To Fail, To Not Fail
Nobody expected me to graduate from Figaro Kingdom's School of Magic
at all. I was the screw up of my class, the girl who couldn't learn a
damn thing, no matter how often or how loudly my teachers would try
to cram the lesson down my throat. I studied and studied, but never
really picked up anything as quickly or as easily as my classmates
did. But, somehow, I made it; bottom of my graduating class, but
graduated just the same!
“Students, those of you who graduated from our School shall move on to Apprenticeship with one of our kingdom's many recognized witches and wizards. We will assign you a Master in accordance to your skills and personality,” said Headmistress Hilda of the Frosty Plains, one of the most famous witches in the kingdom. “Be aware that each witch and wizard will test you to determine if you are worthy of them or not. If you fail, you'll come back here and repeat your last year of school. Alright students, when your name is called, step up to the podium to receive your diploma and the name of your master.”
My heart sank as soon as she said those words. I knew, of course, that my assigned Master would test me, but having to repeat my last year of school? I couldn't bare such a thought! I remembered the older classmates we had who seemed so much older than we were. They would often sit and eat all by themselves, never talking to anyone but the teachers, always a sad look in their eyes. Some were as old as thirteen! What if that's me by next year, sitting all alone while my old friends were out there becoming witches?
“Alandra Whistle!” I heard my name. I gulped, walked up to Headmistress Hilda, and grabbed my diploma. As I unrolled it, a piece of paper fell out. I picked up; it had the name 'Grand Wizard Reed of the Lonely Rock.' I looked at Headmistress Hilda, who nodded to me.
I tried remembering what a Grand Wizard was, but I just couldn't. I asked my friend Amanda, and she said “A Grand Wizard, like a Grand Witch, is someone who is part of the Council of Magic, the ruling body of wizards and witches. Why, did you get a Grand Wizard as your master?”
She was right to be incredulous; even I had a hard time believing it! But the moment she saw the name of my future Master, her smile faded. “Oh girl, you are beyond screwed! This guy's known to fail every single student sent to him!”
“What?” I was shocked. Every single student? How was that possible? There had to have been a mistake. When the Assembly Hall emptied a little, I spoke with Headmistress Hilda, asking if a mistake was made.
“No, miss Whistle, no mistake was made. I have assigned you with Reed of the Lonely Rock quite deliberately,” she told me. “You see, you may have graduated, but I highly doubt you are ready for the wizarding world. You seldom passed your exams, and if not for all that extra credit you made, you would have been held back!”
“But...I passed,” I told her, tears in my eyes.
“Yes, but if it were up to me, you would not have passed! Miss Whistle, we here at Figaro Magic Academy hold ourselves to the highest possible standards, standards you FAILED to meet!” She said to me angrily. “I have assigned you the toughest wizard available so he can flunk you and you can repeat your last school year, get better results, and thus be assigned a proper Master to apprentice under!”
She sighed despondently. “Please do not think I hate you, miss Whistle. I am a woman dedicated to the education of young minds. What I do, I do it to make sure all future generations are well prepared for the world they will have to build. Simply put, your test scores make me extremely nervous about you and your skills, and I think you needed another year to be ready. I'm sorry, but that's how it is.”
She patted me on the shoulder as she left the Hall. “Your Master will meet you at the library tomorrow afternoon, at around one. Do not be late.”
I couldn't sleep that night. My parents worried about me, even tried giving me a hot cup of milk to go to sleep faster, but sleep never came. I didn't want to repeat my final year of school, but this guy, this Master of mine, just the idea of him made me uneasy. I decided to spend the night studying my books.
The next day was no better for me. All morning long I studied my books over and over again. I went to the library at 10 AM and watched the other students get picked up by their Masters. I even briefly encountered Johnathan, our Valedictorian. He said “Hey, sorry to hear about your Master. In past years, Headmistress Hilda would assign Reed to the class Valedictorian, and he'd always fail them! One time, he failed a kid three minutes after the test started!”
Needless to say, that made me feel worse. This guy always failed the best and brightest of every class. What chance did I have? None! I had no chance! I was done for! I thought about running away, of leaving a note to my Master and telling him that I was dropping out and going back to school, but that idea made me sick to ny stomach. I couldn't do it all again, it took me everything I had just to get this far.
One in the afternoon, and he had not shown. The door was slightly ajar, so I got up to close it. Everyone else had already gone with their Masters; I was all alone. At twenty past one, I figured this guy wouldn't show up at all, so I got up, put my book on the table, and walked towards the window. I lift my hands up towards the sunshine that was beaming in, and as I closed my eyes, I gathered some of it in my hands. As I felt my hands grow warmer, I cusped them together, uniting all the sunlight and rolling it into a ball of light. As I let the ball of light go, I began to guide it through the air with my finger, letting the ball of light fly across the library until it was four feet over my head. With a snap of my fingers, the ball popped, turning into thousands of falling, harmless embers that floated around me, slowly disappearing as they reached the ground.
A trick I learned the night before the mid term exam. I was so upset with myself that I locked myself in my room and kept on studying and studying to the point I made myself sick. I hated that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't understand anything. When I finally decided to relax, I had picked up a book on using Light Magic, and it talked about Wisp, the Mana of Light. The Mana are the spirits in charge of bringing and controlling magic in the world; without them there is no magic. Anyway, the book talked about how, when one connects with Wisp, they automatically learn the basics of Light Magic. Just for fun, I tried that out; I meditated for a good hour or so, until, to my surprise, Wisp came to me and touched my forehead. From then on, just for fun, I've been practicing Light Magic. I can't do anything complex, like make my own light, though.
What I can do, however, is to make shapes with light. I took some more sunlight into my hands, curled it up, and with my magic, I made a butterfly. I opened my hands and allowed my sunlight butterfly to flutter around the room. As I followed it with my eyes, I saw that the door was slightly ajar. Odd, I thought I closed it. I walked towards the door to peer outside. Empty, there was nobody around. My butterfly then dissipated into thousands of harmless embers, just like my ball. I felt a slight breeze through the room, and saw the window was open. I knew for a fact that the window had been closed the whole time, so I had goosebumps.
“My first impression: you have zero awareness in regards to your surroundings.” Said a voice that made me jump. I looked at the table I was using not two minutes ago and saw a man flipping through my book with a bored expression on his face. He was handsome, I'll admit, with his black hair, his firm physique, wearing a brown coat with a gold trim and glasses, seemingly no older than twenty five. He looked at me, and shivers ran down my spine. “Grand Wizard Reed of the Lonely Rock, at your service. Now come on, Alandra, you're being tested.”
“How do you know my name?” I asked. He just gave me this look, as if to say 'are you really that dense?'
“You're the last one here, and this is where the graduated students come to meet their Masters. My apprentice's name is Alandra, and every other student but mine has gone with their Master. Now come, time is wasting,” he said to me. He grabbed my book and placed it in his bag while motioning me to follow him.
After an hour of walking, we arrived at Crescent Lake, a beautiful lake that sparkled during the afternoon, overlooking the Crystal Spire, where the Magic Council tends to hold meetings. Master dropped his bag on the ground, and with a snap of his fingers, a small hourglass appeared on his hand.
“Alright, I'm pretty sure you think you're hot stuff, but I have news for you. If you want an A, you can forget it; the A is for me. Think you'll settle for a B? Think again; the B is for the book. If you work extra hard and give it your all, you might earn a C, but that's for me to decide. You may have been your class Valedictorian, but with me, you're being held to a higher standard,” he said to me. “One you might not meet.”
“But,” I tried to explain to him I wasn't the class Valedictorian, but he stopped me.
“I've got your grades right here, Miss Valedictorian. And let me tell you right now, they mean NOTHING to me! In fact-” he said as he took out a few pieces of paper with my grades in them. He took one look at them and his eyes nearly fell out of their sockets, his mouth hanging in shock. I trembled; what did he think of me now?
“Oh wait, that was something I always tell the other students Hilda sends me. You're the total opposite of the Valedictorian, aren't you? Bottom of the class?” He chuckled as I nodded my head, which would have made me angry had he not been right. “Well, don't expect me to go easy on you. Hilda sent you to me for a reason.”
“Yeah, to flunk me and make me repeat my last year.” I said to him, more bitterly than I intended. “Sorry sir, I-”
“Hadn't slept at all last night, barely had anything to eat, and spent most of the day at the library studying for a test you're one hundred percent certain you will fail. Am I right, or am I off?” He said to me. Either he's a stalker, or he's that good at reading people. I nodded my head again. “I've never failed anyone who didn't deserve it, and I'm not starting today. Anyway, watch what a real wizard can do.”
With a wave of his hand, the lake's water began to split apart down the middle, forming two walls of water opposite each other. As Master raised his hands, the water rose to the air, floating in two perfect spheres, leaving the lake bed dry. With a twirl of his fingers, the two water spheres became water ribbons that danced and twirled in the air, leaving a few water dropplets to fall and become ice flakes. As Master lowered his hands, the water gently fell back down to the lake bed, looking as it did not three minutes ago. Is THAT what he wants me to do!?
“Of course, your test isn't to do something as theatric as what I did. I want you to use your magic to lift some water off this lake and turn it into a ball. Just a small one, large enough to fit into the palm of your hand,” he said as he set the hourglass on top of a tree stump. “You have one hour. You may consult your book, but you are to otherwise use only your hands, understand? Shake on it.”
I shook his hand and felt something tingle in the palm of mine. I looked my hand over and saw nothing, but I could feel something different. He cleared his throat, pointed to the hourglass, and with a poof, he disappeared. I had no time to waste; I rushed to the lake, extended my hand like my Master did, and tried to raise the water using magic.
Nothing. The water wouldn't even ripple. I tried closing my eyes and imagined myself moving the water, but I felt nothing. I took a deep breath, extended my hand, and as my body trembled, I still could feel nothing. The water would not move; not even a ripple. Frustrated, I scooped some water up with my hand, but it just slipped through.
I looked over at the hourglass; ten minutes had passed and I had made zero progress. I am going nowhere with this; I need some help. Reed did tell me I could consult the book, so I went to the bag where it lay. As I took it out, I noticed a wand in his bag. I touched it, and felt an enormous surge of magic flow through me. If I could use this wand, I could probably do what Reed did.
But I can't, Reed said so. I took my book out and flipped through the pages, looking for a way to control water. I eventually turned to page 1143; 'Controlling the Element of Aqua.' Unfortunately, this book was extremely complicated, and nothing I read made any sense. Why call water 'aqua'? What did the author mean by 'channeling runology'? I could not make heads or tails of anything this book said. I looked at the hourglass. I had only ten minutes left.
The temptation to use the wand grew bigger by the minute. I kept trying to move the water by myself, but it just wasn't happening. Two minutes left. I grew more and more frustrated with myself, to the point that I let out a loud scream. I started crying, falling to the ground, holding my stomach. It wasn't fair, I tried so hard, studied and studied, and for what? To trip at the finish line! How I wanted to use that wand! But I decided against it. If I can't do this by myself, I'd rather fail than cheat.
At that moment, Reed returned. “Time's up, Alandra. Let's see how you did.”
He walked up to me, yanked me off the ground, wiped my tears away, and asked “So, what happened?”
“I couldn't do it...I'm sorry...” It's all I could say.
“But can you do it?” He asked me. I shook my head; it was evident that I couldn't, anyway. He looked me in the eye, and asked “Are you sure?”
Am I sure? How could he ask me that? Wasn't it obvious? If I could make that water ball, I would have done it by now! But I said nothing, just nodded my head.
“But, are you really unable to make a simple water ball, or is it that you just don't know how?” He asked me. “There is a world of difference between the two, after all.”
“I tried doing what the book said.” I told him.
“The book?” He scoffed. “That book is garbage! It's full of archaic definitions and techniques that have been simplified and improved on decades ago! No, if you want to know how to control water, you ask me! Like I told you, I'm the one with the knowledge to get the A.”
“Well, how do I do it?” I asked him.
“Well, the first thing I need to do is to get rid of that rune on your hand,” he said. I looked at him incredulously; I had a rune in my hand? Since when? “Oh, I put that rune in there this afternoon, before you started the test. It keeps you from casting any magic.”
I nearly lost it! All that stress, for what!? Who the hell did this guy think he was, putting runes on me!?
“What the hell for!?” I yelled at him. I didn't mean to do it, but it just came out. He didn't seem offended, though.
“For your test. I wanted to see what you'd do when faced with impossible pressure. I'd say nintey percent of all the students I've been given fail this little test of mine, you see. Did you see the wand in my bag?” He asked, smirking, as he took out the wand. “Most students tried using this wand, one way or another. Mostly by tucking it in their shirts, or their pants, wherever it could touch their bodies. That's where that rune of yours comes in; it lights up when this rod is used and doesn't dim down until I give the counterspell.”
He waved his hand above mine, and suddenly a rune appeared on the back of my hand, and just as quickly as it lit up, it disappeared, like it was never there. Reed then placed the rod on my hand, but I didn't feel the rush of power I did last time.
“The drive to succeed leads many wizards and witches to do certain things that they should never do. When our worth is measured not by the knowledge but by our success and we find ourselves with a seemingly unavoidable failure, shortcuts are taken, and often these shortcuts can be dangerous. I have seen powerful wizards and witches take some of these shortcuts; some have lost their lives trying to cheat their way out of a failure. This is the reason why I always failed those students,” he said to me. “Hilda taught me that lesson when I was her apprentice. It's a damn shame she doesn't teach students directly anymore; the Education Council is composed of fools that haven't even stepped into a classroom since they were ten years old, I swear.”
“What about the guy you failed in three minutes?” I asked.
“Oh, that kid? He actually dropped out. Took one look at my record, came up to me, and said 'I give up.' I was so mad at him, I thought about asking Hilda to not take him back. I don't ask for much, but if you ever give me less than your best, that's disrespectful to me.” He said. “Anyway, here's how to control water. You have two ways: you can either make a connection to Undine, Mana of Water, or you can adjust your soul to be like water, becoming one with it. I don't expect you to connect with a Mana, so here's how you adjust your soul: close your eyes and imagine yourself to be like water. Ebb and flow, imagine yourself coming and going, flowing all the time, floating aimlessly. Disconnect yourself from everything around you; relax yourself.”
I did as he told me. I closed my eyes, and imagined myself as water. I want to learn, I want to be better than who I was. Maybe if I do this, I can pass Reed's test. I want to pass, I really do. Suddenly, I found myself in a black void, face to face with Undine herself. She looked at me, and smiled.
“What do you seek?” She asked me.
And the only thing I could say was “I want to be better than I was. I want to change and grow.”
“Then grow.” She told me as she touched my forehead. My hands felt like they were flowing, like I had dipped them in a river. In fact, everything about my body felt like it was underwater. When I opened my eyes, I found myself holding a ball of rippling water.
“A little sloppy, but it passes.” He said, smiling at me. “Tomorrow, we will have your second lesson.”
“Second lesson?” I asked, incredulous. “But, you mean I passed your test?”
“Of course. I already saw you had considerable skill this afternoon, when I watched you manipulate al that sunlight, but you passed my exam the moment I came back and found you hadn't used the rod, even though you touched it,” he told me. “I saw skill, but the most important thing I saw was integrity, which is what I consider to be one of the most important traits a wizard should have. The water ball was your first lesson. I didn't expect you to pick it up that quickly, though. You may be a challenge yet, just not the kind I expected.”
I had tears in my eyes. I passed. I passed the test that failed so many students before me, all much more talented and smarter than me. For the first time in my life, I felt smart. No, I felt like a genius, like someone who can do something with herself. And I loved that feeling.
The next day, before my second lesson, I decided to visit Headmistress Hilda, to tell her how I did. No sooner did I enter her office, she got up, smiled brightly at me, and simply said “Reed told me everything. Congratulations.”
And all I could say was “Thank you.”