NaNo 2011: Chapter 6 – Spy

Author’s note: I made a slight error in yesterday’s post when I stated that Idriys could not do magic or use Tao.  In fact, Idriys is a fully-capable magician.  Yesterday’s post has been updated to reflect this fact, but I wanted to make sure that no one was confused by this point in the future.

The next day, the three of them – Josiah, Idriys, and Cameron – sat in the back of Professor Thomson’s lecture on the history of herbalism and its relation to magic.  Professor Thomson was a stout middle-aged woman, with short-cropped grey hair, a pair of severe spectacles that rested on the tip of her nose, and a penchant for plaid blouses and scarves.  She was not a person to take any imprudence from anyone, regardless of age, but she would move continents to help a student succeed who was struggling in her classroom.  She believed that hard work, strict discipline, and a dash of love thrown into the mix was good enough for anyone.  Hence, it is unsurprising that she did not approve of Josiah.  On more than one occasion, she had forcibly evicted him from her classroom, but even she had to admit that he had talent.

During this particular lecture, Josiah had his feet kicked up on his desk, twirling his pen around his fingers, gazing off into space.  Idriys, sitting next to him, had a look of intense concentration on his face, as though he was trying to commit Thomson’s words to memory.  Cameron was writing madly, pausing occasionally to shoot a dirty look in Josiah’s direction.

Suddenly, Josiah kicked his feet off the desk in front of him, and leaned across Idriys to speak to Cameron.  “I know where you were last night,” he said in a dramatic whisper.  Cameron ignored him, continuing to take notes.  Josiah tried again: “I’m curious: did you just happen to find yourself underneath my window at approximately three in the morning?  Or was it more of an intentional sort of thing?”  Cameron, evidently struggling to maintain his focus, turned his chair slightly so that his back was to Josiah.  Josiah leaned in close and whispered, “It’s not polite to eavesdrop, Cameron.”

That did it.  Cameron spun back around and whispered furiously, “It’s not polite to make promises you can’t keep, either!”

Idriys interjected with a lazy whispered drawl, “Gentlemen, can you please continue your argument at a later time?  I cannot concentrate on Professor Thomson with your bickering.”

“Oh, get over yourself, Idriys,” said Josiah.  “This is none of your concern.”

Cameron, looking for an ally, cut him off.  “Oh, yes it is!  Did you know that Josiah’s planning to bring Evelyn’s father back to life?”

Idriys gave up.  It was useless to try to concentrate at this point; once Josiah and Cameron got worked up, there was no stopping them until they brought the roof down on themselves.  He pushed his chair back to watch the spectacle unfold.

“Oho, can’t stick up for Evelyn yourself, can you?” Josiah’s words cut expertly.  “Have to go running to Idriys for help?  Well, think about this next time you decide that eavesdropping outside other people’s windows is the best way to woo a lady.”  Cameron flinched back, but refused to drop Josiah’s gaze as he continued speaking.  “Maybe Evelyn doesn’t want a worthless, good-for-nothing, Tao-barren man whose best idea of love is to talk about what is ‘scientifically possible.’”  Josiah’s voice had risen to the point that nearly everyone in the class could hear him.

At that point, several things happened simultaneously.  Professor Thomson, eyes flashing, said, “Mr. Josiah Burroughs, I don’t care how many strains of Tao you’ve invented, you pay attention in my classroom, or you will leave!  And as for you, Cameron…”  But Cameron didn’t hear her, as he was currently leaping across desks, Idriys, and anything else in his way, incoherently snarling with rage, fists swinging.  Idriys, anticipating Cameron’s move, dove in between the two of them, grappling for Cameron’s arms, and trying to hold him back.  Josiah gave a casual flick of his wrist, and a bolt of force flew at Cameron, but Idriys forced him down, causing the bolt to crash into a lamp hanging on the far wall.  The oil spilled everywhere and lit on fire, and a few of the students in the class cried out in fear, throwing up shimmering defensive shields to protect themselves.  Several of the more level-headed students pushed on the flames with their Tao, conjuring gallons of water to extinguish the flames.  But Cameron didn’t notice any of this; he had blacked out, and a slow trickle of blood was running down his cheek from his mouth.

A few minutes later, Cameron woke up to the face of Professor Thomson staring at him with a mixture of cold fury and relief.  He was on the ground, and there was a small crowd of students gathered around him.  He groaned.  He must’ve had another attack.  The first one was when he was seven, just after he’d been stung by Rhys’s scorpions.  He was at the hospital, undergoing intensive magical treatment, when he just blacked out, for no apparent reason.  The physicians kept him at the hospital for nearly two weeks after that, trying to determine the cause, but to no avail.  They finally decided it must have been a latent effect of the scorpion’s poison, and instructed his parents to keep an eye out for any other symptoms, but he recovered quickly and displayed no other signs of illness.  He hadn’t had another attack for eleven years, until halfway through his first year at Tao’lin.  But since then, they’d been getting more frequent – and more severe.  Cameron hadn’t had one in such a public place before, and had always managed to keep too many people from finding out about them.

Once Professor Thomson determined that Cameron was not in any immediate danger of dying, her expression grew icy.  “If you think for an instant, Cameron, that this little episode of yours will make me forget that you attempted to physically assault another student in the middle of my extremely engaging lecture, then you have another think coming!  I want you and Josiah in my office at the exact instant you feel well enough to stand and walk!”  She turned and strode through away, the crowd of students parting to let her pass.  One did not get in Professor Thomson’s way when she was angry.

On the way back to his room after his tongue-lashing from Professor Thomson, Cameron heard a voice cry out: “Cameron!”  He turned to see Evelyn running up to him.  Great, he thought.  Just what I need to round out my day.

She ran up to him and hugged him.  He was too surprised to hug back.  “I heard what happened in Thomson’s class,” she said.

“Oh,” Cameron said sheepishly.  “I wasn’t thinking.  I let Josiah get to me.  I’m a fool.”

“No, not that!” she said.  “I’m sure he deserved whatever you were going to do to him.  He can be such a prat sometimes!”  Cameron’s heart leapt.  “Listen, Cameron,” she continued.  “I just wanted to apologize for last night.  It wasn’t fair for me to treat you like that.  You deserve better than that, and I’m sorry.”

Cameron mumbled something that might have been, “Don’t worry about it.”

“I meant what I said last night, Cameron.”  He looked at her, puzzled.  “You are a good friend.  I don’t know where I would be without you.”

Cameron looked at the ground.  He didn’t know how to respond.  Suddenly he looked up at her, and without thinking, blurted out, “Don’t do it!”

Confused, Evelyn said, “Don’t do what?”

Realizing too late what he had said, Cameron shook his head.  “Oh – nothing.  Never mind,” he replied.

“Cameron?  What are you talking about?” she said.

Grimacing, Cameron looked her in the eye, and said, “I heard you and Josiah talking last night.  I don’t think you should do it.  Josiah isn’t good enough – nobody is good enough to bring someone back to life.  It’s just too dangerous.”

Realization spread slowly across Evelyn’s face.  “You heard—Cameron, were you spying on us last night?” she asked.

“I was just walking—heard your voice, and—didn’t really hear, maybe I was—I must have misheard,” Cameron stammered.

Evelyn looked crushed.  “I can’t believe you would do something like that, Cameron,” she said, softly.  “That really hurts me, Cameron.  I thought we were friends.”  She turned away from him, and walked away.  Cameron did not follow her.  He saw her later that day; her eyes were red and puffy, and her hair was ragged.  Josiah came up to her and put his arm around her, and she smiled.

Cameron did not see Evelyn much in the next several weeks.  She canceled all of her tutoring sessions with him, and avoided him during their off hours.  He tried several times to speak to her, but she grew cold whenever he approached, and quickly found an excuse to be somewhere else.  Late at night, he saw her go out for walks with Josiah, holding hands.  Part of him was angry, but he told himself that she would be happier with Josiah, anyways.  Josiah was probably right.  What sort of woman would want to be with him, when he couldn’t even do magic?  He told himself that it was best this way.  He told himself that there were plenty of other women to choose from.  And yet, he wondered why he was depressed and lonely all the time.

To make matters worse, Cameron’s attacks were becoming nearly debilitating.  He had collapsed no fewer than five times in two weeks, and each time, the effects lasted longer and were more difficult to shake off afterwards.  The most recent episode was particularly frightening; Cameron was unconscious for nearly half an hour, and when he finally awoke, he was foaming at the mouth, and could not see.  The blindness eventually wore off, but it was a miserable existence being unsure of when and where he would next collapse, and worrying that the next time he might wake up and be permanently blind – or worse.

The one piece of good news was that Josiah had largely left Cameron alone ever since the excitement in Professor Thomson’s classroom.  Cameron was unsure why; perhaps he was too busy with Evelyn to worry about him (probably working on his secret project to bring her father back from the dead, he thought darkly), or perhaps he blamed himself for pushing Cameron to collapse (unlikely, Cameron admitted to himself, but possible), or perhaps it was that Cameron and Idriys had befriended Robert Mariner, an awkward, yet loyal student also in his second year.  Robert had the utmost respect for the rules and regulations of Tao’lin, and had on more than one occasion turned Josiah in for one of his escapades.  Thus, it was possible that Robert was the person on campus that Josiah disliked more than Cameron.  This suited Cameron just fine.

One day, about midway through the semester, Cameron, Robert, and Idriys were eating lunch on a large grassy knoll overlooking the Tao’lin campus.  Despite his crippling attacks and his depression, Cameron was still managing to achieve top marks in most of his classes, and the three of them were taking a break from the constant studying that their classes required.  Idriys and Robert were laughing and joking jovially, but Cameron was unusually quiet.  He was slowly smoking a cigarette, eyes fixed on the small figures of Josiah and Evelyn, who were holding hands and walking through the valley below.

“Gods, Cameron, will you put that thing out?” Idriys said irritably.  “Smoking is such a disgusting habit, I don’t understand where you picked it up.”

Cameron looked pensively back at Idriys.  “It was my brother,” he said, as if that explained everything.  He went back to staring at Josiah and Evelyn.

“What’s on your mind, Cameron?” Robert asked, as though suddenly noticing that Cameron’s thoughts were far away.

“Oh.  Nothing,” Cameron responded.

Idriys followed Cameron’s gaze, and said, “You can’t keep holding on to her, Cameron.  She’s made her choice, like it or not.  It’s time to move on.”

Cameron didn’t seem to hear.  Finally, he said, “Do you remember what I told you, that day in Thomson’s class?  About Josiah and Evelyn?”

Idriys nodded.  “Is that what this is about?” he asked.  “Don’t worry about it.  Josiah says a lot of things he doesn’t mean.  He was just trying to get her to like him; one day she’ll discover all of the lies that he’s told her.”

Cameron shook his head.  “No,” he said, “Josiah was serious about this.  I am sure of it.”

Robert looked puzzled.  “What’s this, now?” he asked, looking from Idriys to Cameron and back.

Cameron hesitated.  If Josiah knew that he’d told Robert Mariner what he’s overheard Josiah talking about with Evelyn that night… But forget it.  He didn’t owe Josiah anything, and it wasn’t his fault that Josiah had left his window open for the whole world to hear his plans.  He recounted the tale to Robert, who looked steadily more horrified as he went on.

When Cameron finished, Robert said, “We have to do something!  We can’t let this happen; it could be incredibly dangerous, and not just to Evelyn or Josiah!  I’ll go tell Thomson; she’ll know what to do.”  He started to rise, but Cameron and Idriys both grabbed his arms and pulled him back down.

“No!” said Cameron.  “He’d kill me!”

“And we have no proof,” said Idriys.  “There is no point in making idle accusations, especially not to Professor Thomson.  She will have none of it.”

Suddenly an idea occurred to Cameron.  “If I get some of Josiah’s Tao,” he said to Idriys, “we could study it more in depth.  See if what he said about it is correct, or not.”

Idriys thought for a while.  “Yes, there is some merit to that,” he said finally.  “If there is any basis to Josiah’s claims, we can present our evidence to Thomson.  And if there is none, as I suspect, will you agree to forget about Evelyn and move on?”

Cameron nodded quickly.  “I will,” he said.

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