The loud protest rent the air like a knife, echoing around the small firelit chamber, and interrupting the languid tick-tock of an impressive clock by the hearth. Two people, finely dressed and shock-still, sat around a mahogany table.
“That’s…that’s not possible!” the first, a young man with dark hair, protested, looking beseechingly at his companion. “How can we do this?”
“What other option is there?” the second, a willowy, ivory-faced woman, snapped, anger clipping her words fiercely, “With the situation being what it is…”
“But that’s not fair!” the first retorted, desperation evident in his lilting tenor, “To force such a responsibility on a stranger, with his own life! It’s unheard of!”
“Reagent Yan, that is untrue,” a third voice interjected, gravelly tones dripping with authority. “There is one other case of this, where the King was not of royal birth.”
The Reagent’s usually tanned face turned pale in the firelight, and the arms that had been gesturing so wildly seconds ago, fell to his sides.
“You…You can’t mean…” he whispered, horror unconcealed, “But that’s a myth!”
“Not so,” the third continued, its voice filling the tiny room, “Just because it is not in living memory does not mean that there are not those who remember it.”
“What, like you?” the second scoffed, standing, “The supposed Great Clock?”
The Clock’s golden hands ticked on impassively, slowly counting out each second of silence.
“Like me?” it repeated, voice issuing forth from an unseen source, “You could say that. You sound almost… uncomfortable with that, Captain.”
Her thin lips curled slightly, and her piercing green eyes narrowed. “Not at all,” she replied, fingers curling into fists, “I just have a real…distaste for Magic, and the resulting by-products.”
The temperature in the room seemed to drop, despite the crackling flames in the fireplace beneath the clock. An uneasy feeling crept into the Reagent’s heart. The Captain glowered at the Clock, whose ticking seemed to speed up slightly. The Reagent gulped, sinking lower into his chair and praying to whatever Deity that would listen that he would be spared.
“Captain Ester Sor,” the Clock growled, anger radiating from it in waves, “Kindly refrain from referring to me in such a manner. Do not forget your position.”
“Position? I am the Captain of this country’s Military!” she hissed, jumping to her feet and kicking her chair across the room, “I won’t take orders from a noisy ornament!”
“I am this Kingdom’s Source!” the Clock roared, a fierce gust of wind tearing through the chamber, making the fire in the grate splutter and whipping the Captain’s loose red hair about in a mad dance. “How dare you talk to me in such a manner? I am this kingdom’s Life Force! You're merely It’s hunting dog!”
Whatever the Captain was going to say was cut off by a gloved hand. It covered her mouth, and another wrapped around her arm.
“I think that’s enough, Captain,” the Reagent whispered, guiding her towards a small oak door on the west side of the room. She glared at him, then at the Clock, before throwing off his hands and wrenching it open. She stalked through it, navy uniform swishing in her haste, and slammed the door behind her so hard the portraits rattled on the walls.
The Reagent pinched the bridge of his thin nose, leaning back on a wall, and let out a shaky laugh.
“I’m sorry about this,” he apologised, kicking off from the wall and heading towards the chair the Captain had kicked. He picked it up, and walked towards the table in the middle of the room. He set the chair in its place, and turned to face the Clock opposite. “Please forgive Captain Sor. She’s still upset about the assassinations.”
“That does not excuse her behaviour,” the Clock muttered, still angry, but the frantic hands were ticking less fiercely. “Leave me be. I’ve had enough of the company of your kind for one night.”
“My kind? That’s low…” the Reagent muttered, shaking his head. Nevertheless, he bowed low to the Clock, and made his way towards the door. His gloved fingers had just grabbed the wrought-iron handle when the Clock spoke again.
“Fear not, Reagent Yan. I know you do not agree with this, but I will pick the best person for this.”
“You’ll need to,” the Reagent responded, a small smile drifting across his face, “The King and Queen will haunt me if Ellie’s not taken care of.”