“Cara! Come on! Get down here and get ready to go to the guild! Jessica will be here any time now!”
I could hear my father yelling up the stairs. My room was sweltering hot, which is to be expected this time of the year when your room is built beside a forge. I feel miserable. I can not get over that the summer break from my last year of school was over and it was do or die now. The pressure is going to kill me. I finished basic schooling and coming from a family with magic potential, I was expected... no... I was required to join the local mage’s guild.
That is the crux of the problem; the initiation is never failed by young mages. Do not get me wrong, some young mages do die, and when they do it is supposedly a spectacle that can be seen as far as a day's ride away. This is true unless your bloodline is the exception. An exception where absolutely nothing happens... My family, while having magic potential, have never passed the entrance requirements of the initiation and are considered no better than the plebeian population.
“Cara! Hurry!” my father bellowed from downstairs.
I need to compose myself. No matter what happens! Life goes on... doesn’t it? At least if you have no pride and are ready to die from embarrassment... life still goes on... I can only hope...
I quickly glance into the mirror and was embarrassed to see my shoulder-length light blue hair being disgruntled with me. I quickly grabbed a pair of hairpins my father had made me maybe two winters ago and put them in my hair to try and tame it a bit. I put on and straightened out my best clothes. 'Well, they are the best I have that have the least amount of soot on them'. A very modest grey shirt and a long black skirt. I dotted on a bit of perfume, while futile, it would at least slightly cover the smell of the smithy. I could no longer smell it, though I knew the others did from all the hateful comments I've been privy to over the winters.
"Okay! It's just the next two days that I must endure... I can do this. YOU can do this!" I tell the reflection in the mirror.
With a final look at my reflection and not being absolutely dejected with myself after the pep talk, I head downstairs to grab something to eat.
As I would have guessed, my father was downstairs waiting in the kitchen. He is a very big and intimidating man with shoulders and arms that go on for days. He gives the best hugs and makes most other smiths look like lanky adolescents in front of him. He reaches out one of his huge calloused hands out towards me with breakfast. His nails are surrounded by black grit that he can never get rid of, and his forearm is a patchwork of more fur than hair with missing splotches everywhere from burns over the years from his profession. He hands me a slice of bread with some slices of fruit on it and smiles at me.
“Here you go, Cara. Eat up some breakfast before you head out with Jessica.” I return a smile to him as I accept the breakfast. Looking at my father, I have no idea how I can possibly turn out like him and fill his shoes. As I sit down at the little wooden table against the wall and nibbled at the bread and fruit.
“It's a big day today for you and Jessica...” my father started.
“Ya... it will be... I guess,” I respond in kind, not looking up at him in the eye as we settle back into a tense silence. I know that he went through this when he was my age. I know that he thinks he knows what is going through my mind, the despair that I feel... have felt... for so long. He cannot put to words his condolences for bringing me into this ordeal or bear this burden for me.
It has been a tense past couple of weeks between us with this day approaching. The reason dad became a smith was while being unable to use magic, he could at least still somehow pour some of his magic potential into his work. Strengthening it a little bit and enabling him to put more intricate detail into his craft and passion.
I finish eating and stand up before turning to my father, hesitating, and looking around a bit before turning to him. “I guess I’ll go next door and grab Jessica.” I steal a glance at my father as I start to head next door. I see him nod towards me, though his eyes betray a deep sadness and self-blame. I cannot help but think that he kind of looks a bit like a sad and lost bear. He'd hold up the world for me if he could... but he cannot shoulder for me what is to come.
“Bye father, I’m heading out!” I yell out as I exit the front of the smithy storefront.
'Damn it! I should have said "dad", I guess I'm in a depression spiral and am trying to add distance between us by doing that subconsciously.'
“Take care Cara!” my father booms from within the building behind me.
After exiting the house, I can see that the sun has only just come up. The sky is still a little pink and orange and I can smell the fresh air. My father’s smithy was not currently adding its normal scent to the air and it felt refreshingly cool as well. I take an immediate left and went into the apothecary beside our place. I open the door and the little bell chimes, announcing my entrance.
There are a few tinctures and powders to look at on the sides and a couple of seats before you run into the counter which separates the reception area from the storage, prep area, and the rest of their house. A tall woman with long black hair and a beautiful green dress appears through the curtained doorway behind the counter.
“Good morning Mrs. Perdu. Sorry to bother you so early in the morning, is Jessica ready?”
“Most certainly, she'll be down in a little. Here I thought you or your father may have burned yourselves again and were coming in for some more burn ointments.” She responds in kind, with a small smile appearing at the corners of her mouth.
“Ha! I’ve been scolding my dad about that, however, we do give you a lot of business, more than we should.”
She gave a slight chuckle at my quip and I can hear Jessica rushing down the stairs behind the back wall. She quickly pops through the door and in behind the counter to quickly lift part of it and dashes under the hinged section of the counter to join me. Jessica gives me a quick hug before turning to her mother.
“We’re off now! Bye, mom!” With that, she starts to drag me back outside with her. I turned and give a hasty goodbye which Mrs. Perdu returns happily with a smile.
We both start to walk down the cobbled road past the other shops and some houses that are starting to open up. We have yet to actually say anything to each other, which is unusual, though she and I have both been pretty tense lately.
I look around at the small houses and gardens as we continue our walk. The guild is on the far east side of town and I’m sure that Jessica is going to learn a lot and do well when she gets admitted... Oh! that clues me in as to why we have yet to say anything. I know that I am not going to pass the entrance ritual and will be turned away. Although Jessica is a very shy person and we only have each other as friends, this is probably why she has yet to say anything. She's also probably thinking that I am not going to make it and this means that she will be at the guild all alone.
Jessica is from a long line of plant magi. Plant magi have always been looked down upon by the other factions as being of little or no use except for helping medicinal herbs grow and they normally tended to be potion makers or apothecaries. The faction has always been looked down on because anyone with half a brain could just go and pick herbs in the forests or mix ingredients and many non-magi do this quite frequently.
As we continue our walk I decide to stroll sideways and bump into her hip, pushing her out of her own thoughts. Jessica looks over to me and I use this to just start a conversation.
“So... dad is being awkward again. It just seems weird, you know? We look so different. He’s so big and I’m small. Sometimes I wish... I wish, that because we are so different I'd be able to pass the entrance ritual into the mages guild. Then go and do requisitions for nobles, kings, and queens. Though I guess that’s only a dream. I know that my dad worries and that he’s secretly happy that I’ll be a full-time assistant for him.” I continued on, jabbing at my father. Jessica seemed surprised at first, though settled into a quiet smile as she listened to me ramble on.
“You know...” Jessica said during a lull of my monologue.
“I sometimes dream something similar. That I would not show an affinity to plants or herbs like my parents, but something thrilling like fire! That way I would be expected to take over the shop from my parents out of fear of me accidentally burning it down.” She took a bit of her shoulder-length black hair and placed it behind her ear while saying this, giving me a better look at her secretive pyromaniac smile that flitted across her face.
“You know, that'd be amazing! Not the future smoldering hallucinogen heap, but if you take over the apothecary and if I somehow manage to take over the smithy. At least you can help with the burns that I'd get.” I say, half-jokingly. We giggled a bit at that, while we finally passed the last few homes and were approaching the main gates of the mages guild.
Jessica and I stood just outside of the metal wrought gates and looked in at what looked like a palace. Perfectly manicured lawns, hedges, and flower beds went all the way up to the guild. We had gone past the guild many times while growing up in the town, though we had never been able to see the inside. I knew that most of the local boys in school had done some dares at night to try and sneak into the guild. They were always caught and sometimes the repeat offenders were usually unable to sit properly for several days.
A tall blond boy was guarding the front gates, he was maybe a few winters older than us. He had some freckles and a pronounced adam’s apple. Though he looked handsome in his blue robes. He caught us looking at him and with a quick glance he seemed to confirm something in his mind.
“Welcome young ladies to the guild, I daresay you are quite early compared to everyone else.” Please head-on into the guild. Once inside take the right corridor to a prep area. You’ll be told about the preparation class before the entrance ritual tomorrow.” With that, he waved us in and Jessica and I began a slow walk up to the guild taking in all the sights.
“You know Cara, I think it's amazing that they can tend to all of these gardens while only using magic.”
I can understand Jessica’s point of view, she’s from an apothecary and could probably appreciate the amount of work that was done here. I give her a slight nod of my head as the fear of what was to come tomorrow really started to set in as we are walking up to the guild.
The mages guild had some beautiful pillars up front and were so much larger than I would have ever thought from just looking at it from the gates. It was huge, with the stained glass windows depicting the different magic elements that were associated with the guild. They have a beautiful red one depicting a phoenix rising, a cool blue with a crescent moon reflected in water, a shaded figure of a man standing on top of a brown and golden mountain looking over a green landscape, a white tornado, and finally a set of green leaves wrapped around some potion bottles. You could tell that the wind and plants were not as ornately done as the phoenix, the moon on the water, or the mountain. It was kinda sad, the quality of the stained glass showed the stereotyping of the elements even before you set foot inside the guild. I think it must be a running joke or a form of humiliation, as I have never heard of magi with an affinity for air being able to conjure a tornado.
We are very early, which was our goal, we did not want to have everyone watch us join the main group of magi candidates. We climbed the stairs, taking in the sight of the pillars, the stained glass, and the opened ornate doors that were in front of us. Once inside, the wooden floors were fairly worn and it was a very large foyer with a high ceiling in the shape of a dome. The wood was pretty with its curves and designs everywhere. There were maybe 5 floors to the guild and each floor was probably fifteen feet high. The central foyer dome cutting through all of them all the way up. Lots of light came in through all the windows at the back and in the dome. I can also see that there are a lot of burnt-out torches everywhere, though they did not seem to be needed with the light that was coming in from everywhere.
There are a few older individuals, some in rugged gear, others in robes that were at the far end of the foyer. Jessica and I kept our eyes low and quickly took down the long corridor on the right. There were a couple of corridors off to the left, though they were all roped off and Jessica and I simply continued down the corridor to the very end where another set of large doors laid open, welcoming us inside. There were six rows of tables and benches and some bread was laid out in baskets on the tables. Two people were here already, two boys halfway down the first row. I recognized them from school though decided that Jessica and I would probably do best further away. We went back towards the last row and sat in the furthest section away from the doors.
Jessica grabbed one of the buns of bread and started to nibble at it as we waited, a couple of new arrivals, many that we could recognize from our school started to arrive and were talking gingerly with one another. Looking around, it was much the same woodwork up near the rafters, very ornate, as were the multiple windows letting in some light, though they were coupled with a bunch of lit torches.
“I wonder what the stage is for” Jessica pointed out, I had not realized because my head was in the rafters, though it was right beside us, there was a small stage-like area that was a little more than the height of my hip in front of the entire room. It had enough room for probably another table like the one we were sitting at, though there was nothing there except for the large set of windows high up letting some sunlight in.
“I don’t know, perhaps announcements or maybe they have plays or demonstrations...” I did not really know, though I was not that curious as now there were more and more people entering the room. Jessica and I sat there, chatting every so often about our recent misadventures around the shops. It was a needed distraction from the tightening knot of worry in my stomach that reminded me that I should not be getting used to this as I was only passing through, as that was the curse of my family’s bloodline.
I could feel myself growing sicker and sicker as time went on, there was now nearly a hundred people gathered in the hall and I could feel every now and again a set of eyes rest on me and some whispering starting. I kept trying to push it off as if it were just my imagination, though I grew more and more paranoid that I was being watched and judged. I had yet to even do the ritual and yet it was as though my fate was already sealed. Jessica sat beside me and just stared at her hands in her lap, glancing up every now and again looking to see what was going on. There were a lot of people, many I knew from school, others were probably from the other school in town or from further in the countryside.
I could feel my stomach churning at the dark thoughts that were plaguing me, of my eventual failing of the ritual, and what would happen to my life after that.
“SETTLE DOWN AND BE QUIET!”, a thundering voice rang out over all of the people in the hall.
My heart almost leaped out of my chest as I looked around for the voice. Looking around for the source, I saw that upon the stage was a somewhat older gentleman with short brown hair with a very prominent grey ring of hair just above his ears. He was wearing some very plain, long grey robes with brown trim and he sported the most pronounced scowl as he looked out over the room.
There was still a fair bit of chattering going on and he just scowled further and raised out his hand over the group. My eyes followed where his hand was pointing, and I was shocked to see a small tightly packed ball of fire hovering well above everyone in the middle of the room.
With a flash and a huge crack, pretty much everyone had jumped, screamed, or shrieked from the scare of the sudden sound, myself included. Most of the tables clattered a bit as the room jumped, there was a ringing silence, or rather it was dead silent in the room except for the ringing in my ears and the blinding black ring in the middle of my vision. I blinked it away and looked over at Jessica, who seemed to have watched the fireball explode as well and was blinking furiously with her face all scrunched up. My eyes followed everyone else’s and we were all looking up to the scowling old man on the stage.
“Err-Hum! Now that I have all of your attention, listen up, and listen carefully. You are all here to join our local mage’s guild and before you can officially start, you must prepare for the entrance rituals of summoning your first and only focus or familiar. Pay attention to your instructors today, as failure will result in death or a lifetime of humiliation...”
A quick flurry of whispering went across the room which quickly died down. I looked up and briefly, met Jessica’s eyes before she looked down and away. It stung, though I did not blame her, that was my family’s curse, having magical potential but failing to ever be able to harness it. I felt a little bit sicker than I already did as the magi continued.
“My name is Jeremiah Flow, you will address me as Mage Flow. I will have everyone go back out the way you came and the corridor that was roped off, you will now go down there and fill those rooms that are available. If a room is full just keep going down to the other rooms. Other mages from our guild will be there to go over the history of our guild and to go into the specifics of the summoning ritual for tomorrow. Now, off with the lot of you.”
With that people started to talk and rush out of the room. The energy and enthusiasm were abundant in the group. Why wouldn’t it be? Everyone was to become a mage here, which was essentially nobility across our country. Jessica appeared by my side; an expression of worry on her face. Blinking a few times I realize, that my eyes had gone a bit watery as I was starting to work myself up and getting more and more upset. She grabbed my arm and urged me to get up and go with her.
“Come on Cara, let's go to the class and get today over with, not much else that we can do besides that.” She said, worry and a forced smile on her face.
We were the last to follow everyone out and make our way back through that hallway, turning right down the corridor, as someone had roped off the continuation of the hallway towards the foyer. Looking down the hallway that we entered, we could see several rooms with their doors closed on either side and people popping out of a couple of rooms further down and moving down to the very end. The hallway was not like the rest. It was much darker, without any windows. Statues, paintings, and rugs on the walls between the doorways. Most of the rugs depicted a mage of some sort carving their name into history with some deed or misdeed that they accomplished or performed. I was too busy hanging my head and just putting one foot in front of another to really care. This was going to be just like school had been before we finished. I took a deep breath, it was not going to matter, it was only one more day and a quick ceremony tomorrow for me to worry about.
It seemed as if it took forever, though Jessica and I reached the end of the corridor before it was roped off again where it intersected another hallway. The mages guild certainly was huge. Jessica veered us towards the last door on the right and we went inside.
There was a middle-aged woman with beautiful curly dark brown hair standing up at the front of the room. She was exceedingly tall, though unlike most of the others that we had seen who wore robes, she had a more adventurous look about her. She wore some black leather pants and a beautiful low cut blue blouse that did not quite reach her pants, so you could see a little bit of skin of her midriff.
“Anyone else following you two there?” She asked, her voice was a bit breezy, though fairly pleasant.
Jessica answered the question by shaking her head no and we turned to the rest of the room. It was set up as long curved tables, focusing on the front where the woman was, they were tiered as steps so that the upper row could easily see over the lower one. Jessica and I ignored the other people that would look our way and went to go sit up near the top.
After we were seated, the woman had just finished walking back to the center of the room from closing the door. The light from the torches and chandelier in the middle of the room made it much more pleasant and warmer than the corridor here had been.
“Well dearies, as for introductions, my name is Cassandra Dercotte. I’ve been with the guild for just over ten winters and my affinity is to the wind arts. Now the guild master wanted me and some of my colleagues to bore you to death with the history of the guild, though when you get in, I’m sure you can pick up a book and read or just look at the majority of the paintings and tapestries to get a very solid idea of all the history you will ever need to know. So beyond the fact that you are all here to be new entrants to the guild. There are a few things you should know outright... Err... does anyone here know about the mage class structure?” She looked around expectantly and a voice on the far side of the room chimed in.
“Do you mean… about the affinity to a specific type of magic?” the voice of the boy responded.
“No, not quite, you’ll learn well enough about the affinities. Though I was more pointing to the classification that separates new entrants such as yourselves, from others with more experience. We utilize a grading system, based on “Lead”, “Bronze“, “Silver“, “Gold“ and “Platinum”. Lead is the lowest as you are essentially dead weight, and platinum is near the top. There is are monster classed names above platinum, though they are nonexistent in these neck of the woods. Oh! also, if you were wondering, our guild master is recognized as having the possibility of having exceeded gold and might be a platinum”.
“As of tomorrow, all of you will be recognized as dead weight, before you are taught sufficiently by your seniors about the basics, your affinity, and until you get some experience under your belts. The upper floors to the guild are restricted to the higher-ranked guild members. Sparring centers and training facilities are located on all the levels, as are guild requisitions. Any questions so far?”
The girl in front of me with blond locks and blue ribbons raised her hand. Mage Dercotte nodded her head towards the girl, giving her permission.
“Umm... Miss... err... mage Dercotte... what are the guild requisitions?” the girl stammered.
“Ah, okay, that’s right not all of you would understand, the requisitions are requests from the public, nobles, and kingdoms to the various guilds across the country to take care of some tasks or errands. The guild will handle payment and takes a ridiculous cut from what is required, though in return the guild will ensure that the task gets done. Thus, if a gold mage fails to complete his or her task, it would be up to the guild master to fix the issue to guarantee that it is done, as he's the only gold or platinum here.“
“This is why, mages are restricted to their respective floor and lower, as on each floor, there are requisitions that are deemed suitable to that class. Of course, you will find that many of the lowest rank requisitions do not pay the most and they can be mundane from hunting, finding, or helping with odd tasks. Though by showing you can complete tasks appropriate to your level and through tests, qualifications, duels, and tournaments, you can move up a rank and get access to the riskier and typically more rewarding jobs.“ A few people started to whisper at the prospect of more rewards, though mage Dercotte snapped her clapped a few times to regain their attention before continuing.
“However, during a time of war, all mage guilds are required, no matter what rank you are, to join the war on the front lines. Failing to do so would mean a bounty being placed on you and eventual death. Though there has not been a serious fight in the past thirty or so winters and we get along well with our only neighbor.” She took a deep breath and looked around the room.
“So in summation, stay off the floors that you have no business being on, work hard, study and learn from your peers and you’ll be non-dead weight material in a few winters. Oh! and dying on a mission is normally frowned upon, as it caused problems for your seniors, who’ll have to fix whatever mess you left behind for the guild’s name’s sake.” She gave a little smile at that quip of hers.
“Which leads us towards the entrance ritual. First rule, don’t be stupid and die during the ritual. Mind you, this next bit is the most important, as your lives will literally hang in the balance.” She let that last bit sit with everyone as people squirmed and hushed whispers went about the room real quick.
Now we were approaching the reason why my fate and my family’s curse were going to ruin the rest of my life. Perhaps, if I messed it up on purpose, then I could at least die a quick death, without the need for a lifetime of humiliation. Oh, hello dark thoughts my old friend.
“Now as some of you know, you will be needing to perform a summoning ritual for the entrance exam. What you will end up summoning will either be an artifact of power, such as a ring, necklace, weapon, or trinket, that would help you channel your power. However, it is rare, though some mages are capable of summoning familiars to act as more powerful companions and channels.” She paused there and let those words and the hushed muttering to settle down a bit.
“The ritual is fairly simple, you will enter a summoning circle that is engraved with runes. Here you will perform the ritual by announcing your name and birthright and what you believe your summoned thing should embody. This is the important portion, the words that are to form the summoning and binding of the summoned thing to you are crucial. Most mages will suffice with only one or two words, while rare, three characteristics are done, though this has a very high likelihood for a weak mage to be killed if trying to attempt 3 bindings or words.” She said this and gave the room a slow gaze from one end of the room to the other. I could hear a few people gulp as this was the first time they probably heard that they could die by uttering one too many words.
“Go home, ask your parents, and the rest of your family as to what words they used to form and bind their contracts. Think of how they reflect on yourself and your values. Try to be cocky and you’ll die. If you die then it is quite impossible for you to become a mage of the guild. Also, there will be nobody for your relatives to mourn. I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to take this seriously and with a healthy dose of humility.” Again another pause as she gave the room another sweep, ensuring that everyone was paying attention.
A boy in the front row raised his hand to ask a question and was motioned to go ahead by Miss Dercotte with a slight smile and nod of her head towards the boy.
“Mage Dercotte, what happens if an individual uses only a single binding characteristic and fails to summon anything at all? From my understanding, summoning something by only using one binding characteristic is a guaranteed success, what if someone still fails with that?” He asked, with a huge shit-eating grin plastered across his face as he looked over at me.
With his look, most of the class followed his gaze towards me. He was being the same as everyone had been in school previously. I could feel my face start to flush, the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, as I looked down into my lap, with my hands clenched and shaking, I was grinding my teeth, as it was all I could do to stop myself from screaming at him, or from crying... Jessica reached over and grabbed my trembling left hand and gave it a bit of a squeeze.
“Well, that has never happened since I’ve been here, though without a channeling artifact or familiar, and if one were not to die... I think you would be correct... as you stated even when only using a single binding word. It would be impossible to utilize one’s magic and thus they would be allowed entrance into the mages guild, nor be permitted from advertising their use magic...” She had a slight frown on her face, as she followed the gaze of everyone back to me.
A slow snicker and more and more pointed looks and whispers were directed my way. I was furious with whomever that boy was, probably someone from the other school. Though I could not help it, I was angry with my dad and with myself. I silently cursed my luck to be born in this bloodline and to have the misfortune of a curse that has always prevented my family’s bloodline from ever succeeding in becoming mages.
“Er-Hem!” mage Dercotte, deliberately cleared her throat to bring the attention of the room back towards herself.
“So I shall let you all out very early, be quiet when passing the other rooms and go home and talk with your family members on suitable binding words to use for your summoning rituals. It will be easy to execute, though formulation is the issue as this ritual can only be done once and you would be unable to attempt the ritual ever again after tomorrow. That will be all, see you all tomorrow at midday for the summoning ritual.” mage Dercotte said in closing as she motioned for everyone to start clearing the room with a reminder to be quiet.
Jessica and I waited up in our corner until the class was fairly empty and followed the last couple people out, leaving mage Dercotte in the room with a puzzled look on her face as she watched Jessica and I follow the remainder of the group back out into the corridor of the mage’s guild.
We left the guild and walked home in silence, just the two of us passing the odd couple of people where we could hear the whispers start once our backs were towards them. Everyone knew what was to be expected from someone from my bloodline, the cursed Foregess bloodline.
We continued home, gave each other a quick goodbye as we parted ways to go into our respective homes. I could hear my father hammering away through the walls in the forge area. I thought for a split second if I should ask my dad what binding he tried.
I decide against it as he would probably not be able to give me any more help than that nothing our family has ever done has ever been successful. I was doomed to be humiliated and to become a smith as my father... or die...
I went up the stairs two at a time and went back to my room. I was too sad to think anymore, I had gotten through today, I just got into bed, hugged my pillow, and tried to will myself asleep.
Even though it was only midday, I wanted nothing to do with anything. I laid in bed, I could do nothing but try to ignore the storm of emotions, worries, anxieties that I felt by trying to focus all my attention on the feeling of my tears crossing down my cheek, onto my nose, and into my pillow. I don’t know how long I did this for, but I slowly became exhausted from the inner storm that was brewing inside of me and I managed to fall asleep and let the rest of the day, the feelings and the pain just slip away.
I passed the rest of the day and night in a restless sleep, skipping dinner and keeping my father at arm's length. Oblivious to the magnitude the storm inside me was reaching.