Out in the corridor, we found ourselves walking with the Magistae’s group.
“Did you guys see that?” Max fumed. “Sassing Alania Miratova like that? To initiates? The nerve!”
I tried to remember whether Intruktanto Miratova had been mentioned at all. I didn’t think she had.
“It was a well-structured lesson and a point well made,” Simon said.
“You don’t need to defend him just because you’re his heir,” Max snapped. “It was over the top and unnecessary. Two plates, really!”
The plates? Did they matter? Did Miratova ever say anything about plates?
“The point had to be made,” Simon insisted. “Would you have done it any better?”
“Yes! I certainly wouldn’t have been so showy about it!”
I glanced at Kylie. She looked as confused as I was.
“Agreed, that was somewhat crass,” Magista said, “but I don’t really think we should be getting involved in the petty rivalries of our teachers.”
“Exactly my point,” Simon said. “It was a good lesson. The rest isn’t our business.”
“That’s my point!” Max snapped. “They shouldn’t involve us!”
“Hey, this might be a really dumb question – ” I cut in.
“Well if Miratova had been remotely sensible, Fiore wouldn’t have to do her job for her!”
“That wasn’t her fault!” Clara said. “Nobody had any way to predict that!” She glanced, tellingly, at me and Kylie.
I crossed my arms. “For the last time, we had nothing to do with Miratova’s accidents.”
“I believe you,” Clara said, unconvincingly.
“I don’t think you’re exactly qualified to know whether you had any effect on her, are you?” Simon asked. “Suddenly became well-versed in magical interference effects over the past couple of weeks, did you?”
“Suddenly became well-versed in my curse over the past couple of weeks, did you?” I asked. “Go on; if you’re such an expert on the thing I’ve grown up managing, tell me one single thing about it. Anything.”
“I know you’re here because it got you in legal trouble,” he said. “Miratova’s not the first person it’s hurt, is she?”
That took some of the wind out of my sails. “What makes you think that?”
Simon rolled his eyes. “There are a very limited number of reasons why people accept your scholarship. Your reason is written all over your face. The first time you mentioned that curse it was obvious you were afraid of it, and you should be. Why are you surprised that other people are equally cautious?”
“If you’re so cautious, why not ask Instruktanto Miratova what happened? She knows damn well I didn’t do anything.”
“Oh, yes, good idea. I’m certain one of the senior staff of this school and a staunch supporter of the curse scholarship has no motivation to conceal the details of an event like this. I’m sure that, despite the political dangers around such an event, she would not be tempted to lie or minimise your involvement to avoid weakening the premise of said scholarship, nor would she want to coach you in the version of events you should both stick to and that you, someone so new to all this, became suddenly so very sure of what your curse can and can’t do on your own, without any of her help.”
“What exactly are you insinuating?”
“Insinuating? I thought I was pretty direct. I’m sorry, I didn’t account for your lack of education – do you need me to use simpler words?”
“My education on spell interference is fairly comprehensive,” Max said. “Perhaps, Simon, you would indulge me on the mechanical details of what exactly you think Kayden’s curse is doing. It would be very enlightening for me, since I can’t see how anything you’re suggesting could possibly make sense.”
“I can see how you wouldn’t,” Simon said. “But I wouldn’t presume to interfere in what you choose to be able to understand, Acanthos.”
“What do choices have to do with academics? If you’re having that much trouble with the very concept of facts, we can start slowly.”
“And what will you do when faced with facts, Acanthos? Lose your temper and threaten me again? You put on a nice facade, but what’s underneath explains a lot about your choices, doesn’t it?”
Max’s cheeks coloured.
“Simon!” Magista snapped. “That’s really enough!”
Time to pull the focus back off Max. “I have to go see Kuracar Malas,” I snapped. “And I definitely don’t have to put up with this.”
“That’s right,” Simon said, “you don’t. Off you go.”
“Max, Kylie, I need your help. Are you – ?”
“Done here? Definitely.” Max stormed after me, followed by Kylie.
“I’m really starting to hate that guy,” I muttered as we strode away.
“If it’s any consolation, I think he hates both of you too,” Kylie said.
“He’s slandering you as much as me! How come you don’t hate him?”
“Who says I don’t?”
“You didn’t say anything!”
“That doesn’t mean I like him. I just don’t think yelling at each other is going to solve anything.”
“It makes me feel better,” I muttered.
Kylie eyed me doubtfully. “You don’t look like you feel better.”
She was right, in a way. What I felt was vaguely nauseous, and hot, and a little dizzy. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why – I didn’t usually let myself get this angry. I didn’t usually let myself fight with people. Any slight injustice I might have to endure, as a result of shutting down and not standing up for myself, was a small price to pay to avoid the risk of the curse inside me waking up and doing something horrible. But things were different now.
So this was what real anger felt like, huh?
“Why are you smiling like an idiot all of a sudden?” Kylie asked, warily.
“It doesn’t matter. Anyway, he’s been a total dick to all three of us. Apparently he hates witches and Max, so – ”
“Actually,” Max said, “He was spot on with me. I did threaten him. And that’s not the way we do things. He was right to rebuke me.”
“You threatened him because he was saying all that garbage about you betraying your family!”
Max looked away. “He’s not entirely… anyway, my response was inappropriate. And you shouldn’t take his remarks about you personally, either.”
“Screw that! Of course I’m going to take them personally! He’s saying things that are personal. If he doesn’t want to be taken personally, he should stop making personal attacks!”
“It’s not just him,” Kylie said. “A lot of people are saying similar things, just not to our face.”
“That makes it even more personal!”
“I don’t think any of them have any animosity towards you,” Max said. “They’re just scared.”
“Oh, great, people are scared of me. That makes me feel better and isn’t insulting at all.”
Max gave me a puzzled look. “Scared of you? Don’t take this the wrong way, but I have literally met a puppy scarier than you. His name was Harris. Nobody is scared of you, Kayden.”
“You were,” I said.
“What are you talking about?”
“When we had that… with the curses-are-spells thing. We were arguing and you flinched.”
“Oh, right; that time you dragged me out of a very stressful party, threatened bodily harm and started yelling barely coherently at me about topics that seemed totally random at the time. Yes, that can be unnerving. It’s unnerving if anybody does it, not just you.”
“I didn’t threaten bodily harm!”
“You most definitely did.”
“Well, if I did, I’m sorry. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t.”
“It’s fine. I didn’t take it personally.”
“Oh, you really are taking us to the medical ward,” Kylie said as we approached the large doors.
“You don’t have to come in,” I said, “but it’s the last day that Malas wants to see me in case I was poisoned or whatever by anything in that fire. If his prophecy is so great at diagnosis I would’ve thought he could tell that the first time, but I guess not.”
“If you’re curious, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind explaining the mechanics of his spells to you,” Max said.
“Ah yes, that’s what I need in my life. More explanations of random spells that aren’t mine.” I pushed my way through the door. Kylie left, but Max followed me.
I’d barely begun to speculate why when I was given an answer; his eyes locked on Instruktanto Miratova, sitting up in bed, another glass of ice water in her hands. Of course. He wanted an excuse to check up on her.
She gave the two of us a weary smile, and Max straightened immediately. Nerd.
“Ah, Kayden,” Kuracar Malas said, getting up from behind his little desk. “Just the checkup, or do you have any new surprise injuries today?”
“You should know by now that if I had any new injuries, you’d see them,” I said. “I only injure myself dramatically.”
“Let’s take a look at you, then.” Malas put a couple of fingers to my forehead and, after a few seconds, nodded. “No signs of poisoning,” he said. “I’m confident that you’re in the clear. Your bone is also healing up well, and I see that bruise has mostly cleared up. Your burns aren’t healing quite as fast as I’d like, but they are still healing, so I’m not worried. How much movement do you have in that shoulder muscle?”
“I can lift my arm all the way now,” I said, demonstrating, “but it’s really weak. I can’t lift any objects that high or anything.”
“Don’t try to for at least another week,” Malas said. “You don’t want to tear it up and have to start healing all over again.”
Max was staring at Instruktanto Miratova’s ruined staff. He looked thoughtful. Miratova noticed.
“You’re familiar?” she asked.
He nodded. “Did it work?”
“Very well. Completely ruined; it’s just a stick now, beyond repair. But it did its job.”
“The sink worked? Did it have the same charge capacity as the experiments showed?”
“Hard to say. I was on fire at the time.” Miratova considered him. “People your age aren’t usually interested in the details of my kind of research.”
Max coloured. “I just think it’s important to understand how magic works.”
“Well, if you’re still here after your Initiation, perhaps you can help me work on the next prototype.”
The colour that had risen in Max’s cheeks instantly drained away. He looked panicked.
“Anyway,” Malas cut in, glaring at Miratova. “You’re completely fine, Kayden. Try to keep your body in one piece for a while.”
“Right. Thanks.” I took Max’s hand and led him out of the room.
“Do you have a crush on our teacher or something?” I asked when we were definitely out of earshot.
“What? No! Don’t be crass.”
“Then what the hell was that about?”
“Did you hear what she said? About after my initiation? I’m sure she says stuff like that to all her students, but… do you have any idea how great a scientist Alania Miratova is? Or was. Before this, I mean.”
I didn’t, of course, but it did seem like every legacy mage kid hero-worshipped her. An idea struck me.
“I forgot to ask Malas about something. You go on ahead; I’ll catch up with you later.”
“What? Oh, okay.”
I headed back to the ward. As I approached, I could hear the Fiore’s voice.
“ – just wanted to see how you’re recovering, Alania.”
“Very well, thank you. I should be up on my feet again within the week, unless this overprotective old sod has anything to say about it.”
“Ha! Don’t I remember that well. When I was a student and had that little accident with Sunna…”
“That was a car accident, and I let you out as soon as it was reasonable.”
“Yes, you are the expert in these things. Is she recovering well?”
“Technically, that’s confidential patient information, so – ”
“I am fine, Fiore. It wasn’t a serious accident.”
“I’m given to understand metal shrapnel was involved?”
“Cuts heal. Thank you again for taking over my classes. I appreciate how disruptive this must be to your own work.”
“In fact, I have two apprentices monitoring my experiments perfectly fine without me back home, and nothing important on my schedule right now; it really is no imposition. I can stay for as long as you need me, though I admit I’m happy to hear you’ll be back in the classroom soon enough.”
“Indeed. You’ll be able to get back to your own tasks quite soon.”
“About that. I have one concern.”
“A concern, Fiore?”
“Yes. I’m sure your older students will be absolutely delighted to have you back; no substitute can compare to the real thing when it comes to this kind of teaching. But what about the initiates?”
“What about them? Was there a problem in class?”
“No, no; not at all. But, well, I know how important it is to you to impress caution upon these children, when it comes to spellwork. The discussion about the lab accident make it sound very dramatic and dangerous, and if they see you back in the classroom a mere week later…”
“Yes, I see your point.” She hesitated before continuing. “Fiore, I hate to impose, but if you do have the free time, would you mind taking the initiates a little longer?”
“Of course, Alania. It’s no problem at all.”
“Any time. I’m glad to see you’re recovering. Please excuse me, I need to get going.”
“We’ll have to catch up when I’m out of here.”
“Definitely. Rest well!”
I jumped back as the door in front of me opened. The Fiore looked startled to see me for a moment, but then grinned and winked at me as he left. What the hell was that about?
“What was that about?” I heard Instruktanto Miratova mutter. “The nerve! We both know he can’t leave his experiments for too long anyway.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Malas said primly.
“What does that mean? He hasn’t brought them here, has he? Malas, has he been given laboratory space here?”
“I don’t know, Alania. I don’t obsessively track people’s room allocations. Why don’t you look it up?”
“And how would that look, do you think? Me looking it up? This never would have happened if you’d let me go days ago.”
“You’re not ready.”
“You let the boy go right away, and don’t give me any nonsense about the shrapnel; we both know how good you are with cuts.”
“Yes, well, I wouldn’t expect Kayden to be able to do the ice water trick, would I? Show me the trick, and you can go.”
“I don’t need any damn ice water!” A glass smashed against, presumably, the floor.
“Well, that didn’t achieve very much. I’ll get you another glass, while you stop acting like a petulant child and focus, okay?”
“Focus? You want me to focus, stop giving me painkillers!”
“You’re sanding there acting like there’s something wrong with my control, like your drugs have nothing to do with it?”
“I don’t care how much you say they shouldn’t have an effect, we both know nobody in the world is as knowledgable about spells as you pretend to be. I can feel the interference, Malas! I can feel the effect they’re having!”
“Alania. There’s been nothing but saline in your drip for three days.”
Malas continued. “I expect the children to make my job harder, because they are children and don’t know any better. But of all people, I thought that you would respect your own life more than this. You need to be realistic, Alania. You need to take this glass of water and prove to me that you have the bare minimum of control necessary to cast something that a few months ago you could have cast in your sleep.”
“And if I can’t?” She sounded frightened.
“Then tomorrow, I’ll give you another glass and you can try again.”
“And if I never can?”
“Then we’ll have to start exploring more drastic alternatives. But hopefully that what-if won’t come to pass.”
I decided to leave. I’d give the pair a few minutes to finish up their conversation, and then come back.
So that was what Max had meant about people being scared, but not of me. They were scared because if Kylie and I weren’t interfering with Instruktanto Miratova’s spell, then they needed to consider the next most likely solution. If it wasn’t us, then she was losing control of the spell herself.
And I didn’t know much about magic, but even I could see how that was going to end. Sooner or later, the spell was going to kill her.