New Faces Are Fun to See, but Nothing Beats the Old Ones Coming Back
“And then,” Skip explained, talking slowly so Isaac would follow. “We’ll let all the cats out in the exam halls, so they’ll have to cancel exams. And we’ll sneak a test away while that’s happening so we know what the questions will be when the exam gets rescheduled!”
“That’s a really good plan,” Isaac agreed, nodding along. Even if he wasn’t writing any exams since he’d arranged to take them all orally, he was still down to help everyone else. “But where are we going to get four hundred cats?”
“Well, that’s the part I haven’t figured out yet,” Skip admitted. “Maybe you can get Baker to round some up for us?”
“Uh…dogs don’t work they way you think they do, Skip,” Isaac said. “And also Baker is afraid of pillows. I don’t think he’s going to be able to herd cats for us.”
“Dammit,” Skip said, snapping his fingers. “Okay, I’ll figure something out.”
“Okay,” Isaac laughed, as they walked across the grounds. He was trying to walk normally despite being a bit sore from his adventure yesterday. “Well, let me know if you…” He trailed off, seeing Cameron approaching him. He sighed. “Sorry.”
“She seems to like you,” Skip muttered. “Which is kind of terrifying.”
“Yeah,” Isaac agreed, shaking his head. “She’s a nice lady, but yeah.” She wasn’t very good at being subtle.
“I’ll take your word for it. She reminds me of my great-grandmother.”
“Isaac,” Cameron said, once she was close enough. “Come with me.”
“Where?” Isaac asked.
“I’d like you to meet someone.”
That wasn’t an answer to the question, but Isaac shrugged and waved at Skip, going to follow after Cameron as she turned around and led him back to the main tower. “Your cute witch friend?” Isaac asked. “Is he here already?” She had told him not until after exams.
“No,” Cameron said. “Someone else. Honestly I could care less if you meet him, but Gregory wants you to, and it would be too conspicuous for his taste to just come and tell you that himself.”
“He really does like being mysterious, doesn’t he?” Isaac asked. It kind of entertained him how aloof the archmage seemed to want to be, even though he was just a friendly old man.
“He does, it’s always been his favourite thing. You should have seen him as a child. ‘Gregory, what did you have for lunch?’ ‘Oh, why would you like to know?’ Complete with enigmatic smile.” Cameron let out an annoyed sigh. “He’s lucky he grew to old age with all his teeth.”
“I’m surprised you played along,” Isaac told her.
“We had to. He gets sulky if you don’t try to solve all the little mysteries that he fills his day with. It’s a pain in the ass.”
Isaac smiled at that. It was clear that they were good friends. “So, who am I meeting?” he asked her, as they entered the tower and proceeded to the lift. Cameron never took the stairs.
“Some idiot,” Cameron said with a huff, waiting until Isaac had closed the lift door and tugged on Dark to make it rise—not him doing it, there was a spell built into the platform—before saying anything else. “A wizard.”
“A wizard?” Isaac asked. He hadn’t expected that. “That was…fast. I kind of figured I’d get farther along in witchcraft before I started something new.” Isaac wasn’t sure he could handle learning three different types of magic at once.
“Gregory has other ideas, obviously,” Cameron said. “Though it might be more that this wizard showed up and Gregory wants to give him something to do. He hasn’t told the man about you yet, except that you’re the chosen one.”
Isaac nodded, taking a breath. “Okay. Let’s meet him, then.”
They rode the lift all the way up to the top floor, and stepped out into the archmage’s office. “We have to stop meeting like this,” Isaac muttered as he came into the room, smiling at the archmage and noticing that Yancy, Diana and Cleo were here before turning his attention to the wizard—wizards—in the room. The tall, pointy man with the beard and the long robes was probably the one that Isaac was here to meet, but his eyes were immediately drawn to the two younger guys standing behind him a bit, one looking at the floor and the other at Isaac. The one looking at Isaac was a northerner, dour and looking unhappy, round mouth, lightish brown hair that fell in his eyes, nice eyebrows underneath that. Either trying to grow a beard or just didn’t know how to shave, which was cute either way. The other one was southern like the tall man, lithe, nervous looking, seeming like he was moving even as he held perfectly still, biting the inside of his cheek.
Isaac smiled at both of them. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Isaac.”
“Ronaldo Harrow,” said the tall man, who obviously didn’t realize that Isaac had been talking to the cute boys. His voice was a bit loud for the size of the room. He took a step towards Isaac, robes swishing in a way that seemed just slightly dramatic for the circumstances. “Court wizard of Queen Francesca DiGorre of Kyaine, and emissary of the Council of Wizards, and attaché to Prince Franz DiGorre, soon to be princess-consort of Dolovai. A pleasure to make your acquaintance, young man.”
Isaac just looked at him, struck. He looked from Ronaldo to Yancy and back again. “Do…you guys know each other?”
Because it seemed like they might be the same person. And Isaac liked Yancy now. He really did. But he wasn’t sure that the world needed two of Yancy.
“We’ve only just become acquainted,” Ronaldo told Isaac, as Yancy made a funny face. Knowing him, he probably didn’t see a single similarity between himself and Ronaldo. “So you are the chosen one of legend?”
“That’s what they keep telling me,” Isaac said, eyes sliding from Ronaldo back to the people who mattered. “You forgot to introduce your friends.”
“My…” Ronaldo seemed confused for a moment, looking over at the other two. “Ah, yes. How thoughtless of me. My apprentice, Ignatius,” he said, indicating the northern boy.
“Hi,” Isaac said, smiling at him and giving a wave. “I’m Isaac, nice to meet you.”
Yancy and Diana were sharing a look, which Isaac thought was uncalled for. “Uh, hi,” Ignatius said. “Nice to meet you too.” He had a reserved tone to his voice.
Isaac smiled some more, and since Ronaldo hadn’t introduced the other guy, he turned to him, giving another way. “I missed your name, sorry.”
“Oh!” He seemed genuinely surprised that someone had talked to him. “I’m just…Master Harrow’s attendant. Don’t pay me any mind.”
Hm. Isaac wondered what had happened to make him feel that way about himself. “That’s an awfully long name, Just Master Harrow’s Attendant, Don’t Pay Me Any Mind. Do you have a nickname I can call you or something?”
The attendant stared at him for a second, and suddenly, to Isaac’s surprise, Ignatius burst out laughing, holding onto the servant’s arm as he did. “I think he’s paying you mind, Gus.”
“Isaac pays everyone mind,” Diana told them. “It’s one of his strengths.”
Gus looked like he’d been hit by something, but he gave Isaac a nervous smile. “Sorry. I’m Gus.”
“That’s much less of a mouthful,” Isaac said, nodding. He noticed the slowness with which Ignatius took his hand away from Gus, and the fact that though Gus seemed to be afraid of everything in the room, he didn’t seem bothered by the contact at all. “Nice to meet you, Gus. Maybe after everyone’s done chatting, I could take you guys on a tour of the academy.”
The archmage cleared his throat, obviously not noticing that Isaac was in the middle of something important. “Ronaldo is here to aid us in dealing with the concerns we face, Isaac.”
“That sorcerer guy in the south?” Isaac asked. The one who, according to what he’d overheard from Lee, was dead and whose son was suddenly the academy’s target.
Isaac was looking at Cleo, who nodded. “That’s the one,” she said. “We want a selection of various practitioners to fight him, it’s safer that way.”
“Yes. The Sorcerer King is a potential threat to all of us,” Ronaldo said, nodding imperiously. “He must be dealt with. And as representative of the Council of Wizards and the Kyainese queen, I am here to help. Tell me, archmage, what are the boy’s combat abilities? When we assault the Sorcerer King’s fortress…”
“Isaac won’t be participating in that,” the archmage said immediately, interrupting Ronaldo. Isaac, for his part, just breathed a sigh of relief. Weird though, that none of them were going to tell him Solomon was dead. “He isn’t nearly trained for it and besides, it is our problem, not his.”
“He is your chosen one…”
“He is our student,” Diana said. “He was chosen by a millennia-old piece of paper, not us. We’re not putting him in harm’s way unnecessarily.”
Isaac heard that ‘unnecessarily’ and wondered what would make it necessary.
“Yet surely the lad is your greatest hope at defeating such great evil,” Ronaldo continued.
“I should prefer to think,” Yancy said, standing tall. “That our dozens of fully trained mages are our greatest hope. Isaac will surely be a beacon of hope for us when he is older, but at this time expecting him to fight for us is ludicrous.”
“And how do you expect him to learn if you shelter him from all crisis throughout his formative years?” Ronaldo challenged, arms crossed, robes moving.
“From his teachers and classes,” Yancy countered, huffing a little. “And he’s faced enough crises as it is, heaven forefend we expose him to more.”
“No offence, guys,” Isaac said, raising his hand. “But do I have to be here for this?” They clearly wanted to talk about him instead of to him, which Isaac would really rather just pass on and maybe take Ignatius and Gus on a walk and find out if they really were dating or if it was just his imagination.
It wasn’t his imagination. Isaac had ways of knowing these things.
“You’d prefer to be elsewhere while your future is decided?” Ronaldo asked, arching an eyebrow in a way that people didn’t.
“No, but I’d prefer to be elsewhere while you’re talking over my head. I can come back when you’re ready to talk to me.”
Isaac held Ronaldo’s smouldering gaze for a moment, not at all intimidated by someone whose clothes moved on their own.
“In any case,” the archmage said into the silence. “There is much to be discussed over the coming…”
He broke off at a knock, followed by the door to his office bursting open. “Archmage,” Lee said, striding in, then stopping short when she saw all of them. “Oh,” she said, settling on Isaac. “Isaac, you’re here. Good.”
“Lee, what’s happening?” the archmage demanded, somewhat testy.
Isaac turned, eyes wide, heart pounding in his ears. He looked at Lee for a second, and she nodded at him. Everyone else in the room disappeared and Isaac turned and ran to the lift, jumping in and tugging Dark hard to make it go down before anyone could follow him. He spent the whole ride bouncing up and down, feeling like he couldn’t breathe.
Oliver was awake. He was okay.
Did he remember what happened? Had someone told him? Was he confused? Did he know Christopher was dead?
Did he know that Isaac had killed Christopher?
Isaac burst out of the lift when it stopped at the appropriate floor, racing down the hallway to the infirmary, where he pushed open the door, panting.
Oliver was sitting there in his bed, looking bleary but alive, colour in his face. Twila was standing beside him, just taking away a cup from his hand.
Isaac stood in the door, watching him, tears came to his eyes. “Oliver…” he whispered.
Oliver looked up at Isaac, a tired smile appearing on his face. “Isaac.”
Isaac raced into the room, stopping short at Oliver’s bed at a hard look from Twila. “No acrobatics,” she warned. “He’s still weak. Lee and I just managed to wake him up, and he hasn’t been out of bed in months.”
Isaac nodded, standing there quivering. “I…I’m sorry…”
“It wasn’t your fault, Isaac,” Oliver said, holding out his arm. “Come here.”
Isaac burst into tears, and half-fell into Oliver’s arms, hugging him tightly and letting Oliver hold him back. “I’m so glad you’re okay,” he cried. “I was so worried, I…”
“I know,” Oliver said, patting his back. “I know you were. Twila told me you came almost every day.”
Isaac nodded, sniffing. “I just…kept having to live my life like everything was normal, but…” he shook his head. “It’s not about me. Nevermind me. How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine,” Oliver assured him. “Glad to be awake. Apparently I missed most of the semester.”
“Lucky you,” Isaac muttered, smiling in spite of himself. Oliver sounded okay. He sounded normal. It made Isaac think that everything was okay, that everything was normal.
“Hey,” Oliver said, looking at something over Isaac’s head. Isaac looked up, clearing his eyes, to see Yancy standing in the doorway, Diana just behind him.
“Good to see you well, my boy,” Yancy said, and he came over tentatively. Isaac moved aside, gesturing for Yancy to hug Oliver as well. It looked hilariously awkward, but it was clear that Yancy meant it. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”
“It’s not your fault,” Oliver told him.
“I’m sorry,” Isaac muttered to Yancy. “For running off. I should have waited for you.” Yancy cared about Oliver just as much as Isaac, maybe more.
“Don’t worry about it, Isaac,” Yancy said. “I well understand.” He smiled at Oliver. “A good deal has happened while you were asleep.”
“Guess you’ll have to help me catch up,” Oliver said with a smile.
“You really should rest,” Twila told him.
“I know, but I’ve been resting forever,” Oliver said. “I can talk for a few minutes.”
Twila sighed, shaking her head. “You tell me if you start to get tired.”
“I’ll keep an eye on him,” Isaac promised, earning a look from Oliver. He smiled. “Can’t let you strain yourself on your first day back.”
“Suddenly you’re all responsible.”
“Well, you were gone, someone had to do it,” Isaac accused.
Oliver laughed, pulling Isaac to sit beside him on the bed. “I always knew you had it in you. Alright, tell me what happened. Did Christopher get away?”
Isaac went quiet, looking at Yancy, then back at Oliver. “No,” he whispered.
Oliver seemed to understand. “Oh, Isaac,” he said, holding Isaac closer. “I’m sorry. He was my friend all that time and I never even noticed. I…” He shook his head.
Isaac did too. “Not your fault. Anyway, a bit more happened after that.”
They did, Isaac mostly doing the talking with Yancy filling in the details when Isaac got something wrong or didn’t say it pompously enough, and it felt normal. It felt okay. It felt safe.
Isaac had missed those things.