The veneer was cast aside almost instantly, and I saw Cela’s bright eyes harden to slate gray.

“You insolent pup!” she shrieked. Wreathes of white-hot fire burst from her fingertips, blazing a path across the room towards me.

My sword stuck in its scabbard as I tried to pull it free, forcing a quick duck and roll that left the bench I’d been sitting on a smoldering cinder.

“Don’t do this!” I cried.

“You had your chance to be sensible,” hissed Cela. “Now you’ll see how the Crimson Order swats down troublesome flies!” Her hands were ablaze again, directing rivulets of living flame toward me as everything flammable in the manse’s anteroom began to blacken and curl.

Finally, the stubborn blade was loosed, and I held it in front of me, cruciform-style, with the point on the ground.

“How quaint! The little boy thinks he can scratch the grown-up with his toy!”

Cela’s cackle turned to sputtering rage as she saw my blade do its work, sucking up the energies she’d unleashed as they approached. It glowed and sparked but remained cool to the touch.

“A saugendolch!” she exclaimed. “Clever, perhaps, but not clever enough!”

The support beams above began to twist and crack apart.