We spread out on the dorm floor for our lunch, on a picnic blanket that Kylie had brought from home.
“You know, Max, I think you’re right,” I said, chewing my way thoughtfully through finger foods.
“Of course I am, but about what in particular?”
“The coffee machine. We should’ve got a bigger room with a coffee machine.”
“Do you think Simon might be right?” Kylie asked, apropos of nothing.
“No,” Max and I both said at the same time.
“I’m just saying. Kayden, we don’t really know anything about your spell. What if…?”
“What if it can interfere with other spells in a way that corrupts their use?” Max shook his head. “First, the chance of a spell being able to do that… well, that’s just not going to happen. Counterspells exist, but they’re unbelievably rare, you definitely don’t just pick them up as curses, and they don’t work anything like Simon seems to think. Even if they did, we’d notice. Spells would be misfiring left and right, and Malas definitely would’ve picked it up the first time he looked at Kayden’s curse. A curse that just affects Alania Miratova’s spell, no others, and interfered when it’s cast on things Kayden isn’t even touching? No. He might have a case for your curse bringing misfortune, but yours prophesies out loud, yes? You didn’t prophesy, so it’s just normal bad luck.”
“Besides,” I said, “we know what my spell does. It evokes force fields, or wind, or something… the important thing is, it makes physical barriers of some kind. That’s got nothing to do with burning someone’s hand when they dramatically melt a statue.”
“Yeah, that was probably bad luck. But Instruktanto Miratova’s cauldron was probably protected by force fields, right? And you spell makes force fields, right? What happens when two force fields interfere with each other?”
We looked at Max.
“I… don’t know,” he admitted.
“Don’t you know everything?” I asked.
“Once again, you misunderstand the purpose of a school,” Max said. “If I knew everything, I’d have time for silly parties and gossip.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” said Kylie. “If you’d read every book in the library, you’d devote hours to trying to find new books instead.”
“Anyway,” I said, “I most definitely didn’t use my spell until after the explosion. You were there, Kylie; you should know that.”
“Okay,” she said. “I mean, your spell’s invisible, so I didn’t know that until right this second, but fair enough.”
“How could you not know that?”
“I was kind of distracted.” I eyed the beds around us. “Why don’t I try to interrupt the force fields right here?”
“What is with you trying to break the beds all the time?” Kylie asked.
“They’re so stupid! Why aren’t there doors? Why do we have to climb over – ”
“You’ve said,” Max said, standing up and gathering the plates. “I’m taking these back to the kitchen. Try not to break any school property when I’m gone?”
“I can make no promises.”
“… Yeah, I’m not coming back until this is over. Have fun.”
I chose the bed area with the broken chair to practice on. We might as well keep all of my property damage in one place.
Okay. Okay. I had to…
What was I planning on doing, exactly?
“Maybe try to push through the force field with your force field?” Kylie suggested.
“Yeah, that might work.” I centred myself, reached deep within my mind, and called up the power nestled in my heart.
After about thirty seconds of silence, I said, “Well, this is embarrassing.”
“I can’t seem to make it work.”
“Maybe it’s worn out from yesterday?”
“Hmm. Maybe. But I’m not feeling anything.” I pressed my palm to the force field. It remained solid.
“How do you normally call it up?”
“I don’t know. When things get really bad, I need it and it’s there. I’ve only ever used it twice. How do you call yours?”
She shrugged. “It triggers on its own. So you were able to call yours up for a rooftop fight, and when you wanted to run straight into a fire?”
“So maybe it only triggers when you’re in serious danger?”
“Maybe. But it didn’t trigger when that lake monster tried to drown me.”
“It triggers when you’re in serious danger, unreliably. Meaning you can’t go out and try to use it or you might die. Kayden, I hate to say it, but your curse is stupid.”
“Hey, mostly not working is good news,” I said, but that was just habitual thinking. It was a thought of the Kayden who hadn’t yet run into that burning lab, and barely been hurt.
My spell wasn’t like Kylie’s. It wasn’t passive. I had decided to get Matt off that roof; I had decided to run back into that room. I had said to myself, we are doing this, and the spell had complied.
Which meant I was in control.
I reached deep inside myself again. I decided, with certainty, that I was going to move right through that force field. Then I tossed myself at the bed.
The crack of my forehead hitting the field reverberated through my skull. I bounced off, stumbled backward, and fell over.
Then I swore, loudly.
“Kayden, what the hell?” Kylie scrambled over and pulled my hand away from my forehead, inspecting the injury. “Didn’t break the skin. Are you concussed?”
“How would I know? How do I know what concussion feels like?” I didn’t have much attention to spare for her, or even for the pain in my head. I’d landed on my torn-up shoulder. But I had plenty of attention to devote to more colourful swearing, so I did that.
Kylie helped me up. “Do you need to see Kura – ”
“I’m not badly hurt,” I said. “I’m just angry.” I’d honestly expected that to work. I must have gotten it wrong. I hadn’t needed to think about it, the past couple of times – I hadn’t expected it to come forth at all. Now I couldn’t remember exactly how I’d done it, and even I wasn’t stupid enough to go out and risk my life in the hope that desperation would pull it out again.
Living in fear of the thing in my heart, hoping it would never wake up, had been awful. Living with a massive potential in my heart that I couldn’t wake up was… well, not worse. Definitely not worse. But very frustrating.
It had only been one day. Maybe I just needed time, and practice.
“You should probably lay down,” Kylie said.
“Yeah. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” I found my own bed, and collapsed onto it.
The world swam for a couple of minutes, then settled down. I moved; something in my pocket crinkled. What was that? Oh, right; Melissa’s letter. Well, I wasn’t reading it with a headache. I pulled it out and set it next to my picture of my parents.
My parents, who were expecting me home after the six months were up.
If I decided to stay… what was I going to tell them? We’d never been apart so long before! They’d devoted fourteen years to protecting me, at great risk to themselves, from my curse; they’d handled any opposition, kept secrets, and taught my how to keep the curse quiet as best they could. What was I supposed to tell them? ‘Thanks for raising me, Mum and Dad, but I’ve decided to stay in these mystery caves for the next three to five years. Why? Well, you know that thing we’ve all spent my entire life keeping dormant? I’m gonna poke around with it and see what it does, maybe get really good at waking it up. Why? I dunno. Curiosity, I guess.’
I looked up at the ceiling instead.
Well, putting things off solved nothing. I waited for my head to stop swimming, then read the damn letter.
You haven’t called me Mellzie since we were about six! Is everything okay?
Things are fine here. You should know that Matt has been pulled out of school, and his mother is making a big deal about how badly her son has been hurt. He doesn’t look that hurt to me. I think she’s angling for compensation from the school.
There was a bit of a media storm after you left. Well, there was a bit before you left, too, but the police kept it at bay; after you went to the boarding school, they stepped back and we were swamped. They wanted to know everything about you; what your hobbies were, whether anyone knew you were cursed, whether there were any early signs of what a violent and unstable person you were. They came on all sympathetic, but when they started going for the ‘violent and unstable’ angle we all stopped talking to them. Chelsea’s dad said any reporter who kept harrassing his family would meet the business end of his baseball bat and they became a lot less enthusiastic – you know what he can be like.
I do wonder, though, if maybe we should be talking to them. Mum says anything we say will just be used as fuel against you, since that’s the narrative they’ve decided to go with. We can say anything and they’ll use editing and leading questions to paint the ‘fascinating but troubled violent witch child’ narrative. Sorry, I know you don’t like that word, but that’s the one they’re using.
But the thing is, Matt’s family are talking to them. If they’re low on news and they decide to pull this story out again, they just need to go talk to the crying mother and sleepless father and wide-eyed boy shuffling about on crutches (which I’m sure he doesn’t need any more!) and air their pleas that the school or government Do Something (read: give them money). How does our silence help in this situation? Shouldn’t we be trying to tell the truth anyway, even with the risks? Surely it’s better to have some chance of a sympathetic story out there than no chance?
Anyway. I have an idea. But I won’t tell Chelsea about it without your go-ahead. I don’t want to do this if you’re not on board with it.
What if we started a youtube channel? Chelsea and I, I mean. Just, you know, talking about our lives and having fun together and telling stories from our childhood. It’ll probably go nowhere but with this media storm we might get a few watchers, and that means a few people seeing us as normal people rather than your friends. And it might make them listen about you, rather than the media portrayal of the abstract threat of curses.
If you think we shouldn’t do it, I understand. I know you can be pretty private, and might not want the world to hear us reminiscing about our childhoods because so many of our stories involve you. It’s just an idea, okay? Think about it and let me know.
In other news, you know Martin? From science class? HE’S A DIEHARD ANNE MCCAFFREY FAN. He’s been writing the best Dragonriders of Pern fanfic I’ve ever read! When it’s done, I’ll print it out and send it to you. Actually, you’ll probably be back when it’s done, so you can read it yourself online! I found this new text-to-speech program I think you’ll like, it does grammatical inflection much better than that old one you insist on using, basically turns it into an audiobook. Or maybe Martin and I can do an audiobook version; he’s been suggesting cool projects to do together.
He’s got this whole background theory on the gold and green dragons, right? I’m sure you remember how the reproduction works, but the greens don’t make a huge amount of sense in this context. Yes, yes; they’re genetically engineered to be how they are so we can’t expect evolutionary stable reproduction, but if the greens
Actually never mind, that’s probably a MAJOR spoiler, I want to see your reaction when you read the story.
What else? It’s been raining for five days straight. Chelsea’s going nuts. Someday she’ll learn to take her frustration out in computer games like the rest of the modern world, but for now she’s just going on long walks and getting wet. Not sure what’s been up with her lately; she’s been really short with everyone. I think she’s stressed out about this whole Matt situation, but I told her there’s nothing to worry about. People can gossip as much as they want but in the courtroom it’s an open and shut case. You didn’t use your curse against him on purpose; you’re innocent. It’s textbook. They’ve even got your doctor on the news, talking about how tragic it all is and how innocent you are. And the backing of a couple of bigwig mages I’ve never heard of, other medical experts I guess. Everyone with any actual political clout is firmly on your side, but you know what Chelsea’s like whenever anything goes wrong. I barely see her these days! I don’t think we’ve had lunch together all week!
Also, I’m jealous of your buff mages. None of our teachers are remotely buff. Mr Sanderson doesn’t count because he’s an awful person. Guess I need to pick up a curse of my own or something.
How is your quest to locate the school going? Are you allowed to tell me, or is this a censor-the-mail war zone type of situation? They don’t read these letters, do they?
I miss email. How do you even survive there without the internet? Do you have TV? Anything?
Whatever you have, keep your chin up. When this is all over, you can come on our youtube channel.
Lots of love,
I put the letter down and stared back up at the ceiling for awhile. I knew I could trust Melissa to be honest with me. A bit of a media circus, huh? Neither Mum nor Chelsea had thought to mention that. I supposed, in context, Mum’s sudden desire for a family holiday somewhere far away made sense.
I thought about the drama at home, about what people were probably saying behind my back. About the gossiping and accusations and media speculation.
And decided I didn’t care.
Liss was right – the only people who mattered already knew me, and weren’t listening to nonsense. The law was on my side, so long as I took my lawyer’s advice. Why did it matter what stupid lies the commonfolk believed? The trial would conclude, they’d get bored and leave my friends and family alone, and they could think whatever they wanted about me.
I didn’t have to care what they thought any more. I didn’t have to deal with them any more.
I laid one hand on the witch mark over my heart.
I didn’t have to live like that any more.