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The Legacy of Androva Series

In this chapter Luca/Avi returns to the moment his final earthbound life ended, while he was fighting in the Colosseum as a gladiator. In her former incarnation as Leander, Cass fought alongside him. Luca hopes he will gain an insight into Cass's life path and the lessons she needs to learn. He takes Devin with him, knowing Devin will be more able to remain objective.

(Warning: contains descriptions of gladiatorial combat and death).

You can catch up on chapters one through twenty-one via the New series label at the top of this post, and thank you very much for reading πŸ’•.

22 A Fight to the Death

“Where are we going?” asked Devin.
“The generator shed.”
“What the hell are we going there for?”
I needed enough space to open a doorway in time and absolute privacy. I’d found the idea of a school librarian walking into the Ludus Magnus alarming enough. Someone wandering into the Colosseum while the games were in progress would be a disaster.
The outbuilding that housed the generator was small. There was barely room to walk between the equipment inside of it. I could put the entire thing under a non video and with additional locks on the door and total darkness inside, I figured it would be safe enough.
“Avi,” said Devin, as we half ran through the empty hallways. “Say something. Reassure me that you have a plan at least.”
“I have a plan,” I replied.
We continued in silence until we reached the shed door with its heavy chain and padlock. Once we were safely inside and my protective spells were in place, I reached for his hand. Even though it was almost pitch-black I could still see him clearly. Light Mages, as the name suggests, were masters of light. I had yet to encounter darkness so absolute that I could not find a fragment of light within it.
I was surprised when his eyes met mine without hesitation. “This is cool,” he said. The connection between us was buzzing. “You look a bit like an X-ray, but I can still see you.”
“What do you mean?”
“It looks like… energy. Light.”
Or magic.
“What happens now?” he went on. “Although this would be a great place to make out, I’m pretty sure that’s not why you brought me here.”
I wish. I cleared my throat. “We’re going to look for that common ground you mentioned. And I need your help because this is not a situation I can be objective about. I… I’m scared.”
“OK. I won’t tell you not to be. I’m sure you have a good reason. What should I do?”
“Watch. Listen. And remember. Vestis aequalis et contego,” I added, followed by, “Non video.” Then I braced myself. All the spells in the world weren’t going to protect me from returning to that day. “Amphitheatrum Flavium, Nonis Augustis, 166.”
As I’d done for my trip to the Globe with Cass, I adjusted the time and position of our arrival before our surroundings settled. We were in the second tier of seating. It was late afternoon and the arena had just been cleared of its most recent victims. Our seats were low enough to escape the attention of the political and social elite, but high enough to have a decent view of the games.
The roar of fifty thousand voices, the heat, and the smell were overwhelming. There was a sense of anticipation similar to the one created by the spectators at tryouts, but it was mixed with a thirst for blood and death, adding a disturbing undercurrent that even a non-guardian could feel. I experienced a few seconds of disorientation even though I knew what to expect. Get a grip, Luca. If you lose yourself, we’ll both be stuck here.
Devin held my hand so tightly I winced. I leaned into him as we sat down. “Give yourself a minute to adjust. I gave you a layer of protection from the worst of it.”
With his other hand he smoothed the toga he was now wearing and stared at his knees. After a couple of breaths his grip relaxed a little. “So,” he said in a low voice, “we’re in Rome, right? This is where you come from. It’s like a…” He raised his head. “Like a stadium. What happens here? Chariot racing or something? I can see some horses.”
“No. Not chariot racing. This isn’t the Circus Maximus. It’s the Colosseum. You’re about to watch a fight to the death.”
Three groups of eques gladiators were waiting to enter the arena. They wore helmets with two colored feathers identifying the lanista to whom they belonged. The colors looked out of place, as if the men and boys wearing them were about to perform in a play rather than fight for their lives. Their armor was minimal—a manica to guard their sword arm, and a small round parma shield held in the other. The horses fidgeted, sensing the nervousness of their riders, hooves stirring up the dust. The herald sounded. It was time.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

“Stay close, Avi,” said Cass. “Don’t dismount unless it’s to get another spear for me. Safely.”
“I won’t,” I agreed.
Cass and I were wearing red feathers. We, and our group, were underdogs and not expected to win this particular fight. Our lanista had complained about the risk to his stock loudly enough to be paid double. It didn’t matter to us. We’d die just the same.
Rising fear confused my senses. I was unable to form a complete picture of the Colosseum—my eyes captured isolated images only. The feathers on the helmets. The sun glinting through the gaps in the awning. Splattered blood along the wooden boards at the edge of the arena. The emperors, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, unmoving and expressionless. Waiting. For us.
I could hear the low roar of the mob interspersed with catcalls from the nearby spectators. I only caught the odd word, and none of them made any sense to me. Sweat was already trickling between my shoulder blades and the strap of my shield slid across my palm. I tightened my grip.
“That’s us,” said Cass as the herald sounded, urging her horse forward. We lined up, facing our emperors. Both were middle-aged, impeccably dressed, with their hair and beards ornately curled according to the current fashion.
Marcus Aurelius walked to the edge of the Emperor’s Box. I was relieved. He was the more lenient of the two co-emperors and more likely to grant missio if he were the sponsor of our fight.
Missio was the last hope of a defeated gladiator. We could appeal to the sponsor of the fight, and, if our performance had been entertaining and honorable enough, a reprieve from death was sometimes granted.
As I watched, Lucius Verus stood up, dismissing the attentions of the girl draped over the arm of his chair. He whispered in the ear of his co-emperor, who shrugged and sat down again. My heart sank. Dread settled in my stomach like a bowl of bad stew.
“You may have heard that I am recently returned from the wars,” Lucius Verus called down to us. There were a few cheers from the senators sitting nearby. “Victorious, of course,” he added with a brief, insincere smile. He leaned his elbow and forearm against the rail at the edge of the box. “I have found today’s games a little dull thus far. I trust you will reward my success with something more impressive. Die well, equites. Entertain me. Or I will kill you all myself.”
 He sat down again and lifted a goblet of wine to his lips. The girl returned and he allowed her to massage his shoulders. Marcus Aurelius made an impatient gesture and the herald sounded again. This is it.
Each group of gladiators moved to their prearranged starting point. For one endless moment no one moved and an unnatural hush descended on the Colosseum. Then, yelling, an eques with green feathers on his helmet launched his spear. The crowd roared and the horses surged forward.
I saw almost immediately that we were outclassed. It was fortunate for us that the other two groups were hell-bent on destroying each other. At least the attention of their best gladiators was not focused in our direction.
Conscious of the co-emperor’s threat, we threw ourselves into the fight. It was chaotic—a jumble of fighting techniques and abilities. Adrenaline and desperation carried me through my first kill, and the slide of sword through flesh brought grim satisfaction. I am a gladiator. The crowd screamed its encouragement. My opponent’s blood was thick and sticky, coating my fingers.
Cass and I, working together, circled the edge of the arena, picking off equites from the other groups as they became vulnerable. She unhorsed them, and once they were on the ground, I finished them off while she did her best to cover me. Sometimes her spear caused a mortal injury and my job was easy. Other times I had to dismount and it was a frantic struggle, with only my speed and wits to protect me from fighters with superior strength and experience.
Gradually, spectators noticed what we were doing. We obtained the crowd’s support. “Duo fatalis,” people began to shout, and the cry spread from row to row until most of the audience was expressing its support for the “deadly duo.” Gladiators continued to fall. All of our red-feathered cellmates died.
We were bruised and bloody by the time we’d beaten the last of them. My tunic was stuck to my skin in several places. My blood? I don’t know. It doesn’t look any different from theirs. Despite the heat of the sun I felt strangely cold. My legs were trembling and I locked my knees, fearing I might fall down and disgrace myself.
At the end, we’d had no choice but to fight on the ground. Our knowledge of each other’s fighting style was what had saved us. We’d fought as a team. Her eyes blazed with triumph as she acknowledged the cheers. She grabbed my hand and raised my arm alongside hers. I stood taller. We’re alive. We survived.
Lucius Verus beckoned us over. We stopped under the Emperor’s Box, glad of the shade it provided, and waited for him to speak. I didn’t know about Cass, but I was shrinking from the thought of the lives I’d taken. I was horrified to realize I didn’t know how many.
“Why have you stopped?” asked the emperor. We exchanged wary looks. What does he mean? He examined his fingernails. When he lifted his head, the malice on his face made me recoil. “Your owner was paid to put on a show. You’re not done. Not while more than one heart beats in this arena.”
Gods. He wants us to fight each other.
“We could be your champions,” offered Cass. Always so much smarter than I, she tried appealing to his vanity. “Duo fatalis, fighting only for Emperor Lucius Verus.”
He wasn’t distracted even for a second. “Don’t presume, boy. One contest in the arena does not grant you that degree of influence. If you win, I might sponsor you. Uno fatalis has a much better ring to it.”
He stepped back. I was too shocked to do anything but stare. Marcus Aurelius pressed his lips together but said nothing. The crowd caught on fast, and began shouting for their preferred winner. As far as I could tell, opinion was quite evenly split between “Galli”—me—and “Germani”—Cass.
“They can’t make us fight each other,” she said.
“No, they’ll just kill us both.”
“Let them. I’d rather that, than I be the one to kill you.”
It felt like the ground was shifting under my feet, and I resisted the temptation to take hold of her arm to keep my balance. My sword was getting heavier by the minute. I managed a smile. “You’re so sure you’d win?”
“Not necessarily. But if it’s the other way around, I won’t care, will I?”
“I’m not going to kill you.”
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed movement at the entrance to the arena. I turned. It was the Praetorian Guard. The emperors’ elite security detail. If we’d been in any doubt, this proved Lucius Verus was serious in his threat.  They’d execute us without a qualm. Slowly. Painfully. Not just because we’d refused our emperor’s bidding, but to entertain and appease the mob. A gladiator who would not fight was universally despised.
Cass looked over her shoulder and took a step backward when she saw them. I heard her sharp intake of breath.
“What… what if I wanted you to kill me?” she said.
I shook my head, not understanding.
“I’d rather you killed me than they did. We could… we could kill each other and deny him his champion.”
“W-what?” My mind could not make sense of the words. Her face swam out of focus.
“We’re warriors now. We can live together in the Fields of Elysian, Avi!” Her expression was pleading. Scared. “I want to stay with you.”
“What if you’re wrong? What if we go to Tartarus instead?” Cass often had nightmares about being tortured by the Furies. Her previous owner had convinced her all slaves were destined for Tartarus because all slaves were inherently wicked. Yeah. It’s all our fault.
“We won’t,” she said. “Please.”
The guards were nearly upon us. I nodded. “All right. If you’re sure…”
“I’ve never been more sure about anything. Follow my lead.”
She raised her sword and we began to fight. Neither of us had a shield anymore. My feet dragged on the ground as if unseen hands were holding on to my ankles to keep me from moving. A wound on my torso exploded into life. Oh. My blood, after all. This might be bad.
Pain lifted me out of my body. The sound of my blade hitting hers was muffled. I struggled to focus. I think I’m dying. Leander, I’m scared.
My mind drifted. I kept fighting. It could have been one minute or ten. Then a new thought came to me. If I died, they would let her live. The small thread of hope grew bigger. Another block, another parry. I blinked. For a second it was like we were training again. I’ll be alone. I don’t… I don’t want to be alone. But I could save her. I wanted to save her…
Cass maneuvered our positions until we each had the points of our blades against the ribs of the other, with only the strength of our shield-arms keeping us apart. “Now,” she said in a low, fierce voice. “Now.”
I pushed my sword forward a little, then a little more. When I felt it pierce her tunic, I stopped. Her sword sliced through my ribs and I choked, my breath turning into a gurgle of pain. Gods, it hurts. I collapsed. She screamed. I tried to tell her she was safe now. The Colosseum disappeared before I could form the words.

      *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Germani, Germani, Germani!” shouted the mob. Cass’s scream was buried underneath the roar of approval. She fell to her knees, bending over the dead body, my body, pressing her hands on either side of the sword embedded in its chest. The blood continued to flow inexorably out of the wound, seeping into the tunic and creating a spreading shadow in the dirt.
Her lips were moving. I wished I knew what she was saying. I had departed that physical covering as soon as its heart had stopped. Whatever final words she’d spoken, she’d been the only one to hear them.
I heard a kind of strangled groan next to me. Devin. I’d forgotten he was there. I was so grateful to see him I nearly threw my arms around his neck. I’m not alone.
“You OK?” I asked.
He gave me an incredulous look. “You’re asking me? Did… did I just watch you die?”
“Yeah. Sorry about that. I would have warned you but I wanted you to be completely objective.”
“Objective,” he repeated, swallowing. “God. It was brutal. I can’t believe people used to do this. Where’s Cass? Was she in the crowd or something?”
I turned back to the arena. Cass was standing again, head bowed. Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius were at the edge of the Emperor’s Box, applauding. I realized the mood of the mob had shifted. Although it had been demanding blood just a few moments before, a wave of sentiment swept the stands with increasing intensity. Some spectators were openly weeping. Too late.
“No,” I said to Devin. “She’s not in the crowd. She’s there. She was the one who killed me.”

I'm starting down a road that will hopefully lead to a new series (Beyond Androva) right now. It's exciting and a little scary to be confronted with so much blank screen that needs filling with words. I don't know the characters very well and I don't know their world either. I have to figure out names, the rules of magic, the villain(s), the obstacles, and hopefully some brand-new spells too.

The thing is that writing can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a massive challenge. Today's post contains a few quotes that sum up the reality of writing in a humorous and relatable way. These words resonate with me now, at the beginning of a new series, even more than usual 😏. I hope you find them interesting, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today.

“One always has a better book in one's mind than one can manage to get onto paper.”
― Michael Cunningham

“When writing a novel, that's pretty much entirely what life turns into: House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1,500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.”
― Neil Gaiman

“The thing all writers do best is find ways to avoid writing.”
― Alan Dean Foster

“In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it got boring, the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.”
― Stephen King

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it's like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”
― Ernest Hemingway

“The funny thing about writing is that whether you're doing well or doing it poorly, it looks the exact same.”
― John Green

“If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it.”
― H.G. Wells

“Some things are hard to write about. After something happens to you, you go to write it down, and either you over dramatize it, or underplay it, exaggerate the wrong parts or ignore the important ones. At any rate, you never write it quite the way you want to.”
― Sylvia Plath

Spell Tracker's story is reaching the final few chapters, and Luca needs to figure out a way to help Cass escape the deadly Spell Tracker contract before it's too late. Meanwhile, Gabe and Mina face everyone following their decision to be honest about the way they feel. And it looks like Devin's made up his mind about his feelings too. With his help, Luca might just have an idea that will work.

You can catch up on chapters one through twenty via the New series label at the top of this post, and thank you very much for reading πŸ’•.

21 An Accomplice

So much for educated guesses. It was much easier when I could use the life path—like clicking on exactly the right link rather than trawling search engine results. After a lot of dead ends and a couple of very close calls, I had to stop. The janitor would be opening up in a little while, and using so much magic was really taking it out of me.
I’d only made it halfway down my list. It hadn’t been entirely wasted—I’d found out that Cass and Devin had been friends, briefly, in junior high—but I was no closer to understanding her life lessons.
When I arrived at homeroom, the atmosphere was tense. Mina and Gabe were surrounded by a small group of students: her friends, plus Devin. Given the lack of general conversation, I was pretty sure every other person in the room was trying to listen in. Mina and Gabe were leaning against a table and holding hands.
Devin gave me a small smile and I looked over my shoulder to see if it was directed at someone else. When I turned back, he was smiling properly. Laughing, even. Suddenly the day seemed a lot brighter.
“We’re not making a big deal out of it,” said Gabe.
“Except you changed your status at, like, three in the morning,” said one of the girls.
“Yeah,” said another. “What’s that all about, Mina? You might have messaged me at least.”
“Did something happen? You can tell us,” said a third girl.
“We won’t judge you. If he broke your heart, you don’t owe him anything.” The first girl again.
The questions kept coming. Gods, high schoolers are relentless. Just like the mob at the Colosseum.
 “I’m gay,” said Gabe abruptly. Stunned silence. Devin moved closer to him in silent support.
Bron, one of the boys on the basketball team with Devin, sniggered. “Hey, Mina, you must have something really special between your—”
I was behind him two seconds after he started speaking. “Taceo,” I said in a low, furious voice. He finished his sentence, but no sound came out of his mouth.
“It has nothing to do with Mina,” said Gabe angrily.
“Of course it doesn’t. Bron, you’re an asshole,” said Devin.
Bron attempted to defend himself but as no one could hear a word he was saying it was a futile attempt.
“Mina is awesome,” said Gabe. “Completely awesome.” He kissed her on the cheek. “I’m sorry I got her mixed up in this.” His expression hardened. “Anyone who criticizes her had better be ready to discuss their point of view with me.”
“And me,” said Devin.
“And me,” I added. Mina lowered her eyes and squeezed Gabe’s hand.
“So… are you and Dev… like… together?” asked the first girl.
“No,” said Gabe. “The three of us are just friends. The way we’ve always been.”
I checked his emotions. Terror, overlaid with determination. He was very scared, but he’d decided to see this through. I was glad. And his focus on protecting Mina would help him.
Mina’s emotions were more of a concern. Her fear was more complicated than Gabe’s. She had a lot of regrets. Some of them she’d have to live with, but I could help her a little. She didn’t deserve to spend the rest of senior year known as the girl who’d dated one brother after another.
“I think Mina did a great job promoting the play, by the way,” I said. She looked at me, not sure whether to pretend she knew what I was talking about or not.
“The play?” asked one of her friends.
“Yeah,” I said. “Her birthday party—it was all a Drama experiment. Right, Mina?”
“Er… right,” she replied.
Much Ado About Nothing shows how easy it is to start a rumor about who’s sleeping with whom. In case anyone is still gullible enough to think she went with Gabe’s brother,” I added, rolling my eyes for effect.
“Oh my God!” said the friend. “You’re such a good actress, Mina. That’s, like, so clever. I thought it wasn’t true, of course, but I didn’t want to be the one to ruin it.”
“Thanks,” said Mina, giving her friend a faint smile. “Amazing what people will believe, isn’t it?” She looked at me.
“Amazing,” I repeated.
Mrs. Stanton’s arrival prevented any further conversation, but I knew I’d said enough to get the student population talking. It wasn’t until Mrs. Stanton was reprimanding Bron for not answering during attendance that I realized I hadn’t rescindo’d the silencing spell yet. Oops.
Devin kept giving me sideways glances. After more than two weeks of nothing but “stay away” vibes, it was like the volume had been turned back up to maximum on our connection. If I concentrated, I found I could pick up images and vague thoughts alongside the emotions. Ten seconds later I realized what he was picturing and bit back a gasp.
The boy at my table gave me a curious look. I shifted in my chair. “Present,” I said through gritted teeth when Mrs. Stanton called my name. Gods, Devin. Stop. I visualized jumping into an icy lake, thinking icy cold, icy cold. Devin coughed. He stopped. His ears went red.
As soon as the bell rang and everyone began to disperse, I went up to him. “Are you talking to me again?” I said. “Or do you just plan to spend your time torturing me?”
“Sorry,” he said, grinning. “Can I do both?”
“Are we… OK?” I asked.
“I think so. It was a lot to get my head around, you know?”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “I’m sorry about everything. Showing you so much, I mean. I was being selfish.”
“A little. Maybe. But you really helped Gabe and Mina. Even the story you came up with just now about the play… you’re good at what you do.”
“Sometimes,” I agreed.
“I’ve never… I’ve never liked anyone this much.” He lowered his voice. “It scares me. I thought I should stop it before I got in any deeper. Until I realized I can’t stop it. I don’t want to stop it.”
“I like you too. A lot,” I said.
He avoided my gaze. “If you’ve gotten together with Cass in the meantime, I know I only have myself to blame.”
“Cass,” I said, panicking. “Where is she? Shit, I only just realized she wasn’t in homeroom.”
“She’s sick,” said Devin. “Didn’t you know? I wasn’t kidding. I thought you guys might be together now. Most people seem to believe Cavi’s a thing.”
“No. We’re not. This is a disaster. It’s Friday. That means I won’t see her for another three days. I only have two weeks left as it is.”
I turned to check the empty classroom as if she might appear just because I wanted her to. Devin put his hand on my arm. “I thought… haven’t you helped her yet? I didn’t just leave you alone so I could think about stuff. I was giving you space to do your job.”
“I haven’t done anything, really,” I admitted. “It’s been impossible.”
“But you sorted out Gabe and Mina in one evening. You must have made some progress with Cass.”
The bell rang again for the start of first period. I had no idea what I was going to do. Cass hadn’t messaged me the night before, despite saying she would. What if she’s sick because she remembered what I said about her mom? What if she doesn’t come back to school on Monday, either?
He had already shifted the deadline forward once. I had no guarantee he wouldn’t do it again—only the belief that he wanted to create a more drawn-out humiliation for me than suddenly announcing, “Time’s up.”
It was a complicated system of magic that enabled the earthbound dimension to function so autonomously from the magical ones. The High Council, the seven Master Mages responsible for its construction, had combined their skills and experience, testing and improving over many years until they were satisfied with it.
Any magician who wished to adopt a profession in our society had to complete their training here. Given that life was impossible without a profession, it was rather more of a requirement than a choice. To succeed without magic, without any knowledge of magic, when the odds were stacked against you, and you had no memory of the magician you really were… that was the test and the opportunity.
Entry was dependent on having an agreed contract. Not the earthbound kind, using paper and pen. The magical kind, using an engraving spell that carved itself on the source of a magician’s magic. I could feel mine, if I concentrated. The closer I got to its execution, the more it burned.
When a magician tied his or her magic to a contracted outcome such as their chosen life path, there were consequences. Stakes. The more difficult the lessons you signed up for, the greater the prize for success and the heavier the penalty for failure. The Spell Tracker enforced a particular kind of penalty. He was probably rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of enforcing mine.
“Avi? I want to help.”
I blinked. Devin was still there. “Don’t you have to be in class?” I said.
“Yes. But I can see how scared you are. I can”—he swallowed—“feel it.”
“You can? It must be the connection again. I’m sorry. I don’t know why it’s so much more powerful today.”
He ducked his head. “I… well… it might be… no, I’m being dumb. Forget I said anything.”
“Tell me. Guardians can’t forget, by the way. Even if you used a spell, I wouldn’t be able to obey it.”
Shut up, Luca. Why would he think he can use a spell in the first place? At this rate, you might as well tell him he’s really a Light Mage and have done with it.
“Er… OK. I won’t use a spell,” he said, giving me a strange look. “It’s the connection… what you said that time about using intent—I decided to do that. When I talked to Gabe and Mina on the way to school this morning, I realized I knew what I wanted.”
“You. I wanted to be with you. For however long you’re here. So, I chose. And I concentrated on that choice.”
Yeah, that would do it. He has enough magic for that.
“Wait,” I said. “You mean… you chose?”
It was a strange way for him to put it. I can’t be part of his life path. That’s impossible. He can’t choose me.
“Yes. I chose. So how can I help Cass?”
Cass. The reminder brought another surge of anxiety, making me turn and check the classroom again.
“She’s not here,” said Devin patiently. “She’s home sick. I ran into Miss Randall on the way to homeroom, and she asked me to tell you. She said you can take a free period during Drama because the others need to rehearse different scenes.”
“Did she say what was wrong?”
“No. Sorry.”
I considered using a spell to calm myself down. It wouldn’t help anything to have a full-blown panic attack. I’d only lose even more time that way.
“What have you tried since I last saw you?” asked Devin. “Did you find out what her lesson is?”
“Not yet. I’ve looked at some of her past… and I think it must be to do with her mother somehow. But to be certain, I need to look at her life path, and I can only do that when she’s within reach of my magic.”
“Yeah, but…” Devin frowned. “You’ve been together a lot, haven’t you? Not that I’ve been paying attention or anything,” he added hastily.
“Her life path is buried. I can’t get to it without her noticing. I need to use a spell to immobilize her, and we’re never alone. I can’t exactly turn her into a statue in public.”
“No, I suppose not,” he agreed. “And I guess you can’t explain it to her, either. That free will thing’s a bitch, isn’t it?”
I smiled in spite of my agitation. “You’re not kidding.”
“I know some things about her past, though,” he said. “You could question me. Maybe that would help.”
“Maybe it would. But your free will is hanging by a thread as it is. I’d rather not risk it.”
Devin raised his eyebrows. “You mean, there’s more to know? More than reincarnation and life lessons?”
“No comment.”
His face flickered as he suppressed his curiosity. “Well… what about her other lives, then? I don’t know anything about those. Can’t we… review them or something?”
“Not without her life path. I’d just be guessing where and when to go.” I’d spent most of the night guessing. Even though I’d concentrated on what I knew about her current life, my success rate had been spectacularly low.
“You mean you don’t know about any of her former lives? Not a single one?”
I hesitated. “I know about one of them.”
“I thought so. You said it was like me and Elizabeth. Have you visited it?”
“Sort of,” I said. I still hadn’t been brave enough to return to the day it ended. My chest tightened. Leander.
“Sort of,” Devin repeated. His eyes narrowed. “I think you have. I felt that.”
“Felt what?”
“Like someone just stabbed you in the heart.”
“Oh. That.” I lowered my gaze.
“So you have visited it?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“And you didn’t see any unlearned lessons? Avi,” he went on, taking my hand when I didn’t answer, “I know you’re hurting. I know you can’t think straight. Let me help you.
“Based on what you know of her former life, and this life, what are the similarities, the common ground? What could the lesson be?”
Suddenly, it hit me. He’s right. My death. And her mother’s death. I need to find out what happened afterward. Maybe Devin can ask her…
“Let’s go,” I said. “I have an idea.”

I love each of the four seasons for different reasons πŸŒΈπŸŒžπŸ‚⛄. But there's something about summer that brings back childhood memories and nostalgia in a way the other seasons don't. Perhaps it's because of the long school holidays (school was never my favourite place to be). I associate summer with afternoons spent reading in the garden, when the grass was cool and the sun was warm, discovering new characters and the worlds they inhabited.

After a mini-heatwave in the UK last week, temperatures have returned to normal, and I've been able to take my laptop and a new book outside, splitting my time between reading and writing. The perfect afternoon in fact.

Today's blog post brings together a few quotes that capture my feelings toward this beautiful season. I hope you're enjoying the time of year wherever you are in the world right now, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today ❤.

“Summertime is always the best of what might be.”
― Charles Bowden

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
― John Lubbock

“Today was about chasing sun-rays, beach waves, & sunsets. All things beautiful that give you peace are worth chasing. Everything else isn't.”
― April Mae Monterrosa

“Summers had a logic all their own and they always brought something out in me. Summer was supposed to be about freedom and youth and no school and possibilities and adventure and exploration. Summer was a book of hope. That's why I loved and hated summers. Because they made me want to believe.”
― Benjamin Alire SΓ‘enz

“The earth had donned her mantle of brightest green; and shed her richest perfumes abroad. It was the prime and vigour of the year; all things were glad and flourishing.”
― Charles Dickens

“Oh, the summer night, has a smile of light, and she sits on a sapphire throne.”
― Bryan Procter

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I remember that summer we walked up the hill, sat atop on the rocks with time to kill; I felt the colors enter my veins: warm light-pink shining golden rays; if there was a hue for happiness, I'm sure I saw it with you then.”
― Aditi Babel

In the next chapter of Spell Tracker, Luca becomes increasingly desperate to access Cass's life path so he can keep her safe from the Spell Tracker's deadly contract. He also gets a surprise when Devin sends Mina and Gabe to him for some guardian-style help. Once Luca's shown them both a few potential futures, they might reconsider their recent decision. There's no sign that Devin has changed his mind about Luca, but Gabe thinks Luca has reason to hope...

You can catch up on chapters one through nineteen via the New series label at the top of this post, and thank you very much for reading πŸ’•.

20 A Different Way

It became apparent over the next few weeks that I sucked at last chances. The more frantic I became on the inside, the more incompetent I became on the outside. He introduced no more restrictions. He hardly needed to. I was doing an excellent job of messing up on my own.
Cass was never alone with me. All of our rehearsing was done in class or with other students at lunchtimes. She never stayed late. Her foster parents had contractors in to do some renovations, and they expected her to come straight home after school to oversee things. She told me she owed them.
“It’s only for a month, Avi. This is their big project, so they can sell and move somewhere better. They stood by me through the blackouts. I can do this small thing.”
It wasn’t “only a month” from my perspective. It was most of the time I had left. “What about the weekend?” I asked. “Can’t you come back to school then?”
“And get caught on school grounds out of hours? No. I’m on a final warning. One more strike against me and I’ll be excluded. I might not graduate. It’s not worth the risk.”
The more I pushed, and I did push, the more upset she got, until we had a huge fight one day after classes finished. I held her locker door open, refusing to allow her to close it until she agreed to stay behind. My self-control was hanging by a thread. I was on the verge of using concesso right in the open hallway, when anyone could walk by.
She told me in no uncertain terms to back off, saying she was confused about her feelings and didn’t want to be alone with me again just yet.
“And what about your mom?” I said. “Isn’t she important? Or do you care more about your own feelings than hers?”
The second the words were out of my mouth I wanted to grab them back. I used dedisco straight away, but the expression of pain on Cass’s face took minutes to fade. I hated myself. I threw spell after spell at her in an attempt to undo the damage I might have done.
When she left to go home, she gave me a puzzled look, like she didn’t know what had just happened. You and me both. She promised to message me later. My phone chimed before I even made it back to the library.
I only brought the renovations forward by two weeks, Luca. It’s not like you needed the time, right? :)
No, you sadistic shit. It’s not like I need the time you keep stealing from me. Excuse me if I don’t smile back.
I needed to calm down. There had to be another way. Assignments could not be forced to accept help. I knew that. Yet I’d been behaving as if my strength of will alone could change the outcome.
Fortunately, the library was empty. The basketball team was playing away that evening, which meant a lot of students were traveling to the other school. With all the time spent focusing on Cass, at least I’d managed to stay away from Devin. He’d asked me, very politely, to give him a chance to think about everything. I’d agreed. How could I not? It was either that or lose him. I can’t lose them both.
Annoyed, I reminded myself that neither of them belonged to me. I went to the top floor of the library and along to the farthest, darkest section. I was going to approach this differently, and I was going to remain calm.
I began by making a long list of dates and locations. I didn’t have access to Cass’s life path, but I figured I knew enough to make an educated guess. If I could observe even some of what had happened to her, it might help me to understand where her darkness came from.
It wasn’t ideal. Traveling to another place and time directly, as I had with Cass to the Globe, meant that I’d temporarily be part of that place and time. And now that I had a physical covering, that could be… difficult. There was always non video, but it was still dangerous. Non video wasn’t invisibility. It worked best in a crowd.
Using the life path—staying in the shadows—was preferable. Like I’d done with Mr. Mason and Devin. Don’t think about Devin. I was about to start working my way through the list when there was a knock at the library doors. Who the hell?
According to my phone, and the darkness through the skylights, it was pretty late. The school should have been empty. I waited. The knock came again.
“Avi? Are you in there?”
It sounded like Mina’s voice. The last person I’d expected. Well, perhaps not the last. But close.
My first reaction was irritation. I decided to ignore her. She’d turned down my offer of help, after all. The day after she ran out of homeroom, she’d returned to school, head held high, daring people to challenge her. Her grip on Gabe’s hand had been a little too tight, and the smile on his face a little too fixed, but no one else appeared to be looking very closely.
“You want to know if I’m OK?” Mina had lifted her chin and stared me down. “I think you’re confusing me with the person in the mirror.”
She’d made to pat my cheek and I’d ducked away from her hand. Her entourage had laughed. I didn’t care. I’d tried.
I’d seen her in rehearsals, of course, and her performance as Don John was shaping up to be amazing. There was a hard and desperate edge to her delivery that really worked for the character. When she said, “If I had my liberty, I would do my liking,” I had no doubt she was talking about herself as much as Don John.
And now she was here, interrupting me in the middle of something much more important than whatever her latest crisis was. She knocked again. “Please, Avi. I’ve been waiting ages for the janitor to leave. I’m scared to be out here on my own.”
Muttering a series of swear words under my breath, I went to unlock the door.
“What in the hell do you want?”
I all but shouted at her, sliding the door open with so much force it escaped its runners and crashed to the floor. Mina jumped out of the way. For a second we stared at each other.
“Is it a bad time?” she said, making a fair attempt at sarcasm despite her shock.
“What gave me away?” I retorted, still furious.
“Probably the door,” said Gabe, appearing from just out of sight behind her. “Since you ask.”
“It was rhetorical.” I shook my head. “I thought you were both at the game.”
“No.” He stepped over the fallen door and into the library. Mina followed him.
“Look… I don’t know why you’re here, but I can’t—”
“Dev,” said Gabe, interrupting me. “Dev is why we’re here.” He squared his shoulders.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “I haven’t done anything to Devin. He asked me to leave him alone and I have.”
“No,” said Mina. “We’re not here to have a go at you. Dev’s the one who asked us to come.”
Devin. My whole body tensed. The feelings I’d tried to hold back rushed to the surface. It felt as if the library door had fallen onto my chest instead of the floor. “Is he OK?” I said. “Is there a problem?”
Mina watched me as I paced up and down. I put my hands into my pockets and took them out again.
“You really like him, don’t you?” she said.
I scowled, ready to use a spell to wipe the smirk off her face, but when I looked, her smile was genuine.
“Is he OK?” I repeated.
“About to win the game when I last checked,” she replied.
“Then, why…?”
“Dev said you could help us.” Gabe was looking at the floor. “Not that we need your help, or anything, but…”
“He basically said he wouldn’t be friends with us anymore unless we did this,” said Mina, her smile fading. “So here we are.”
Silence. “Er… did what?” I asked.
“I thought you’d know. Dev said you had experience as, like, a counselor or something. I don’t know,” she added, her voice rising. “I figured I had nothing to lose. It’s not like this whole situation can get any more screwed up.”
He wants me to be their guardian.
I sighed. I couldn’t refuse. Even if Devin hadn’t been the one to send them here, I would have wanted to do it. I could save them both so much time.
“Take a seat,” I suggested. They sat next to each other.
“What are you going to do?” Gabe folded his arms and glanced at Mina. “So we’re clear, I honestly don’t see the point of any of this.”
I tuned into their emotions and started to unravel the different strands. I didn’t want to tenuo everything. Just what was tangled up in this particular life lesson. Gabe really does hero-worship his brother. And Mina’s mother is… interesting.
Working fast, I soon isolated what I wanted. “Tenuo,” I said.
“What?” said Gabe.
Tenuo.” I said it again.
“Dude, no offense, but this is weird.” He made to get out of his chair, but Mina pushed him back down. A few seconds later, the spell had dissolved what I’d asked it to.
“It is weird,” said Mina. “It feels weird. But I don’t hate it.”
“No,” said Gabe, his voice quiet. “I don’t hate it either.”
They’d accumulated a lot of fear since the weekend of the party, layered on top of the shame and regret of the summer. Its sudden absence probably did feel weird.
“I want to check something,” I said. “And you’re going to have to trust me.” I got up and walked around the table to stand behind them. Their life paths were easy to read. They had agreed to do this for each other, to create the obstacle behind which the lesson lay.
I rested one hand lightly on each of their shoulders. Gabe flinched. Oh. He likes me. He must have a thing for Light Mages. The sooner I show him who else is out there, the better.
“OK, so you’re boyfriend and girlfriend now,” I said. “Maybe you’ll go to the same college. Maybe you’ll get married, have kids, all of that. Maybe you’ll be able to fool yourselves and everyone else for a very long time.”
I showed them. The ending wasn’t dramatic. There were no breakdowns or affairs, no acrimonious divorce, and no death-bed revelations. But the grief was excruciating. They loved each other too much not to recognize what the other had given up.
Mina was crying. She was half-convinced already. Gabe stiffened. I could sense his stubbornness. He probably thought it was a fair price to pay for a safe, ordinary life. For his brother’s approval.
“But what if you chose something different?” I said. I didn’t rose-tint it. It would be tough at first. But every other path contained moments of bliss that eclipsed all the bad times. They could be themselves and it would be more than enough to pass their life lessons.
Before we returned to the library, I selected a potential next kiss for each of them. A kiss where there was no agenda, only chemistry. We drew as close as I dared. I knew they recognized the difference. Their emotions were clear. Hard to ignore, in fact. Wouldn’t you say, Gabe?
When I murmured, “Rescindo,” Mina protested.
“No, don’t. I want to see more. I want…”
I lifted my hands. “You can have it,” I said. “As much or as little of it as you choose.”
Gabe shifted in his chair. “How can I… how am I supposed to go back to…” He trailed off and looked at Mina guiltily.
“You’re not,” I said gently. “You’re supposed to go forward. Esto fortis.” I looked at Mina, too. “Estote fortes.”
The spell settled in place. It was a start. If I survived, I would come back to check on them, and on Mr. Mason too. They’d need more help once the initial euphoria wore off, and I’d never left an assignment unfinished.
“Well,” said Mina, half laughing, “I’d have had counseling before if I’d known what I was missing. How did you do that? It was…” She ducked her head, embarrassed. “I mean, it felt real.”
I wondered if I should force them to see it as a dream. I didn’t want to. Teenagers were more capable than adults of accepting the extraordinary. And we were less likely to be believed if we told anyone. Sad, but true.
“It’s just what I do. At least you can tell yourself you were right,” I said to Gabe. “There is something strange about me.”
“No shit,” said Gabe. He smiled to take the edge off his words. “I think we should split up,” he said to Mina.
“Can I dump you in the cafeteria in front of everyone?”
“Mina!” I said, dismayed.
She giggled. “Just kidding. Mutual agreement it is, then.”
They left the library looking happier together than I’d ever seen them. People were going to think it was the most amicable breakup in history. Gabe turned in the doorway. “Dev likes you. I know something happened, but I also know Dev. Give him time.”
I nodded. I don’t have time. But he can have as much as I’ve got to give.
When I was alone again, I reinstated the door with a quick, “Exsercio,” and returned to my list. There were a few hours left until morning and I didn’t intend to waste any of them.

Writing about magic brings a lot of freedom because your imagination gets to dream up whatever it wants. There aren't any rules but the ones the writer creates for themselves. However, mixing the story with a little history along the way can be interesting. I enjoy learning something new about the world, and it's fun to creatively fit the existence of magic with past events. So far I've tried Ancient Rome πŸ› and Tudor England 🏰.

This weekend has been a combination of writing and research. On the research side, I decided my next historical reference would have something to do with the fabled Seven Wonders Of The World. I knew very little about them, and I wanted to change that. Also, they sounded like a good fit for the Light Mage Series and its magically created earthbound dimension. How/when is something I'll figure out later!

Tourism is big business in the twenty-first century. We live on a planet full of incredible sights and spectacles, and these days we can travel pretty much anywhere. Back in the Hellenic Period of Ancient Greece (when the Seven Wonders were first written about), people were equally keen to discover the world around them. The Seven Wonders were the biggest tourist attractions of their day. But the Greeks couldn't travel across the entire planet. Therefore the Seven Wonders were inevitably located quite close together.

You can see from this map that they're grouped around the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa. "Seven Wonders Of The World" means more like "Seven Wonders Of The World Within Our Reach." There was also a certain amount of bias. Most of the Seven Wonders were celebrations of Greek accomplishments 😏.

The Hellenic Period is the time between the first democracy in Athens until Alexander the Great's death, which spanned 507-323 BC. Two-and-a-half thousand years ago, more or less. Incredibly, all Seven Wonders only coexisted for less than sixty years. That's not very long!

Here are a few facts from my research. This is definitely not an exhaustive guide to the Seven Wonders--it's just some information I found surprising and/or interesting as I learned about them. The amazing thing is that they were all man-made in a time where there was no mechanisation, no electricity, and no computers. Everything from the design to the construction was manual.

Great Pyramid of Giza

The pyramid was built two thousand years before the others (~2,500 BC) and is the only one of the Seven Wonders still standing today. Therefore it's also unique in having a real photograph! Historians think the pyramid was made as a tomb for the Fourth Dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu. There are three chambers inside it: a burial chamber, a statues chamber, and a mysteriously unfinished "underworld" chamber.

The pyramid is huge, weighing six million tonnes and stretching to 450 feet at its highest point. That's almost half as tall as the Chrysler Building in New York. It was made from 2.3 million blocks of stone. Some of the stones were transported from 500 miles away, which is an unimaginable distance. You'd travel almost half a mile if you walked all the way around its base. No one knows exactly how it was built--because it seems impossible!--though there are many theories about likely construction techniques.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Creating a garden purely for it to look beautiful (as distinct from the production of food) became increasingly popular amongst wealthy private individuals in the Hellenic Period. Flowers, water features, sculptures, and architectural design were all important. The more original the better. The Hanging Gardens were apparently built ~600 BC by the Babylonian Empire's greatest king, Nebuchadnezzar II. This is the only one of the Seven Wonders whose existence is disputed. Evidence of the gardens has never been found, although they were said to have lasted for 1,500 years.

It would have been quite a feat to irrigate the many terraces in such a climate. The sight of such an extravagant and exotic garden would probably have impressed Greek tourists enormously, being so different to the dusty olive groves they were more accustomed to.

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

The most impressive Greek temple that I know about is probably the Parthenon. As it turns out, the Temple of Artemis was actually twice the size of that. It took more than one hundred years to build. I can't imagine a marble temple on such a a scale. It's similar in length and width to a US football field!

Artemis was the Greek goddess of hunting, forest animals, and fertility. Her temple was rebuilt more than once in its long history. Originally constructed around 550 BC, it was the victim of a deliberate arson attack two hundred years later. Then it was destroyed by a Gothic invasion in the third century. Finally, the temple was closed during the rise of Christianity at the start of the fifth century. The ruins remain a tourist attraction today.

Statue of Zeus at Olympia

The Statue of Zeus was forty feet high. That's almost seven times as high as the average person. It was rendered in full colour too, with a wooden frame underneath and ivory (for the skin) and gold (for the hair/beard/clothes) on top. Details were created from silver, copper, enamel, glass, and jewels. No wonder it became so famous.

It would have gleamed too. Apparently the statue was painted with olive oil to protect the ivory. The oil was kept in a pool in front of the statue on black tiles, creating a reflection that made the statue look twice its size. As if it wasn't impressive enough already!

Built around 450 BC, the statue lasted for a thousand years before being destroyed by fire sometime in the fifth or six century.

Mausoleum at Harlicarnassus

The word mausoleum (meaning a tomb above ground / funeral monument) originates from this Seventh Wonder. It was built for Mausolus, the ruler of Caria, around 350 BC. Mausolus himself started planning and building this monument fourteen years before he died. It was completed after his death by his wife--and sister!--Artemisia. He wanted to commemorate his dynasty and the city he'd created.

It wasn't only the structure that was so impressive (it was nearly twice as high as Buckingham Palace) but also the accompanying colour statues. There were lions on the staircase. Gods and goddesses around the platform. Warriors on horseback at each corner. And, of course, Mausolus and his queen. On the roof was a massive statue of Mausolus riding a chariot. The monument lasted a long time. It was weakened and finally destroyed by a series of earthquakes from the twelfth to fifteen centuries.

Colossus of Rhodes

This statue was even taller than the Statue of Zeus. One hundred and ten feet high. That's twice as high as the letters in the Hollywood sign. It was intended to look like the Greek sun-god Helios and was built at the entrance to Rhodes (which had five harbours) to celebrate a victory over Cyprus around 300 BC. Unfortunately, the statue didn't even last a full century before an earthquake destroyed it.

The broken pieces of the statue remained in the harbour for a thousand years before they were finally melted down as scrap in the mid-seventh century.

Lighthouse at Alexandria

Height was definitely a common theme amongst the Seven Wonders! The lighthouse was more than 330 feet high. To put it into context, that means it was twenty-five feet taller than the Statue of Liberty including the pedestal.

Alexandria was a city founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. It had two natural harbours on the River Nile and quickly became a successful trading port. Ptolemy I commissioned the lighthouse in 300 BC, though it was finally completed by his son (Ptolemy II!) twenty years later. It stood on the island of Pharos, a word that subsequently became part of the Greek language to mean lighthouse. Legend has it that the inhabitants of Pharos were "wreckers" (shipwreck raiders) and so Ptolemy built the lighthouse to keep the ships safe. It used a mirror to reflect the sunlight during daytime and a fire at night, lasting more than 1,600 years until the early fourteenth century.

And that's it--all Seven Wonders Of The World present and correct! I hope you enjoyed reading about the tourist attractions of the past as much as I enjoyed researching them, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today πŸ’•.