Dear Court Mage Adrahim Argos and Delia Argos,
Jobe did not pass one of his final examinations this year.
If you wish, he can either attend a summer course, or he can attempt a make-up examination later on.
In any case, he will have to retake the course SPELLCASTING III next year if he enrolls at the Academy again.
Due to failing the final examination, he has been given an F. Otherwise he would've received a D.
His other grades are as follows:
ALGEBRA II: D
COMPOSITION III: C
GOVERNMENT I: D
HISTORY II: D
Jobe threw open his window, tore the paper up into tiny scraps, and pitched them into the yard like they were confetti.
It had happened just as he stepped inside his house. His parents, angrier than he had ever seen them, had cornered him with that stupid letter. An hour and a half of yelling later, Jobe was finally dismissed to his room, where he would be grounded for the rest of the summer. Which was pretty much the whole summer, considering he just got out of the Academy a week ago.
Downstairs, his parents were still talking to each other. And even though they probably thought they were being quiet, he could still make them out. More could be heard the closer he got to his door, so Jobe hovered right by it, opening it a crack.
"What are we going to do about this?"
His dad's voice was as gruff as ever, but Jobe could tell that he was genuinely disappointed.
"I think we need to get him a tutor."
Unlike his father, his mom just sounded mad. The woman had always been the sterner of the two, so it checked out.
Like that worked the last three times...
Jobe took a breath and pushed his door back closed - then flopped onto his bed. Stretching himself out, he decided he really could use some positive thinking. A look on the bright side.
Things could be worse, I guess.
Someone could've caught him earlier.
It was just past sundown, and the sky was as dark as it got in the summer. Jobe's older cousin Luke had come up to the capital for a week to stay over. And as the long days went by, the two of them had become seriously bored. The regular entertainment of talking about girls and stealing booze from his dad's liquor cabinet had lost its luster. They needed something new, something fresh, something exciting.
So, they decided to steal some booze from someone else's liquor cabinet!
"Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"Of course, of course." Jobe waved the girl off as Luke snickered.
Luke was the one who decided to bring his two girl friends along. Friends who were girls, not girlfriends girl friends. Jobe was impressed at his cousin's ability to charm two cute chicks so quickly. He really didn't know how he did it... all his attempts at getting girls were unsuccessful, to say the least.
All four of the teens slipped around a corner. Their destination would be unguarded... it was part of the same walled-off district as the Argos family manor. The only police in this section of the city were staffed at the walls and gates, to prevent any riff-raff from getting in. So, the houses were left relatively unmonitored.
Calling the buildings here "houses" was a massive understatement, though. These were mansions of the highest kind, available only to the wealthiest and most influential people in Carina. Each had no less than three floors, and they usually had some sort of basement to go with it. Everyone here had staff, too, like maids and butlers and chefs. Some lived in the houses, but others came in from the different districts of the city, so in the morning it was like a stampede through the gates. When his dad lost his position as Archmage, Jobe's family had to let a bunch of their staff go.
"So why are we breaking into this guy's house again?" asked one of the girls, clearly reluctant. Of the pair, Jobe thought she was the cuter... she had blonde hair, while the other had deep brown. "Can't you just get whiskey or something from your uncle's cabinet?"
"We've taken too much from it already." Luke said. That's how they had decided to rationalize this. They needed to drink, right? And they couldn't have dad noticing that half of his alcohol had gone missing.
"And it's not his house, it's just his wine cellar. Right Jobe?"
"Right." Jobe grinned.
The cellar was accessible through a separate structure in the yard. It was a little rectangular shack, pretty much. They were up against the side of it now... Luke peeked around the corner to see if anyone was there.
Everyone moved around front, prepared to bolt at the first loud sound. As Jobe pulled something out from inside his coat, one of the girls noticed something nailed above the door: a stylized Z, cut from metal.
"Oh, I get it now." she said. "This is the Zaffreys' house, isn't it?"
Luke answered her with a smile.
In the capital of Carina, just about everyone knew about the legendary Zaffrey-Argos rivalry.
Decades ago, it was pretty much guaranteed that, at any given time, an Argos would have the seat of the Archmage. But that ended when a new family of spellcasters - the Zaffreys - migrated over from another nation, and soon proved to be their match. Now, every five years, when the King replaced or removed members of his court, there was always a big show about which family would be represented. Jobe's dad, Adrahim Argos, had managed to grab the position after a long string of Zaffrey victories. But after just one term, he would have the spot stolen by a tall, intimidating man named Elba: the Zaffreys' patriarch.
This was his wine cellar.
"Want to do the honors?" Luke asked, turning to face his cousin.
Jobe froze up for a second. "Oh... um. Okay."
He lifted up the object he had hidden in his coat: the Argos family scepter. It was just over a foot long, with a intricately carved wooden handle and a hilt and head made of pure, shiny gold. Embedded into the tip of the head was a polished red orb, which light bounced off of like a cat's eye. Not only was it a potent Focus - a tool used for casting spells - but it was a priceless work of art.
Taking aim, he pointed the orb at the door. He and his cousin had already discussed what kind of spell they'd use. All he had to do now was focus... he shut his eyes tight, then, with a tight grip on the scepter, flicked his wrist forward.
He tried again, focusing even harder this time. A few tiny sparks of fire crackled into existence, but otherwise... no dice. A few more failed attempts later, his cousin started to laugh a little.
"Okay, okay, on second thought..." he plucked the Focus from Jobe's hands. "Maybe I should be doing the honors."
Face fiery red, Jobe stepped back. Great... just great. He knew that was going to happen... and in front of cute girls, too!
Why do I have to be such a loser?
No matter what he tried, he just couldn't get the hang of magic. It was more than a little embarrassing, being the son of the former Archmage, the scion of a family of mages that stretched back into Carina's history - and being completely incompetent when it came to casting a spell. He tried not to let it get to him... but it was tough.
Luke, however had a much easier time with casting spells. The girls watched with interest as he stepped back and spun around the scepter with a flourish. Just like Jobe had, he took aim, and then flicked his wrist. But this time, a small ring of flame shot out the tip of the scepter, slicing a hole into the wooden door. It was so precise that the fire didn't even singe the rest of the door, or spread, or anything. It was like a cookie cutter pressed into dough.
"Whoa!" the girls were certainly impressed by the spell. Luke walked up to the door and pushed a finger on the circle he had just cut. It came out easily, little trails of smoke wafting up from the freshly cut hole. Then, he reached through, found the doorknob on the other side, and pulled it open.
"Easy." he said, eyeing Jobe with a smirk on his face. He wasn't trying to be mean, but... Jobe crossed his arms anyways.
"What about the hole?" the blonde girl asked. Luke bent over and picked up the circle of wood that had fallen to the floor, pushing it back where it had once been. It fit perfectly, and at a glance... it looked like nothing had ever happened to the door.
"Don't think I didn't consider that." said Luke, holding the door open. "Come on, let's get inside before anyone sees us!"
The staircase turned out to be pretty long, but before they knew it they were standing in a vast room. It was cold and dark and cavernous. Countless rows of thick wooden shelves ran down the entire length of the cellar, some holding massive casks that had to weigh more than a full grown horse, and others just stocked with bottle after bottle of wine.
Luke cast another spell: a ball of flame sparked into existence over the scepter's head, creating a makeshift torch. It was probably something Jobe could replicate... probably. He waved it around, casting the illumination towards one of the first of the shelves.
"Wow, this stuff looks expensive!" Luke said. Drawing one bottle out, he read the label. "Oh, I think it's old..."
"Wine's better when it's old, man." said Jobe. Luke blinked, then tossed the bottle over to his cousin.
"Yeah, yeah, I was... kidding." as Jobe scrambled to catch the bottle, Luke strolled over to the rest of the group. "So, we headed outta here?"
"Will one bottle be enough?" the brunette asked. Jobe noticed his cousin slide an arm around her waist.
"You want another?" Luke smiled.
"Let's get three!" the blonde's trepidation had clearly passed.
"Well, sounds like a plan." he turned to Jobe. "Here, hold the light, alright?"
When his cousin nodded, Luke passed over the scepter. The fireball remained bright - the spell was still active. Together, the two headed back to the shelves to retrieve some more wine. But as soon as Luke pulled out another bottle...
A loud creak sounded out.
Someone was coming!
"Shit." Luke's eyes whipped around, from his cousin to the girls and back. "Everybody hide!"
The four teens all raced for hiding spots. Luke sprinted towards the end of the shelf, while the two girls found spots behind some casks. Jobe, scepter in hand, made his way for the side of the cellar... but he soon found a problem.
His cousin's spell... he couldn't undo it! And if the person headed downstairs saw the light... everyone was going to be caught!
"Come on, come on, no..." he cursed himself under his breath as he gripped the scepter tight, focusing as hard as he could on making the fireball disperse. Each footstep he heard made his heartbeat spike... sweat ran down his brow. With each new attempt the light flickered a little longer, but it always returned, just as bright.
This wasn't going to work. Thinking fast, Jobe spun around. Propped up in the corner of the room was a mop, and right next to it was a pail of dirty water.
Right before the person stepped into the room, Jobe dove for the pail and plunged the scepter into it head first. The light faded quickly. On all fours, Jobe crawled back against a shelf, peeking through a gap at the newcomer. They held a candle in one hand, which let him see them even from across the room. They approached one shelf, pulled a bottle from it, inspected it quickly, and tucked it under their arm. Then, they were on their way.
Everyone waited a minute before coming out of their hiding places, reconvening at the bottom of the stairs. The girls' faces had gone stark white, but Luke seemed exhilarated.
"That was close!" he laughed. He held up his hands - two bottles of wine in each. "Come on, lets beat it before someone else comes!"
"We are getting him a tutor! I don't care what you say, we're getting him a tutor!"
"Would that be worth it? The boy's been through three..."
Jobe's eyes fluttered open. His parents' voices had knocked him out of his reminiscing. They were still talking about him. Once more, he crept up to his door and creaked it open.
"He's nothing compared the Zaffreys' girl..."
Ugh. Out of all the Zaffreys - those freaks had twelve kids - Iris was the one he hated the most.
She was seventeen, like him, so they were in the same year at the Academy. Which, of course, meant the two were always getting compared, both by teachers and parents. In the future, she would probably be his opponent for the seat of Archmage, so he supposed it made some sense... but still. He just hated her!
It wasn't just because of the family rivalry, the girl was just thoroughly strange and creepy too. Jobe had never seen it for himself, but apparently the girl kept some kind of bug collection that she'd carry around school and show people. Whether the bugs were dead or alive, he didn't know. And the one time they did end up talking, because they had to do a project together, she kept reaching over his desk and picking the little lint balls off of his school sweater.
That project was his best grade, though. Probably because he had her do all of it...
"He's not the Zaffreys' girl! He's our son. He's an Argos." his mother's voice was as loud as it got, and he could just picture the woman crossing her arms as she said that. "He's not a lost cause!"
"Is he, though?"
This stuff was beginning to hurt.
Closing his door again, Jobe went back to his bed. But he didn't lay down this time. He sat there, silent, thinking.
I could do better... I really could.
Jobe didn't know where it was coming from, but he felt a hollow space in his chest. It was like he was lost. Like this whole time, he'd been doing something wrong.
Mom was right... he was an Argos. And he needed to live up to that name. Otherwise, the Zaffreys - Iris - would win!
I'm going to start practicing. Right now!
It was like a lightning bolt of pure determination had struck him. Jobe stood up straight as he could, keeping his head high.
He was going to be a great mage. Strike that, the greatest mage! And he was going to start today! All he needed was his scepter!
The teen looked around his room... where had he put it? It couldn't have...
His scepter... he had left it at the Zaffreys'!