For Kat Tozer – see, that wasn’t so hard was it 😉
There was too much pressure…I tried, and nothing.
Jon couldn’t believe it. He blinked and looked around, hoping to see the telltale sparks, or the golden egg he had thought he was conjuring. He had practiced this spell for weeks before the Trial. Jon hung his head, hands still held out in the spellcasting position. He lowered them slowly, and clenched them into fists at his side.
The Masters mumbled among themselves and shuffled papers, peering over different colored glasses.
“Was that it?” the Master on the far left asked.
“Um…yeah,” Jon said. “No! I mean, no. I wasn’t trying to do that.”
“And what were you trying to do, exaclty?” another Master asked.
“Uh…well, I was trying to…” Jon trailed off. What was he supposed to tell them.
“Well, mister, uh…” the Head Master paused, looking down at the paper he held in his hand, searching for a name. “Mr. Ryan, thank you for coming for the Trial, we’ll consider your application to this highly esteemed establishment of higher learning, and get back to you as soon as we possibly can.”
“Thank you Head Master,” Jon said. “And Masters. I hope you’ll…”
“Yes, thank you Mister Roland, that will be all,” the Head Master waved another applicant forward. “Next!”
Jon shuffled away, noting with jealous eyes the confident swagger of the oncoming student. The next Trial wouldn’t come for another Blue Moon, which by the calculations of the Royal Mage’s calender wouldn’t come for another fifty-three years.
Jon wandered outside the cavernous Trial hall. He had been training and practicing for this test his whole life. He knew he wasn’t the best or most talented wielder of magic in the four realms, but he had never thought about the possibility of going blank at the crucial moment and failing. And he didn’t even fail with style or flair. There were stories of potential students who had given a Master a bright purple beard or burned down the testing hall.
Wondering what he was now going to do with his life, now that he had no money, and little potential, Jon stepped off the grand campus and into the boulevard. He looked left, then looked right. Neither direction appealed to him. So he looked up into the bright, cheery sky, hoping for an answer to what was left of his life.
“Pssst!” a voice hissed.
Jon looked around in surprise.
“Pssssssst!” the urgent summons came again.
It sounded like it was coming from the bushes lining the imposing white stone wall around the university.
Jon went over and knelt down, peering into the shadows beneath the leaves. The leaves scratched at his face as he moved further into the bush, until he found himself nose to nose with a thin, older man with a shining purple beard.
“Hello,” the old man winked. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” Jon answered. “What are you doing?”
“Are you now?” the man said, ignoring the question. “I heard you just bombed the Trail.”
“Well, that’s a harsh way of putting it…” Jon began, but the man held up a hand.
“How would you like another opportunity to further your studies?” he asked, grinning widely.
Jon noted his teeth were as purple as his beard.
“Um…thank you mister…?” Jon said.
“Master. Master Semdun,” the man said, sticking his hand out in an awkward gesture.
Jon shook the man’s hand. “Master Semdun, I’m afraid I don’t think…”
“Yes, I can tell that about you,” the Master said. “Fortunately, you’re just the type we’re looking for.”
“What?” Jon said, thoroughly bemused.
“Won’t you just come and see?” Master Semdun coaxed. “I promise, you’ll decide to stay if you just give it a chance.”
Jon thought about it. It wasn’t like he had another option. “Okay,” he shrugged.
Master Semdun grinned even wider, and yanked Jon further into the bushes. Jon expected to run into the wall, but it never came. They just went deeper and deeper into leafy darkness. Then the ground dropped out from underneath Jon. He was sliding down a tunnel, and was dropped neatly into a crate of hay.
Jon climbed out of the crate, spitting hay out of his mouth, and gaped at where he found himself. Under the University was a whole…was a whole…Jon couldn’t quite tell what it was. It looked like a city square. Twelve large archways led to alcoves, but as far as Jon could tell, that was it. The space was full of people, color and sound, with no discernible order or pattern.
Nearby, a young woman was blowing up balloons then popping them with a large knobbly wand; when they exploded, showers of golden bubbles rained down on her. Under the closest brick archway, an old man was carving horrible and comedic faces into pumpkins, then enchanting them to life. Another younger man looked like he was trying to teach a black cat tricks, without much luck. A girl was stirring a bubbling concoction in a black cauldron; when she tested her brew, her skin turned bright yellow, then purple and she giggled, admiring her hand. A boy was playing a pipe, making a girl’s golden hair grow by the foot, coiling around her feet. Another person was making different parts of his body disappear and then reappear.
“What is this place?” Jon asked.
“This is what I like to call the Underground Talent Chamber,” Master Semdun said proudly.
Jon stared at him, blinking.
“This is where everyone who doesn’t pass the Masters’ Trial come to continue their education,” Semdun said.
“So this is where the rejects go?” Jon said.
“We don’t condone negativity here,” Master Semdun said with a reproving frown. “This is a place to learn, to grow, and to discover who you could be.”
Jon looked around again. Now the one girl was a bright green color, and the other had hair wrapped around her body all the way to her neck. The man with the pumpkins was pulling faces at one pumpkin, which was mimicking him.
“This is a nut house,” Jon said.
“We might be a little unusual,” Master conceded. “But most people who advance the world are not normal.”
“And you want me here…why?” Jon asked.
“Because you might be the one to discover the elixir of life, or invent the never-ending ball of unbreakable string!” Master Semdun exclaimed.
Jon leaned back to avoid being hit by the enthusiastic waving of the Master’s arms. “And why would anybody want a never-ending ball of unbreakable string?”
“You’re missing the point,” Master Semdun said. “You can do great things. We believe in you.”
“Great things? Like what?” Jon said, rubbing his chin.
“Anything you want,” Master Semdun said. “What do you say?”
Jon thought about it for half a second. “Where do I sign in?”