Roots and Branches
It was still very hard for me to believe that I passed to the Apprentice level of magic, much less under one of the toughest wizards in the history of ever! I slept extremely well last night, better than I've slept in a good, long while! I woke up at the crack of dawn, as I usually do, which is good because I actually found myself looking forward to my lessons.
My room was located in the northern half of the attic; the southern half used to belong to my brother, Timaeus, before he left for the Army. These days, my brother's room belongs to Allouette, my mom's apprentice. Allouette was like a sister to me since the day we met, five years ago, when she began her apprenticeship with momma. She was always the coolest girl ever, to me at least.
As I walked down the stairs, the smell of bacon and pancakes hit my nose. I had immediately began to drool as I imagined the banquet that awaited us at the kitchen. I raced towards the table to find a plate of bacon, eggs, and pancakes all waiting for me.
“Mornin' Aly! Dig in, your pa made all this here food for us!” Said Allouette, flashing me her smile. I sat on my usual spot on the table; at momma's left, daddy's right, and across either my brother or Allouette, depending on who was joining us. I hungrily dug into my food. It was delicious.
“So, Aly, when can I meet this handsome Master of yours you keep gushing on about?” Asked Allouette with a grin. I nearly chocked on my food as my daddy let out an annoyed grunt and my momma let out an amused giggle.
“Excuse me? Alandra, you are too young to be noticing men like that!” Said daddy. My daddy was an pharmacist who made potions and medicines for the sick. He was often very busy, and would typically stay up late at night making medicines for sick people. His medicine always tasted yucky, but it often healed you completely in a day or two. “And for goodness sake, he's your teacher!”
“Now now, Beow, let's not lose our temper.” My momma teased. Momma was a witch; not an outstanding one, but well liked enough by the people in our town. She doesn't always pass the students who get assigned her, though; I only remember her having two other apprentices besides Allouette. “She's only ten years old! Getting a crush on the teacher is normal for that age!”
“Momma, I do not!” I protested. “I don't like boys! They're gross!”
“Oh, you'll change your mind soon enough, sweetie!” Momma said. “Once you blossom into a young lady!”
“Unless you end up preferring girls!” Teased Allouette. She and momma let out a big laugh at my expence. My cheeks grew red; in a huff, I got up and left. As I walked out the door, daddy followed me.
“Alandra...you're in the apprenticeship now.” He said. “And, well, that means that, in a few years, you'll have to move in with your Master.”
“That's still a long time from now, daddy.” I told him.
“Yeah, that's what I told myself about your graduation the day you entered Magic School when you were five.” He said. “I told myself and your mother those exact same words. But lo and behold, your graduation came and went, and it seemed like it came in the blink of an eye.”
He placed his arm around my shoulders, a sad look on his wrinkled face. “Seems like only yesterday you were just a little baby, unable to talk, being fed from a bottle I designed specifically for that purpose. And now look at you, ten years old already.”
“Daddy,” I protested, as I was feeling embarassed.
“Well, I'm sure you want to meet with your friends and exchange stories on how you all passed your tests and became apprentices,” he smiled at me. “Go on, get out of here, young lady.”
I rushed towards the town plaza. I lived in Domina, a large town just three days away from the grand capital of Figaro. Our town plaza is surrounded by various colorful buildings, all made of brick and stone with tiled roofs that slant slightly. To the north of the plaza is the Church of our Divine Mother, where those who practice the religion of the Divine Mother come to pray. My family doesn't, though; daddy says goddesses are make believe, and momma says the Divine Mother people tend to be big jerks to those who think differently than them.
I saw my friends over at the fountain. My heart sank, though, when I saw Priere Dumont with them. Priere was always a bully to me in school, always teasing me, pulling my hair, and tripping my feet. But, I couldn't let her push me around, not today. I ran towards my friends: Amanda Whiss, Fanny Lamant, and Pokkina.
“Oh! Oh, it's Aly! Aly, Aly, over here, Aly!” Yelled Pokkina as she waved at me, smiling brightly. Pokkina isn't a human like me and the others, she's a pokklekul, a race of small humanoids with pointy ears, neon hair, and round noses. They typically live underground. Pokkina herself has pink neon hair that reaches all the way to her hips, which isn't very long since she's only two feet tall. I waved back to her, and when I reached her, I lifted her up and gave her a big hug, as pokklekul are known to be very affectionate.
“Hey girls! Did you all pass your tests?” I asked them. My smile faded as soon as I saw the faces they made; they were all sad.
“I really tried,” said Fanny. “But my assigned Master made me mix some kind of weird potion that I had never heard of before. I messed up on one ingredient, and ended up making a poison instead.”
“I kind of lit my assigned Master on fire by accident,” said Amanda, a sheepish smile on her face. “She ordered me to control a ball of fire, and well, one thing led to another.”
“I completely failed!” Said Pokkina, a little too happily. “So it's OK, we're all together in failure!”
“I'm not,” Priere butted in. “I passed with flying colors. What about you, Whistle? Did you fail as spectacularly as your loser friends, or did you do something so incredibly stupid they're actually putting you back into the first year of Magic School, where you belong?”
I glared at Priere, savoring every moment before I dropped the bomb on her. “I passed.”
A deafening silence filled the air. My friends all stared at me, shocked; I was quite embarassed by it all. I didn't dare say anything, I thought I said more than enough. Honestly, I felt like I had crossed a line, like I should have kept quiet. Fanny and Amanda got up and left, disappointment and anger clearly present on their faces. Pokkina just looked at me, her usually bright smile so evidently absent from her face, and then she too left.
“Wow, Whistle. Just, wow,” said Priere, a smug look on her face. “You made your friends feel like total garbage with just two words. Bravo, girl, bra-vo.”
And I just stood there, utterly shocked. With just two words I made my friends feel like complete failures. Two words were all I needed to destroy friendships I have had since I was five years old. The four of us were besties, and we were gonna be besties forever! And all I could do was stand there and cry.
“Aw, geeze, stop crying!” Yelled Priere. “This is getting weird, Whistle! Cut it out!”
But I couldn't stop crying. All I could think about was my friends, the look on their faces, and how they all left without a goodbye. I sat at the edge of the plaza's fountain, just crying, and crying, and Priere just stood there, looking awkward.
“I've never seen you cry before,” she said, her face looking all red. “I don't-AHHH! A FROG!!!”
At that moment, a dragon frog hopped onto my lap. It was about half a foot long, blue skinned with an orange belly, a pair of whiskers atop its lips that were three inches long each, a small crest on its head, and tiny knobs on its back that looked like wings. Priere ran off, screaming; personally, I rather liked frogs, and this one was quite cute. I gave the frog a little pat on the head; dragon frogs are safe to pat, after all.
“Hi, little guy,” I said to it, as I kept stroked his back. “You lost?”
“No, I heard you were crying, and I came right over,” said the frog. That surprised me quite a bit, that he could talk. “Are you alright, young lady?”
“I'm fine, froggy,” I said, wiping my tears away. “But thanks. Are you someone's Familiar?”
A Familiar is a special animal that has bonded with a wizard or witch, and as such they share their natural Mana affinities with their Masters, while the bond allows them to speak and perform magic and other feats that are otherwise unnatural to them, like talking. Familiars also serve as guides, teachers, and very often, as friends. Momma has a cat Familiar named Minxy, but that cat's so lazy she only comes around twilight; she sleeps through the rest of the day.
“Yes I am, young lady. A very astute observation of yours,” said the frog. “But are you sure you're alright? It's OK if you'd rather not share your feelings with me, but please know that I am here if you need me.”
“Thanks, but isn't your Master worried about you?” I asked the frog.
“Excuse me, but I prefer to call him my 'wizard', rather than my Master. I am subservient to no one,” said the frog. “And by the way, my name is Surly. Yours?”
“I'm Alandra Whistle,” I said as I grabbed his little foot and shook it like it were a hand.
“Oh! My wizard's apprentice!” He said excitedly. “He has told me of you! He should be coming here shortly!”
“Well, I am pleased to meet you, Surly!” I said to him. He and I waited for Master to arrive. An entire hour passed; Surly and I spent the whole hour just talking about anything. He's really quite a chatterbox.
“So tell me, what do you like to eat for lunch?” He asked me.
“Oh, whatever daddy cooks, I guess,” I replied. “But I like his fruit salads the most!”
“Are you a vegetarian?” He asked.
“No, I don't think I am,” I said. “I like meat too, especially fish.”
“I see. I mostly like insects and small fish,” he replied. “Reed isn't a good cook; he mostly just conjures up some bread and some dried meats and eats them.”
“That's sad,” I said. “Wait, I know how to cook! When I move in with you guys, I'll cook us all good meals!”
“Oh, excellent!” Surly happily said. “It's too bad that's such a long way away. I'd love to taste one of your meals!”
“Wait, I know! We can go home right now!” I said. “I'll ask daddy to lend me the kitchen, he always likes it when I cook!”
“Then, let's go!” He said. Off we raced towards my house, entering through daddy's pharmacy so as not to disturb momma and Allouette's lesson time. I told daddy I wanted to cook for my new friend, he smiled and said “Kitchen's all yours.”
I opened the ice box and took out some sausages. Then I opened the vegetable drawer and took out some potatoes, carrots, some asparagus, egg plant, and so forth. I chopped off the vegetables and sausages and put them in a pot of boiling water, stirring it slowly as I added some herbs and spices.
“That does smell mouth watering, Alandra.” Said Surly.
“You can call me Aly, all my friends do!” I told him. That made me think of Amanda, Fanny, and Pokkina. I suddenly got sad as I remembered what happened earlier. I think Surly noticed.
“So, Aly, do you cook often?” He asked me. “Because this is smelling great.”
“Oh, I cook on the weekends.” I said to him. “I mostly do some simple dishes, you know, like soups. I hope to one day be able to cook things like roast beef, chicken a la king, stuff like that. I can also make pancakes from scratch!”
“I've never had pancakes!” He said. “I do hope to try some one day!”
“I'll make some for you!” I said to him. Surly and I kept on talking about food and cooking, about sweets and cakes and all manner of yummy things we both enjoyed. When the food was ready, I set him a bowl on the table. I'd never seen anyone eat that fast!
“That was great! Say, did you happen to make extra? I want to give some to Reed!” He said. I nodded and poured another bowl of soup. He stood on his hind legs, closed his eyes, and let out a large croak. In a flash of light, the bowl disappeared. “Don't worry, I'll bring it back, I just put it in my pocket dimension, where I store things for later.”
“I hope Master teaches me that, it looks useful.” I said.
“It takes mastery of Time magic to work, and Time magic is the second hardest in the world to master, right after Null magic,” he said. “You'll get there, with time. Uh, no pun intended.”
I giggled a little. I rather liked Surly, he was nice. I felt like I could trust him with anything. So I decided to ask him “What do you do when you make your friends mad?”
“Apologize.” He answered.
“But what if you never meant to make them mad?” I asked him.
“I'd still apologize,” he answered. “Sometimes we do things without meaning to. Why, did you anger your friends?”
“I did,” I said. “I told them something I shouldn't have, and now they're mad at me.”
“What did you tell them, if you don't mind me asking?” He asked as he looked at me in the eye.
“I told them I passed my test,” I replied, tears forming in my eyes. “Thing is, they didn't, and now they're mad at me.”
“I see,” he said. “Disregard what I said about apologizing. Let them apologize to you.”
“Huh?” I asked, confused.
“Sometimes, we do things that make our friends get mad at us, sure. But if that thing is a success that came from our hard work and personal sacrifice, then what they are experiencing is not anger, but envy,” He said. “Terrible thing to have, that envy. It's always, however, a personal failing, and one we must overcome at all times.”
“What do you do when your friends are envious of you?” I asked.
“Nothing. If your success causes them to feel envy towards you, they are the ones with the problem, not you,” he said.
“What if they abandon you?” I asked.
“In life, people come and go,” He replied. “Some people stay for as long as they can, and they help us become who we are. These people are like the roots of a tree, holding us to the ground, protecting and nurturing us. Other people are more like branches; there for a while, but eventually they fall off and never come back. When that happens, let them go; the people who truly care for you will make an effort to be there for you.”
“Aly, your Master is here,” said Daddy from his pharmacy.
“Please ask your dad to let him in,” said Surly. “Knowing Reed, he hasn't eaten yet.”
“OK. Let him in, daddy!” I yelled. The door to my daddy's pharmacy opened, and in walked Master.
“Alandra, I see you've met my Familiar. Are you ready for your lesson today?” He asked.
“Before you two start, Reed, have some lunch,” said Surly as he made the bowl reappear on the table.
“I've no time for that,” said Master.
“You misunderstand me. I'm not asking you, Reed,” Surly replied in a strong tone. “Eat while it's still hot. This soup was made with love by a very talented chef.”
“You're so stubborn. Alright, I'll eat,” said Master as he sat down and took a spoonful of soup. “Hey, this is pretty good.”
And I couldn't help but blush at that compliment. As I watched Master enjoy his soup, I head a knock from the back door. I excused myself, walked towards the back door, past my blushing mother and her apprentice, who were busy oggling my Master like a pair of school girls. As I gave them a passing glare, I opened the back door. It was Pokkina.
“I left to get you this!” She said as she handed me a lollipop. It was my favorite flavor, dragon cherry. “Congrats on passing your test, Aly!”
“Thanks,” I said to her, smiling. “And Amanda and Fanny?”
“Oh,” She frowned, looking sad. “They're...”
“Never mind. Would you care to come in?” I asked her.
“I can't, I'm gonna study hard so I can pass my next test, just like you did!” She said. “Bye bye!”
“Good luck,” I said to her as she left. I looked back at my Master, my new friend, and my family, and I couldn't help but smile. They're all great.