12. A World Without Preparation

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The moment Spring's eyes opened that morning, a surge of numbing anxiety ran through his bloodstream. He tried taking deep breaths as his waking eyes shut again, blocking out the light of the sun pouring into their room, but he couldn't get his heart to stop trembling. His whole body was quivering. When he opened his eyes again, he found himself staring at a blank ceiling, yet phantoms of his dream of that stage, those eyes, and that constant screaming of a distant crowd flashed before him. The boy covered his face with his pillow to force back the warmth flooding him.

Today was the day. It was the start of one snippet of his life that would permanently and irreversibly determine the rest of his life. Today, when he left his dorm room and found Autumn, they would be heading for the arena to meet their opponents, train a bit with a professor, and then... Then it would be time not only for him to show what a magician without magic was worth- if anything- but for Autumn to fulfill his promise. This day that greeted him with a sun as artificial as the pleasantness it exuded was the one he feared most. The competition.

Spring shuddered at just the word crossing his thoughts, when his wandering eyes, dark with worry and sleep-deprivation, caught Keu throwing one of his muscle shirts on. That was at least one thing he could look forward to; on the week of the competition, students didnt have to wear their uniform of gym clothes. He could see Keu had decided to go with his usual street clothes. As he watched, he smirked at how he showed his muscles. Noticing the boy in his peripheral, the man gave him a wink before taking a seat beside him.

"So, kid, how do you feel about today?" He asked. Spring sat up from his bed, rubbing the back of his neck from a long, uncomfortable night of tossing and turning. He gave no reply, but Keu didn't seem to need one looking him over. The boy wore his emotions on his sleeves- and on the lack of color on his face. "Scared, huh? Yeah, I don't blame you..." He laid back on the bed with his arms behind his head to stare up at the ceiling. "You know, when I first saw you, you were so tiny."

"I'm four years younger than you..." Spring grumbled. Keu snorted.

"Nah, I don't mean on the bus; I mean when you were just a couple of days old," he clarified. Spring raised a brow. Since when had the man known him any longer than the first day of school? He was used to being known of since scoring what he did on the entrance exam and having no magic didn't cone with out notoriety, but how could Keu have met him when he was a baby? "You were a big deal in the city. Everyone was saying you were cursed and evil and an omen and stuff. It was pretty crazy. Naturally..." He glanced over at the boy with a wink. "I had to take a look at this 'great beast'."

Spring giggled. Inside, however, memories of the infancy of his life before his mother died returned to him. It was true what he said; the people in the city, from the common rabble to the mayor in his plush office chair above them all, thought that he was a sign of the end of the world- and they wanted him sacrificed to appease the gods that were angry with them. He was public enemy number one on the day he was born without a birthmark and no magic on the reader that determined what type a child was. It was a terrifying time, as he remembered.

Some nights, he would wake up to the smell of smoke from someone trying to burn their house down, and other times, there would just be shouting, but every time there was fear- fear of what would be next and when. He remembered his mother staying up until morning many nights to make sure that the people never got inside to harm him. His mom... He was really something else. Even after his father, a wealthy hotel owner so said his teacher, disowned them, his mother continued to care for him. He did everything he could to keep him safe until his last breath.

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