Chapter 41 – Friendships Forged by Accident

Damien

Month 12, Day 2, Wednesday 5:30 p.m.

Damien looked down to the quickly reddening slice in his shirt. Sebastien Siverling’s spell had cut across the left half of his chest and his arm. For a moment, he wondered if he was going to die, carved right through but taking a moment to notice he was mortally wounded, like he’d read in one particularly violent detective story.

But, no, he judged with relief. The blood wasn’t shooting out in huge arterial sprays. As the pain began to register, he felt his cheeks flush with shame. If Titus knew how careless he had been, needling a sorcerer while they practiced battle spells, Damien would be in for a tongue lashing at the very least. Even little children should know better. Honestly, he didn’t even know why he’d done it.

He might not enjoy admitting it, but there was a reason Professor Lacer had taken Siverling as his apprentice. Siverling was obviously talented with magic, but also had a tongue sharp enough to match the professor’s, and an air of sophistication that even Damien couldn’t match, no matter how carefully he starched his collar or styled his hair. Siverling seemed not to even notice the rest of them unless interrupted from his constant study, and then the air of superiority—only partially covered by a facade of courtesy—was obvious to Damien at least, if not to all of their other classmates.

It was only when provoked that Siverling’s true temperament slipped through, and Damien could admit that he found it somewhat enjoyable to bicker with the other young man. It had become a habit over the last few weeks, even as Damien began to understand Professor Lacer’s choice. And, reluctantly, to admit that it had not been in error.

Siverling’s face had gone pale enough to match his hair, those dark eyes standing out starkly against his skin. His angry expression slid away in favor of unadulterated horror.

Damien swallowed and raised his right arm, the uninjured one, to push his hair back from his face. Should he apologize? Probably, but it seemed strange to do so when he had been injured at Siverling’s hand.

The other young man’s jaw clenched, his teeth grinding the words like a pepper mill as he said, “Lie down on the ground and take off your shirt.” Then Siverling was turning and running for the changing rooms.

Damien stared after his escaping form, blinking. “What?” Was Siverling seriously leaving him there to go get dressed? No, he’d already been wearing his normal clothes, so that couldn’t be it. Damien looked to the dirty floor, the white dust of the Flats and whatever other filth people had stepped in tracked everywhere. “Lie down on that?” He would have to change his clothes afterward. His eyes were drawn to the crimson soaking his shirt, all the way down to the waist now. “I suppose it is already quite ruined,” he muttered. Along with his sweat and the blood, a little dirt wouldn’t make much difference.

He swayed on his feet.

Siverling, returned already without Damien noticing, grabbed him by the shoulders with a grim expression and pushed him down to the floor.

Damien realized Siverling’s instruction had been meant to keep him from fainting due to shock or blood loss. “I should be fine if I get to the healers soon enough,” he said. “There’s an alarm ward trigger on the back wall, remember?” It would alert them to an emergency and summon someone skilled enough to keep students alive in even the most grievous states. Except, if the healers were called, they would notify his family.

“If my father finds out…” he muttered quietly. Realizing he had spoken aloud, he let the statement trail off. Even the thought was frightening.

Siverling must have caught the fear on Damien’s face, because after a short hesitation, he said, “There’s no need for a healer.” He dug into the satchel he had grabbed from the changing rooms with practiced hands. “It’s just a scratch, and we will have it healed in no time.”

Damien stared incredulously at the other young man. “Just a scratch?” The pain was making itself known now, and the blood had finished with his shirt and was beginning to soak his trousers. He kept his eyes on Siverling’s face so that he wouldn’t focus on the blood. He had been injured a few times sparring with his brother or his dueling tutor, but the sight of blood still made him lightheaded. “Do you have a healing artifact in there?” he questioned. In a low murmur, more to reassure himself than anything, he added, “If there are no healers involved, my father need not know…”

The young man nodded tightly as he pulled out a couple of potion vials and the supplies to draw a spell array.

Damien frowned, shaking his head woozily. “That’s not a healing artifact.”

Siverling reached forward and tore Damien’s shirt, widening the slices the spell had made to better expose the wounds.

“You are so forward.” The words had slipped out before Damien realized what his stupid brain was thinking, and he would have been embarrassed, but he imagined almost anything he said could be excused by the circumstances.

“Lie back,” the other boy ordered, accompanying the words with a firm push on Damien’s good shoulder.

Damien complied.

“The wound isn’t that deep. I’m not sure we need a blood clotter, but it’s better to be safe. I don’t want you bleeding out before I can handle this,” Siverling muttered. He uncorked the potions, dribbling the first, and then the second across the cut from right to left.

The first was a wound cleanser, Damien thought. There was just enough in the bottles to generously cover the entire wound, and Damien winced at the burning as the wound cleanser killed any infectious agents. The blood clotter did its job immediately after. The bleeding stopped, but the slice was far from healed.

Siverling eyed it critically. “I don’t think my skin-knitting salve is going to be able to deal with that.”

Damien groaned, reaching up to touch it, but his hand was rudely slapped away by Siverling.

“Keep your filthy fingers at your sides,” the young man snapped, picking up the spell supplies. “And stay still while I work.” He leaned over Damien, drawing a large Circle on the ground around his entire torso, and then a mirrored pair over Damien’s chest and arms. Siverling hesitated for a few moments when drawing the glyphs, glancing at the blood now forming a puddle on the floor.

Finally, he drew back and reached in one of his vest pockets for something he didn’t find. He looked around and snatched up a small, contaminated Conduit that he had apparently dropped when he hit Damien with the cutting spell. He clenched it in his fists, glared down at Damien’s wound, and took a deep breath.

Damien felt the weight in the air as Siverling gathered his Will. “Wait, wait!” he said.

Siverling met his wide-eyed gaze, raising his eyebrows impatiently. “What?”

Was he seriously about to attempt a healing spell? “You didn’t even place any components in the Circle, and that Conduit wouldn’t be fit for a goblin. It’s going to backfire and injure both of us.”

Siverling’s scowl returned full force. “Shut up and stay still.”

“If you could heal something like this with nothing from the Plane of Radiance and with that Conduit, I would acknowledge you as the second incarnation of Myrddin—”

Before Damien could protest any more, the other boy began to cast.

Damien didn’t move, though he wasn’t sure if it was for fear of distracting Siverling and causing the disaster he feared, or if it was because some small part of him was watching with anticipation and a growing sense of awe.

That second, smaller part of him was fully rewarded as the cut across his chest began to tighten and heal, as if time was being wound back, so slowly it was almost possible to miss it.

Siverling’s brow beaded with sweat and his fist clenched so hard around the Conduit that his knuckles turned white. It took a lot longer than a certified healer would have managed, and there was a certain hair-raising discomfort that Damien had to steel himself against as his flesh moved. When Siverling finally finished, he released the spell with an almost tangible burst of freed power and sagged forward, breathing raggedly. He used some skin-knitter to seal the patch job.

Gingerly, Damien sat up and touched his chest. The slice was more than half-healed, red and aching, but not bleeding any more. After the skin-knitter finished, there would be a scar, so the spell hadn’t been perfect, but it was still astounding. He turned to look at the spell array on the ground, his eyes marveling at the minimalist construction. There were no components except a little oil lamp to provide energy, and no instructions besides glyphs for mirroring, flesh, and healing. His heart was pounding when he turned back to Siverling.

He watched as the young man recovered from the overexertion. It had been snark when he said he would acknowledge Siverling as the second incarnation of Myrddin. But this…

Sebastien Siverling could end up the most powerful sorcerer of their generation.

At the realization, Damien let out a slow breath. How had he not heard of the Siverling family before? Were they simply that far from Lenore? Or perhaps fallen into such ruin that their name was no longer mentioned among the influential. It might explain why, despite Siverling’s mannerisms and attire, he used such a cheap Conduit. Perhaps his family had spent all they could to ensure he would fit in amongst his peers at the University, and hoped that he could make it through the first few terms without bringing attention to the Conduit. Obviously, a better one would be needed soon if he didn’t want to risk it shattering.

Siverling raised himself back up, his spine straight and his chin raised. “It’s healed,” he said. “There’s no need to sound the alarm, or to contact your family. We may both continue on and forget this incident.” He stared into Damien’s face as if searching for something, then grimaced slightly. “Of course, I’m willing to provide a small favor as well, if you wish. I did ruin your clothing, after all.”

It was only then that Damien realized Siverling had thought Damien was threatening him when he mentioned his father’s wrath. He opened his mouth to explain and reassure the other boy, then closed it abruptly.

“A favor,” Damien agreed. “And a ceasefire between us. I apologize for my previous actions, and I hope that we can be civil toward each other going forward.” He hadn’t been raised a simpleton, and even if he was still feeling a little lightheaded, he wasn’t stupid. Alliances formed now would influence the future, as would enemies. Plus, he found himself undeniably curious about the other young man.

Siverling’s eyes widened at the offer of reconciliation, then narrowed, but eventually he nodded. “Agreed.”

“Lend me your jacket,” Damien said. “Unless,” he added, seeing Siverling’s raised eyebrow, “you wish everyone to see the state of my attire and ask questions.”

With a huff, Siverling gave him the jacket. After clearing the spell array and remains of blood from the ground, they left the simulation room together, heading back toward the dorms.

“Why aren’t you participating in the exhibitions?” Damien asked.

Siverling shot him another inscrutable look before replying. “I have no need for points, and would rather spend my time learning something useful than preparing some spectacle purely to impress the judges and audience.”

“You wouldn’t need to do much extra preparation, I think. You could simply show them your skill at purely Will-based healing spells and gain full points. Healers command a sizable income, you know. Especially ones as talented as yourself. You might even be able to earn a little money while continuing on past the third term.”

Siverling’s face grew stony, and he stared straight ahead for long enough that Damien wondered if he had said something wrong. Perhaps he shouldn’t have mentioned the bit about earning money. If Siverling’s family wasn’t impoverished, it would be gauche. If they were, maybe he was sensitive about it.

“I have no desire to ingratiate myself to those who would hold themselves above me while weighing my worth—as if I were a fat hog—nor do I feel the desire to peacock around for insignificant points and empty praise. I will not participate,” Siverling said, his lip curled in a scornful sneer.

Yes, Damien had definitely offended him. “Well, to each their own. Personally, I would enjoy moving up from the dorms. Being stuffed in with the rabble makes it so difficult to properly relax, and I know someone stole my spare pair of boots.” He scowled for a moment, thinking of what he would do to that person should he ever find them. “But there are other ways to gain points, such as the tournament in Practical Casting. If you would like to gain extra practice with competent opponents before then, you might join our study group again.”

“Maybe.”

Well, at least it wasn’t outright refusal. With persistence and cunning, he could get Siverling’s amity. Damien could be likable when he wanted to be. Even to people as insufferably rude as Sebastien Siverling. Perhaps a more direct overture of friendship was required. “You were practicing a battle spell, though I’m not sure I’ve seen that particular one before. If you have interest in dueling, both Rhett and I have some skill. His interest leans more toward competition, but I’ve received some of the same training our coppers get. I could pass along some useful tips, or help you hone your aim and footwork.”

That seemed to catch Siverling’s interest. “Right, your family is in charge of the coppers. Have there been any updates on that case you were talking about before?”

Damien suppressed a small smile. Perhaps it wasn’t the dueling Siverling was interested in, but the detective work, like Damien. Well, that made sense, as the job was both worthwhile and fascinating.

“Yes, in fact. She made an appearance in a fight between two local gangs, though the circumstances behind the whole altercation are somewhat muddy. She injured several members of one group, but they were able to retreat when things became dire. Now, one would assume this meant she was allied with the second group in some way, but when the coppers arrived, they found her performing some sort of sacrificial blood ritual on one of them.”

He grinned as Siverling’s eyes widened, satisfied with the other young man’s rapt attention. Perhaps he could share some of his old detective periodicals with Siverling. He would be bound to enjoy them. Then, at least, Damien would have one friend with whom he could talk about the latest fictional exploits of Aberford Thorndyke, consulting detective.

“Do they have any leads on her?”

He nodded. “Oh, yes. Well, she fought back against the coppers when they arrived, leaving her victim to his fate, but though we almost caught her, she managed to escape. However, one of the coppers managed to injure her, and she left a little of her own blood behind on the scenes. They have it and are scrying for her now. Of course, she’s quite a powerful sorcerer, so she’s managed to hold off the attempts so far. A couple of witnesses even say she was managing to cast spells using the air as the surface for her spell array, though I’m a bit skeptical about the veracity of those claims. We are quite confident she’s still within the city, and they’ll be bringing in some stronger scryers soon, I’m sure. I know my brother has access to a prognos or two, so I imagine it is only a matter of time before she’s caught.”

Siverling was still enraptured, so Damien went into detail, relating what he knew from the reports he’d managed to wheedle out of his brother, along with his own speculation. He continued until Siverling rubbed his forehead, wincing as if he had a headache.

Damien’s eyes narrowed, and, as he paid closer attention, he noticed the trembling in Siverling’s fingers. “You didn’t strain your Will healing me, did you?”

“No,” Siverling replied in a clipped tone.

Damien eyed him dubiously. He didn’t need to be Aberford Thorndyke to make such an obvious deduction. “It’s no use pretending you didn’t, if you did. My brother always says, ‘If you’ve strained your Will, it’s a sign you chose the wrong strategy at least two moves ago. Do not just continue on bullheadedly, as that will lead to even more catastrophic failure.’” Damien felt even worse about the whole thing now.

“First, there was nothing to heal, because nothing happened, remember?” Siverling said pointedly.

Damien nodded slowly, pursing his lips.

“So there’s no reason to go to the infirmary just for them to ask a lot of questions and prescribe a couple days of rest. Secondly, even if I had healed you, I wouldn’t have hit Will-strain just from that.”

Siverling glared at Damien until he nodded again, though he didn’t believe Siverling’s assurances at all. Obviously, he’d strained his Will from that ridiculous display of skill, but he didn’t want anyone to know. “Well…you should take a break from casting spells for a completely unrelated reason, then.” He gave Siverling a pointed look of his own.

When they got back to the dorms, Damien changed into a fresh outfit—one not covered in blood—but found Siverling gone when he emerged from the bathrooms. “Oh, well,” he said, tossing his clothes into the fireplace, both to destroy the blood and to keep the events of that afternoon secret. All in all, it had been an exciting and fruitful day.

Almost an adventure, really.

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