It should be illegal to visit anyone before midday on a Sunday.
Apparently this opinion wasn’t universal, because I dragged my eyes open at eight in the morning to the sound of a strange voice in the kitchen. I dressed quickly, then crept downstairs as quietly as I could.
“… the facilities are of a very high standard, although of course the academics do tend to be focused on – oh, here he is! It’s Kayden, right?” The stranger at the table met my eyes and smiled.
I froze in the doorway. The man was easily six foot tall, well-built, and looked very ill at ease in his perfectly fitted suit. His large hands almost completely concealed the mug of tea he was clutching. My first impression of ‘out-of-place bikie’ was helped by his ponytail and the network of blue tattooed lines that melted into the dark skin of his face and neck. But what had caught my eye was the top of a tattoo peeking out over his collar. Unlike the man’s other tattoos, this one was milk-white and drawn in fine, precise lines that hadn’t blended or faded at all. Most of the tattoo was hidden by his shirt, but the style was unmistakeable to anyone who had seen it before.
It was a magemark. This man was a mage.
I glanced at Mum and Dad, sitting on the opposite side of the table. They were poring over a bunch of papers; pamphlets, it looked like. Mum glanced up at me.
“Crutches,” she reminded me.
“I don’t need them.”
“The doctors think you do.”
I rolled my eyes and sat down as a compromise. I didn’t want to be near the mage, but it didn’t really matter; I was sure he could kill me at a distance if he wanted to.
Not that I’d ever had any trouble with mages. I saw them around town occasionally; snooty people with white designs on their skin hurrying off to somewhere very important. But that was before everyone knew about my curse. The only mage who’d known about my curse before the school thing had been my doctor, Doctor Marley, and his entire job was to help people like me. The thing about mages was… well, they weren’t supposed to hurt commonfolk, but you heard stories. Like the kid with the Midas hand who they said accidentally turned his mother to gold, and the next day he was dead and people said they’d seen a couple of people with mage marks breaking into his house. Doctor Marley had once told me that he helped people like me because when someone became a mage, they accepted responsibility for the effects of magic. And if a curse that couldn’t be removed started hurting people, then I supposed…
But Mum and Dad didn’t look worried. I picked up one of the pamphlets.
“Skolala Refujeyo,” I read. “What’s this? What’s going on?”
“The name is a bit of a handful,” the man admitted. “We usually just call it the Haven.”
“This is Mr Cooper,” Dad said. “He’s here to talk to you about school.”
“I’m just suspended,” I said defensively. “It happens.”
“In fact, I’m here to talk to you about a different school,” Mr Cooper said. “I understand that you have a minor legal problem.”
“I wouldn’t call it minor,” Dad muttered.
“Do you have paid legal representation?” Mr Cooper pressed. “A lawyer who’s an expert in these sorts of matters?”
“We’re looking into it,” Mum said. “But the cost…”
“Skolala Refujeyo has a legal team,” Mr Cooper continued. “They’re specialists in issues of magical law, and extremely competent in their field. We are the most prestigious mage school in the entire world, and when you gather a lot of teenagers together and teach them how to use magic, such legal expertise is necessary. They’re willing to step in and take your case. The issue is, of course, the cost.”
“We’ll mortgage the house if we have to,” Dad said.
“That shouldn’t be necessary,” Mr Cooper said. “There is a workaround.”
“What do you mean, a workaround?”
“Our legal team are one of the free services provided to students at the Haven. Our school fees are of course very high, so such things are really a courtesy footnote to a lot of the students, but I’m here today to offer Kayden a scholarship.” He drew a form out of the mess of papers on the table without looking and slid it towards us. “The scholarship covers tuition, as well as a modest food and school supply budget. There will be some out-of-pocket costs, but it should work out cheaper than feeding and clothing him at home.”
“If I go to your school, I get really good free lawyers for my case?” I asked.
“How long do I have to go?”
“Six months. If you attend our school for one semester, our lawyers can represent your case free of charge.”
“Where is this school?” Mum asked.
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you. This is a place where a lot of very important young people from all over the world gather to learn very complicated things; its secrecy is for their protection. I can tell you that transportation will not be a problem. Students board on campus during the school term, of course.”
I looked through a pamphlet. It had never really occurred to me that mages had to learn their magic somewhere, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of being surrounded by them. I had a hard enough time making friends at school when no one knew I was cursed. A bunch of rich magical teenagers who would definitely know? No thanks.
“Why?” I asked. “What’s in any of this for you?”
“You have a magical problem,” Mr Cooper said simply. “Magic is our problem.”
“So you’re offering him this very fancy scholarship to this very expensive school to… do what, exactly? Kayden’s no mage. There’s no magical blood in my family, or Alice’s here. You want him to go to this school he can’t benefit from just so you can offer him help with legal trouble out of the goodness of your heart?”
“Who said we have nothing to teach him?” Mr Cooper asked. “When I said that magic is our problem, I did not mean that petty local legal concerns are our problem. I meant what I said. There is a curse buried in your child’s heart. The fact that it’s still there leads me to believe that it can’t be safely removed in the hospital, yes?”
“You can remove it?” I asked.
“Probably not. But we can probably teach you to control it. We might be able to teach you how to manage it so that it doesn’t hurt anyone else. So that you don’t put any other classmates in hospital.”
Mum stood up. “That wasn’t Kayden’s fault!”
“Whether or not it was his fault, it happened. This curse is active, and it is dangerous. We have a shared problem, and there is a very good chance that we can make this problem go away.”
“A good chance?” I asked. “Not a certainty?”
He shook his head. “Every curse is different. I can make no promises. But if we don’t try this, you’re going to end up in court without the best lawyers you could have, and you have a higher chance of ending up in juvenile detention. And if you do win your case, that curse will still be there, ready to attack again and ruin more lives, including yours.”
I considered this. If I won… then I’d still be the cursed kid. I’d still be dangerous. And I’d eventually graduate high school and try to get a job, and still be dangerous. Who was going to hire someone with a curse that might randomly flare up and attack someone? I’d be dangerous, and potentially notorious, my whole life.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll do it.”
Mum frowned at me. “We’ll discuss the issue,” she assured Mr Cooper. “It’s a big decision.”
He nodded. “There’s no rush. I pick up the Australian new students one week before term starts; you have until then to decide. It was nice to meet you, Kayden.”
Mr Cooper shook my dad’s hand and left. We watched him climb into a small black van and drive off. I tried to ignore how all the van’s passenger windows were painted over.
Mum hadn’t come to the door. She was picking through the papers on the table, her lips pursed. I walked over.
“Crutches,” she said without looking up.
“I managed to walk downstairs without them,” I pointed out. “On a level floor I don’t think I need – ”
Dad nodded and headed up to fetch them.
“I don’t like this,” Mum said. “Boarding school? No.”
“I know,” I said, sitting down. “But do we have a choice?”
“You’d be living away from us.”
“You’d be living away from Melissa and Chelsea.”
I swallowed. “I know. But what other option do we have? Wait this out, hope I get found innocent, and then I just… go back to school like nothing happened?”
“We move house,” Mum said promptly. “Your Aunt Rebecca has a little cottage on the beach that we can rent until we find somewhere more permanent. I can work from home, and your father can – ”
“You’ve planned this, haven’t you?”
“I have a cursed child, Kayden. Of course I’ve planned this.”
“We’d still be moving away from all our friends, so what’s the difference between that and boarding school?”
“The difference is that we’d be together as a family. You’re fourteen; you shouldn’t be getting snatched from your home like this.”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s just school, not jail.”
“Isn’t it?” She fixed her bright eyes on me. “This happens, and a nice, friendly mage comes over and offers to take you away to a hidden location where a lot of mages can keep an eye on you? That sounds exactly like a jail.”
“It sounds like people I can’t hurt,” I pointed out. “Unlike you or dad. And it’s only six months. After that, when I come back with this thing under control, we can go live in Aunt Rebecca’s cottage if you want.” I tried to smile.
Mum looked back down at the piece of paper explaining the scholarship. “I won’t stop you,” she said, “but promise me you’ll think long and hard about this before deciding on anything.”
I nodded. “Of course.”
But there was nothing to think about.