Getting out of the Atlas Gardens parking lot was easy, but I figured we’d need to visit a few more times until we got familiar with the layout to get in and out without any issues.
When I got back home, I gave Sol a quick phone call to let her and Lydia know we made it safely. I was too tired to talk about anything else, so I took some pain medicine and drank some water to try to soothe my headache. At least my stomach didn’t feel like it was on fire anymore.
I fell asleep for a while, squeezing my pillows against my head as hard as possible. I didn’t know if that had made any difference, but it felt like it did, and that was all I cared about. The big downside was that I lost a lot of time that I could have used for studying or painting.
After sleeping for what felt like a whole day, I got up and went downstairs to get more information on Lillian and her school. Getting there wasn’t going to be much of a problem – all I had to do was ride the bus heading toward the billiard hall and walk a few blocks north until I saw the building from the brochure. What I really wanted to know was how to prepare for the entrance exam. What kinds of questions would I be asked? Would I have to memorize or cast spells for the examiners? Most of the information I found on message boards and other websites only covered general exam prep cases – getting a good night’s sleep, eating a healthy breakfast to keep your energy up, and so on. Either no one seemed to know what to do when it came to magic schools, or there were enough people on those boards who knew magic to assume they already passed, and thus didn’t need the help. If I was going to make the most of my study time, I figured I would start by taking the plunge and registering for one of those sites to try to get some advice.
After eating some soup for dinner, I signed up for an account on a website called Mystic Answers and posted a welcome topic. I only posted about being relatively new to the world of magic and looking for entrance exam studying tips. I would leave it to the rest of the community to decipher more about the mysterious “WandWithADee” on their own while I tried to think of a study plan for the next couple of days.
I wrote down a basic day plan on a page from my sketchbook, dividing it into rough time blocks for morning, afternoon, evening, and night. The post-dinner hours would be reserved exclusively for studying, leaving the rest of each day wide open as long as the weather held up. The only day I had to worry about was Tuesday, which was also Freedom Day. Dad would be home early from work that day, and Mom didn’t have to go at all since the library was going to close for the national holiday. She was sure to ask me to help her do chores around the house. If I had anything I needed to do that required me to travel, I would have to do it either on Monday or Wednesday.
It wasn’t easy for me to get to sleep. I thought I was going to have another nightmare after drinking that potion, but if I did, I couldn’t recall it after waking up the next morning.
After taking a warm shower and changing my clothes, I almost bumped into Dad on my way downstairs. “Hey, Didi! How are you feeling?” he asked.
I slowly stood up and looked him in the face. He looked like he was starting to grow bags under his eyes, even though he had the least severe reaction to that “wyvern” drink out of all of us. “I feel a little bit better now,” I said. “I’m not really used to drinking…especially not drinks like that.”
Even in his half-asleep state, Dad couldn’t help laughing. “You’re not kidding. I thought it was a prank at first, but I figured I’d just roll with it. It felt good to find a new drinking buddy.”
Dad followed me as we both went downstairs. We had to keep checking on each other to make sure neither of us fell over on the way to the dining room. I tried to slap myself awake long enough to prepare and enjoy a bowl of raisin bran.
Mom, who was a few sips away from spewing smoke out of every orifice at Lydia’s place, looked like the dictionary definition of “good health” compared to us. She strolled into the dining room like she was on a fashion show runway. I wanted to know how she had so much energy and pep after drinking the same amount of alcohol as the rest of us.
“I just got an extra hour of sleep last night,” she said to me. “The stomach medicine helped, too, but it tasted awful. I should have drunk a glass of milk instead. Hey, that’s a good idea! I think I’ll get some right now.”
Dad and I shrugged at each other. It was too bad youthful exuberance wasn’t contagious in adults. I really could have used some of that to get me through the day. I offered to clean everyone’s breakfast bowls, which helped wake me up a little bit.
I decided to check on the Mystic Answers message board while listening to the morning news in the background. The reporters were excited to talk to a local army lieutenant about the upcoming Freedom Day parade in Lucason. Traffic in the city was usually nightmarish around that time of year, so we always wound up watching the festivities on TV, which lasted all day and also included concerts and a fireworks show.
My welcome topic got two replies – one from a moderator, and one from a user who appeared to have been a member for several years, according to their profile.
“Welcome to the forums, WandWithADee!” the moderator, who went by the alias MysticMod101, posted. “Have you checked out your local library? They don’t carry instruction manuals or spellbooks (only licensed magic shops are allowed to carry those), but you might be able to find some books on magic history or theory.”
The veteran user, CarmineShade, chimed in a few hours after MysticMod101’s post. “I don’t know if it’s going to be the same for you,” they said, “but when I first applied for magic school, there was more of an emphasis on live demonstrations than reading. As long as you showed the testers that you knew a few spells and how they worked, you had a good chance of getting in. I practiced for several hours every day for two weeks until I could do those tricks without looking at a spellbook.”
Several hours a day? For two straight weeks? Anyone with such a rigorous training schedule must have had superhuman patience. I wouldn’t be able to take on such a big workload.
I bookmarked the forum on my phone’s web browser so I’d have easy access to it from anywhere. My two greeters seemed friendly enough at first glance, but I wasn’t ready to type my response to them until I investigated the library.
“Mom? Can I ride with you guys again?” I asked.
“Sure you can, sweetie,” she said as she walked into the living room with a toasted bagel on a plate. “Studying again?”
“Yeah. I need to prepare myself for Thursday’s entrance exam.”
“Oh, that’s right…you’re going to that Lillian lady’s school, aren’t you? Promise me you’ll let me know before you step outside to do any dangerous spellcasting this time, okay?”
“Of course!” I said, faking a smile. Luckily, there weren’t supposed to be any thunderstorms all week. If any trouble arose, I didn’t know if I would have been able to wave it away with my magic wand this time, anyway.
After Mom finished her bagel, we rode along with Dad to the library. The tall assistant, whom I missed during the blackout, was reading a short mystery novel over at the round table. She looked at the last page of the book for a second, skimmed backward for several pages, and then threw the book on the table in anger. “What a load of crap!” she grunted. “I can’t believe I wasted my time reading this book for an ending like that!”
“Corina! Please keep it down,” Mom said in that tone of voice where it sounded like she wanted to yell, but couldn’t for some reason.
The girl complied and put her book back on the shelf. “Sorry, Ms. Richardson.”
I approached her slowly, hoping she would still be willing to help me out despite her dissatisfaction with her book’s ending. “Excuse me…”
Corina turned around, looking irritated. “Yes?”
“Can you tell me where I can find books on magic?”
“The fantasy section’s over there,” she said, pointing at a sign a few shelves behind me that read “Fantasy”. I didn’t think she understood what I really meant, but I decided to humor her and search the section anyway.
After looking at every book on the shelves for a half-hour, I found more than a dozen potentially entertaining books about wizards, fairies, dragons, and other mythical creatures. None of them looked like they would give me anything I needed to make it through Try-Out Thursday…unless I was expected to show up with a surprise book report on Violet Arcana.
“What about the reference section?” I asked. “Anything good in there?”
“I dunno. Not really my thing.”
Since Corina was in no mood to help me, I went over to the reference section near the front desk and spent another half-hour looking through it on my own, finding even fewer relevant books there than in the fantasy section. This seemed unlikely and unfortunate considering the presence of a magic shop on the northwest side of town, along with several known magic users, myself included, who lived here. It wasn’t a total wash, though. I found two interesting-looking books in that section – one on self-defense and another on the partial history of magical warfare. It was a good start, but I hoped to find something a little more than that later on.
I took those books and one of the five copies of Violet Arcana to the front desk. Mom looked at my selection and stepped back while her boss checked my library card. It looked like they had a rule against family members serving each other, just like Ada’s did.
“Where are you going after this, Deanna?” Mom asked.
“Home,” I said as the head librarian put my books in a bag. “I might as well get started on my studies as soon as possible.”
“Why not study here at the library? Help keep your mother company? You might run into someone else who might be able to help you…”
I took a quick look around the room behind me. Aside from Corina, who had gone back to the mystery section to find something else to read, there were a half-dozen teen girls and boys scattered around the library, probably looking to unwind after school had ended for the spring. There were two other guys who looked like they were about Elias’ age, but I was pretty sure I’d come up empty if I tried to use a “Detect Magic” spell on them.
“Okay then. Let me know when you get home.”
I nodded and headed to the bus stop with my books in hand.
After taking a seat toward the back of the bus, I opened the Mystic Answers website on my cell phone. It took me a few moments to remember my password because my phone had a different web browser than the family computer, so my information didn’t carry over. A couple more users had welcomed me to the forum since my last visit, although none of them offered any new advice that MysticMod101 and CarmineShade hadn’t already covered. I replied with a report of my findings to them. I wasn’t sure when or if they would get back to me, so I decided to leave the topic alone and carry on with my studying once the bus dropped me off near my house.
First things first… I needed something good to eat for lunch.
I dropped my books on the couch and headed straight for the refrigerator, finding an unlabeled plastic container on the top shelf filled with sliced strawberries, pineapples, watermelons, and cantaloupes. I wondered if either Mom or Dad meant to take it to work with them, but accidentally left it behind. When I called Mom and asked her about it, she told me that it was for Dad. Since he had control of the car and there was no way for me to get it to him quickly, I called and asked if I could have some of his fruit cup.
“Oh, geez… Did I really forget my lunch today?” Dad sounded embarrassed. He hated it when he forgot to do something or left something important behind. “You can have some if you want. I guess I’ll get something from the sandwich shop in a few minutes. Don’t eat all of it, though; I got a good deal on it at your store, and they won’t go on sale again for a while.”
I took a small bowl from the cupboard and poured half of the fruit cup into it, saving the rest for Dad. The pineapples and strawberries were my favorites because they were the sweetest, and I mixed them in with the occasional watermelon or cantaloupe piece with each bite so that they wouldn’t get neglected.
After that, it was time for me to start studying. First, I skimmed through the self-defense book, Protect Yourself, Young Wizard! It mainly dealt with defending yourself against errant spells or other kinds of attackers, and it included a primer on a few different types of defensive spells. A simple “Shield” spell worked best in one-on-one encounters, as it only protected from attacks from the front. For multiple opponents or hazards, a full-body “Barrier” spell was a more appropriate choice. These spells also protected against more conventional attacks like blades or bullets, but the book advised that it was preferable to run away unless you could either disarm your attacker or shield yourself quickly enough for any attacks to bounce off it. I hoped I wouldn’t have to use them in a real fight, but I added them to my notes anyway since I was only borrowing the books until after Try-Out Thursday.
I got a call from Sol just as I started reading from the second book, Conjuring up Conflict: Unconventional Warfare in the Age of Magic.
“How are your studies going, Deanna?” she asked.
“Not quite as good as I was hoping,” I said. “I don’t even know what I’m really supposed to look out for.”
“What are you doing to prepare?”
“I borrowed a couple of books from the library: one on self-defense and another on the history of magic and war.”
“I think you might be overthinking this a little.”
“Really? What do you mean?”
“Let’s put it this way: have you ever been to college?”
I sat up on the couch wondering why Sol was asking these questions instead of, say, her mother. “Yeah…”
“Do you remember what your entrance exam was like? Was it easy? Was it hard?”
“I…don’t know, actually,” I said. “It happened several years ago, so my memory’s pretty fuzzy.”
“Then you can’t really compare getting into Silverthorne School to whatever college you went to before, right?”
“No, I suppose not. Where are you, by the way?”
Sol stopped for a second to think. “At my brother’s place. Want to say ‘hi’ to him?”
“Maybe later,” I said.
“Are you sure? We’re going to be leaving soon, so you might want to get your call in now while you can.”
I sighed. “All right…put him on.”
A moment later, I heard Caleb’s voice over the phone instead of Sol’s. “Hello?”
“Hi, there! Caleb, was it?”
“Yeah…” Caleb loudly cleared his throat and excused himself. “Sorry… I haven’t been feeling well lately.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Do you have a sore throat or something?”
“That’s only part of it,” he said quietly, “but it’s what bugs me the most. So you’re one of Mari’s new friends, huh?”
“‘Mari’? Oh, you mean ‘Marisol’,” I chuckled. “Yeah, you could say that.”
“I’m glad to see she’s going out to meet new people. I didn’t expect her to actually rope anyone into that weird hobby of hers.”
“Yeah. She tried to get me into it, too. I told Mari I couldn’t do it because the guys down at the station would give me funny looks.”
Sol’s brother was a cop? Was that the reason Lydia drove so close to those crime scenes? So they could get a chance to see him while he was on duty?
“Actually,” I said, “we saw this one guard near that magic shop using something that might have been magical, so if he could do it, I don’t see why you wouldn’t be allowed.”
“Not in the line of work I’m in.”
As I was talking to Caleb, I heard the rustle of the mailman fiddling with the mailbox outside. In the brief moment of silence after Caleb had said his piece, I got up to answer the door and retrieve the mail.
“Oh, wait a sec… Mari wants to talk to you again,” Caleb said. “It was nice talking to you, uh–“
“Deanna,” I said as I spread the mail out on the coffee table. “Hope you feel better soon, Caleb.”
“Thanks. That would be nice…”
While I wondered if I would ever get to meet Caleb in person, Sol came back from what she was doing earlier to answer the phone. “Now, as I was saying… You might be a bit too hung up on thinking of Silverthorne as a regular school. All you’re going there for is to learn magic, right? So forget about the books and all that extra stuff for now. Concentrate on what counts first and foremost.”
“Are you sure about this, Sol?” I asked.
“Trust me. If they ever ask you about that military or war stuff, it’ll probably be after you get in.”
Sol was starting to sound like CarmineShade. I conceded that they might have a point – actual knowledge of spells was more likely to impress the examiners than the deeper history behind them. Still, I didn’t want to waste the new books I borrowed, so I set aside some time on Wednesday morning to read them, if only just for fun.
“Thanks, Sol. I’ll get back to you as soon as I get the results.”
“Alright, Deanna… Good luck!” Sol said, and hung up.
I dug through the pile on the table and found my payment check from Cherry’s among the bills. There wasn’t any post-payment euphoria this time; I hadn’t even figured out a way to integrate a trip to the bank into my study-week plans. It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep on the couch hoping that I’d have enough energy to practice all the spells I’d learned before the night was out. Not “several hours a day every day”, of course…just enough to know how to use them consistently without referring to my notes.