“It is normal to be nervous before your trials.” Instructor Leopold said. “But always remember that you had a gift. A gift that will remain with you forever. It may develop and change. Though it shall always be yours, and yours alone.”
His words harkened back to when we first started learning about magic. All Brucans are expected to develop some sort of magic. In my case, I learned that I could move my toys without touching them. I was five when it first happened. My mother told me minor telekinesis was my sign.
My friend Margot’s sign was different. She discovered she could read minds. Although her success decreased when they were expecting her. Margot was going to be very successful. She developed her telepathy when she was three. She had always been on top of her mundane studies. When we finished those classes, she expected to be successful in her magical studies as well.
Margot was not perfect though. She had trouble processing the intricacies of magic specifically the negative aspects. Our marks were usually close. Although in classes about offensive magic, like pyromancy, I typically scored higher. It wouldn’t be much higher, but it was enough for us to get a laugh about.
The trials happen one month after the first student in that year turns thirteen. This year the oldest student turned thirteen on the fifth of Jolasth. The trials were beginning today on the fifth of Ghoranth. Our year was not very large. There were about thirty of us. For the first time, most of the students were not Brucans. There were nine Brucans, including myself. There were thirteen Keilians, two Phypsonians, and six Thassalians. Vantaurs progressively stopped coming to the academy. Some say it was because they were no longer having magic-prone children. Others say it was because they have grown too skeptical of magic. The instructors say that it was the distance. Vantaurs live in the tundra far to the north.
No matter the distribution of our class the goal is the same. As many of us as possible need to pass the trials. The trials are designed to reveal which of the twelve magics we will go on to learn. In Brucan culture, it somewhat determines our role in society. A visionary will never work in agriculture. A Luminary will never deal in espionage. Hydromancers do not do very well in construction.
The other races deal with magic differently. The Keilians never tell us what they do. The Academy is required to allow them into the school due to the treaty between Bruca and the Keilian Kingdom. The Phypsonians are odd; not only in appearance, but also persona. They use magic more like we Brucans do. Some even choose to stay here. The Lead Healer of the trials is a Phypsonian hydromancer. Prelate Auraan is one of the few hydromancers that can heal with water.
“Lady Aurelia is visiting from the Temple. She will be presiding over the first trial.” Leopold announced.
Lady Aurelia stepped out into the courtyard. She was wearing a rose-colored jacket over top of a white shirt. Her skirt matched the jacket. A white cowl covered her messy red hair as best it could with some wisps peeking out from under the hood. Like all Visionaries, Lady Aurelia had an opal necklace around her neck.
“Thank you, Leopold.” Aurelia said. Her voice was ethereal, another trait of the Visionaries. “As you all know I am one of the Visionaries. There are not many of us, so I hope these trials bring a new seer to our fold.”
Aurelia paused for a moment. “I have foreseen the success of this trial, but not the results. I cannot tell you what your path is, but I have seen how many of you pass. Do not fret. Time is an anomaly. Perhaps, you can work harder than foreseen. And maybe your success will be different than my visions foretold.”
“The first trial is a simple one. There is a room. It has no doors, nor windows, nor any holes in the ceiling. What am I going to ask you?” Aurelia inquired.
“You are clearly going to ask us how we would get out of the room.” A Keilian boy answered.
“Wrong. Next answer, please.” Aurelia dismissed.
The crowd murmured amongst itself. I had no idea. Normally when someone asks that riddle, it involves a convoluted way to get out of the room. Asking us what she is going to say next was irrelevant to the information. Although it was blatantly obvious what the goal of the question was. Any future Visionaries would know the answer. That seemed to be her thought process anyway.
The Keilians began discussing it amongst themselves. They were prone to doing that during class as well. Instructors regularly had to separate Keilians when deciding groups for projects. I asked Margot what she thought. She shooed me away. She was deep in thought and frustrated that she couldn’t figure something out.
“Well, there goes my hopes of a new Visionary. We will remain four for another year.” Aurelia sighed. “Now on to the real trial. Who among you will leave the room first?”
“I will.” The same Keilian boy said.
“And why is that? What is the difference between you and your classmates?” Lady Aurelia questioned.
“I have higher marks. I can better determine how to exit.” He responded.
“And yet you seem ignorant of the answer.” She shook her head.
“Lady Aurelia, assuming we are individually in the room, and we are trying to race our way out, I believe it will be me.” Margot spoke up.
“Interesting, and why?” Aurelia raised her brow.
“Because I have an extra set of hands…well paws.” Margot smirked.
In an instant, a shadowy familiar stood on her shoulder. It looked like the mixture of a squirrel and a rabbit. It was pitch black with luminescent purple eyes. She had told me she felt close to being able to summon. But I didn’t think she would be close enough to do it the first trial.
Aurelia smiled. Most of us expected the first trial to be over. The first trial was notoriously short. The remaining trials are longer. They were designed so that more and more students can discern their magic. Those that truly fail must repeat the year. But a Phypsonian girl raised her hand after Margot dismissed her familiar.
Phypsonians are very sensitive. She was waiting her turn patiently. Phypsonians are relatively rare at the Academy. Most of them only speak when spoken to. The girl stepped in front of everyone.
“It will be me.” She said promptly.
“I will ask the same thing, why will it be you?”
“Because I just did and no one else did.” The Phypsonian girl answered. “Sometimes the room is not a room but a situation. I stepped forward while everyone else remained comfortable. Not to mention, rooms don’t always need walls. A roof held up by three walls and one empty space could be a room. You said no doors, no windows, and no holes in the ceiling. You never said that there were walls.”
“Very well said. The first trial is over. Instructor Leopold will give you the second trial.” Lady Aurelia bowed.
Instructor Leopold led us to the atrium. The usual decorations were missing. The stairs were also missing, a rather impressive feat. The ledge that the stairs normally would connect to loomed above.
Leopold described the task. We were to get to the second floor. It was simple if the stairs were there. But more complex given the circumstances. The Keilians tried to convince the Phypsonians to form a ladder and have them all climb up. The Phypsonian who won in the first trial laughed at them. She leapt into the air and remained there. She whisked the air under her and propelled herself to the ledge. Her feet dangled there as she looked down at everyone.
Several others tried to replicate her magic. One Thassalian and one Brucan could do so. The Brucan was a boy who lived on Vineyard Street. I think both of his parents were hydromancers. They would be quite happy that their son developed a less common magic.
I tried to move enough of the stones out of the walls to make my own stairs. But my telekinesis was not strong enough. Telekinesis is such a lesser magic that it is unable to move anything far and is limited in size. But soon enough students were moving stones to create stairs.
Geomancy is one of the most common magics. Three Brucans, one Keilian, and one Thassalian worked together to create earthen stairs. Those of us who couldn’t practice geomancy climbed up after.
Trial two was over. Five Brucans, one Keilian, one Thassalian, and one Phypsonian had passed so far. They would all have to continue completing the remaining trials, but their success was already determined. Some of the Keilians were getting nervous. I wondered if their aptitude wasn’t as strong as they thought. Not everyone develops one of the twelve magics.
“Day one of the trials is complete.” Instructor Leopold announced. “Go rest. Tomorrow we begin again at eight in the morning.”
“Cole!” Margot caught up with me outside of the Academy.
“Hey, Margot, and what are you going to call it?” I pointed at her rabbit squirrel familiar.
“I haven’t decided yet, maybe Shara, Lulu, Abby, or Fia.” Margot shrugged. “She’s pretty cool though. I told you I was going to be able to do it.”
“Yeah, I just didn’t expect it to be so soon.” I replied.
“Your biggest flaw is doubt, you know that?” Margot hit me in the shoulder.
“I never doubted you could do it.” I said.
Margot scoffed. We descended to the Gardens of the Triumvirate. The gardens connected the bridge to Holden’s Ledge. She lived a few houses down from my home. Our friend Tolf met us on the bridge.
Tolf was a Canaquan. Canaquans are short seal-like people. Their tails remind me of otters though. Tolf was blonde furred back then. He was the size of Margot’s little brother, despite being our age. All Canaquans are natural hydromancers. Tolf hid behind one of the bushes to ambush us with a bolt of gentle water.
“Tolf!” Margot shouted. “You almost got Lulu wet.”
“Oh, my bad, congratulations!” Tolf smiled. “How did you do that?”
“I was getting this feeling I could summon for a while now. Professor Gloria said that was the start of how she learned to summon. I just had to sort of figure out what I was summoning and from where.” Margot explained. “I knew I could do it. There were just a few things that needed to click. They finally did at the first trial.”
“Awesome! And what magic did you get, Cole?” Tolf asked.
I shook my head. “I haven’t figured it out yet. There are two more trials left.”
“Oh, that’s ok. Hey, maybe you will get hydromancy. We can be hydromancer buddies. Oh! Or you could get pyromancy. We could be two cool opposite partners battling evil with fire and water.” Tolf was excited. “Or maybe…”
He didn’t realize we were already a few feet away, walking home. Tolf scurried after us. Margot wanted to show Lulu to her parents. I invited Tolf over to my house to play BaroBaro. BaroBaro was a game that had cards and little monster figurines. I lost my golem figure so we just used a rock instead. The golem was not very detailed, especially when compared to the intricacy of the sun dragon.
We played for a few hours before Tolf had to go home to help his parents with the boat. Tolf had some great wins using the hungry crocodile card and unlocking the swarm of salamanders. I liked using a consistent strategy. I tried to get the moon cleric figure out as early as possible. Then I used the heartstone lance card to try and get critical hits. It worked as long as I could keep the moon cleric alive. Because it could keep my soldiers alive long enough to land enough critical hits to win.
Tolf caught on after I won the first time. He found creative ways to eliminate the moon cleric. First, he lured the cleric into a pitfall trap. I still managed to win that one. Then he used the hungry crocodile card to get my cleric eaten. He won the last game by unlocking the swarm of salamanders to eat all my soldiers. The moon cleric can’t use the heartstone lance, so I lost that game.
At dinner, I told my parents that I had not discovered my magic yet. They were not worried. I had the whole second day to figure it out. My father was a geomancer. He worked with pyromancers to shape metal in the forges. The electromancers occasionally asked him to help with the automatons. My mother was a luminary. She worked as a nurse in Bruca City Hospital in the Lower Spires. I had a feeling my father was a little more disappointed than he led on. If I was a geomancer I probably would have figured it out today. He probably wanted another geomancer in the family.
When I woke up the next morning, my dad was already at work. My mom was just leaving. She left some toast for my breakfast. I grabbed it and ran out the door. Margot was waiting by the gardens. Tolf was not there to wish us of this time. He probably had to help his parents fish.
“Ready to find out what you can do?” Margot asked. She was munching on some granola.
“I hope so.” I answered.
“You’ll be fine, you are a Brucan. It’s in our blood.” She said.
“Yeah, I certainly would be more worried if I was a Keilian” I laughed.
Margot rolled her eyes. The white spiraling staircase went around the gardens. It led up to the Font of Nuvelle. The floor of the font was a grate of sorts, but more elegant than down in the Nox Street smelters. Instead of black rectangular grating, it had a white floral pattern. It made wondrous shadows on the garden paths during the day. It was designed that way so light still reached the gardens below. The font had three bridges connecting it as well. One led to The Academy, the other two led to the Upper Spires, and the Sanctum of the Triumvirate.
The Academy doors were open. Everyone was gathering in the courtyard again. No one could get any further. A wall of automata was blocking the way. There was one automaton for each of us.
Instructor Leopold and Prelate Auraan walked out of the atrium. Prelate Auraan stood tall above everyone else. He was very close to hitting his head on the arch of the doors. When he became a permanent addition to the academy, academy geomancers had to change the size of the entire building. Full-grown Phypsonians can be up to eight feet tall. They all have gray pupil-less eyes. If we had not met him before, then he would be an intimidating sight.
“Good morning, students” Auraan said. “And welcome to the third and penultimate trial. I, Auraan will be assisting in the direction of this trial. You probably have noticed there is an automaton blocking your path. The task is to get to the door to the atrium. I will be ready to assist you should your health be at risk. The automata will not hold back. You may begin whenever you wish.”
The three aeromancers from yesterday opted to fly over their respective automata. The Phypsonian girl almost made it to the door before the automata leapt up and smacked her to the ground. She was not ready to fight the machine. The Brucan aeromancer was similarly knocked down. They nursed their bruises and discussed what they could do differently. Margot was struggling. Her familiar couldn’t defend her. She was not a fighter. The geomancers were the only successful students. They worked together. One would keep an automaton stuck in the earth, while others moved it towards their automata. Soon five automata were stuck together and the five geomancers were sitting at the door to the academy.
I tried a few techniques to see if I could get a magic flowing. I tried focusing my emotions and creating fire. That didn’t work. I tried imagining my soul as part of a large river and manipulating water. That failed miserably. They taught many examples of how others learned their magic, but the methods didn’t work for me. There was still one more trial, if I could just get past this one, I wouldn’t have to figure my magic out just yet.
My father had said the early automata had off switches in the back of their neck. I doubted that the Academy would have expensive new automata to potentially destroy. I always enjoyed running. Maybe if I was fast enough I could get behind the automaton, flip the off switch and walk by. It would not be the most conventional approach, but it would get me further along in the trials.
I ducked under the arm of the automaton. It swung and hit my back. I had been hit before, but a metal hand hurts a lot more than a human one. The automaton tried turning to face me. I already had a position advantage and could keep effectively running around in circles to stay behind it. I did need to work quickly, though, because unlike the automaton, I would eventually get tired.
I checked its upper back. The switch was not there. It had to be on its neck. The automata were roughly human shaped. The automaton learned that I was just trying to stay behind it. It tried clawing over its back, but like us humans, it had trouble. You can’t easily reach the bottom of your back with your hand sometimes. I reached for the switch, which was square in the middle of its neck. If it was a living person, then the switch would have been at the larger bone in the neck. The automaton reached over its shoulder and scratched my arm. It bled a little, but things would probably have gone a lot worse if I didn’t flip the switch. As soon as I hit it the automaton fell in a slump. I walked past it, clutching my injured arm.
Prelate Auraan frowned and came over to help me. I thought he might be upset that I got hurt. Then I remembered this was his trial. He was upset because I got past it without using magic. He conjured a large glob of water then gently lifted it onto my arm. Auraan whispered something and the glob shaped itself into a bandage. He patted me on the shoulder and turned to another student.
Students were unleashing their pyromancy. Two Brucans and Two Keilians were deemed pyromancers after melting the arms off their automata opponents. One of the Keilians went overboard and melted the entire thing. He was the one that needed Auraan’s attention. He overdid it and burned much of his arms. The two Brucans were twin sisters. They high-fived each other as they sat down next to the geomancers.
Margot was apparently the only one who watched me. She was crinkling her nose. I could tell she was deep in thought. Suddenly Lulu appeared. Margot turned to the rabbit-squirrel and whispered an order. Margot carefully approached her automaton. She stood proudly, but not overly aggressively. She attempted to walk around the automaton. She was not looking hostile. The automaton simply moved to block her path. Margot repeated this several times before the automaton collapsed.
Lulu darted from behind the automaton. She leapt onto Margot’s shoulder from the helmet of the automaton. Lulu remained on her perch as Margot walked elegantly to the door. Auraan looked at her quizzically before smiling. She had at least used magic to accomplish what I had done without. What Margot did was not unique, but it was much more effective that my plan.
Eleven of us had passed the third trial. Nineteen of the students still needed to make it over. The aeromancers finally figured out a plan. They flew up into the air and held themselves there. When the automata went to fight them, they knocked them down instead. The Phypsonian girl succeeded with that plan. It took the Brucan boy a few tries, but he eventually reached the door. The Thassalian aeromancer was more extravagant. When the automaton tried to pull him down, he grabbed it instead. He showed immense control as he used wind to help him lift the automaton and throw it over the courtyard walls. It landed in a pile outside of the academy grounds. Seventeen students were left, and ten of them were Keilians.
The other Phypsonian, a boy, was flustered. He did not want to be the only Phypsonian to fail, I think. Being a Phypsonian he was as large as the automaton, despite being a kid. He pummeled the thing, getting beat up in the process. He had multiple bruises. His shoulder had a deep gash in it. He limped to the door.
Prelate Auraan walked over to the Phypsonian boy. He smirked at the healer’s approach. His hands began to glow. He waved them across his wounds, and they slowly began to mend. Prelate Auraan nodded and moved on.
Out of the sixteen remaining students, ten of them passed the third trial. The remaining Brucan helped two Thassalians short circuit their three automata. The Brucan, a boy named Aric, shocked each of the automata after the Thassalians soaked them with water. I remembered Aric because he was on my team for the last project before the trials. One Thassalian girl cried. She was the youngest in our class. She couldn’t think of a magic that she hadn’t tried. Then she disappeared. She reappeared on the other side of her automaton, directly in the shadow of the courtyard’s clock.
Instructor Leopold smiled. Noctimancy was relatively rare. To see one of his youngest students cast invisibility, a Noctimantic art, filled him with pride. She was still nervous when she reached the door. But when Instructor Leopold clapped for her, she was beaming.
Four of the other Keilians who passed had pulled a similar stunt as I did. They crippled the automata by striking their legs and arms. The automata couldn’t restrain them with disabled limbs. The last Keilian who passed froze his automaton. It thawed when he passed it, he wasn’t maintaining the cryomancy. It tried to grab his leg, but he kicked it and got away.
The last student to pass the third trial was a Thassalian boy. He hadn’t determined his magic yet. He cleverly used the base magic that he entered the academy with. He led his automaton to where the geomancers had rooted their automata. He then used a series of telekinetic bursts to push each automaton. Gravity did the rest of the work for him and five automata fell on top of his.
The Thassalian boy ran to the door as the courtyard clock rang. It was noon. The third trial was complete. Anyone who had not passed would repeat the year until they passed or were deemed non-magic. In this case one Thassalian, and five Keilians did not finish the third trial. Other teachers escorted them off campus.
I thought it was a bit unfair. The third trial was essentially a timed series of self-experimentation. It was frustrating and didn’t seem efficient. Not to mention one could pass without using magic. I only had one chance left. If I failed the fourth trial, then I would be like those six, having to repeat the last year and repeat the other trials.
Instructor Leopold had the automata removed. We ate lunch on the stairs to the academy. Everyone was talking about their powers. Aric came over and sat next to Margot and me.
“So how did you know about the off-switch?” Aric asked.
“My dad is a geomancer and he occasionally works on the automata. He told me the newer models no longer have the off-switch, but the older ones had one on their necks.” I answered. “I tried to use magics, but nothing was happening. I didn’t want to fail.”
“I already knew my magic but didn’t have an idea of how to make it work for me. I watched everyone else succeed, including Cole. It clicked then that Lulu could reach the switch. Unlike my knuckleheaded friend here, I was unscathed.” Margot said.
“I ended up channeling my excitement. The excitement turned into electricity and then, Aric the electromancer was here.” Aric said.
“Any idea what the last trial will be?” I wondered aloud.
“No, but we will know soon.” Margot pointed.
Leopold was stepping into the middle of the courtyard. His red cape blew in the winds. He congratulated us on successfully completing the first three trials. He reminded everyone that those of us who had magic, still needed practice and restraint. Magic can be very dangerous. Prelate Auraan will remain for the fourth trial.
“The fourth trial will begin shortly. It will be very different from the earlier trials. In the first three trials, you were encouraged to help each other. In the final trial, the opposite will be true. The fourth trial is a brawl.” He paused. Leopold studied our expressions. “You all will duel each other, in a free-for-all. You may use magic, but you may not aim to kill. At any point, you can tag out. As long as you have discovered your magic and participated for ten minutes, you pass the trial.”
“Are there any questions?” Leopold barked.
“What about those of us who haven’t discovered our magic yet?” The Thassalian, who used gravity to beat the third trial, asked.
“The fourth trial is designed to push you to your limit. If you have latent magical prowess, then the adrenaline will release it. You will discover your magic or fail.” Leopold responded.
Instructor Leopold ordered us all to separate. We had to have a six-foot area around us that no one else was in. Then he took off his cape and flung it in the air. As it fell, he jabbed at it with his right hand. Flames burst forth and engulfed the cape. The ashes scattered across the breeze. The final trial began.
Margot and I had a nonverbal pact not to attack each other. She already had her Familimancy practiced. I guessed she would participate as long as she had to and then stop. Aric was on the other side of the courtyard. I did not plan on moving very far. So, we would not have to fight. I still did not know my magic and planned on being defensive.
As expected the Keilians refused to fight each other. Instead they picked on anyone else they could find. The Phypsonians realized this and stood back to back. There were only two of them, but the Keilians doubted the Phypsonian’s aptitude. Their hypersensitivity made the Keilian movements predictable. The Phypsonian boy would use his light magic to blind his attackers. Then he would either clobber them with his hands, or have his partner cut at them with fierce gales. They were a formidable team. The Phypsonian girl was slightly disadvantaged, because one of her strengths was flight. She did not mind. She laughed as some Keilians struggled against her winds.
The Phypsonians were very entertaining to watch. It was typically five people against the two of them, and they always held their own. I was watching and didn’t notice one of the Brucan pyromancers. He singed my shoulder with a precise bolt. Once he had my attention, he fired more. I ducked for a few. One more hit my knee.
I wished I had hydromancy at that moment. The proximity to his flames was making me sweat. I had nothing to counter with. I could only dodge while hoping something clicked and I could unleash a torrent of magic back at him. He got bored and adjusted his stance. The pyromancer held an imaginary cylinder in his right hand. Then he used his left to make the motion of pulling a sheath off of a sword. A fiery brand materialized in his right hand. He swung it a few times testing its stability. He had just learned he was a pyromancer today after all.
I put my left foot forward and right foot back in a sturdy stance, ready to brace for the impact. I wasn’t sure if a fiery sword would go through whatever it hit, or hit and burn the first thing it finds. In case it was the latter, I wanted it to hit my arms instead of my face or chest. I held my arms up in a X-shape. It seemed like the right move to make.
Brucans aren’t really taught to fight. Magic is so entwined in our society that it becomes our sword and shield. Other weapons are involved of course, but not nearly in the same capacity. Familimancers develop larger familiars to protect them. Any elemental mage would use the element to fight. Should they wish to fight, Visionaries are treated like monks. They predict attacks and strike back with their fists.
As a result, I had no idea how to defend myself against a sword. Luckily for me, it also meant the pyromancer had little idea how to wield a sword. He was charging at an angle. I brought down my arms and dodge to the opposite side. The pyromancer caught my movement in the corner of his eye and pivoted, swinging the burning blade towards my chest. Instinctively, I pulled up my hands. If I was wearing a heavy bracer and he was using a real sword then that would have been a smart idea. Instead the sword was likely to burn my wrists.
The impact never came. A shield of crystals blocked the pyromancer’s sword. He staggered back and blinked. Instructor Leopold noticed from across the courtyard. His jaw fell to the floor. He yelled for the trial to halt. He whispered to another faculty member, an aeromancer, who flew off afterwards. Then ran over to where I was.
Before he could speak, there was a loud sound of lightning. Lord Bernard appeared in the doorway. He was on top of a large lioness. It was a shimmering silver lioness, a clear sign of a familiar. Lady Eleanor was behind him, holding on to the lion’s saddle. Lord Bernard had a large brown beard. His eyes seemed to pierce you, and his monocle telescoped to achieve very close inspection.
It was rare to see two members of the Triumvirate of Bruca. And the whole class knew why they were here. It was even more rare for a student to be a crystalmancer. The Triumvirate needed to see it for itself. Lady Annabelle was the only one missing. Lord Bernard walked carefully towards me and Leopold. Any student in his path parted immediately.
“Is this the student?” He asked. His voice was not as deep as one might expect by his appearance.
“Yes, sir.” Leopold answered.
“What is your name?” Lord Bernard asked.
“Cole.” I responded. Last names were never mentioned because titles were the only thing that mattered in Bruca.
“I hope you can recreate the action. We do not like to be bothered by false claims of the rarest magic.” Lady Eleanor said.
She did not want a verbal response. Lady Eleanor wanted action. I nodded and held out my palm. I was nervous, so I couldn’t manifest an entire shield like I did before. But a single crystalline shard appeared hovering above my hand. With a forceful push, I demonstrated my ability to control it as well. It flew through the air like an arrow, embedding itself in the stone directly below the courtyard’s clock.
Lord Bernard clapped. Lady Eleanor smiled in an odd way. It was as if she had forgotten how to smile. She called the lioness, Salas, and they rode back to the Sanctum of the Triumvirate. As they crossed through the doors of the courtyard, Lord Bernard shot Leopold a look.
“Congratulations, you completed the fourth trial.” He said to me. “Prelate Auraan will remain to spar with any who have not developed their magic. You have three more hours. Everyone else come with me. We will discuss your next year of studies.”