I couldn’t even remember the last time I got up as early as I did on Tuesday morning. I mention that only because Eliot essentially chanted those words slowly, over and over until we reached the steps of the Administration building. He was as put together as ever, yet still bleary-eyed, clutching a Brakebills travel mug full of strong coffee. He’d filled its twin for me and put cheese sticks and granola bars in my messenger bag for us to have as our breakfast on the go. I might have eaten a package of dry espresso powder for breakfast in other circumstances. Already I wasn’t sure what I’d do without Eliot. I was glad I didn’t have to find out.
The person staffing the Registry office greeted us by name. They introduced themselves as Aeson, and already had two packets of forms on clipboards ready for us. They handed the clipboards to Eliot and me, excitedly chattering about how awesome it was to have another bonded pair at Brakebills and mentioning their soulmate’s name was Ash.
“You’ll meet Angelyn this afternoon after classes. She’s the Bonded specialist here, and also runs the Brakebills Bonded Society. The meetings are on the first Thursday of each month. You’ll always see Ash and me there; I hope you’ll join us when you can. Navigating a new bond and magic will be much easier with a support system. I can tell you that from personal experience; Ash and I had been together for a couple of years, but we didn’t know we were soulmates until we were on the Brakebills campus grounds. Some of my siblings and cousins are also Bonded. Their educational needs as muggles are nothing like what you’ll have to learn to become Magicians.
“To get registered, you’ll need to provide us with a copy of your test results receipt. You can go get it if you didn’t bring it. Oh! And by the way, you could have tested here at Brakebills, in the infirmary. You didn’t have to go off campus. Not that that information is helpful now; it’s not like you’ll need to test again. Anyway, sorry! I know this all is a lot. I’m excited you’re here. I’ll let you fill your forms out now. Just head into the conference room and bring them back here when you’re ready.”
“Thanks Aeson,” I said, wondering how there were morning people. I took a seat, put my bag and coffee down, and began skimming over the papers on the clipboard.
Eliot collapsed into a chair, groaning. “I don’t think I’m even capable of reading this early in the morning. What does all this say?” He clicked the pen a couple of times, staring at it as if it were an alien artifact. He whined, “Oh my god, I have to write, too?!” He sucked down some coffee and let his head drop to the table. This soulmate of mine was such a drama queen sometimes. Meh, pot, kettle.
I removed my stack of papers from the clipboard and started paging through them. “All kinds of things, official data type stuff. Birthplace, time, parents’ names… Magician relatives, time and place of Bonding—oh wow, they want GPS coordinates if possible. I guess we can get that easily enough. Hm, these are more esoteric: favorite hobbies from ages 7 – 12. Ha! Do I like cilantro or does it taste like soap? And here’s a bunch of multiple-choice things where you order various items. Hm. Allergies. MBTI and/or DiSC profile type? Come on, Eliot, quit fucking around. I know your first class doesn’t start until this afternoon, but I won’t have time for a nap. Let’s do this so I’m not late. For my first class at magic school.”
Eliot roused himself and leaned over to kiss my temple. “Aww, baby, I know, it’s going to be Hell Week. From classes to Bonding stuff to moving in together, we are not getting much sleep this week. But it will all be worth it to wake up in our brand new apartment on Sunday morning, won’t it? Daddy will make sure you get your favorite meal when we go furniture shopping on Thursday. What is your favorite meal, or dish, or whatever?”
“Making it on time to my first class at magic school,” I quipped, not looking up from the answers I was writing.
Eliot leaned on me again, this time nuzzling into my ear. “Ooo, you naughty little mouthy brat. Daddy likey.” He nipped at my earlobe, making me yelp. “Most of this stuff would have been collected anyway, throughout the course of your first semester. It’s all information that can be relevant to your individual Circumstances. It’ll be pretty easy for me to answer most of these since it’s literally information I gathered and learned in my first year—good for you, you’ll get a little head start. Get them to make you a copy so you have it all in a single place.”
“Yeah, I’m really glad to hear there’s at least one group for Bondeds here. Maybe there will be someone who has a similar situation. I’m sure you can’t be the first person to bond with someone newer to Brakebills.”
“Ugh, I hope not,” Eliot sighed. I don’t know how it will actually pan out, but in some ways it feels frustrating that I’m going to have to relearn how to do magic. Maybe it won’t be that hard. It’ll definitely be interesting to relearn magic as a Bonded at the same time that you’re learning for the first time. That’s not on you, baby! I would start over from scratch if that’s what it took. I think what I’m going to enjoy most is watching you learn magic. You’re still so enchanted by it all, and I find that, well, enchanting. You know I love meeting new people, and now there’s yet another group I can rule. That we will rule.”
“I’ll be happy to be learning. I don’t think we need to be the party kings of the Bondeds, too. I’m still not recovered from this weekend’s party, and there’s just so much to do this week, Eliot. I don’t know if I can–”
He interrupted, “Q. Quentin. Baby. It’s ok. My social aspirations are just that.” He ticked off on his fingers, “Mine, and aspirations. You are under no obligation to be glued to my hip at all times. Let me make myself perfectly clear. ‘Eliot Waugh, Brakebills Party King’ is so much less important to me than ‘Eliot Coldwater-Waugh, Quentin Coldwater-Waugh’s Soulmate.’ I told you. You are my top priority, forevermore.”
My eyes started to well up. “I don’t need you to change who you are for me.”
He surprised me with a snort. “The Universe took care of that for us. We’re both different people today than we were even a week ago, like it or leave it. You know that. I’m still dragging you to parties, and I’m even going to teach you how to have fun at a party. And I’m going to snuggle with you in our apartment with sound wards up when you’ve reached your socialization limits. It’s just like the rest of all this. We will figure it together, as we go.
“But you are absolutely right. Let’s get this fucking paperwork done.” He kissed me softly, pushed me away, and started filling out the forms.
After classes were over on Tuesday afternoon, Quentin met me for our second trip to the Admin building that day. We were scheduled to meet with Angelyn Davies, Brakebills’ soulbond specialist. Until this morning, I didn’t even know we had one, but I was very glad we did. Between giving him a brief overview of how soulmates’ magic is entangled and his first day at classes, I felt like Quentin and I had nearly equal knowledge of how it all worked. Which is to say, not very much; after all, I hadn’t ever needed more than a 30,000-foot view until now—what most Brakebills students got. I was looking forward to learning more about the ways our magic would affect each other.
We entered a wing that looked like a doctor’s office. I told the receptionist who we were and sat next to Quentin in the small waiting room. No sooner than we sat down did a tiny, pleasantly plump woman emerge, beckoning us back into the rest of the office. She was absolutely adorable. I loved her immediately.
“Hi, I’m Angelyn Davies. You must be Eliot and Quentin. It’s wonderful to meet you. Congratulations on your bond. Come on in and sit down.”
She led us into what looked like a couples’ examination room, which…tracked. She waved us toward the loveseat, though, indicating, “I don’t think we’ll be diagnosing any problems today, so just make yourselves comfortable. Obviously, you’re here because you just bonded the other day. This might sound like an odd question, but have either of you been laughing considerably more than usual, having headaches and/or balance issues, or have any foods you’ve eaten since you bonded had an aftertaste lasting longer than two hours?”
Quentin shook his head. “Longer than two hours? That seems…random. No, none of those, I feel fine. Well, other than what my limited research says is to be expected of a new soulbond. What would it mean if the answer had been yes?”
Angelyn smiled, responding, “Those are the most common signs of an incomplete bond. If you’d answered yes, I’d be asking you to get on those examination tables. But since you didn’t, let’s get started. You are now, to use a muggle term I hate because of its negative connotations, special needs students. Here, though, it’s really more like being honors students—you’re literally going to learn more than most of the students here. Frankly, you’re going to get a superior education to most of the students here.
“Throughout the rest of your education here at Brakebills, your instructors will inform you about spells and accessibility. Because a considerable proportion of magic requires additional information when Bondeds calculate Circumstances, we have a Wiki with common conversions, tips and tricks, and frequently asked questions. It should answer most of the questions you’ll have about how your soulbond affects your magical education, but never hesitate to come to me if you need any clarifications. It’s part of why I’m here.
“Also, Jack and Daniel are third-year Physical students who live off-campus, and you probably already know Maggie and Kevin, who live there in the PKC with you. They may have some insights for you, and I also facilitate a monthly meeting where all the Bonded students exchange information. The schedule for that and other Bonded get-togethers is on the Wiki.
“Moving along. Magic is literally the world’s oldest programming language. Spells started out as prayers, or supplications, and over millennia kind of evolved into statements. A spell that may have once started out something like, ‘Bright heavenly Theia, I, Angelyn Davies, of Allen and Lorsha Davies, humbly beseech you to assist me, currently residing in Iona, Scotland, in my endeavor to enchant this amethyst I hold to glow when I call out “abracadabra”’ evolved through the use of tuts, sigils, and so forth. When you add them together and use magical shortcuts in varying combinations, you end up with something like, ‘I enchant this amethyst to glow upon command.’
“But now you aren’t just ‘Quentin’ or ‘Eliot.’ Now, you are ‘QuentinandEliot,’ so to speak, and you must modify your Circumstances and casting commensurately. Eliot, you may have noticed that there is a certain syntax to spells, and that it tends to follow the syntax of the language from the region where the spell originated.
“Quentin, I reviewed your paperwork and noticed that you have a strong linguistic background as well—that will definitely help you with your magical studies. Understanding how syntax affects spells will probably come fairly naturally to you, instead of just simply memorizing words and pronunciations. The most important thing you’ll need to remember is to use the appropriate modifier for plural nouns when you’re casting in languages that use declensions.
“And it’s also pretty damned important that you have the ability to determine when to use single or plural pronouns to be able to represent yourselves as two parts of a single unit. A lot of this is typically achieved by using a sigil that you’ll get tattooed on your dominant hand. Eliot, you probably remember the personal sigil lab, which is when first-year learners get their set of Baroviers.”
Of course, I remembered that lab; after all, Margo had conducted a slightly different type of Barovier lab in the living room of the Cottage days ago. So, I mentioned it to her. “Yes. When Quentin and I bonded, our best friends Julia and Margo, along with Quentin’s roommate Penny, watched our bond form using #6 lenses. Penny filmed the whole thing on his phone. Margo showed us the video the next morning. It was one thing to experience it—but another thing entirely to watch it. It was just as amazing and beautiful visually as it was emotionally.”
Angelyn’s eyebrows bounced off the ceiling. When they landed back on her face, she was practically vibrating with excitement. “Are you serious? Your friend was able to successfully film through a Barovier lens? On a cellphone?! You aren’t kidding? I’d be incredibly interested in seeing that video, if you’re willing to share it. For science, of course. Normally what we do to determine the family sigil of a newly bonded couple is to view the pair with a combination of Baroviers 6, 7, and 13, and the viewer literally draws the sigil on paper. I’m very curious to see how the sigils combine.”
I leaned over to kiss Quentin on the forehead, saying, “I don’t mind if you watch it, Angelyn. What do you think, honeylove?”
He scowled at me briefly. “Sure, El, why don’t we just upload it to YouTube so the whole world can see the most personal moment of my life?” He twitched a single eyebrow as one corner of his mouth quirked upward. He looked at Angelyn, “No, it’s ok, really. I mean, it already feels kind of like an inside joke that we waived all rights to privacy when we bonded the way we did. Besides, it will probably help you with other Bondeds, right? So yeah, I think you should see it. Sure, Eliot, why not. Let’s be a case study.”
I dug my phone out of my waistcoat pocket. “I have it right here, if you want to watch it now. Or did you want to find our new sigil first? We seem to have gotten distracted.”
Angelyn blew out a breath. “You’re right. Sorry, that little revelation blew my script all to hell. I’ve gone completely out of order at this point. Okay, Eliot, you might know some of this already, but since Quentin is brand new to magic, he probably won’t have heard about any of it. I know I keep saying that. Here are the basics: I’m going to discover and record your new family sigil so you can get your tattoos. I’ll need the information from both your natal charts to schedule your tattoo appointment. So Quentin, I’ll need you to track down the location of your birth to as close as you can get. Just like the place of your bonding, if you can get precise GPS coordinates, that is ideal. But of course you may have no way of knowing the exact hospital room where you were born, so the address will do.
“Since it’s almost the new moon, I can tell you your appointment will be within the next 35 days, but I can’t get any more specific than that. A soulbond tattoo appointment will take precedence over almost any other kind of inking, and we like to give Adebayo as much advance notice as possible. You’ll also consult with him several days beforehand, so that you’ll have time to make preparations for whatever he needs you to do before you get the tattoos.
“There are a whole set of rituals that go with it—and they will be personalized for your bond and your bond alone. Adebayo will tell you everything you need to know. Your soulbond sigil tattoos will enable you to do a lot of things—not the least of which is being able to cast solo on spells higher than Level 3. Without the tattoo, spells above that level won’t work very well, if at all. Since it’s Quentin’s first year, he’ll need to be able to cast at that level around midterms, and the second year curriculum shouldn’t get too far ahead of you, Eliot, so the timing should work out just fine. But first, the sigil. Stay seated next to each other, but without touching.”
I reluctantly released Quentin’s hand as she removed the #6 and #7 lenses from her set. She first examined us with the #6. She repeated the action with the #7 lens, then picked up the #13. She clipped all three together before holding the stack to her eyes. Nodding, she turned to grab a small sketchpad and pencil, then drew a figure that looked something like this:
“Ah, Eliot, you’re left-handed,” she mused. “Mhm, safety and belonging. This is a rare combination outside Healing magicians, but the adhesion, cohesion, and rotation are exactly as they should be; your bond is perfect. I’m not quite sure how safety and belonging go with telekinesis, but it’ll be fascinating to find out. However, if I were a betting person, I’d guess you two will be able to construct some incredibly powerful shields and wards. Ask Adebayo; he might know something about that. Quentin, your personal sigil is a manifestation of your deep conscious and unconscious desires to feel safe.”
I chimed in, “Yes, and mine is related to my need to feel accepted. That makes sense. Safety, acceptance, belonging. This looks like exactly the sigils in the video. Do you want to see it now? I noticed that the attachment nodules seem to be polarized; you’ll see them bouncing off each other until they finally spin enough to stick, which seems only to happen when the al-Kubunani line on his Lemniscate Möbius is horizontal. But I don’t know what significance that carries. ‘As above, so below,’ maybe? Still not sure what it would mean, though. Let me guess: Adebayo can probably tell us more.”
She laughed. “Correct. I’m the soulbond expert and he is the sigils expert. His mastery of his Discipline—along with the most esoteric collection of random information you’ve ever encountered—is literally awe-inspiring. You’re going to love him. Our knowledge has some overlap—so, I could guess. But I’d prefer to let the specialist give you the most accurate and up-to-date information available. I’m reasonably certain he will want to see your video as well. Let’s take a look at it.”
I tapped at my phone’s screen for a few moments, and we watched the video.