There were more pieces of cauldron still embedded in the staff than I thought, and with a roar, they went everywhere, tearing gashes in Max’s neatly pinned notes and impaling themselves in his pillows. One piece slammed against the force field right in front of my nose. Of most concern was the piece that smacked Max right in the back of the head; he dropped onto his bed like a stone.
“Max!” Kylie screamed, hammering her fists on the force field separating us from our friend.
“What?” he asked, voice muffled by a pillow.
“Are you okay, mate?” I asked.
“I have no idea.” He pulled himself up and reached up to the back of his head. Very carefully, he pulled away a small but sharp piece of metal, slick with blood. He stared at it.
“Max, you need to get to the medical ward,” Kylie said.
He just stared at the bit of metal for several more seconds, then turned slowly to look at his little office. Ichor splattered the walls; shards of metal and wood lay everywhere. No piece of wood was big enough to hint that it had once been a staff.
“I was holding that,” he said dully. “It was in my hands. Just seconds ago, I was holding that.” He sat down heavily.
“Yeah, a lucky escape,” I said. “But you really should see Malas. You’re, um, bleeding quite a lot.”
“Head wounds always bleed a lot. The capillary density is very high in the flesh covering the skull.”
“Yeah, that’s fascinating, and I’m sure Malas will love to hear all about it – ”
“It was in my hands.”
“How many fingers am I holding up?” Kylie asked. Max turned to look dully at her.
“He didn’t hurt his eyes,” I said.
“Actually, visual data is processed in the back of the brain, so it’s a relevant concern. But my vision is fine, and you are holding up two fingers. Also, I think I might be slightly concussed. Or perhaps just in shock.”
“Both things that a doctor would be great for addressing!” I said.
“I need to clean up. Blood is a biohazardous material.” Max clambered over the bed, stood up, took several seconds to steady and orient himself, and then marched off into the bathroom. He closed the door. Water started running.
“That was close,” I said.
“Yeah,” Kylie said.
“How did you know it was going to be so urgent? Don’t you normally have hours?”
“I knew this was a right away thing as soon as Clara mentioned the staff.”
“How? Isn’t he always working on the staff?”
“Exactly. And the Evil Eye has been bugging me since you gave him that thing. I didn’t make the connection until that prophecy, but whenever I’m not here to quiz about my stupid curse he just does homework or works on one of his projects, right? Like that staff. I bet that’s what he was doing when we were talking to Talbot.”
“And when you spoke to me in the library?”
“Exactly. That thing was primed to explode and my curse was lurking there, waiting to pronounce his death as soon as it was sure. But I guess he had to hit a dangerous part, or something? So when it finally made the prediction, I knew it was sure about something unreliable, ergo, it had to be happening right now.”
“You figured all of that out in about one second from ‘staffbreaker’?”
“I’ve had this Eye all my life. You get a handle on thinking around its quirks. I wouldn’t have much information if I only relied on interpreting the prophecies themselves.”
“So you… you think that was it? That’s what was giving you all those false alarms?”
“That’s… a theory.”
“Makes more sense than your theory, right?”
“Okay, but…” But the prophecy. But Miratova. But the portal.
I had some thinking to do, it seemed.
Kylie patted my arm companionably. “Maybe you haven’t been accidentally killing my curse, but if it makes you feel any better, you did give Max the staff that nearly killed him, so…”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better! Why would that make me feel any better?”
Max came out of the bathroom, holding a towel to his head that was supposed to be white but was, in the vicinity of his injury, distinctly pink. “Well,” he said. “That was something that sure happened. Thank you both for saving my life, by the way.”
“It was Kylie,” I said.
“It was the Eye,” Kylie said.
Max looked at the torn, ichor-splattered notes pinned up behind his bed and pursed his lips. He seemed more alert already.
“You should probably go see Malas,” I said.
“It’s just a scratch.”
“You said you might be concussed.”
“If I were, what would the kuracar do about it? Make me a fake brain to think with while this one recovers? Rest, fluids, and not overtaxing one’s brain with stimuli are the appropriate treatments for concussion. There’s not much a doctor can do.”
“Are you going to not overtax your brain?”
“There’s no evidence to suggest I’m concussed.” He picked up a piece of ichor-stained metal and frowned at it. “Although it seems my research schedule just opened up. I don’t have a staff to research any more, and what Kylie said about the cause of her false alarms makes perfect sense, so there’s no reason to keep pursuing your spell disruption theory.”
“Except that there’s still Miratova and the portal and all that stuff,” I said.
“All of which you found utterly unconvincing without the prophecy, yes? You knew perfectly well you weren’t harming Instruktanto Miratova, and it wasn’t until Kylie gave a prophecy that you interpreted as you harming her spell that you changed your mind. So if you’re not harming her spell, then your interpretation of the prophecy is wrong, and you’re left with data that didn’t convince you before. Has anything changed so that it’s more convincing now?”
“We also have the malfunctioning portal,” I grumbled. “That’s new data.”
“And you believe your spell influenced that?”
“Well… no. It’s flimsy without the prophecy. I’ve taken this curse through that portal several times, and other portals, and nothing has ever happened. It was probably caused by some other random thing, if my curse isn’t hurting Kylie’s. But we haven’t proven her theory. Mine is just as convincing.”
“Yours is lunacy,” Kylie said.
“I’ll corroborate the times I was working on the staff with Kylie’s false alarms,” Max said. “If they all match up, I think that’s pretty solid verification. Kylie’s been dealing with this curse her whole life, she knows how it works.”
“My theory was neater,” I said.
“Welcome to real life,” Kylie said, “where everything that happens doesn’t have one single neat cause. That stuff’s for stories.”
“I feel like you two are being a little too smug about this.”
“Sorry you feel that way. Let me apologise by helping you move back into Dorm Australia. Since there’s no reason for you not to be around me. Now that we know for sure how very, very wrong you were.”
“We still don’t know that for sure! I want to think through the situation properly first. And get him to Kuracar Malas.”
“I don’t need to see the kuracar. I have too much cleaning up to do right now.”
“Believe it or not, there’s an entire world of people out there who regularly find themselves bleeding and don’t immediately rush to the most powerful healing mage in the world to solve the problem. There’s this weird thing the body can do, some kind of advanced natural creation spell where it clots the wound and created new cells to cover it up over time without any mage help whatsoever. You might have heard of it?”
“Max, are you afraid of doctors?”
Max rolled his eyes. “I am not afraid of doctors.”
“Are you sure? Because you don’t seem to want to see one. And I remember the first time you saw Kuracar Malas; you looked pretty freaked out.”
“I don’t think that counts as evidence,” Kylie cut in. “Kuracar Malas looks super freaky. I was creeped out by those eyes, too.”
“Okay, yes, that’s fair. He does look very weird and potentially terrifying. But we’re used to him by now and Max still doesn’t want to go see him, thus: afraid of doctors.”
“Or maybe I think a small cut isn’t worth the time of the most powerful healing mage in the world? If everyone went to Malas as often as you do, Kayden, he’d never have any time to sleep.”
“Hey, I earn the injuries I bring to Malas, fair and square.”
“Your parents must be so proud.” Max picked up a piece of the former staff. It was shorter than his forearm. “This makes no sense, though. That staff shouldn’t have been dangerous.”
“You weren’t finished analysing it,” I said. “Maybe there was dangerous stuff deeper in, that you hadn’t gotten to yet?”
“Does Alania Miratova strike you as the sort of person to build something that could randomly explode if damaged, and then carry it around for seven years in a school? Besides, you said she said it was just a stick now.”
“Yeah, but she also thought it had been burnt out when she pushed her magic into it, and you said that mightn’t be the case. She’s not infallible. It’s experimental, right? So maybe it was dangerous in some way she hadn’t considered.”
“And now we’ll never know what went wrong,” he sighed. “There’s nothing left to analyse. That’s the worst part of this.”
I stared at his still-bleeding head. “That’s the worst part of this?”
“No, no; you’re right. There are worse parts.”
“Exact – ”
“Like the library books I had in there! They’ll be all damaged!” He leapt back over his bed and picked up a book, clicking his tongue disappointedly. “Look at this, ichor all up the side… how am I going to explain this?”
“How are we going to explain literally any of this?” Kylie asked.
“Are any of the books irreplaceable relics?” I asked.
“No, they’re all still in print.”
“I’ll see how much sue-the-school money I have left. I might be able to replace some of them for you. Happy early birthday.”
“You gave me the staff for my early birthday.”
“And it blew up. What comes around, goes around.”
Max rolled his eyes. “I have a lot of money, Kayden. I can buy my own books.” He began the long process of post-explosion cleanup.
“Need any help?”
“You can’t get through the force field.”
“I can go under.”
“If you want to crawl through cramped darkness and possibly sharp iron shards, be my guest, but I think I’d work faster alone.”
“Yeah, no dark shards for me. I have stuff to do, anyway.”
“Like moving back in?” Kylie asked, fluttering her lashes.
“You promised you wouldn’t be smug.”
“I did no such thing! I promised I’d help you move.”
And she did.
I settled back onto my old bed. Things were blessedly familiar; Max bustling about behind his force field, Kylie doing something alone on her tablet behind closed curtains with no desire to be interrupted, and me trying to figure out which pressing piece of homework I hated the least.
Melissa’s letter. That’s what I hated the least.
The youtube thing sounds like a great idea. Go for it.
Things are pretty normal here. My friend just screwed up a magic experiment and is cleaning up, which is funny I guess. A very respected magical scientist is going to help me and my other cursed friend learn control, though the trial is sooner than I thought it would be so maybe I should be concentrating on that. And we met another witch! One who has, so far as I can tell, AMAZING control over his abilities! It’s very inspiring, but I’m not going to tell him that because I think he’s kind of a dick, in a fun way. But his curse was way more out of control than mine and he’s done it, so I think I can do it, too.
I was worried mine might be really out of control when
I’m kind of worried about the trial, to be honest. I don’t know how secret this is so I won’t write it out, but do you know about the developments re: Matt? That make this way more serious? I’m worried this is going to be more than injuring some kid by pushing him off a roof. I’m worried they’re going to look at what happened and, with this, decide it was intentional. I’m worried I deserve I’m worried about what’s going to happen. If the jury decides I’m a murderer, is there like, a separate juvie for cursed kids? I can’t imagine they’d put me in with common regular people. I’d be too dangerous, right?
I don’t know why I’m asking you this. My lawyer would know. Sorry, none of this is your problem.
Wow, this letter was a downer. I threw it out and started again.
The youtube thing is a great idea. Go for it.
Things are pretty normal here. Actually they’ve been chaotic as hell and now they’re confusing, but in a way that’s trending towards normal, except for the explosion that my roommate is cleaning up. I’ll tell you all about it in person after the trial and all that.
More developments there, too, that’ll be exciting to talk about after it’s all over. I don’t want to go into details here because I don’t know how secret it all is, but if you do know what I’m talking about, don’t worry. I’m not worried. I have one of the best lawyers in the world.
I admit I remember shit all about Pern but weren’t the green dragons like, genetically engineered to be infertile? So do they need an explanation? Or are those tinier ones also infertile? I don’t know. I don’t know anything about dragons, but I’m glad you’re having fun. Hey, if you want to rock Martin’s boat, ask him to put a trans dragon in his fic. I dare you.
How’s everyone holding up back there? I’m sorry about the media; they shouldn’t be your problem. When we see each other again, point out which people have been giving you shit and I’ll curse them into oblivion.
Kidding! I’ll make popcorn and watch Chelsea deal with them.
“How’s the cleanup going, Max?” I asked.
“A lot of these notes are completely unsalvageable. But they were mostly notes about spell interference, so…”
“Hey, you should be happy that you have less side projects now. It’s like you don’t have enough schoolwork so you have to keep inventing more schoolwork.”
“We won’t have enough schoolwork until after Initiation. It’s very frustrating.”
“How inconsiderate of the teachers, huh?”
“Exactly! I’m not going to come here with good academic habits, spend six months losing those habits, and then be expected to pick them right up again! It’s like they don’t want us to succeed.”
“You’re weird, Max.”
“Yes, well, at least I have you to make me look normal by comparison. Huh… this is strange.”
“What is it?” I wandered over. Kylie followed.
“Probably nothing. This metal shard just looks weird.”
He was right; the piece of metal he was holding wasn’t straight and pointy, but all curled up and melted. I would’ve assumed it came from something other than the staff, if it wasn’t completely covered in ichor.
“I think it was melted,” Max continued, cleaning it with a handkerchief, “which suggests heat generation in the explosion that I certainly wouldn’t predict from – hmm.”
Cleaned, the piece was obviously different. It was a darker colour. Even bent out of shape and partly melted, it had obviously never been part of a cauldron. It looked more like a ring, with a big chunk of metal on the top. Max turned it in the light, and even damaged, even with one corner melted off, the sigil on top of the ring was instantly recognisable. Most of a flower, inside what had once been a diamond.
The signet ring of the Fiore.