Minas could hear only the occasional clink of the guard's armor outside, the fitful turning of the apprentices around her, the occasional heavy snore. She stared at the arched ceiling, the grey stone crisscrossed with shadows familiar. The only thing that kept the layers of unyielding brick from being stifling was the fact that it rested so high above, beyond her reach, and would remain so even when she was grown.
It still blocked out the stars.
The elfling reached above her head, between the slats in the headboard, over the space between the beds, and ruffled her friend's dark hair.
"Jowan. Jowan, are you awake?" Her voice barely carried across the pillow. Sometimes, even surrounded by fifty familiar faces, it was possible to feel more alone than in solitary. If he wasn't—
The elf smiled, but did not raise her head. Instead, Minas rolled onto her stomach and stretched her hand a little further to find his.
"Do you remember your family?"
A soft huff. "Why?"
"I was thinking… if you don't want to talk about it, that's okay."
She could make out little in the darkness between the bars of the headboard, just the vague tuft of hair and his nose pointing up toward the ceiling. "It's… not good. Do you remember yours?"
"Yeah." She pressed her cheek to her pillow. "It's not… really good. But I miss them."
"I don't miss mine."
Minas recognized the strain in his voice and whispered again. Something nicer. Maybe. "Do you remember the first time you did magic? Well—and knew what it was."
"I used to glow a lot."
Minas stifled her giggle in the pillow.
"What? It's not funny—"
A grumbling snort from the bed behind his. They froze.
After a moment, the gentle breathing resumed and Minas released the breath she'd been holding softly.
Jowan's voice almost couldn't be heard now, an agitated whisper: "It's not funny—I couldn't make it stop. My mother used to get angry—really angry."
"I'm sorry." She squeezed his fingers gently.
They lay in silence a while, until Jowan sighed. "What about you?"
"I got mad at one of the boys in the village and accidentally set him on fire."
That earned a chuckle. "I'm sure he deserved it."
"I don't really remember… I might've started it. But he was okay—it just singed his tunic a little. I remember the second time better."
Minas pursed her lips, thumb absently finding secure purchase in her best friend's hand. "I… killed some grass when I fell out of the tree in the back yard. They said I drew the… life out of it. They said I should've been scraped or broken a bone and I stole the life from the grass and fixed myself—I killed it." Old tears pricked her eyes, but the elf swallowed, pushing the knot out of her throat." My parents decided I was dangerous after that."
Jowan was silent and Minas closed her eyes tight. Why did she tell him? What if—Her fingers tightened reflexively, lest he let go.
But he didn't.
"Minas… that sounds like…" She almost did not hear the next words, but she would know them even if he did not speak. "Blood magic."
"I know." She buried her face in the pillow, slackened her grip to give him opportunity, shame dropping her stomach down to her feet.
He did not let go. "Maybe you could talk to the First Enchanter about it?"
"He said it wasn't blood magic, but he didn't want to talk to me about what it was. I can't even go to the library if I don't know…"
"Minas, there are other Senior Enchanters, right? You can talk to them, and if Irving said it's not blood magic, I believe that."
A couple of tears did fall at that, and Minas suddenly felt quite silly.
"I'm afraid to ask," she admitted.
"I can go with you," Jowan suggested, returning the gesture she'd given earlier, gently squeezing her hand. "Senior Enchanter Wynne is really nice… well, pretty nice. If she can't help you, we'll find somebody else."
"You'd… do that?"
She could almost hear his sheepish smile. "I've never really had one before, but I think that's what friends do."