Today's Chapter Fourteen takes us to the halfway point of the book 🙂. At the end of his flashback to Ancient Rome and gladiator training, Luca shies away from remembering how he and Cass were eventually separated. Then he meets up with Devin, who explains the reason for the tension between him, Mina, and Gabe. Luca's attraction to Devin is also becoming more and more difficult to ignore.
If you'd like to catch up with the rest of Spell Tracker so far, you can follow the New series label at the top of this post. I hope you enjoy the chapter, and thank you very much for reading 💕.
14 A Game
I spent every spare moment together as we prepared to enter the Colosseum for
our inaugural fight. Knowing we faced the threat of imminent death, we wanted to
do all we could to celebrate being alive. I believed in the gods when I was
with her. Someone so extraordinary could not have come into existence by
worked hard to fool the lanista into thinking Cass knew what she was
doing. Every night I gave her a horse-riding lesson in secret, and every day
she had to fake her ability a little less.
copy Julius,” I told her. “It’s not just a matter of kick to go and pull to steer
and stop. The horse will feel your weight shifting and respond to a much
lighter touch if you give him the chance.”
got to give me the chance to stay on first,” she complained. “Everything
I’m in agony here, Avi.”
I should take a closer look,” I said, adopting a solemn expression. “Examine
you. Just in case.”
her lip to hide a smile. “In case of what?”
I can find… um… something that doesn’t hurt. You know… to make you feel
stared at me for a second, then she climbed into my lap and we were kissing. It
was fierce, and sweet, and I wouldn’t have noticed if the emperor himself had interrupted
training arena, whenever it looked like she was going to mess up, I deliberately
pushed her off the horse and we fought on the ground with our swords instead. The
horses tolerated the training sessions with remarkable patience. I often felt
ashamed, knowing I would be forced to take one of them into the Colosseum with
me. Very few of the animals that entered the games ever came back.
others continued to laugh at our enmity, and the lanista suspected
nothing. It was important no one knew our real feelings. They would jump at the
chance to use them against us if they could.
the time came when Cass was proficient enough to fight a moving target on
horseback. We started on opposite sides of the arena before urging our horses
into a fast canter in order to attack. Before I had time to properly take aim,
Cass threw her blunted spear, hitting my unprotected shoulder hard and
upsetting my balance. My horse skittered backward. Cass was traveling toward me
so quickly that her practice sword was raining down blows on my head and my
raised shield before I could right myself.
off, my sword, spear, and shield landing on top of me with a clatter. She
shouted triumphantly. I suppressed a grin, happy for her even through the pain
of my landing, and shouted back, “Is that the best you can do?”
worst beats your best any day of the week,” she retorted.
that, she could hold her own. Her confidence increased. Our fighting styles
complemented each other, and we naturally began to pair up against the others.
Cass learned to throw her spear with great precision, while I worked on my
sword fighting, combining force with finesse in a way that had eluded me before.
Once she’d unhorsed an opponent, I finished them off.
us to an ending we would never have chosen.
Enough remembering for now. I’m not ready to think of… I’m not ready.
fortunate this was a weekend. The sun had already passed across the library
skylights and begun its descent by the time I stopped. I’d been lost in bittersweet
memories for half the night and most of the day.
checked my phone. Everyone was messaging about the party. Mina had posted a lot
of photos so that her followers could be in no doubt about how amazing it was going
to be and also how stunning Mina herself was going to look. The whole thing
must have taken her ages.
school ends this year, Mina. What happens then? You can’t cut and paste your
popularity when you go to college.
was an extended debate in the comments about whether “Cavi” would put in an
appearance. Mina hinted, but didn’t promise. I scrolled up and down a couple of
times to see if Gabe or Devin had said anything, but there were no comments
from either of them.
ridiculous how easy it had been for Mina to start the rumor about me and Cass.
The more times it was repeated on social media, the more people believed it. Seeing
the lie on the screen of their phone somehow lent it credibility. At least I
knew Cass didn’t care.
“What did you decide?”
I hadn’t decided anything.
“Still thinking,” I replied.
“I’ll be there in an hour. Delivery gate.
You’ll have to let me in.”
“What?” It struck me as I tapped Send
that my reply was stupid. Devin’s message was pretty clear.
“?” said his reply.
“I don’t know if I want to see you.” I
decided to go for honesty.
“I need your help,” he replied.
sighed. Some things I couldn’t say no to. Helping the earthbound was still my
job. I was on a temporary transfer, not a sabbatical.
“OK. An hour.”
“Cool.” He added a smiley face and I
found myself smiling back at the screen. Be honest, Luca. You do want to see
I passed the time by working on the library
computer to complete a History essay. I wasn’t attending every class, but I
didn’t want to use spells to get out of the entire timetable. I’d be far more
credible as a high school student if I actually spent some time being a
high school student. And graduation didn’t happen by accident. Even with sixty
percent attendance, I had a lot of studying to do.
Devin arrived, I was waiting. He smelled like he’d just had a shower. It was
kind of distracting.
to the alarm system, a couple of teachers are signed in,” I told him. “We
should go to our place. I mean… the place. Backstage. You know.”
place?” he repeated, smiling.
a slip of the…” I trailed off. Then, like an idiot, I touched my tongue to my
you don’t want me to throw myself at you right now, you should turn around and
start walking,” said Devin, not taking his eyes off my mouth.
been here less than a minute. Walk.
started walking, slowly, until I heard him follow a few paces behind me. I
concentrated on finding something sensible to say. It took me a while. “What
did you want my help with?” I asked, looking over my shoulder.
worried about Mina.”
what I was expecting him to say.
there a problem with the party or something?”
He shook his head. “It’s not the party. Look…
I suppose you think Mina is like this super-bitch who’s more into status than
anything else, right?”
down in the same places we’d been before. I didn’t soften the lighting this
time, in an attempt to avoid creating any kind of romantic vibe.
I said. “Are you going to tell me that she’s secretly insecure and
misunderstood, and really she’s hurting worse than all the people whose senior
years she’s trying to ruin?”
my guardian’s objectivity has completely gone to shit.
sorry,” I said before he could answer. “I didn’t mean that. I don’t know her
life path, do I? She might be doing this for someone else.”
a life path?”
I made a
face. “Something the earthbound aren’t supposed to know about.”
shifted closer until our hips and shoulders were touching. “Are you talking
about fate? Most scientists say every decision we make is predetermined. I
haven’t decided what to believe yet.”
I replied. “You haven’t decided.”
just said life path,” he argued. “If there’s a path, it sounds
predetermined to me.”
but there are forks in the path. Look, I’m breaking so many rules here. Can we
talk about Mina instead?”
elbowed my ribs. “You can’t keep telling me stuff, then refusing to explain.”
elbowed him back. “I’m trying to do the right thing.”
exhaled, then shifted position so I could see his face more easily. “Look,
let’s just say, hypothetically, you did have a life path and… choices. What
if someone told you which fork was the most difficult? Or who’d designed the
path… or where it crossed with someone else’s… or what the stakes were…
you see? Free will is so easy to undermine. And once it’s gone, you are done.
So I won’t be responsible for undermining yours.”
nodded. His shock filled the space between us, the ribbon of emotion spiky and
dark, but he did a good job of keeping it from showing on his face. “I get it.
Why didn’t you just say that before?”
Well. I told you. I don’t really know how to be a guardian like this. My
assignments can’t usually interrogate me.”
You make it sound like school.”
shrugged. “It is. Everyone’s learning. All the time.”
pushed up his sleeves. “Is there anything you can tell me that’s not
classified? You said you wanted to help me, before. I was hoping you could help
try. As long as you understand that I can’t tell her what to do.”
laughed. The spiky ribbon had already begun to fade, and now it transformed
into something that fizzed like the surface of a newly poured glass of soda.
“No one can
tell Mina what to do,” he said, grinning.
I said, wanting him to know what it felt like. He blinked. Goosebumps appeared on
doing that?” he asked. “It’s kind of nice.”
are. Rescindo,” I added. Devin looked disappointed.
was the happy version of the snakes and fog you felt before. Thoughts and
beliefs translate to emotions, which translate to mag… to energy,” I said,
correcting myself. “They have more power than most of the earthbound realize.”
you cope? I mean, being able to feel this stuff all the time. Doesn’t it
really. I kind of tune in to it when I need to. I only have three assignments
at a time. I mean… usually. That’s not to say I don’t get distracted, though.”
stared at me, and the fizzing slowed down, softening into something different. I
had to grit my teeth to keep from leaning into it. Gods. Would it be too
obvious if I used a spell to make my jeans a bit less tight?
I said, swallowing, “w-why does Mina need help?”
are you?” he asked.
are you?” he repeated.
I said. “Didn’t I tell you that already?”
you’re Roman. Doesn’t that make you, like, ancient?”
a Roman. When I was last earthbound. But… sorry to disappoint you. I’m not
particularly old, or wise, or anything. My age is a blueprint I carried with me
when I became a guardian.”
mean… you’ll be seventeen forever? Seriously?”
passed differently here. The average earthbound life was equivalent to a year
in the magical dimensions. I wouldn’t live forever, but it would seem like a
long time from Devin’s point of view. And I’d be seventeen for the duration of
it. He was right about that.
quite forever, but… yeah. Sometimes it sucks, but I’ve got used to it.”
God,” he said, relaxing.
thought I was crushing on some really old dude or something.”
“Thanks. I think?”
scooted a little way back from me, and the buzz of attraction between us
diminished. “Sorry,” he said. “You’ll probably think I’m stupid, but I can’t
seem to think clearly when I’m too close to you.”
don’t think you’re stupid.
looked down at his hands. “I’m going to tell you something about me, and Gabe,
and Mina, and you have to promise you won’t repeat it.”
hoping that because of… because of what you are, you can’t break your word. Is
that true, or am I being stupid again?” He looked up. His cheeks were a little
I said. “I wouldn’t have… but now I can’t.”
Devin opened his mouth and closed it again. “This is really difficult.”
don’t have to tell me.”
do. Otherwise you won’t understand. We’ve been friends forever. They’ve always
accepted me for who I am. I mean… that I’m gay. They made it easy for me.”
waited for me to acknowledge it. “OK,” I said. “I know it can be a big deal.
But remember I come from a time when people were pretty open about it.”
don’t seem bothered one way or the other.”
it’s me. Can’t really escape it.”
smiled. “I know, right? The thing is… not everyone feels that way.” His smile
disappeared. “We played this stupid game of truth or dare one night. I didn’t
find out until later, but Mina had been drinking. And once she said… what she said….
things just went from bad to worse.”
did she say?”
only that she’d been in love with Gabe since we were thirteen. He looked like
he was going to throw up when she tried to kiss him.”
guess. I’ve seen how he looks at you.
then he blurts out that he’s gay and in love with me. Can you believe
it? He gave me no warning. He just tried to kiss me and… he’s my friend.
I don’t like him that way.”
hunched his shoulders. “I probably looked like I was going to throw up, too. We
all swore we’d act as if it never happened. But Mina’s changed. I’m worried
about her. I’m worried about both of them.”