from Chapter 6
The Lemon Tree
It came as a surprise when Brikkens announced that he would be giving everyone a chance to try magic.
At the unexpected announcement, Tristan lifted his head from the desk and blinked up at Brikkens, whose bulk was spilling over the arms of his sturdy chair.
“Ah, Mr. Fairholm,” Brikkens said happily. Pushing his glasses farther up his stubby nose, he leaned forward and peered at Tristan.
“Yeah?” Tristan said sleepily. He sat up straighter, smoothing his hair over his face.
“Brinley Alldusk tells me that you’re rather good at detecting auras. Is this true?”
“Well, come forward,” Brikkens urged. “You will be the first to attempt a rudimentary spell, because out of everyone here, you are the most likely to succeed.”
Tristan was sure that Amber knew more than him, though he decided not to correct Brikkens. Instead he rose and crossed the room to stand behind the professor. No one was napping now—Leila eyed Tristan with doubtful curiosity, while Zeke sat forward in his chair and smirked.
Brikkens dug into a pocket of the hideous maroon vest he always wore. Then he grabbed Tristan by the wrist and pressed one of the golden marbles into his hand. Tristan looked in surprise at the marble, cold and metallic against his palm; he had expected something a little more unusual, given that it was spun from pure magic.
“Now what?” Tristan said. “How am I supposed to use it?” He tried not to look around the room—half of the students wanted him to fail spectacularly, while the others anticipated no better.
Brikkens cleared his throat. “Well, the key to magic is concentration. To manipulate the power of this orb, you must isolate a single thought from within the complexity of your mind, and use this command to direct the magic. Allow any unnecessary thoughts to intrude, and the spell will be broken—hence, the magic will drain away with no results. Or, if you’re unlucky, the spell could go awry.”
Swallowing, Tristan closed his hand around the icy marble.
“Well, now, let’s see what you can do,” Brikkens said enthusiastically. “The amount of magic stored in a single orb isn’t enough to do any real harm, so give us a show, my boy!”
That was it? Had the professor given better instructions the week before, when Tristan had been dozing off? Why hadn’t he paid better attention?
Tristan took a steadying breath and looked around the room, hoping for inspiration. The curving walls shone white and empty, as blank as his thoughts, but as he turned his gaze to the ceiling, he remembered their first day of class. Brikkens had changed the color of the domed ceiling…but first, Eli had suggested he grow a tree.
Cradling the marble in the palm of his right hand, Tristan dug in his pockets with his left. After a moment he unearthed a handful of debris from botany; mixed into the dirt and pebbles were a few likely-looking seeds. He dropped the whole handful onto the clean marble floor behind his back.
Now what? The students were beginning to lose interest. When Brikkens had done his magic show, he’d blown on the marbles before dropping them, so Tristan did the same, just to be safe. Then he closed his eyes and tried to marshal his thoughts.
Slowly he managed to dull his awareness, until his mind was empty aside from the single desire. Grow, he thought, trying to be stern. I don’t know what kind of plant you are, but you’re getting plenty of sunlight and water and…
The marble began to change in his hand, growing warmer and warmer, while at the same time becoming less substantial. Tristan opened his eyes just to see that it was still there, and his concentration shattered. The marble hadn’t moved, though it was starting to cool already. He was losing hold of the spell.
Okay, Tristan continued, ignoring the thrill of anticipation that ran through him. He squeezed his eyes shut once again. This time you’re actually going to grow. He pictured a seed unfurling its leaves, easing its root into the earth, stretching a stalk towards the sky….
The marble was getting hot again, until it was like holding a naked flame. Now grow. He turned his hand over and let the weightless magic vapor slide away.
Shoulders tingling in excitement, Tristan opened his eyes and looked across the polished round table. Damian and Zeke were sniggering, and Eli had turned to mutter something to Trey. Leila shrugged and mouthed, it’s all right.
All at once, the room grew silent. Zeke sat up straighter in his chair, and Hayley’s round eyes widened until her eyebrows disappeared beneath her bangs. Tristan didn’t know what they were looking at. Could they see his scars? He pressed his hair into place again.
Then something nudged Tristan in the back of the knee. He jumped and whirled around—there was something shooting up from the ground.
His seeds were growing.
Shocked, Tristan stumbled away from the cluster of plants. The tallest was a pale, delicate tree that shivered as it grew, sending out leaves and new branches that uncurled faster than a lizard’s tongue. There was another plant blossoming to its rear, a tangled dark bush with thorns. As the bush crept its way up the tree’s thickening trunk, it budded and then erupted in scarlet blooms.
When the tree unfolded like an umbrella beneath the domed ceiling, Tristan’s spine tingled with power. In that instant he could feel magic coursing through his veins and hovering in the air, just beyond his grasp. This magic wasn’t frightening or confusing—no, it was subtle and potent and good.
About the Author