The More You Learn about Magic, the More You Learn What It Can’t Fix, and the More You Learn that it Can
The main character for this chapter was voted on by my Patrons in an October poll!
“I wish you’d wake up soon.”
Oliver felt silly talking to someone who couldn’t hear him. But what else was he supposed to do? He’d talked to his friends about Isaac about as much as he could without seeming like he was obsessed. He wasn’t obsessed with Isaac, he was just worried. Nobody knew what was wrong with him.
“I just…” Oliver sighed. “I just miss you. And I saw one of those centipedes that was inside Christopher the other day and I just wish you’d wake up. God, Isaac, I wish you’d wake up.”
Isaac didn’t oblige him, of course. Isaac lived by his own set of rules and wasn’t worried about what other people wanted. Not in a bad way, though he did have a selfish streak the size of a city street. He was caring and genuine and nice and empathetic and he just really wanted everyone to be happy, including himself. He did what he thought was best no matter what the rules said. And he didn’t deserve any of the crappy stuff that kept happening to him.
Especially this, which didn’t even seem to be some sort of chosen one thing. He’d just exploded one day in class and not woken up from it. His friends were going crazy with worry, and so was Oliver.
“Everyone’s still freaking out,” Oliver said. “Twila and Lee and even the archmage are trying to figure out what’s going on with you and they just can’t. Peter and Nicholas and Garrett are taking notes for you in your classes. We’re all expecting you to come back soon. We’re…we’re worried about you, Isaac. I’m worried about you.”
Not that there was anything new about that. Oliver was constantly worried about Isaac. He’d had so much put on him from the minute he’d been identified as a mage, as the chosen one, and he was handling it all so well, but nobody could handle this much stress this well forever.
Maybe that was why he hadn’t woken up. Maybe he was just too fucking tired to wake up.
Oliver sighed, stood up. “Wake up soon, okay?” he asked, reaching down and touching Isaac’s cheek. “It sucks here without you.” He looked down at Isaac’s sleeping face, peaceful, calm. He wasn’t dead, Oliver told himself. Quickly, before he could talk himself out of it, he bent down and kissed Isaac’s forehead. “I love you,” he said, so quietly he barely heard himself.
Then Oliver straightened and left Isaac’s corner of the infirmary, trying not to be in a hurry. There was nobody else here to hear him, even Twila. She was teaching a class. The only person who’d heard him was Isaac, and he was asleep.
Oliver wasn’t sure when he’d fallen in love with Isaac. It had just been there one day, something a lot more than friendship. And it hurt. Because he couldn’t say anything about it, not to his friends who’d wonder what was wrong with him that he was in love with a student, and definitely not to Isaac, who wouldn’t see any problem with them having a relationship.
There was a problem with it, no matter what Isaac thought. Isaac was too young to be with Oliver romantically.
Didn’t stop him from fucking Christopher, a quiet voice in his head reminded Oliver. He ignored it. Christopher had been a bad person, that had been obvious. Or it had become obvious when he’d tried to kill Oliver. Oliver didn’t know if he’d gone bad or been bad from the start, but he’d not been the nice guy that Oliver had thought he was. That person, the one Oliver had thought he was friends with, would never have done that to Isaac.
Would never have made him jealous, wishing that it had been him.
God, he wished Isaac would wake up. It was so much easier not to think about this when he knew Isaac was happily with his friends, with his boyfriend, with the people he was supposed to be with. When Isaac was happy it was easier for Oliver to go about his life and be content with only being a small part of Isaac’s.
And, Oliver told himself, when he was feeling particularly pathetic, Isaac wouldn’t always be a student. Maybe when he was a little older and got an apprenticeship of his own, maybe then they could work something out. Maybe.
Oliver didn’t realize he’d come to Yancy’s study until he already had the door open. Yancy was at the end of his long table, looking up. He would have felt Oliver approach his wards. “Oliver,” Yancy proclaimed, putting down the book he’d been reading. “You look upset, lad.”
“I, uh.” Oliver sighed. He was here now. He took the chair by Yancy’s door, the one for students, instead of one of the other seats at the table where he usually sat when he was working. “I was just with Isaac.”
“Ah, of course,” Yancy sighed. He may not be in love with Isaac, but Yancy was taking this very hard as well, and not just because his chosen one was in a coma. “May I presume there has been no change in his condition?”
“He’s still asleep,” Oliver reported. “Twila has no idea what’s wrong with him.” When he’d collapsed, Twila had found that Isaac’s body had been under a lot of stress, as though he’d been physically subjected to something painful for a long time. But those symptoms were gone now.
“He will awake soon, Oliver, you know that,” Yancy promised.
“When, though?” Oliver stood up, started to pace. Walking had always helped him think. “There’s no reason for him to be unconscious, Yancy. There’s no reason why this happened. What was causing all that strain on his body? Something was happening to him that we don’t understand and we still don’t understand it.”
“We will soon. Nothing remains beyond understanding forever.”
Oliver didn’t think that was true. “I’m starting to think that almost everything is beyond our understanding,” he muttered. “Everywhere I look it’s just more and more things I don’t understand.”
“May I presume,” Yancy interrupted, voice gentle, “that you are referring to what happened in the city the day before last?”
Oliver nodded, a jerky movement. “What the hell are those centipedes? Why are they inside people? That’s not a normal behaviour for any kind of natural animal, even a parasite. And the last time one of those was inside someone, that person tried to rob the Vault.” Had that knight also been doing something horrible? Leo had certainly seemed to think that was why his friend had killed him.
“The centipedes are creatures of magic, Oliver,” Yancy explained, and that made Oliver look up at him. “They are implanted within people’s bodies to control them from afar.”
Oliver lost his step, nearly fell. “How do you know that?” It was the first he’d heard of it, but Yancy said it like it was common knowledge. The centipede that he’d seen the other day was the first one he’d ever seen; he’d been unconscious and only heard about the one inside Christopher afterwards.
Yancy sighed. “I was told by a sorcerer named Cleo, whose brother is the young man controlling the creatures. We are looking into ways to locate, control and remove them safely.”
Oliver felt like he might fall over. “Why…haven’t you told me this before?” Oliver was Yancy’s apprentice. He’d thought that meant Yancy told him everything. Apparently he’d been wrong about that.
“I didn’t want to alarm you when you’ve had such a hard year as it is,” Yancy told him, sagging a little. Every once in a while Oliver realized how old Yancy actually was. “That was a mistake. I ought to have told you before now. The poor knight who was murdered was likely also working for the Sorcerer King, possibly against his will. It is good, Oliver, that you insisted on informing the archmage of the situation.”
“Fuck.” Oliver rarely swore, because Yancy didn’t like it, but now seemed like a good time for it. He sat back down in the students’ chair, head in his hands. He just needed a second, one second, to make the world make sense again. “Is there anything I can do?” he asked. “To help?”
There had to be something he could do. Something useful. “All you need…”
“Please don’t say I can help by focusing on my studies, Yancy,” Oliver pleaded. “For God’s sake, I’m almost fully trained. Let me do something.”
Yancy was silent for a moment. “Very well,” he finally allowed. “I could use some help researching historical instances of such a creature. We have reason to believe this is not the first time that the centipedes have appeared, and…”
Oliver was listening, he really was. But then something touched his arm. And it was a touch he recognized. “Isaac?”
It didn’t make any sense, no sense at all. But he felt hands on his arms. Isaac’s hands on his arms. “Oliver?” Yancy asked.
Oliver reached his hand out, but there was nothing there. “It’s Isaac,” Oliver said, voice wavering. “Isaac’s here. I can feel his hands on my arms.”
“Oliver,” Yancy began. “I know you’re very stressed, but…”
“Yancy, I’m not crazy. Isaac is here, I’m sure of it.”
“Perhaps…” Yancy stood up, touching Light. Nothing happened. “Perhaps his condition isn’t entirely physical. It’s not impossible that he’s been disembodied.”
“You mean he could be a ghost?” No, Oliver didn’t like that, not one bit. Being a ghost meant Isaac was dead.
“Not quite, as of course we know Isaac is still alive. But perhaps the force of whatever happened to him in the classroom detached his soul and body,” Yancy said, rummaging through some books. “I’m sure such a thing is possible.”
“If it is, then there must be a way we can reverse it, right?” Oliver asked, hopeful. Isaac wouldn’t be able to reverse it on his own, but they could help him. They could… “Yancy.”
A quill was floating on Yancy’s table, and both of them stared at it. “Do you think that’s…”
“Hush, Oliver,” Yancy said, watching raptly as it pressed down to some paper on the table. And, over Yancy’s immaculate notes on the history of an insurrection in the west a few centuries ago, the quill spelled out a name. Isaac. The quill fell.
“It is him,” Oliver said, feeling choked up. “It’s him, Yancy. He’s here, in the room.”
“He must be,” Yancy said. “Lacking in ways to communicate his plight. We must attempt to contact him.”
Oliver grabbed the quill, writing underneath Isaac’s name. Are you okay? It was the only thing he could think of. Where are you? Maybe Isaac could tell them something.
But for a full minute he and Yancy looked at the page, no answer forthcoming. “Oliver,” Yancy said, when nothing happened. “It’s possible Isaac only had enough energy for the one lone message. It took him this long to do even that, after all.”
“Right,” Oliver said, drawing hope from that. He was tired, that was all it was. “Right. What do we do?” Yancy had to know what to do. Because Oliver sure as hell didn’t.
“We must go to the infirmary to check on Isaac’s body,” Yancy proclaimed. “Once we’ve done that, I will speak with the archmage, and with Twila and Juno.”
“Juno’s research centres on astral projection, Oliver. Whilst I do that, you must go to the library and retrieve as many books as you can on the subject of disembodiment. We will find a way to reverse this, Oliver. We will find a way to bring him back.”
“Okay.” Oliver felt emboldened. He felt like he could do this. “Okay, let’s go.”
And they went, to hopefully figure this out. To understand it. So they could fix it.