Chosen One, 28

The Unexpected Is often the Most Worrying Thing

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Only at night was it really bearable to be outside for a long time in the current heat, and since it never stopped being stuffy inside the buildings. Four people in one room with only a small window was not a great experience on the breathing front. Isaac was sleeping by himself, it was so bad. Being right up against someone wasn’t a good idea.

He walked aimlessly through the grounds of the academy, no destination in mind but keeping an eye out for Jacob, though his last visit he’d told Isaac he wouldn’t be able to come back for a week.

“It’s awfully brave of you to be out by yourself at night,” a voice said behind him, and Isaac jumped a little, turning to see Cameron approaching him from behind. How long had she been following him?

“The academy is safe,” he told her, stopping to allow her to catch up with him. The younger woman who Isaac often saw with her wasn’t around.

“Are you sure about that?”

“I’m not going to hide in my room with a blanket over my head.” Isaac saw the way she was looking at him and stood a little straighter. “It’s too hot for that.”

Cameron laughed, putting her hand on Isaac’s arm and pulling him along with her. Isaac shivered a little, but resumed walking, unsure of what was going on. “I think so too. I’m not sure how anyone sleeps in this heat. You walk out here a lot.” It wasn’t a question.

“Have you seen our rooms in the dormitory? There’s no room to think in there.” Isaac smiled a little. “I’m not very good at thinking, but I try to do it now and then.”

Cameron snorted. “And what do you think about, young man?”

“Mostly how hot it is.”

Cameron laughed again, more quietly this time. “I do wish boys didn’t all feel the need to be so secretive,” she told him. “You all think you’re mysterious. I assure you, that’s not the case.”

Isaac looked at her, and Cameron looked back. And he was struck with the sudden thought that she must know about Jacob. How, he wasn’t sure, but Cameron seemed like the type of old lady who knew everything. He swallowed. “I’m not trying to be mysterious.”

“No doubt. That would be foolish when you’ve a wealth of older, more experienced people you could turn to for help for any number of problems.”

One of whom was probably trying to kill Isaac. “I know.”

“I wonder,” Cameron said, looking forward again. “You know, one could be forgiven for thinking you were up to something, skulking around here at night.”

She definitely knew about Jacob. If he outright denied it, Isaac knew she would know he was lying. “I guess they could be, yeah.”

“In my experience, anyway, people don’t make a habit of wandering about at night if they aren’t trying to get away with something.”

“You’re out here,” Isaac pointed out.

“Yes, but I’m old. If I want to get away with something, I’ll do it in broad daylight—nobody has time for subterfuge at my age, boy.”

Isaac was silent for a second after that. Then he burst out laughing, the ridiculousness of the comment reaching him. “I guess that’s fair.”

“I don’t have time to be fair, either.”

“I’ve been seeing a boy,” Isaac admitted.

“Aha.” Cameron pointed at him. “The truth, at last. Not a student, this boy.”

“No.” Isaac looked away. “He’s harmless, though. I swear.”

Cameron considered him for a moment, then nodded. “Very well. You seem to have good judgement, so I’ll trust it.”

“Just like that?” That seemed awfully easy.

“What, did you think I’d put you through three trials?” Cameron snorted again. “What do I care what you do in the bushes? I was your age a long time ago—we had sex back then too, you know.”

Isaac should have been mortified, but he just nodded. “Did you have cute boys too?”

“On occasion. I never had time for them.”

“Must have sucked.”

“Not particularly,” Cameron told him. “I’ve always been too busy.”

“Were you already friends with the archmage then? What was he like?”

“Gregory?” Cameron paused, looking at Isaac as if assessing him for something. “He was obnoxious. He was always certain that he was right about everything, which was made worse by the fact that he was always right about everything. He was the most powerful magic practitioner any of us knew, and he knew it. Always thought he should be in charge of everything. I only put up with him because having him around was useful.”

Isaac blinked. That was a bit more than he’d been expecting. “And here I thought you were friends.”

“When you’re our age, friendship is mostly just that we’ve both outlived everyone else we knew so we have no choice.”

“That’s depressing.”

“The world is depressing, Isaac.”

Isaac wasn’t sure if she was joking or not.

“You must be annoyed,” he said. “You came here to see a chosen one and you walked into this mess.”

Cameron shrugged, a motion that seemed to take her whole body. “At least it’s interesting. I was expecting to come here and find some miniature version of Gregory. I think the confusion has prevented that so far.”

Isaac squashed the errant thought that Nicholas was kind of like that. He wasn’t that bad. “Why exactly are witches worried about the chosen one, anyway?”

“I think you know.”

Isaac did. “I wanted to hear you say it.”

Cameron smiled. “The Coven is concerned about what the chosen one represents. They sent me to make sure he’s not a psychopath.”

“He’s not.”

“You say that as though you know who he is.”

“Well, I don’t.” Now Isaac shrugged. “But I know myself, and I know Peter and Nicholas. You’re fine either way.”

“You sound very sure.”

“I know my friends, ma’am,” Isaac told her. “You said earlier you trusted my judgement.”

“That I did.” Cameron chuckled. “Very well, I shall trust it again. On the condition that you share it with me in the future—I’m curious to know your impressions of people, Isaac.”


“Because I suspect they are different than mine.” Cameron looked at him. “I’ll look forward to speaking with you after the banquet.”

Isaac nodded, before he realized he had no idea what she was talking about. “What banquet?”

“They haven’t told you yet?” The way Cameron said that told Isaac that she knew very well that they hadn’t told him yet. “The king’s putting on a banquet in a few weeks. He’s invited the archmage and several of the faculty—and expressed interest in the mysterious chosen one the academy’s been hiding all this time.”

Isaac felt his stomach do a bit of a flip. “The…at the castle? They’re not going to make us go to that, are they?” And he’d thought having to do the acumen test in front of everyone in the auditorium had been stressful.

“As far as I know, they are. Gregory’s been putting off showing off his chosen ones until he could get it sorted out, but I’m given to understand that this isn’t an invitation that can be refused.”

“Oh, God.” Isaac felt a little sick. “I…you came out here just to tell me that, didn’t you?”

Cameron patted Isaac on the shoulder. Isaac felt a tingling after her hand receded. “It’s not only schoolboys who are too secretive for their own good. You should head to bed, young man. It’s late, and I don’t think your nocturnal suitor is here this evening.”

“He isn’t,” Isaac muttered. “I was just out walking.”

Cameron nodded. “Off to bed, then.”

“Thank you.” Isaac wasn’t sure what else to say. Maybe he could get out of this.

On the other hand, a huge party at the castle meant (hopefully) lots of young nobles. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe if he thought about it like that, he wouldn’t have to dread it.

He told himself that, and Isaac still spent a lot of time that night staring up at the bottom of Spencer’s bed.

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