“Fine.” The grubby teenager snatched at the clasps and his sweaty fingers almost slipped off them. They clicked and the box sprang open. Triumphant, he grabbed the piece of paper within and read it, slowly, sounding out the letters from almost-forgotten schooldays.
YOU ARE NOT THE CHOSEN ONE.
Professor Choroid let him stand there for the several minutes he took to process this one sentence. When he looked up at her, he already had tears in his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Bullshit!” He threw the paper to the ground. “Your wizard already came over here and told me everything. How can you take it back now?”
“I think that question would be easier to answer over a drink.” She did not check he was following her as she walked to the tavern. She’d had this conversation enough times now to know that they always followed. Make them run after you and you flip the switch between angry denial and a pathetic, obsequious need for answers.
She bought him a beer. He stared into it. “I’d like to offer you this apology from the University of Reila,” she said, pushing an envelope at him. “You’ll want someone with better reading skills to help you with it.”
“Perhaps more of a dare. A silly, unfunny craze among the Prophecy PhD students: go home for the harvest festival, head over to the nearest village where nobody knows you, and tell a farm boy he’s the Chosen One.”
“So the wizard was one of yours!”
“Yes. Although depending on the board hearing he may not be for much longer. I can assure you we take this kind of thing very seriously.”
“But I want to fight evil! On a dragon! When your student said it was my destiny I just knew it was the truth.”
She could feel the tickling behind the temples that told her she was about to displace her anger, unjustly, onto the nearest stupid person. “You wouldn’t be able to spot the truth if it kicked you in the face on market day, Kalot, or you’d never have believed any of this to begin with. Do you think we’d give you a dragon to play with?”
“Um… yes? If I talk you into it?”
“Dragons are clever, powerful and rare, and they like to eat. A dragon would finish up your livestock within two days and then start on your neighbours’ livestock if you’re lucky and your family if you aren’t.”
“Is all that would be left of you, yes. If you need support, we’ve set up a support group for Unchosen Ones at the University.”
“Too far to travel.”
They sat in silence for some minutes, both drinking beer and staring into space. Finally, the boy spoke: “I suppose I should go and feed the chickens then.”
“I think that’s an excellent idea.”