Chapter 25:

The Priory

The Wizard's Virginity

I heard birds chirping. There was a pleasant breeze blowing in from an open window, tickling my skin. Opening my eyes, I saw that I was in an unfamiliar room. The walls were all painted plain white without decoration, but the impressive arched ceiling suggested that this was quite a fancy building. Or used to be, at least.

I was lying in a low bed with a firm mattress. The single pillow under my head was a little too hard. That was a good sign: I could physically feel things. I had already established that I could see and hear. Next was movement. I successfully lifted my arms and legs, although it took some effort. Clearly I wasn’t fully healed yet.

Finally, I had to confirm whether my magic powers were still there. Before the ceiling of the Old Building corridor had come crashing down on top of me, I was in the midst of a pretty intimate encounter with Dan and Reiko, both under the influence of my aphrodisiac spell. Given the confusion, it was hard to be sure exactly how far it had gone…

I tried to sense the powers in my body. For the first few seconds, there was nothing. No trace of the ability to move faster and more flexibly, or to breathe aphrodisiac. Maybe, after all that craziness, I really had lost my virginity…

Then, to my great relief, I felt it. It was as though the magic within me was as sluggish as the rest of my body, only slowly responding to my internal probing. Sluggish or not, at least it was definitely still there.

“Thank God…”

“It’s not God you have to thank,” said Dan. I twisted my head and saw she was sitting beside my bed in a wooden chair, a book in her hands. “It’s Cordelia. She’s the one who found us buried in the rubble and took us here.”

“Um… Where is here?”

“You’re at the priory where Vindeca is based. Or at least, the main place we’re based. It’s where I was raised.”

Where Dan was raised. And where my dad was raised. I remembered the photo of a young Dan and a bunch of other children that I had found on her desk. I also remembered all the references in Dad’s journal to the priory. I had been feeling a bit uneasy, waking up in a place I didn’t recognise, even if the birdsong and pleasant breeze didn’t exactly scream ‘danger’. Now I knew where I was, however, I felt better. I had made it another step closer to my dad.

“Why are we here?” I asked.

“Cordelia was our backup. She arrived at the school with a few others, just after the Old Building collapsed on top of us. They dug us out, but our injuries were too severe for Ms Matthews or the others to handle, so we were teleported here. We have many witches at the priory with different healing spells. Not to mention that it’s safer.”

That all made sense. Aside from one particular word my friend had used.

“Wait… Teleported? So all the magic I’ve seen so far has been shit like, ‘I can run fast, I can shout loudly, I can make people horny’. Then when some serious teleportation magic is used, it’s when I’m unconscious?!”

“Well, I don’t think they’d have used it if we weren’t unconscious. It’s high level stuff, so it’s only used for emergencies.”

I was still bitter, but there were other things I needed to check.

“What about Mum and Hayley? Do they know I’m here?”

“Yep,” Dan said. “Well, they don’t know where here is, exactly. But Laura agreed to you being brought to the priory for treatment. You’ll be able to call her soon to tell her that you’re awake.”

“That’s a point: I know I’m in the priory, but where is it? Like, geographically? I could never work out the location from dad’s journal.”

Dan looked around, checking that nobody else was nearby. The room was indeed empty except for the two of us, although there were several other empty beds lined up along the wall, suggesting that this was a sort of hospital room.

“I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but what the hell, you would work it out if you checked a road sign. We’re out in the countryside of Poland. That’s why it had to be teleportation magic and not just an ambulance or something. This is where Vindeca was founded, and where our High Priestess is from. Although the sisters and students here are from all over the world.”

“Okay, next question,” I began. “How are Reiko and Aoife?”

“Reiko and Aoife are fine. They were also taken here to be healed, but they’re now being held securely. You know, since they’re technically from enemy covens. The High Priestess is deciding what to do with them.”

It felt a bit unfair for those two to be treated as enemies given what we’d been through, particularly as both of them had ended up helping me. Still, I could understand where Agnies was coming from. I would just have to plead their case when I got the chance.

“And, finally…” I took a deep breath. “What about Fusae?”

Dan chuckled, a little darkly. “Still dead.”

“Sweet.” I felt as though a checkbox in my head had been definitively ticked. The evil mastermind was gone. I’d still been a little scared that she’d pulled that substitution-jutsu again, and somehow survived to come and terrorise me. I never expected to be in a position where I was happy that someone died, but I felt that in these circumstances it was justified.

We sat in silence for a few minutes. Now my most urgent questions were addressed, I felt a lot more relaxed. My body was weak, but that was fine, as all the danger had passed. I enjoyed listening to the birds and watching the curtains billow lazily in the breeze. It had been an insane couple of weeks. Now I was safe.

I imagined a teenage Dad lying in this same bed after sustaining an injury during one of his many magic-gone-wrong escapades, listening to the same birds and watching the same curtains.

“I’m sorry, James.”

It took me a few seconds to register that Dan had spoken. “What do you mean?”

“I’m sorry for lying to you for so long. About why I befriended you. About magic. About being a boy. About everything…”

“Mate, I thought we already did the whole apology thing! You don’t need to be sorry. Firstly, you saved my life. A whole bunch of times, according to Ms Matthews. Secondly, she told me why you’re doing this. That you’re protecting me because of my dad, but kept it secret because of my mum. I didn’t know my parents were such demanding people! But anyway, it’s nothing you should feel guilty about.”

Dan was staring down. She didn’t look convinced.

“In fact,” I continued. “I’m the one who needs to apologise. I never properly thanked you! For the times you saved me from Reiko. For freeing Reiko's mind, even though Ms Matthews told me it was stupid. And for all the other times I don't know about. Ms Matthews mentioned something about witches from Iceland who turned into bears?”

“Ugh, yeah, those bitches were tough.” Dan looked up, and met my gaze directly. “You’re welcome, bud. I was happy to help you.”

She ruffled her hand through her messy hair, trying to hold back a goofy smile. There might be a lot that I didn't know about my friend, but I still knew how to read her expressions. Right then, she was happy.

I started feeling too awkward with this emotional stuff, and tried to bring it back to the realm of comfortable, boyish insults. I sat up in the bed and pointed an accusing finger at my friend.

“I forgive you for lying to me, but I don’t forgive you for how little you used magic. You had these amazing powers but they were completely wasted in our everyday lives. That time I got in trouble for drawing a cock on Mr Panchal’s whiteboard - you could have picked me up and jumped onto the school roof to hide me from him. Or even better, you could have put Cameron in front of the board with a pen in his hand.”

“I can run fast, but I’m not the Flash!” Dan laughed.

“Well then, you could have actually helped out during the Incident, instead of leaving me to get beaten up by four Year 13s.”

"I didn't leave you, you dick.” The indignation was clear in Dan’s voice. “How do you think you were able to fight off those guys? It wasn't some hidden power or an adrenaline rush or any of that shit you thought. I was casting a spell on you the whole time! I didn't come in and fight myself because I needed to keep my identity secret, and I wasn’t meant to intervene against anything but magical threats… But I never would have just abandoned you like that!"

“Oh…” It felt woefully inadequate, but that was all I could say. For a long time I had held it against my friend that they’d wimped out and ran to get a teacher rather than help me, even though I knew logically that it was the most sensible course of action. Now it turned out that I had been completely wrong. Dan had helped me, even then. And I felt like an idiot for not realising it sooner. “I guess that’s another thing I have to thank you for then, huh?”

“I didn’t mean that. Just… I want you to know that I won't leave you.”

Damn. Looked like we were back in emotional sharing-our-feelings territory.

This time, Dan was the one who broke us out of it. She glanced at a clock, one of the few decorations on the wall, and her expression visibly tensed. “The High Priestess will be here soon. She’s… Pretty intense. Make sure to be respectful. And just so you know, she still calls me by my birth name.”

I was intrigued. “Birth name?”

“Don’t laugh.”

“I absolutely will. What is it?”

Dan sighed. “Diana. My birth name is Diana. But I’ve always preferred Dan, since long before I met you. It's basically a shortened version anyway.”

“That’s not too embarrassing,” I admitted. “A bit disappointing, really. Although, how do you feel about me calling you Princess Di from now on?”

Dan clenched her fist and held it in front of my face. “I feel that you will be needing some more healing magic very soon.”

I recoiled in mock fear and raised my hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. I’ll stick to Dan. For now. Why doesn’t Agnies call you Dan?”

“I don’t know,” Dan said. “She’s just a stickler for these kinds of things. And it’s not worth trying to correct her.”

As Dan finished speaking, I heard a tapping from the corridor. The door to the room was ajar, and the sound echoed clearly as it got closer.

I found that I was quite nervous. Part of it was that I felt like I was meeting a celebrity. Someone I had read about in Dad’s journal for the last seven years. The other part was that all I had read about her, and all I had heard from Ms Matthews and Dan, made this lady out to be pretty terrifying. I had seen her in the picture on Dan’s desk, and even as just one tiny figure in a group photo she had given off scary vibes.

The tapping stopped just outside, and the door swung open slowly. Agnieszka Światło, High Priestess of the Vindeca Coven, was standing there. She held a cane with an ornate gold handle, the source of the tapping sound, but did not appear to need it for support. Indeed, despite being similar in age to Ms Matthews, or perhaps even older, she gave the impression of having an abundance of energy. I wasn’t sure if this was something anyone could sense, or if it was my subconscious understanding of the extent of her magical power. Regardless, this was one old lady who didn’t need to worry about having her handbag stolen.

She stood in the doorway for a few moments, just looking at me. I had no idea what she was thinking. Then she took a few purposeful steps towards my bed. Her arms wrapped around my head, and she pulled me to her chest. I could just about see Dan’s expression of utter shock from over Agnies’ arm.

“I am happy to see you well.” Agnies spoke with a Polish accent. There was no noticeable emotion in her voice, but the fact that she was hugging me implied that she was feeling something. She gently released my head and stepped back to survey me again. “It has been a long time since I last saw you, James. Not since Alexander was alive. I don’t suppose you remember me.”

“Erm, I’m sorry. I don’t think so.”

“Do not concern yourself. You were only a child.” She shook her head. “You are still a child. But you did well. You shouldn’t have needed to fight, but you did. It was foolish, perhaps, but brave. I am proud of you.”

My cheeks flushed slightly. “Thank you.”

Agnies turned to Dan. “It is a shame that I cannot say the same for you, Diana. If you had fulfilled your role properly, James would never have needed to fight. Instead, you put him in danger, and you broke the promise I made to his mother.”

Dan had stood up when Agnies entered the room, and now bowed to her. “I am sorry, High Priestess. I have failed you.”

“You have. That is why you will remain here in the priory, until I find a more appropriate assignment for you.”

Dan looked up at Agnies, shocked. She seemed about to object, but then thought better of it, and returned her gaze to the floor. “Yes, High Priestess.”

If Dan wasn’t going to speak up for herself, then I would do it. “Wait a minute,” I began.

Agnies’ head snapped towards me, her eyes cold. Any of the previous warmth she had shown me was gone. It felt like the kindly old woman who had just given me a hug had been replaced by someone else entirely. Still, I had to persist.

“I don’t think it’s fair to criticise Dan for this. She kept me safe all this time, even putting her own life at risk. I mean, you first sent her to protect me when she was 11 years old. That’s crazy!”

The ice in Agnies’ eyes grew colder and the corners of her mouth shifted downward. The ‘crazy’ comment had been a mistake.

“You may not understand this, James, as until this point you have been able to live a life of ease.” Agnies spoke very slowly, as though addressing a child. “But the witches in my coven, no matter their age, have certain responsibilities. Responsibilities that they are trained to fulfil, and that they accept willingly. If they fail, then it means someone else more competent must take their place.”

I opened my mouth again, then closed it as I noticed Dan giving me the side eye. She was still bowing towards Agnies, but was looking towards me with a face that clearly said, ‘please shut up’.

“As I was saying,” Agnies continued. “Diana will stay at the priory. James, you can go home as soon as you are fully healed. I am sure your mother and sister will be anxious to see you.”

“What will happen to Reiko and Aoife?” I asked.

The High Priestess, apparently not used to being questioned, scowled deeply. Still, she eventually answered.

“They will remain in our custody. We will transport them from here to a dedicated prison when it is convenient to do so. There we will interrogate them and assess the threat they pose before deciding on any further steps.”

I didn’t like the sound of ‘interrogate’. Vindeca were meant to be the good guys, but this sounded more like something Fusae would have done.

“But, why? I know them both, and I don’t think they pose a threat. They helped me.”

Agnies sneered. “Do not be naive. The Sekkaku witch tried to kill you. The Cappella witch nearly did kill you, as well as Diana, by destroying that school building. You think those two are safe to roam free?”

“Reiko was being controlled by Fusae - she was a victim. Ms Matthews said so. And Dan healed her, so now she’s fine.” I knew ‘fine’ was likely stretching the truth somewhat, but I didn’t want to weaken my point. “Aoife is just an idiot. She never tried to hurt me. Her coven is only her and her sister. It’s not like she’s some powerful villain.”

I could tell Dan was cringing again at my arguing with Agnies, but I couldn’t just let this go.

“Tell me, what would you have me do with them?”

I paused. I hadn’t gotten that far. I just knew it seemed unfair to lock them up, but I got where Agnies was coming from. It’s not like Reiko could just be free to go about her business, given her unstable mental state and history of violence. Aoife was safer, with her self-proclaimed hatred of fighting, but accidentally blowing up a school with her voice was admittedly a pretty big boo-boo.

It’s a cliche, but at that moment, a lightswitch clicked in my head. Or maybe a lightbulb flashed. Some kind of mechanism relating to an electric light, anyway. I had an idea for how to fix this.

“How about you let Reiko continue attending school with me and Dan? Then we can keep an eye on her. Ms Matthews, too. And the same with Aoife. Let her carry on teaching. That way we’re still keeping tabs on them, but they don’t have to be locked away and interrogated.”

“I can see why you would want that outcome,” Agnies said drily. “A typical teenage boy, wanting to be surrounded by attractive women. But why should I allow that, when I already have them in my custody? And why should I allow Diana to join you again after she has failed before?”

I thought about what I had to offer. Could I bargain with the aphrodisiac tome? I knew that tomes were considered incredibly valuable to covens, so maybe offering up that one would be enough to sway Agnies. Then again, it wasn’t mine to trade. It was Hayley’s rightful souvenir, and before that it had been Reiko’s. What else, then?

I thought back to something my mum had told me. About how after Dad died, Agnies wanted me to take me away. ‘To raise you in the priory where Alex grew up.’

There was also a comment Ms Matthews had let slip, when discussing whether I should learn magic to fight against Fusae or retreat to safety. ‘Being honest, Agnies is very keen for you to learn magic, as she wishes you to follow the footsteps of your father.’

Agnies’ motivations were becoming clearer. I started to realise that perhaps the biggest bargaining chip I had was myself.

“I’ll join your coven.”

Unexpectedly, Agnies burst out laughing. Not a kind laugh, but a derisive snort.

“You are just a pre-wizard. There are over a hundred witches in my coven more powerful than you. Do not get ahead of yourself, boy.”

“You’re right,” I said, trying to push down my embarrassment. “I don’t have much to offer you now. But, I do still have my magic potential. If you send Dan away, and lock up Reiko and Aoife, I’ll go and sleep with the first girl who’ll have me. All my potential will go to waste. But if you listen to my request, and let me return to school with Dan, Reiko and Aoife, then I will continue to protect my virginity until I am 30. I will join your coven, and one day I will become a great wizard like my dad.”

“You’re bluffing. You wouldn’t give up your powers.”

“Don’t underestimate the horniness of a 17 year old boy, lady. I’ve just been looking for a good excuse to finally do it.”

We stared at each other. Agnies’ expression was terrifying, but I refused to look away. I had needed help in every other fight I’d had. Now it was time to fight by myself, to stand up for those who had helped me.

Dan had given up on the bowing and was openly gawking at the two of us. Out of the corner of my eye I could see her staring, as though captivated by an especially close and brutal boxing match.

“Fine then.” Agnies turned and walked out the room. Without turning back, she stated, “We have a deal.”

Then she was gone.