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The Legacy of Androva Series

Another weekend, another chapter of Spell Tracker ๐Ÿ˜Š. Devin is understandably curious after what just happened between him and Luca, but Luca refuses to give him the explanation he asks for. There's also another message from the Spell Tracker and, inevitably, it's not good news. Finally, there might be a first kiss on the horizon, so this feels like the right time to remind everyone that the romance in this story is m/m. If you'd like to catch up on any other chapters, please follow the New series link at the top of this post, and thank you very much for visiting my blog today!

8 A Distraction

“I’m not. There’s no such thing, trust me. I’m just a guardian.”
“You mean a guardian angel?”
“No. Angel is a word the earthbound use. I’m a guardian. I was earthbound once, but now I just… help.”
“So… you’re a ghost?”
“No.” I suppressed a smile. I’d never heard a Light Mage referred to as a ghost before. “I’m not ready to talk about it. There are rules.”
“OK.” He nodded seriously, then that smile broke through again. “It’s still snowing.”
“Uh-huh. Want me to make it stop?”
“Not yet. I quite like avoiding reality for a change.”
“Well, this is still reality. It’s just that the earthbound do not understand any dimension except for the one they exist in.”
Apparently I was more ready to talk about it than I’d realized. What was the matter with me? I pulled my sleeves over my hands. The air was growing colder as the snow continued to fall.
“Ah… excuse me? Can you explain that, please?” asked Devin.
“Better not.”
“Why not?”
 “Well, it’s safer if you don’t know. Plus, you might not be ready to accept it anyway.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Do you have any idea how patronizing that sounds?”
I nodded. “Doesn’t mean I’m wrong, though.”
“I’ve only got your word for that.”
“Yep. And it’s all you’re getting.”
“Then you should think before you open your mouth,” said Devin, his brows lowered in a scowl. “You can’t just casually mention other dimensions and refuse to explain.”
“I obviously can because I did. But I won’t do it again if it bothers you.”
“Well, that’s just perfect,” he retorted, rolling his eyes. “I feel much better now.”
I nearly laughed. I like you, Devin. “Can’t we change the subject?” I said.
Devin opened his hand to catch a few snowflakes, then curled his fingers into a fist. He let out a sigh.
“Just say the first thing that comes into your head,” I suggested.
“Fine. I don’t know whether to hit you or kiss you right now. Shit. Shit. That wasn’t what I meant to say.”
He scrambled backward, attempting to stand. After catching his foot on a table leg, he landed on one of the cardboard props, which crumpled underneath his weight with a tearing sound.
“God, I’m so smooth I amaze even myself sometimes,” he muttered, keeping his eyes on the floor.
I bit my cheek to keep from laughing. “What did you mean to say?” I asked. Don’t think about kissing him. Don’t.
He lifted his head. “I was going to tell you about the inflationary multiverse theory. Some physicists believe—”
“I know,” I said, interrupting him. “The idea that there was more than one Big Bang. Parallel universes and all that.”
“Was there? Are there?”
“I can’t tell you. But earthbound science certainly helps us to refine the rules within which we operate.”
“Us? How many of you are there?”
“Nowhere near enough.” That’s an understatement. Not many magicians are Light Mages, and even fewer go on to qualify as guardians.
The bell rang. School was over for the day.
Rescindo,” I said, and the snow stopped falling. Devin stood up slowly. “Do you want to get a soda? I mean… can you do that?” he asked.
“No. I only pretended to eat before. This physical covering is an illusion. It doesn’t need the… er… the traditional earthbound things.”
His eyes dropped lower down my body for a few seconds, before he blushed and looked away. Fleeting though it was, damnit if that part of me didn’t pay attention just the same. I pressed my lips together, fighting the temptation to do something stupid, like tell him needing wasn’t the same as wanting, and would he please kiss me already.
The more I got to know Devin, the more intriguing he became. There was a fierce intelligence hidden behind that easygoing exterior. I wanted to spend more time with him. I wanted to help him.
My phone chimed with a text. My first thought was that it must be from Cass, and I took the phone out of my pocket straight away. I muttered a swear word. Him. It was from him.
Hello, Luca. Having fun? You do know this boy has nothing to do with our little contract, don’t you? You’re going to lose lose lose lose lose lose LOSE!
My reaction, as he had no doubt intended, was to panic. He was right. Spending time with Devin would not help me save Cass. School was done and she’d be leaving. I was suddenly desperate to find her and make her understand what would happen if she didn’t—
“What’s the matter?” said Devin. “Was it bad news?”
“Um. Not exactly. Just a reminder about something.”
The phone chimed again. For the love of
Fourth restriction: you can only make ONE connection. And you just wasted it on someone completely random. I find that quite amusing. Have a great evening, won’t you, Luca?
“No,” I said, staring at the phone in disbelief. “No.”
Devin leaned closer. “God, Avi, what is it? You look terrible.”
Sweat prickled on my forehead and the small room turned from cozy to claustrophobic. I wanted to scream. My throat burned as I swallowed the noise down. If I couldn’t make a connection with Cass, my chances of success would reduce even further.
We avoided connections. We did. Except in cases where the potential benefits outweighed the risks. In cases where we couldn’t reach our assignment because their armor was too carefully crafted to get past it any other way. In cases like Cass’s.
“What is it? What—”
“Don’t touch me,” I said, leaning back. My voice was loud in the small space. Devin snatched away his outstretched hand.
“Calm down,” he said. “I was only trying to help.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean… I’m sorry,” I repeated. “I have this thing going on with… at… at home, and it’s really getting to me.”
Devin’s face relaxed. “OK. I get that. Although… exactly what ‘home’ is for you, I have no idea.”
I put the phone away. This was my fault, not Devin’s. I’d been warned about the restrictions and I’d still rushed into making a connection, apparently unable to help myself. It was like all my years as a guardian counted for nothing and I was Avi again, for real. Well, that’s a scary thought.
“What I said just now. It’s not what you think. It would really hurt you if your skin touched mine. It already happened once before. Gabe saw it.”
Devin understood immediately. “So that’s the reason he…”
I nodded.
“Why don’t I remember?”
“It’s easier on you if you don’t. The pain appeared to be excruciating.”
“Yeah, but… I don’t like you deciding what I should and shouldn’t remember. That’s not cool.”
I didn’t know how to answer him. Guardians filtered memories all the time. It was a very effective way of managing the help we gave, and I was accustomed to making decisions on my assignments’ behalf. Good decisions.
“This is where you apologize,” he said, folding his arms.
I was still on edge from the text message, and my temper rose. “No. What am I apologizing for, exactly? Protecting you? If I stopped you from walking off a cliff, would you expect me to say sorry for that too?”
“That’s hardly fair. You can’t compare what you did with… with death. Don’t be ridiculous.”
I raised my eyebrows. I was being spiteful, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. “Can’t I? What if I told you I was protecting you from death in both scenarios? What would you say then?”
My gaze was unwavering. I watched the muscles in his body tense up.
“No,” he said quietly. “That’s impossible.”
“You would probably have said the same about the snow until you saw it.”
“Yeah, but… death? What does that mean? You’re not dead!” His voice rose.
“That depends entirely on your definition of death.”
“Not alive. Of course.”
I laughed. “Yes, it’s all very simple from where you’re standing. But what does alive mean to you? A beating heart? A conscious mind? A soul?”
He took a step closer, his eyes fixed on mine. “I can’t argue with someone who twists everything I say. Don’t mess with my head. That’s wrong no matter what all the other stuff is supposed to mean.”
His anger wasn’t the complicated, murky kind. It burned a clean, bright red, making the air between us crackle with energy. Making me feel alive. Before I knew what I was doing I leaned forward and kissed him.
Devin only hesitated for a second, then he was kissing me back. My hands came up and cradled his jaw. I ran my tongue along his bottom lip and his mouth opened on a gasp. My head was spinning.
With great difficulty, I pulled back. “I’m sorry,” I said, slightly breathless.
Now you apologize?” His chest rose and fell as he looked back at me. He lifted one hand to his mouth.
“Wait…” He trailed off.
“I’m not going anywhere,” I said.
“I thought I couldn’t touch you?”
It must be the connection. Oh… that might be dangerous.
“You couldn’t,” I said. “But now you’ve seen who… what… I am, I think that’s changed.”
“That’s impossible. Physics doesn’t work that way, whatever dimension you’re in.”
It was more than that, but I didn’t want to scare him by explaining how the connection worked. For him to know that I could use magic was risky enough, but for him to know why he couldn’t…
He frowned. “Maybe it wasn’t really that painful in the first place.”
Commemoro,” I said.
Devin flinched and looked down, curling the fingers of his left hand inward. “OK. It was pretty bad. God, no wonder Gabe thinks you’re a monster. We have to tell him.”
“No,” I said.
“Yes. We have to. Mina and I thought he was losing it.”
He stepped closer and lifted his chin. “Yes.”
I couldn’t stop staring at his mouth. I was starting to understand why guardians did not live alongside the earthbound. This physical covering had a mind of its own. And it was desperate to kiss Devin again. You can’t go around forcing kisses on people, Luca. Get ahold of yourself.
Gritting my teeth, I stepped back. “Look. I’ll be honest with you. I’m in uncharted territory here. I’ve never done this like… this.” I gestured to my body. “Rank-and-file guardians like me are usually invisible in this dimension. We don’t cross over. It’s not allowed.”
He considered this. “You’re breaking the rules? Why?”
I sighed. “It’s a long story.”
The light above our heads went out. Devin’s surprised intake of breath sounded loud in the darkness. “It must be getting late,” he said. “I need to tell my mom I won’t be home on time. She worries.”
His face glowed in the light from his phone as he typed. The tip of his tongue emerged from one corner of his mouth. I was staring again.
“Is she…? You said Cass was your half sister. Do you share a mother or a father?”
He flicked his eyes upward, then down again as he continued typing. “That’s an interesting way to put it. We did share a father. Except neither family realized they were sharing him until he was killed in a road accident.”
“Gods, that’s… horrible. When did he…?”
I heard the swooshing sound of his message sending, but he kept his gaze lowered. “A while ago. When I was in fourth grade.”
“I’m sorry,” I said inadequately.
After a short silence Devin looked up and gave me a smile. “Did you just say ‘Gods’?”
I shrugged. His smile got bigger.
“It’s kind of cute,” he said. “Like you really did arrive here by accident from Ancient Rome.”
“I can’t help it,” I said. “It’s the one word I can’t seem to shake from before.”
He glanced at his phone as it buzzed with a notification. “We should go. They’ll be locking the school, and we don’t want to spend the night here.”
“I can’t leave,” I said.
“You can’t? You’re stuck here?”
“It’s part of the long story.”
“Maybe I could…”
“No,” I said. “I need some time to think, and if you stay here you’ll distract me.”
“Oh,” he said, disappointed.
“In a good way,” I added. “I mean, you’d distract me, but in a good way. No. I don’t mean that. It would be a bad way. I mean… you’re the distraction. Damnit. I give up.”
His disappointment had turned into a grin as my inarticulate floundering continued. “At least give me your number so I can message you,” he said. Before he left, he leaned in as if he were going to kiss me, but stopped an inch or two away.
“For the record,” he said, his voice low, “you distract me too.”
I sat down again as the sound of his footsteps faded. I am in so much trouble.

I'm so happy to be able to reveal the cover for Spell Tracker, the first book in the upcoming Light Mage Series ๐Ÿ˜Š. It's the work of Christian Bentulan (more info about him on his website here) who did an amazing job, as you can see!

The book is set for release on December 1st, and the pre-order at $0.99/£0.99 is now live.

Spell Tracker Amazon US
Spell Tracker Amazon UK

In the meantime, there are seven chapters available to read via the New series label at the top of this post. Thank you very much for visiting my blog today!

Back cover description:

Luca has a problem his magic can’t solve. The boy he’s loved since they fought side-by-side as gladiators in Ancient Rome is about to die for the last time. Luca’s only chance to prevent it is to make a deal with the Spell Tracker, who demands Luca’s own life as collateral.

At seventeen years old, Luca is a Light Mage, the rarest of magicians. He’s able to navigate the earthbound dimension without losing his memory of its magical counterpart. Like an invisible kind-hearted ghost, he helps others to graduate their life paths and take up their chosen magical professions.

But this time, with the help of the Spell Tracker, Luca is earthbound again for real as a high school senior. The boy he’s here to save is nothing like he expected, and before long his head and his heart are all over the place, as well as his intended rescue.

The Spell Tracker can hardly wait for him to fail. The life of this particular Light Mage is something he’s wanted for a very long time…

Spell Tracker, the first book in the Light Mage series, is a contemporary fantasy story with time travel, m/m romance, and no cliffhanger. Additional content information will be available via the Look Inside feature. Recommended for 14+

This weekend's blog post is Chapter Seven! Luca and Devin have a heart-to-heart, with Luca revealing a bit more about his magical identity in the process, and we also find out how Luca got that scar on his face during his gladiator training.

I'm getting ready to reveal the cover and blurb for the new book very soon, with publication still on track for 2018. In the meantime I'll keep blogging chapters. I've managed to plan ahead (very, very high level!) for three books, so it's looking like the Light Mage Series will be a trilogy. I could easily write a prequel too, but I'm getting ahead of myself there. It depends on whether readers are interested or not! You can catch up on any of the previous chapters via the New Series label at the top of this post. Thank you very much for reading .

7 A Connection 
Neither Gabe nor Mina said anything, so I decided to go after Devin. I caught up to him just as the bell rang for the end of lunch. He ignored me and walked a little faster. His emotions were really starting to worry me. They were all over the place, the ribbons twisted into ropes in places.
It would be a while before they merged into the suffocating prison that surrounded Cass, but she was hardly a good benchmark, being that she represented the absolute worst-case scenario.
Devin went into the bathroom and I waited outside, pretending to examine my phone. Cass hadn’t replied to my text. I added her number to my contacts, almost typing in her former name, but I caught myself just in time. I willed the letters out of my head. If she ever heard me call her by that name, she might remember everything and I would have failed her.
I considered whether to add him to my contacts as well. I could certainly use his real name—it wasn’t exactly a secret that he was the current Spell Tracker. Except I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. I looked at the messages he’d sent me. Three restrictions so far. I could only hope he was done.
By the time Devin emerged, the corridor was empty. He frowned at me. “I’m late.”
“Yeah, me too,” I replied. “Do you want to skip next period and go somewhere to talk?”
“No, I’m… What did you just say?”
“Do you want to go somewhere and talk?” I repeated.
“With you?”
“You don’t have to.” I won’t make you. But I want to help.
“I can’t,” he said, looking disappointed. “I haven’t skipped class since freshman year. I promised my mom…”
“What class do you have now?”
“English. With Mr. Nux.”
“Where is it?”
“Room 7B. It’s—”
“I know where it is. Come on.”
We half walked and half ran to 7B. Mr. Nux, tall, fuzzy-haired, and with a genial expression on his face, was closing the door when we got there.
“Devin. You’re just in time.”
Me specta,” I said. The teacher’s gaze shifted to my face. “Devin isn’t feeling very well. He can’t attend your class today. If there’s an assignment, please email it to him. Me credite.”
“Of course,” he responded. “Of course I believe you. Hope you feel better soon, Devin.”
He closed the door.
“What the actual…?” said Devin.
I grinned. “Now you’re not skipping class. You’re sick.”
“And you?” he asked.
“Oh,” I said, my grin widening, “I’m definitely skipping class.”
 He laughed. “Where should we go?”
I can’t leave the school. “Somewhere no one can hear us. Are there any rooms that don’t get used for teaching?”
He thought for a moment. “The backstage area next to the main hall, where I helped Mina fix her makeup for last year’s production. It’s a dump for all the junk from past plays, like costumes and stuff.”
It wasn’t bad, as a place to escape to. The old props were a little bizarre, but it was private, and once I’d adjusted the lighting with a quick, “Suavis,” it was cozy enough. We sat on the floor, our legs stretched out next to each other. I could hear his breathing.
“I like you,” I said immediately. “I want to be friends with you.”
He gave me a sideways glance. “Really?”
“Yeah. I know Gabe doesn’t think much of me, and I have no idea what to make of Mina, but… non curamus.”
“I want to be friends with you too. God, I feel like I’m in fourth grade.”
“I wish I’d known you in fourth grade,” I said.
“You don’t. I was worse than Cass.”
My heart twisted inside my chest at the reminder. “Sounds impossible,” I replied, keeping my voice neutral.
He was different now. Maybe he’d had a guardian once, and they’d helped him. Maybe they’d thought they were done. And now his emotions were getting away from him again. I wondered what had happened over the summer.
Do you like her?” he asked. “Mina’s a nightmare, but her instincts are usually right.”
“It’s not… That’s not it,” I replied, not really answering his question but not wanting to lie to him either. “Like” doesn’t really cover it.
I flashed back to the Ludus Magnus in Rome, the place where Cass and I had first met. There, gladiators like us had been instructed in the art of dispensing death and entertainment, the one alongside the other, for the viewing pleasure of the mob.
We’d been adversaries from the start. I’d arrived two days after her, both of us purchased by the lanista at different auctions. He’d been touring the provinces for new blood, expecting that co-Emperor Lucius Verus would soon return victorious from his campaign in Mesopotamia. In 166 AD, Marcus Aurelius, the emperor, would naturally celebrate with new games in the Colosseum. New games meant new gladiators. It wasn’t a profession with a long life expectancy.
We were both young and angry. Both determined to survive at any cost, even if that cost was the life of the other. She was better educated than I was, provoking me to fury one complicated insult at a time. I was the better fighter, but only just.
It had been an ordinary training session when everything changed. I only had to close my eyes and I felt like I was there again. It was hot. My tunic was stuck to my chest and dust rose up around us as our feet skidded back and forth across the dirt. We were still learning, neither of us assigned to a particular fighting style yet. Our swords met over and over, and apart from our accelerated breathing, the clacking of one wooden rudis against the other was the only sound we made.
I deflected a jab to my stomach a little too late. The tip of her sword grazed my tunic and I scowled.
“Getting tired, Avitus?”
I didn’t answer, immediately going back on the attack. I had to narrow my eyes against the lowering sun, and when our swords locked I maneuvered her into a quarter-turn. That’s better.
We were close enough that I could smell the heat of her body and see the perspiration on her upper lip. I pushed with all my strength, muscles burning, and gradually my sword drove hers backward, closer and closer to her face. I looked into her eyes, expecting to see the same contempt she always showed me. It wasn’t there.
That was the moment. As if Jupiter himself reached down with a lightning bolt to strike us where we stood. My sword was against her neck. She made a noise I’d never heard before and her pupils expanded.
My hand rose to touch the scar on my cheek. She’d given that to me about thirty seconds later when I’d dropped my guard, her sword easily slicing into my skin and leaving behind a wooden splinter an inch long. She’d been furious with me for the way I’d made her feel, though I hadn’t discovered that until much later.
“You’re smiling,” said Devin. “I guess you do like her.”
“No. She reminds me of someone, that’s all. Prior socius,” I added, almost to myself. I cleared my throat. Devin looked unconvinced.
“Look, I wouldn’t say no to being friends with her, but nothing else,” I said firmly. “Not with her.”
Wait, not with her? Not with anyone, Luca.
“So… you speak Latin,” he said.
“I do.”
“And it does something.”
“Does it?”
He huffed a sigh. “I think so. Not always. Like, nothing happens when you say your name, but when it’s… when you told Mr. Mason not to worry. Or Mr. Nux just now.”
“Perhaps I’m just very persuasive,” I said quietly.
It was the guardians’ way. Persuade. Hint. Support. Show potential solutions to the assignment without actually telling them what to do. They must learn their lesson unaided, however difficult that may be. Provide context, and the lesson is undermined. Interrupt free will, and the lesson is done.
Devin was fiddling with a button on his shirt. “You are persuasive. It’s terrifying. I just met you, but if you gave me even the slightest bit of encouragement… I’d tell you anything. Everything.”
“What would you tell me?” I said, my voice even softer than before.
He drew up his knees. His emotions overflowed again, in a rush, like a dam had broken. I shifted position so that I was more or less facing him.
“I want to help you,” I said. I shook my head when he began to protest. “You don’t have to tell me anything. Hold out your hands.”
I showed him what I meant, raising my hands until they were a few inches away from my torso, palms downward.
“I’m just going to… Percipio,” I said.
He froze. “What the hell is that?”
“It’s you. I mean, it’s your state of mind, right now. All the layers of emotion you’re producing.”
“It’s… horrible. Like snakes and fog.” He made a face. “It tastes bitter.”
“Well, some of it is. You need to think back to what the cause might be and deal with it.”
“I can’t,” he said immediately. Too fast.
“Oh. You already know what’s causing it,” I said in surprise.
His face closed off and he pulled his hands back. “I can’t,” he repeated forcefully. “I promised.”
I was so tempted to look at his life path. But it was bad enough that I’d already invaded Mr. Mason’s privacy that way. Devin deserved better than that from me. He said he wanted to be my friend. I hadn’t had a friend since… don’t go there again, Luca.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Rescindo.”
Devin relaxed.
“It’s still there,” I couldn’t help adding. “Just because you can’t feel it doesn’t mean it’s gone. It won’t go away on its own.”
“I can’t,” he said again, remarkably calm for someone who’d just touched the unresolved life lesson that might one day kill him. Life lessons were sneaky like that. They just kept representing themselves in different ways, over and over, becoming more difficult to ignore each time. Eventually, darkness accumulated to such a degree that the time left to learn just… ran out.
It might be quick or slow. Everyone was different. But there was no stopping him once the balance tipped. He enforced his contracts without mercy.
We were both silent for a moment.
“Tell me about the Latin,” he said eventually. “How do you make it… do those things?”
I sighed. “Do you really want to know? It will be another secret you have to keep…”
“What is it?” he said, grinning. “Are you a spy? Has everyone in the school been brainwashed to respond to your every Latin instruction?”
He did have the most amazing smile. Luca, you are so shallow.
“Latin is my language. Because of who I am, that makes it powerful. When I use it with intent…”
He leaned forward. “Show me. Do something.”
I looked at the ceiling. “Nix,” I said.
Straight away, snowflakes began to fall, soft, white, and freezing cold. Devin pushed himself to a standing position and turned his face upward.
“Oh my God,” he said. His face, rather appropriately, was lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. “I’ve never seen real snow before,” he added.
After a little while he sat down again, kneeling in front of me. “It’s magic. Isn’t it?”
I lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “Yes.”
“Aren’t you worried I’ll tell someone?”
“And who would believe you?”
He laughed. “Nobody.”
“Are we still friends?” I asked.
“Of course,” he replied, making eye contact. I returned his stare, holding nothing back. I felt the connection flare into life, like stepping from shadow into sunshine. So did he, if his dazed expression was anything to go by. My magic glowed. There were a couple of snowflakes on his eyelashes. “You… you look like… like an angel.”
I suppose I do.

Today’s blog post is an additional scene about Penny’s brother. A couple of readers have asked me what happened to Andy in between Controlling Magic and Connecting Magic. Did he find it easy to reconcile becoming a magician with his earthbound life? Well… not exactly. I doubt Andy will be too happy about me revealing the details, but I also know that Jax will be delighted… ๐Ÿ˜

The scene opens about six weeks after the end of Controlling Magic. Andy is revising for his Chemistry ‘A’ Level with his best friend Hugo. ‘A’ Levels (A=Advanced) are exams taken by eighteen-year-olds in the UK prior to attending university. Andy and Hugo both intend to study medicine.

I hope you enjoy the scene, and I’m always open to ideas for more bonus content so just let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to read about! Although the Legacy of Androva series is finished, I still miss the characters, and any chance to revisit them is fine with me ๐Ÿ˜„. Thank you very much for reading!

“What is your problem?” asked Hugo.
Andy sighed. My problem is I hate suppressing my force field so no-one realizes I’m a magician, he thought. It’s like trying to read the textbooks through a dirty pane of glass. How am I supposed to live half of my life without magic now I know the difference?
Because you chose to, said the voice in his head. Better half of your life without magic than all of it.
He glanced at Hugo who was staring back at him exasperatedly. They were meant to be testing each other on chemistry theory, usually one of Andy’s favorite subjects. Final exams were less than a month away, and his place at medical school depended on excellent grades.
“Maybe we should take a break,” said Andy.
“A break from what exactly?” Hugo replied. He threw down his pen. “Dude, we haven’t even finished one question yet.”
For a second, Andy wished he could tell him. He wished he could explain about Androva, a world where magic was real. The only reason Hugo himself hadn’t been born with any magical ability was the ancient treaty with Androva whose terms prevented it. Angelus, the evil magician contained by the treaty, had been defeated over a year ago, but the treaty’s legacy on Andy’s world was unlikely to be reversed now.
Androva didn’t know everything about Terra and its inhabitants, but it knew enough to be wary. The prospect of creating magicians on such a world had already been rejected by a majority vote of the Androvan Council. Andy had seen the Council’s analysis, and the list of potential negative outcomes had been pretty depressing.
& Magic as a weapon, or as a way to influence and control
& Magic as a commodity—for sale or for hire
& Magic as a way to achieve youth or beauty
& Magic as a spectacle or freak show
Andy had agreed all were possible. Not to mention that the safety of Androva was almost certain to be lost as a consequence.
“Sorry. I’ve got a lot on my mind,” Andy told his friend.
Hugo tilted his head. “Is it Lisa? She still giving you a hard time?”
“No,” said Andy. He hunched his shoulders slightly. Lisa had been his girlfriend for most of the previous year. She’d been devastated when he broke up with her.
“Someone else then?” asked Hugo. “You haven’t been single for this long since primary school. What gives?”
“I’m not… necessarily single,” said Andy carefully.
“Who? Who is she?” asked Hugo, leaning forward. “Tell me. Show me,” he added, looking around for Andy’s phone. “I knew there was a reason you weren’t studying properly, Hargreaves.”
Andy hesitated. He hadn’t told anyone about Valentina yet, but he knew this had to change if he were going to successfully attend both university and the Seminary of Magic on Androva. He didn’t want to hide the fact that he had a girlfriend. Valentina needed to be able to cross from one world to the other the same as he did.
It was going to be difficult, though. When Andy went to Androva, everyone knew he was a Terran. He didn’t have to pretend to know all the spells Androvans his age took for granted. But Valentina would have to pretend. Even setting aside the fact that she was a magician, Terra was so much more sophisticated in terms of culture and technology than the world she’d grown up in. Andy had a lot of friends, but he’d known Hugo for the longest. He made a decision and held out his phone.
Valentina was seventeen. She had dark red hair, blue eyes and a smile that lit up her face. Overlaid by the subtle magnetism of her magical force field, it still knocked Andy sideways whenever he saw her, a new sensation he found quite unsettling. He wasn’t accustomed to feeling at a disadvantage with girls.
“Um… have you got one without a filter?” said Hugo after a few seconds.
“No,” replied Andy. “I mean, there’s no filter. That’s actually what she looks like.”
Hugo raised his eyebrows. “Wow. I never thought I’d say this about you, but I think you’re punching, mate.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” said Andy, shaking his head.
“Straight-chain and branched-chain isomers,” replied Hugo, glancing at the chemistry book.
“Funny. You should be a comedian not a doctor.”
“But seriously, where did you even meet her? She looks like a model.”
“She’s not. She’s… er… studying to be a doctor too.” This was true. Valentina wanted to be a Remedax when she came of age. “I met her in Darius’s house,” Andy added. Also true. Except that Darius, his sister Penny’s boyfriend, was a magician from Androva like Valentina. Lying by omission. Andy supposed he had better get used to it.
The sun came out from behind the clouds and shone into the open-plan kitchen where the two boys were studying. The edges of Andy’s phone glowed brighter with the blue of the Protection Spell surrounding it. He hastily returned it to his pocket. The tingle of magical energy against his fingers amplified his restlessness. There was no escaping the fact that he’d rather be at the Seminary learning the three time-honored Combat Spells, or creating a portal to the other side of the world out of thin air. Even an Androvan History lesson about Sygnus symbols would be preferable to his ‘A’ level Chemistry book. However, he wasnt due back at the Seminary for another two days. He sighed.
“This isn’t gonna work, is it?” said Hugo.
“What isn’t?” said Andy, startled out of his daydream.
“This.” Hugo gestured at the textbooks. “I’m not your teacher, dude. We should probably forget it. I’ll go to the library and catch you later or something.”
Andy’s gaze sharpened. I don’t want to forget my Terran education, he thought. But Hugo’s right. I can’t carry on like this. “Tomorrow,” he promised. “I’ll be back in the zone tomorrow.”
“If you say so.” Hugo kept his head down, closing his laptop and putting it in his backpack.
“Are we cool?” said Andy.
Hugo paused. “Sure,” he said. “I guess it’s reassuring to know you’re as susceptible to a pretty face as the rest of us.”
“Valentina’s not the reason I don’t feel like studying,” protested Andy.
“Whatever. But at the risk of sounding like your teacher after all—a pretty face is no substitute for your MD.”
Andy closed the door behind Hugo and packed away his own laptop and books. He stared out of the window into the garden, wondering what to do for the best. Feeling so undecided was an unfamiliar sensation for him. Good looks, brains, and a black belt in karate made him stand out from the crowd. But there was an edge to Andy that kept people his own age guessing. He didn’t care if studying wasn’t cool. And he broke the rules as often as he followed them. He wasn’t arrogant, but he was confident. At least, he usually was.
The trees by the fence rustled loudly as the wind picked up. The living magic they contained was no longer harvested by Androvan magic-takers, though Andy and his younger sister Penny sometimes used them to practice on. Magic-taking was a useful skill. Andy reached into his pocket for his phone and typed a message.
Are you around this afternoon? At home I mean?
His phone buzzed with a notification only a minute later.
I am. Penny’s on Androva though.
I know,” Andy replied. “You’re the one I want to see.
There was a short delay before Shannon’s reply appeared. “Jax is here too.
Andy grinned. “Thanks for the warning but that’s cool. He might be able to help. See you in 10.
OK. See you soon. We’re out back.
Jax and Andy weren’t out-and-out enemies, but they weren’t close friends either. Shannon was Penny’s best friend and Jax was her boyfriend. She lived a few streets away. Andy grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge before setting off to walk the short distance between the two houses. The sun was hot and he wished he felt confident enough in his use of magic to use an Ice Spell on the back of his neck. Knowing my luck I’d create a collar made from icicles, he thought. The strength of his force field had increased from zero to maximum very fast because he’d already been almost eighteen when his spark was ignited.
“Hey,” he called as he walked through the side gate.
“Hey,” replied Shannon. She and Jax were sitting beneath the chestnut tree at the foot of the garden. Jax had his hand flat on the grass next to Shannon’s, not quite touching, but close enough that Andy knew their force fields would be able to sense the proximity.
“What’s up?” said Shannon.
Andy sat down, placing the bottle of water onto the ground. He would never admit it to the younger boy, but there were times he found the directness of Jax’s green-eyed stare slightly intimidating. Especially right now, when Andy felt at a disadvantage before he’d even opened his mouth. He couldn’t help admiring Jax for his confident and innovative use of magic. Jax, on the other hand, saw in Andy all the maturity and experience he knew he didn’t yet possess.
Andy braced himself. “I have a problem,” he said.
Jax lowered his gaze, but not before Andy saw the flicker of curiosity in his eyes.
“Glad I could brighten your day, Jax.” Andy was unable to hide his irritation.
Shannon nudged Jax in an attempt to prevent his grin from widening. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said to Andy. “How can we help?”
“I can’t… I mean… How do you compartmentalize it so well?”
Shannon frowned. “I assume you’re talking about my magic?”
“Yeah. You kept it hidden from everyone, didn’t you? And you never failed your Terran classes, either. How did you do it?”
Shannon looked down, allowing her force field to expand far enough that her hands glowed softly in the shade created by the tree. “It was the first thing I learned,” she said quietly.
“How did you manage to get so good at it?” asked Andy. “I could really use some tips. I’ll never pass my exams the way I’m going right now.”
“I suppose my motivation was pretty solid,” she replied with a faint smile. “That might have had something to do with it.”
“Your motivation?”
Shannon lifted her gaze, pushing her hair off her forehead from where it had fallen forward. Her brown eyes glinted silver. “Protecting Jax. Remaining a magician. Staying alive,” she said. Jax put his hand on her knee, his former smile nowhere to be seen.
“I don’t understand,” said Andy. “I thought you beat Angelus because your magic was so powerful. Is so powerful, I mean.”
“It was before that,” said Shannon. “Jax and I were only in a position to confront him because the Androvan Council had no idea what I was capable of. I hid my force field so well I even fooled their senior interrogator.”
“And thank Androva you did,” murmured Jax.
Shannon explained the parts of their story that Andy hadn’t been fully aware of. “Impressive,” he acknowledged. “And it makes sense. I guess it’s not much help to me, though. I can’t exactly replicate what you went through.”
“No,” agreed Shannon. “Probably for the best,” she added, huffing a small laugh.
“Wait,” said Jax. “I have an idea how to motivate you.”
“What is it?” asked Andy.
“Jax,” said Shannon warningly.
“It’s a proper idea,” he told her. “I promise. It might hurt a little, but hey”—he looked at Andy—“you’re desperate, right? You would never have come here otherwise.”
“I guess that’s true,” Andy agreed.
“So. There are two parts to this. Firstly, I think you should try to escape one of Shannon’s Containment Spells. They’re killer because she’s so strong. If she doesn’t hold back, you might find the pain inspires you to suppress your force field more effectively. Like a crash course.”
Andy looked unconvinced.
“Go on,” said Jax. “Show him what I mean.”
“Is this OK with you, Andy?” said Shannon. Her hands glowed brighter.
Andy nodded. “Yes, of course. But I doubt—” He broke off with a gasp and a series of swear words, clutching his head and bending double. Once he’d gotten over the initial shock, he gritted his teeth and worked on escaping the band of magic inside his head. When hed finished, his face was white, and he had to take a few sips of water.
“Let’s go again,” he said.
“No,” said Shannon.
Again,” he insisted.
After four rounds of Containment Spells, Andy was satisfied. He lay back on the grass, staring up at the leaves shifting in the early summer breeze. “Well,” he said, closing his eyes, “I really didn’t know I was capable of suppressing my force field so far. Thanks, guys.”
“Are you all right?” asked Shannon.
“Yeah. Nothing a head transplant won’t cure. I’m kidding,” he added immediately, opening his eyes again. “Really, I’m fine. But if you have any Headache Remedy lying around, I wouldn’t say no.”
“I’ll make some,” said Shannon, picking up his bottle of water and unscrewing the cap. She concentrated for a few seconds before adding some sparkling drops of magical energy to it.
“So you’re glad we did this,” said Jax, checking. “You don’t regret it?”
“No,” said Andy. “I’m grateful. Honestly. What was the second part, by the way?”
“Oh,” said Jax. “The second part. Magic mixed with ordinary Terran school is impossible. I should know. I barely survived it without giving myself away—let alone studying properly like you’re attempting to. I think you should do your A’ levels first, then go to the Seminary. You’re annoyingly good. If you took a sabbatical from Terra after your exams, you could probably learn all six disciplines in a year.”
There was a pause, then Andy chuckled.
“What’s funny?” said Shannon.
“Are you telling me I was trying to do something even you wouldn’t have succeeded at?”
“Well… yes,” said Jax.
“You should have told me the second part first. I needn’t have suffered the indignity of those Containment Spells.”
Jax failed to hide his trademark mischievous grin. “If only I’d thought of that.”
A few seconds later, Shannon pushed Jax over with a Movement Spell so strong he landed on his back with a bump, the breath knocked out of him. I cant believe you did that,” she said, scowling.
Andy smiled. “I dont know. If I were in his position, after the whole thing with the kiss Id probably have done the same. But I think we’re even now. Right, Jax?
Jax nodded. Fair was fair. Although he wasnt sure if he and Andy would ever be close, he didn’t want the older boy as his enemy either. He gave Andy a tentative smile. 
Friends? said Andy.
Friends, agreed Jax.
Shannon offered to fetch some sodas from the kitchen. We should say a toast to New Friends, she said.
Andy ended up staying until his sister returned from Androva, and Penny was most surprised to see her brother and Jax getting on so well. In the not-too-distant future, Andys help (in the form of a replacement phone) would prove to be something of a lifeline for Jaxquite literally. The seeds of friendship sown that afternoon were more important than any of them knew.

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