Mistress Rovy never stood still while giving a lesson. Active eyes, active minds, she was fond of saying, tapping a ruler against her thigh in warning to the inattentive soul. Sasha didn’t care for Mistress Rovy’s style of teaching, but no one passed into Mage-level classes without going through her.
“Creativity is the hallmark of Mages. Without it, you are nothing but a grunt, a vessel to be used for the purposes of others – whether that be entertainment or as cannon-fodder in battle. You cannot rely on the spells that everyone knows, because your enemy expects you to use the tried and true. Mages must innovate, create, and do so on the spot, in the heat of battle. Or they die.” Mistress Rovy rounded on Tricia in the front row, slamming the ruler on her desk.
“Was there something funny in what I just said?”
“Then why were you smiling?”
There was no good answer that Tricia could give. She may or may not have been smiling, Sasha hadn’t been looking, but to answer yes would be to admit guilt and invite punishment. To answer no would be worse, as she would be punished not only for the transgression but also for accusing Mistress Rovy of lying.
“I’m sorry Ma’am, I didn’t mean to smile.” Tricia quivered in her seat as Leonora Rovy stared at her in silence.
“You’re out,” she hissed. “Get out of my classroom and do not return.” Tricia obeyed. As the door shut behind her, her desk vanished with a muffled pop.
And then there were 13, thought Sasha. The class began every year with 30 students, but that many had never passed.
“Your assignment is to create a unique spell. Illustrate its use and mechanism, and bring it to me in 48 hours. Get out of my sight.”
They left Mistress Rovy motionless in the front of her classroom. None of them wanted to be alone with her. The rumor was the last person to be alone with her was still in the classroom, as chalk.
Sasha walked slowly back to her allotted room. A bed and a desk took up most of the space, and a large window that she couldn’t open dominated the outer wall. She didn’t think that any of them could really create a unique spell. Mages had been practicing for centuries. They’d only been practicing for 10 years, most of them.
Sasha had only been learning for five years, ever since her mother regained custody from her father. She hadn’t even known spells were real until then, but mother had somehow gotten the collegia to accept her. And somehow Mistress Rovy had allowed her to join the class. Probably thought she would be the first out.
“But I wasn’t.”
She laid herself down on the bed and began to let ideas flow, rejecting most and starting to build the kernel of an idea that consumed her for the next 40 hours. She refined it in her mind until she was satisfied.
The assignments sat in a pile on Mistress Rovy’s desk for three days without seeming to move. The students speculated that she must be looking at them, but none could produce any evidence.
“Finding and unraveling a key component of your enemies' spells will work, but it is rarely worth the time and effort it will take. I’m done with you. Sasha, stay. The rest of you, leave.”
Someone gasped. Sasha couldn’t breathe. Alone with Rovy right after the assignment. She glanced at the chalk behind Mistress Rovy and shivered.
Mistress Rovy sat down behind her desk. Sasha approached. A familiar piece of paper was in Mistress Rovy’s hand, held out to Sasha.
“I will not grade this. It is unacceptable. You have 24 hours to hand in a new one. You’re dismissed.”
“But why not?”
Mistress Rovy rose, towering over Sasha, “Human sacrifice and you ask me why not? Get out of here!”
Sasha burned inside. It wasn’t fair. The assignment was only to create a unique spell, not one following some unspoken guidelines. She’d done the assignment, so why wouldn’t Rovy at least grade it and count it? What was the problem with counting it? So it’s inappropriate. So what?
She marched back to her room and slammed the door. She couldn’t think of something new to write, all her thoughts kept creeping back to the injustice of the whole thing. The next morning, she slap dashed out a spell that might be somewhat new and brought it with her to Rovy’s class.
“Assignment,” Rovy said to her, hand outstretched.
Sasha took out the paper and held it. The rest of the class was sitting in their seats, quiet, waiting for the day’s lesson. Sasha squared her shoulders and tore the paper in half, then half again, and again. She dropped the pieces on the floor and walked out without waiting to be dismissed.
And then there were 12, she thought.