“Are you going to take English?” Kylie asked. She leaned back against the cliff wall and stretched her bare toes forward into the sunlight.
I frowned at my own tablet. “Yeah, probably. Mr Cooper got me all excited when he said it was optional, but it seems we have to take some kind of language course, and I have no need for Ido. I could take Japanese as a Second Language – I’m learning that at my old school, I don’t want to fall behind. But the chances that this school is at the same part of learning the language as me is low, so it might be a waste of time.”
“You’re still going home after six months, then?”
“Well, yeah. Of course. You?”
“Oh, no – my goal is to be away from my family even longer and go home even weirder.” She rolled her eyes. “Of course I’m not staying on to be a mage. I’m here for six months, like you.”
“But you’re not in legal trouble or anything, right? You don’t even need to stay that long.”
“I don’t need to stay at all, but I’m here to learn to control the Evil Eye, if I can. I asked around, and it’s really hard to get an extension as an Initiate – it’s six months, and then if you want to stay, you have to move up to Acolyte. If you’re an Acolyte, you’re basically stuck at the school until you graduate. Which… I know they don’t want to send half-trained mages out into the world, but that commitment sounds kind of suspicious to me, don’t you think?”
“As opposed to everything else about this totally normal school?” I stretched my own feet into the sunlight. Living underground really makes you appreciate sunlight.
It was Thursday morning, and the two of us were in the valley where we’d first gotten out of Mr Cooper’s van. Well, technically we were just inside, because if we ventured too far from the blue crystals, we lost access to the intranet. But once we got bored with the course list, we’d head out properly.
The van was gone, without even tire marks on the grass to indicate it had been there. I was pretty sure Kylie, Max and I were the only initiates who knew about the place – we were the only people who ever used it, anyway. The others must have all come in through different means. I was in no hurry to tell anyone else about it; as the school had filled up, it was the only place we could get any alone time without hiding in our dorm.
And it had sunlight. You wouldn’t think sunlight is that important, but my mood got pretty dark if I didn’t have it for long enough.
“What about science?” Kylie asked.
“I did the placement tests yesterday and the only science I qualify for is General Science. Those standards are harsh!”
“Well, it’s an international school. Students from other countries probably just know more science than us at our age.”
“Says a lot for our school system, doesn’t it?” I said. “But since you asked, I’m guessing you do qualify for more sciences. What are your options?”
“I’ll probably just take general, too. Good all-round education, you know?”
“That doesn’t answer my question!”
“It’s not important.”
“How about a deal. I won’t ask about your science test scores if you instead tell me why you listened to the Eye and saved me from the lake monster.”
“Okay; I qualify for General, Physics, and Basic Biology. But I’m thinking I’ll just take general.”
“Oh my god. Oh my god. This is more serious than I thought.”
“I thought it was just Max, but it’s not! It’s you, too! I’m rooming with nerds!”
“I’m sorry, but aren’t you into geocaching?”
“Um, no; I do urban exploration. It’s way cooler.”
“You search for and retrieve packages with trackers in them. It’s geocaching.”
“Yeah, well, you know what geocaching is, so… that’s almost as bad.”
“Face it, Kayden; you’re in Nerd Club. Dorm Australia is Nerd Club.”
“Dorm Australia is Witch Club. Plus Max.”
“I thought you hated being called that?”
“I’ve decided to own it. I mean… I don’t like it because it makes it out to be our fault, you know? People say it to imply that there’s something wrong with us, like we’re the perpetrators of the curse instead of its victims. Which made sense, out there. But I don’t think I can afford to think of myself as a victim any more.”
“Because the mages will eat you alive?”
“Who cares about the mages? I meant because the whole reason I’m here is to learn how to control this thing, and I’m not going to be able to do that if I let myself keep thinking and acting like it’s in control. I didn’t ask for the curse, but I have to own it. Otherwise this just isn’t going to work.”
“Now you’re talking!” Kylie grinned. “Actually, I’ve been thinking about that.”
“Witch Club. You said that Mr Cooper told you this place gets a witch every few years, right?”
“And Max says that a lot of witches stay on past initiation.”
“Yeah, so – oh! You think there might be older witches here.”
Kylie nodded. “I don’t know how much we’ll get to talk with older students, but it can’t hurt to ask around, right? If they went on to be mages, I assume they learned to control their curses, or found some way to seal or remove them or something. They might have some advice for us. Maybe some of the instruktanti might be ex-witches!”
“Yeah, maybe.” I grimaced. “Oh, man. I hope that if they did find a way to bind their curses, it’s not painful. I am so sick of binding methods.”
“You tried to bind it?”
“Of course I tried to bind it! I spent a lot of my early years crossing the salt and reciting invocations backwards and wearing silver necklaces and copper rings. I saw four exorcists and drank more holly water than I ever want to see again, and none of it worked – the damn thing still woke up and landed me here.”
“Isn’t holly poisonous?”
“Only a little bit. I’m pretty sure all kinds of curse binding are a myth, or else the doctors would just have it done for anyone cursed. Any time you hear of anything working it’s always ‘my aunt’s friend’s cousin used to sicken plants with a touch until his mum did this thing and now he’s fine’ kind of hearsay.”
An alarm went off on my tablet. I swore.
“What’s that, a reminder to buy fancy clothes for Magista’s party?”
“Ha, no; we still have a week before that thing. I have my first appointment with my lawyer.”
“Everyone insists I don’t need it, but thanks.”
I brought up directions to the meeting room and followed them from the map, pacing out the hallways as I did so. I’d gotten into the habit of doing that ever since Max had pointed out that they didn’t make physical sense. This route did make physical sense, but not when combined with other routes I’d taken that day. Somehow, that was more disorienting.
The meeting room was an office. It looked like a larger version of Mr Cooper’s office, with a bigger fake window and a slightly-too-long meeting desk in the middle. The person at the other end of the desk looked to be in their early twenties, in a tailored suit and with their hair cut into a neat bob. I couldn’t immediately tell if they were a man or a woman.
They glanced up from a stack of papers the height of a human thigh bone as I entered, flashing a smile. “Mr James, I presume? I’m Casey.” The accent was… something I didn’t know. Somewhere in Africa, probably? They jumped up and took my hand in a warm shake.
“Uh, Kayden,” I said, even though Casey obviously knew who I was.
“Very pleased to meet you. Please, take a seat.”
I did so. “So, you’re my lawyer, huh?”
“That is correct. Do you understand what that means?”
“I… guess? You’re here to keep me out of jail.”
“That is one of my functions. In fact I’ve been retained to represent your legal interests in all matters for the length of your time at Skolala Refujeyo. Since you are a minor, your parents have already signed all the binding contracts on your behalf, but I have copies for you in case you want to see the actual conditions.” They slid a small stack of paper across the table to me. “They’re very boring, trust me.”
I glanced through the paperwork long enough to conclude that it was indeed very boring.
“My job is to represent your interests,” Casey repeated. “Anything you tell me is protected by client confidentiality laws under both Refujeyo law and Australian law, so your best bet for the most favourable outcome is to be completely honest with me. Now, today we have two cases to discuss.”
“Two? There’s just the… the thing with the roof, right?”
“The assault and attempted murder charges are what I was retained for, yes, but there’s been a further development since then. Taine Cooper has exercised his rights as your serveyanto to submit a legal claim on your behalf. It can’t go any further without your input.”
“Oh, man… what’s he done?”
“He’s… well, he’s suing himself.”
I blinked. “He what?”
“Technically, he’s suing the school for multiple counts of negligence, only some of which he’s responsible for. Bad building and signage, lack of safety features, lack of supervision and imparting of appropriate information – that’s the part he’s liable for, lack of training for serveyanti in dealing with new students with limited information, lack of adequate medical care, lack of adequate psychological care and assessment following trauma… it’s a long list.” Casey handed me another piece of paper. It was a long list.
“Okay,” I said. “What do I need to do, then?”
“You have three options. The first is to simply do nothing; you’re under no obligation to pursue this. I wouldn’t recommend this option, simply because your second option is better. The school has offered you a pre-emptive settlement.” Another piece of paper joined the pile in front of me. “You’re Australian, yes?”
Casey pulled out a calculator – a real electronic calculator, with batteries – and typed in some numbers. “Well, the amount offered comes to just over two thousand Australian dollars.”
“They want to give me two thousand dollars to not sue them over the lake monster thing?”
“Yes. But it’s very important to note that they want to pay you in moneto.”
“In Refujeyo money? Does that matter?”
“If you can find a way to spend two thousand dollars here… no. The moneto is a surprisingly stable currency given how tiny the population that actually uses it, largely because of boring reasons to do with its anchorage and standard, but common banks don’t deal in it and the mage bank has no obligation to exchange it for anything. Basically, your payout is worth two thousand dollars, but it would be absurdly difficult to actually turn it into dollars.”
“What’s option three?” I asked.
“Pursue the case. Sue them. I don’t recommend this one.”
“Why not? If they’re offering two thousand up-front, doesn’t that mean they’re kind of desperate?”
“Two thousand that you’ll give right back to them by purchasing things here. It’s not that big an expense on their end. And no; you don’t have a chance of succeeding with this case in a mage court. The school is just too powerful. They’re not doing this because of any legal threat; it’s about a PR threat. I surmise that the school is worried that if they don’t address this, you’ll take the issue to your parents and potentially cause media problems throughout Australia. That’s a lot of potential student revenue lost.”
“And if I take the settlement, I have to keep quiet?”
“Legally? No. But I think they expect that you will anyway if they don’t offend you by ignoring this situation, since you need their help – my help – for your criminal charges.”
It was hard to argue with that. “Did they offer Kylie anything?”
“I can’t discuss that.”
“If you can’t discuss it, does that mean she’s your client, too? So she is included?”
“I can’t discuss that.”
“Well, do I have to decide what to do right now?”
“No. The longer you wait, the greater the chance that they will take the offer off the table. But I don’t think they’ll do that. They want to avoid a lawsuit.”
“Okay. I want to think about it, then.”
Casey nodded and shuffled additional papers. “Now then, the main event. I’ll need to hear your side of the story before we start building a plan, but reviewing the case so far, I don’t think we have anything to worry about. This is a fairly standard case of unintentional exhibition of a curse, which is well protected under Australian law.”
“What if it… what if it wasn’t a standard case of that?”
“Then we’d have to look at other defenses. But we have plenty of options. They’re trying to get you for attempted murder, which is ridiculous.”
“No,” I said. “It’s not.”
Casey shook their head. “Kayden, I know the police probably said a lot of things to try to scare you, but unintentional – ”
“It wasn’t,” I repeated. My fists were clenched, my knuckles white. I looked right into Casey’s clear dark eyes and told them the thing I hadn’t told the police, or my parents, or Kylie or Chelsea or Melissa; the thing I hadn’t really told myself.
“It wasn’t unintentional. I didn’t lose control. I invoked my curse against Matt on purpose. I was trying to kill him.”