The Impossible Wizard: Chapter 2
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A bead of sweat ran down the back of Maria’s neck before her already damp blouse absorbed it. Six people to go and it would be her turn. Her hands trembled and she had to pee so bad she feared she’d burst. She just had to pass.
Another girl came out of the nurse’s office, head hanging, slumped and trudging. The wizard administering the test hadn’t passed a single girl and only ten of them remained standing in line. Last year had been a bad year, with only two passing. At the rate they were going, this year would end up worse yet. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to picture her stress rushing out with the air like Conryu had taught her.
Maria smiled when she thought about Conryu. He was the closest thing she had to a brother or boyfriend, depending how she felt on a particular day. Her mom and his dad had grown up in the same village in the Empire of the Rising Sun. She and Conryu had been born within a week of each other and actually came home from the hospital on the same day. It seemed like since that day they hadn’t been apart for more than a week at a time. How would she manage a whole school year away from him?
Another somber girl emerged and Maria took a step forward. Five to go. Rin’s hands touched the back of her blouse prompting her to turn around. Her best friend looked down at her with wide blue eyes.
“Do you think they’ll fail everyone?” Rin spoke Maria’s thoughts out loud.
“No, I’m going to pass.” Maria spoke with a great deal more conviction than she felt.
A high-pitched squeal was followed by a brown-haired girl in a short plaid skirt and white blouse dancing out of the office. It was Kimmy Morrow. Maria didn’t know the girl well, but she had the third-highest GPA in their class. If anyone else had a chance of getting picked it didn’t surprise Maria that Kimmy would be chosen.
“That’s one,” Rin muttered.
“Kimmy, what’d you pull?” Maria asked. Most people considered it rude to ask a wizard’s power level, but Maria couldn’t resist.
Kimmy stopped dancing and grinned. “Nine fifty.”
Maria nodded. A respectable result, almost exactly at the fiftieth percentile. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks, and good luck.” Kimmy continued her spinning dance down the hall, drawing the boys’ gazes to the occasional glimpse of her underwear.
Maria couldn’t blame her for getting excited. Kimmy had just joined an elite group. When Maria passed she’d be equally excited, but she certainly would not be dancing down the hall flashing her panties for the whole school to see.
The rest of the girls ahead of her went quickly in and out with no more passing. Then Maria’s turn arrived. She took one last steadying breath then stepped into the nurse’s office. A folding table had been set up in the front room beside a white cabinet marked with a red cross. A drawn curtain hid the four cots in the back section of the office. A pale woman in gray robes, her face lined with deep wrinkles, sat on the far side of the table.
In front of the government wizard rested the simple device that would determine Maria’s future. It consisted of nothing more than a wooden rectangle with a gauge in the center that ran from 0 to 10,000. An extension with a vertical grip jutted out from the base toward the empty chair.
Maria tried to swallow, but found her throat too dry. She clenched her fists to stop the shaking of her hands.
The wizard looked up at her with a bland expression. “Sometime today would be good.”
“Sorry.” Maria dried her hands on her skirt, sat across from the wizard, and nodded.
“Grasp the handle,” the wizard said.
“Right or left hand?”
The older woman groaned. “One of the women in your family is a wizard, isn’t she?”
“Yes, ma’am. My mother. How did you know?”
“All the girls from families with wizards are the same. They all want to make sure they do everything perfectly, afraid if they make a single mistake they won’t pass.”
Maria winced at the flawless description of her emotions. Had the wizard used a spell on her?
“Let me tell you something, kid.” She gestured at the device on the table between them. “All this thing does is give a rough measure of how much magical energy your body can process. That’s it. Anything over a hundred means you can cast at least simple spells and you need to go to the academy to be trained. Now grab the damn thing and let’s get this show on the road.”
Maria found the woman’s indifferent attitude exactly what she needed to alleviate her nerves. The wizard had done this thousands of times and found the process ordinary to the point of tedium. This might be the most important day of Maria’s life, but to the wizard it was just another day at work. Somehow that took all the pressure off.
She grasped the handle with her right hand and stared at the gauge.
The seconds ticked by like hours as the little red needle sat frozen at zero.
Maria’s heart raced.
This couldn’t be happening. She squeezed until her knuckles turned white.
Damn it, move!
“Sorry, miss,” the wizard began.
The needle twitched.
“Did you see it?” Maria asked, the relief palpable in her voice.
“Yeah. Let’s give it a couple more seconds.”
The needle twitched again then climbed. 100. 200. Steadily on past 1,000.
When it passed 1,500 Maria’s head spun and it took all her focus not to let out a hysterical laugh. That put her in the ninetieth percentile.
It continued on before finally stopping at 1,950. She’d finished fifty points higher than her mother.
“Congratulations, kid. You’re going to the academy.”
Maria peeled her aching hand off the grip. A red, curved impression ran the length of her palm. She rubbed the mark and smiled. “What happens now?”
“You get out of here so I can test the next girl. The Department of Magic will send you something in the mail before the end of the summer that’ll explain the rest of the process. Now scoot.”
Maria hopped out of the chair. She had to tell Conryu.
* * *
“I pulled nineteen fifty.” Maria quivered with excitement. Conryu couldn’t remember ever seeing her this worked up.
Jonny gave her a thumbs up. “Awesome.”
“Thanks. I need to call Mom.” She spun to go then turned back. “You guys want to go to Giovanni’s for pizza after to celebrate? My treat.”
The test must have damaged her brain. Maria never offered to pick up the check. “I’m in.”
“Me too.” Jonny never passed up a free meal, let alone free pizza.
“Great. I’ll meet you by the bike.” Maria walked off, digging through her purse.
When she’d gone Jonny asked, “Is nineteen fifty good?”
“If she volunteered to buy lunch it must be fantastic. Savor this pizza, Jonny. She may never offer again.” They shared a laugh.
The last four girls took their turns, but none of them passed. The boys came next. Each one was in and out in about thirty seconds. An hour later Jonny came out and shrugged. “Hurry up. I’m starving.”
Conryu entered the office. Instead of Nurse Abrams with her long legs and ridiculous heels he found a withered old woman in gray robes sitting behind a cheap folding table holding some contraption. Would it have killed them to send a nice-looking wizard to administer the test?
“You the last one?” she asked.
“Sit down and grab the handle.”
Conryu plopped into the plastic chair and grabbed the dowel. The little needle on the gauge snapped over to 10,000.
“Oh, come on.” The wizard rapped the device twice with a gold ring just above the swollen knuckle of her right middle finger. The needle didn’t move. “Cheap piece of junk. Let go.”
Conryu did as she said, not at all certain what was going on. “Can I go?”
“No. Sit still and keep quiet.”
Her tone didn’t invite argument so Conryu folded his hands in his lap and watched as she muttered in a language he didn’t recognize while waving her hands over the device. A minute later she stopped and touched the grip with one finger. The needle went to 300. She removed her finger and it sank back to 0.
“Grab it again.”
Conryu gripped the dowel and the needle immediately snapped back to 10,000. He looked up at the wizard. Her face had twisted into a vicious snarl.
She snatched the device off the table, muttering about cheap bureaucrats, faulty equipment, and how could she do her job if the junk they gave her didn’t work right. Conryu wouldn’t have dared speak even if he had some idea what was happening. She dragged a tan satchel out from under the table and started rummaging through it.
“Quiet. We’re going to have to do this the old-fashioned way.” She pulled out an eighteen-inch length of slim, tapered black wood. A second later the tip glowed with a faint light.
“Is that a magic wand?” Conryu asked.
“Not in the way you mean. It’s a first-generation tester. If it glows you can do magic and the brighter it lights up the stronger you are. Same as the first one you tried, but without the gauge so it’s less precise. Hopefully it’s also less apt to break. Take it.”
He took the wand and it immediately burst into a blinding glow. He clamped his eyes shut.
The wand clattered to the hard tabletop and the light went out at once. The wizard stared at him with a curious little frown that made him more uncomfortable than the earlier snarl.
“What’s going on?” he asked in honest confusion. “Everyone knows boys can’t do magic.”
“Young man, that’s an excellent question. Either there’s something wrong with all my equipment or we have a serious situation. Whichever it is, I can’t resolve it here. You and the young ladies are going to have to come with me to the Department of Magic. They have a much more precise unit they’ll run you through. Can you do me a favor and collect Miss Kane and Miss Morrow? I’ll call my superiors and meet you out front. You’ll see a panel van with the government seal on the side.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Conryu stood up and left the office in a daze.
No way could he do magic. There were no male wizards and never had been. Something must be wrong with her equipment, nothing else made sense.
Jonny jogged up to him. “Pizza time.”
Conryu looked up, noticing his friend for the first time. “What?”
“Dude, you okay? You look like you seen a ghost.”
“I’m fine, I think. Pizza’s going to have to wait. The wizard wants to take me, Kimmy, and Maria to the Department of Magic for retesting. She thinks there’s something wrong with her equipment. Want to help me find Kimmy?”
They walked down the all-but-empty hall. It looked like everyone had gone home already. Conryu hoped Kimmy hadn’t left yet. He didn’t have her cell number and it would be a bitch to have to track her down.
They continued on past the empty library and Jonny stopped. “Why would they need to test you again?”
Conryu sighed. “Because the machine reacted to me. The little needle went all the way to 10,000 when I touched it. It’s got to be broken, but she says they can only straighten it out at the Department.”
“Tell me about it. Why don’t we have the office page Kimmy? We could wander the halls for hours and never find her.”
“Good call. What about Maria?”
Conryu shook his head. “She’s waiting out front, remember? Shit! What about my bike?”
Jonny laughed. “With everything that’s happened, that’s what you’re worried about?”
I hope you enjoyed Chapter 2. Click here to read Chapter 3
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