Gertie gets her license

Photo by Paolo Bendandi on Unsplash
Gertie looked up at the entrance to the Skyline stadium. Normally, when she was in the sports arena of the magical city above the clouds, it was to see a game of basketball with virtually no limits on magic, or a gladiator battle (with safety spells implemented and a healer present), or a dragon presentation.
This time, all the bleachers had been pushed back into the walls, and the floor was lined with little sound-proof cubicles. Inside each was a mini kitchen set up via magic, and a proctor waiting for their examinee.
It was the day of the Enchantment Apprenticeship License Exam.
The exam was an international event, spanning across more than seventy locations throughout the twenty countries that recognized the exam as a fitting qualification for an apprenticeship. All over the world, hopefuls were taking the test that Gertie was about to embark on.
Gertie checked herself in for the afternoon test block she had signed up for. It was right after the lunch break in the test schedule - there was no way she was risking the license she’d been working towards for the last two years on a cranky proctor who was daydreaming of macaroni and cheese.
The man at the sign-in table took her cellphone and backpack to be locked away and gave her her assigned cubicle number. Gertie thanked him, took a deep breath, and descended the stairs to find her testing spot.
She had stored plenty of power in her keychain accessories, practiced her planned enchantment hundreds of times, and wore her lucky cloche hat. It wasn’t magical - that wasn’t allowed in exams - but Gertie always did well on tests when she wore it. She was ready, she told herself. She would be fine.
“Miss Mallon?” asked the woman standing in her assigned cubicle with a clipboard.
Gertie nodded.
“I’m going to scan you for magical objects.” She held up a wand to do so.
“I have my keychains, for power, since I’m not a witch,” Gertie said, pulling them out for the proctor to see. She had written this on her application, so it wasn’t a surprise.
“Set them down there.” The proctor nodded to the table where a whole slew of potion ingredients sat.
Gertie did so.
The proctor took her wand and did a quick scan from the floor, over Gertie’s left shoulder, head, right shoulder, and back to the ground.
She then waved the wand over Gertie’s keychains, testing them for any enchantments as well.
“Looks good. Let’s get started.”
Gertie picked up her keychains again and put them back into her pocket.
Her proctor read from a clipboard. “Your self-selected enchantment is the Floating Bag. We have provided you with everything you will need. You have an hour and a half to complete your enchantment. Begin.”
Gertie went straight to the stack of equipment in the corner. She chose a cast iron cauldron that was the same size she’d practiced with in her dorm room. She put it on the stove and cranked the heat to medium.
A bottle of cloud extract was sitting, tall and with a no-drip spout, on the back corner of the table laden with ingredients. Gertie picked it up and coated the bottom of her cauldron with the wispy white gel. Next, she measured out the moonflower pollen, according to the recipe she had memorized, and put it in the extract to sizzle.
While that was going, she started chopping, skinning, and grinding everything she needed. Gertie had found the electric mixer and was whipping up cream from winged cows when disaster struck.
The pollen in the cauldron started popping.
Gertie dropped the bowl of whipped cream onto the table and stared at the pollen that was jumping out of the cauldron. What was going on? She put a splatter screen over the top of the cauldron to keep the pollen from escaping, and picked up the jar she had measured from.
She felt her ears roaring as she stared at it blankly.
Moonflower pollen, aged ten years, the label read. Ten years.
She had been practicing with five.
The pollen popped so high the splatter guard jumped before settling back.
She glanced up. The proctor was taking notes, frowning.
Gertie grit her teeth until her head hurt. She could fix this. She didn’t know much about creating new spells, so she wouldn’t be able to change the actual incantation to suit this new recipe. But maybe she could add something that would counteract the effects of the extra aging.
The test had provided her with more ingredients than she needed, to throw her off in case she hadn’t memorized the right recipe. Maybe something they had given her would actually help.
Gertie glanced over the plethora of ingredients. Snake venom, no. Pie crust, what would that even-? Rice? Yes! Plain old rice! A common ingredient in underwater potions, it normally would do the exact opposite of what Gertie’s enchantment needed.
But normally, she would have used the right pollen.
Carefully, after triple-checking the label, Gertie measured out the proper amount of rice to counteract the aging of the pollen and poured it into the pot.
She turned up the heat and added the rest of the ingredients.
Gertie left her potion to boil and turned to chop up the last item - lavender.
After that was done, there was nothing to do but wait. Well, wait and clean up the space. That was what the provided sink was for, after all.
Once the chopping boards, bowls, knives, and peeler were all clean, the timer rang.
The next step was to soak the bag that she was enchanting in the potion.
But before she did that, Gertie sprinkled the lavender into the mix. The aroma of the herb filled the cubicle, chasing away the odd scent of burnt pollen and silkworm saliva. It wasn’t strictly necessary, but Gertie prefered the smell of her enchantments to not render the objects unusable.
Gertie killed the heat on the stove and dropped her bag in.
She stirred it into the potion with a wooden spoon, drawing power from her keychains as she spoke her spell clearly, since the proctor would grade on pronunciation.
The potion glowed a clear and brilliant green. Perfect.
Gertie used the spoon to fish the bag out of the potion.
There was one last step. Gertie took a deep breath. She used this specific spell every morning when she dried her hair after getting out of the shower. There was nothing to be nervous about, and yet her heart beat so rapidly she thought it would stall.
“Dry,” she commanded in the magical language of Gnaang, flicking the bag and sending the potion flying into the sink, coating it green.
Gertie quickly set the nozzle to rinse the basin, and then held out the dry cloth bag for the proctor to inspect.
The proctor looked at her watch.
“Twenty-six minutes early,” she said, taking note. “But you didn’t wait for it to dry naturally-”
“I’ve tried letting it, like the recipe says,” Gertie quickly said. “I can just barely do it under the time limit. But I had to try using the drying spell, just to see, and it works! The bag still works.”
The proctor looked over her glasses at Gertie. “And why does it work?”
Gertie took a deep breath to keep herself from rambling. “Because the spell imbues the power from the potion into the bag itself, in this case,” Gertie said. “If the potion coating the bag was necessary for peak performance, it would have to be air dried.”
“Correct.” The proctor wrote down some notes. “Now, let’s see if it works. I noticed your mistake with the pollen, but the rice was clever. It should have helped.”
The proctor took the bag and said, “Float,” in Gnaang, releasing the bag in midair. It hung there, as if it had been placed on a table.
The proctor took a step to the left and the bag followed. To the right, the same thing. She started walking away, and the bag floated after her.
The proctor nodded thoughtfully, taking down notes. “You still didn’t follow the recipe, I’m afraid,” she said.
Gertie’s heart fell. Surely her final score would be impacted for not following the exact steps in the approved recipe.
“We both normally get a fifteen minute break before the next part of the test. However, that would be at the end of the hour and a half, which there is still twenty minutes of. Would you like to wait a full thirty minutes or...?”
“I don’t think I can wait that long,” Gertie admitted, anxious to get on with the next part of the test.
The proctor smiled. “Fifteen minutes then.”
Gertie found the bathroom. Her hands shook as she washed them.
One down, one to go.
She returned to her cubicle and sipped water until the proctor returned.
“Alright. Your first enchantment you were able to practice. This one, you have not. We’ve given you all new ingredients.” The proctor gestured to the table. There was no over-aged pollen in sight. “Follow the instructions, use your intuition, and you will hopefully be fine. You have one hour. Good luck.”
She handed Gertie a piece of paper.
Glowing Orchid Encased in Glass, was the recipe title. Sure enough, a beautiful purple orchid sat in a pot in the corner of the mini kitchen’s counter.
Not a very creative recipe name, Gertie thought.
Then she glanced down at the three separate sections of the recipe.
“Balls,” Gertie muttered, and grabbed three separate cauldrons from the corner. All three went on the heat.
She only had an hour to make three different potions? It was madness.
Even more ridiculous was that they didn’t give her the whole recipe. They gave her bits and pieces, and she needed to rely on her potion know-how to complete the recipe.
The first thing under the title was Step 1: Make a coolant, with a list of ingredients and their measurements.
Gertie remembered the word coolant. She had spent a lot of her time watching various potions videos online to try to prepare.
Coolants are the easiest potions in the world! an online potion maker had proclaimed. You just put all your ingredients in the pot, put the lid on, and boil it for thirty minutes until everything’s combined. Then you shove it in the fridge to cool it down and it’s ready!
Gertie measured out all of the coolant’s ingredients and threw them in the cauldron on the back burner of the stove and put the lid on. She set a timer for thirty minutes, and let it do its own thing.
Step 2: Combine the following ingredients to make the clear syrup base for the luminance potion.
This was the potion that would make the orchid glow. Gertie racked her brain - potions that emitted light could be tricky. There were lots of variations, but all needed to be done at a precise temperature to determine what color it would be. Since the recipe specified clear, it meant the lowest of the available temperatures.
Just remember the eight eights, she remembered her potions textbook saying on the subject of potion color. Eighty-eight for black, seventy-eight for purple, sixty-eight for blue, fifty-eight green, forty-eight for for yellow, thirty-eight for orange, twenty-eight for red, eighteen for clear.
Gertie took a deep breath and grinned in relief.
She measured tiny crystals of lightning salt into a cup to pour into the final cauldron and an equal amount of starfruit seeds. She added the required teaspoon of moonshade - a sticky golden syrup - and filled the rest of the cauldron with water.
She stirred it diligently, checking on the nearby coolant with eyes only. She had to keep the glowing potion constantly moving, while checking the temperature on a thermometer and adjusting the stove accordingly to keep it at eighteen degrees.
Finally, the potion for the glow started to thicken and form sparking bubbles.
“Yes!” Gertie fist pumped.
Step 3: When the syrup has begun to bubble, let it boil on the stove for fifteen minutes.
Gertie set a timer for fifteen minutes, and sat down for a moment to catch her breath and read ahead in the recipe.
The fourth step was about adding something to the luminance potion, so Gertie skipped over it.
Step 5: Choose the proper incantation to melt the glass.
Choose the proper…?
Gertie turned the recipe sheet over. On the opposite side was a list of spells. At least they were all in Laux, a language she knew. Of course, this was not a coincidence since she had provided the accredited board with a list of her capabilities when applying to take the test.
Gertie took a deep breath and began translating the spells to the best of her ability. Three she ruled out of being a part of this enchantment altogether - they mentioned eggs and things that weren’t on the ingredients table. One she discovered, upon translating, was for when she had finished brewing the luminance potion. She circled that one for later.
There were three that mentioned glass. One was clearly the end of the enchantment, as it meant the equivalent of “Halt.” The two others were trickier. They were very similar, longer spells, both dealing with the glass. One did have the word for “liquid” in it, so she put a star next to it in the hopes that she was right.
Both timers rang that their potions were ready and Gertie re-read step four.
Step 4: Once the syrup’s bubbles have begun to stack, add one fourth teaspoon of star spider venom and let the potion rest for four minutes.
Gertie stared at the instruction. Venoms were pesky things, very reactive. Usually recipes mentioned not moving the pot, putting on a lid, and using a timer to measure exactly the amount of time it needed to sit.
Gertie checked the clock to see how much time she had left. Twenty minutes. Great.
She returned to the luminance potion. It had boiled so much, it looked like an ambitious bubble bath.
“Bubbles stacking on themselves, check,” Gertie said.
She had no choice but to listen to her intuition, even if it was wrong. She added the final ingredient - the venom of a star spider - and clamped the cauldron’s lid down. She set a timer for four minutes exactly and one for three minutes and fifteen seconds to remind her to come back, and turned her attention to the shards of glass she had been provided with. She needed to magically melt them.
Gertie poured them into the last cauldron she had put to heat on the stove. She spoke the enchantment she had chosen over the glass, and watched as they melted instantly.
“Awesome!” Gertie triumphantly slipped on cauldron mitts, took the mix off the stove and set it next to the provided mold for the final sculpture.
The mold itself was a sphere with a flat bottom, so that the eventual decoration could stand upright. It was made of magically imbued silicone, so it was even more resistant to the heat its contents would bring.
Suddenly the smell of smoke filled the air. Gertie stopped and looked over at the stove.
No, Gertie thought. No no no no no.
The coolant.
She had completely forgotten to take it off the stove and put it in the freezer.
Gertie ran to the stove and looked in the pot. It was crusted black. Nothing was salvageable. She put the entire thing into the sink and ran cold water over it, trying to stop the smoke at the very least.
Gertie stared at the running water, trying to figure a way out. What was she going to do? There was no way she could make a whole new potion. It needed time, not only to combine but to cool. She felt like she had been turned to stone, her heart trying to beat out of her chest.
The three minute and fifteen second timer for the luminance potion rang, and Gertie took a deep breath. She wasn’t going down without a fight.
The proctor made a note, but Gertie didn’t have time to think about her opinion.
Step 6: Remove the luminance potion from the heat and cast the proper incantation that will stabilize it for use.
When the four minute timer rang, Gertie pulled the cauldron off the stove, opened the lid, and spoke the spell she’d circled from the list, the one she hoped would render it stable.
The potion started glowing a solid white color, like she had trapped a star in her cauldron.
Gertie let out a deep breath. That was a very good sign.
She assembled the leftovers of her prepared ingredients that she had made into the first coolant potion. There wasn’t enough to make a whole potion, so a third of the original recipe’s portion would have to do.
She stirred the ingredients together on the stove, trying to force everything to melt as quickly as possible in lieu of it boiling together. When it finally became a thin, watery potion, she took it off the heat and poured it into a metal bowl to suck the heat away. She put the bowl into the freezer, and turned back to deal with the rest of the recipe.
“Five minutes,” the proctor said, checking her timer, a nervous edge to her voice.
Gertie balled her hands into fists, digging her nails into her palms. Fine.
She opened the freezer and put her hands on the bowl. She could still feel the heat emanating from the potion.
“Chill,” she said in Laux, feeling the power drain from her keychains and flow through her hands. The temperature in the bowl went down. But it wasn’t cool enough.
“Chill,” she said again, gritting her teeth as she started to feel dizzy from using magic so quickly twice in a row.
Not enough.
“Chill!” she shouted, and the heat vanished from under her hands, nearly numbing them.
She took the bowl out and placed it next to the luminance potion, trying not to lose her balance. The coolant didn’t even slosh, it had thickened so much from the cold.
Gertie pulled over the terracotta pot that the orchid was in. She snipped its stem so that it was short enough to fit inside the mold and, taking a deep breath, dipped the flower into the luminance potion.
As the instructions read, she immediately pulled it out and shoved it into the coolant, hissing as steam flew out from around her hand. Could that be a good thing?
She had to spin the stem around to coat the flower petals completely. Since she’d made only a third of the proper amount, what was left barely covered the bottom of the bowl.
Gertie lifted the orchid free. It glowed with the pure brilliance of a perfectly brewed luminance potion, shifting between the various purples, whites and yellows of the flower that were picked up by the potion.
The proctor smiled and wrote on her clipboard.
Gertie would have danced in place, but she didn’t have time.
She took the glass mixture, still melted and waiting thanks to the spell, and poured a bit of it into the mold, so the orchid would be floating in the middle. She placed the orchid delicately, and managed to pour the rest of the glass in around it. At the last minute, she remembered the final incantation she had singled out - this one mentioning “not wilting”. The heat from the glass seemed to dissipate, leaving the orchid beautifully fresh.
Gertie put down the heavy cauldron and took a moment to pant.
“And halt,” she said in Laux, completing the enchantment.
The glass hardened instantly.
And the proctor’s timer beeped.
Gertie heart caught in her throat. She hadn’t turned out the sculpture. It wasn’t done. She hadn’t finished.
“Take it out of the mold,” the proctor said.
Gertie looked over at her, dumbfounded.
“I’ll mark you off a point for not finishing it in the time. But turn it out. I’m going to grade it.”
Gertie took the quite heavy mold and turned it over. The glass held steady.
She pulled the mold free, peeling it away from the glass. And there it was. Her little “glowing orchid encased in glass.”
It was quite impressive, she had to say. Beautiful even. A good way to end her exam, even if she had failed.
The proctor took a deep breath, as if to calm herself from the excitement of Gertie’s scramble to finish. She hovered around the table, looking at the sculpture from every angle. She pulled a small camera out of her pocket, took a picture of the top of her clipboard and one of the sculpture.
Gertie waited, shifting awkwardly in place. Her head cleared a bit, despite how she had drained herself by spending so much magic.
The proctor checked over her clipboard, wrote some notes, and finally said, “Very good, Miss Mallon. If you just go back to the area you found the sign-in desk, there will also be a sign-out desk. There, they will take your picture and you will receive your license. Your sculpture will be mailed to your registered address in a week’s time. If you have any other questions or concerns-”
“I passed?” Gertie clarified, not believing her ears.
“Yes,” the proctor said. “Of course.”
Gertie thanked her and walked in a daze to the sign-out table. She managed a smile for the photo, and received a printed license within minutes.
Holding it in her hands, reading the words, Apprentice Enchanter, under her name, suddenly made it real.
She whooped, holding the license triumphantly in the air.
Upon receiving her backpack and cell phone, she immediately dialed Bridget. “I did it!” Gertie shouted. She heard different voices cheering from the other side.
“We’re all in your room,” Bridget said, a laugh in her voice. “We have cake and sodas. Get back down here!”
“Awesome!” Gertie said. “I’m on my way!”
She dialed one more number as she headed out of the stadium.
“Demetrius’ Enchanted Hat Emporium, Demetrius speaking,” came a bored voice from the other end.
“D?” Gertie said excitedly.
He paused. “Gertie, tell me you have good news.”
Gertie grinned so hard her face hurt. “I do.”
To her surprise, Demetrius laughed in relief. “I knew you could do it!” he said.
“Thanks,” Gertie said, flattered, but itching to ask a very important question. “So, when can I start as your apprentice? I’ve been looking up different hat enchantments. I was thinking an expandable hat might be a good place to start. I know that top hats are generally the favored model, but to me that just makes it less incredible that you can fit all that stuff in. My choice would definitely be porkpie, or a-”
“Uh, Gertie, I have a customer.”
“I don’t believe you,” Gertie said.
“Just go celebrate. We can talk about all this during your next shift.”
“My last shift stacking boxes,” Gertie shot back.
“Yeah.” The pride was unmistakable in his voice. Demetrius hung up before he could embarrass himself any further.
As Gertie got in the elevator back down to Wespire, her ID was required. Normally, her magical passport filled this purpose.
Not this time.
Gertie dramatically held out her enchanter’s license to the scanner.
Gertrude Mallon, Apprentice Enchanter.

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