Chapter 1

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The death spell hit me square in the chest and I screamed in pain. But even the screams got drowned in the storm that raged around us all. And as I fell, I couldn't help but think that even this - my impending death - didn't soothe the enraged sky and its master. As the wall of shock somehow faded away, I seemed to be able to focus on my surroundings again. Everyone was frozen in shock, clearly unable to believe this was happening. The thoughts were getting slower and the pain in my chest was slowly growing. But I couldn't even speak. There wasn't any strength to speak with. Not that I had any words to speak either, but still. I felt my soul trying to tear itself away in response to the spell. There was one on the roof who wasn't shocked to see me fall though. Without even looking at him, I just knew that he would be smiling with a coldness that, once in your body, never left you even on the sunniest of days. Some masochistic part of me wanted to see him gloat, wanted to see him celebrate on changing his fate.

And that was the moment my reality fractured. Because standing in front of me in the stormy sky like a fallen angel wasn't Mandarin. It wasn't Mandarin who stood in front of me in his usual black outfit. It was me. It was I who stood in front of my vision dying from the death spell. And just like that, the pain switched sides. My back burnt like it was on fire. I was no longer on my back. My body rested on my stomach lying on the ground as I stared at my battered self smile down at me with the same coldness I had feared seeing in his face.  The dots connected themselves to present the full picture and I immediately knew what I couldn't see. I was him.

I was Mandarin.

My eyes flew open instantly as I sat upright with a gasp. Before I even knew, I had my hands touching every inch of my own face, trying to reassure myself that I wasn't him.  It took me a moment to remember that this bare room I slept in was in fact the king's personal chamber in the kingdom's palace. King or killer? My mind questioned and the still present fear of having become him made me immediately jump out of the bed and run to stare at the mirror in the bathroom. Tugging the pajama's hamstrings to tighten them a little more, I almost crashed into the mirror above the medicine cabinet in an attempt to ensure that it really was just a dream. It was even scarier to stare at your own face and not recognize it for the first few moments.

Letting my shoulders relax, I splashed my face with the cold water to drive the sleep away. It worked but the damage was already done. Even the cool wind of the summer night raised goose bumps on my arms and I shivered, futilely trying to cover my bare chest with my arms. Not good enough yet, my mind immediately commented as my eyes lingered a little at slightly swollen stomach. You need to get healthy Elisan. It chided me and having heard this from him so many times in reality, I mentally added Paul's voice as the one chiding me. "Guess it's going to be another one of those nights." I commented to myself and decided to step into the shower, following the routine of the last week or so. Same nightmare every time and still it manages to leave me trembling every single time.

The cold water is a blessing to have in this summer heat we all are living in. This is the first summer the people are having since the one two decades ago and the spell to have cold water showers have been very helpful in helping the villagers adjust to the summers once again. I immersed myself in the shower, willingly discarding any of my mind's attempts to remember the nightmare. I don't know how long I stayed in there but it was long enough for me to actually consider switching to warm water while resisting the urge to shiver due to the cold. Drying off, I checked the digital clock and saw that it was four in the morning. Guess it is time for a morning run, I think with a mental groan added in the subtext while heading for the tracksuit.

I hate running. I don't mean the 'run for your life' running because I love winning them. No, I specifically hate running these' getting Elisan fit' runs in the pre-dawn hours that are boring enough to drive one to sleep and torturous enough to make you hit yourself for trying them in the first place. Sometimes, it seems that Paul's exercise schedule would succeed in killing me when even Mandarin failed.

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