After the events of the last chapter, Luca/Avi wants Devin to go and talk to Leander. Luca can't do it himself because Leander thinks he's dead. And it's still a risky plan given that Devin is from the twenty-first century. But there's a good chance the events in the Colosseum have some bearing on the current day and the reason Cass is struggling with her life path. Both Luca and Devin think it's worth a try.
Warning: there is reference to gladiatorial combat and character death in this chapter.
You can catch up on chapters one through twenty-two via the New series label at the top of this post, and thank you very much for reading 💕.
23 A Coincidence
with a sword?” I said.
don’t mean that. I mean… she’s a boy. How is she a boy?”
same way you are. Because her life path says she is.”
nodded. “You could be a girl next time. Most lessons have to be learned as more
than one gender.”
that makes sense.” He looked back at the arena. “She got a bad deal, didn’t
she? It looked like you were allies. I hope some of her other lives were
depends,” I said.
“On whether the lesson she won’t learn can be traced all the way back to my
what I was afraid of. If it were true, it would mean her current situation was partly
my fault. I’d thought I was saving her, not condemning her. I pushed down the
guilt before it could take hold. Irrelevant, Luca. This is not about you.
possible?” asked Devin.
we find out?”
could talk to her. Ask her some questions.”
frowned. “How can I? She doesn’t know anything about this.”
I meant, you could talk to him.”
eyes widened. “You want me to talk to the gladiator? Could… could I do
can’t,” I said. “I’m dead, remember?”
looked at me, then back down at the body in the arena. The sword had been
removed, along with the helmet, and there were rose petals strewn everywhere,
hiding its injuries. Its hair was dark with sweat and a line of blood ran from
its lips halfway down its neck. Cass took a feather from her own helmet and
kissed it, before placing it on the body.
put his head on my shoulder for a second as if making sure I was still there. “Avi.
That boy down there with you. Did he… did he love you?”
never said it. We promised we wouldn’t. Not until we’d won our freedom.” We
shouldn’t have waited.
said Devin again, his voice low. He put his arms around me and I leaned into
him. Then I felt ashamed at how selfish I was being.
happened a long time ago,” I said.
it’s happening right now,” he argued.
but we can’t change it. The best we can do is understand it. Look, the
congratulations are over. Cass is leaving. We need to follow.”
assumed she would be returning to the Ludus Magnus, at least for tonight.
There was a tunnel connecting it to the Colosseum, allowing the gladiators and
animals easy access on games days. When we stood up, Devin made a noise of
I’m not wearing any…” He looked down at the toga.
said, smiling at his embarrassment. “Underwear is a relatively new earthbound custom.”
thought it felt weird when we arrived, but then I got distracted. Are…?” He
not,” I said.
blushed and did a terrible job of trying not to look. “Can we leave now?” he
asked, finally succeeding in averting his gaze.
and I remained unnoticed under my non video as we made our way through
the press of bodies, apart from when he trod on his toga and nearly tripped us
both up. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s these sandals. They’re impossible to walk in.”
muttered a spell to shorten his toga slightly, putting my hand on his back to
guide him in the direction I wanted us to take. I knew the Colosseum better
than any casual spectator, and soon enough we were in the tunnel itself. It was
hot and filthy with barely any natural light. Years of destructive emotions
swirled in the air like an invisible but cloying fog. It would take a lot of guardians
a long time to remove them.
concentrated on what we were there to do. Life lessons were pursued in
increasing order of difficulty, each magician advancing through the levels in
sequence until they passed—or not—their final test. The path was predetermined
according to their own choices and desired profession.
was an earthbound equivalent for every role in the magical dimensions. Spell Masons,
for example, were the broadest and could be matched to a variety of jobs from
bricklayer to architect. Spell Weavers to painters, writers, and composers.
Animal Mages, Spell Brewers, Spell Techs, Spell Masters, Healers… it didn’t
matter. There was a path for all of them.
for him. Even for me.
Devin to a stop. “I’m going to create some aurei so you can pay the lanista.
Look, that’s him over there, with the fat face and bandy legs. When you ask him
for a private audience with Cass, you’ll have to pretend to be… er… interested
She’s my sister,” he said.
pretend, didn’t I? She might think there’s something familiar about you, but
she won’t actually know who you are.”
how am I going to talk to her? She’s, like, Roman, isn’t she?”
considers herself Germani,” I replied, smiling at the thought of her
outrage at being referred to as Roman. “She hasn’t been in the Roman system for
as many generations as my ancestors. But, yes, she does speak Latin. Don’t
worry, I will make sure you understand each other.”
you want me to ask her? This life lesson thing… can you tell me any more about
how it works?”
sighed. I’d been debating with myself how much I could safely share with him. As
long as I don’t mention magic…
stepped a little closer to the wall. The tunnel was busy. Retiarius and secutor
gladiators were lining up for the next spectacle even as the remains of the previous
fight were being cleared away. Gods, Luca. Don’t look.
reached out a hand to lean against the wall, then recoiled when he touched it.
“I wouldn’t,” I said. “There’s a lot of stuff on there, and blood is probably
the least offensive substance.”
he said. “I feel so much better for knowing that. What about the life lessons?”
I said, “there are all kinds of lessons. Talents and skills and stuff, but also
personal development. Being a good father, for example. Or a good friend. And
navigating successfully through the spectrum of emotion between fear and love. Making
the right choices.”
a face. “That’s… kind of broad.”
prestigious professions demanded the most difficult life paths and had the
greatest penalties for failure. I’d already narrowed it down to either Spell Master
or Healer. The former required impeccable moral integrity alongside its
professional skills. The latter required emotional strength. Objectivity
without the loss of empathy.
no evidence of any issue with Cass’s moral compass. Aside from her “I hate the
world and everyone in it” vibe, she was a decent person. Which had left me with
the more difficult of the two scenarios. Of course.
it’s broad,” I said. “But we have to start somewhere. I want you to find out
how she’s feeling and what she’s going to do next.”
looked uncomfortable. “Isn’t that a bit insensitive?” he asked.
won’t help Cass by making friends with her in this life. The present-day Cass
is the one in trouble.”
nodded. “Are you coming with me? You could hide your face.”
don’t trust myself. And it’s not just my face. I am Avi. If she
recognizes me… I can’t do that to her. Not to mention it would be a bad idea to
get within striking distance of my former owner.
off a piece of my toga and filled it with gold coins, before twisting the cloth
into a knot and handing it to Devin. I removed the non video as he
turned to go. “Latine,” I murmured.
agreed straight away. His eyes gleamed as he counted the coins. Yes, you
greedy bastard, that’s even more money than you got for my life, isn’t it?
myself not to be so judgmental. I was supposed to be a guardian. Without life
paths like that of the lanista, lots of other magicians would be denied
the chance to learn. It pained me to admit it, but Shadow Mages had their
magicians, the core of their magic was in their heads, aligned with their
intellect. Light Mages, like me, were something of an anomaly. The core of my
magic was located in my heart and aligned with my emotions. Shadow Mages were
just like Light Mages, but their power came from the opposite end of the
like I waited a long time. The tunnel cleared and the roar of the mob started
up again. It was really hot. I played a macabre game of counting down the
fights in the arena death by death, guessing from the noise made by the
spectators. Twenty gladiators had entered to duel against each other, and if
they were lucky, ten would return.
reached death number six when Devin reappeared. He grabbed hold of me in a hug.
His heart was beating very fast. “Avi, tragicus est,” he began. I pulled
back, shaking my head.
I added, lifting the spell that was turning his words into Latin. In the
unlikely event anyone overheard us, I didn’t want them to understand what we
were saying. It was probably overkill, but I reinstated the non video
should return to your time,” I said. “Tell me while we walk back to the seats
where we came in.”
that if we walked and talked at the same time, the telling of it would be
easier on him and the hearing of it would be easier on me. I don’t deserve
said she wanted to die with you. Did you know that?” began Devin.
Yes. I remained silent.
close, at the end,” he went on. “When I watched you both… I could tell. It
could have gone either way. But you were bleeding out, even before she… used
her sword. Your strength was bound to fail. I tried to tell her.”
she blame me for the fact that she’s still alive?” I asked.
God, no. She blames herself. It’s, like, major survivor guilt. It was
heartbreaking to watch. She kept forgetting I was there and going to some
little altar thing and begging for your forgiveness.”
were stinging. I thought she would be angry with me for leaving her. This is
asked me to make sure they put a coin in your mouth to pay the ferryman. I
don’t… I don’t know what that means, but I promised her anyway. She…” He
trailed off. “She told you she loved you. In the arena. At the end. She asked
me if I thought you’d heard her—” Devin’s voice broke.
hesitated mid-step. She was so close. I could turn and run to the Ludus
Magnus right this second and tell her it had been my choice. It wasn’t her
fault. I’d be breaking almost every rule in the earthbound dimension, but I was
finding it difficult to care.
she’s the reason I became a guardian. I could never have helped all those other
assignments without her. Doesn’t she deserve something in return?
Light Mage loves someone enough to willingly sacrifice their own life and
thereby provide the ultimate proof of their selflessness, they graduate their
life path and become a guardian. As I had done when I’d saved Cass.
give a damn about the rules. I’m going to find her.
his hand on my chest to stop me. “Don’t. I can feel what you’re feeling and I
hate it too, but you said it yourself. This Cass isn’t the one who’s in
I whispered. How could my heart be breaking when I didn’t even have a heart in
said Devin, “some of what she said was familiar. We should focus on that,
effort, I turned my mind to what he’d said. “How do you mean, familiar?”
guilt thing. Blaming herself. I learned the term after Cass’s mom slashed her
wrists. Cass told me her therapist said she was a textbook case.”
opened. “How do you know so much about it?”
started walking again and pulled on my hand to get me to join him. “We were
friends, once. She helped me get over our dad. I trusted her because she lost
you were friends in junior high, but that was before her mom died.” I frowned,
trying to remember the timeline I’d followed the night before.
friends after her mom, too. She told me…” He gave me a sideways glance. “Didn’t
you think it was a tiny bit similar to her mom—all that blood when you died? She
hates blood, you know. Even the smallest cut. She can’t bear it.”
didn’t know. Why aren’t you friends now?”
scowled. “I wish I had the answer to that. She claims we weren’t ever really
friends. She accused me of making it all up. She said she had blackouts or
something. It… it hurt. It still hurts. But I gave up trying to convince her.
You can only bang your head against the wall for so long.”
have blackouts,” I said, feeling the need to defend her.
know,” he acknowledged. “It’s just an unlucky coincidence they seem to cover
every single happy memory she made with me.”
That is a coincidence. Except… there’s no such thing. The Master Mages
eliminated it from this dimension.
faster, keen to get back. It felt like I might have found a way forward at last.