Breathe. Be Strong.

Breathe. Be strong.

That is my litany as I warm up. I have moved myself to be near Katha and Theo, though they are in a different group from me.

“Trying to swap groups to join your half-blooded friend, Manatee?” I hear Zack sneer.

“I was assigned to your group,” I state it quietly; knowing full well facts won't stop Zack's heckling.

“Just keep your distance Water Sprite.” He scoffs inches from my face before moving back away from us.

I relax and sigh. I hate bullies. Theo snorts beside me. I look at him. I can see his hands are clenched. Katha too looks extremely annoyed.

“He was the one that came to you,” Theo mutters.

“That’s what bullies do.” I go back to my warm up routine.

Breathe. Be strong.

There is comfort in it. Comfort knowing it’s what my Dad taught me. I look back up in the silence. Theo is still looking at me. It's as if knowing what bullies do is the last thing he expects me to know. I smile and turn back to my warm up. Eventually he does the same. I hear Katha smother a giggle.

“Hello candidates and parents.” The little man begins to talk through his megaphone, “and welcome to your testing. Would parents please stay as far to the sides as possible and would all candidates sort into the groups they were put in on the elevator.”

I sigh and move back towards where Zack and the rest of my group are. Once we are split out the man finishes with a “Good, Good.” He then nods to the imposing man from yesterday. That man grabs a lever and heaves it from one side to the other. We all gasp as the floor begins to move, falling away leaving a huge gap. In its place rises an obstacle course, the likes of which I’ve never seen. I feel the blood drain from my face.

Breathe. Be strong.

“This is the first challenge that awaits you.” The little man sweeps his hand across the course. “You must begin on this side and get over to the other as quickly as possible, retrieve the weighted bag that awaits you.” He pauses for a moment and then continues, “and bring it back to this side before going back over there and crossing out of the court on your parents side where your time will be taken. OH and no using your affinities.”

The large man makes his way to where we are all standing in our groups. He stops at the point where we are to enter the course. He stands, hands clasped behind his back like a military sergeant inspecting his troops. The obstacle course flickers and then it’s gone. We can’t see it, or past it. The man grins.

“You’ve had your look. The course has been blocked from your view. I recommend none of you try anything to see past it.” He gives us all hard stares. I am not the only one to shrink back slightly.

Breathe. Be strong.

“Alright I want,” he pulls a paper from his pocket, “Michael Flickity, Zackary Hackensack, Jennifer Hopscotch, Martha Jenkins, David Knolland, and Morgan of Ollerond”

I start forward and then stop slightly. Ollerond? My last name is Wilfred.

“Morgan of Ollerond.” The man looks right at me.

Zack snickers as I step forward and join them. Ollerond must be my father’s name. I wonder why they switched it, since I was Wilfred yesterday. Not that I mind the change in name, since Wilfred reminds me of George. I hate George. I refocus as the man begins to talk again.

“Enter and take your positions. Do not move until you hear the whistle blown. Remember using your affinity will be considered cheating.”

What about my un-affinity I wonder, stepping past the wall and onto the obstacle course. Not that I would try it. I position myself as far away from Zack as I can, which, because I’m hesitant isn’t far. I have to pass; for Ash.

The whistle blows and we’re off.

Breathe. Be strong.

The hand and foot holds on the steep wall are almost too far apart for me. I focus with all my might to get to the top. I’m there before I think I should be. Don’t look at the others, I tell myself.  Focus. I hesitate looking at the rope dangling so far away. I must swing from one to another. I doubt I can make the leap. I catch movement out of the corner of my eye.

Breathe. Be strong.

I leap, catching the rope and swinging forward. There’s no time to think as I catch the next one. I am a monkey in a tree. I am Tarzan. I nearly fall off the platform I land on. It’s not big. I steady myself. Platforms descend below me; one after another, each one lower than the one before it. I can not tell if they are also getting smaller or if that’s just perspective. Again I see movement, which spurs me on.

Breathe. Be strong.

Now I am a mountain goat leaping down the sides of a rocky cliff. At last I am at the bottom. I face another wall. Confidently I climb with ease. I am a spider. Up and over I go. I slide down and suddenly freak. Water! I try to stop myself. If it’s over my head I’m doomed. I can’t swim.

Breathe. Be strong.

I lower myself into the water slowly. It only comes up to just above my knees. I breathe a sigh of relief and slog forward. On the other side I can see a tunnel. I’ll have to crawl. As I start I realize it’s more like slithering, so now I’m a snake. I can see the bag in the light beyond. I’m almost halfway. A net entraps me as I stand up. I swallow scream.

Breathe. Be strong.

I make myself freeze. Sudden jerky movements will only entangle me more. With deliberate actions I free myself. Net discarded I close the gap between me and the bag. I pick it up and nearly drop it. The bag is heavier than expected. How am I going to get back through the obstacle course holding on to that? Suddenly I see the net. I drag the bag over. Using the net I rig a pack and set the bag on my back. I hope I don’t drop it.

Breathe. Be strong.

I head back. My progress is slower and yet still fast; at least, faster than I expect it to be.

Slither through the tunnel like a snake.

Wade through the water like an elephant.

Climb the walls like a spider.

Leap up the platforms like a mountain goat.

Swing on the ropes like a monkey.

Slide down the last wall like an otter. Well not quite. I don’t go head first.

Breathe. Be strong.

I set my bundle down and quickly go to where my Dad is. I am exhausted and exhilarated, yet I want to cry. I wrap my arms around him to feel his strength. I wish it was Ash. I blink back tears.

“Do you think I passed?” I whisper to him stepping back.

“I’m sure you did darling. You did wonderful kid. I’m proud of you.” He ruffles my hair.

My annoyance at that sooths my nerves and I look around. I notice two things, no three. The first is that the woman next to us is wearing Dad’s jacket and secondly, she looks like she’s Katha’s mom. The third thing I notice, as I look back at the course, is that I beat Zack. Now I'm smiling.

The End

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