1.59: The Secret

“Today, we will be learning about evocation spells.”

This was it; the one single lesson in this school that was actually important to me. So it sucked that I was learning it from someone who might be a murderer, and sitting in front of someone who might be his accomplice, across the room from the boy who might be framing them both who was sitting with the girl who might be keeping secrets from absolutely everyone, while my boyfriend (who might be manipulating me for political gain) sat right up the back and chatted quietly with his sister.

I tried to ignore all of that.

“Who here would like to define an evocation spell for me?”

Max, predictably, raised his hand. “Evocation spells contain most of the old Creation and Elementalism categories, as well as – ah, I mean, evocation spells tend to conjure some sort of energy effect. They’re closely related to change spells, the difference being that they seem to create their effect from nothing, rather than change one thing into another. As such, they tend to be weaker in terms of raw energy, but more immediate and responsive.” He glanced, almost imperceptibly, at me. “Evocations tend to be more emotionally tied than most other spells. They tend to externalise easily, but are hard to link to familiars. They – ”

“Yes, thank you, Max. What this boils down to is that an evocation is fairly similar to a change spell, in terms of casting, but easier to manage in some ways and harder in others. Evocations tend to be fairly quick to cast, and the strength of the effect is easily moderated by the caster. They’re quite precise, because any mistakes can be easily corrected during casting, which is rather more difficult for most spells. However, the effects are very temporary – bursts of force or fire, that sort of thing – lasting from less than a second to several minutes, depending on the spell. Because they are so simple and immediate, tied to the caster’s emotions, and usually have very few trigger conditions, evocations are overwhelmingly likely to be ‘hair-trigger’ spells – that is, spells that can be accidentally at-will cast very easily. Evocation mages need to be especially careful not to accidentally cast and hurt people.”

He wasn’t looking at me as he spoke, but several members of the class were. How did they even know my curse was an evocation? I hadn’t told that many people about it. Did they know about Matt?

“So evocations are the most dangerous spells to be around?” someone asked from the back.

“Oh, no, no. Different groups of spells tend to have different dangers, but no category is any more dangerous than another. The variety of spells is too great to quantify things like that. Misfires are most common among evocations, as a category, but they’re also common among any category with a lot of spells with trigger conditions. Miscasting a change spell can inadvertantly create poison, or badly burn the caster’s hand. Wars have been fought over prophecies, badly calculated translocation spells can literally cut people in half, and a poorly cast contract can have knock-on effects for years or centuries that are nearly impossible to track or control. All magic is dangerous. The particular problems associated with evocations just tend to come from at-will casting misfires.”

I glanced at Kylie, sitting next to me. She wasn’t paying very much attention. Why would she be? She didn’t need to know about evocations.

“Fortunately, evocations don’t tend to be powerful, in terms of raw energy. Presumably because a very powerful evocation has a high chance of killing its hosts, so they rarely develop to that point. This makes them, in many ways, one of the safer kinds of magic. I’m sending you all an article on the general traits of an evocation spell; I want you to compare and contrast to another spell category of your choice. You’re not writing a scientific paper here; feel free to let your own preferences and voice shine through when talking about what you see as the pros and cons of each.”

After the lesson, I waited until everyone else was gone before approaching the Fiore. He smiled at me.

“Kayden! Can I help you with something?”

“Uh, yeah.” I tried not to think too hard about how I’d just trapped myself in a room with a potential murderer. “I wanted to know more about casting evocations. You said they don’t tend to have a lot of trigger conditions, but if they do, what kind of conditions do they usually have?”

“Well, that would depend on the spell. Activation phrases are common – you know, phrases the caster will say to direct the spell?”

“Like how Instruktanto Miratova casts?”

“Yes, exactly like that. Evocation mages like to train their spells to react to phrases, because it helps prevent misfires. Some are tied to specific rituals with objects, but rarely; that sort of thing strips the most useful advantages, speed and flexibility, from an evocation.”

“Right. Thanks.”

Socks jumped onto the table and, purring, pushed her face directly into my stomach. I absent-mindedly scratched behind her ears. The pressure on my stomach increased.

“I’m sure you’ve already thought about this, but have you considered asked an evocation mage about this sort of thing?”

You’d think I’d already thought of that, wouldn’t you? “Uh, are there any around?”

“Hmm, let me think. I admit I don’t know a lot of the staff very well yet. Do you know Taine Cooper?”

“Yeah, he’s my surveyanto! Wait, he’s an evocation mage?”

“I think so. He’s an illusionist, isn’t he? Illusions are almost always evocations. You might want to consider talking to him about the specific experience of evocation magic. I can give you academic answers, but they’re not what you’re looking for, are they?”

“Thanks. Hey, uh… can I ask you a personal question?”

“I can’t stop you from asking what you like. All I could do is refuse to answer.”

“Uh, right. Why did you take this job?” A bit of flattery wouldn’t hurt. “I mean, you’re a super famous scientist. Why put your experiments on hold to come teach us?”

“A colleague had an accident and needed help. I could hardly refuse.”

“Yeah, but you and Miratova aren’t exactly…”

“And should our personal relationship harm your education? That doesn’t sound fair.” He lowered his voice. “Want to know a secret? You have to promise not to tell.”

“Um… sure.”

“These halls you stand in? They’re the most important place in the entire world. There are things around you here that you could not imagine. And the people here, who will be the mages of tomorrow? You are the most important people in the world.” He winked, scooped up Socks, and left.

Well, okay then. That was either a hugely important clue in the Fiore and Simon’s plans, or a bunch of nonsense.

Good to know.

I made a mental note to talk to Instruktanto Cooper after maths and rushed out.

I found Kylie in the valley, alone, lying on the grass and staring up at the clouds. I waved a hand in front of her eyes. “Hey, Kylie. You’re friends with Clara, right?”

“Huh?” She sat up, blinking. “I guess? Why?”

“Have you noticed anything weird about her? I mean, not weird, obviously, just… unusual? Things she might have said or done that are… generally incongruous?”

“That’s not what incongruous – it doesn’t matter. What the hell are you talking about?”

“Clara.” I glanced around but we were, of course, alone. “I might be wrong. But I think she’s got a secret.”

“Oh. Well, that’s none of my business.”

“That’s the thing. I think it might be our business.”

“Whatever Clara’s doing isn’t – ”

“She’s a witch.”

“What?!”

“Shhh!”

“Why are you shushing me? Nobody else is here! What do you mean, she’s a witch?”

“Think about it. She’s twelve.”

“A lot of people are twelve.”

“Not here, they aren’t. The Haven’s pretty strict about that. You can only start training at fourteen, because any younger is too young to decide to bind a loose bit of universe-warping power inside your body forever. So why make an exception now? Sure, Clara’s smart, but so’s Max, and he was chosen by his family years ago, right? If exceptions were a thing, he would’ve been here years ago. But us, people with curses – we have flexibility, because we don’t get a spell in Initiation, and they want to get as many of us through the school as possible. They accept us at a wider age range if we meet minimum academic standards. And do you know what the minimum age for a cursed student to get in here is?”

“No, but from context I suppose you’ll tell me it’s – ”

“Twelve! It’s twelve.” I grinned. “It makes sense, right? Imagine you’re in one of those snotty mage families, and you wake up one morning with a curse. Super awkward, right? The real mages aren’t ever going to take you seriously that way. So your family contacts the school, explains the situation, signs you up for the test, and you secretly – ”

“Kayden, stop.”

“You see where I’m going with this, right? If she just lies to everyone, she can pretend she got here through being extra smart. But I asked her about spellcasting, and she talks like someone with experience. And those scars she has? Well, Talbot – ”

“Kayden! What the hell?!”

“I’m right, though, aren’t I?”

“Maybe! Maybe not! I don’t care! Like I said, none of this is any of our business!”

“How is this not our business? Ever since we got here, she’s been running around acting like she’s better than us. She jumped straight onto Simon’s little bandwagon of blaming you and I for every accident in this place, and somehow you and Max just look past that, which… whatever, but if she’s like us? The fucking nerve! And you’re telling me it’s none of our business?”

“It’s not! Just because we have curses doesn’t mean we get to know about anyone else’s curses. If she wants to keep things to herself, that’s up to her.”

“Then she shouldn’t be out there slandering us.”

“If you’re mad at her for thinking your curse is dangerous, be mad at her for that! Don’t try to find other things to hurt her; that’s just petty. She can hide whatever she wants.”

“You never had that choice.”

“I’m not her.”

“And if I recall, when we got here you were mad at me for keeping my curse from Max, so…”

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t have gossipped with him about it behind your back! How would you like it if people were doing that to you?”

“They are! Clara is! And when we got here, everyone was talking about our curses, but guess what? They got over it! If she’d just step up and be honest, she’d find – ”

“That’s not our choice to make, Kayden! You know, for someone who says they don’t want to play politics, you sure spend a lot of time getting up in other peoples’ business.”

“I hardly have a choice, do I? We’re facing an attempted murderer here!”

“Oh, really? And what does Clara being a witch have to do with that?”

“Ugh, you’re impossible!” I stormed back into the tunnels. Really, would it kill Kylie to socially engage once in a while?

Distracted, I nearly barrelled right into one of the janitors, who was dusting cobwebs off the tunnel’s light crystals. That was weird – they were normally really good at staying out of sight – but I did the polite thing and let my gaze sweep over him as if he wasn’t there. He scuttled off.

Maybe that’s what I should do – forget all the politics and the whole curse mastery thing and apply to be an invisible janitor. How much did that position pay? It’d have to be a lot, to convince them to stick around and clean up after our bullshit.

So what if Kylie didn’t want to help me figure stuff out? Even though she was the only person I could trust? I’d figured out plenty on my own. Anyway, this was probably better; her staying out of everything and not playing stupid games was the reason I could trust her, so her being stubborn about this just meant I was right to do so. She was keeping herself out of the way. Yeah, this was better. She could be as judgy about me as she wanted. I could sort everything out on my own.

So. Clara was a witch. Interesting, but probably not relevant to the whole murder attempt thing. That still came down to Simon or Max, and I had no certainties either way; they were both suspicious as hell.

I fidgeted my way through maths, trying desperately to care about quadratic equations until the class filed out and I could corner Instruktanto Cooper.

“Kayden! How are you?”

“Fine. I wanted to ask you about spellcasting.”

“Still having trouble? I’m not sure what I can tell you that we didn’t cover last time.”

“I want to know how it feels. Physically. I can’t… I want to be able to tell when I’m getting it right, you know?”

“Hmm. I’ve never really thought about it. Let me cast something complicated and find out.” He looked at me carefully for a moment, then waved his wand.

Usually, Instruktanto Cooper used his wand kind of like a pen to write illusory equations in the air. But this time, it was different. Bright green dust fell from the tip of his wand and settled on empty air, forming a shape that thickened and resolved into a green illusion of… me.

I stepped back, startled. So did the illusion.

“Uh,” I said. “I didn’t know you could do that.”

“Counterintuitively, it comes more naturally than writing equations.”

“Is it difficult?”

“It’s complicated, but not difficult, so long as I can see what I’m replicating. Doing it without sight requires… a much stronger visual imagination than I have. And, of course, it’s an evocation, which means once I stop casting it’s not very long before it… oop, there it goes.” The image of me had dissolved into green dust once more, which fell to the floor and vanished. “And casting it, I’d say, felt like… nothing.”

“You didn’t feel anything?” I tried not to sound disappointed.

“No, I mean what I feel is nothing. A moment of pause, or balance. Like… like when you’re about to sneeze, and control is yanked away from your conscious mind, and there’s a moment of absolute stillness as your muscles sort themselves out. Does that make sense? Probably not.”

“It does. That’s pretty consistent with what other people have said. Thanks, Instruktanto Cooper.”

“Any time.”

So. The three reports on how spells felt to cast were all pretty similar. Every spell might be different, but it looked like casting them was the same. Of course, I needed more data to be sure.

Hey, look at me! I was doing science!

See? I really could do all this alone.

credits

3 thoughts on “1.59: The Secret

  1. I swear Kayden commits internal logical fallacies just to hurt anyone who attempts to understand his thought processes. Going from ‘Clara might be a witch and therefore a hypocrite, I should get Kylie’s opinion and advice’ to ‘Kylie is such a good centering point, let me ignore everything she said and pretend we agreed that Clara is a witch’ is a big step in the wrong direction regardless of Clara’s actual parasitee status.

    Don’t think I missed that evil janitor either. Spent the remainder of the chapter trying to decide if they’re actually a janitor, an evil janitor, or a VIP disguised as a janitor. Either way, they heard everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He is imo, but not in a very healthy way. Kayden is a loner primarily: he sorts things out on his own and balks at the idea of needing help. I’d say it’s masculine social dynamics at play, but he grew up a girl afaik so it’s more likely based on his curse-phobic upbringing.

      When he needs friends, he has a small, insular core group to ‘use’ and a larger network of acquaintances to ‘shmooze’. The core group trades favors and shares experiences, all weighted in favor of the most impulsive and active member, Kayden, while the network is there to keep public opinion from tanking permanently over things like his curse or his constant erratic behaviors.

      I actually have a very similar dynamic irl, minus the network since I left school. The difference is that I respect and defer to my more generous and better off friends on most things, evening out the balance somewhat, while Kayden hasn’t been doing that enough with the new inner circle that is Kylie and Max. Things may break soon if he doesn’t realize that he’s not giving back.

      Liked by 1 person

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