The two to four weeks spent waiting for her test results are probably the longest of Kat’s life.
Unfortunately, they led to the single worst day of Kat’s life.
Once she got the letter, she sat down at the kitchen table, tore open the envelope, and started reading. It didn’t take her long to start hating what she read. Now, upon further consideration, she hates the letter, she hates whoever wrote it, she hates the whole Guild Authority.
Slowly, but surely, she’s starting to hate everything about everything.
“I failed,” Kat says quietly. “I failed the Exam. What did I do wrong?”
She pushes away the letter. She never wants to look at it again. She wants to crawl down some deep, dark hole somewhere and never, ever come out. She buries her face in her hands on the table and makes no immediate plans to move, except maybe to crawl into a nice, dark hole in the ground, never to emerge.
With her face in her hands, Kat doesn’t see her parents reach for the discarded letter and start reading it. But she can hear her father’s sudden, booming laugh.
She raises her head to glower at him.
“It’s not funny!” she says. She feels like screaming and it’s probably only a few seconds before she starts.
The Admiral shrugs. “It’s a little funny how you’re getting all bent out of shape over nothing,” he says.
“This isn’t nothing! This is the rest of my life, Dad!” Kat protests.
“Kat, honey,” Estelle interjects, looking up from the letter. “Did you look at the name on the letter?”
“Of course I looked,” Kat says. Nevertheless, a heartbeat later, she snatches up the letter from her mother’s hand and double checks the name on the letter.
It might just be the tears of frustration welling up in her eyes, but she can’t make any sense of the name looking back at her.
“Who the heck is Kade Dirkson?” she exclaims.
“I think they sent you the wrong letter by mistake, honey,” Estelle notes.
“So,” Kat notes cautiously, “I might not have failed?”
“Don’t you worry yourself about it,” Dorian says. “I’ll pay these Guild Authority chumps a visit, and I won’t leave until this mess is sorted out, I promise.”
He rises from the table and stops to kiss the top of Kat’s head.
“And I’ll help!” Dunstana declares, hopping down from her seat at the table and hurrying towards the door.
“Please,” Estelle calls after them, “don’t do anything rash. Or illegal.”
A petulant moan of disappointment comes from around the corner.
Dunstana similarly voices her displeasure at this request.
As Dorian and Dunstana leave, Estelle moves her chair beside Kat, silently sits down beside her and puts a maternal arm around her. Kat instinctively puts her head on her mother’s shoulder. It always seems to make her feel better, ever since she was a little girl.
“I did my best,” Kat quietly tells her.
“I know, dear,” Estelle assures her. “And if that wasn’t good enough for them, frankly, it’s their loss.” She smiles. “Besides, if this Guild thing doesn’t work out, I’m sure your father would be more than happy to help you get into the Brotherhood.”
Her smile grows.
“He’d probably even buy you your very own boat.”
“Mom!” Kat exclaims, shocked that her own mother would suggest such a thing. “I am not going to be a pirate!”
Estelle gently squeezes her shoulder. “I know, dear. I’m sorry. I thought a joke might help you feel better.”
“Well,” Kat mutters. “It was a little funny.”
“I have my moments,” Estelle replies.
“And, Mom, it’s a ship, not a boat,” Kat says, making a joke of her own. “Even I know that.”
A few hours later, the doors of Darkstone Manor burst open as Dunstana charges into the living room.
“Kat! Kat! Look! We got it!”
Dorian follows the little pirate into the living room, holding in his hand an envelope sealed with the official mark of the Guild Authority of Porthaven, and wearing on his face a triumphant smile with more teeth than a shark.
“Problem solved,” he declares, handing Kat the envelope.
“Open it! Open it!” Dunstana urges.
Kat almost doesn’t want to. Last time, her excitement and anticipation were paid off with thinking she failed. This time around, she isn’t going to have the benefit of a second chance. These are her real results.
Kat takes a deep breath and opens the letter.
“Well?” Estelle asks expectantly.
Kat’s eyes move across the page. “They’re sorry for giving me the wrong results,” she summarises.
“They promise, under penalty of catapult, that these are my real results. And they’re happy to inform me that I got a mark of —” she pauses as she tries to make sense of the words that follow “— Satisfactory-Plus? What does that even mean?”
“That means you passed, dear,” Estelle answers.
“Oh,” Kat replies. “Oh!” she repeats as the significance of her mother’s words actually sink in. She leaps from the couch, triumphantly punching the air and exclaiming “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
“That’s my girl,” Dorian muses proudly.
“I knew you could do it!” Dunstana exclaims.
Once Kat has come back down to earth, she turns to her father. “Thanks, Dad,” she says, wrapping him in the fiercest hug she’s had cause to give him in a while.
“It’s what I’m here for,” he answers.
“I helped, too,” Dunstana notes, earning, much to her satisfaction, a hug of her own.
Today, Kat decides, is a good day.
Two to four more weeks later, at the opposite end of Porthaven, Kade Dirkson sits at the breakfast table and reaches with trembling hands for the letter from the Guild Authority. Ever since the initial mix-up and his accidental reception of the test results of someone named Kat Darkstone, he has been dreading this day.
Afraid of what lies before him, Kade breaks the seal on the Guild Authority letter and starts reading.
Dear Mr. Dirkson, the letter reads,starting off well enough.
He’s so nervous he almost doesn’t want to read the rest, but forces himself to do it:
Due to an unfortunate clerical error, it has come to the attention of the Guild Authority that you wrongly received the test results of another applicant. The error has since been corrected and the proper results have been given.
We regret to inform you that you have failed the Guild Authority Exam. Thus, the Guild Authority does not confer you an Adventuring Licence.
Nevertheless, Guild Authority of Porthaven cordially wishes you all the best in your future endeavours, and welcomes you, should you so choose at a later date, to re-apply for an Adventuring Licence.
“Well?” his parents ask expectantly across the breakfast table.
“Oh, thank the Powers,”he mutters, before looking up to smile broadly at his parents.
As far as Kade is concerned, the Guild Authority has no reason for regret.
He has never, ever wanted to be an adventurer. Failing the Guild exam is the best that has ever happened to him.
Kade’s one, singular goal in life has been to follow the proud Dirkson family tradition of topiary: that sublime, peerless, incomparable art of trimming trees and bushes to look like things.
He much prefers shrubbery trimmed into the shapes of fantastical creatures to actual fantastical creatures. With the notable exception of the Hyperzephyrian Carnivore Shrub, they pose much, much less risk of eating him alive.
Some people in Realmgard are born for great deeds and high adventure.
Others, however, are Kade Dirkson.
And that suits him just fine. Kade Dirkson is a simple man.
He has never dreamed of fortune and glory and high adventure.
Adventures seem like terrible, dangerous, dirty, stressful things. Something Kade is quite content to never have to submit himself to. Now, with the prospect of a life of danger safely behind him, Kade can devote himself to the one thing the Powers put him on this world to do: make shrubs and trees look like things. Now that the prospect of a life of adventure is safely behind him, he can begin to dare to dream of immaculately-maintained shrubs and trees pruned into all sorts of wonderful, beautiful shapes.
Truly, Kade decides, today is a glorious day.