“They’re going to send me home, aren’t they?” Home to a dying Matt, the media, the trial hanging over my head.
“That’s very unlikely.”
“What? I can’t exactly stay here!”
“While Skolala Refujeyo have the right to cancel your scholarship at any time, they are not in the habit of expelling students outside of exceptionally dire circumstances, and no, ‘my spell might make some other spells weird’ does not count as a dire circumstance. Their most likely response will be to find you an apprenticeship.”
“What, like… when people learn to be a plumber or an electrician?”
“More like when people learn to be a medieval blacksmith. It used to be the way mages passed on the craft. Someone with an easily transferable spell – there used to be a lot more of those than you see today – would take on one or more apprentices who showed promise, and name the most skilled one their heir. When they died or retired, the spell would be inherited.”
“What about the other apprentices?”
“They’d either be taken on by the new mage or have to find other work, I suppose.”
“That doesn’t sound very fair. Wouldn’t the competition between apprentices be massive? They’d spend half their time expecting one of the others to stab them in the back!”
“It wasn’t… socially stable. A lot of resentment, a lot of cheating, a lot of bad blood. You see why it fell out of favour in most parts of the world after the Pit was constructed. But it is fairly efficient at training people who already have a spell to learn about.”
“Does it happen a lot?”
“Of course. Refujeyo likes to funnel as many cursed people through the school as possible, but the age and ability range they can accept is fairly narrow. When a forty-year-old man wakes up with the ability to melt stone in his hands, they can’t exactly send him to high school. What else are they supposed to do with him?”
I knew what my old bedtime stories said they’d do with him – a mage would show up in the middle of the night, break into his house, and he would never be seen again. In the past, it had never occurred to me that there was more than one way to interpret that.
“That… makes sense.”
“If your curse can’t stay at Skolala Refujeyo, they’ll probably set you up with a master who lives somewhere isolated. His job would be to train you to control the curse and, when he deems you competent, release you from your vow of service as a qualified mage. Think very, very carefully before you accept this apprenticeship. This kind of vow of service is every bit as permanent as taking the Initiation – once you take it, there’s no backing out until you graduate. So be absolutely sure what you want to do before you make your decision.”
“And if I do refuse the apprenticeship?”
“Then they’ll try to set you up with another master, until they either run out of candidates or you make it clear that you don’t want any apprenticeship. At which point they may have no choice but to send you home.”
“So they will send me home.”
“Unless you’re opposed to the concept of apprenticeships in general, I don’t see why it would come to that. Is there anything else you need from me?”
“No. And thanks.” I stood up. “Uh, Casey?”
“You know a lot about this. Did you do an apprenticeship?”
“Oh, no, no. It’s just my job to know the legal practices and precedents for things likely to affect my clients. You’re not the first cursed person I’ve defended.”
“So you did the Initiation, then.”
Casey shot me a confused look. “No, I didn’t. What about me made you think I was a mage?”
“Oh. You… I guess I just kind of… uh, anyway, thanks.”
“I’ll contact you soon about the Australian case, alright?”
“Yeah. Sure.” I left with the vague feeling that I had heard someone talk about having a master before, but I couldn’t remember who. Maybe one of the other teachers had had an apprenticeship and mentioned it? Or maybe I was half-remembering a conversation about someone who was a master, in the sense of the Refujeyo rank. Someone Mae or Terry had mentioned in passing, probably. Or Instruktanto Miratova; didn’t she take a lot of advanced students?
Miratova. God. She was going to be pretty upset when I confirmed that all her recent trouble was my fault.
Well, that awkward confession was a future problem, for after Max’s promised week was up. First, I should probably check up on Max.
He was in Dorm Australia, and his face brightened when he saw me at the door. “Kayden! Moving back in?”
“You know I can’t put Kylie at that kind of risk. Is she here?”
“No.” He stepped back, beckoning me in.
“I see you’re running out of wall,” I noted. Max’s various maps and diagrams had ceased their fight for space in his little area and stretched out to encompass most of the room. Paper was even stuck, somehow, to the force fields of the unoccupied beds, which struck me as something that should be impossible in a sensible world.
I didn’t understand most of his notes, but it was pretty easy to tell which project they came from; the hallway maps scattered with little mathematical calculations were easily identifiable, and the little rows of sigils with footnotes musing on their purposes had to be from Miratova’s staff. Both kinds had ceded the space behind Max’s bed to a third kind; dot points of notes and names I didn’t understand, occasional hand-sketched graphs or tables of figures, and what looked like references to specific book pages.
I pointed. “Is that project me?”
“None of it’s complicated. A lot of it’s obscure.”
“And your school map’s grown, I see.”
“Not really. It’s just laid out differently. I’m trying an axial – well, I’m setting it out to match up different corridors that I think will be more understandable.”
“It doesn’t obey the laws of 3 dimensional space; I don’t see how any layout is going to be understandable.”
“It will be. I’m just missing one piece of it, I’m sure. One key thing to make it all make sense. It’s like a sudoku puzzle, where you have a lot of maybes, and you just need one solid number to tell you what the others are and solve the entire grid.”
“That doesn’t sound like how maps work, but you’re the ubernerd, not me. I’m pretty surprised that blue tack sticks to the force fields, though.”
“Oh, it doesn’t. I had to use superglue.”
“Wait, what? Why would blue tack not work, but superglue would? Anyway, you can’t just… glue stuff to force fields! How will you get it down without leaving paper behind?”
“Um, like this?” Max pressed his hand to the access panel to a bed, claiming it, then reached up and plucked a piece of paper off the force field. As was usual for the bed force fields, the owner’s hand – and the paper it happened to be holding – passed through as if the field wasn’t there.
“Okay, there is no way that should work.”
“Why not? It makes perfect sense.”
“Yes, that’s what I’m angry about. We should not be living in a world where that makes sense. How can the force field ‘know’ to… I mean, the paper shouldn’t… look, I read somewhere that superglue was, like chemical. Isn’t it chemical?”
Max gave me a puzzled look. “Everything is chemical.”
“Force fields aren’t! I refuse to believe that force fields are chemical, but superglue’s supposed to make, like, a chemical bond with the things it touches, right? So that shouldn’t happen. And if the force field is chemical, then you should be pulling part of it away with the paper, the part that’s bonded to the glue. Are you? Oh, and you shouldn’t be able to pull it away like that at all because matter can’t just decide to be different matter because the right person touched it!”
“Of course it can. You’ve just described a change spell. Although you raise an extremely interesting point, because force fields are traditionally classified as translocation or evocation spells, depending on the field. Does this suggest a possible chemical nature, and therefore that these fields might be change spells? I’ve never heard of – ”
“Okay, look, I don’t have the mental energy for this right now. I came to ask if you’ve done anything… drastic… this week.”
“After we talked about the whole misdirected portal thing and my curse, you freaked out – ”
“I freaked out??”
“ – and said you needed time to ‘contact some people’. Did you do anything, you know, political?”
Max blinked. “If you think my political influence is any higher than zero, you’re vastly overestimating it. I sent letters to some of my old tutors.”
“Yes. You know, tutors? The people who gave me my conceptual grounding in magical theory? You made some good points about the possibility that my grounding in general rules, so to speak, might not be accurate for edge cases. So I sought further information.”
“Oh. That’s all?”
“Kayden, you gave me a week. That’s not long enough for big, dramatic moves, even if I had the means.”
“Right. Good. And, uh… what did they say?”
Max gestured vaguely to the wall behind his bed. “Too much and not enough at the same time, broadly. You’re certain you only have one curse?”
“Yes. I’m pretty sure my GP would have mentioned it otherwise.”
“Oh, good. In that case none of this matters, because I’m pretty certain that even if the kind of spell interference you’ve described is possible – and I’m still not convinced – it’s not something a force evocation can do. Spells tend to be pretty niche in their abilities. Okay, that’s not entirely accurate; your average low- or mid-powered spell can be persuaded to do a pretty wide range of things if you’re inventive enough, but since we’re talking unintentional, undirected casting in the hands of a completely untrained witch – ”
“Well maybe its ‘niche’ is interference, and I’m just naturally very talented and can make it make force fields.”
Max very almost succeeded in making his sudden burst of laughter sound like a halfway convincing coughing fit. “Kayden, you can’t even figure out how to cast it. No offense, but if you were some kind of exceptionally talented magical prodigy with that kind of subconscious control over your spell, I’m sure you’d be able to evoke something on conscious command. Furthermore, you would have been able to mold it into other forms as well; there’s a long road between spell interference and force fields and everything on that road should be easier for you to cast in that scenario. No; what you’ve got there is a force evocation spell, and there’s absolutely no reason it should interfere with Instruktanto Miratova’s or Kylie’s spells. Or portals, for that matter.”
“And yet it is,” I pointed out. “I’m the only common element and that prophecy was pretty damn clear. Anyway, you can’t be sure it’s a force evocation; you just admitted you’re not sure what these bed force fields are, so how can you be sure about mine? You’ve never even seen it in action.”
“Okay, that’s true. But didn’t the kuracar say it was a force evocation?”
“Technically, he asked me if it was,” I said, “based on what happened with Matt on the school roof. He could have been guessing.”
“But then he took a look at it and told you he couldn’t remove it.”
“So he would know then, right? And he would’ve told you if he was wrong.”
“Uh, probably? When your week’s up, I’ll go ask him.” Why hadn’t it occurred to me to ask him right away? I was an idiot! “Y’know, so long as my curse doesn’t mess his spell up, too.”
Max rolled his eyes. “Uh-huh. Your extremely versatile curse that you’re somehow a secret genius at flexibly casting is powerful enough to disrupt the magic of the most powerful and accomplished mage in the school. Sounds realistic. Don’t you have maths class right now?”
“No, Surveyanto Cooper is off in Australia talking about some magic protection bill. Why do you know when I have maths?”
“You showed me your schedule a couple of weeks ago then we were planning lunch, remember?”
“So you what, stole a copy?”
Max looked puzzled. “No, I looked at it when you showed me. How bad do you think my memory is? Wait, does Kylie know maths is cancelled? She’s not here…”
“Good. I shouldn’t be anywhere near her. Whenever she’s close her curse acts up.”
“I’ve never seen it act up.”
“Yeah, because I haven’t been here.”
“How often has it happened with you?”
Max rolled his eyes.
“That’s serious! I don’t know how often she used to get ‘false alarms’, but – ”
“Approximately once every eighteen months,” he said, indicating a chart on his wall. “I’ve been learning as much as I can about her curse in order to decipher that prophecy.”
“Huh, maybe that’s why she’s not here right now.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing. Twice in a week after once every eighteen months? That’s a big deal, right?”
“No, it isn’t. First; this data is self-reported, and Kylie’s awareness of when she is prophesying varies. It’s entirely possible that there have been more in the past, and she didn’t notice, thus creating a falsely low reported frequency. Second; she recently moved to a new, more dangerous environment where she is surrounded by other spells, so there are all manner of things that could cause an increase in prophecy activity. Third; even if neither of those are the case, with random phenomena it is perfectly normal to see a clustering effect in incidences – ”
“Talbot! That’s who mentioned having a master! It makes sense!”
“Who is – ?”
“Can’t talk right now! I have to get to the gym!” I bolted out of the room. I could listen to Max talk about stats later.
I had to talk to Talbot.