Wow! It's really been a month since I've posted? Sorry everyone, I just got wrapped up trying to finish my novel, 'Kutztown'.
For those that don't know, I've been working on it for over two years, and although it's finished, it needs plenty of editing. I really didn't mean it to drag on (Brian Griffin style), but every six months or so I'd realize I'd gotten a lot better at writing, and have to re-write it again.
Well, here's the link to what I've finished editing so far:
The other news is I'm getting published in Mississippi Crow again, this time for the story 'The Problem with Magic', which also won an award from www.writing.com
THE PROBLEM WITH MAGIC
The problem with magic, as any spellcaster can tell you, is that it leaves precious little time for anything else.
When the more mundane apprentices were wrapping up their daily work, the wizards were simply beginning.
While the young craftsmen and squires gathered at the local tavern, trading their best goblin jokes, and enjoying a well deserved (and usually watered down) ale, the warlocks and witches in training were mastering their incantations.
When the other apprentices were tired of their revelry, and flopping into bed…well, the wizards were doing the same thing, actually, only without the preceding revelry. On a normal day they'd usually go straight from work to bed. Well, all of them except Maya, of course.
Maya was always in bed a few hours earlier. That way she could get up exactly at dawn, a few hours before classes began. While all the other sorcerers in training were snoozing away in their beds, Maya was already up, dressed, and running laps around the school. She loved the crisp cold air of the morning, and running made her feel fully rejuvenated and alive.
Eventually, the bells for morning study and preparation would ring through the school, to wake up the rest of the children. Maya was always careful to listen for this bell, because she knew that when it rang, it was time to stop fooling around, and REALLY start working out.
She’d tumble, climb up walls, jump rope, do push-ups, shadow box, and muse over which class she’d skip that day. Maya would never have been able to pass her classes if she skipped too many, so she had to be careful to skip only one class each day and never the same class more than once a week. This left her absenteeism high, but not cripplingly so.
What would she do in that class period? Why, homework, of course! She’d race to the nearest student lounge, whip out her books, and do the bare minimum amount of work required to pass each class. In the early afternoon, when all the other students were doing their homework, she was reading. Sometimes she would read about magic, but was far more likely to be reading something for enjoyment, or to expand her horizons. By the time the other apprentices were practicing their evening spell casting, Maya was already in bed.
To put it bluntly, Maya was the school's worst student. Oh sure, there were kids who failed, but they were always gone within the first week or two. Any student that couldn’t keep up with the class work, or adequately cast spells, had no way of making it to the last year and graduating.
In order to pass, succeed and graduate, you had to push yourself to the limit and apply yourself to magic completely and utterly, for nearly every single moment of the day.
Well, that’s what the professors always told the students, at least, and it was mostly true. The only other possible option was to figure out the exact minimum standards of the school, and make sure you consistently met them every year until you graduated.
Maya only had three more months to go, and graduating was more or less certain. What wasn’t certain was the Grand Wizard Challenge.
“You’re pathetic, you know that?”
Maya didn’t stop to answer Fiona, not when she was so close to finishing her homework. She merely left her roommate standing at the lounge door, with her short, pointy nose turned upwards in a sneer. When it became apparent that Maya wasn’t going to answer, Fiona continued her prepared speech,
“You can’t just coast through classes! Do you like wasting your parents' money?”
Maya stopped writing. She was finished with her work, and could finally respond to Fiona, if she chose to. She chose not to.
Fiona rolled her eyes, moved her hands from left to right, fingertips flexing into the appropriate contortions, and then exhaled deeply, causing the air to suddenly chill. With another careful wave of her slender limbs, purple magical energy enveloped the cold air, and with a final whisper from Fiona’s lips, formed the cold vapor into a small statue of a swan, about the size of her own fist, directly in front of Maya, on her desk.
Maya tapped the small statue of ice once, and then went back to her notes. Fiona became even more vexed then before,
“What? Can you match my magical powers?”
As Maya re-tied her long, red ponytail, she grudingly replied,
“That? No, I can’t ice sculpt swans with magic. Just think, the next time I'm ambushed by a school of tiny, fiery fish, I'll be completely defenseless.”
Fiona shook her head in rage and contempt. Fiona normally wouldn’t have cared, but Maya was her roommate, and being associated with her in any way was making her embarrassed.
“Why did you even come to this school?”
That struck Maya as a silly question,
“What did I come to the ‘magic’ school for? Was it carpentry? Law? Magic, perhaps?”
“You never learned anything past the basics!”
Maya allowed herself a small smile, as she replied,
“The basic spells are the most useful ones. Everything else is just icing on the cake.”
Fiona pointed an accusing finger at the swan.
“Maya, you’re the worst sorceress in school! Can you even undo the spell I just cast?”
Maya pointed at the ice swan, and inquired,
With a short swing of her arm, Maya flattened the statue with her palm. Despite Maya's happy compliance, Fiona seemed enraged for some reason.
The mere question affronted Fiona.
Maya nodded, and continued,
“Why should I waste years learning spells that aren’t useful? Why learn a spell to move objects around a room, when you could simply stand up and move them by hand? Why do you, Fiona, summon birds to fly through your window every morning, just to help fix your hair, and adjust your clothes? I’m right there, Fiona! All you have to do is ask, and I’ll button your dress up for you.”
Fiona got more worked up then ever before. Maya was no longer a mere annoyance, but a complete affront to everything Fiona founded her tremendous ego upon. Fiona whipped her golden hair over her shoulder, and then marched adamantly over to Maya, who stood as she approached.
Fiona slowed her pace a bit, forced to respect the fact that while she had a slender, petite frame, Maya’s stature was far more ‘common’ and ‘peasant-like’.
In other words, Maya had almost a foot of height on Fiona, and weighed fifty or so pounds more as well, all of it muscle. Fiona smirked, and called out, sarcastically,
“Are you going to knock me over?”
Maya casually inquired,
“Could you stop me?”
Fiona took on her normal, haughty demeanor as she proclaimed,
“I have over twenty protective auras at my command that would…”
Without warning, Maya snapped an arm forwards, stopping a few inches in front of Fiona's face. Curiously, Fiona cast none of her protective auras, and stumbled backwards instead, nearly falling over a desk.
“That’s quite a unique spell you've got there, Fiona. I swear, it almost looked like you were falling on your…”
Fiona snapped both fingers, and the room filled with shadows. The slim, willowy sorceress became wreathed in dark, billowing spirals of smoke, as she cried out,
“JUST YOU WAIT, MAYA! THE GRAND WIZARD CHALLENGE WILL COME AND YOU’LL BE HUMILIATED, BY ME, IN FRONT OF EVERYONE, INCLUDING YOUR PARENTS!!!”
Maya sneered, but said nothing.
“WHAT SPELLS WILL YOU USE THEN, MISS ‘JUST-E-NUFF’? WHAT SPELLS CAN YOU ACTUALLY CAST WELL?!”
Maya’s thin lips broke into a half smile,
“Well, there’s this one.”
Fireworks. Maya had always been good with fireworks. Fiona mistook the harmless eruptions of light as an attack, and ran directly out the room, panicked.
This left Maya alone, to consider her roommate’s words. Damn it. The challenge. Bowing out was always an option, but she refused to give Fiona that satisfaction, nor the satisfaction of humiliating her in the arena.
The challenge was open to every one of the graduating, seventeen year old wizards who wanted to participate, and usually drew about forty participants on average. The arena would be magically charmed to prevent any real, lasting injuries from the spells, so there was no reason for anyone to hold back. Everyone would bring the very best they had, and those who were serious about winning would craft and practice spells in secret, to leave their opponents unprepared.
That night, as Maya brushed off the passive aggressive notes Fiona had left on her bed, an idea came to her. For better or worse, she decided it was her best shot.
The next day, Maya rose as she always had, but instead of doing her normal daily exercise, she instead traveled into the nearby forest. After a week, many other students were rising early as well, to also practice for the grand competition, but none of them traveled as secretly, or as far as Maya. Rumors began to pass through the school, and although the more talented wizards scoffed, everyone was a little mystified and perplexed by the weird sounds and lights that randomly emitted from the forest.
Fiona had managed to get other people calling Maya, 'Miss Just-e-nuff’ as well, but it hadn't diminished her classmates' interest in Maya's secret spell training. What spell could she possibly be working on? What magic could possibly make up for her other deficiencies? Student and teacher alike traded their own ideas, and the possibilities seemed endless.
A freshman would describe Maya turning into a T-Rex and gobbling up her opponents. A slightly more reasonable sophomore wondered if the arena would blow up. The popular opinion was that it would set the school on fire, causing everyone but her to run out, allowing her to claim victory by retreat, but the teachers dismissed that rumor, pointing out that the grand challenge did have some rules, albeit merely a few.
Fiona wasn’t willing to wait to find out, and kept trying to follow her into the forest, but found it wasn't as easy as she expected. By the time Fiona cast a spell to allow her to teleport, run faster, or fly, Maya was already out of sight. All Fiona could do was run, but would always lose her breath, and have to give up. Maya could have easily outrun her in just a few seconds, but she intentionally slowed down, to keep Fiona running as long as possible.
In the deepest, darkest corner of the forest, Maya practiced for the competition. She kept repeating the proper steps and movements for months, until she them down perfect, and the resulting effect was exactly the same as the one she had envisioned, as she brushed away Fiona’s notes.
The day of graduation, all was fanfare, magically created confetti (no cleaning up required), music, and celebration, but the ancient graduation ceremonies seemed to be little more than a footnote, leading up to the great event, where each young spellcaster got to show their families, friends and rivals alike, exactly how much they learned at the academy.
The turnout for the main event was smaller than anticipated, with only thirty-two graduates lined up for the arena. As a general rule, those that didn’t want to participate were given ample chance to discreetly leave, and with no dishonor to their name. Even though their safety was assured, the pain and humiliation of the arena were all too real.
Maya let the other wizards go out first, displaying minor spells and their special outfits for the crowd. All weapons were barred, of course, as were any magical objects, but the judge’s detection spells found none among the competitors..
Most of the other spellcasters wore special outfits bought specifically for the occasion, but Maya preferred her normal outfit, and she spent the time before the match mostly stretching, as the other wizards checked notes.
Fiona was the last to leave before Maya, and wore a billowing silver dress that seemed far more appropriate for a grand ball, than a battle. A large dress like that can hide quite a bit, though. Earlier in the week, Maya overheard her former roommate whisper the words 'fireproof' and 'magic wards' to a friend. Both were completely against the rules, but not impossible to hide from the judges.
Before leaving, Fiona gave a parting shot,
“Whatever crazy spell you’re intending to use…it won’t work. You’re not good enough.”
Fiona deliberately left before Maya could answer, and greeted the loud cheers and appreciative whistles of the arena. The teachers, sitting along the first row of the encircling crowd, were betting that Fiona would make it to the last three, with Maya lasting until the middle, mostly from good physical conditioning. In fact, they had already decided to give Maya a ‘good sportsmanship’ award, after the match was over.
Even though the battle hadn't started, Maya was already jogging, to keep limber. Her eyes scanned the crowd, and eventually located her incredibly huge extended family. They cheered and waved less formally than most of the crowd, and it made Maya smile. Despite the happiness of seeing them, Maya knew in her heart that she wasn't doing it for them. This was for her.
There were no official starting areas, and the match always started without warning, with the start of the official gong.
And there you go.
Maya broke out into a full run, at first doing nothing except running, and looking for potential attackers. The other competitors all either prepared defensive spells, as was normal, or went all out on the offensive, which was not normal. The professors noted amongst themselves that the opening was far more aggressive then normal…possibly even downright cruel.
As the weaker competitors evoked protective barriers, the more powerful wizards threw everything they had in virtually every direction, eager to take out as many opponents as possible before they were even ready. The professors had to admit, the strategy worked, as more than half of the wizards fell within the first few minutes, falling to large blasts of fire, swarms of vicious insects, giant stony fists reaching out of the ground, and the most vicious of all, countless flying shards of ice.
Fiona’s icy blasts threw many of the competitors off, not taking enough damage to really be hurt, but more than enough to break their concentration, forcing them to dodge and retreat. To make it worse, her spells made the arena grow considerably colder as well, causing many of the casters to become cripplingly distracted.
Maya, who had the foresight to wear a few extra layers, continued her steady pace. At first, none of the attacks were directed at her, as she wasn’t casting spells at them, but when the number of wizards in the arena began to dwindle, Fiona lashed out in her ex-roommate's direction.
The shards of ice struck Maya's side, slamming her into the arena wall, and dropping her off her feet. Maya's face flushed red as she leaped up, shook off the pain, and continued to run. She wasn't ready to reveal her secret weapon just yet.
The other competitors took advantage of Fiona's distraction, and fired a few spells into her back, most of them fire based, which was the most popular. Fiona shrugged off the spells alarmingly well...almost too well, and fired frigid blasts of cold back at them. Not many wizards used ice, so not many were prepared for it.
As Fiona finished off her attackers, Boris, another student expected to last to the final three, took advantage of the distraction, and cast a particularly difficult spell, which summoned a minor demon to fight for him.
The crowd recoiled in shock and terror, as the demon appeared, with a black cloud of smoke. The demon was misshapen, green and covered in twisted horns. The young women in the crowd all began to point, scream and press themselves into the arms of the person next to them, which Maya considered a bit extreme, given that the demon was slightly smaller than your average dog.
It did wonders for distracting Fiona though, who screamed and backpedaled at the sight of the small imp. That was the moment that Maya had been waiting for. It was time to reveal her secret weapon.
She continued to run, but instead of circling around the arena, she began to encircle Matthew, the smallest of her opponents, and a talented water mage. Matthew was unsure what spell to expect from Maya, and decided to attack first, to hopefully knock her out. He raised his hand, whispered a few incantations and as he twiddled his fingers, a geyser of water erupted from his palm.
Maya ran as quickly as her legs would take her, and Matthew kept missing, mostly due to the fact he was aiming for the spot she was in, rather than the spot she would be when the geyser reached her.
As his spell began to fizzle, Maya turned to face him, and raised her arms into the air. Every member of the audience held their breath in anticipation, as they awaited the sight of Maya’s spell…
Every morning for a month, when Maya was certain no one could see her, she would prepare in secret for the Great Wizard Challenge…
Maya arched herself toward Matthew, and dashed directly towards him.
The entire crowd winced when Maya's shoulder landed against Matthew's abdomen with enough force to send the small boy straight to the ground. Matthew uttered small incantations, causing water to spray randomly around the arena, like a misfiring fountain. He would not get up anytime soon.
A flash of light caught Maya's attention.
Maya barely managed to cart-wheel out of the way of a giant fiery blast, fired by Ronnie, the largest of the remaining opponents. As he readied another spell, Maya ran towards the outer wall. Her opponent gave out a cry, as a furious inferno erupted from his arm, directly towards her.
At first, Ronnie assumed that Maya had cast either an invisibility or teleportation spell, as she was nowhere to be seen. He began to focus his attention on the rest of the arena, as the audience attempted to direct his attention to Maya, who had scaled directly up the arena wall. She stared down at her opponent, below her.
The crowd gave another collective wince when Maya landed directly on top of Ronnie, knees first. Her opponent crashed to the ground painfully, and began tapping his hand upon the arena floor, in surrender.
On the other side of the arena, Boris’ summoned demon, and Fiona’s storm of ice, had gotten every other opponent to surrender, leaving only the two of them and Maya left in the competition.
Boris wasn’t too intimidated by Maya’s display of force, and decided to counter with one of his own. With a small motion of his hand, he ordered his imp to leap upon her, as he countered Fiona's spells. Even Maya couldn’t ignore the furious monster, which leaped upon her with surprising strength. Boris smiled smugly to himself, and began to summon another demon.
With both hands, Maya hurled the green imp off of her, sending it flying directly across Boris's face, knocking him senseless. After a moment, he managed to order the imp to attack Maya again.
The imp then came to the sudden realization...that Boris was the one who had summoned him away from his wonderful dark pit, and forced him to fight. It decided to vent its rage upon its summoner, instead, landing blow after blow against his face, in manic glee.
Maya ran towards Fiona, directly into a cone of icy shards. She kept running. Fiona's face went red, and she fired the best of her spells, but Maya just shrugged off the icy pain, and kept running.
That was it. That was the last straw. Fiona couldn’t take it anymore. She couldn’t even concentrate enough to cast a spell. She was too angry! This couldn’t be happening! She wouldn’t let this happen!
Fiona ended her spell, and furiously shrieked,
"YOU CAN’T DO THIS! THIS ISN’T MAGIC! YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED! I FORBID..."
Maya’s left hook landed directly upon Fiona’s temple, which stunned the enchantress long enough for Maya to send a right blow into her abdomen. Fiona staggered backwards, and was completely unprepared for Maya's brutal uppercut, which sent the enchantress flying into the air, with her high heeled shoes literally flying off her feet.
The arena went dead silent.
Maya wiped the sweat from her brow, rubbed her bruised knuckles, and grinned from ear to ear.
Seeing that none of the other professors were moving, the oldest of the wizard council made his way to the arena floor, trophy in hand. He handed Maya the trophy and shook her hand, as he had done every year for fifty years. He forced a serious expression upon his face, uncertain as to whether he wanted to laugh or cry, and gave Maya the customary commendation,
“Well done, young lady. Here is your award for…”
He went on with his speech, but Maya didn’t care. It wasn’t about the award or prestige. It was for her.
Still, she couldn’t help but notice that the audience, her own family included, was stunned into a completely motionless state. It was time to shake them out of it.
Maya raised her hands into the air, not waiting for the administrator to finish, and fired countless fireworks from her fingers, filling the top of the arena with brilliant, colorful explosions of light.
Her family broke out of their frozen state, and cheered frantically for their dear Maya, as her fireworks continually erupted in celebration.
When you're the best, it's the only spell you need.