“I’M GOING to miss you,” I mumbled, pressing my face into the crook of Tyler’s shoulder. Funny how the summer seemed to last forever, right until it ended.
As always, Tyler’s smile helped set me at ease. “I’m going to miss you too, Fay. It won’t be as bad as you’re worrying, though. You have magic—I’m sure we’ll find a way.” There was a shout from somewhere behind him, and he winced. “But I think my parents are going to disown me if I take any longer. I’ll message you tonight, okay? I promise.”
And with that, Tyler kissed me and turned away, leaving me standing in his driveway with a dazed expression as his parents took him to Tufts University. Even though it was only in Boston, it felt too far away. I watched his blond mop of hair disappear into the car and sighed. It felt like Tyler had just gotten back from his uncle’s house, and now he was leaving again.
I heaved out a sigh and walked around to Tyler’s backyard, pulling out a slip of paper from my pocket. I read the words aloud, then stepped through the tear in the world in front of me.
I closed my eyes to avoid being overwhelmed by the rush of colors and then emerged in my own backyard, inside the circle Sam had helped me draw a while back. Sam was relaxing up in the old pine tree we used for target practice, her legs swinging from the branch as she sketched out her latest design on her sketchpad. I ducked as she flung a pinecone at my head, rolling my eyes as I did so.
“Feel any better now?” Sam called out from her perch.
“Not really,” I admitted. “It’s never fun to say goodbye.”
“See, I could have told you that,” Sam replied, flinging yet another pinecone at me. “In fact, I did. Several times. Just focus more on the ‘hellos,’ or something sappy like that. You get the idea.”
“You know, it’s for your ability to comfort me that I keep you around.”
“I thought it was because you’re lost without me,” Sam said, pitching her voice dramatically. I made a face, and she laughed. “Look, we’re going off to the university tomorrow, okay? Quit moping around! You’ve been wanting to belong somewhere your entire life! This is what you’ve been waiting for!”
“Yeah, it is. But I consider that more of a reason to freak out than to be happy.”
Sam stared down at me. “You’re depressing me, Fay. That’s not allowed.” She leaped off the branch. “You made it through the bad part, okay? And you’ve literally got the scars to prove it.” She winced almost immediately after saying that.
“It’s fine, Sam,” I said. “You’re right. I need to cheer up. No more tests, just… whatever it is we do at Janus University.”
“Call it a hunch, but I’d guess learning.”
I huffed and sat down in the grass, staring up at the overcast sky. Sam ambled over to join me. I watched as a few blades of grass near me glistened with sudden frost, grateful that Sam didn’t seem to have noticed. Headmaster Didas’s runes had held, mostly. I couldn’t do any of my usual magic, at least not intentionally. But as more time passed, I noticed it leaking out anyway. My parents would comment on it being chilly outside in August, or I’d see the window in my room covered in whorls of frost. I didn’t have control over it anymore. It just… happened. More and more often. It scared me to see something I had always thought of as part of me acting out on its own.
Just another thing Winter ruined for me.
I hadn’t told anyone. I had no means of contacting Didas, and found him way too terrifying to do so even if I could, and Sam had only gotten back from Europe a week ago. She was too busy, showing me everything she’d drawn, for me to tell her, and we had to practice for the university. I’d already relied on her for so much. I could deal with this on my own.
There were hundreds of spells we were supposed to have tried out, or at least looked at. A lot of them seemed next to useless, like the dozens of cantrips I had to string together to produce a specific effect, but some of them were battle related or just plain fascinating. Sam took to any spells involving combat or movement like a duck to water, and she used her unfair gift for memorizing things the whole time. I was interested in the spells that took more time to set up and were less flashy, like the universal language spell. The book said the spell was constantly in effect at the university to facilitate better learning and community, but there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to read some of my favorite books in their original language and actually understand it.
Mostly, however, the texts said that you needed a teacher to really learn magic. After watching the words swim around the pages as I tried to make sense of them, I was inclined to agree.
“Wanna spar one last time?” Sam asked, eyes bright. “Just to see what we can do?”
“You just want to fight.”
“Guilty. But come on, I haven’t done anything more than the basic stuff since I got back! And I couldn’t do anything when I was with my dad in Spain. There was too much risk of other people seeing.”
“Did you tell him?”
She sighed. “Yeah, I did. He… didn’t take it well. Especially since Mom never told him either.”
Sam had apparently inherited her ability to use magic from her mom, who had died of cancer when Sam was a kid, not having told her anything. She still got upset about it sometimes.
I groaned and stood up. “We can fight, but you have to give me a minute, okay? I’m not exactly used to having to speak when I cast. And I need to grab my journal. Also, if I don’t get Tyler, you don’t get your ercinee.”
Sam bounced to her feet. “Deal.”
I left her in my backyard as I went to grab my journal. I had started keeping a spell journal after looking at the one Aiden gave Sam and me last year, and after I spent way too long bookmarking and otherwise cataloging the huge textbooks the university sent us.
I padded up the stairs and pushed the fantasy titles on my bookshelf out of the way, revealing the small, leather-bound journal in which I’d scrawled the spells I could confidently use. Some of them I had memorized; some of them I hadn’t. Either way, it didn’t hurt to have the journal to consult, as long as I could find a way to keep Sam away long enough to glance at it. I flipped through the pages quickly, familiarizing myself with the spells, and then headed back downstairs. The only advantage I had in this fight was that I’d had a lot longer than Sam to look through all the new spells, and she didn’t know what I could and couldn’t use.
Sam was waiting for me at the edge of the yard, balancing lightly on her bare feet, having taken her knee-high boots off. She’d also pulled her slightly curling black hair away from her face in a ponytail, revealing her brown eyes sparkling in anticipation. I ran a hand through my own shaggy white hair and reluctantly accepted the inevitable.
“Look, just don’t be too mean, all right?” I asked. Sam grinned at me. “Let’s get this over with.”
I reeled off my first incantation, having recited it repeatedly in my head since I’d come back downstairs. I held out my hands in front of me, making the air around me crackle with energy. A moment later, my vision a few feet out was slightly warped, as though I were looking through a pane of curved glass. I launched into my second incantation immediately, looking at my journal to make sure I had it right.
Meanwhile, the Ward I had set up began to spiderweb with cracks out in every direction as Sam began her assault. Her fondness for the Minor Orb spell hadn’t changed one bit. I kept chanting, making sure not to trip over a single syllable as I watched Sam get closer, yet another sphere of spiraling energy appearing above her hand only to fling itself at me a second later. Even through the Ward, I could see her grinning.
I was almost done with my second incantation when Sam’s form flickered and vanished. I winced as a sharp crack filled the air directly behind my neck, as her foot rebounded off my Ward.
“Cheater,” Sam growled. “I didn’t know you could make the Ward cover your back.”
I turned and raised an eyebrow at her. “You love appearing behind me. There was no way I wouldn’t prepare for that.”
She scowled at me and raised her fists. I backed away hastily before slamming my palms down on the ground as I finished my spell. The grass rippled, then parted to make way for a tiny black cat with a white spot on its breast to crawl out, before sealing back up again. The cat looked at me with its glowing yellow eyes and mewled at me, licking one paw daintily.
Sam gave it a dubious look. “Is that what you meant to do?”
The cat looked at her and hissed, arching its back as its tail stiffened and its hair stood on end. The cat’s form seemed to glow softly for a moment, and then it grew to the size of a massive dog, or a small pony. Whichever. It hissed again, and I swear the ground trembled. A cat sídhe, an old Celtic myth. I grinned at Sam, who was busy sizing up the creature, a slight frown on her face.
“You know I hate hurting animals,” Sam said, glaring at me. “That’s just mean.”
I shrugged and stifled a grin. “You don’t have to hurt it. I mean, it’s going to go after you, but….”
The cat looked at me, and I made a “go on” gesture. It turned back to her and pounced, only to bounce off a Ward Sam had hastily called up. It was my turn to stand and watch as Sam’s Ward began to crack under the strain. I flipped through my journal again with the time my sídhe bought me. I smirked as I listened to Sam’s string of expletives as she tried to hold the cat off.
I flipped to the page I’d bookmarked, and there it was. I’d thought of Sam immediately after seeing this one. Making sure she was suitably distracted, I carefully traced a rune into the remnants of my Ward in front of me, watching as it shimmered and disappeared. The cracks in my Ward stayed, however. I doubted it’d be able to take more than one hit, and considering how exhausted I already was, restoring it was a bad idea. Sam kept backing away from the cat until it lunged at her with a plate-sized paw, claws extended. In one fluid movement, she dropped her Ward, causing the cat to overextend itself, and then she darted into its exposed flank. She slapped a hand onto its fur and let out a quick string of words that I recognized as the incantation for Dispel. Her hand pulsed blue, and the sídhe hissed in frustration before it faded from the world again.
Sam straightened and turned back toward me. I looked at her with a resigned expression as sphere after sphere began to flicker into existence around her.
“Overkill much?” I called out. Sam grinned at me and pointed at my chest. The seven Minor Orbs she’d summoned shot through the air unerringly… only to slam into my altered Ward and immediately rebound. Sam’s look of shock right before her own attack hit her was beautiful, well worth the energy the Reflection spell took. I sat down with a huff, suddenly panting, as Sam struggled to get up, groaning from the impact of her own spell.
“What the hell was that?” she hissed, clutching at her shoulder.
“New spell, Reflection,” I managed, still trying to get my breath back. “Takes Ward one step further against physical casts. Like it?”
She narrowed her eyes as she stood up, albeit shakily. “You have one second to surrender.”
I mimed waving a white flag, grinning, and motioned her to come sit down next to me. She hobbled over and collapsed by my side, wincing. I patted her shoulder, and she swatted my hand away.
“Here,” I said and passed her my journal. “You should take a look at some of the spells in this. They’re the ones I thought were pretty useful.”
“Like the cheap shot you just used to beat me?”
“Thought you’d like that one.” I gave her a knowing look. “Though there are also some, uh, destructive ones. You might like those.”
Sam’s face brightened. “Gimme.”
We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to find a way to fix the tree Sam “accidentally” exploded.