the boy said with a laugh. “He put the thing there, didn’t he? I don’t think it will kill you to pull it out, though it might feel that way. Just keep pulling no matter how much it hurts. It should slide out.” He backed toward the door. “Don’t worry, it will all come back to you when you get that thing out of you. It’s his black magic, you see?”
Tinni shook his head, appalled at the idea of doing what the boy suggested. Was the boy testing him, hoping to plant thoughts in his mind that the Master could later read? “I can’t do that.”
“You can. You must.” The boy glanced over his shoulder again. Faintly, there arose the sound of footsteps in the lower hall. “That’s my sign, Tinni. Remember, come to us soon. Don’t let that old devil have his way with you.” He nodded and waved his hands in front of his face. “Until I see you…” And with that, a mist enveloped the boy, swirling around him like a captured breeze. Before Tinni’s eyes, he faded from sight, leaving a faint grayness that lingered for a time.
Tinni groaned and pressed his forehead to the floor. He tried to block the boy’s words from his mind, but they pounded at him. Could he really just pull the chain from his back? It didn’t seem possible, and even if it were, what price would he pay for doing so? The Master who burned his hand for spilling a cup of tea surely had much greater and more horrible punishments in store for the servant who removed his chain.
He glanced up to find the old man standing in the open doorway, his pale stick arms crossed over his chest. The corners of his mouth were turned down, a hateful glint in his eyes.
“What are you doing there in the corner?” the old man said, his voice low and contained.
“I was…I was…” But he could think of nothing to say. He swallowed heavily and crawled toward the kitchen.
“Did something happen in here?” The old man took a menacing step into the room.
“No, no.” Tinni scrambled into the kitchen and picked up the rags from the floor. “I’m cleaning up the mess, sir. I’m cleaning up the mess.”
“Damn you, look at me.”
Tinni dared not resist the coldness of the words. He clutched the damp rags to his chest and turned. The old man beckoned him close with one thin finger. Tinni approached, cowering.
“Look at me and answer,” the old man said, crouching so that his face was level with Tinni’s. “Did something happen in here while I was gone?”
Tinni whimpered but didn’t avert his gaze. “Yes, yes, there was a boy. There was a boy in the room. I told him to leave, sir. I told him.”
The old man nodded, his eyes slipping shut. “So, that’s what they’re up to, is it?” Suddenly, he clenched his fists. An invisible force slammed Tinni in the chest, lifting him off the ground and tossing him onto his back. He slid, the chain grinding against his backbone, and came to rest in his corner, howling in pain. “And why did you lie to me the first time I asked?”
Tinni groaned and rolled into his side, blinded by the pain. He held up his good hand to shield his face. The old man’s booted feet echoed like hammer blows on the floor, closing the distance between them.
“Did the boy say something to you? Tinni, did he say something to you? Did he tell you to lie to me?”
Tinni tried to respond, but his voice failed him. The words came out as strangled cries.
“I will ask one more time, and then you will be made to suffer. Did the boy say something to you?”
“He…he…” Tinni tried to speak, but a fit of coughing overcame him. He curled up on his side, tucking his head against his knees.
“He did say something, didn’t he? And it has made you disobedient. Well, they shall not have you. I will tear you to pieces before I let them have you.”
The old man stepped on Tinni’s injured hand, crushing it against the floor. Tinni opened his mouth to scream but managed only a thin hiss, as sickening needles of pain tore up his arm.
“I will tear you to pieces before I let them have you. Do you hear me?” And with that, the old man relented, turning with a whoosh of his robe and moving to his desk.
In the silence that followed, Tinni lay motionless on the floor, fearing he would pass out. Hoping, perhaps. But he didn’t, and the minutes slipped by, as the Master resumed his study, unmindful of his suffering servant. After what might have been an hour, two or three, even, Tinni roused himself and started for the kitchen, pulling himself across the room with his good arm.
“Finish cleaning the mess,” the old man said. “Afterward, we will talk.”
“Yes, sir,” Tinni replied, blinking sweat and tears out of his eyes.
By now, much of the spilled tea had evaporated or soaked into the wood, but Tinni mopped dutifully at the boards with a fistful of rags. The broken bits of ceramic he piled to one side. He worked slowly, wanting to put off the talk with the Master. What, after all, would he tell the Master if asked again about the boy? He couldn’t tell him what the boy had said. Surely, that would be the end of him.
Nevertheless, working slowly bought him only a few extra minutes. When he was done, he stared at the damp rags in his hand and waited, hoping the Master would forget about him.
“Tinni, set those rags on the counter and come to me.”
Tinni whimpered but did as he was told. He set the rags on the counter and stumbled toward the old man’s desk. The Master regarded him calmly, fingers steepled on the table before him. Tinni knelt near his feet.
“I was angry with you,” the old man said. “I was angry, but I am calm. Now is your best opportunity to tell me the thing that I desire to know. I want to know what the boy told you.”
Tinni pressed his good hand to his forehead, wiping away a layer of sweat and grime. “He said he was playing a trick.”
“Playing a trick? What kind of trick.”
“Making you think he was your pupil,” Tinni said, his gaze dropping to the floor. He was reminded of something the boy had mentioned--a lake. Tinni didn’t know what the word meant, but it sounded so familiar. Why did he feel as if some thought, some memory, had been placed just out of reach? “He said he wasn’t really your pupil. I told him, sir. I told him to leave your things alone.”
The old man hummed thoughtfully. “Tinni, this boy, he is very wicked. He belongs to an order of people who wish to destroy all that I have tried to build here, and if they succeed, they will destroy you, as well. Your only chance for life is here, as my servant, safe from their hands. You must trust me. You must obey me.”
“Yes, yes, sir,” Tinni said with an eager nod. “I will.”
“And what else did the boy say to you? What did he tell you to do?”
Tinni bowed his head and considered the boy’s words. For the first time in his life, really, he found he was not at all willing to tell the old man what he knew. There had been something terrifying about the boy’s words, and yet…and yet…it was as if the boy had shared some beautiful, secret thing with him, something that belonged only to them. To share it with the old man was to profane it.
“He said…he said I was stupid,” Tinni replied, relishing the taste of the lie. He met the old man’s gaze, expecting instant animosity, but the old man continued to regard him with a bland expression. “He said I was stupid and ugly. He made fun of me, and he messed with your things. I told him to stop, and he kicked me.”
“Did he?” The old man arched one eyebrow.
“Yes, yes, and then he heard you coming, so he went like this.” Tinni waved a hand in front of his face. “And he went away. I told him, sir. I told him to leave everything alone. I hated him.”
The old man considered this, one finger tapping his lower lip, then nodded. “I believe you, Tinni. I believe you because I know you wouldn’t look me in the eye and lie to me. From now on, be quick to obey and answer. Now, go back to your cleaning, and bring me my tea. This time, don’t drop the cup, and you will be spared further suffering.”
Tinni nodded and scampered back into the kitchen, careful not to trip over his chain. Dutifully, he stoked the fire in the stove and began reheating the kettle of water, but his mind was not on his work. The boy had told him to remove the chain, a thought that would never have crossed Tinni’s mind in a thousand years. Remove the chain! How could it even be possible? Just bumping the chain sent spikes of unbearable agony through his body. Perhaps the boy had been playing a joke on him, and perhaps the Master was right about him, that the boy was indeed wicked.
Still, the ideas, the possibilities that the boy had hinted at were too powerful for Tinni to drive from his mind. As he stooped to work, he reached behind himself, hoping to appear casual, and felt the chain, felt the harsh knot of skin around the first link protruding from his flesh. For a brief moment, as long as he dared, he grasped the first link of the chain in his hand, as though he were going to tug it free. Just doing that, holding it like that and imagining, made his heart race. What would it be like?
He smiled guiltily and prepared the Master’s tea. As he was bringing a fresh, steaming cup from the kitchen, he heard again the distant sound of a bell ringing. The old man muttered a curse and rose.
“What do these people think they are doing?” he said, slamming a fist upon the leather cover of his book. “They must know they can’t undo the spell. Fools!” As he crossed to the door, he pointed at Tinni. “Don’t you give me a reason to hurt you. If the boy comes back, kill him. Wrap that chain around his neck and pull it taut. Do you hear me? I want to see a blue-faced corpse when I get back!”
“Yes, sir.” Tinni whimpered, hunkering down in the kitchen door, the hot teacup still clutched in his hand.
“Let’s see this boy try his little tricks again. I will destroy somebody today.” And with that, the old man glided out of the room.
Tinni waited quietly, listening to the old man’s footsteps fade down the hall. When he was again in silence, he cast his gaze around the room expectantly. After a few tense minutes, he cleared his throat.
“Are you coming?” he whispered into the stillness.
There was no response. Tinni set the teacup on the floor beside him and grabbed hold of his chain, rattling it. It echoed in the hallway beyond the room.
“Boy, are you coming?”
With a sigh, Tinni retrieved the teacup. He stared at it, at the dark liquid, seeing again the image of the still water, the falling darkness. Tinni swallowed a sudden lump in his throat and flung the cup across the room. He regretted it as soon as the cup left his hand, but part of him felt a thrill of satisfaction as the cup shattered on the far wall, sending a spray of tea and ceramic shards in all directions.
Then the weight of what he had just done sank into his belly. Tinni’s jaw fell slack. The old man would kill him for this!
“Stupid, stupid,” he said, snatching up a rag and racing across the room.
Somehow, the chain got tangled around one of his feet, and he fell, knocking his head on the floor hard enough to see stars. Dazed, Tinni rolled onto his side. As he lay there, he realized he didn’t want to clean up the mess he had made. He had enjoyed making it. He picked himself up and flung the rag away.
“Boy, where are you?” he asked, peering anxiously at the pieces of the second cup. “I need to talk to you. Hurry, before the Master comes back.”
But the boy didn’t come. As the minutes slipped by, Tinni felt such disappointment, he started to cry. He wiped the tears from his cheeks and listened for the Master’s footsteps. It occurred to him that he could lie to the old man when he returned, tell him that the boy had been there, that the boy had flung the teacup across the room. Why shouldn’t the Master believe it? Tinni nodded and took a seat in the middle of the room.
As he sat in the silence, he reached once again for the chain at his back. He grasped the cold metal of the first link, gripping it as best he could with his crooked fingers. He wanted to pull it out. At that moment, he had both the desire and the will to do it. Tinni grunted, amazed at his sudden ability to disobey, but he paused. What if the boy had lied, and pulling out the chain would kill him? After all, hadn’t the Master told him, time and time again, that his only chance for life was here?
“Then I don’t want to live,” Tinni muttered.
He seized the chain firmly in his hand and gave it a sharp tug. The pain made his head spin, sent a shock of sickness into his guts, but the chain didn’t budge. He got on his knees and pressed his face to the ground to steady himself, then tugged again. This time, he thought he felt the chain give a little, but his vision dimmed. With a cry, Tinni pulled harder, sweat dripping from his face, pooling on the floor. The pain radiated out from his back, burning through his flesh and into his extremities, tingling in his fingertips. Yet slowly he felt the chain moving, sliding from his back with a moist gurgle. He screamed, his body clenching as if every nerve ending had been exposed.
And then, like a candle flame being snuffed, the pain dissipated. Tinni blinked and sat up, his body flooding with a strange warmth. In his hand, he held the chain, dark iron links that ended in a long, curved piece of blood-spattered glass. Tinni stared at it numbly. The glass hook felt strangely cold in his hand and much heavier than its appearance would suggest.
“Black magic,” he whispered.
And, with that, he slammed the glass hook on the floor, shattering it. A faint mist rose from the pile of bloody pieces like an escaping spirit.
Tinni took a deep breath and let his eyes slip shut. Warmth filled his chest, moving through his body like water, filling the empty spaces where pain had been, working through tissues and bones. It spread to his heart, and his thundering heartbeat gentled. It climbed up his spine, driving out the agony, and up into his skull. And then, like a veil tearing, memories returned to him. He saw the still water, saw it rushing up to meet him, saw his broken body sinking, bright blood discoloring the lake. He saw everything that had been taken from him.
Tinni rose effortlessly, for his body felt now as if it weighed nothing. When he opened his eyes, he saw his own arms stretched out before him, skin a translucent blue. The scars, the disfigurements, all of them gone. He gasped and gazed down at his body. Though he was still wearing the tattered robe of his enslavement, his body had changed. He was…he was beautiful, tall and straight-backed, radiating a faint inner light.
“What am I?” he asked, wading through the sudden inundation of returning memory.
“Tinni…” The old man’s voice choked on his name.
Tinni turned to the door. The old man stood there, frozen in mid-stride, one hand pressed to the side of his face. His mouth was open, working wordlessly.
“Welcome back, old man,” Tinni said, amazed at the strength of his own voice.
“He told you,” the old man said with a sneer, his countenance darkening. “He came back here, and he told you, and somehow he talked you into it despite all my threats.”
“No, he didn’t come back.” Tinni took a step toward the old man. Who, after all, was this fragile creature that had so terrified him? “He told me everything the first time. When you asked me what happened, I lied. I lied to you. When you punished me and asked again, I lied all the more.”
The old man stumbled back against the doorframe, baring his teeth. “Damn you. I will return you to your rightful place.” He raised his hands, waving them in the air. Traces of light followed his fingertips as the magic swelled.
Tinni hesitated, uncertain. He had no plan for dealing with the old man’s magic.
But the old man ceased suddenly, cursing, and dropped his hands to his sides.
“Why did you stop?” Tinni asked, taking another step toward him. “Your magic won’t hurt me, will it?”
“Indeed, it will,” the old man spat, backing into the hallway. “But I’ve no wish to destroy you. I will let you live, if you get back on your chain.”
Tinni laughed. “I would rather die, so do your worst, old man. Kill me now, or I am going to crush your throat with my hands and leave your body here in this room, this cell which you fashioned for me.”
“No, no,” the old man said, turning to flee.
Tinni lunged forward, seizing the old man by one sleeve, and jerked him back into the room. The old man fell in a heap, flailing his arms.
“Look at me,” Tinni said, pinning him to the floor with his knee. “Look at my face.”
The old man squirmed on the floor, trying in vain to twist out from under Tinni’s weight. Tinni grabbed him by the chin and forced eye contact.
“You took me by surprise out there,” Tinni said, gesturing vaguely beyond the confines of the house. “That’s the only reason you were able to shoot me out of the sky. You took me by surprise with your magic. That’s true, isn’t it?”
“Yes, yes,” the old man whimpered, his eyes widening until it seemed they would pop out of their sockets. “I put a spell on an arrow and shot you from hiding. It took me six years to perfect that spell, six years and half my wealth. But listen to me, it was needful. I didn’t mean to harm you, and I regret your suffering, Tinni. I regret it, I swear to you.”
Tinni nodded, his grasp on the old man’s jaw tightening. “And my name is not Tinni. Tinni is a slave’s name, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I made it up, yes.” The old man grew suddenly still, his limbs going slack. “I was a fool. I captured you because I…I thought I could use you to perfect my magic. I learned so much, how to control a body, how to control a…a mind. It was all so terribly complex. I never meant to hurt you.” His voice quavered. “I could have killed you, but I didn’t. You owe me mercy!”
“I owe you nothing. I don’t think you can kill me,” Tinni replied. “You never could, so you imprisoned me in my own fear.”
“I swear I intended to release you when I finished my studies. I swear it!”
Tinni felt his anger give way to an unusual calm. He stared at his former Master now as one stares at a sick animal. “And now that you are finished, old man, I am going to release you.” With that, he wrapped his hands around the old man’s throat. “And may your soul go where it belongs.”
“No, no, wait, wait! I will help you return to your people if you spare me. The boy who came here, he was one of your people, a being of magic, one of the immortal Anulem like yourself. I will take you to him! I will take you to him!”
“No,” Tinni replied simply, clenching his fingers. When he heard the bones break, he released his hold and rose. He stared down at the broken body for a long time, numb. He didn’t relish the death, as he had imagined he would. It had been, in the end, a sad necessity.
He turned and stepped out into the hallway. As he did, his name returned to him. His name was Yaserelim. He said the name, enjoying the sound of it on his lips. Yaserelim, Son of Starlight.
He moved down the hallway, robed servants scurrying out of sight before him, ducking into shadows and doorways.
“You are free,” he called, loud enough that his voice shook the walls. “Your master, the father of your pain, is dead. You are free.”
A small window at the end of the hallway was open, letting in a breeze that stirred crimson curtains. Yaserelim strode to the window and leaned outside, breathing in the night air. There he saw the boy, suspended in the air and bathed in a nimbus of light, his multi-layered robes swirling about him like a million wings.
“Good to see you, brother,” the boy said, grinning. “Sorry I didn’t find you sooner, and sorry I left you to free yourself. But really, you had to do it yourself, you know that.”
“Yes, I do, Yurei.”
“Shall we go home, then?”
Yaserelim nodded and pushed himself out of the window, his arms catching the night air and propelling him upward. He turned his eyes to the moon, a brilliant silver sphere shining in the night like an eye wide and watching.  And he ascended from the earth with a cry of boundless joy.

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