Iris & Kos

        It was late as all hell. Late enough that the light pollution from Exka and Anima died down enough to see the stars, though only the bright ones. It should be theoretically possible to see some of the other planets in the cluster, but I’ve never caught glimpse of them. Big test tomorrow, so I’m pulling an all nighter - better to use my insomnia and nervousness to study, right. Iris is reading on the bed, for pleasure or study, unclear. My mind’s wandering, clearly, but I don’t want to go over my notes again. I’ve pretty much got it down, so I made my way to the open window. I said to Iris, “I am going to smoke, would you care to join me in this fine endeavour?”
        He looked up. “You sure?”
        “All up here.” I tapped my temple with a finger.
        “I respect your judgment,” he said - a phrase he’s currently partial to, because he’s the dual. He has to respect my judgment in public, but in private when he says it, he means it. He got up and joined me on the windowsill. We were on a pretty high floor, but I could save us if we fell, so we took the luxury of dangling our legs over the side. The air was a tad cold, but it felt refreshing.
        Iris began, “Progress…?”
        I had lit up the cigarette, and passed it to her. “Well, History’s no brainer. Applied Casting will be fine, but I hate the arcana math, especially on the fly. I know this is our last year of general classes, but I’m not entirely sure I’ll pass Arts.”
        She passed it back. “I can help you in Arts, you know I’m good at that. What are you having trouble with?”
        I blew smoke out, watching it twist in the wind like a leaf. “It’s the whole, “Style” thing I don’t get. Such as, identifying which artist did what, and what they're famous for. Some have easily identifiable characteristics, but it’s hard to tell the difference between, say, Y’driel and Caprichos.”
        “Well, for starters, Y’driel’s paintings pretty much never have people, while Caprichos will sometimes put some figures or silhouettes in the distance.”
        I nodded along with their explanation. I was trying to remember all the things that they said, but my mind felt sanded over, unable to fit any new info. I watched the high clouds roll in with the cold, wondering how long until the quad and surrounding buildings would disappear beneath the quiet, numb, fog. I had read of large bodies of water, like lakes and oceans. Engulfed in fog was how I imagined being underwater was like. Walking to class on a foggy morning felt so novel compared to the usual frost rime on winter mornings. Maybe tomorrow won’t be so bad after all. I tuned back into Iris’s speech enough for me to hear, “Not like it matters, anyway.” It was a bitterness in their voice that confused me.
        “What does not matter?”
        “Arts class, Kos. We’re literally only taught the works of artists who’ve ascended. What about the artists of Exka, or the artists from here who haven’t gone yet, or artists from any other planet! Same with History, we only learn boring politics from our dinky little island, and nothing pre breaking, at all. The wrinkled state bureaucrats writing our textbooks can’t even agree on anything regarding the breaking, even on the whole “It actually existing” thing.
        “Well obviously, it exists, right?”
        “There was obviously something that happened to erase all our records, but maybe nothing so dramatic as ‘The Breaking,’ y’know?”
        The cigarette had run out, and I was getting cold, so I flipped my legs over the sill and sat back at the desk. “I guess so. I’m not much of a history buff as you.”
        They were still sat on the window. “Curse you and your good memory, but… even if you pass Arts, then,” they hesitated for a moment, and steeled up the nerve. “I’m supposed to follow you, obviously, but do you really want us to just, I dunno, become some famous, raptured dualcaster one day? Maybe spend a few years assassinating people who escape?”
        I was silent. I had considered this in private a bit, but I tend to think things out over rushing to conclusion. “I don’t know Iris. I really don’t know.”
        “You’ll have to decide before long. Sure, maybe we can ride out specialised education for a year or two after this, but I’m not gonna stay cooped up here for years on end. And we know there’s ways off the island, or else where did… y'know, he go?”
        “He could’ve been killed.”
        “He’s strong.”
        “He probably hates us. We took his place.”
        “Shut up! You’re so fucking pessimistic sometimes, I don’t know what to do with you.”
        If we had been in public, I would have been forced to reprimand her for saying that, but this was private, and I didn’t have to expend the effort. “Sorry.”
        “It’s fine… I know you can’t help it. But obviously he tried to escape, right? We gotta find out a way to get off. I won’t lie, having a bit more experience under our belt would be nice, but I’d like to have more skills than violence. And I'm really starting to hate it here.”
        “Casting is quite versatile.”
        “And money would be great. Ideally we can buy an interstellar vessel. We could be pirates, or maybe assassins.”
        I laughed. “You, maybe. Stealth and piracy isn’t really my style.”
        “Fine, fine. But you know what I mean, right?” They snapped their fingers. “What if we jump off the island and you use that slow fall spell so we don’t die?”
        “I couldn’t hold it that long. Or we’d freeze to death in the atmosphere.”
        “Use a spell to heat us up, and use the slow fall right before we hit the ground?”
        “If I can’t maintain a slow fall spell that long, I definitely couldn’t keep us both warm the whole time.”
        He frowned. “Teleportation?”
        I burst out laughing, like full on slapping-the-knee laughing. He shook his head. “Ok, then not that. Work with me here, Kos.”
        I was mulling it over. I had developed a plan, but I wasn’t sure it was feasible. Iris spotted my reluctance. “You have something. Out with it.”
        “I’m not sure it’s even possible. There’s a chance I could fuck up the enchantment…”
        He nodded. “I have complete faith you can do it. Seriously,” she added, at my look of doubt, “You’re a veritable genius. There’s no way you can’t brute force it somehow.”
        I was looking at my hands. “It’s a branch of magic I know almost nothing about. If I make a mistake, I could freeze us to death. Or kill us through our own body heat.”
        They tapped their foot, filled with restless energy. “Ok, then we break into the torrent again. Easy?”
        “Not easy. But doable.”

        Kos and I sat in the brick garden between classes, eating. The brick garden is isolated from the rest of the school, and nobody really ventures out here except us, so we used the privacy to discuss our plan. “So what are we looking for?” I asked. “You know the grand library is a complete mess. We need a location, or at least a plan of attack, or we won’t be able to find it in time.”
        I crunched down on a pretzel stick. “Yeah. Problem is, I doubt they’d have more than a few of these kinds of books. Ideally, we find a manual on tea making. Worst case scenario, we have to extrapolate between several different, subpar sources and try to invent our own, likely very flawed spell.”
        “So we try some locator arcana?”
        I shook my head. “Wouldn’t work for an application like this. We’d need the name of-”
        I was cut off by Saturn popping his head through the window. “You looking for something? I could help.”
        I looked to Kos, and they nodded.
        “We’re searching through the grand ocean for tea books.”
        He was a little confused. “Tea magic? I thought that died out centuries ago.”
        I nodded. “But there might be some old manuals hidden in that torrent of books.”
        He put his hand to his chin, and strolled over to the bench we were sitting on, plopping down, leaving me in the middle. I studied him. He was wearing the standard uniform, a collared shirt under a sweater (black), but his face adorned a few additions. Studs through the ears, nose, cheeks, one between the eyes, and two below the mouth. Must’ve hurt. His curly hair and slightly sunken green eyes combined with his lanky frame and spidery hands lent a particular aura that was hard to describe in a word that wasn’t ‘unsettling.’
        “You’d need a title for a locator arcana… and I don’t know one, obviously. Couldn’t ask a professor, and breaking in for months, sifting through books is out of the question.” He trailed off, gazing at the sky, in an apparent rictus of thought. “Sorry, I can’t think of anything. Truly a pickle you are betwixt.”
        Huh. “Yeah man,” I said, “I didn’t expect you to figure it out, anyway. No harm, no foul.” Kos butted in. “Nothing? No ideas? Surely you have something…” I shot them a look. One that said, shut up, and I’ll explain later.
        Saturn shook his head. “I mean, if I think of something, I’ll let you know, but, the grand ocean… that’s a hard one. Course, it’s guarded and warded, but sneaking in once or twice wouldn’t be too difficult. You don’t have the time or opportunity to find it within that frame, unless you get insanely lucky. What do you need the tea book for anyway?”
        “Experimentation, but mostly intellectual curiosity. Kos got in this spat with their professor over nontraditional magics, and they just wanted to see if they were right after all.”
        He nodded sagely. “Of course. I’d expect nothing less of you. Nine times outta ten I’d say I’m your go to for evil books of fucked up magic, but this one’s a bit tame. Good luck.”
        I continued eating, not saying anything. I had my suspicions of Saturn already, and didn’t want to give away too much, in case he was a danger. He doesn’t turn up his nose at a little rule breaking, claims to have forbidden books, though that one might just be a jest. I explained to Kos later that night:
        “I don’t trust him, Kos. I just don’t.”
        “Left hook outta nowhere. What’s with the suspicion?”
        “First, he obviously doesn’t care about the rules. Which, I mean, we don’t either, but we at least pretend to respect them in public. How is he… the way he is, while literally all of the professors and monitors turn a blind eye. He says he has, quote, ‘evil books of fucked up magic’, unquote. What’s the deal? Plus, the man and his dual never appear in the same room.”
        Silence. “I guess I didn’t notice.”
        “Honestly, Kos you’d-”
        “I know, I know, but let’s stay on topic. Does the man have some kinda magic appearance swap coffin?”
        “‘On track’, my ass. Look, I just wanna see what happens. If I can get us into the Exka network, we won’t really need his help. But you said it was strange that he couldn’t help us, considering, well, everything about him. I think he will help us, after all. Give it some time.”