The Path to Being An Expert Starts With Admitting You’re Good at Something
“Now if you were going to put a trigger in someone for future control, what Pillar would you use?”
Everyone’s hand went up, including Isaac’s. Lee’s class was so small it was impossible not to raise his hand at every question, because the only worse thing than being called on in class would be to be her only student who didn’t know the answer.
Lee looked at all of them. It was probably Isaac’s imagination that her gaze lingered on him for a second. “Samantha?” Isaac put his hand down along with everyone else.
“I’d use Shadow and a supporting thread of Dark for that,” she said. Lee nodded, and she went on. “Dark would be used to support the spell and make it harder to remove if it’s detected, and using Shadow in the way we learned from Martine the White’s notes means the trigger could be really subtle.”
“Good,” Lee said. “And how would someone remove that?”
“Brute force with Dark,” Samantha said. “It’s almost impossible to do without putting the person in question into a coma.”
“Right, exactly.” Lee looked at the hourglass on her desk. “That’s all for today. The spell Samantha described is called Martine’s Knot. For homework, I’d like you all to think up ways that we might undo it without brute force—nobody’s ever come up with a way to counteract it alone. There are a few spells that multiple mages could cast together using all three Pillars, but now that we have all three at our individual disposals, I think we can do better than putting our poor victim into a coma. We’ll talk about solutions in the next class. Isaac, stay a minute.”
Isaac did, dallying in putting his shit away and getting up only once everyone was out of the room. He went up to Lee’s desk. “Hi.”
“Hi. Was your answer to my question just then going to be the same as Samantha’s?”
She’d know if he lied. Isaac shook his head. “No. Martine’s Knot obviously works, but it also risks insanity in the victim. If I were evil I’d weave Light and Dark together for the actual control spell and tie a loose knot of Shadow around the whole thing to make the trigger work.”
“That’s a lot more complicated,” Lee told him. She didn’t sound like she was disagreeing.
Isaac nodded. “It’s also safer. Light and Dark want to tug at each other a little, so they’ll balance out the spell, which I think would make insanity less likely in the victim.”
“That’s how I know we don’t need to worry about you,” Lee told him, chuckling. “Only you would put yourself in the mind of someone dangerous and still try not to hurt anyone.”
“Right.” Isaac was a little embarrassed. “Well, there’s that. But I mean, they’re more useful to me if they don’t go insane. Plus…I can’t think of how anyone but me would undo the spell without knowing exactly how I’d knotted everything together.”
Lee didn’t say anything for a second, reaching up and touching her intricate hair. She moved a finger through the air as if drawing, and then stopped. “Neither can I,” she admitted. “One of us had better come up with something. I don’t like there being a mind control spell out there that’s unbreakable.”
“Neither do I,” agreed Isaac. Now he felt bad. “I was hoping you’d tell me it had an obvious weakness.”
“Not obvious, but give me a couple of days,” Lee told him. She picked up a stack of papers and gave them to Isaac. “Take these.”
They were all spell diagrams. “These look kind of hard,” he said.
“They are. I normally wouldn’t give them to a student who hasn’t had three or four years’ experience, but I’d like you to look them over. They’re some options for spells that might be able to break Klaus’s control over someone.”
Isaac looked up at her. “You already figured out how to do that?”
“No,” she admitted, and Isaac’s heart sank. “But I’ve been thinking about it and this is what I’ve come up with so far. I’d like you to look at them and see what you think.”
“Do you really think I can help?” Isaac asked. Lee was a teacher of this subject. Isaac was just kind of a good student at it.
“I do. Which reminds me, take this too.” She handed him another piece of paper, this one with a lot of writing on it. “We can go over it together tomorrow if you like, but I wanted you to have it.”
“What is it?” Isaac asked. He’d read it later.
“A contract to make you my research assistant. It’s not a traditional thing for a student at your level, but I convinced the archmage that nobody else at the academy can help me like you can.”
Right. Yancy and Oliver had talked about getting her to do that. Okay. “What am I helping you with?”
Lee smiled. “Looking at new forms of mind control magic that might be developed thanks to the revelation of all three Pillars, and how they can be combatted, as well as how we can use our new understanding of magic to better protect people from such magic.”
“Wait, that sounds like a real thing that’s important,” Isaac said. He’d thought this was going to be a fake thing that wasn’t important and was just so he could have an excuse to talk to Lee about Klaus.
“It is, and I want your help with it. I do genuinely think you’re the best person to give me that help. Don’t tell me you don’t think you can do it; you revolutionized mind control magic ten minutes ago.”
Isaac went red. “I didn’t.”
“A bit of an exaggeration maybe, but let’s just say I’m really looking forward to hearing what you suggest for cutting Martine’s Knot.” Lee tilted her head a little. “From what I hear, you’re not normally modest.”
“There are two different kinds of modesty,” Isaac muttered.
“And they’re both stupid. It’s okay to admit when you’re talented at something, Isaac.”
“I know, it just feels a bit weird.” Isaac sighed. “Okay. Thank you.”
“Come to my study tomorrow after your classes are done. We’ll go through the contract together and I’ll explain what I expect from you. It’s going to be work. Not work you can’t do, but work. And then I want to look at that spell Yancy’s friend gave you together, the one for exposing when Klaus is controlling someone. I’d like to try having you cast it.”
“Sure,” Isaac said, nervous. This was a big deal. It was important that they get it right, and as soon as possible. But part of him was afraid. Afraid of what it would show him. Who it would show him.
But it was important. And Isaac was the only one who could do it. He puts Lee’s papers into his bag. “I have to go, I’m going to be late for Shadow magic.”
“Tell Trey it was my fault,” Lee told him, as Isaac made to go. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Isaac.”
“You too.” Isaac headed for the door. “And thank you. You’re a really good teacher, Lee.”
“I appreciate that. Thank you.”
Isaac nodded, and he went to his next class.
Shadow Magic was in a different, brighter, building and Isaac hurried there only to find Jacob outside, talking to Peter. He blinked. “Hi.”
“Hi,” said Jacob. He gave Isaac a kiss. “Sorry to interfere in your school life. I just, uh. Was lonely and wanted to see you. To be honest.”
“Don’t apologize for wanting to see us,” Isaac said, taking Jacob’s hand. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m great,” Jacob told him, nodding a fast. “Ignatius and Gus are back and I’ve been spending time with my friend Silas. I’m an honoured guest of Prince Franz now that I’m not his blood enemy, so honoured that he let me get naked at his breakfast table and then have a bath with him and his brothers. I’m great. I just…missed you today, that’s all.”
“Sorry,” said Isaac. He’d been so focused on school shit lately that he hadn’t paid Jacob enough attention. “I missed you too.” And also now he really wanted to know about this orgy Jacob had had with Prince Franz and his brothers.
Jacob nodded in that way that made it seem like he was nodding to himself. “I don’t feel that bad about interrupting your school because Peter says your teacher and his human aren’t here yet.”
“Trey sometimes gets scared of going outside and has to take some extra time so Hooper can convince him to leave,” Isaac told him. “He’s okay, he’ll be here soon.” It was nice that Isaac wasn’t technically late, though.
“And what made you late?” Peter asked him. “That’s not like you.”
Isaac shrugged. “I, uh…” He couldn’t lie to them. “I got offered a job, sort of.”
“A job?” Jacob asked, looking Isaac over as if for evidence of employment. “Doing what?”
“Helping one of my teachers. Lee,” he added for Peter. “She wants me to be her research assistant.” He dug the paper out of his bag and showed it to them.
“Oh wow,” said Peter, reading it over quickly. “That’s…that’s really awesome, Isaac.”
“It’s not a big deal.”
“Of course it is,” said Jacob, excited. “You must be like, really smart and amazing at magic! Which I mean, I already knew you were, obviously, but it’s good to know my boyfriend is so talented, really justifies me picking you. Which, uh, I would have anyway because my love for you isn’t determined by your talent or ability, but what I mean to say is…”
Isaac laughed, and he gave Jacob a kiss. “Thank you, Jacob. That means a lot to me.” It really did. Jacob and Peter were the smartest people he knew.
“It really is so impressive,” Peter told him, beaming. “They don’t just make students research assistants before they’re even apprentices. I’m really proud of you. At this rate you’re going to be a teacher before the rest of us even graduate. This is such an accomplishment.”
Isaac looked up. Behind Peter in the doorway was Nicholas, looking at them curiously, from a distance, as if nervous to approach. He came closer when Peter offered him Lee’s paper. “Isaac got a job as Lee’s research assistant. They’re going to revolutionize mental magic.”
Nicholas blinked, looking at the contract now. “Oh, wow,” he said. “That’s so cool, Isaac.”
“It’s really not that…”
Nicholas didn’t even let him finish that thought, enveloping him in a tight hug.“Don’t be dumb, of course it is. I mean, do you see any of the rest of us getting paid to research magic at our ages? Nobody’s that advanced, Isaac.” Nicholas let him go almost as quickly, and with a sheepish look at the others, but his smile was genuine. And wow, if Isaac knew he would get to hear words and receive hugs like this, he would have stopped the lift a long time ago.
But he was also going to pass out if they didn’t stop fucking complimenting him. “Wait,” he said, frowning. “I’m getting paid?”
“Yeah,” said Jacob, taking the paper. “It says right here, look…”
It was a good fifteen minutes before Trey showed up for class with Hooper in the lead. And Isaac spent all of those minutes with his boyfriends, talking about his favourite subject, thinking about all the gifts he’d buy them, and generally being made to feel…special.
And thanks to that, he didn’t go to bed that night feeling the same way he usually did when he’d been saddled with some responsibility he didn’t want. He didn’t feel heavy and tired like it normally made him feel. He felt…strong. Confident.
He felt like he could do this.