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!
In my mind I could still remember that awful Final Exam, the one to determine if I graduated or not. NONE of the questions made any sense to me! It took me twenty minutes just to answer the first question, and THAT one was the easiest! I can still remember what it asked, “should a unicorn be shown a basilisk; how long would it take it to turn to stone?” There were four choices: ten minutes, three minutes, five minutes, or half an hour. I picked half an hour, but I got it wrong. I still don’t know what the right answer was!
“Today, our children take their first step into becoming great witches and wizards,” said the Headmistress of our school, Hilda of the Frosty Plain. “These children have spent five years of their lives getting to where they are today. Let us give them a hand!”
I smiled brightly as the parents in attendance gave out their applause. Momma was in the crowd too, waving at me. The Assembly Hall was packed; there were sixty students graduating, after all.
Five years of torture and humiliation, finally over with. I was so DONE with school! I was one hundred percent eager to get on with my life and become a witch, just like Momma!
“Students, those of you who graduated from our school shall move on to Apprentice with one of our kingdom’s many recognized witches and wizards. You will be assigned a master in accordance to your skills and personality,” said the Headmistress Hilda. “Remember that each witch and wizard will examine 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. But of course, none of you have anything to worry about, since you have received the finest education available!”
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 with 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?
“And now, each student shall receive her or his diploma!” Said Headmistress Hilda. “When I call your name, step up to the podium! Inside your diploma you’ll also be given the name of the wizard or witch assigned to be your Master! Each wizard or witch was hand picked by me, personally, based on who could best suit you all!”
I started to hope that Headmistress Hilda would assign me someone easy, someone who would give me plenty of chances and would be patient with me. I wasn’t the brightest student in school, I knew that, but I had hoped the Headmistress would be merciful with me. None of my teachers ever were.
“Alandra Whistle!” I heard my name. I gulped, walked up to the Headmistress Hilda, and grabbed my diploma. As I unrolled it, a piece of paper fell out. I picked it up; it had the name ‘Grand Wizard Reed of the Lonely Rock.’ I looked at the Headmistress Hilda, who nodded to me.
I tried remembering what a Grand Wizard was, but I just couldn’t, so I asked my friend Amanda, and she said “Come on, Aly, this was in the Final! A Grand Wizard or Witch is someone who is part of the Magic Council, the ruling body of wizards and witches!”
“Yeah I got that one wrong,” I said to Amanda. “I think there must be a mistake, I was assigned a Grand Wizard as my master.”
“YOU!?” Amanda almost yelled out in shock. She was right to be incredulous; even I had a hard time believing it! She held my hands, almost squealing in delight, begging to see who I got assigned. 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. Momma came to me, a big smile on her face. I didn’t dare show her my master’s name.
“Hold on Momma, I have to talk with the the Headmistress first, OK?” I said to her.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” She asked. Amanda was about to tell her, but I nudged her to shut up. I asked Momma to wait for me outside so I could talk to the the Headmistress.
“Excuse me, Ma’am,” I said to Headmistress Hilda. “But I think you made a mistake. You assigned me a Grand Wizard as my master? Are you sure you didn’t mix me up with Priere?”
“No, miss Whistle, no mistake was made. I have assigned you 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, which was weird because she’s usually so nice to everyone. She summoned my report card out of thin air. “Look at these grades, Miss Whistle! D’s all around, with some F’s spread about for good measure! This isn’t graduate material, it’s a disgrace!”
With a puff of smoke, my report card vanished. She let out a sigh, cleaned her glasses, and continued, “Look, I’m sorry I yelled, and I’m sorry that I said what I said. This isn’t easy for me. But I have assigned you the toughest wizard available so he can flunk you. That way, you can repeat your last school year, get better results, and thus be assigned a proper master to apprentice under.”
She sighed despondently, rubbing her temple. “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 exam scores make me extremely nervous about your skills. You passed because the Education Council determined you met the requirements, and THAT was due to all that extra credit I gave you. I would love to say that was enough, that your extra credit made the difference. But I personally don’t think you’re ready yet. I think you need more time before you are ready for the apprenticeship. What I’m doing now, I do it because I want you to succeed, above all else. I know that, if you repeat your last school year, you can do considerably better, Miss Whistle.”
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, he is not known to be patient with people who are not punctual.”
As I left the Assembly Hall, I walked up to Momma, and gave her half the news. I told her my master would be a Grand Wizard. I didn’t, however, tell her about how I was almost guaranteed to fail tomorrow.
“I see,” Momma said, furrowing her brow. “A Grand Wizard, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said to her.
“I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this,” she said. “I know you had a lot of trouble at school, but it’s usually the Valedictorian who gets assigned a Grand Wizard as a master. It’s not Reed of the Lonely Rock, is it? Because that guy fails every student assigned to him.”
And with that, my heart sank even further. Even Momma knew about the guy and how infamous he was. I felt like the biggest idiot in the world. Of course, considering how terrible I am at everything, I might just be the biggest idiot in the world.
That night sleep was extremely hard to come by, so I decided to study. It might have been my nerves, or it might have been that I could hear my parents talking downstairs.
“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” I heard Daddy say. “She’s a smart girl.”
“I just don’t trust the way that school does things,” said Momma. “I mean, a Grand Wizard? Her? You’ve seen her report card, come on! Something’s up, I can tell.”
I tried ignoring the rest, so I started writing down as many notes as I could from my book. That tired me out so much that I ended up falling asleep at midnight with my nose in my book.
The next day was no better for me. All morning long I studied my books over and over again. I barely touched my breakfast; Daddy yanked my books away so I could focus on eating. I ate a few bites of the pancake he made me, and then left. I went to the library at 10 AM and watched the other students get picked up by their masters. 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 my 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 up. 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 lifted 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. As I let the ball of light go, I began to guide it through the air with my finger, letting the ball 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 harmless falling 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 nervous and upset 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. Nobody knows exactly what they are, though, just what they do. Anyway, the book talked about how, when one connects with Wisp, they automatically learn how to do 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 and control them. 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 I’d never heard before, which 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: with his black hair, his firm physique, wearing a black vest with a gold trim, a white shirt, black pants, and glasses. He was seemingly no older than twenty five. He looked at me and shivers ran down my spine. “Man, this book is garbage.”
The man got up, walked up to me, and shook my hand. “Grand Wizard Reed of the Lonely Rock, at your service. Now come on, Alandra, you’re being examined.”
“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. Simple logic, really,” he said to me. He grabbed my book and placed it in his bag while motioning me to follow him. “Now let’s go, we’ve a test for you to finish.”
After an hour of walking, we arrived at Crescent Lake, a beautiful lake just outside of town that sparkled during the afternoon. On the north shore of the lake was a meadow, where flowers were in bloom, with some trees offering shade. The south shore was the edge of town, with a warf where old people would go fishing, and children would swim. Reed 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 summoned my report card out of thin air. He took one look at my grades and his eyes nearly fell out of their sockets, his mouth hanging in shock. I trembled; what did he think of me now? He cleared his throat and placed my report card in his pocket.
“Sorry, 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. His words would have made me angry had he not been right. “You barely graduated, didn’t you? 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.
“That really doesn’t sound like her,” said Reed, a judgemental look on his face. “And you are quite snippy.”
“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 an exam 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.”
“Why not just flunk me already?” I asked, more bitterly than I intended again.
“Perhaps you’re deaf, but I’ll not repeat myself,” he said, annoyed. “You’re being examined here. Anything less than your one hundred percent will be an insult to me, and I’ll make sure Hilda won’t take you back as a student, EVER. So either give me your everything, or give up on magic forever. What will it be?”
It would have been so easy to just give up right then and there. To not have to deal with this anymore, to never again have to deal with the humiliation I suffered at the hands of my teachers and the bullies at school. I could be a pharmacist, like my Daddy. That’d be easy for me.
But I don’t want easy. I worked my butt off for today. “I’d rather fail and try again, than to give up.”
“Good. Now, here’s your exam,” he said. 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 Reed raised his hands the water rose to the air, floating in two perfect spheres, leaving the lake bed dry. Some of the fishermen at the wharf stared in awe, while the children who were swimming were climbing out of the dried lake bed. With a twirl of his fingers, the two water spheres became water ribbons that danced and twirled in the air, leaving a few water droplets to fall and become ice flakes. As he lowered his hands, the water gently fell back down to the lake bed, looking as it did not three minutes ago.
I was in a shock. Was THAT what he wanted me to do!? I’d fail for sure!
“Of course your exam isn’t to do something as theatrical as what I just 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. If you use anything else, like a staff, a rod, or a wand, you will fail this exam and you’ll return to school to repeat your last year, understand? If so, 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, but 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 was going nowhere with this; I needed 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 couldn’t use the wand, Reed said so. I took the 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 to study, 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.
“I see. 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 since 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 exam. It keeps you from casting any magic,” he said.
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 exam. I wanted to see what you’d do when faced with impossible pressure. I knew you’d never be able to make that water ball, come on! I didn’t care about that; I cared about what you’d do if you were faced with the chance to cheat to get ahead. I’d say nintey percent of all the students I’ve been given fail this little exam of mine, due to cheating. Did you see the wand in my bag?” He asked, smirking, as he took out the wand. “I’m sure you felt a surge of power from this wand, right?”
I nodded and he chuckled. He continued, “That was the idea. The wand increases your power, or at least makes you feel stronger, strong enough to at least make that water ball. 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 wand 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 wand on my hand, but I didn’t feel the rush of power I did last time.
“The drive to succeed often leads many wizards and witches to do certain things that they should never do. When our worth is measured 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 do certain things they knew they shouldn’t, and they always payed the price; some have lost their lives trying to cheat their way out of a failure. Each and every last student that came before you was unable to handle the idea that something was beyond their abilities, and when presented with a shortcut, they took it regardless of the consequences. That’s why they all failed,” 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 ordered Hilda to not take him back. Of course she gave him another chance, but I spooked him so badly that he voluntarily gave up on magic for good. I don’t ask for much, but if you ever give me less than your best, that’s disrespectful to me,” he said. “Oh, and it was only three minutes because that’s how I long I took to yell at him. Anyway, never mind that; here’s how you control water. Adjust your soul to be like water, becoming one with it. 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; just relax.”
I did as he told me. I closed my eyes, and imagined myself as water. Maybe if I do this, I can pass Reed’s exam. If I pass, I’ll prove to Headmistress Hilda that it was right for me to graduate, that I can learn, and become a fully fledged witch. But what if she’s right? Maybe I was not ready for this, maybe I should have quit. I mean, Reed would understand, right? I gave it my all...
Suddenly, I found myself in a black void, face to face with Undine herself. She was breathtakingly beautiful; her skin was aquamarine, her hair marine blue, flowing like water. She had a water dress, as in a dress made entirely of water that rippled and waved, and her eyes were the bluest ever. She looked at me, and smiled.
“What are you trying to do with yourself?” She asked me.
“I’m trying to make a water ball,” I said.
“Why?” She asked.
“So I can pass my exam,” I replied.
“What for?” She asked.
“So I can become Reed’s apprentice,” I replied.
“But why?” Undine asked.
“What do you mean ‘why?’” I asked. “All witches and wizards have to go through this!”
“Do you want to go through it?” She asked. “Do you really want to be an apprentice?”
“Every witch has to,” I said.
“But do you want to?” She asked, emphasizing the ‘want’ part.
“I don’t know,” I said to her.
“Oh? So you’re just going through the motions?” She asked. “Are you like a drop of water on a river, rushing blindly towards the ocean, never knowing where you came from or where you’re going?”
“No,” I said. “I know where I came from.”
“Where’s that?” She asked.
“School, I guess,” I replied. “I mean, I graduated yesterday.”
“Like the river born from a tiny creek,” she said to me. “You came from humble origins, correct? Tell me who you were.”
“The class failure,” I said. “I’ve never been good at school. Maybe I should quit...”
“Maybe,” she said, as she extended her left hand. Drops of water began to fall down from her hand, forming a tiny puddle beneath her feet. “I want to make an ocean, but all I can make is a puddle. Look, it’s too small. I can’t do this, so I quit.”
As she lowered her hand, the dripping stopped.
“But you could!” I yelled out. “You could have made that ocean! It just takes time!”
“Oh? But all I have is a puddle!” She said with a smile. She lifted her hand once again, and in seconds, the puddle grew three times bigger. And it kept growing and growing, until it was big enough to reach my knees. “But now I have an ocean!”
“Yeah!” I said. Suddenly, I felt like I understood what Undine was trying to tell me. “Becoming good at something takes time, right?”
“Indeed. It also takes commitment,” she said. “A tiny ripple today can become a great wave if it never stops moving and growing. A tiny creek can cut through stone and make a canyon, and a light drizzle can flood a valley, given enough time and perseverance.”
“I want to be like that,” I told her. “I want to be better than I am today. I want to grow.”
“Then grow,” she told me as she touched my forehead. I forgot everything about myself. For a moment, I wasn’t me anymore; I was like water. My hands felt like they were flowing, like I had dipped them in a river. I felt like my body was flowing endlessly, like a river that went on and on. And then, everything came to a stop, and I was myself again. 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 exam?”
“Of course. I already saw you had considerable skill this afternoon, when I watched you manipulate all that sunlight, but you passed my exam the moment I came back and found you hadn’t used the wand,” 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 exam 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 the 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.”