Revelations Always Seem to Follow from Violent Moments
“I’m sorry I left you alone,” Isaac muttered, holding his arms to keep warm. “That was shitty.”
“Yeah, but it’s okay.” Peter patted Isaac’s leg, speaking quietly. “If you hadn’t run, you might not have gotten there in time.”
Isaac nodded, looked down at Oliver. “For all that me getting there in time fucking helped,” he said bitterly.
“He’s alive,” Peter reminded him. “Would he have been alive if you hadn’t been there?”
Isaac didn’t know, he didn’t know anything. He was just a dumb kid. Maybe if he hadn’t been there, Oliver would have been less distracted against Christopher and been able to do something more easily. Maybe if he hadn’t been there, none of this would have happened.
He knew that wasn’t true. If he hadn’t been there, Oliver would have tried to open the door and triggered the trap on it. If he hadn’t been there, nobody could have healed Oliver. If he hadn’t been there, Christopher would have gotten away. He’d still be alive. But it was hard to remember that, and easier to think on how useless he’d been.
Oliver’s chest rose and fell softly in the academy’s infirmary. He was fine, the mages had looked over him and determined that his injuries had all been healed without a trace. If Isaac hadn’t told them what had been done to him, they would never have known he’d been injured, was what he’d been told. His body just needed a few days to recover from the attack and then he’d wake up.
It was hard to remember that too, when he sat here just watching Oliver sleep. It was easier to think he’d never wake up. Even if it wasn’t true.
Footsteps sounded, and stopped behind them. “Isaac,” a voice said. It was Diana. “How is he?”
“He’s still asleep.” Isaac didn’t look up from Oliver.
“The archmage would like to talk to you.”
Isaac shook his head. “He can wait.” He’d waited two days already, just telling Isaac not to tell anyone what had happened before he’d had Isaac hurried out of the Vault.
“I’m sure he can, but he’d rather not.”
Peter’s hand fell on Isaac’s arm. “Go. I’ll stay here with him, okay? You’ll be the first to know when he wakes up.”
Isaac looked up, looked at Peter. Taking a stuttering breath and squeezing his eyes shut so he wouldn’t cry, he nodded, and he leaned over and gave Peter a hug. “Thank you.”
“You’d do the same thing if it was me, Isaac, come on.”
Isaac nodded and stood, wiping at his eyes and swallowing. “I…love you.” That had to be what this was that he was feeling, this quiet, low contentment that he felt just by being near Peter, the warmth that filled his entire heart when they hugged, the anchoring feeling he got from Peter holding his hand. That was what he was feeling and there was only one word he could think to express it with.
Peter’s face went funny, he stared at Isaac for a second, eyes going wide, before he broke into a wide smile and nodded, looking a little misty in the eyes. “Yeah,” he said, still nodding. “I love you too.”
Isaac couldn’t help but let out a little laugh; hearing that made him feel bubbly. He hugged Peter again, and the two of them stood like that for a good while before Diana subtly cleared her throat. “Okay,” Isaac said, stepping back. He gave Peter a kiss before letting go. “I should go.”
“I’ll be here when you’re done.” Peter was still smiling.
“Yeah.” Isaac nodded, and he left Peter there with Oliver, going with Diana.
At least some good had come from all of this.
Diana didn’t lead him to the stairs, but rather through the halls until the reached the back of the building, where she opened a door Isaac hadn’t known was there and led him into the lift. “So you’re picking Peter, are you?”
Isaac shook his head. “Yes, but not in the way you mean. Picking him doesn’t mean I’m not also going to pick someone else. He knows that.” It was one of the reasons Isaac loved him.
“Will he pick someone else too?”
“I don’t know.” Isaac shrugged. “I hope he does. But some people only want one person.”
Diana gestured with Dark and had the lift moving upwards. “I’m happy for you.”
“It’s a dumb thing to worry about right now, I know,” Isaac muttered, looking away. Someone was dead and Oliver was still unconscious, and here Isaac was worrying about getting a boyfriend.
“It’s not. We can’t refuse to live our lives because of someone like Christopher. If you do that, he wins even dead. Don’t let him win.”
Isaac looked at her, saw the hardness of her expression, and he nodded. “Okay. How are you finding using Light?” He wanted to talk about something that wasn’t Christopher.
Diana’s expression softened, a bit of a playful smile came to her face for a moment. “It’s harder than using Dark. I don’t know if I’m just too old to learn or I don’t have as much affinity for Light, but it’s trickier than I expected.”
“I’d be happy to give you some pointers,” Isaac joked. “I did teach all my roommates how to touch it.”
“Careful, I might take you up on that.” Diana shook her head as the lift stopped. “I’ve already come up with ways to do things I never could before. It may not have been a chosen one power, but the three of you have revolutionized magic. No matter what else you accomplish, I hope you know that.”
“I’ll try to keep it in mind. Just do me a favour and don’t build me a statue. That’s too weird.”
“I’ll let them know to cancel the masons,” Diana said, pushing the door open and leading Isaac into the archmage’s office.
It wasn’t as empty as last time. The sofa had been moved closer to the desk, the chairs from before arrayed on either side. Yancy and Elijah were there with Lee, Cameron and some stern looking lady Isaac didn’t know, but recognized as the one Cameron and the archmage had been arguing with at the banquet. The archmage was sitting behind his desk, watching the conversation they were having with obvious patience. “Ah, Isaac,” he said, when Diana brought him in. “Come sit.”
Isaac did, trying not to be nervous as they wall watched him. He took an empty chair rather than the space on the sofa between Cameron and Yancy, because the two of them looked so amazingly uncomfortable next to each other that he didn’t want to be in between them. “How are you feeling?” the archmage asked.
“I’m okay, sir.” Isaac lied.
“I suspect that’s not true, but okay.” The archmage smiled, but his expression soon turned serious as Diana took a seat as well. “I want you to understand that what we’re about to talk about is better kept in this room for now, Isaac.”
Isaac nodded. “I understand.” He also understood that the archmage hadn’t actually told him not to tell anyone.
He got a nod back from the archmage, who then looked at everyone else before folding his hands in front of him. “Christopher was acting on the orders of a man named Solomon.”
Isaac waited for the rest, but there wasn’t a rest. Nobody else looked surprised, but he supposed they’d been talking before he got here. “How do you know?” They couldn’t have asked him any questions, he’d been dead before any of them had arrived.
“The centipede that was inside his body,” Cameron told him. “It’s a means by which Solomon controls his servants.”
That was really gross. Isaac shuddered, but took a breath, trying not to remember the thing that had crawled out from Christopher’s corpse. “So he was being controlled?”
“No. He was acting of his own will.” That was the woman from the banquet, who sat straight-backed in her chair. “From what you said, he was alive while he was down there. If he were being directly controlled by the creature, he’d have been a corpse.”
“How was he not a corpse anyway?” Elijah demanded. “That thing was inside of him.”
The woman nodded. “The centipedes are parasitic entities born from sorcery. Sort of. I’m given to understand that having one inside you, while not comfortable, doesn’t alter your living your life. But it does allow for contact with Solomon telepathically. And theoretically he could use it to take direct control of the person when he wanted, but I think that would kill them.”
“Sort of, given to understand, theoretically, I think,” Cameron rhymed off. Isaac could practically taste the scorn. “That’s a lot of conjecture, Cleo.”
“Solomon isn’t the most forthcoming with information. I learned what I could before I left.” Isaac would have hidden under the nearest piece of furniture if Cameron had directed that at him, but Cleo just returned the unimpressed look.
“You lived with him,” Isaac ventured, looking at her. Cleo, he was realizing, wasn’t a mage. She didn’t feel magical the same way the others did.
“He’s my father,” Cleo confirmed, nodding. She didn’t sound very happy about that.
“What does he want?”
“A powerful magical artefact that we keep in the Vault here,” the archmage answered.
Isaac nodded. “The yellow stone. It made Christopher more powerful.” That hadn’t been what he was asking. The way Cleo had talked about the centipedes made it sound like it wasn’t just Christopher who had one in him. And as much as Isaac wanted to recoil from the idea that anyone might have something like that inside them, he was at least smart enough to realize that Solomon hadn’t made possibly several centipede puppets just for one thing from the academy’s vault.
“Yes. There are a number of others, and we believe that Solomon is after all of them, including the one we possess.”
“In fact,” Cameron said with a nod, “except for yours and ours, all of them are currently missing.”
“Yours and ours?” Isaac asked, frowning at her a little.
“The witches,” Lee told Isaac. “I’m sure Elena must have taught you about the fivefold division of magic by now, right?”
“Yeah,” Isaac said with a nod. There were five different types of magic in the world—magecraft, wizardry, witchcraft, sorcery and necromancy. So that must mean there was one stone for each. “Seems like you should have been keeping a closer eye on them.”
“Apparently so,” Cameron said with an annoyed shake of her head. “Last time I ever trust wizards to keep their eyes on their crap.”
“In any case,” the archmage said, giving Cameron a look, “it’s extremely important that Solomon not gain possession of all of the stones. It would make him very dangerous.”
“Seems like he already is.”
“Yes, that’s become increasingly apparent. There was an attack on the city itself while Christopher was breaking into the Vault—wraiths and some sort of demon controlling them,” the archmage told him. Isaac looked up, shivering for a second.
“And the dragon,” Isaac added, and got a nod.
“I had a feeling you’d put most of that together already.” The archmage was smiling in a grandfatherly way.
“I’ve never known my father to use wraiths as a means of attack,” Cleo said with a sigh. “He’s escalating his violence—and his power. He needs to be stopped.”
“Agreed, and the Grand Coven decided that years ago,” Cameron declared. “We’re pleased that the rest of you have finally come around to our way of thinking.” That was said with a pointed look at the archmage.
“Yes, yes.” He waved a hand, sighing. “Better late than never. Coordinating the effort will take some time—we don’t want to attack a sorcerer of Solomon’s power unprepared.”
“In the meantime,” Yancy rumbled, while Cleo made a bit of an agitated noise, “we should focus our efforts here on rooting out any of Solomon’s other minions who might be hiding. I have a hard time believing Christopher was working on his own.”
“Agreed,” Elijah said quickly, when a few heads turned his way. “He was not unintelligent, but never the cleverest of people. I doubt he could have worked out how to break into the Vault on his own. You will want to investigate me first, which I understand, of course.”
“We’ll have to develop a way to find out if people have these centipedes inside them,” Lee said, frowning at Elijah. “But in the meantime, I can conduct interrogations under truth spell, that should help.”
“We need be circumspect, however,” the archmage warned. “I don’t want to be conducting a witchhunt. No offence, Cameron.”
“Why am I here?” Isaac asked suddenly, looking around. “You don’t need me here to have this conversation.”
“We do, Isaac.” The archmage gestured for Isaac to remain sitting. “Because the people here now are the only people who know this information, and I want us all to know the same thing, and I want you to know it so you know why it can’t be repeated. Keeping you in the dark isn’t going to keep you safe, not anymore.”
“Why would you keep it a secret?” Isaac asked. “Don’t say it’s because you don’t want to corner someone and have them do something dangerous—someone’s already died over this, and Christopher almost killed Oliver. People have a right to know that there might be someone dangerous in the school.”
“No, they don’t,” the archmage disagreed, shaking his head. “The academy is a safe environment. The damage caused by telling people that it isn’t would be irreparable.”
“The damage caused by someone dying because you didn’t tell them they weren’t safe would be worse,” Isaac challenged.
The archmage’s vulpine face went a little still at that, and he watched Isaac carefully as if considering eating him.
“Sir,’ Yancy interrupted with a cough. “You said you wanted the lad’s perspective on the situation.”
“So I did,” the archemage answered, not breaking eye contact with Isaac. “Could I have a moment alone with Isaac, please?”
“No.” That came from Lee, who was shaking her head in Isaac’s peripheral vision. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, sir.”
“I agree,” Cameron said with a nod.
“It’s fine,” Isaac didn’t look away from the archmage, struck by the knowledge that there was something he wasn’t saying.
Isaac turned to look at Lee, smiled a little. “Someone tried to kill me the other day. I’m not afraid of being told off.” Isaac refused to be intimidated by the archmage.
A lot of silent conversations seemed to be happening as everyone looked at each other, but finally they all started to collect themselves and get up, heading for the double doors that must lead to a waiting area or something. “Just summon us when you’re done,” Cameron said over her shoulder as she brought up the rear of the little group, closing the door behind her.
Isaac brought his gaze back to the archmage, who watched him for a long minute. The silence stretched. Isaac didn’t like it. “I didn’t know you could control dragons,” he said after a minute.
“Neither did I,” the archmage admitted with a nod. “They’re immune to magic, so I’m not sure how it was pulled off. A mystery.” He sighed, reached into his sleeve and pulled out the yellow stone, set in on the desk in front of him. “I’ll be putting it back in the Vault once the wards are repaired.”
“Don’t you have anywhere else safer to keep it?” Obviously the Vault wasn’t that secure.
“I could keep it in here, but your friend proved that my office isn’t as inviolable as I’d thought either, now didn’t he?” the archmage asked him with a small smile that had Isaac looking away. “I’ve been in charge of this school for quite a long time, Isaac. I know full well when a student isn’t telling me the whole truth, and you weren’t when you told us about the person you ran into out in the city. You’ve been allowing a thief to break into the academy in the night without telling anyone.”
“You obviously knew about it,” Isaac muttered, a little red in the face. “Cameron knew about it too.” Isaac obviously wasn’t as good at keeping secrets as he thought.
“That’s hardly the point.”
“Jacob isn’t after the stone.” Isaac’s gut twisted a bit.
“How do you know?”
Isaac bit his lip. “I don’t. But he’s not.” But he had mysteriously known about Isaac being the chosen one. “I’ll ask him.”
“When you do, you might also ask him what he wanted with my daily schedules and the current student list. I have a feeling he didn’t stage the break-in to cause such a minor inconvenience.”
“He said it was mostly politics,” Isaac cleared his throat a little. “I don’t think he knew either.” He was looking at the stone, which looked so innocuous, until he looked a little harder and could see the Pillars pulsing around it. “Why is it so important? There were a million things in the Vault that Christopher could have taken.”
“Indeed. Perhaps Solomon just likes collecting and wants the whole set. Or perhaps he knows something about the stones that the rest of us don’t.” The archmage folded his hands in front of the stone. “Either way, I will not permit him to have it, and I should like your help in keeping it from him.”
“I can’t help,” Isaac shook his head. “I’m not even that good a mage.”
“You were good enough to overpower Christopher while he was holding this.” The archmage gave Isaac a look. “You were good enough to heal Oliver with no knowledge of healing spells, and you were good enough to cut through the trap Christopher had placed on the Vault’s door.”
“I don’t know what I did.”
“I do. How many Pillars can you see, Isaac?”
“Three.” Isaac frowned. That was a stupid question.
“Don’t lie. How many can you really see?”
Isaac looked up from the stone, met the archmage’s eyes again. He looked patient. He knew, Isaac realized. Somehow. “Ten,” he said quietly. “Twelve, maybe.” Sometimes he perceived two other threads, more encompassing than the others. They didn’t glow like the Pillars, but they were there too, sort of everywhere.
“Did you know that in Dynese, the words for ‘three’ and ‘twelve’ are the same?” When Isaac nodded, the archmage did too. “An often-overlooked part of the prophecy. Obviously djan is meant to be translated as three, what else could it mean in the context of magecraft? What do you think it means?”
“I don’t know,” Isaac whispered.
“I think you have a guess. But I’ll give you a hint, Isaac—the spell you used to heal Oliver was the same one Cameron used on you at the banquet. And the trap you cut through on the door was created from sorcery, a spell circle we found in Christopher’s clothes that he’d been given.”
Isaac closed his eyes, wishing he didn’t feel sick again. “I’m not really a mage, am I?”
“No,” the archmage said softly. “But you are the chosen one.”
“You don’t know that,” Isaac said with a fast shake of his head. “You don’t. Maybe Peter and Nicholas can…”
“Isaac,” the archmage interrupted. “Look at me.”
Isaac opened his eyes, his vision swimming a bit. The archmage looked worried. He had really bright eyes. He had probably been really cute when he’d been Isaac’s age. “You have two choices. You can accept your reality or you can run from it. And what you prefer to do is your business. As much as we might like to have a chosen one on our side in the fights against people like Solomon, you’re just a student and you’re entitled to that. And in teaching us what you have about magic, you and your friends have already done enough to earn your places in our history books forever. But if you wanted to, you could do so much more. This stone belongs to you.”
“I don’t want it,” Isaac shook his head.
“I know you don’t. And I wouldn’t give to you now anyway. You’re not nearly trained enough for it, and it’s dangerous.” Isaac nodded, he knew that. He’d seen Christopher use it. “Someday I hope you’ll take it, but if you don’t, that’s fine. I understand that you don’t like to keep secrets, but this at least I really believe you shouldn’t tell your friends. Do you understand why?”
Isaac closed his eyes again, Peter’s face coming to mind. He nodded. “Yes.” There was no need to keep Peter and Nicholas alive if everyone knew Isaac was the real one.
“Until all three of you are better trained, I cannot risk exposing you to danger. When you are older and properly practiced in magic, it will be your choice to tell people what you like. But now, as a student, I am asking you to please accept that I know what I’m talking about.” The archmage sounded like he was pleading.
“Okay,” Isaac whispered, looking at the floor. He wanted all of this to go away. But it wasn’t going to. “Okay. But I still think it’s a mistake not to tell people about the Solomon thing.”
“You may be correct about that. But if I tell everyone, I want to do it in a controlled way, so as to avoid panic. Give me some time, and I will make an announcement. I know you’ll tell Peter and Nicholas. But let me tell everyone else, please?”
Isaac was quiet for a long time. He had the weirdest feeling that the archmage had planned this from the start. He nodded. “Okay. Thank you.”
“Thank you. It’s helpful to have a different perspective sometimes. When you’re up for it, I’d like to tell Cameron about you. She can teach you the basics of witchcraft. After that, I’d also like to find someone to teach sorcery and wizardry as well.” A smile. “Fortunately for you, necromancy is illegal, so you won’t have to study that.”
Isaac laughed in spite of himself. “Any way we could make history illegal too?”
“Alas, no. We will die by our curriculum here at the academy.”
Isaac nodded, looked back up. “It was worth a try. Um. Can I have some time before all that, please? I just…I’m not ready for all that yet.” It was clear from the way the archmage had put it that he wasn’t giving Isaac a choice.
“Of course. We shall have to come up with a suitable pretense anyway.”
“I am pretty good at just sneaking out of my room at night,” Isaac offered.
“So I hear. One more thing about the stones and then I’ll leave you to go back downstairs.”
“What is it?” Isaac asked.
“I told you ours belonged to you, when you’re ready for it. We’ve always known that. But given recent developments, I’m now of the belief that all of them do.”
“All of them.” That made Isaac want to hide under a bed forever.
“I think they were meant for you to use.” He was totally serious.
“To do what with?”
The archmage looked away from Isaac for the first time, at something over Isaac’s shoulder. “I don’t know. But I have a feeling it will be something extraordinary, Isaac.”
“I’m not extraordinary.”
“That’s what extraordinary people always say.” The archmage smiled, picked up the stone and put it back in his sleeve. “Now, I think we’ve had them wait outside long enough.”
“You didn’t really bring me up here to talk to them at all, did you?” Isaac asked, as the archmage raised a hand. “It was all for this conversation.”
He got a conspiratorial wink in reply. “Sometimes, things that look spontaneous aren’t. Keeping secrets is somewhat in my nature. Perhaps you’re a good foil for me in that way.” He nodded. “If you’d like to return downstairs, feel free. We’ll just be discussing the details of how we’re going to investigate.”
“I’ll stay, if that’s okay,” Isaac said as the doors swung open, cutting off some quiet chatter outside as the rest of them looked up, and headed back for the room. “I’d like to know what’s going on. Maybe I can help.” Probably not, but who knew.
“We’re glad to have you. Please keep disagreeing with me when I’m wrong, would you? It doesn’t do me any good to have a room full of people who do nothing but nod their heads.”
“Is that what you think we are?” Cameron demanded as she came back in and sat down in Yancy’s old spot on the sofa. “You don’t pay much attention, do you, Gregory?”
“You don’t count, Cameron. I think the last time you agreed with me was when I was…fifteen?”
“Fourteen, and only because that was the last time you were right about anything.” She looked at Isaac. “He said nothing was worse than walking in wet boots.”
Isaac couldn’t disagree. “At least he was right about something important?”
“At least,” Cameron sighed, shaking her head as the rest of them sat down. “Now, let’s talk about centipedes.”