Brave New World

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Sorcerer Olympics (or is it a Triathlon?)

August 21, 2007

For Reyna, the past six months were border line annoying. Although she loved all the new spells, hexes, and enchantments she’d learned in preparation for the ‘Apprentice Olympics’. Her notebooks had filled so quickly, she had to buy several five subject notebooks just be sure she’d have enough paper for her notes. However, as much as she loved, loved, loved learning all the new information, she hated how much time it was taking out of her social life. She hadn’t seen either of her Wolf boys since the training began, Marcus could barely find five minutes to talk with her on the phone, even her visits with Sybil were cut short. So when August 21 rolled around, Reyna breathed out a sigh of relief knowing her life would go back to its regularly programmed schedule.

From what she understood, the event would take up the entire day—from dawn ‘til dusk—they’d all meet up, head to Central Park and begin. That was everything Dunstan had told her, at least. Sighing as her alarm went off at 5:30 A.M., a terrible time, if Reyna was being honest. Walking over to her dresser, she chose a pair of comfortable work out shorts and a blue tank top to wear. Reyna pulled her long, dark hair up into a pony tail and then moseyed into the bathroom to brush her teeth and splash some water on her face. Once downstairs, she grunted at Dunstan who sat at the kitchen table before grabbing a bagel and placing it in the toaster.

“Ready for today?” Dunstan asked over his coffee mug. Reyna grunted at him again, her back turned as she searched the fridge for the orange juice. “Reyna, dear,” he stressed, “I asked, are you ready for today? I expect more than a grunt from you.”

Leaning her head back, grimacing when she felt her neck crack, she sighed, “Yes, I’m ready.” The toaster popped and Reyna turned her attention to the warmed bread and began to cover it with cream cheese. “Is this really going to be like the Olympics?” She asked, pausing to take a bite of the bagel. “Cause, like, it doesn’t sound like it from what you’ve told me.”

“Not really, no. Lokesh was just trying to relate to you children. I suppose it could be better likened to a triathlon, but you’ll see soon enough.” He told her blandly, his eyes not drifting away from the article in the newspaper that seemed to have caught his attention. They ate the rest of their breakfast in silence. Dunstan finished off his coffee and shook out the creases in his newspaper before folding it neatly and placing it on the table. “Well then,” he said with a clear of his throat, “Let’s get going.”

Grabbing her backpack on the way out, Reyna walked out the brownstone behind her Dunstan with a large yawn. Arms above her head, she gave her body one last stretch before continuing towards the subway station that would take them to the city. Looking up into the meticulously spaced trees, Reyna didn’t have to search long before she heard a familiar caw from above.

Poe swooped down from whichever branch he’d been on and landed on Reyna’s shoulder with not a feather out of place. “Hello Poe!” Reyna grinned. Poe cawed out again then shimmied his body down on his legs so he’d be more comfortable. Dunstan caught sight of the bird and shook his head but said nothing, knowing it was a lost cause. Even though the crow Poe grown now and could find his own food, he still lingered around the brown stone and visited Reyna at every opportunity.

Less than half an hour later, they walked towards the designated meeting spot in the park. It was a secluded picnic area, with lots of room to move around, plenty of trees for privacy, a few picnic tables to sit on, and a gazebo for shelter in case it rained. Dunstan and Reyna were the first pair to arrive, though not the first people in the clearing. An elderly man with long white hair and a matching beard sat at one of the picnic tables. His clothing reminded Reyna of someone who lived out in a log cabin with a red, plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up and khaki colored pants. His hands laid on top of the tables, folded neatly together as if he was patiently waiting for someone.

“Who’s he?” She asked, because surely it wasn’t coincidence that this man was here.

“Reyna, meet your judge,” Dunstan said when they were closer, “Merlin.”

Shooting Dunstan a suspicious look, she quickly looked into the old man’s eyes. They were crystal blue, almost like the sky just as before dawn broke. His gaze looked open and honest, kindly even, but beyond that he looked terribly sad and Reyna swore she could feel the exhaustion radiating from his body.

“Merlin?” She said slowly, “Like, Merlin-Merlin? From King Arthur’s time?” The old man’s gaze looked away when she said the legendary King’s name, something that didn’t escape Reyna’s notice. “No offence,” she redirected, straying from the King Arthur route, “but shouldn’t you be, like, dead or something?”

With a small smile, Merlin responded “Or something.” Surprisingly, his voice didn’t sound hundreds of years old. No, he sounded as strong and as youthful as Dunstan.

“Merlin’s powerful.” Dunstan said, like that explained everything, “He was the one that started the Council of Three way back when. He’s also impartial, so he’ll be judging your performance. He’s done so with every apprentice since the very beginning.”

Reyna nodded, not taking her eyes off Merlin. Questions began to flood her mind, but something in his eyes made her bite her tongue. Reyna got the feeling he didn’t want to relive his past. Not now, at least. Maybe if she had the chance to get to know him better—maybe then he’d be more open to questions. Instead, Reyna sat across from Merlin, prompted Poe off her shoulder and onto the table and smiled, “This is Poe, and I’m Reyna!”

With a slightly larger smile, which seemed ten times warmer to Reyna now, he nodded his head, “It’s a pleasure to meet you both.”

Dunstan also sat and the three chatted idly until the rest of their party arrived. “Well then,” Merlin began after introductions—and many curbed questions—had been made. “Shall we begin the first test?” he asked, then bent over to scrounge about in his knap sack below the bench. Dunstan, Lokesh, and Donny stood off to the side, making themselves scarce. Jorge and Marcus stood behind Reyna, both their brows furrowed with confusion when Merlin sat back up with a stack of papers. “Come now, lads. I’m not getting any younger!” Merlin exclaimed, motioning for the teen boys to take a seat.

Once the they were seated, they were given packs of paper. “Wait,” Jorge said, looking between Merlin and Donny, “We’re actually taking a test? Like, for real? I thought we’d be doing, I dunno, magic and stuff.”

“All in good time, lad.” Merlin reprimanded softly. “But first is the written portion. There are fundamental questions you should all know, questions about different creatures, and spells. There’s also a bonus section if any of you feel up to it.” He said with a smile that reminded Reyna of a twelve year old who’d just got out trouble for something. “Now, go on, go on,” he ushered them with a wave of his hands. Picking up some pencils that had been placed in the center of the table, the three teenagers looked to one another, and with a shrug began their exam.

Reyna hummed and rubbed Poe’s head absent mindedly. If she was being perfectly honest, she loved exams. She had notebooks at home filled to the brim with information and rarely had chances to show off what she’d learned. So with a clear mind and swift hand Reyna sped through her exam, answering the questions with a proud smirk on her face.

Where did Elves come from? They descended from Nymphs—Melchiorn had told her all about their history. That’s why they were so in tune with nature.

Who polices the (human) magical community? That was a gimme, Reyna thought. The Council of Three made sure the human magical community behaved. If a Caster abuses their power, and is reported, the Sorcerers complete an investigation, and depending on the sentencing could lose the use of their magic for the rest of their lives due to a binding spell, which only the Council members are taught how to perform.

What’s the proper incantation to summon the dead? ‘Spiritus praeterierit peto ut auditores turum qui ea congerie mortuorum vigilabit.’ What are three of the best offerings to give to a raised spirit? A lock of your hair, lotus or marigold flower, and a lit candle. What are some consequences if you bring the wrong offering/don’t know who you’re summoning/misspeak? Zombies, Reyna wrote with a slight shiver. She’d never seen one, but from what Dunstan told her they were worse to get rid of than a termite infestation.

The test continued on with questions ranging from gimmes to real head scratchers. Reyna felt confident in all of her answers by the time she finished, thankfully. If anything, she probably over answered the questions. The final page of the exam caused Reyna to smile broadly. The bonus questions were very silly, and all about Merlin. Who founded the Council of Three? Who brought about the Age of Magical Enlightenment? Who wrote this exam? Reyna couldn’t help the snicker that escaped her once she finished the bonus page and every answer was simply Merlin.

Flipping her exam back to the first page, Reyna excitedly handed it over to Merlin. He nodded at her and gave her another small smile, then began to grade while waiting for the boys to finish. Jorge was the next, even though he seemed less sure of his exam than Reyna had. He gulped as he handed it off to Merlin and his hand trembled as well. A little while later Marcus deemed his exam acceptable and turned it in. The native Bulgarian speaker always read something at least three times before continuing on, just to be sure he correctly understood what the text was saying. Reyna remembered when, after one afternoon at the library, he’d told her that he always read a book twice to himself before reading aloud to his siblings—so he wouldn’t fumble along any of the words.

Merlin excused them for the time being until he was finished grading their exams. “How do you think you did?” Dunstan asked her. Reyna looked at the others and realized they were all being asked the same question.

Beaming up at him with pride she told him, “Pretty sure I aced it.” Dunstan hummed and nodded his head in satisfaction. “Hey, will there really be a winner at the end of today? Like, we’re getting points and stuff, right?”

“Yes, that’s right. Merlin will present tasks for you all to do and then grade you on a scale from one to ten. Afterwards he incorporates your exam grade for the final score.” Dunstan shrugged, “It’s really just to make sure you’re all on the right path. You know, advancing properly, but a few decades ago it somehow became a competition as well. Guess someone thought it’d be fun or some such nonsense.”

“Who won when you competed?” Reyna asked, smirking when Dunstan rolled his eyes and let out an annoyed sigh.

“Donny. Though it should have been me. He just won because of a technicality.”

“Hah. A technicality. Sure, D.”

Before Dunstan could reply to Reyna’s cheek, Merlin stood up from the bench. “Well then, all the exams are graded, and you lot will be able to look at them once the day is done. Are you all ready for the first round?” He waited for them to nod. “Good. We’ll be starting with the basics.”

He pulled a piece of chalk from his knap sack and drew a large circle on the top of the picnic table, then within the large circle, drew three interlocking squares, two crescent moons—with a smaller circle around the smaller moon—jotted down four symbols along the outer rim and finished with twelve more symbols in the triangles the squares made up. “So we’re not disturbed,” he said softly, almost a mumble to himself.

“All right, then, who’s first? Hmm? Any volunteers?” When Reyna, Jorge, and Marcus remained quiet, Dunstan hacked out a harsh cough and seared his eyes into the back of Reyna’s head. Sighing, Reyna stepped forward. “Oh, ladies first then! Good, good. All right then, lass. How about you control the four main elements for me?”

“Does it matter which order?” Reyna asked, sending Poe away with a jerk of her shoulders. Merlin shook his head no so with a calming breath she closed her eyes and felt the magic uncurl from deep inside her belly. Eyes flashing open, Reyna snapped the fingers of her right hand, sparks alighting from the friction. Snapping her fingers twice more, fire sparked from the heated digits. Sharply drawing her arm in front of her body, the stream of fire followed its source. Smiling proudly, Reyna wove her sparked finger through the air, dragging the fire as she went, and spelled her name out in front of her. The heated letters illuminated her face for a few seconds before fading away into smoke.

Looking up at Merlin for his approval to move on to the next element, Reyna decided to follow up with an element that she always found tricky. This way, she’d shown herself as capable in terms of elements, taking some pressure off herself, while getting her weakest element out of the way early on. Letting her still fire tingly hand fall to her side, Reyna twirled both her middle fingers around in circles, focusing on keeping the rest of her fingers still and the way the bone rolled around in its joint.

Humming under her breath, she began to sway her body in a similar manner to her fingers. Gently, she could feel the wind begin to pick up and caress her hair and face. Reyna knew she could stir the air up much more than this, but for her it seemed the element of air was almost all or nothing. She could create a pathetic breeze, or a torrential twister, never anything in between—much to Dunstan’s consternation. For today’s purposes, though, she thought the slight breeze would be more appreciated than a natural disaster.

Stopping her movement with a small wince, Reyna quickly changed tactics and outstretched both her arms towards Merlin with her hand clasping together, one on top of the other. Summoning water was never easy, especially when it was a sunny day like today. So instead of trying to create some light storm clouds, or pull water from the already dehydrated plants, Reyna decided to pull water from herself. Lucky for her, she’d brought an extra water bottle in her backpack to replenish what she was about to take. Sucking in a deep breath, Reyna pushed her magic deep into her veins in search of the water there. Stripping her skin and veins of some of their moisture, Reyna shifted her hands so they were now cupping a small pool of glittering water. She thought she heard a gasp from the peanut gallery, but didn’t take her eyes away from Merlin to see who it was. If she’d have to guess, she’d name Lokesh as her man.

Dropping the water from her hands, Reyna frowned at Merlin’s stony expression. Guess he wasn’t impressed. Shrugging her shoulders and cracking her neck, Reyna decided to take it up a notch. If Merlin wanted something bigger, she’d give it to him. Widening her stance, Reyna began to bounce on the balls of her feet, silently sending out shoots of magic into the earth to ensure it could handle what she was about to do. Once she was sure, Reyna kicked her leg up high, her knee hitting her right boob almost painfully, before slamming it back down onto the grassy floor with a thundering boom. She heard Donny’s deep voice let out a curse—and a disgruntled caw from wherever Poe was—as the earth shook with the intensity of a small earth quake.

Reyna could feel her mouth pulling back to one side in an almost cruel looking smirk as she took in the apparent shock on Merlin’s face. “Very good,” he coughed out after the tremors had stopped. “Very good. Umm, all right then.” He said, looking down at a notepad he’d been writing in. After scribbling down a few more notes, he asked, “Who is next?”

Walking over to Dunstan with a slight bounce in her step, she stopped to stand next to him with a hip cocked and arms crossed over her chest. “So,” she prodded, “How was that?”

Dunstan hummed as Marcus stepped up as the next candidate. “Not too bad, though you definitely lost points for the pathetic gust of wind you produced.” Marcus started off with the earth element, raising the earth below him several feet above them before slamming back down to the ground. Harsh and yet somehow graceful.

“It was that or a tornado,” she scoffed. “And why did Lokesh gasp when I summoned water?” Suddenly remaindering her thirst, she swiftly walking away from Dunstan to grab her water. Dunstan looked less than pleased with her sorry excuse of an attention span. “It was him, right?” She clarified after talking a healthy gulp.

“Yes, it was him,” Dunstan sighed, “He was just surprised you chose that way to summon water.” Just then Marcus attempted to summon rain clouds. His arms were stretched upwards towards the sky and he was spinning methodically. After almost five minutes of what seemed to be useless twirling, a thin, light gray rain cloud cumulated above him. It discharged what little water it had been carrying before it dissipated.

“Marcus is great at summoning storms and even he couldn’t scrounge up a half decent rain cloud,” Reyna argued, her hand flying up to tame the strands of hair that began to fly into her face from the perfect wind storm Marcus whipped up.

“I know,” Dunstan agreed, “It was the best thing you could’ve done, in my opinion. Lokesh is . . . squeamish, however. He doesn’t like magic that deals with the body. Well, unless it’s healing, and sometimes even then he has his reservations.” He added as an afterthought. Reyna hummed in response, wondering if that was the whole truth, or just part of it. According to Melchiorn, Dunstan was notorious for his half-truths. She’d have to keep an ear out for them.

After creating a sizeable fire ball in the palm of his hand—effective, but a little boring—Marcus finished the first portion of the competition. Jorge stepped in front of Merlin with a too stiff spine, and a slight shake in his hands. If Reyna were only looking at his face, though, she’d never be able tell he was nervous. His trademark smile adorned his face, bright and full of confidence. There was no tension around his mouth or his eyes, and his facial expression even made Reyna herself feel more relaxed.

He began with fire, just like Reyna had, and spun around quickly so the fire would follow and create a ring around him. With a corny southern accent, Jorge sang “Ring of fire,” beneath his breath before letting the fire sizzle out. Donny let out a booming laugh and even Merlin chuckled. After that Jorge’s spine relaxed and the tremor in his hands all but disappeared.

He created a sufficient gust of wind—enough to make Poe cry out in indignation—as well as shifted some of the earth underneath Merlin so that he was moved a foot to his right. He only faltered on water, when he tried to pull the element out of a tree. Unfortunately for him, the tree was very old and stubborn; not one to be pushed around, and so he only got a few drops from its bark. Jorge looked at his water dotted hands dejectedly for all of two seconds before licking his hands dry and claiming, “So worth it!”

After giving him a strange look, Merlin shook his head and closed his eyes for a second. Regaining some composure, he said, “Reyna, your turn again.” And on they went. The next portion of the first round consisted of summoning objects, anything so long as it came from outside the park. Reyna summoned her old stuffed rabbit, Thumper. Marcus summoned his copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Jorge summoned a sunflower from his parents shop all the way in California.

The final portion of the first round was to magically move items. Merlin set up a lovely little vase on top of the picnic table on one side. Reyna shoved the vase down to the other side, a bit violently, but efficiently. Marcus moved it back to its original side with the slow precision of a first time parallel parker. And Jorge moved the vase over a bit too far, pushing the poor vase off the table top and crashing onto the ground.

“Whoops,” he said with a sheepish grin, “Guess I need to get my breaks checked.” Merlin hummed at him, but didn’t seem to upset by the ornament’s destruction. Reyna wondered why he didn’t just fix it right then and there.

“Round two,” Merlin announced, “Was supposed to begin with changing the weather.” He then pursed his lips and looked up at the dry sky, squinting from the blazing sun. “Unfortunately, we’ve already seen how fruitless that endeavor is thank to the young Marcus, and, sadly, I fear that bringing rain upon us now might cause significant damages later on. So instead I want you all to conjure some aspect of a storm besides rain. How’s that sound?” He asked with a smack of his lips. When no one objected he called Reyna to stand before him again. “Whenever you’re ready, lass.”

Reyna twisted her mouth, thinking about which aspect of a storm to conjure up. Wind? Lightning? Thunder? Maybe something more exotic, like hail or sleet? If she did whip up some wind, it could possibly compensate for her earlier summoning of the element, but lightning would be so easy for her to control. Tipping her head back to look at the sky, she exhaled sharply from her nostrils. What to do, what to do . . . Reyna brought her head back down and tilted it to look at Dunstan. He had his usual stern frown on his face and he nodded to her assuredly. Well, she never was one to do anything halfway . . .

Facing Merlin once again, Reyna brought her arms close to her chest, felt her magic coil together in the pit of her stomach, and closed her eyes. Swaying right to left, her face scrunched up in concentration. Tucking her chin in to her chest, she whispered, “Engin dögun, ekki daginn. Ský blása út sólina í skugga hjarta mínu.

She could feel the cord that was her magic snap out of her body, reaching for something to cling on to. Reyna kept her eyes closed and her head down as she produced a mental image of the storm she was conjuring in her mind. When she could no longer feel the sun’s rays shining down on her, she knew her clouds had come in. Unlike Marcus, who had tried to summon rain clouds, Reyna called on clouds that would block the sun, and although they held water, they would not be giving up their supply any time soon.

“Skellur, þér ský, skellur, og æpa og öskra!” Reyna called loudly and with it came thunder that made her ears ring. Opening her eyes, Reyna’s face went blank as she extended her right arm outwards. Her fingers outstretched until her entire right limb was completely perpendicular to her body. Turning her magic inwards, Reyna felt deep into her bones and blood, down into the beats of her heart and signals being sent from her brain.

Quickening her heart beat, she inhaled a sharp breath as she felt her magic grab hold of one of the electrical currents her brain produced and redirected it to her fingers. The space between her digits crackled and sparked. Pushing more magic into the syphoned electricity, Reyna magnified the small crackles of light tenfold until it shimmered and shook with the ferocity of fifty thousand volts. Being very careful to keep a steady flow of magic surrounding the now bolt of lightning, she tilted her head back up towards the cloudy sky, feeling for remnants of her magic in the clouds. Connecting the faint traces in the sky with the deadly hot magic she held in her hand, Reyna released the beam of lightning. The volt shot up into the sky and crackled along the bottom of the clouds for a few seconds before lighting up the sky with several magnificent flickers, one happening after the other, each being followed with a shuddering snap of thunder.

With an ear splitting smile of her face, Reyna gazed up at her product with the glee of a small child on Christmas morning and the pride of an Olympic gold medalist. Holding the magic in for a little bit longer, so she could really appreciate her handiwork, she couldn’t be bothered to pay anyone around her any mind. Eventually, though, she let her magic dissolve from the clouds and the thunder, and soon her storm was only a mere memory.

Feeling her heart beat decrease to its normal rate, Reyna cheerfully turned heel and walked back over to Dunstan. With a giant smile still plastered on her face, she didn’t even bother to ask him what he because she knew that was bad ass. Marcus smirked over his shoulder at her on his way towards Merlin though, and gave her a small roll of his eyes, silently saying show off. She couldn’t care less, though. She felt buzzed. Like every cell in her body was on fire and she couldn’t wait for the next portion of the test. Reyna thought she saw Lokesh giving her a strange look out the corner of his eye, but didn’t dwell on that too much. Instead, she focused her attention back on Poe, who’d decided she was now safe to return to.

Marcus, chose to conjure up a cyclone right in the middle of the field. Reyna had to actually hang on to Poe to make sure he wasn’t accidently get caught in it. Not one to be out done, however, Marcus added a twist to his wind storm by imitating a scene from The Mummy and planted the image of his face into the swirling winds. He even added the deep-from-the-soul moan of a scream, which accented the howling of the winds very nicely in Reyna’s opinion.

Jorge took confident steps up to face Merlin, cleared his throat, and cracked his knuckles. “All right,” he said to himself before sitting down and curling into a small ball. Reyna tilted her head, not sure how he was going to summon a storm that way. He remained still for several minutes. Not moving, not whispering incantations, nothing. After the five minute mark, though, something below him glinted in the sunlight. Stroking Poe’s head, Reyna tried to get a better look without moving closer. It looked like ice, but that didn’t make sense. To create ice on a ground as sun kissed as this would require massive amounts of focus. Jorge wouldn’t be able to summon anything if he kept trying to force ice out of his butt.

Two minutes later a chilly wind blew through the audience, causing Reyna to pull Poe closer to her chest for warmth. Dark clouds soon returned to the clearing along with the cold wind and once the sky settled snow began to fall. Reyna opened her mouth in shock. Jorge had created snow! In the summer! Who does that? As the snow fell farther and farther, coming closer and closer to Reyna, she noticed a strange flicker to the flakes. Scrunching her brow, she focused a bit of her own magic into the sky and with an almost depressed sigh, realized the snow wasn’t real. It was just an illusion, same with the clouds, and—Reyna checked—yup, same with the ice beneath him.

Merlin hummed and wrote something down on his notes as Jorge stood back up and walked over to Donny. “What does that mean?” Reyna asked Dunstan quietly, “That it wasn’t, like, real and stuff?”

“He’ll get points off,” Dunstan said just as quiet. “The boy can probably create a perfectly good storm, too, he probably just didn’t want to be compared to you or Marcus, though, so he tried to create a snow storm. That wind was good, though, so he’ll at least get points for that.”

Reyna nodded and turned her attention back to Merlin. “How does lunch sound? I made a mean coleslaw!” Merlin sang and dug back into his knap sack, bringing out Tupperware filled with the stuff. Grabbing their own sacked lunches—though some were summoned hot from the surrounding vendor—they settled down for a good picnic styled lunch. Reyna even tried some of Merlin’s ‘slaw and thought it was really good. It had raisins in it, though, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

Idle chatter filled the table, similar to the meal back in Lokesh’s house six months ago. It seemed to be an unspoken rule not to ask Merlin any personal questions even though Reyna was dying to. How was he still alive? Why was he still alive? What was it like living with King Arthur? Questions upon questions built up in her mind. However, that train of thought soon derailed when she heard Marcus and Jorge talking about the classes they were taking at their schools and what extracurriculars they participated in. She knew Marcus went to an ordinary school, obviously, but didn’t stop to think if Jorge did too. The way they talked about it made it seem like so much fun! Or, well, not the teachers, but the lockers, friends, and all the knowledge they were gaining by being there did. Reyna felt herself growing green with envy.

“Will I be going to high school?” She asked Dunstan after feeding Poe some mixed nuts.

Dunstan almost snorted out his water. He turned to look at her with both eyebrows raised. Patting the dots of water from his beard, Dunstan coughed, “Now, why would you ask a question like that?”

“”Cause the boys go to school and it sounds like fun! Getting to make friends, learn new stuff, textbooks, and dances. I think I’d like that.”

“Hmm, well no, Reyna, you will not be going to high school. Just like you didn’t go to elementary or middle school.”

“But why not?” She whined. She could picture it now, carrying her books down the hall, buying her lunch in the cafeteria, laughing with her friends on the way to class. It’d be just like T.V!

“It’d be a waste of time.” Dunstan said curtly. “Time that would be better spent practicing magic. Trust me, you’re not missing out on anything. Schools barely teach children anything of use anymore anyway. It’s just a giant cash cow now, especially those colleges people are pressured into going to.”

Neither Dunstan nor Reyna noticed their arguments gained the attention of their peers. Some looked on with confusion, some with suspicion, but even if the two did notice the attention, it wouldn’t have curbed either of their tongues.

“Yeah, but it’s not like I’d really lose practice time.” She argued heatedly. “Both Marcus and Jorge juggle both, so why can’t I?”

“Why do you want to go to school, anyway?”

Sighing, she repeated, “To make friends and stuff!”

“You seem to make friends just fine,” he said dryly and with a roll of his eyes that made Reyna’s cheeks burn with indignation. He made it sound like having friends was a bad thing!

“Barely!” She scoffed, “And, like, they’re all boys! Sybil says I should try to make more female friends since the only ones I have are, like, Lilith and Sophie, and they don’t really count. Not to mention I want to go to a dance! It’d be so much fun to get all dressed up and go with some friends!”

“And how would you pay for these dances, hmm? I most certainly won’t be bank rolling that endeavor.”

Huffing with frustration and biting her tongue from pointing out that he barely bank rolls her at all, she countered, “I could get a job!”

“Which would take more time away from practicing your magic. So you see? It’s better left alone.”

“Why won’t you just let me have a life?” Reyna practically yelled.

Dunstan simply ignored her and took a large bite of his sandwich. Groaning, she slammed her elbow down on the table top and placed her face in her hand. She only had a few more minutes to sulk, however, before their little lunch break finished up and the next round began.

“All right then,” Merlin said with a satisfied smile on his face, “Now this portion you won’t be performed one at a time. Your Masters have each hidden something in the surrounding field. I’ll assign you a Master and you have to find the lost item by following their magical trace. First person to find their item gets the highest amount of points, and it descends from there onwards.”

Pausing to make sure they were on the same page, Merlin continued, “Reyna, you have to find Lokesh’s item. Marcus, you have to find Donny’s. And Jorge, you have to find Dunstan’s. Ready? Begin!”

With a startled jump, they set off, trying to track down their hidden items. Looking back at Lokesh—whose facial expression reminded Reyna of a cat—she tried to find any traces of his magic in the clearing. Jorge looked just as dazed and confused as she did, but Marcus took off like a bullet towards a specific cluster of trees. Distracted by his intense pursuit, Reyna and Jorge watched as Marcus confidently searched a hollowed hole in one of the trees and pulled his arm out with a silver lighter in his hand. Waving his arm back and forth, a huge smile on the boy’s face, he yelled, “Is this it?” When Donny nodded, Marcus let out an uncharacteristic, “Whoop!” before running back to return the lighter to its owner.

Glancing between one another, Reyna and Jorge soon got to work on their own items. They took a much longer time than Marcus. Reyna felt like a hunting dog, trying to track down a barely there scent. To her chagrin, Jorge was able to locate his hidden object—a wallet clip on the gazebo’s roof—just moments before Reyna could find the pendant necklace half buried in the ground by the water fountains. Returning the pendant to Lokesh, Reyna stuck her tongue out at Dunstan when she heard his sigh of disappointment. Though she really wanted to perform a much more vulgar action—one that would include a particular finger.

Pulling out three yellow tulips, Merlin told the apprentices the final portion of the second round would be healing. Cutting the head off of the first tulip, he waved for Reyna to step up and reattach the two pieces as best she could. Humming, Reyna almost wished she was practicing on a creature with a heart only because she’d never practiced on inanimate objects before. She didn’t know the makeup of tulips, and why should she? When would tulip healing ever actually come in handy? Nevertheless, she healed the flower to the best of her abilities, and although it looked a little floppy once she was finished, the point was it was attached again.

Marcus had a harder time with his flower. Once he finished and handed it back to Merlin, the bulb fell off again, petals falling right into his lap. Marcus’s jaw dropped open and his skin paled from mortification. Placing a hand over his still open mouth, he stalked back over to Lokesh and grimaced when he made eye contact with Reyna. Reyna could only shrug consolingly in response. She didn’t do so much better so at least he had that going for him.

Jorge, however, practically skipped up to his dying flower, placed one glowing finger to the cut and skipped back to Donny without looking over his handiwork. Not that he had to, really. He wasn’t confident for no reason. Jorge definitely had a gift for healing because that tulip looked better than before! Shaking her head with exasperation, Reyna tried to mentally tally up the points so far in her head. Shaking her head, she tried to focus on the final round.

“For the final round I want the three of you to astound me,” Merlin said with an almost wistful sigh. “Make some illusion that takes my breath away. Show me you can do more than—than just do magic. Show me that you can really create magic. You’ve got one shot, all right? So don’t waste it, hmm? You can do anything you want so long as it stays in this clearing.”

Jorge, Reyna, and Marcus glanced between one another, suddenly feeling the stress. This was no longer a friendly competition. Now they really had to step up their game. They had to prove themselves, not only just to themselves or their Masters, but to Merlin. The Merlin. Talk about pressure. Shaking her head, trying to shake away her now present anxiety, Reyna stepped up to the most famous man she’d ever heard of in her entire life.

Letting out a shaky breath, she looked up to the sky. It was still pretty cloudless even this late in the afternoon. Waving her arm above her head, she imagined a blanket of grey, puffy clouds covering the sky. Taking another shaky breath—inhaling this time—Reyna took her still extended hand and pooled magic into it. It coiled tightly into a bright purple ball. Wrapping both hands around it, Reyna almost winced at how hot the condensed magic was.

Bringing it up to her lips, she blew her breath into it, exhaling her thoughts directly into her magic. The ball’s color began to change from electric purple to an ocean blue, its shape morphed, thinning out and elongating into an ovular form. Pushing the still moving shape with her hands to the wider side face the sky, Reyna brought her left hand above it and dipped her finger in. Inside the oval, she could feel the cool sea breeze and the salty water. Listening to make sure the illusion had everything she wanted, Reyna placed both hands on the underside of the magical oval and pushed it skywards with her fingertips.

Twirling all the way to the clouds, the oval shinned a brilliant gold once it reached its destination before it seemingly evaporated. The wind suddenly change direction and Reyna could smell the salty sea air. Smiling proudly she looked up the sky and waited.

“Uh, is that all?” Donny asked, his eyes half lidded with boredom. Reyna simply nodded her head without taking her eyes off the clouds.

Besides a few coughs and a caw or two from Poe, the clearing was mostly silent. Until a loud, almost gurgling sounding squeal erupted from the sky. Those who weren’t already looking upwards, snapped the necks to see what was happening. For a second more, it was just the sound, then the clouds began to ripple and like a gasp of air, a humpback whale emerged from the sky, swimming down towards them. The illusionary whale swam down and circled around its audience, all the while singing its song.

Merlin stuck his hand out to touch it. His hand went completely through and came out wet, as if he stuck it inside a regular cloud. A small smile appeared on his lips as the whale began to ascend towards the clouds again. Everyone thought that was the end, but once again Reyna kept looking to the sky. Where there was just one whale seconds ago, now there were dozens. An entire pod of humpback whales swam in and out of the clouds, some coming lower to swim around them as the first one did, and some diving above and below the imaginary water’s surface in a playful state. Eventually, though, the illusion came to an end, but their song echoed through the area for minutes after their departure.

Smiling proudly, Reyna walked over to Dunstan, now relieved to have been the first. Reyna figured she did well, seeing as how she got a smile out of Merlin. Looking up at Dunstan, she saw that even he looked pleased with her performance.

Walking up with his head held high, Marcus took position and extended both arms out to the side of him. Head tucked into his chest, he drew in breath and then held it. Palms raised towards the sky, he began to lift his arms up above his head. As his did so, small grains of dirt all around them began to rise from the ground. Hand straight above his head now, Marcus clapped his hands together and released his breath at the same time. Each and every speck of dirt immediately flickered to life, making Reyna feel as if she were walking amongst the stars. Every grain sparkled and shimmered a beautiful silver shine. They continued to rotate clockwise around Marcus, as if he were the sun and they were held in his gravitational pull. After a few minutes of this beautiful delight, Marcus lowered his arms, and the lights flickered out and the pieces of dirt fell back to the earth.

Giving him her biggest smile and two thumbs up, Reyna silently congratulated him on a job well done. Jorge stood up next, and although Reyna would have assumed he’d be nervous or at least seem intimidated, he looked completely at ease. Completely confident in himself. Reyna envied him of that quality. Pulling a few flowers out from the ground, he brought them close to his mouth and whispered caressingly, “Brilhar, como o fogo.”

His pretty purple flowers took flame. It was a pretty blue flame that burned consistently, though apparently did no damage to the flowers. Smirking, Jorge curled his fingers around the blue flames, then pulled his hand away. The blue flames stuck to his skin as they had the flowers, licking away at his skin without doing any real damage.

Reyna thought it was a neat illusion. Very beautiful, really, but didn’t seem to overly impress anyone. Especially not Merlin. Sensing the mood of the peanut gallery, Jorge took his still kinda-not-really burning hand and waved it out towards the other plants in the area, “Brilhar, todos vocês!” He commanded, and the fire licking his fingers sprung away towards the rest of the flowers in the clearing. Now this was much more impressive. Holding the illusion for a bit longer, Jorge preened proudly when he ended the spell and Donny patted him on the back.

The sun was getting lower and lower, not quite in the setting position yet, but definitely showing that it was almost five in the evening. Merlin seemed to be reviewing his notes as everyone else milled about, waiting for their judgement. Eventually, he cleared his throat, calling the company’s attention.

“As in any competition, there were highs and lows all around, but, alas, there can only be one winner.” He coughed again, and Reyna was practically bouncing on her feet with nerves. “Now keep in mind it was a very tight race, so don’t take it too harshly if you’re not ‘first’.” He spat out the word while using air quotes, “Never understood why we started doing this in the first place,” he mumbled under his breath.

“Anyway, without further ado, third place goes to Jorge. Your basics were above average for someone as new to the game as you, but, unfortunately, you took a hit with that storm of yours. Healing did make up for a great deal of it, and perhaps had you been the first to find your object you would have been able to make a comeback. You should also review some of these test questions, I’m afraid you confused some fiction with fact. Nothing too serious, of course, but you’ll want to keep an eye out for any possible future mistakes. Well done, lad.” He congratulated, handing Jorge his exam back. With a cheeky grin, he took the paper and replied.

“Nowhere to go but up, right?” When Merlin nodded his smile took on a more sincere look.

“Now, for second place, and I’m sure your Masters are waiting with baited breath,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “Second place goes to Marcus. You missed very few questions in your exam, no more than three, I believe. Your basics are fine, of course, and your wind storm and tracing skills were exceptional. Do practice more healing, though, won’t you? It’s obvious you just need to practice more in that aspect and you’ll succeed easily. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that was what caused you to fall just short of your friend.” He explained with a gentle smile.

Nodding his he head gravely, Marcus accepted his exam and Reyna just knew he’d be up ‘til the wee hours of the morning practicing healing spells. Really bouncing up and down now, Reyna didn’t bother trying to hide her excitement. She won! She beat the boys! Puffing out her chest, she stepped forward to hear Merlin’s appraisal of her.

“You, Reyna, lass, got every answer correct on my exam. Dunstan was correct when he said you don’t need high school. At least for the educational aspect,” he joked. “Brush up on your tracing of magic, though. It’s easy to find a person if you have an object of theirs, but if you don’t, tracing their magic signature is the next easiest thing. Your storm was spectacular, and it easily made up for that. Your whales, I believe, where what sealed the deal. You’d been neck and neck with young Marcus, but those whales of yours were really very stupendous. Color me impressed, Reyna.”

Reyna’s cheeks began to hurt from how much she was smiling, but she didn’t care. She accepted her exam from Merlin gracefully before squealing with delight and jumping up and down. Marcus laughed at her excitement and pulled her in for a congratulatory hug which Jorge readily joined in.

“Dinner’s on Dunstan!” Reyna yelled out from her spot in the mosh hug. Dunstan groaned but even he couldn’t hide the proud smile on his face. Shaking his head with a deep chuckle, Dunstan agreed that the meal would be on him and that his apprentice just had to choose the place. “Anywhere so long as there’s pizza!” She exclaimed, now standing arm in arm with both Jorge and Marcus. Marcus on her right and Jorge on her left. The two boys voiced their agreements to the idea of pizza—though one was much louder than the other—and even Merlin found it agreeable.

Washing the magical circle off the picnic table top before they left, they made their way out of Central Park. Their faces shining bright with smiles and their throats deep with laughter as they reminisced the day’s events. If Reyna were ever asked to choose the best day of her life, she’d pick today—hands down!
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