It was early afternoon, right at the busiest time of the day in the research center, when the head researcher, Morvus, called for everyone to assemble. Groans and irritated mutterings filled the laboratory as many researchers found their experiments interrupted. On the other hand, I was perfectly happy to have an excuse to get away from the mind-numbingly pointless tests they had me running.
I crossed through the stone room, my nose assaulted by a variety of smells that didn’t belong together. Magical lights flitted about the area, their glow revealing mountains of parchment and assorted items in various states of destruction. For someone unused to working here, it probably seemed like complete chaos.
Once everyone had assembled, Morvus raised his hands high in the air and began to excitedly preach to us.
“Rejoice, everyone, for the Empress herself will be gracing this facility with her presence tomorrow,” His words sent an excited murmur through the assembled crowd. The empress had never visited our little laboratory before, “This is our chance to prove our worth to the empire and secure more funding for future research. Make sure you don’t mess it up!”
With his last words, he glared into the crowd, specifically at me, I was pretty sure. Oh well, nothing worth worrying myself over. That grumpy old man was constantly yelling at me about this or that, so I was pretty numb to it by now. More importantly, this might just be my chance to finally get my research in front of someone who might listen.
I walked back to my work station, a little more pep in my step than before. Pushing aside the stack of written spells I had been revising, I started to write down the instructions for a new spell. It was tedious, thanks to how specific you needed to be, but it was still way more entertaining than what I had been doing.
Ever since I had joined the lab, that geezer made me do nothing but work on improving the efficiency of existing spells. All because he’s scared of losing funding if we don’t show quick results. At first, I didn’t mind. Manipulating magical instructions was one of my specialties, so it was a rather easy task.
Still, there was only so much I could do to improve them without understanding the rules behind them. In this world filled with magic, no one ever questioned why things worked the way they did. Instead, they just chalked everything up to magic. However, that was wrong, and I had been trying to prove it. Yet, whenever I would suggest an experiment to learn more about how a spell was actually functioning, that old geezer would turn me down, saying it was a waste of time. Sure, my first few attempts had gone a little off the rails and nearly destroyed the lab because of a few calculations not being quite right, but that was beside the point!
At any rate, tomorrow would be different. Tomorrow, I would finally get to show everyone what I had been working on in secret in front of the empress. They would have to acknowledge me then. I finished writing down the spell that I had been preparing, unable to contain the grin on my face. Tomorrow was going to be a good day.
The next day I could barely contain my anticipation as the empress made her rounds of the laboratory, inspecting the results of each researcher’s work. She looked over the laboratory with an aura of superiority, her silver hair and golden eyes giving her a majestic air. Although it could have just been boredom too. Nothing that the other researchers showed her was all that impressive, only slightly better versions of existing spells.
The old geezer had pulled me aside this morning and warned me to be on my best behavior, but I could still barely contain my excitement. Whenever I thought I might catch their eye, I found myself bouncing up and down on my toes. Yet, it looked like the old man was going to do his best to keep her away from me, and every time she would start to glance my way, he would pull her off to some other part of the laboratory.
I continued waiting patiently until finally, the empress started to head my way, Morvus following after her nervously. However, just as I was about to get my moment, one of her attendants called out to her, “Your eminence, time is up. If we take any longer, you’ll be late for your next appointment.”
I hung my head in disappointment as the geezer let out a relieved sigh. Gritting my teeth as her footsteps echoed on the stone floor, I debated whether or not to call after her, but there was no way even I could act so forward in front of the empress. A moment later, the footsteps came to a stop, “Just a moment, Sevas. I need to see this young girl’s experiment before I go. What’s your name?”
Surprised by how close her voice sounded, I looked up to find myself face to face with the empress. She smiled down at me with a rather bemused expression, waiting for my response.
“I-It’s Alexia, ma’am.”
“Well, Alexia, would you show me what you’ve been working on?”
“Yes! Of course! Just give me a moment,” I spun around and began arranging everything for my spell, my hands shaking from nervousness. Once the preparations were finished, I started reading the spell. Since I hadn’t had time to tie it to a keyword yet, I had to recite the whole thing, making time drag on for what felt like forever.
When I finally finished, I felt my magical energy activate and begin to fulfill my will. On the table in front of me sat a rather large stone, about twice as large as my head. It slowly began to rise up into the air, lifting off the table. However, rather than stopping, it continued to rise faster and faster into the air until it crashed into the ceiling. There, it continued to apply more and more pressure, slowly destroying the roof over our heads.
“Oh, crap! I forgot to limit the acceleration!”
Realizing my mistake, I released the spell in a hurry before it could completely destroy the ceiling. Without anything left to keep the stone in the air, it hurtled toward the ground and smashed through the table, sending fragments of wood and pieces of paper flying everywhere.
“Alexia, what have you done!? What if you had hurt the empress!?” Morvus shouted at me completely red-faced before turning to the empress with a bow, “I’m terribly sorry about this, your eminence. I did warn her beforehand, but she just doesn’t listen.”
The empress raised her hand, cutting him off., her gaze fixed on me like a predator that had just found its prey. I felt myself begin to wither under that stare. Preparing for the worst, I screwed my eyes shut and waited for my punishment.
“Effective immediately, this research group is disbanded!”
I opened my eyes, horrified by her words, and found Morvus pale-faced and begging with her, “Your eminence. C-certainly the girl made a mistake, but disbanding the research group seems a bit harsh.”
“Mistake?” The empress turned her gaze toward him, eyes ice-cold, “The only mistake here was leaving you in charge for so long. How could you let a talent like this go to waste!?”
We both stared at her with shocked expressions, “I-I beg your pardon your eminence, but I don’t understand. What talent might you be referring to?”
“You can’t even understand that? What a poor excuse for a researcher,” She turned back to me and pointed at the ruins of my experiment, “It may have been a failure, but what we have witnessed here today is the birth of a new form of magic. One that will give the empire a massive edge over its enemies! Flight magic!”
I hadn’t believed that it was possible, but it seemed like the empress had understood the intent behind my spell. My eyes went wide as the realization hit me.
“Sevas, arrange a list of candidates for Miss Alexia to choose from for her new research group.”
“Yes, your eminence,” The aid from before began to quickly scribble a note on parchment while the rest of us could only watch in silence, “I’ll make sure it gets done. We must be going, though. You’re already late.”
“Yes, yes. I’m coming,” The empress turned on her heel, and headed for the door. Without looking back, she called out to me one last time, “I’ll be expecting great things from you, Alexia.”
It was on that day that I became the head researcher of my own group as a mere 14 years old, the youngest in the history of the Elstian Empire.
© D.S. Craig, 2020. All Rights Reserved.