Paving the Way

Flash Fiction July, 20

You made magic look easy, did you know that?

I’m folded over the pile of gemstones, imbuing each one with different spells as you requested me to do; a list of all that needed doing, and the spells which corresponded. It could almost have been easy, but the magic takes a lot out of me. I’m still learning, you see, but you seem to have altogether too much faith in me.

It’s exhausting, and I feel guilty for pausing in between gems. Pale blue, I forget what this one is called, but you’ve asked me to put in place a tranquility spell. I don’t feel tranquil right now, and you seem to blithely ignore when I say I can’t do something because I don’t have the training.

Your own book is laid out before me, a reference guide and after I’ve finished weaving chains on each gem to wear as amulets, I page through it carefully. It looks nothing like my own book, which is full of scribbles and torn out pages. This book is a piece of art, carefully-rendered sketches with neat printing – immaculate print, really, every page and piece describing the spells you’ve worked.

Further back is the section of your own original spells, and I’m envious now. I’ve seen you cast, watched you practice with every motion economical, not gone to waste like my own sloppy movements. I’ve sat with you and observed you cast silently, lips moving as you remember the correct pronounciation but never needing to speak them. Your emotional control is superb; I have seen how you can take the worst of news and still never falter with your casting.

I’m a novice, and you are perhaps too brave to think I could work at your level or above. No, that’s not it. Brave isn’t the right word – maybe I should say biased. Sometimes I feel like I am running in circles, tiny circles that never allow me another world view and never give me time or space to breathe.

(Sometimes I feel hypnotic, five hours deep into casting, and then I feel I am moving through space and time)

There are exams and tests in place, on a rolling basis. If I fail this one today, I will go away and train another month, come back and sit the test in another month. This is one of several which will, if I meet the right criteria, will allow me to advance a few more months of study. It’s a good formula: the more tests you pass, and the more criteria you meet, the more study you are in for.

Some, they say, have studied here for well over two decades, slowly becoming the tutors who teach new generations to create magic. You’re not one such yet, but I think one day you will be.

My results are in. The addition of chains to make easily wearable amulets was something that lost points, but the spellwork was considered adequate. Overall, I’m moving up half a year. Time is stranger here, warped and bent so that academic years become a minimum of two months and a maximum of three “real-time” years. I might still be learning the same material in four months from now.

You react typically for you. There’s no surprise or anything to suggest you ever thought otherwise; this is what you expected, because this is what you seem to know I am capable of. For about two minutes, you are congratulatory before you are smug, full of I told you so and plans for the academic year that is four levels above my station.

Try this spell, you write in my task notepad. Studying it, I see it’s well above my level and even a few levels above your own. This is madness for you to encourage it; it’s almost dangerous. Few will successfully complete something they haven’t learned.

I tell you this, but you don’t seem to be listening. You’re the older one here, the mentor. Aren’t you supposed to be the voice of reason, telling me that it’s too dangerous for me to attempt and to never even read about it unless I’ve consulted you first? Instead, you tell me, full of enthusiasm, that I have the raw ability. I can learn it, study it and do all the bookwork for the next year, call it the independent project I need to be considering.

I’ll think about it, okay?

I leave, return to my shared apartment and trace the silencing spell around my bedroom door. Using pencil is good, it’ll wash or wear away and then the spell will falter; likewise, writing it inside my bedroom will blot out the noise from outside before it can enter. This is my sanctuary, and after a few minutes’ thought I repeat the symbols on my window and floor.

It’s tempting, so tempting and I cross to the bookshelf, find the dictionary for a definition. The spell is complicated in the extreme and I barely know what it does. Studying the spell doesn’t make it any clearer; I have to keep pausing to search up new words that I’ve never encountered before. It’s beyond me, but maybe I could do it –

No. I can’t. You’ve made it so easy for me to think I can do it, but I will no doubt fail, and in that case I will be at best an arrogant apprentice, at worst humiliated in front of the studious community. I tell you this, presenting you a dozen reasons and arguments. You accept none of them, but reluctantly take my confirmation that I won’t be trying it.

The deadline for the independent study passes; I can’t bring myself to regret it.

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