“I lament that we’re having this conversation again so soon,” Archmage Sobik said.
“The circumstances are subtly different, which means the conversation isn’t really the same at all,” Casimir replied.
He sat at a table in the archmage’s domed quarters at the top of the college. Snow swirled past the windows; a blizzard had raged for three days, and two young mages had already been lost in the snow trying to find their way to Bucori, the capital of the Spine.
“Casimir,” Sobik said firmly. “You cannot create your own spells.”
“Then why bother teaching us the mage language?”
“You must learn the language to perform the sort of enchantments you’d need as a court mage, or as servant to a noble family.”
“But never research further, or experiment.”
“That is reserved for mages of my stature.”
“I don’t see you doing much research, archmage,” Casimir said.
Sobik ran a hand through his white, shoulder-length hair. “Who is it that you need to send secret messages to?”
Casimir leaned back in his seat, crossing his arms. “My brother. Why?”
“You can’t write him a letter?”
“You’re trying to change the subject.”
A gust of wind howled against the stone of the college, though the icy chill would never penetrate its walls. In one corner, an alchemy lab flickered with the light of a blue fire, over which a black potion simmered. Three orbs of magelight illuminated the chambers, throwing Sobik’s aged face into sharp relief.
“The teachers are impressed with you, Casimir,” Sobik said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen someone of your natural talent, and from a son of Prince Bohdan…” He shook his head. “But the older you get, the more problems you seem to cause.”
“There are a lot of restrictions on what one can and can’t do, here,” Casimir said. “I’m not endangering anybody—just pushing the limits of magic. You seem to imply the order is better off stagnant.”
“It’s not—” Sobik paused and took a deep breath. “The order is not stagnant. And it is not up to you to decide how it moves forward. You’re sixteen years old.”
“I’ve mastered everything there is to master here,” Casimir said. “And you’re about to release me back into the world. Do you mean to tell me I’m supposed to just—find employment, and never learn anything new?”
“You will learn new things every time you come back for your pilgrimage,” the archmage said. “But otherwise—really, do you have time to wander the continent and absorb all the ancient magic of the shrines? Of course not. You should find your talents and use them, preferably in service to people who need your help. That is what we train you for.”
“I don’t mind that part of the equation,” Casimir said. “But I’m not one to twiddle my thumbs. If there’s magic to learn, or magic to create, I want to be part of it.”
“Maybe one day you’ll be an archmage, and you can be.”
Casimir scoffed. “You don’t think that.”
“Well, I don’t think your temperament is suited for leadership.”
“In what way, exactly?”
“You don’t listen to those wiser and smarter than you.”
Casimir looked away through the windows, whited out with blowing snow. “Your explanations are lacking, which makes it hard to listen. Why can’t I create my own spells, specifically?”
“Because magic was not intended to be toyed with for your own personal gain.”
“It’s not really my own gain if I taught Lukas how to do it too.”
Sobik drummed his fingers against the table. “Casimir, there are a lot of things you won’t ever understand.”
“No. Because those things are not meant for your ears in the first place. Just quit making your own spells, stop questioning the teachers, and spend a bit more time thinking of what your life will be in the future instead of sneaking around the library.”
“You want me to stop being so curious?” Casimir made a disgusted noise. “Maybe things were different for you, archmage, but when I realized what could be achieved with magic—how vast the lore is, how much I could do if only I could learn to handle it—there was no going back. I want to know everything—and I want to uncover new magic when I run out of old.”
“I will not say this again,” Sobik said. “You are not an archmage, and thus, whatever you may want to dig into about magic, or lore, or anything else—it’s useless. The books aren’t written by freshly graduated mages who think they’re important just because they haven’t been trodden down by the world yet. The books are written by archmages who know what they’re doing.” He narrowed his eyes. “What were you doing when you found that book on the god of death the other day?”
“There’s a spell,” Casimir said. “The book said the words were carved on the shrine to the god of death in the Northern Kingdom—”
“That book was not for your consumption!” Sobik snapped. “The library is for requesting the volumes your teachers assign you, not for perusing. And I forbid you from looking into it further. It’s considered evil to control life and death in such a manner, and certainly not safe in the hands of an arrogant boy.”
Casimir clenched his teeth. “So that’s it?”
Sobik scowled at him. “What?”
“You say it isn’t to be done, and that’s the end of it? Your reasons why aren’t even adequate. ‘Just stop looking into it, Casimir, trust me, it’s not for you.’”
Sobik stood suddenly from his chair. “I am sick of having these conversations with you, Casimir. If you continue not to heed my authority, I will have you expelled from the mage order.”
Casimir stood, too. “So what?”
The archmage balked. “Excuse me?”
“So what?” Casimir repeated. “I already know everything I need to know, and magic is in my blood. Who cares about the mage order? It won’t stop me.”
Apoplectic with rage, Sobik braced both his hands on the table, his eyes on the ruts in the wood. Casimir looked him up and down, blood pumping in his ears.
“You are dismissed,” Sobik said, slowly and with control. “I will pretend like this conversation never happened, and if I catch you skulking around the library again, or I see you performing a spell you made up, or—by the gods, if I catch you experimenting with potions one more time—I’ll send you home permanently. You may have magic in your blood, but mages divorced from the order quickly disappear into obscurity.”
Casimir held Sobik’s gaze defiantly. The archmage had mostly looked the other way as Casimir skirted the rules of the college in order to learn more, but the breaking point, it seemed, was his ability to master not only what he was taught, but what he could discover on his own. It reminded him, in some ways, of the territorial nature of his family; Conall grew jealous if Valtteri showed any promise with a bow, and Casimir’s father, Bohdan, discouraged any of his sons from learning more about politics than they needed to, lest they outshine his slimy tactics. Sobik wanted to educate new mages, yes, but he also didn’t care to think any of them could threaten his position. A mage like Casimir, with more natural talent than he could ever expend, and the drive, intelligence, and confidence to make use of it…Casimir kept his expression inscrutable, though he longed to smirk. If Sobik feared him, he had done something right.
“I don’t mind obscurity, Archmage Sobik,” Casimir said eventually. “In fact, as long as I have freedom to learn—isolation means very little when the mind is stimulated properly.”