I promised if 25 people tweeted about the upcoming Magic U book, which I’m still writing, I’d post a teaser chapter. They did!
If this is your first time reading a sample of Magic University… enjoy, but note there are serious SPOILERS for books 1-3 here! (If you’d prefer to read a sample of book 1 or 2, check out this previous post for those: http://blog.ceciliatan.com/?p=543)
And now, the teaser. Shortly before classes start again for his senior year, while he’s living off campus in a nearby house, Kyle gets a visit from the Gladius house master.
Master Brandish had come by the house where they’d all been living for the summer two weeks ago. When the doorbell had rung, Kyle had ignored it. Alex habitually answered the door, as he was the one with the best knack for brushing off the visitors and kooks who came seeking Kyle. (“Jedi mind trick,” is all he would say, with a shrug, when asked how he did it.)
Kyle knew that talk of the Burning Days was spreading like wildfire through the magical community. He was receiving letters now, not just from scholars, but from magical people all over, asking for his advice or his help on how to get through the coming cataclysm. Some had lost their Sight. Others were too weak to cast enchantments.
He didn’t know what to tell them. I’m just a poet, he wanted to say. I can’t save you. I’m not one of the Prophesied Pair, I’m just the messenger.
Because surely if he were one of the Pair, he’d know what to do by now? And if he were, he’d have another half, a lifelong mate, who would face every challenge with him.
He didn’t have that. He had a collection of friends and lovers who supported him and made sure his bed was never empty if he didn’t wish it to be. Toward the end of the summer Alex and Jeanie had broken up spectacularly, only to end up closer friends than before, but in the aftermath, Jeanie and Lindy had become a thing, and since then Lindy had been spending more time with Jeanie than with Kyle. He wasn’t jealous. It was a beautiful thing, Lindy and Jeanie. What he had was good. What he didn’t have was someone special. A soul mate.
But the Prophecy wasn’t what Master Brandish had come there to talk about. Or was it? She took a seat in the front room, with a glass of lemonade that Marjory brought for them, and eyed the coffee table cluttered with magazines and books.
“Professor Hargreaves is taking a sabbatical,” she said without preamble. “I’ve asked Professor Bengle on your behalf if he’ll take over as your senior advisor , if you agree. You are of course free to ask someone else, but I happened to run into him just after Felicia gave me the bad news.”
Kyle tried to absorb this, but his mind had not been on school or schoolwork for weeks. His advisor was gone? “On such short notice? When did she tell you?”
“Yesterday. She’s still having some… issues after what she went through last year. I’ve also taken the liberty to check your registrations for next semester, since you will have a hole in your schedule where her seminar on poetic deities would have been.”
“Oh, right, The Goddess in Words or whatever…” He couldn’t quite remember what the title of the class had been. “I’ll need another poetry course to replace it with, I guess?”
She nodded. “Professor Bengle is offering a magical literature survey that might interest you instead? Of English and Anglo-Saxon poetic works on the Faerie Queen.”
He was surprised by her wry snort. “Spenser was far too wrapped up in mundane concerns.”
“Like Shakespeare wasn’t?” Kyle argued.
“The Fairie Queen is largely a mundane political treatise and has very limited magical value,” she said. “Though who knows what he might have wrought had he lived to complete it…” She shook her head suddenly, not in disagreement, but as if shaking herself of a dream. “How do you do it, Kyle? I didn’t come here to argue with you.”
“You also didn’t come here just to change my class schedule,” he said, rotating the cold glass in his fingers. If that was all it was, she could have called on the phone.
“No,” she agreed, and took a sip. “I came here to ask you to move back into Gladius House.”
Kyle looked at her in surprise. “Why? I mean, does it matter that I kind of squatted over at Camella House last year? I was under the impression that no one minded.”
Her answer was an examining look that left him feeling like he was missing something. He suppressed the urge to fidget and took a sip of lemonade instead.
“I’m trying to convince Frost to come back, too,” she said, calm and quiet.
Kyle took a more hurried gulp then.
“I thought you might want to know.”
“I’ve offered him the room in the tower, if having a roommate is too… problematic for him,” she said. “He doesn’t want anyone to know about his condition and I cannot fault him for that, even if I am insisting he rejoin house life.”
“Will he just hide at night?” Kyle blurted. Surely their housemates couldn’t care less if Frost was a girl half the time. Would they? Was that any weirder than having a classmate who was part-siren?
“I’ve given him leave to explore some options for obscuring his condition magically,” she said.
Kyle tried to imagine what it would be like, living under the same roof as Frost again. “You’re sure you want us both to move back in? He seriously tried to kill me last year.”
“Teleporting you into Persy Cavendish’s breakfast was hardly a lethal attempt,” she said, trying to maintain a deadpan look but a smile reached her eyes nonetheless. “And yes. Your mother hen wants all her chicks in the nest.”
“Why do I feel more like our general wants all her soldiers in the barracks?”
Now she did smile. “Kyle. This is going to be a very important year.”
“And you don’t want me frittering it away with a bunch of slackers?”
She narrowed her eyes at him, her mouth growing tight as she chewed over her next words before speaking. “I do not want you to miss any opportunities you may have to…” There she trailed off for a moment, as if there were no words careful enough.
By the time she finished the sentence, with some vague words about the threads of his future life, though, Kyle had already filled in the blank with a hundred encouraging words about Frost. “If Frost will be there, so will I,” he said.
She nodded as if she expected nothing less.
“Does this mean you’ll help me… um, make up with him?” Kyle dared to ask, wincing at his own choice of words.
Master Brandish set her glass down on the floor beside the chair. “You are on your own there, Kyle. Mr. Frost is not interested in hearing my advice on matters of the heart. The only thing he would welcome from me is news that we can fix his broken enchantment.”
“I’ve been wondering about that,” Kyle said. “Is there only one way to change a person’s gender? I mean, magically. Actually, I’ve been wondering about that, too. What would happen if he took hormones? You know, underwent mundane gender reassignment treatments while female?”
Master Brandish stared for a moment. “That is a very good question. I do not know. But to answer your first question, yes, there are some other ways of changing gender, though none so complete and permanent as the method previously used.”
“Except that it wasn’t permanent.”
“No one counted on a force as disruptive as you, Kyle.” She said it kindly, with a bit of a smile. “Frost cannot be replaced like the broken Founding Stone was. We have looked into a few other options but it is too risky that we might merely reverse him into being male at night and female during the day. Or, in his opinion, make things even worse by undoing things completely and leaving him in female form irrevocably.”
“Irrevocably? You mean the same switch you pulled before can’t be repeated.”
“You have it exactly,” she said. “At any rate, I believe that unless he’s going to spend the rest of his life as a celibate hermit, he needs to take this final chance to establish himself with his peer group.”
“You think he’s stuck the way he is?”
Brandish shrugged. “One’s last year before graduation is often one’s last chance to experiment with who one will become as an adult.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Kyle said, though when he thought about it, he could see Brandish’s point. “If he’s going to be half and half, though, he’d better get used to it, I suppose? You know he pretty much told me he thinks ‘celibate hermit’ is his destiny.”
“Given his history, I would call that wishful thinking on his part,” Brandish said. She shook her head. “Especially given how needy he is. Celibacy only drives him to idiocy. He’s a bit like an anorexic, except his problems are with sex rather than eating. It’s very difficult to encourage him to a ‘healthy diet.’ I’ll be frank, Kyle. I think you should be part of his regular diet, but barring that, I’d prefer it was you who were there when he finally binges.”
Kyle had forgotten the lemonade in his hand, his throat going dry. “Is that what it is? When he hates me and drives me away, it’s like he’s… purging?”
Brandish favored him with a small nod. “You know I would not normally discuss anything like this with a student about another student. I’m violating his confidence even by speculating about it to you. So I need an oath from you, Kyle.”
“Not to tell him we spoke about him?”
“No. Promise on your manhood itself that you will have his unambiguous consent if you have sex with him in the future.”
Kyle wasn’t sure when he stood up, but he found himself staring in surprise down at her, his mouth open but no words coming out.
“You understand, of course, why I make this demand?” She seemed unperturbed by his sudden dismay.
“I would never force him! You… you can’t think that I would!”
“Am I supposed to wait for him to come to me?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But if I make a move on him, would you see it as coercion? How am I supposed to make this promise?”
“If you ‘make a move on him,’ he’s likely to rebuff you anyway, is he not?”
“I thought you said he needs me?”
“Yes, the way an anorexic needs a hamburger. Dreams about you, fantasizes about you, and then hates himself for giving in.”
“How am I supposed to get around that?”
Brandish sighed. “The only cure for hate ever discovered is love, Kyle. If you love him, you’ll find a way.”