With a grunt of effort, Magistus pushed the bar up for the twenty fifth time. I caught the weight and settled it onto its rack.
“Woo! Told you I could do it.” He sat up and mopped the sweat off his face. “Looks like your arm’s healed. Why aren’t you messing around on your cliff?”
“Just because I can take that pissy little weight you were playing with doesn’t mean I can lift my own body weight yet.” In fact, my arm was better. I just didn’t think it was a good idea for me to take my curse out onto the cliff and trust the safety enchantment to catch me when I fell.
“Little weight? I’d like to see you lift it.” He stretched, accidentally-on-purpose lifting his arms up to let his sleeves fall back and flexing his biceps. He was starting to build real muscle, but I raised a brow, trying to look unimpressed.
“Cute. Excited to finally hit puberty?”
“Ha! When are you gonna hit puberty? My sister’s going to grow a beard before you do.”
“Oh, so next week, then?”
He lobbed a towel at me. I caught it and theatrically mopped my face. “Thanks.” Then I dropped it on his head and headed for the showers before he could react.
One great thing about such a multicultural school was that they were careful about privacy options, because so many cultures had different ideas of decency. So the showers were all in individual cubicles with their own little individual dressing rooms, and I didn’t have to worry about anyone walking in on me.
Which was a double blessing – firstly because I didn’t want anyone seeing my body, and secondly because I’d recently switched to wearing mage robes and was embarrassingly awkward at getting the damn things on and getting them to sit right.
I know, I know. Buying a whole lot of new clothes that I probably wasn’t even going to be able to wear in a week seemed ridiculous. But I still had a lot of money that I wasn’t going to be able to easily turn into Australian dollars, so why not spend it? Besides, my body shape was starting to show under jeans and tshirts, and I didn’t want to have to answer any awkward questions. In slightly oversized robes, belted tightly, I looked like every other skinny initiate boy in the school.
Well, except for Max, with his obsessively tailored form-fitting outfits. And Magistus, who preferred to look like he was actively falling out of his clothes at any given moment. But I looked like most other skinny initiate boys.
After a few minutes of fiddling, I managed to look like I wasn’t walking around in a dressing gown, and walked out of the stall to see Magistus combing his damp hair back. He had that kind of hair that framed a face well whether wet or dry and seemed to love lording it over those of us who stepped out of showers looking like drowned rats. He caught my eye in the mirror, and I looked away before my glance turned into a stare.
“How’s Max?” he asked.
“Busy doing nerd stuff,” I shrugged. Did his whole dorm have nothing better to worry about than Max?
“Sounds about right. Well, when you fight that hard to get into a school, you gotta defend your spot, right? Can’t fall down on academia. Or any other front. Once you make your play, you gotta support it, right?”
“Look, I’m not part of these weird social games you people seem to spend your lives playing. I don’t understand what you say when you talk like that, okay? If you’re pissed at Max over something, take it up with him.”
“Why should I have a problem with him? I barely know him,” Magistus said.
“Aren’t all you mage kids supposed to be close?”
He rolled his eyes. “We hung out at parties sometimes. Then we came here, and he didn’t share a dorm with us, so we haven’t had much of a chance to get close.”
“That’s what you’re pissed about?”
“I’m not pissed about anything. I’m just saying I don’t know what’s going on with him, and I haven’t seen him much and thought you might know.”
“I understand about half of what he says, so…”
“Maybe you should look into that.”
“I just think maybe knowing what Max says might be important for you.”
Was Magistus trying to recruit me as a spy? What the hell?
“Yeah, no. I’m not involved in your weird political games.”
“Does Max know that?”
“Yes! Am I going to have to make pamphlets or something?! Every damn legacy kid I talk to wants me to play Mean Girls with them except Simon, and that’s only because he doesn’t want me here at all. How many times do I have to say this? I. Am. Not. Playing.”
“I envy you that choice, Kayden. And I really hope it stays up to you.”
“What does that mean?”
“I just mean, if you’re going to keep hanging around Max and getting into fights with Simon – ”
“What, like you’re any safer to hang around? You and your sister seem to be at the middle of this little clique.”
Magistus laughed. “Right you are. Maybe we should stop spotting each other before you catch politics.”
I wanted to say that wasn’t going to be a problem; that I didn’t think I’d be around long enough. I didn’t, of course. “Yeah, well, I’m not sharing a dorm with Max right now and I’d avoid Simon all the time if I could, so I guess it’s just you I have to worry about.”
Magistus fumbled his comb. It clattered in the sink. “You moved dorms?”
Shit. Was I not meant to say that? Was it supposed to be a secret? I had to be more careful what I said around…
Wait, no I didn’t. I wasn’t playing.
“Just temporarily. Needed a bit of space.”
“No. It’s a practical thing. He’s still got Kylie to annoy with constant explanations of magical nerd shit that nobody understands. Hey, why do you always seem so relaxed about school? Don’t you have a family legacy to live up to and all that?”
He chuckled. “Oh, yeah. Me and my sister are gonna grow up to be the best goddamn mages of all time and rub it right in those ‘we-don’t-need-Brandt-blooded-mages’ Cottingly faces. But there’s not much we can do about that before becoming mages, is there? And I don’t think knowing endless names and dates and little rules for classifying spell types is going to help a bit with that. It’s like sport – if you sit around reading endless books on techniques and trajectories and what muscle does what you’re just going to tie yourself in knots when it’s time to step up and play. You have to put in the real practice. And we can’t do that yet.”
“They seem awfully keen on theory in Basic Magical Theory.”
“Well, yeah, because they can’t teach us anything useful until we have spells. This whole six months is just posturing anyway. It’s a feel-good measure for governments and parents, showing them that the kids entrusted to this place are making an informed choice about their futures. ‘Look at all these classes, look at this six-month trial run, look at all the information they have’ – it’s a waste of time. People don’t come to a magical school in the first place unless they’ve decided to be mages. Well, except for cases like yours of course, but this is even more a waste of time for you. Wouldn’t you be learning to control that thing better if you were learning to do it alongside mages?”
“Actually, yeah, I would.” Good point – why did they put Kylie and me with the initiates? Surely it would’ve made more sense to train us with the mages, and put us in maths or science or whatever with the initiates if we weren’t educated enough for the acolyte versions yet?
“The initiate period is a waste of time for everyone,” Magistus said. “It’s just a PR thing. It’s so nobody can say we were tricked or pressured and if we die getting our spells, they can say it was our choice to risk it and not the school’s fault. After the Inititation is when the real work begins, and there’s no point in getting psyched up on the theories of long-dead mages before then. But hey, I’m sure Acanthos knows what he’s doing.”
“He does,” I said defensively, before remembering that I wasn’t involved. “Sounds like you just have a well-thought-out justification for laziness.”
“Lazy people rule the world,” Magistus said with a grin and a wink. “Because to be truly lazy, you have to know what you’re doing.”
And with that, he sauntered out of the locker room.
Well, at least somebody knew what they were doing. I had no one to talk to. Max and Kylie were in denial, being open with anyone in the Magistae dorm was a terrible idea, and I’d promised Max I wouldn’t go to the teachers yet. I couldn’t talk to my parents or home friends about my school problems, I couldn’t distract Max or Kylie about the new Matt development, I had no idea just how serious the whole desert school trespass was and how much was just Max freaking out so I had no basis to judge who I could –
Wait. I did have someone I could talk to, didn’t I? Someone whose whole job was to know stuff like this. Someone whom I was pretty sure was bound by law to keep my secrets.
I pulled out my tablet.
When are you back at Skolala Refujeyo? I want to talk to you in person.
I was answered in less than a minute.
Still on campus. When?
I didn’t have any unmissable commitments.
Whenever is good for you; sooner is better.
Usual room, ten minutes.
Nine minutes later I looked up from the desk to see Casey stroll in, arms full of very neatly stacked folders. They set them down in two neat, exactly even piles, sat, and looked at me. “You wanted to talk?”
“Uh, yeah. Sorry about freaking out last time.”
Casey waved one hand dismissively. “It happens more often than you might think. Is the Matt situation what you wish to discuss?”
“Uh, no. I have, um, another issue. Can you help me with other stuff?”
“I’ve been retained to assist you with all legal matters for this period. So if it’s a legal matter, then yes, I can.”
“And what about confidentiality? You can’t tell anything I tell you to anyone else, right?”
“Not without your permission, no.”
“Even if it might be kind of a big deal?”
“I am your lawyer, Kayden.”
“Even if people might be in danger?”
Casey’s eyes narrowed. “That would depend on the nature of the danger. What happened?”
So I told them.
I explained Instruktanto Miratova’s initial accident and the lab accident, and Simon’s accusations. I described my own experiments, our adventure at the desert school, how Kylie’s curse seemed to play up whenever I was around and how Instruktanto Miratova recovered from an apparently serious problem with her spell after 2 days of being away from me. Casey litened to all of this with their characteristically neutral expression.
“Do you still have the recording of the prophecy?”
I played the recording. Twice – once for Casey to transcribe, and once to check the accuracy of the transcription. Then Casey asked to hear the whole audio recording of our time in the desert (I had a fair chunk of it recorded).
“One moment. I need to check the specific parameters of your scholarship.”
Casey pulled something up on their tablet and began reading. I tried to read it through the tablet, but gave up on the fourth word, which was ‘whereupon’. (Nothing containing the word ‘whereupon’ should be read voluntarily.) After about three minutes of intense, silent reading, a very tiny smile managed to claw its way onto Casey’s lips, before being quickly smothered by a blanket of professional neutrality.
“Alright. I believe I understand the situation. I can advice you on other parties’ legal options and your counteroptions, but if you want me to predict the likely future please keep in mind that even professional speculation is inherently unreliable.”
“Speculate away. You’re a lot more informed than anyone else I can talk to right now.”
“Very well. We are looking at two separate issues – the school’s potential response to you as a passive danger, and the High Crone’s potential legal response to your trespass on an incredibly important magical site. As for the trespass, I don’t think you have anything whatsoever to worry about.”
I blinked. “Really?”
“So Max was wrong?”
“Mr Acanthos’ predictions are indeed among the High Crone’s legal options. However… have you done anything to greatly upset the Grand Circle recently?”
“What’s the Grand Circle?”
“Okay, you have nothing to worry about.”
“From what you have told me, Mr Acanthos seems to think that the High Crone would charge you under a Law of Intent; that is, she’d build a case based on you past incidents to try to convince a jury that you intentionally entered school. But she’d have no hope of succeeding in something like that if you have a remotely competent lawyer. Which you do. Meaning that she could only charge you under a Law of Transgression, seeking retribution for actual harm caused, and since you didn’t break, take or illegally spy on anything, that’s a token slap on the wrist for trespass. Usually a public apology or some small fine.”
“So I should write an apology then?”
“I wouldn’t bother. The High Crone of the Grand Circle has far more important things to spend her time, money and attention on than chasing a couple of uneducated teenagers over an accidental border violation that caused no harm. Besides, that kind of pettiness isn’t a good look, politically.”
“See, I knew Max was being paranoid!”
“Well, he does have to be more careful than you do. If the scion of a mage family had been with you, there’s a chance that legal action would be pursued. It’s an honour thing. But as it stands, if the High Crone pays any attention to this at all – and I doubt it’s worth her time – you won’t be her target, the school will. Skolala Refujeyo having this back door into one of the world’s most sacred sites where random students can apparently just stumble upon it is a potential issue, and if the Circle wanted to make trouble for the school, that’s one avenue they could use to do so.”
“Wait, I’m confused. The owner of the old school wants to attack the new school? Aren’t they the same school?”
“Yes, they are. And I don’t know if she wants to make trouble or not. It’s… very complicated. I think your current major legal concern, aside of course from the one I was retained to assist you with in the first place, is Mr Acanthos.”
“You said he requested two weeks of time to ‘contact some people’. Do you know who, or why?”
“I… didn’t ask.”
“So in summary, a teenager with potentially powerful personal connections who believes his friend is in serious legal trouble asked that friend to keep the whole affair secret while he tries to solve the issue by contacting some people, and we don’t know who he’s contacted or what he’s asked of them?”
“Yeah, I should… probably have a talk with him.”
“That would be my recommendation. In the meantime, let’s discuss your other problem.” Casey leaned forward. “Let’s talk about the school’s options for dealing with the potentially deadly threat that is your curse.”