“I have a note from Master Collins. He wants to see me.” Evan handed the note over to the sharp-eyed secretary behind her desk. The bell had only just rung and the sounds of kids slamming lockers and shouting as they made their way out the school to their respective buses and cars were still prominent even from the hall of the Administration Offices. Seeing as Evan took the bus home, he was already expecting his day to go poorly if he ended up walking home.
He had only been to the Administration Offices once before during freshman year, when the principle had been called to discipline him after word had gotten out that he’d been fighting. Beverly had been waiting for him then, her hands shaking as they always did, plumb painted mouth thin and angry. He had stopped defending himself after that, instead avoiding the bullies that plagued him as best as he could. A year later he had shot up a good head taller than the rest of the boys in his class and the bullies ignored him for an easier targets.
Why he had been called down today was a mystery. It was the end of his senior year and all his admission letters for college had been sent out under Master Collins’ insistence even though Evan knew that he could never afford to go. The guidance administrator had been very determined, and Evan couldn’t seem to find a way to explain just why he wouldn’t be able to go without revealing more of his home life than he felt comfortable ever revealing to anyone.
Mrs. Higgins picked up the phone and spoke a few words into it. Moments later, Master Collins was standing in the doorway, his normally bored blue eyes alert and intent. “Good, you’re here, Mr. Reed. Come on in. Quickly.” He left before Evan had time to pick up his bag. Mrs. Higgins avoided his questioning gaze as he trotted past the secretary, following the sorcerer into his office.
The Academy of Science and Truth must have sent the rejection notice already. There was no other possible reason for being called down except to pick another school before the deadline passed. Evan sat down when asked to, ignoring how he sank into the buttery leather couch and instead studied the holes in his sneakers. There was no point to it, really. Nothing mattered to him besides the AST. Everything else was a magical based college and he’d determined very quickly that a path to any of those would lead to misery. At least if he had been allowed to study in science—true science—he could have been able to escape.
If Master Collins noticed Evan’s unhappiness, he showed no sign. He grabbed his pipe from his desk and lit it, puffing away while riffling through his filing cabinet. He was still a young man for his office, pudge only just beginning to adhere to his muscled form, grey only misting his temple. Guidance Administrator was a respected and daunting title, with the occupant of said job being of the same. These were the men and women that selected the occupants for the positions of power and labor throughout the world. It was a job that required intelligence, foresight, and an immense degree of manipulation.
Master Collins had one of the largest offices in the Administration hall, second only to the Principal’s. He had almost had the Principal’s until the school board had stepped in. There was no ill will, it was just a sign of a man good at his job. He decorated his office with degrees in Psychology and Higher Perception, awards from prestigious colleges and gifts of thanks from prestigious men. He had one of the largest collections of third eyes in a display on the back wall, most of them so old they were stone. All of them had been plucked from the still living flesh of the Carret Seer as it came into power each decade.
‘The real trick was to get the Carret Seer to pluck it for you,’ Sir Gregory Collins had been quoted to say when he had returned triumphant seven years ago with the most recent one still moist in his grip. Students had been know to lie, beg, and trick their way in to view the collection. On seeing them, Evan found them to be dull and moldy.
Eventually Master Collins found what he was looking for and sat, setting his gaze on the sullen blond. “Mr. Reed, I have some news for you.”
Evan’s heart sank. “Listen, I don’t want to apply to any other schools. If the Academy of Science and Truth doesn’t want me, then I don’t want to go anywhere else. I can’t even pay for this, you know. You’d like to think that my cousin will pay for it, but she won’t. They won’t support science, or me, for that matter.”
A wrinkle appeared on Master Collins’ brow. “Evan, the AST accepted you three weeks ago.”
“What?” Evan had to have misheard. “I, uh, I never got a letter. They’re usually prompt.” He fumbled for something smart to say, but all that he could see was the wide view of freedom. “Do they say the cost of tuition?” He blurted as suddenly as the thought surfaced. “Do they offer scholarships? A work program?” He could hitchhike to Connecticut. It wasn’t that far.
“Evan, you need to listen to me carefully.” As if understanding Evan’s train of thought, which, given his job, was very much the case, Master Collins waited for the teenager to stop his whirring mind. “The Academy has withdrawn their acceptance with the greatest of apologies. They had not known your situation and was troubled to realize the conflict they created with their acceptance of your application.” When Evan didn’t respond, Master Collins leaned forward. “They will not have you.”
Evan gaped, incapable of speech never mind proper thought. It didn’t make sense. The Academy wouldn’t care if he was poor or that he was raised by sorcerers. His grades were perfect, his application was perfect. There had to be a way to make them understand. If he could just get one chance, he would show them. “What can I do?” Evan finally blurted. “What conflict are they talking about?”
The folder that Master Collins had spent so much time to find was opened and pushed towards Evan. A red and gold seal was pressed into the thick parchment, three circles linked together within a larger circle surrounded by magic symbols. “Mr. Reed, you have the distinct honor of being accepted into the esteemed Hierarchy. When discovering this, the Academy had no choice but to withdraw.”
Evan Reed stared at the seal on the parchment, watching it swirl and glitter, a dancing flame that had stolen his only hope in a swift blaze. If ever a chain could be so immense and yet so small, it was held there in that document.
“Your attendance has been requested in their New York university this Saturday at 10:00 a.m. It’s a simple orientation. They’ll show you the school grounds, the dormitories, the labs, etc. It’ll require your best formal dress; it’s all in the packet.” He paused for a moment, dragging on his pipe thoughtfully. “I would be willing to inform your guardians, if you so wish it.”
“No,” Evan responded automatically, his mouth dry. “Please, no.”
They sat there for long minutes, neither speaking. The bus didn’t matter anymore; Evan didn’t want to go home. Eventually Master Collins stood and moved to the bar in the corner of his office. He poured a deep amber liquid into two glasses, one significantly more full than the other. “This does not have to be a sentencing, Evan. Whatever your reasoning for shunning the magical arts, they are strong in you—Too strong, if the Hierarchy is involved. This is something born into you, flowing through your veins. If you cease to resist, you will quickly see what it is to be truly whole.”
The counselor handed the smaller glass to Evan. “Drink it swift. You would have only studied the world around you in your Academy, perhaps discovering something rare and ultimately, inane. Or you could live your life fully, boy, the Hierarchy opening the universe to you.”
Evan remained silent, brooding. He glared at the glass and in a show of defiance, placed it on the table beside him. He didn’t care if he grew up to be a scientist or a doctor or a janitor, for that matter. He just wanted to escape the path set out before him.
“I’m going to give you some choice words of wisdom, Reed.” Master Collins took a swig of his glass as if needing the liquid himself to continue. “The great lump of a beast, the Carret Seer, produces a new eye every ten years during the height of its power. It is not a beast without defenses, but yet it will lose its eye shortly after to the most ambitious of humans. Many have wondered why the Carret Seer, a creature with such great abilities to foresee the future, would not know enough to not be where it ends up being when its eye is plucked from it. There are two theories. One is the truth as science would have us believe: The Carret Seer, along with every other mortal we know of, cannot foresee its own future. It does not know of its fate, so it cannot run from it.”
Evan, who didn’t care why the creature would allow its eye to be plucked out, just wished the man would stop talking. Master Collins continued anyways, rumbling in a way men with magic tended to, his voice low and purring while trying to lull him into some false feeling of security.
“The second theory seems far more true. The Carret Seer has experienced the loss of its eye many times now. It knows what to expect, yet it does nothing to hide. It is only hunted once every ten years, and when the capture is simple, the beast is rarely harmed. When the beast has power, people will seek it, and take it. When it has lost its power, it will be free to be left alone for another ten years. As long as we possess something that another wants, we will be pursued, Evan. It is just the way of things. When we stop struggling against this truth, living grows easier.”
Defeat had crept into Evan’s face, hidden within the sparkle of gold in his dark eyes. “Tell me, sir. Is there anything I can do to fight this? Something forgotten… a ritual even?” He would be willing to try sorcery once if it would tear the ability from him forever.
“No.” Greggory Collins had looked once, ages ago. The answer had been the same disappointment even then. “The Hierarchy will train you to be one of the most powerful men in the realm.”
“That’s not what I want!” Evan snapped, his hands flexing in fists. Just as quickly, he was still again, controlled.
The man noted it with interest and spoke gentler this time. “But that is what it will be.”
They would break him, and use him, and, when he aged and his power was less enticing, they would let him go to finally live his own life. The chain would still be there, but it would be much longer. There were worse things, or at least, that was what the man told himself. Greggory had never lost an eye, and his power had kept him from the manipulations of lesser men. Still, it had never lessened their greed when they looked at him.
“New York will keep you just as far away from Stephan Grock as Connecticut would, further even,” Master Collins added, watching the boy flinch. “He has made many enemies and your acceptance into the Hierarchy won’t change that. This is more a victory for you than running off to dust books in the Academy. You will see, Evan. The world is small to you right now, but if you can endure, you will have an opportunity to see more than many. It is beautiful and vast.”
There was no happiness in Evan Reed when he left, just a quiet simmer of anger and despair that boiled at the boy’s core. There was nothing to be done about it. It was the way of the world, Greggory Collins told himself as he shuffled files off his desk.
Children were schooled in the arts, sciences, histories and mathematics during their first eighteen years of life. Many of them would continue on that path after their birthday, fading away into obscurity in offices and retail jobs, having never touched magic, never knowing greatness. As for the others, they would go off to one of the many Academies, the world knowing there was something special in them even if not very useful. They would learn about magic and nature; some would even be able to perform basic spells. They would have the pick of the jobs once they left, becoming upstanding citizens or the slime of the underground, both manipulating their way through life to get more—more happiness, more money, more attention, more power. They would seek forever to be what they could never be on their own. Never satisfied. Never enough.
Then there were children like Evan Reed.
Master Collins noted the untouched glass on the table. The boy was strong against suggestion. He didn’t show any magical inclinations outright, but he suspected that Evan Reed hid a lot. The boy had no friends within school and word was, none outside as well. Living with who he was living with, it was no surprise. His mother had disappeared when he was newly born and no one even knew the name of the boy’s father. He had been left in the care of his neurotic distant cousin, Beverly Reed and her boyfriend, the formidable warlock Stephan Grock, who was never quite powerful enough but managed to make up for it with an abundance of cruelty and a fascination with the Dark Arts.
Isolated, brilliant, and beaten, it was a wonder the boy wasn’t a serial killer. Depending on what the Hierarchy saw in him, Evan may still have a chance to become one.
That, also, was the way of the world.
Evan went to Beverly that night, once Stephan had left for his nocturnal spell work and Edward, Beverly’s son, had gone out to play with friends after dinner. She didn’t say much in response to the news, only glared at Evan as if he had brought this upon himself. Maybe he had.
Strictly speaking, children were not supposed to dabble in sorcery until they had their 18th birthday and came into their power with their exritus. If you were from a high bloodline, though, the opposite was expected. You were to know your potential and flaunt it at every turn, building connections and interested parties that would help get you where you wanted to go in the future. Since Evan had denied his magical potential for so long, he had few connections that could help him in the next steps, leaving more of a burden on his cousin.
The Reed bloodline had once been high, reaching back to powerful beings and great deeds but its descendants were disappointing. At least, Beverly was. She was pushing fifty, her hair grayed prematurely, her frame narrow and stiff like a splintery board. Once she had been strong, trained to kill with her hands or whatever useful part of her body she had available at the time. Now she shook in the stillness, a side effect of abusing elixirs for years on end. Whatever she might have been before, she had taken to blissing out once she was out of Academy and after the war, trying to erase whatever horrors she’d seen so long ago.
Evan had once heard talk that Beverly had been jealous of his mother, who had been picked for the Hierarchy and protected from any fighting when the war started. Evan’s mother had been a great woman in her power, a composer of musical enchantments that no talent had been able to match even seventeen years after her mysterious disappearance. She was still considered a legend even though Cecilia Reed had birthed a bastard son and refused to name his father. Fine for many families but not the magical, who demanded bloodlines to be traced and judged at every turn. Beverly had taken Evan in because it was her duty as family, and she had never been known to shirk responsibility. There had been little love in it, and possibly even less now, after all this time. She had two children of her own; a daughter named Antoinette that had escaped to the AST when she had come of age, and Edward, who still had three years before he had to worry of such things.
Evan told himself he didn’t care when Beverly took him by the arm the next day, dragging him out to get fitted for formal attire. He told himself that a lot, repeating it in his head as if somehow it would make it true. It was not his mother fussing over him, but the stern woman that was his guardian. There was no pride in her eyes, only a measure of never quite acceptable when gazing at him. He wasn’t being dressed for the AST but some magical prison that would drain him dry by the end if they ever decided to be done with him.
Open robes over suit pants, shirt and tie were in fashion, replacing the more traditional dress layers of robes and tall hats of the last decade. Beverly made sure he got the best cut and fit for his suit, his robes made of fine spider silk dyed black and hand embroidered with a dusting of gold stars at the hem and bottom of the sleeves. His tie was a matching gold on a pale cream shirt. It was a simple assemble but one that suited his age and didn’t leave him feeling foolish. Beverly was against him going in elaborately decorative or flamboyant clothing, warning him that making a scene would only draw unwanted attention. It was folly to look like one didn’t know where they belonged when facing the Hierarchy.
They bought him shoes last. For some reason Beverly found this task to be the most important, and possibly the most arduous. She would not look at anything that wasn’t once alive. Synthetic materials were cheep and insulting, plant fibers and cow leather only for commoners. She eventually settled on boots made from the skin of the Rock Boring Dragon. They weren’t so expensive that he would look like he was showing off, but certainly of a quality that would allow him to fit in.
Evan suffered through, telling himself that once it was done it wouldn’t have to be done again. Not with Beverly, anyways. The clothing was wrapped in plain brown paper and hidden in his closet the moment he arrived home. School had given him leave to prepare, but he did not linger in his cousin’s house during the rest of the day, afraid Stephan would come home and discover him there and pry away until his secret was revealed.
Evan wasn’t certain what would happen once Stephan found out. Beverly was going to wait until he was safe in New York to tell her boyfriend, where Stephan’s anger wouldn’t reach. Angry, the man would certainly be. Stephan Grock was a self taught warlock, not for lack of money or bloodline, but because no one would bother to teach someone so talentless. He was bitter for it and spiteful. Stephan had spent many hours throughout the years berating Evan for not having any magical talent, while Edward, his young cousin, showed great potential. It was all the man cared about. That, and gaining more power for himself.
Stephan still lacked talent but had found ways around it. Enchanted instruments were his favorite, giving the man a power that he could never produce on his own. Such instruments were dangerous and usually created and obtained through soul wrenching ways. Something had changed in Stephan as of late, something that had caused Beverly to watch young Edward like a defensive lioness whenever the man was around. Power wasn’t always born from within. Sometimes it was taken from others. Evan had no proof but he had plenty of fear for the man that had tormented him all these years. He was in no rush to disclose to Stephan that power had been revealed in him.
He hid in the park down the street for the rest of the day, only returning to the house when night had fallen and dinner was over. Stephan had never come home. Evan took it as a good omen and slipped into bed and a restless sleep.