Chapter 19

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Chapter Nineteen

Kaine dumped an armful of wood next to the fireplace and stretched his back. Even though he shivered in the cold room, he considered going to bed without a fire. Starting a fire the normal way, with kindling and flint, was much harder than reciting a fire-starting spell. If he did not want the fire to go out during the night, he would have to get up and stoke it. He missed having magic. How did people live like this all of their lives?

He heard voices outside of his door and caught scraps of the conversation. They were talking about him again. It had been weeks after the Binding Ceremony and people would not stop talking about his failure. Why weren't they bored with the story yet? Surely there were other things to talk about.

Kaine resisted the urge to open his door and shout at them. He paced his floor, bored. Usually he would use this time to practice spells but what was the point of saying the words if he did not have the magic to make them work? He punched the wall, which hurt his hand. He had to get out of this room before he went mad.

He only got as far as the next building before he heard people talking about his humiliation again.

"...just disappeared," said one voice.

"I saw that boy when I walked past the stables once. I knew there was something different about him," said another.

It sounded like they were headed in his direction. He rubbed his forehead. He simply did not have the energy to defend himself or to move past them with his head up when they suddenly noticed him and became silent, all the while staring at him as he walked by.

He looked around for an open door or place to hide. There, the shrubbery. He slipped behind the row of hedges and crouched down low so that he could not be seen. The mages walked past, not seeming to notice him.

He leaned against the wall and sighed. Maybe he would just stay here, he thought. He shifted to get more comfortable and felt something poking him in his back. First making sure the mages were out of sight and would not notice him hiding if he moved, he turned and saw a small, half-sized door. It was the door handle that had been poking him.

This must be one of those hidden doors to the Academy's cellars. They were kept locked but he tried the knob anyway. His heart quickened when it turned easily in his hand. He looked around furtively. It was not exactly forbidden to go into the cellars but they had to be locked for a reason. As far as he knew, no one went down there, not even the Master Mages.

He opened the door and hunched over to fit inside and see what was there. It was rumored that the cellars in all of the buildings were connected by underground tunnels inhabited by restless spirits. They must be dusty spirits, he thought, coughing at the swirls of dust that blew around his face.

He took a few hunched steps, swatting at the cobwebs that lined the walls. As he moved forward, the ceiling sloped lower until there was only enough room for him to crawl. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. It was too dark in here. Maybe he would come back later with a candle.

The space was too small for him to turn around and he had to crawl backward out of the passage. He was nearly out the door when he saw a light flare up ahead of him. He stopped, holding his breath and listening, trying to sense who was there. He heard nothing. He thought about calling out but decided against it in case it was one of the Master Mages.

Curious about what anyone would be doing down there, he crept forward, trying not to make any noise. He did not want whoever it was to know he was there.

The crawlspace led downward before opening to a large, circular room lit by a single torch. In the dim light, Kaine could see seven doorways in the stone walls. Beyond the doorways was inky blackness. He shuddered and whispered a protection spell out of habit, forgetting that his magic no longer worked.

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