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Was this my fault?

We haven’t seen what you did yet, Varajas said, his voice calm and soft.

At the same time Ruan gave a confident, No.

You can’t know that, Varajas argued.

Samir felt Ruan’s exasperation. When the knights taught you how to do magic, did you actually learn anything?

I’m sorry. I missed the day when you became a wizard.

You don’t need to be a wizard to understand that magic isn’t like a water-tap. It’s not something that’s either on or off. There’s nuance and scale. Whatever we’re trapped in, it’s too big and too complicated to have been created by accident.

Samir in the vision was dealing more cards. The next card flipped was the wizard of air. “This is me,” he said. The ace of stone came next, and Samir paused before placing it down. “This is you.”

He looked up at Raj. The reading he’d done on the road down—the ace of stone had been in that spread as well, tied do deception. Was Raj lying to him? Misleading him?

“What is it?” Raj asked.

“Nothing.”

Samir continued his work. He shuffled the cards again. This first time, he’d been focused on finding the truest representations of them, of Ulek. Now this next step he needed to build the bridge between them.

There was a reason even most Star wizards didn’t work with the cards. This was nothing like the way most people did magic, or even thought about magic. If Samir hadn’t know that before, the weeks of hearing Sheluna and Korin working together would have made it clear. The two of them obsessed over every detail, picking apart every facet of the magic they were trying to do, creating a framework in their minds to understand the minutest fragments.

That was the approach most wizards had. Containing the magic by understanding every thread of the spell you were weaving. The idea was to leave no room for error by considering every possible effect.

Working with the cards was different. In some ways it was like working with a partner, except that partner was your own subconscious. A back and forth, where the wizard defined what they were trying to do, but the cards created the framework, guided the intent. The cards themselves were guided and chosen by the wizards own magic, but that was magic that would fall apart if you looked at it too closely. This kind of magic was balancing across a high-wire, with a very long way to fall if you tried to stop and think about what you were doing.

It took its own skill, but that skill was all about the state of mind, that perfect thought-to-no-thought. It wasn’t magic you could brute-force simply by learning more facts or studying more books.

In the end, it was a delicate magic, and easily disrupted by fear, by discomfort, by uncertainty, and when wasn’t Samir one of those things these days?

The next card to go down was the Universe. That made perfect sense. The Universe was the card of synchronicity, of harmony. The interconnectedness of everything in the world. But this was also a reminder. This particular card was ancient. It had been Sheluna’s first gift to Samir, and had come from an old family deck she’d found. The picture of it was of Bannic Vervain, the founding Archwizard of the Star, rather than anyone more contemporary. It had replaced Samir’s card which, as was the fashion, had been drawn with the current Archwizard, Girald. Sheluna’s gift had been the first sign that she understood, that she was there to help Samir. That maybe it was safe to begin to trust someone again.

Next came the wizard of ice, a card of the mind. The clarity of knowledge. Followed by the ace of ice. Stasis. Frozen. He was trying to lock in their memory of this place, their awareness of it.

One more card would finish the casting, tying off the magic and sealing it in place. Samir had a good instinct for the card patterns, for the way they fit together. Nothing he’d dealt so far had been a conscious choice, but none of it had been a surprise, either. What he expected now was something that would point them forward, outward. He’d linked himself and Raj to Ulek, solidified the memories as well as he could, the final step was to give them the path forward on which the magic would be protecting them. He expected the Outsider or five of air, depending on how much trouble they were going to face. At the absolute worst, the four of air as a warning.

What he got instead, for the second time since he’d left Triome—the card that turned over was Death.

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Barbara J Webb

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