Casimir casually flicked his hand, and the marble cracked. He whispered again, and a chunk of the balcony skittered across the floor. With twitch of his fist, the stone disintegrated into a pile of dust. It did little to muffle the sound of Petra screaming an orgasm in the next room.
He tried not to think about it, but his thoughts darkened anyway. Though he kept his distance at first, soon it was all he could do to stop Petra from sneaking to his room in the middle of the night or following him into the city so they could hide somewhere and fuck. She had an almost manic energy about her, and Casimir couldn’t help finding it intoxicating. He rarely encountered women, and when he did, they never looked at him—not the ones he wanted, anyway.
Casimir crushed another hunk of marble, this time tossing it against the wall shared with Eamon’s room. It split into several pieces with a boom, but the noise next door didn’t cease. Petra had been so direct about her interest—she never hid her looks, and she took every opportunity to touch him. Some part of him found the attention confusing, but she had enough confidence for both of them. He let her lead, and he got lost in the swirl of passion and excitement. Deep within, though, he knew it wasn’t true—but that didn’t stop it from hurting when he walked in on her riding Eamon on the floor of his room.
Then it all became clear—Petra derived her self worth from sexual attention. She might have planned to take more than one of his brothers as a lover before she even arrived. The sneaking around came naturally to her, as did the flirting, and Casimir cursed himself for letting it pass him by. Was he so easily distracted by a place to put his cock?
He sighed. No, that wasn’t it. Even with his paucity in experience with women, Petra wasn’t really his type. She lacked strength, physically, and mentally he found her dull as wet wood. She had thrown herself at him so obviously, he thought himself a fool to pass up such an easy opportunity, but any feelings of love emerged purely by accident. Sometimes he thought he saw a part of her she never showed anyone else; her eyes grew dark and sad, and she spoke of loneliness, a feeling with which he was all too familiar. He held her, and thought perhaps they could sate each other’s melancholy—maybe he could make a home with her somewhere.
Home. Casimir balled his spell hand into a fist, and a vase of flowers near the balcony shattered, littering the floor with broken glass. Mage college never felt like home, nor did Reziva, with the way his parents treated him. He had rooms in waystations, nothing more. Of course he would love a girl if she made him think he could find a place in the world that belonged solely to him.
Petra shrieked through another orgasm, then quieted down. Casimir waved his hand, lighting another vase of flowers on fire. Most of his room was destroyed; three weeks had passed since he discovered Petra and Eamon’s tryst, and he divided exonerating his frustration between misusing magic and exercising. He hardly allowed Valtteri near him; he knew his brother would want to talk, and Casimir couldn’t stand to think of the pity on his face.
With a sigh, Casimir swung his feet off the bed and planted onto the floor. A knapsack sat beside his night table, the contents spilling forth haphazardly. A few books, ones he stole from his father’s library, knowing they would never be missed; an apothecary satchel with his alchemy ingredients, as selling potions would fund him on the road; spare clothes, and some food for traveling. Valtteri would beg him not to go, but Casimir could see no other option. The only magic he could get a handle on since finding out about Petra and Eamon was destruction, and he knew his talents lay elsewhere. He needed to discover them before he turned eighteen, so the tattoos on his back would actually be representative to any future employers.
A knock came at the door, but Casimir ignored it. He wondered whether he could escape that evening without saying goodbye.
“Casimir,” Valtteri called. “Let me in.”
With his gaze on the sunlight pouring across the balcony, Casimir waved his hand to dismiss the spell locking his door. Valtteri sidled inside, looking grave.
“You’ve been in here for days,” he said. “What have you been eating?”
“I haven’t,” Casimir said.
Valtteri joined him on the bed, passing him a glass bottle of ale. “I bought it from a vendor from the south. He says it’s brewed with honey.”
Casimir took a drink without meeting his eyes. “It’s good.”
“You can’t keep moping in here,” Valtteri said. “I know it was a blow, but she’s just some silly girl.”
“It’s not really about that,” Casimir said.
“Then what is it about?”
“Nothing and everything. Did you need something from me?”
“Quit pushing me out, Cas. I know you’re getting ready to run. Did you think you could do it without saying goodbye?”
“I considered it.”
“Asshole,” Valtteri said. “Do you have any idea how happy Elya is to have you back?”
“He’ll get over it. It’s not like the court mage doesn’t do magic for him.”
“The court mage isn’t his brother.”
“And your argument isn’t very compelling.”
Valtteri scowled. “What about mother? You never even went to see her. I don’t think she’ll make it through the winter with this depression.”
“And as I said, good riddance.”
“Casimir,” Valtteri snapped.
He took another drink. “What the fuck do you want from me, Valtteri? You want me to stay here and pretend to be a family with a mother who cries whenever she looks at me because I’m so shameful? A father who would gladly have me murdered in an alley on a dark night if he could get away with it? Any of our asshole brothers, one of whom fucked Petra on purpose just to spite me? I’m not interested in staying here just because you’re asking me to.”
“I won’t deny I’m being selfish. But honestly, Cas, where will you go?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do. Where?”
Casimir shook his head. “North.”
“Where in the north?”
“There’s a shrine I want to visit.”
“Drop it, Valtteri,” he said. “I’ve told you enough.”
“Don’t run away just because she hurt you,” Valtteri said. “You’ll be hurt by plenty of women in your life. You can only be true to who you are.”
“Who I am is a mage, and what I’ll do is hone my talents.”
“You’re not like the others,” Valtteri said. “You have me. You have true family. Don’t disappear.”
The vase of flowers burned perilously close to the swaying curtains of the balcony, and Casimir flicked his hand to douse the flames.
“I’ll write,” Casimir said quietly. “That’s the best I can give you.”
“Come back when you can,” Valtteri said. “Please.”
“The shrines here are useless to me. I need nature, and illusion, and fortification.”
“Then don’t stay long. But come back.”
Casimir met his eyes, and the crease between Valtteri’s eyebrows made him relent.
“Fine, Valtteri. But I’m leaving tonight, and I’m not saying goodbye.”
“Then I’ll make your apologies to Elya.”
The two of them sat side by side on the bed, both staring into the depths of their bottles of ale.
“I’m going to do it properly,” Casimir said, after a long silence. “I won’t steal money from father and put myself up in inns. I’m going into the wilderness.”
Valtteri frowned. “And what if you encounter mages who are stronger than you? Or necromancers, or those cults with cannibalism and human sacrifice?”
“It’s all a game,” Casimir said. “I’ll be what they want me to be, until I’m not. I’ll see every side, and play every part, until I can do it better than any of them.” He tossed the ale bottle into the air, and with a whispered word, it exploded into fine, glittering dust. “Until me on my own is more of a threat than any of their stupid cults.”