A few days later, I settled down in the library and started to write.
Dear Mum and Dad,
I can’t wait for all this stuff to be over. The sooner we can put all this behind us and move on, the better, I think.
Have they set a date for the trial yet?
About the holiday, here’s a radical idea. I’ve been getting into rock climbing recently. Is that something you two would be interested in trying? We wouldn’t go anywhere hard, obviously, but maybe somewhere with some good beginner climbs, one of those places where trainers give you harnesses and help you learn? Could be fun.
I stared down at the paper, chewing my lip. No, no; the whole point of a holiday was that they wanted to get away from the media they thought I didn’t know about. They wanted to get me away from the media they thought I didn’t know about. And now, with my future at Refujeyo almost certainly cut short once I explained my curse (what could the staff do, keep me around when I was an active danger to everyone with a spell?), I needed to take that goal seriously. Our budget for a rock climbing adventure would run out too quickly. We needed something longer term.
Actually, scratch that. Radical idea: let’s rent an RV and do a circuit around Australia! I know, I know; you’re gonna tell me that’s nuts and you guys can’t possibly take that much time off work. But, counterpoint – we’re going to have SO MUCH bonding to catch up on after six months. Maybe we could compromise and go halfway around Australia?
Yeah. That would give them a lot more to work with without having to admit any awkward truths to me, at least not until I saw things for myself after the trial. Room to ‘give in’ and disappear for longer than Mum’s suggested month, if they wanted.
You’ll be happy to know that I’m not failing anything.
(Because nobody except Instruktanto Ahuja has even mentioned grading anything yet.)
And, the one who’s helping me with my curse is an extremely prestigious magical scientist!
(According to easily-impressed fourteen-year-old kids.)
Hope everything is going well at home. Keep me updated.
I looked up from my letter into Kylie’s grinning dark eyes, and sighed. “You know the whole point of me moving our of Dorm Australia was so I wouldn’t put you in danger, right? It doesn’t work if you hang out with me.”
“Even if you are right about your curse, how exactly am I in danger? What’re you going to make the Eye do, prophesy with even less sense?”
“You want to use it to help your family, right? That won’t work if I ‘kill’ it first.”
“If I got it, I should learn to control it and try to help. But if not having it is an option, hey, I won’t complain.” She sank into the library chair across from me. “Maybe that’s something you could do with your life. If you turn out to be right about your curse.”
“Hanging out with cursed people and letting your curse kill theirs.” She spread her hands dramatically, fluttering her fingers. “The Cursebreaker! You could make a fortune.”
“Okay, I know you’re making fun of me, but that actually is a fantastic idea that makes me feel a whole lot better about the situation.”
“So where are you staying right now? The Magistae’s dorm?”
“As much as I would love to see Simon’s face if I managed to convince the others to dorm with some off-the-common-street witch, no. I would rather die than have to live with those guys.”
“Well, you hang out with Magistus sometimes.”
“We spot for each other in the gym. That’s not the same as sharing a room. No, I managed to score a 12-bed room all by myself. With a coffee maker. And an unbelievably luxurious bathroom.”
“Impressive. Weird that Max didn’t claim it for us when we got here… how long does it take you to get to class from your dorm?”
“For the safety of teachers, I try not to get to class too early or linger too long after,” I said, “so a long commute is, if anything, an asset.”
“So ages, then.”
“It shouldn’t, though! If the halls move around, can’t they make every room the same distance to classes? Why does it take a long time to get anywhere?”
Kylie shrugged. “Exercise is good?”
“Well yes, but it’s not better for you if you pick a big dorm. Anyway, it’s closer to the laundry and the shop, so bonus.”
“Why are you still doing your own laundry? Have you still not read the orientation guides? The laundry service is free here.”
“Yeah, but it’s run by the janitors. Maybe it’s because I only ever see them mid-disaster, or maybe it’s because they’re mysterious people who creep around invisibly, but the idea of them breaking into my room when I’m not there to take my clothes away creeps me out.”
“They still go in to clean the bathroom and stuff.”
“I try not to think about it. How’s Max doing?”
“Same as always. A bit obsessed about your curse right now, but you did give him a pretty tight deadline.”
“I should’ve just gone straight to the teachers. This way is just stressing him out for no reason. Miratova’s out of hospital; she messaged me yesterday.”
“Me, too. I’m guessing you’re not coming to curse control training?”
“It’s too dangerous to be around her. But maybe I should go talk to her about this right now.” I went to get up, but Kylie put a hand on my shoulder and pushed me back down.
“You promised him a week.”
“I shouldn’t have.”
“But you did.”
I stopped trying to get up. “Logically, though, even if Max’s right, he should want me to talk to her. She knows more about magic and curses and stuff than him, right? She’d be able to get to the bottom of this faster than him. And organise things so I’m not around other spells or mages. It’s stupid to wait out the week.”
“Maybe you should’ve thought of that before promising him?”
“She was in hospital then.” I bit my lip. “You notice when she got out? About a day after we got back from the old school?”
“Well, a couple of days before that, I heard her and Malas talking. They were both really scared. They were certain she was losing control over her spell, that she wouldn’t recover; that she’d… aged out or lost her grip or whatever they call it when mages aren’t in sync with their spells any more. And then, two days later, she’s out and confident enough of her control to have private lessons with us? Does that sound right to you?”
“I don’t know. I’d be an idiot to make overblown assumptions about how magic works, wouldn’t I? Are you suggesting she’s lying or something?”
“No, no; you’re missing the point. What happened in that span of time, between her being so magically weak and her recovering?”
“To us, quite a bit, but to her…?”
“I stopped going to the medical ward. I was there every day for a checkup and she wasn’t getting better. I’m gone for two days and she’s recovered? Tell that to Max for his research.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’ll be sure to pass that along.”
“You don’t seem to be taking this seriously.”
“All that shows is that even if you’re right about your curse messing up spells, she recovered very quickly. So if anything that’s good news. Except maybe for your cursebreaker career plan. By the way, Max insists that even if your curse was some kind of spell breaker, it couldn’t be that and also a force evocation, so the fact that you’ve invoked it as a force means you’re wrong. He also wants you to send over that audio you took of the prophecy.”
“Right, I’ll do that later,” I promised.
“Take your time. I made him promise to take a break and do something actually fun. When he gets that file he’s going to forget all that and get back to work, so give it at least an hour or two.”
“But you being a hermit in the library isn’t helping any – ” Kylie’s expression changed. She scrambled for her tablet, and was just able to start recording before her face went blank and she stared forward.
“Really?” I sighed. “Again?”
I was torn. It seemed best for me to get my curse away from her, but I didn’t want to leave her zoned out in the library. Besides, what if the Eye prophesied something important? After dithering for a bit, I went back to my letters.
You are so wrong about this place being ‘just a bunch of solemn nerds all very seriously learning magic with no time for gossip’. This place is Drama Central and it’s ridiculous. A week ago one of my friends got into a shouting match with a douchebag in the corridor, mostly because they were both still butthurt over their definitely-not-shouting-match from a couple of days before. Two teachers are engaged in some sort of long-standing social battle but pretending not to hate each other to their faces even though everyone knows they do, and one of them looks like a Disney villain and owns an adorable cat. We’re one secret identical twin and an unexplained coma away from a soap opera here.
If you want to get Liss’ attention, ask her about Dragonriders of Pern fanfic. God, remember when she discovered that series and we barely saw her for a month? It’s almost as bad as that other one she tried to get us to read. The one with the angry cop and the cowardly wizard? I forget what it’s called. Anyway she’s back into Pern right now, which I’m sure you know better than I do, as I am shielded by this outdated communication system.
Kylie started, and blinked. I looked up from my work. “Welcome back.”
“Did I – ?”
“You didn’t say a word, just stared creepily over my shoulder for two minutes.” I checked the time. “Five minutes. Wow, I’m a slow writer.”
Kylie spied the time on my tablet. Her eyes widened. “Shit! I’m late for class! ‘Bye!”
I turned back to my letters.
Has Liss mentioned her youtube idea to you? I’m gonna give her the green light for that, so if you’re THAT lonely just be actually productive for once and make a whole ton of videos. Might as well capitalise, right?
Apparently I was not destined to finish my letters today. I set my paper aside and looked up into the heavily scarred face of Refujeyo’s youngest initiate. “Hi, Clara. How’s it been?”
“Oh, you know, fine. I was just wondering, have you seen Max around lately?”
“Uh, no. Do you need him for something?”
“No, not really. I just… well, do you know if he’s mad at us?”
“Since him and Simon had that fight about… well. I just haven’t seen him outside of class. I just wanted to make sure he didn’t think we’re all on Simon’s side just because we’re rooming together or anything.”
“But you are on Simon’s side,” I pointed out. “You think my curse hurt Miratova, don’t you?”
“I never said that,” she said, sounding no more convincing than she usually did. “But either way, just because Simon and Max want to fight doesn’t mean the rest of us are taking sides. Can you just make sure he knows that? But, like… diplomatically.”
“I’ll pass the message along, Clara,” I said. “Diplomatically.”
“Thanks.” She turned to leave.
“You’re really smart, right? You have to be, since you convinced this place to take you two years early. Right?”
She blushed. “I don’t know about really smart. What do you need to know?”
“How much do you know about curses?”