“What do you mean, plenty of cursed people go on to become mages?” I asked. “Can mages be cursed?”
“Well, in theory they probably could, but all the cases I know of are the other way around. Cursed people come here, or to a similar institution, decide to take the mark, and train in magic.”
“Even if they don’t have your… magical blood, or whatever?”
“Magical blood? Oh, you’re one of those people.” Max’s tone noticeably cooled. “I didn’t know commonfolk believed in things like that.”
“Believed in things like what?”
“In things like the genetic superiority of some people over others in the skill of commanding magic.” He wrinkled his nose. “I grant you that many of the physiological and temperamental traits that help in spellcasting must have some genetic basis in the same way that a talent for swimming or archery has some origins in genetic traits, but given the vast diversity of spellcasting practices and the nature of the art I think it’s a little reductionist to make blanket statements about some ‘blood’ being inherently more ‘magical’.”
“Max, what the hell are you talking about?”
“Well, what are you talking about?”
“Magic. It’s like… you have magic, right?”
“Well, not yet. I’m only an initiate. I won’t be granted a spell until I’m an acolyte.”
“Yeah, they’re not teaching you to cast spells yet, but you still have magic, right?”
Max frowned at me, baffled. I tried something else.
“If some random kid with no magical history came up to the Haven and said ‘I want to learn magic’, would he be able to learn it?”
“Provided he filled out the paperwork and was accepted into the school. Does this hypothetical child have anything that would prevent him from learning?”
“He’s not born with any magic or anything.”
“Almost nobody is! You should know that!”
“No, I shouldn’t! How many times do I have to tell you guys I don’t know anything?! But you’re saying Kylie and me could, if we wanted to, learn to be mages here.”
“Well… yes. You have a scholarship to a mage school. Why would you be sent to a mage school if you weren’t capable of becoming a mage?”
“You know, I was kind of wondering that myself. My mom thought that was, you know, window dressing, to get my parents to agree. She thought it was a sneaky way to send me off to a magic jail, for what I did.”
I saw the curiosity flare in Max’s eyes, but he didn’t ask.
To cover the sudden silence, I checked my tablet. I had a new message.
Dr Casey Pearson, your lawyer, wants to have a preliminary meeting with you at 1pm Thurs. to discuss your case. They’ll send a formal invitation later; is this time alright with you?
No sooner had I told Mr Cooper that it would be fine that I received another message.
Kayden of James
From the desk of Magista of Cottingly
You are formally invited to a gathering from 2pm to 5pm next Friday afternoon in the Gabsey room. I anticipate confirmation of your availability.
Looking forward to getting to know you.
“This is just like Facebook,” I mumbled, putting the tablet away before I could notice anyone else trying to talk to me.
“I don’t think this party is a good idea,” Max said, checking his own tablet.
“You think I should refuse to go?”
“No. That would, in all likelihood, be worse.”
“I’m sure they won’t try to get me pulled into any twisted mage politics.”
“Clearly, you are not well acquainted with the Cottingly twins.”
“Then I’ll explain that I’m here for six months and that’s it, and they won’t waste their time. Which I’m sure Simon will be happy about.”
“Yes, he seems a bit… well. I’m sure he has his reasons. Say, is Kylie likely to be as confused about magical education as you?”
“I dunno. Probably? Maybe you should talk to her about it.”
“Surely you would – ”
“Nah, you know more about magic than me.” Also, if it really was obvious and I’m the only one who didn’t realise it, I’d prefer not to look like a moron to her, too.
I headed back to our dorm alone, trying not to think about the mage thing. I already knew I didn’t want to be a mage – if I could find a way to get rid of, or at least control, my curse, I’d be perfectly happy at home. Even if we had to move away and make ‘home’ somewhere else. I could… I could talk to Chelsea and Melissa on the internet all the time even if we lived far apart. Or maybe I’d just grit my teeth and weather high school, even with everyone knowing about the curse. I had a lot of options, and a life of whatever-mages-did navigating annoying politics with snooty rich kids was pretty far down my list.
I didn’t want to be a mage. But the fact that the option existed was still something I didn’t want to think about, somehow.
The dorm was empty when I got in. I pulled the curtains on my bed anyway and scrabbled among my new supplies for paper. Technically, I’d promised my parents a letter after a week, not a few days, but they’d be freaking out until they heard from me.
Dear Mum and Dad,
I got to school safely and
I paused. What could I tell them? What was there to say? A bunch of stuff that wouldn’t make any sense, and a bunch of other stuff that’d have them pull me out of school the moment they could send a letter back.
I put the paper aside and pulled out a fresh sheet.
Chelsea + Mellzie,
This place is ridiculous. We’re living inside a mountain, so far as I can tell, and I haven’t even looked at our class list yet. There’s no real uniform which feels weirdly American to me. There’s clique shit going on but I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as I thought; I’ve made some friends already
Were Max and Kylie friends? Close enough.
and I don’t think anyone’s going to give me any shit. Chelsea, you would love the tunnel systems here. I got lost! Yep, you read that right. I. Got. Lost.
Liss, I think it’s really important to tell you – some of the men here are jacked. I’ve met two male mages and they’re both built like the Hulk and one of them’s a doctor. Get a curse ASAP and come check this out.
It’s been a few days and I’ve already had a ridiculous adventure, so that’s either promising or not promising, depending on how you think of it. Chelsea, do you remember that time you dropped the tracker into that unused pipe outside Ms Grafton’s place and we had a sudden surge of stormwater and I ended up halfway down an abandoned well looking for the thing? 1) Still haven’t forgiven you for that. 2) It was a premonition of things to come.
Should I explain in more detail about the thing in the lake that tried to kill me? No. No, I didn’t want that getting back to my parents.
My roommate had to come fish me out, which was super awkward, but at least I’m building a reputation early.
I hope you guys have your story straight for school, when people start pestering you about Dark Secrets of your Newly Discovered Cursed Friend. I expect to be a goddamned legend when I get home.
How’s Matt? Is he recovering well?
I read the letter a few times to make sure there was nothing school-removal-worthy in it, stuck it in an envelope, and vowed to figure out where to go to post it later.
Then I checked the cuts on my legs.
They weren’t bad, and under the kuracar’s magic, had started healing already. His power lay in the cuts, thin lines of bright blue across my skin like they’d been drawn on with a flourescent pen, moving and stretching with my skin and muscle. The world’s most efficient stitch and bandage replacement, probably; it didn’t hurt. It didn’t feel like anything. It didn’t even seem to impede blood flow.
It was still hard to suppress the urge to try to pull the stuff out. The wrongness of having something in my legs was a sense I couldn’t shake. Was this how dogs felt when they chewed their stitches out?
I prodded at the cuts, careful not to dig my nails in like I wanted.
That magic was the best healing tool I’d ever seen. No pain, no obvious drawbacks, and a good barrier against infection. So why wasn’t there a Malas in every hospital? Or at least in the big ones? If this kind of magic could be spared for a few scratches, why wasn’t it being used on the hundreds of kids in animal attacks or car accidents every day?
Come to think of it… why wasn’t everything I’d seen at Skolala Refujeyo a common occurrence? Why didn’t everyone in my hometown have a high-tech magic tablet and a forcefield for a door lock? If Max was right about the halls, why wasn’t magic used to connect hospitals and schools and stuff in different towns, to give everyone the best services possible? Why did aeroplanes exist in a world where you could walk through a hallway and apparently teleport without noticing?
There was the obvious answer, I supposed. Maybe I hadn’t seen any such stuff among the commonfolk because the mages didn’t think it was worth wasting on commonfolk.
No, that couldn’t be right. It was easy to believe – high-and mighty powerful mages deciding to hoard conveniences for themselves – but that wasn’t how the world worked; it was too simple. Technology trickled down, if only because the people who controlled it could make a lot more money by making it accessible; magic should do the same thing, unless there was some kind of vast mage conspiracy to stop errant mages from sharing it, and if such a conspiracy existed, there had to be a reason. A reason why people hung holly and mistletoe on their doors to ward of curses, and the mages at career fairs only did little parlour tricks instead of freezing lakes or magically filling wounds, and why cursed kids who got in trouble disappeared, either passing away in the night under suspicious circumstances or being offered insanely good scholarships to inaccessible hidden schools…
No need to freak myself out. It had just been an idle thought.
Everything was very probably fine.