“Don’t put too much energy into the ward or else it will injure anyone who touches it,” Ace warned. “Sometimes that’s done deliberately, when people want to weaponize their wards, but we won’t be doing in class.”
Cinthi’s interest piqued at this idea—wards that could keep people out were exciting. Wards that could keep people out permanently were even better. Ace handed each of them a rectangular wooden frame which they could set a ward over, and demonstrated how to do so. Cinthi stared at her frame, seeing it as an unguarded doorway, as every vulnerable place she had ever been unable to defend. She summoned up her energy and thrust it over the frame with all her will. The ward flared into existence.
She sat back and looked at it with satisfaction. It was invisible to the eye, but she was by now used to feeling magic and could feel the protective strength of the thing. Following Ace’s instruction, she had kept the ward merely obstructive rather than allow it to blast away any intruders who dared pass through it, but even so, she was quite pleased with the thing.
After class, Cinthi went directly to her room. As soon as she was inside and had shut the door behind her, she put the most powerful ward she could muster over it. She was no longer in class, so she no longer held herself to Ace’s restriction, and continued to summon power and pour it into the ward until it tingled with radiated energy, ready to pounce on the next invader to cross through it. Cinthi smiled, and sat down on her bed to read.
Sometime later, Cinthi was interrupted when she felt in the core of her magic her ward being torn from the door. She jumped up in outrage and slammed the door open. “Hey! What the hell are you doing?”
Ace stood in front of the door, shirtsleeved in a crimson waistcoat, his expression stony. “What the hell are you doing, Cinthi?” Cinthi had never heard Ace yell before, or swear. “You could have killed someone!”
“Only if they tried to get in,” said Cinthi in irritation. It wasn’t as though she was throwing dangerous magic around everywhere; she’d put up a ward to protect herself. That was the point of wards. “It was on my door. Anyone who got hurt by it would have deserved it—why else would they be coming into my room?”
“To see you? Okay, maybe that’s not likely, considering that you’ve alienated everyone here. By accident? To tell you something? To get you if there was a fire? To nose around—not the nicest thing, but not deserving of the death penalty. That’s just off the top of my head.”
Cinthi glared. “They could knock. And anyone here would sense the ward, anyway.” But she had a sudden, terrible image of Hae, bad at magic and perhaps too shy to knock, walking through the ward and being burnt to a crisp.
“That’s not something you should be counting on. People can be absentminded, or what if it was one of the servants? What if a guest thought it was the door to the washroom?”
“Fine,” Cinthi muttered. She knew he was right, and it irritated her. “Still, you didn’t have to just tear it down like that—how did you even do that?”
“You’ll learn that next year—if you can convince me to let you stay here, after a careless, dangerous stunt like this.”
At his words, Cinthi felt as though her breath had been knocked out of her. She knew she should say something, should apologize or beg him to let her stay or explain why this really wasn’t such a big deal, but the words would not come. She stared at Ace blankly.
“Can I come in—no, why don’t we go downstairs? Standing in your doorway isn’t really the best place to talk.”
Cinthi nodded slowly. She followed Ace downstairs and into the kitchen. The room was empty; Ace went over to the stove and put the kettle on, then sat down at the table. Cinthi sat down across from him, her eyes tracing the patterns of the lace tablecloth to avoid meeting his gaze.
“You’re not used to being safe,” Ace said softly. It was not a question.
Cinthi shrugged, still staring at the tablecloth. How stupid would someone have to be, to become used to being safe? It would be asking for trouble, to let down your guard like that. She wondered how Ace could be used to being safe, whether that was something that came from being a powerful magician or being wealthy or if it was just because of who he was.
“The poorhouse must have been a terrible place to grow up.”
“They gave us food and an education. What more could I want?”
“Safety?” Ace suggested.
Cinthi crossed her arms. “They locked the doors at night.”
Ace looked at her and said nothing; Cinthi continued to stare at the tablecloth. After a long moment, Ace asked thoughtfully, “Who had the keys?”
Cinthi froze, and tried not to think about that. Too many people had had the keys, and used them. She was well accustomed to the clink of keys in the door, the sound of heavy footsteps walking across the bare wooden floor, her stomach knotting, the sudden presence of a stranger in her bed. There seemed to be a haze between her and the tablecloth; she would not look up at Ace. She saw her hands trembling but could not feel it. She squeezed them into fists. She dimly heard Ace’s voice, but could not make out the words. She unclenched her fists. She gathered magical energy into her fingertips. That allowed her to come out of her daze; she glanced up at Ace. Concern was written into his face. She looked away again.
For more information, see my NaNoWriMo page (It's not really a NaNoWriMo novel since I've been working on it since January, but I gave it a page there anyway since I've been working on it through November.)