Another installment – go here to get caught up.
The kitchen was still warm from its earlier exertions.
The room heard and complied, and Sharna let out a sigh of relief. It was all in the tone. If you left even a bit of a question in your voice, the kitchen would ignore you. To become a successful Mage, you had to believe in yourself. That didn’t mean you had to be arrogant, though. The line was clear, but many girls stumbled over it.
Sharna had the opposite problem. Tonight she couldn’t sleep because of her failure to declare the seeds into sprouts in Botany. Last week her insomnia had been caused by a lack of confidence during Chemistry. She loved the Sciences, but they made her question everything. Without clear answers, she had trouble believing her actions could alter the natural order.
As she struggled with the lid of the pickle jar, she fought back the panic. She couldn’t fail out of the Mansion. Her parents already thought she was a disaster. Their visits were getting farther and farther apart, and when they did see her, they spent the whole time talking about her brother – The Councilman. She could still hear her mother’s breathless gushing from the last visit.
“They gave him a residence! You should see it, Sharna. It has a garden and a wine cellar.”
Sharna cursed as the knife slipped, and she nicked her finger. She quickly stuck it in her mouth and wrapped the cheese back up one-handed. Her father hadn’t been any better.
“Shouldn’t you be wearing red robes by now?” he’d asked.
She’d tried to explain that everyone advanced at a different pace, but he wouldn’t listen. She had no acceptable reason to give him for being the only seventeen-year old left in yellow, and the visit had ended abruptly after that.
Sharna slammed shut the drawer a little harder than necessary and shouted, “Lights off!”
Waking the rest of the Mansion was a terrible idea, but she didn’t care. What more could they do to humiliate her? As she passed out of the kitchen and into the hall, she noticed the parlor door was no longer latched. A thin sliver of light was visible where the latch was undone. She gently nudged it open with her bare foot.
The parlor was lit with the wash of the rising moon. The walls lined with jars of past experiments floating in silvery slimes and bedraggled taxidermy made Sharna shudder. Nothing stirred. The lumpy couches and ladder-back chairs cast shadows over the nubby carpet. A clock on the mantle ticked and whirred as the hands met over the twelve.
I’m going to be miserable tomorrow morning, Sharna thought as she backed out of the room and pulled the latch until it clicked. Maybe she could make up for today’s failure and tomorrow’s inevitable exhaustion by trying the experiment again. If she could get the seeds to sprout tonight, then it wouldn’t be as bad when she showed up to lab with dark circles under her eyes and loud yawns. She headed upstairs to the lab.
The room lit up in a flash like a lightning strike. In that instant, Sharna saw the intruder.
(see you next Saturday!)