Blogger header image - Legacy of Androva

The Legacy of Androva Series

In this chapter, Luca tries to convince Cass to make a trip into her past. Devin has helped him by providing a date, time, and place of particular significance. Luca also recalls when he made his own contract with the Spell Tracker, and we get a better idea of the penalty that's in store for him if he fails to meet the terms.

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

24 A Contract

We returned to the exact moment we’d left. Devin went to class reluctantly, saying it was only the thought of his college application forms making him do it.
I retreated to a quiet corner of the library and sent Cass a message.
Heard you were sick. Hope you’re OK?
She didn’t reply for a long time. Well, she didn’t reply for twenty-three minutes, which felt like an incredibly long time from where I was standing. Excuse me, pacing.
No. Sick. Like you said.”
It wasn’t the best of replies, but it wasn’t the worst either. She hadn’t told me to go away.
When do you think you’ll be better?” I asked.
I hesitated. I didn’t want to promise something I had no intention of delivering, but I had to convince her.
Why?” she asked again. At least she’s interested.
I’m ready to test something,” I replied.
My mom?” Cass’s message appeared almost instantaneously.
Not quite. Like I told you, this is new for me. I need to check something first.”
She made me wait again. I put the phone back in my pocket, hoping it would be more likely to buzz if I weren’t looking at it. I stared at the nearby book spines for the hundredth time. When my phone came to life it carried on buzzing. She’s calling me. Shit.
“Hi!” I said, way too enthusiastic. My voice echoed in the space between the shelves and I screwed up my face in embarrassment.
“Er… hi,” she replied. “Can you talk?”
“Yeah. I’m just in the library,” I said, lowering my voice to a more appropriate volume.
“What do you mean—check something?” she asked, getting right to the point.
“Um. Traveling within your own lifetime is a much bigger risk. You could end up changing all kinds of things,” I said.
“Duh,” she said. “That’s the point.” She paused, and I heard the sound of a door closing. “Look. Without wanting to sound pathetic here, I’m not doing so well. I feel like everything is closing in on me. All my usual coping strategies aren’t working.” Another pause. “I want to…” She trailed off, then tried again. “I…”
Her breathing sped up. I waited, powerless to help her, holding my phone so tightly it creaked with the strain.
“I want to see my mom,” she said in a rush, her voice wobbling. “I don’t want to check anything or test anything. I’m not going to demand an explanation. I just want to see her and ask her what I need to do to get her to stay with me.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” I said before I could help myself.
“And then I’ll fix it,” she went on as if I hadn’t spoken. “I’ll fix it, and I’ll keep it fixed, and everything will be OK again.” Her voice took on a defiant tone at the end as if daring me to disagree.
“Well…” Don’t mess this up. “I get all that. I do. But I also want it to work. Wouldn’t it be safer to try with something less important first?”
A short silence. My own breathing was coming shallow and fast. I was terrified for her. She was so close to having her contract enforced. I didn’t know what to say to keep her on the right side of its terms. Don’t take her. Don’t take her yet. Please.
“Like what?” she asked eventually. I leaned against the shelves, weak with relief.
“Like… how about we go back to one of the times you had a blackout and see what really happened?”
“Oh. That’s… not a bad idea.”
“Great! I mean—good. That’s good. Do you think you’ll be back at school on Monday?”
Cass sighed. “Yeah. Assuming I feel less like a walking corpse by then. But… the work on the house isn’t done. It will be another week before I can stay behind.”
“I know that.”
I had a counterargument ready. Thanks to Devin, I didn’t need to use concesso. I didn’t need to look at her life path. Our trip to Rome and his conversation with Leander had given me enough clues for now. Devin was also going to give me the date, place, and approximate time of the most important conversation Cass denied she’d ever had with her brother.
“I might have shouted the information at her a few times to get her to remember,” he’d admitted. “It didn’t work. But at least it means it’s engraved on my memory so I can tell you.”
As I spoke to Cass, I did my best to sound relaxed even though my hand was aching from clutching the phone so tightly. After our shouting match by her locker the day before, the last thing I wanted was for her to feel under pressure. “I know that,” I repeated. “But it will be like when we went to the Globe, remember? We’ll return to the exact same moment we left.”
“It’s up to you,” I added. “Whatever.” Stop talking, Luca.
“OK. I mean… yes. Let’s do it on Monday.”
I did my best not to sigh too loudly with relief.
“Monday,” I agreed. “Er… I hope you feel better.”
“Thanks.” She disconnected the call.
I sat down on the floor and leaned my head back against the shelves. I wished I were in the guardians’ library so I wouldn’t have to steer my way through the life lessons from memory. I was an experienced guardian, but I wasn’t infallible. It was unheard of to complete an assignment without support.
I’ll just have to be the first, won’t I?
All life paths were unique in the combination of lessons and potential outcomes they contained. There were hundreds of lessons and thousands of scenarios.
However, the criteria for success were hard-and-fast. The magic did not permit deviation. No matter how chaotic the earthbound dimension might appear, there was an underlying logic and system of rules no magician could escape. Succeed, and you are rewarded. Fail, and you pay a penalty. A penalty you signed up for by engraving its terms into your magic.
Most penalties weren’t too bad and were also rarely paid. Magicians following regular life paths usually graduated. If they failed in one incarnation, they would likely succeed in one of the subsequent ones.
It was the extraordinary life paths that had a higher failure rate. In order to practice as a Spell Master or a Healer, a magician had to prove his or her worth by risking everything. Those professions were revered for good reason. The potential penalty was severe when you made a deal with the Spell Tracker. It was supposed to deter magicians more concerned with reward than sacrifice.
Of course, rules were no more infallible than I was. Loopholes inevitably existed. The High Council had no spells in place to prevent what I had done because they never considered a guardian might choose to do such a thing.
I had willingly contracted with the Spell Tracker, the enforcer of life-limiting contracts. I had offered myself in exchange for one chance, on his terms, to save Cass. I didn’t regret it. No matter what.

      *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

“I want to discuss a contract,” I said.
He raised one eyebrow. “The pleasing thing about my contracts, Luca, is that there’s nothing to discuss. The terms are fixed. And I enforce them.”
The Spell Tracker turned back to his map, signaling that he was done talking to me.
Most of the wall behind him was covered in dimension-fabric, glowing with dots of colored light. As he moved his hand across a section of the map, threads extended outward from the lights toward his palm. He frowned, closing his thumb and slender forefinger on a particular thread and pulling on it.
“Hmmm. Sooner than I’d expected,” he murmured. The dot of light at the end of the thread was flickering. Faint. A magician about to fail his or her life path. “Let’s see,” he continued, stepping back. His surroundings shimmered. The earthbound dimension became visible as an overlay of energy, surrounded by symbols from the underlying spells. The magician whose contract he’d been checking had no chance. One casual gesture from the Spell Tracker and his earthbound covering collapsed.
While I watched, magical energy escaped from the earthbound body. As soon as the heart stopped beating for long enough, the binding spell lifted. The transfer from one dimension to another was disorienting but relatively fast.
It never failed to impress me. Magical dimensions operated on a much higher frequency, and the covering acted as an anchor to keep us earthbound and oblivious. As soon as that anchor detached, our consciousness and our magical form were free to return.
For a split second, the magician was filled with joy at the reminder of where and what he was. Then he saw the Spell Tracker. “No,” he said, backing away. “Please, no.”
The Spell Tracker tilted his head as if considering a strange new species. “Are you going to resist your contract? Because that would be wonderful.”
The magician continued to move backward. When he reached the doorway his expression flickered, hope and fear mingling together. He was so close. Two steps and he’d be outside. Has he forgotten? The Spell Tracker’s chambers had only one point of entry and exit. Just one doorway. Except… not just a doorway. It was filled with a thin layer of the Spell Tracker’s magic. Harmless to most magicians, myself included. But if you belonged to him you could not pass through it.
The magician stepped into the doorway and screamed. His body struggled, trapped inside the magic. It went on and on. Pain and terror swirled around me and I made a small noise of protest.
“Luca,” said the Spell Tracker. “I didn’t realize you were still here. Please leave. I have work to do. Christopher wasn’t even one of your assignments, was he?”
“I don’t just want to discuss a contract. I want to enter into one. With you.”
The Spell Tracker blinked. He huffed a short laugh. “Is this a joke? A test? Can I expect one of the Master Mages to walk in and rank-strip me for even entertaining such a thing?”
“I’m serious. I need a physical covering and I need to be invisible to the other guardians. You’re the only magician with the skills to enable that scenario.”
 I also knew that the magical core of a Light Mage was the one prize he wanted most and also the one prize he was unlikely to acquire. He considered my words while his victim continued to suffer behind us. I wanted to intervene, but I knew I would make things worse if I did.
“Very well. I’m intrigued. Let me just set things up with Christopher here, then I’ll listen to your proposal.”
“Setting things up,” as he so casually put it, involved taking Christopher into one of the holding cells and transforming it into his worst fear. This fear would then play out on a kind of magical loop, over and over, refining itself based on feedback the terrified Christopher would unwillingly provide.
The construct was unique for each victim, usually involving extreme physical and emotional pain, followed by death. Or not. Depending on which the magician feared most. Sometimes they had to watch it happen to someone they loved. Other times someone they loved would appear as their executioner. If a magician didn’t know what their worst fear was—if they were kidding themselves they didn’t have one—no matter. The Spell Tracker, as a Shadow Mage, knew how to find it and bring it to life.
Occasionally, magicians attempted to resist the illusion, believing their mental strength was equal to the task of repelling the Spell Tracker’s magic. But his particular brand of personalized torture overcame all obstacles. He loved the fear. He savored it. It was his reward for taking on a job the High Council had decided to delegate almost as soon as they’d created it.
The rewards for graduating as a Spell Master or a Healer were many, and the associated life paths had to be tough to ensure only magicians with the right qualities succeeded. Magicians on the make paid the penalty. In the earthbound dimension, without magic or memories, no one can fake it.
That penalty was the forced removal of a magician’s magic, and there was only one method with a one hundred percent success rate. Enter the Spell Tracker. He weakened the conscious mind to the point of surrender so the bond between magic and magician would be faint enough to shatter.
Of course, no magician’s life lasted very long without their magic. It was a death sentence in all but name—something the High Council refused to openly acknowledge. The harvested magic was recycled and the victims were returned to their families to die.
We sat in front of the dimension-fabric. I refused the Spell Tracker’s offer of refreshment. The holding cells were at the other end of the hallway leading off the main chamber, but I could still hear Christopher’s sobs, and they were escalating. He was pleading for mercy, not yet accepting there was none to be had.
“Interesting,” said the Spell Tracker. “Very… interesting. He is one of mine, you say?”
He glanced at the map and I nodded. “I came across his energy signature in the life path records.”
The guardians’ library contained copies of all life paths. We were permitted to cross-reference our assignments when their lessons were codependent on other magicians’ choices.
“Came across?” he repeated, smiling. “Don’t lie to me, Luca. There’s no point. Our contract will not permit it. How many years have you been searching for him?”
“A long time,” I admitted.
“Yes, I thought so. Go on then. Show me.”
I stood up and reached out to his map with my magic. We had our own map in the guardians’ library, but, in the same way his showed only those magicians contracted to him, ours was customized to ensure each guardian could only use it to locate their own assignments.
There. I found him quickly. A school in North America. I closed in, exploring the layout and committing it to memory. I wanted to take a look at his physical covering, but the Spell Tracker stopped me. “That’s enough,” he said.
I sat down again, waiting while he examined the energy signature I’d identified. “What is this magician to you?”
“I don’t understand…”
“I want to know everything, Luca. If this opportunity means that much, you’ll tell me.”
I hesitated. His eyes narrowed. “You know the High Council does not permit me to access the life paths of guardians.” His voice took on a sarcastic tone. “We must protect the delicate Light Mages from the big bad Spell Tracker.”
“He… he was the reason I became a guardian.”
The Spell Tracker lifted a finger to his lips as if to press away the faint smile that appeared. “Indeed? This is too perfect,” he murmured.
He stared at me with an expression I couldn’t decipher. Excitement? Anticipation? I pushed away my misgivings. His reaction was to be expected. This was the contract of his dreams.
“I accept,” he said. “Maximum penalty. And I’ll do my best to ensure you pay it.”

My stories are all based on the existence of magic. Although the rules and worlds are different in both series, there is an underlying premise that magic is real and for various reasons it is hidden from view or protected somehow. I've always enjoyed the idea of secrecy and magic, ever since I first read about Narnia and Neverland as a child. It was appealing to think there might be worlds just beyond my reach where spells and enchantments were commonplace, where animals could talk, and people could fly.

Now I'm an adult, I'm less inclined to think the back of the wardrobe could be a magical doorway. But I still believe in the power of imagination. Stories can be so many things: a way to escape, or a learning experience, or a comfort, or an inspiration. And the power of storytelling comes from the willingness of our minds to accept an alternative reality. Today's blog post is a short collection of quotes that describe the meaning of magic in a way that resonates with me. I hope you enjoy them, and thank you very much for reading 🙂.

“M is for magic. All the letters are, if you put them together properly. You can make magic with them, and dreams, and, I hope, even a few surprises...”
― Neil Gaiman

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats

“I believe that there is luminosity hiding in the shadow of the mundane. And things that hover at the periphery of our vision. If that’s magic, then I believe in it.”
― Natasha Mostert

“You know what the issue is with the world? Everyone wants a magical solution to their problem, and everyone refuses to believe in magic.”
― Lewis Carroll

“Words and magic were in the beginning one and the same thing, and even today words retain much of their magical power.”
― Sigmund Freud

“When you are writing laws you are testing words to find their utmost power. Like spells, they have to make things happen in the real world, and like spells, they only work if people believe in them.”
― Hilary Mantel

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
― Stephen King

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

“What? How?”
“Er… with a sword?” I said.
“No. I don’t mean that. I mean… she’s a boy. How is she a boy?”
“The same way you are. Because her life path says she is.”
“You mean…?”
I nodded. “You could be a girl next time. Most lessons have to be learned as more than one gender.”
“I suppose 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 happier.”
“It depends,” I said.
“On what?”
I sighed. “On whether the lesson she won’t learn can be traced all the way back to my death.”
That’s 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.
“Is that possible?” asked Devin.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“How can we find out?”
“Well… you could talk to her. Ask her some questions.”
He frowned. “How can I? She doesn’t know anything about this.”
“Sorry. I meant, you could talk to him.”
Devin’s eyes widened. “You want me to talk to the gladiator? Could… could I do that?”
“Well, I can’t,” I said. “I’m dead, remember?”
He 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.
Devin 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?”
“We never said it. We promised we wouldn’t. Not until we’d won our freedom.” We shouldn’t have waited.
“Avi,” 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.
“It happened a long time ago,” I said.
“No, it’s happening right now,” he argued.
“Yeah, 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.”
I 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 surprise.
“What?” I asked.
“I… er… I’m not wearing any…” He looked down at the toga.
“No,” I said, smiling at his embarrassment. “Underwear is a relatively new earthbound custom.”
“I thought it felt weird when we arrived, but then I got distracted. Are…?” He stopped.
“No, I’m not,” I said.
He blushed and did a terrible job of trying not to look. “Can we leave now?” he asked, finally succeeding in averting his gaze.
Devin 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.”
I 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.
I 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.
There 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.
Even for him. Even for me.
I pulled 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 in her.”
“What? Yuck. She’s my sister,” he said.
“I said pretend, didn’t I? She might think there’s something familiar about you, but she won’t actually know who you are.”
“Wait, how am I going to talk to her? She’s, like, Roman, isn’t she?”
“Cass 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.”
“What do you want me to ask her? This life lesson thing… can you tell me any more about how it works?”
I sighed. I’d been debating with myself how much I could safely share with him. As long as I don’t mention magic…
We 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.
Devin 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.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I feel so much better for knowing that. What about the life lessons?”
“Well,” 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.”
He made a face. “That’s… kind of broad.”
The most 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.
I’d seen 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.
“I know 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.”
Devin looked uncomfortable. “Isn’t that a bit insensitive?” he asked.
“You won’t help Cass by making friends with her in this life. The present-day Cass is the one in trouble.”
“OK.” He nodded. “Are you coming with me? You could hide your face.”
“No.” I 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.
I tore 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.
The lanista 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?
I told 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 place.
For most 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 emotional spectrum.
It felt 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.
I’d 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.
“Wait. Rescindo,” 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 too.
“We should return to your time,” I said. “Tell me while we walk back to the seats where we came in.”
I hoped 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 easy.
“She said she wanted to die with you. Did you know that?” began Devin.
Yes. I remained silent.
“It was 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.”
“Does she blame me for the fact that she’s still alive?” I asked.
“No. 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.”
My eyes were stinging. I thought she would be angry with me for leaving her. This is much worse.
“She 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.
I 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.
Damnit, 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?
When a 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.
I don’t give a damn about the rules. I’m going to find her.
Devin put 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 danger.”
“Leander,” I whispered. How could my heart be breaking when I didn’t even have a heart in this dimension?
“Listen,” said Devin, “some of what she said was familiar. We should focus on that, shouldn’t we?”
With effort, I turned my mind to what he’d said. “How do you mean, familiar?”
“The survivor 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.”
My mouth opened. “How do you know so much about it?”
He 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 him too.”
“I know 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.
“We were 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.”
“No, I didn’t know. Why aren’t you friends now?”
He 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.”
“She did have blackouts,” I said, feeling the need to defend her.
“I know,” he acknowledged. “It’s just an unlucky coincidence they seem to cover every single happy memory she made with me.”
Yeah. That is a coincidence. Except… there’s no such thing. The Master Mages eliminated it from this dimension.
I walked faster, keen to get back. It felt like I might have found a way forward at last.

I write (or rather I try to write) most weekends. Some writing sessions are easier than others. There are times it's difficult to find the right words. But with more than one hundred and seventy thousand words in the Oxford English Dictionary--not counting another forty thousand obsolete words--at least I have plenty to choose from.

It was a little different in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Shakespeare (seen starring in an episode of Doctor Who in the gif 😀) had approximately one third as many words at his disposal, which might explain why he invented so many new ones. Hundreds and hundreds, in fact. Most of them are still being used today. He wasn't only an amazing storyteller, he was also something of a language pioneer.

Shakespeare is sometimes considered inaccessible--the argument being that he's too literary or that his prose and poetry is too complicated for a modern audience to understand. I think it depends a great deal on the interpretation, but that's a subject for another time. Today's blog post gives a few examples of how his creativity has stood the test of time. Here are ten phrases and ten words that first existed in Shakespeare's head! Thank you very much for visiting my blog today, and I hope you find the lists interesting ❤.

Ten Phrases

  1. All's well that ends well (from the play of the same name)
  2. Break the ice (from The Taming of the Shrew)
  3. Forever and a day (from As You Like It)
  4. Good riddance (from Troilus and Cressida)
  5. In my heart of hearts and In my mind's eye (from Hamlet)
  6. Kill with kindness (from The Taming of the Shrew)
  7. Laughing stock (from The Merry Wives of Windsor)
  8. One fell swoop (from Macbeth)
  9. Set my teeth on edge (from Henry IV, Part I)
  10. Wear my heart upon my sleeve (from Othello)

Ten Words

  1. Cold-blooded (from King John. First use to mean a lack of emotion. Needless to say, Shakespeare was also responsible for hot-blooded)
  2. Eyeball (from The Tempest)
  3. Gloomy (from several plays, 'to gloom' was already a verb)
  4. Majestic and also majestically (from several plays. First use as adjective/adverb)
  5. Motionless (from Henry V)
  6. Perplex (from Cymbeline)
  7. Satisfying (from Othello)
  8. Shooting star (from Richard II)
  9. Soft-hearted, cruel-hearted, and faint-hearted (from several plays)
  10. Watchdog (from The Tempest)

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 💕.

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 💕.

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.”