This is one of the most pivotal chapters in Rise of the Phoenix. Enjoy! As always, all original content remains Copyright 2012 Evangeline Warren
A few weeks later, it was time for the exams. Juliana spent her time worrying and James spent his time trying to keep her calm. They both had exams in their academic subjects as well as those of a more specialized nature. They were to be tested on basic magical technique, an exam that simply pitted them against varied exercises aiming to discover the precision and power of each student, self defense, presided over, of course, by Master Theodore, and finally, they had a test in meditation.
“How on earth do they expect to test us on meditation?” James asked Juliana the night before the meditation exam as the pair were working on threading a needle with only an air spell, prepping for their magical techniques exam. “How would Master Marcus figure out how well we were meditating?”
“I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”
As she predicted, they did find out the next day. The entire class was waiting outside to enter the classroom to take the class. Suddenly, there was a wraith standing in the corridor with them. It was ghoulish in appearance and as they watched, it beckoned them into the exam room.
“I wonder what that’s all about!” James whispered excitedly to Juliana.
“I’m sure that we’re about to find out, as it appears that Master Marcus is waiting for us.” She pointed out, leading her apprehensive friends and classmates into the room.
Inside, it was clear that Master Marcus had attempted to give the normally barren room some ambience. He had scattered candles and incense around the room, in addition to dimming the lights and spreading cushions on the floor. It was clear to all the students that this would not be a typical exam.
“Gather round, gather round!” Master Marcus’ voice drifted from behind what appeared to be a fort of pillows. The boys did so and without any physical assistance, Marcus managed to rearrange the pillows. “This exam is one to test your skills of concentration. I hope that you have actually learned something this year, and that this activity will be achievable.” He glared at the students surrounding him, resting his gaze on those he knew had not been paying attention in class. “Based on what we have studied this year, I expect you to be able to project your thoughts into the mind of another in addition to accepting the thoughts of your partner. This, of course, is one of the basic components of Mage Speak, which we touched upon earlier this year. It will require you to use your meditation techniques in order to focus your energy, through the physical bond of touch, on projection towards your partner. You should expect to be able to share your memories although the transmission of thoughts and actually speech is, of course, much more difficult.” He paused, loosing his train of thought. “Oh, yes! You are all to partner up with someone in the group with whom you will share memories. Understood?” The class nodded. “You have one hour to share three memories each. Please write the name of your partner, a brief synopsis of the memories you will transmit and one of the memories you receive. Begin”
The room filled with noise as the boys scrambled to find an acceptable partner. Juliana and James were already standing next to each other, so they headed towards a nearby heap of pillows to begin their task. Retrieving a piece of parchment for herself and James from the pile next to Master Marcus’ fort as they passed, Juliana began to chose the memories that she would pass onto her friend. She assembled a collection that would help her introduce her “family” to her friend. James, too, chose memories of his childhood, although his were all of the King and Cyrus, a person Juliana had only heard mentioned in passing.
Shooting a quick glance toward her, James began his transmission. A young James ran along what Juliana could only interoperate as the hallway of a grand palace or castle. “Wait up!” The six-year-old version of her friend called to a figure just turning the corner up ahead. As James rounded the corner, he nearly crashed into a boy of seven who’s blond hair was nearly the exact color of James’ childhood shade.
“Nicely done, James! That was faster than ever! We’ll get you up to the General’s standards any day now!” The older boy was obviously enjoying the hero-worship mentality that James maintained.
“Thank you so much, Cyrus!” Ah, so this is Cyrus Juliana thought to herself, before remembering to continue to pay attention to the scene unfolding before her eyes.
“Any time, Jamie.” The crown prince of Alinzar replied. Juliana couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up inside, although she remembered to keep it inside her head as she knew that no one would appreciate it if she broke their concentration. Cyrus’ voice broke through her thoughts. “I’ve got to go now, Father has me helping him edit the new treaty with Lorayce. I think it might involve a princess for me.” From the dejected look on his face, it was clear that young Cyrus was not ready for the married life. The matching one of his sidekick’s face told a different story, one where the bearer was upset at loosing his playmate.
“Have fun, I guess.” James bid his friend goodbye and the vision faded from view. James and Juliana quickly wrote down their version of the story before continuing onto James’ next memory. The minute Juliana received the inquiring mind brush from James, she knew that she and her friend were closer than ever, in addition to the silent question he asked, she was also able to receive a brief preview of his memory. It appeared that this one, too, featured the royal family quite heavily. “To my wonderful son,” King James stood at the head of a large banquet hall packed with guests resplendent with the many jewels that dinner with the king afforded, “Who will be leaving us tomorrow to begin his formal training. I love you and hope that you allow me to visit often.” As she looked down the head table, Juliana saw a few faces she recognized, among them were Cyrus, who was blushing at his father’s gentle ribbing, and James who was attempting to hide the fact that he wished his father loved him as much as the king loved Cyrus. Further down the table sat the General who’s impassive mask offered no insight to his inner thoughts and feelings. He clapped when it was expected and only offered the bare minimum of the emotions required.
It appeared that the party was in honor of Cyrus’ departure for the academy in Alinzar, the place, Juliana remembered, that James would have gone to if Master Theodore had not chosen to teach in Laydia. After the meal had finished, an army of servants emerged from cleverly disguised doors to whisk away the plates and dishes and to prepare the floor for dancing. Soon enough, the guests had taken to the cleared area to dance. Juliana noticed that none of the familiar faces attending the dinner chose to dance of their own free will. Cyrus and James, at ten and eight respectively, were too young and did not understand the true diplomatic significance that a single dace could have, and the king, after joining in an obligatory dance with the wife of the ambassador of Faelyniel, took to his seat to reject any non-political invitations. The General stayed in his seat, glowering and ignoring all the invitations he received from ladies who were aware of his eligibility, or rather who’s fathers were aware of his wealth, power and current status as a bachelor.
From the not-so-furtive looks that James was sending in his father’s direction, it was clear that the boy was aware that his father was acting abnormally when compared to the other men of equal or lesser power in attendance at the party. In addition to the glances towards his father, James also kept tabs on the king, adoration crossing his face each time that the king was spotted. It was at this point that Juliana became aware that James and Cyrus were engrossed in an intense debate.
“Everybody knows that cranberry and peach pie is superior to all others.” James argued.
“And yet, everyone also agrees that there’s nothing quite like apple pie.” Cyrus retorted. Juliana was reminded of the banter that often passed between herself and James and was briefly jealous before remembering to focus on the story.
“With all due respect, Your Highness,” James began.
“Uh oh!” Cyrus interrupted, “I always know when you mean business if you take out the titles, Your Grace.”
“As I was saying, Your Highness,” James spit out his friend title, a smile belaying the joke in the emphasis, “It appears that apple pie is mundane and over used. It seems to be very clear the uniqueness of cranberry and peach pie automatically affords it first place. Again, the vision faded to black. James gave Juliana time to write her summary of the vision before continuing on. This time, the vision appeared was familiar to Juliana for some reason, although she could not really articulate why.
A blurry face hovered above Juliana. The soft contours of the face and brilliant green eyes reminded her of someone, although she did not know who. “I love you, my son.” A hand reached down and gently stroked the hair on the head next to Juliana. It appeared that this was the first memory that James had of his mother. Before they could pause the connection to summarize the vision, Juliana’s mind took over of the bond and shoved an image into James’ head. Juliana was mortified, she had not been able to see the vision and was horrified, convinced that the vision was one revealing her gender. A puzzled look crossed her friends face, the understanding lingered before being pushed away by propriety.
“What did you see?” Juliana hastily asked.
“No discussing your visions, Julian!” Master Marcus’ voice floated out from where he had happily re-ensconced himself in his pillow fort.
Nothing of consequence trailed across her mind, a message from her friend. This could become quite helpful for completing tests… Quickly joined the previous transmission.
If you don’t concentrate, we’re never going to finish this exam. Juliana attempted to chastise James through mental communication. The look of surprise on his face at her reply informed her of her success. Ready? She asked. He nodded, and she began. The first memory she passed to her friend was one that helped her introduce her surrogate family to him before their incipit trip. Elsa and Landon were sitting in the small central room of the little house that Elsa inhabited.They were preparing a gift for Juliana’s birthday and were conversing about the buckets of rain that had covered the town for the past few days. It was here that Juliana ended the first memory, conscious of trying not to reveal too many details of her past.
After giving her friend time to record the memory he was privy to, she continued onto the next memory. This time around, it was one she knew he would recognize. The dinning hall of the academy was filled with laughter as boys returning from their summer holidays greeted each other with exclamations of joy. Juliana ventured over to one of the tables, among those gathered there was James. This was clearly a memory of the first time she met the boy who was to become her best friend. Among other recognizable faces at the table was that of Master Marcus, and Juliana had a fun time reliving her first encounter with the quirky man. James in his position as observer enjoyed a new persecutive of his behavior, one colored by hist friends wit. After allowing the dinner to play out for some time, Juliana ended the memory, in order to give James time to write down a synopsis.
She then moved on to the next. She chose this one because it showed the beauty of the town that they would be visiting soon. It was one of the most beautiful spring days of her experience, and Juliana could remember it clearly as the day she discovered her true power. She was racing down the path that led out of Erod, the name of the town in which she grew up, towards the forest. She remembered being filled with happiness at being released from her morning chores earlier than usual and being given the opportunity to relax for a bit by the stream that flowed through the woods. As she wandered farther into the forest, she pondered how her future was about to change. She knew that the Academy would mean having to stop wearing skirts, something she was thankful for, although she was not relishing having to change her name. As she got closer to the stream, she noticed that there were already some people gathered by the banks of the normally deserted creek. Juliana decided to circumvent the group of older children and ventured to an empty spot a little farther down the bank. However, before she could escape, one of the boys called out to her. “Hey look, everybody! It’s Juliana, the unwanted-“ Realizing what the boy was about to say, and worried that James had already seen too much, Juliana rapidly ended the transmission. James sat there for a second, looking stunned at being thrust back into reality so harshly, but seeing the look of fear on his friends face, he chose to save the obvious conversation for a little later when his friend was not so scared. Perhaps the long road to Cerroria would be the time and the place to have such a conversation.
“Time’s up!” Master Marcus called from behind the pillow wall he had created. James helped Juliana up, and after the pair turned in their pillows the exited the room. James directed his friend towards an empty classroom, knowing that she would want to ask numerous questions about what he had seen. He also knew that her mental blocks had flown up the minute that she had sensed danger, so he assumed that he would no longer be able to build a mental connection.
Sure enough, the minute they entered the unoccupied Magical Theory classroom, Juliana turned to face her friend. “What did you see?” She demanded, her eyes belying the fact that the harshness was due to fear not anger.