Chapter 1:

Who Cares About Magic Anyway? I do.

Misfortunes of a Real Magic High School Vol. 1

I, Arata Nakamura, found myself standing on the grandest of stages. Okay, maybe grandest was a bit of an exaggeration, but from my perspective, nothing could compare. The numerous spotlights lining the catwalk above me shone down directly upon me. With all the lights on me, the sweat on my brow was probably visible to the entire crowd. That same crowd of over 500 people filled the assembly hall to capacity. I reminded myself that even among that enormous crowd, only three people mattered in the end, the three judges sitting closest to me at that plain, long table not fitting for the occasion. Despite my half-assed reassurance, I felt the pressure. Performances had been going on all day, and I was well after the lunch break. The judges were probably itching to get out of there as soon as possible. That didn’t bode well for me. To make matters worse, the performances before me shook me to my very core. Simply put, I was completely overwhelmed. How the hell did I end up here?

To answer that question I must examine the series of events which led me to this harrowing stage.

It was a particularly normal day in the dead of winter. For someone like me in the middle of my final year of middle school, that meant only one thing was on my mind, high school entrance exams. The only problem was I had no idea where I wanted to go.

Some people seem to know what they want to do for a career from a very young age. Like they were born to play a certain role. Others tend to follow the crowd, applying for the same schools as their friends, and eventually going down the same career path. But I was always a bit of an odd ball in that department. I wasn’t a complete outcast in middle school or anything, but I was far from popular. Life wasn’t always like that for me, though. I think the root of my problem was my passion for magic. Before my little secret relationship with magic got out, I was friendly with most people in my class and even had a handful of actual friends. Or so I thought. Maybe calling them “actual friends” was always a lie, real friends wouldn’t abandon you at the drop of a hat. I was far from terrible looking and was capable of carrying on an engaging conversation, but once my grounded in reality classmates learned about my love for magic, everything fell apart.

Magic was frequently a topic of debate in the schooling system. With almost no jobs in the field of magic, outside of simple jobs such as performing magicians, the practicality of studying magic was viewed as indifferent at best. It was such a niche subject, something only top tier performers should get into. Like those people you see on reality TV shows performing live in front of thousands of people. And with the prominence of astounding scientific advancement and technological development, magic was seen as archaic. Almost all the routine party tricks, and even tricks performed by the great Houdini, had long been debunked. So that begged the question, “why learn magic when everyone now knows how it’s done?” People, myself included, loved watching magic performances, but outside of entertainment, even I had to admit there really wasn’t much use for it. And with the number of performing magicians on the sharp decline, I would probably stand alone as a fan of magic. And so, my passion for magic at a middle school geared towards the sciences really made me stand out, and not in a good way. But thanks to my counselor, Mr. Yamato, that very passion had a chance to become something real.

“Hey Arata,” Mr. Yamato called from the classroom doorway. “Come speak to me in the hallway for a minute please.”

It was rare for a counselor to pop into a classroom unannounced, and it was even rarer for an unassuming, blend in with the crowd student like me to be called out.

“Yes sir.”

I got up from my desk, fittingly in the front corner of the classroom, nearest the door. As a boring, not-so-popular kid I would never get a seat in the back corner by the window, a seat reserved only for main characters in meaningful stories. It was a short walk outside.

“So Arata, I looked over your high school plan. You listed structural engineering as your top choice, is that really something you want to do?”

“Well, yeah, it presents a lot of opportunity in the job market,” I replied, trying my best to sound convincing. What I was saying was true, both my parents were structural engineers, and they had lucrative jobs. Lucrative enough that they were able to send me to a specialized middle school designed to nurture the brightest scientific young minds. But my heart wasn’t behind my claim. My eyes and facial expression must have betrayed my true feelings.

Mr. Yamato eyed me with clear suspicion. “Are you sure about that? Whenever I see you during breaks or after school you always seem to be doing one kind of magic trick or another. Honestly back in my day I enjoyed messing with card tricks and the like, so I can relate.”

He was more observant than I, or most, gave him credit for. Mr. Yamato was a beloved student counselor in our middle school but more in the sense of a happy-go-lucky friendly adult kind of way, rather than an observant, analytical counselor. It was especially shocking for me since I didn’t think anyone paid attention when I was practicing my magic.

“If you really do care about magic,” Mr. Yamato continued, “I may have something that would interest you.”

I watched on with a suspicious gaze. He reached into the folder he was carrying under his arm and withdrew a piece of paper. He handed it to me. I flipped the paper over, it was a promotional poster.

The Apex High School of Magic - Applications now open for prospective first year students!

“A magic high school?” I asked Mr. Yamato as I looked up from the paper. “I didn’t know magic high schools even existed. I thought it was just something people learned on their own or went to a class or two for, like an elective.”

“I was just as surprised as you. But when the staff room was flooded with the countless promotional posters we get every year for recruiting season, this one in particular caught my eye. I think it wouldn’t hurt to turn in an application, what’s the worst that could happen?”

It caught his eye? Apart from mentioning a magic high school, this was the most bland, professional looking flyer I had ever seen. Almost like it was intended not to stick out. Why did Mr. Yamato pick this one out, among all the others? Great pride in his job, I suppose. Regardless, I didn’t need anymore convincing. Even if this poster was just some way too elaborate and professional looking prank put on by one of my classmates, students are allowed to apply to more than one school, so in the end it wouldn’t hurt me at all to apply. Heeding Mr. Yamato’s advice, I sent in my application. Shockingly, I passed the first cutoff, and found myself needing to prepare for the live audition portion of the application.

And now I found myself standing on a massive stage in front of countless people with my mind completely blank. I prepared a handful of card and coin tricks to perform for the audition, but watching the students before me completely threw me off my already shaky game. I mean seriously, where did these kids learn these tricks? One student practically looked like she was flying, and I mean literally flying. From my seat in the audience I couldn’t see any obvious wires or suspension equipment, yet she was able to fly around the stage with ease passing through a variety of obstacles. Another student shot fire from her hands! With some chemistry knowledge I suppose that would be possible, but I’ve never seen anything as powerful as she threw out. I thought magic was supposed to be debunked in this day and age! But here I was, completely dumbfounded by what I was witnessing.

So here I stood, with a deck of cards in one hand, and five coins in the other. I gulped so loudly I think my earpiece microphone picked it up and broadcasted it throughout the auditorium. Talk about getting off on the right foot.

“Hello there,” the oldest looking judge said with a straight face. His white beard and wrinkling forehead gave away his advancing age. “Would you please tell us your name?”

“Yes sir! Hi, I’m Arata Nakamura from Ibaraki Prefectural Middle School.”

“What will you be performing for us today?” the lone female judge asked. Man, she was an absolute knockout. “Also, isn’t Ibaraki Prefectural Middle School an advanced science school? What brought you here?” Her perplexed gaze was mirrored by the two male judges accompanying her.

“Well you see, both my parents are structural engineers, so I always seemed headed down the engineering path, which brought me to Ibaraki Prefectural. But ever since I met this really cool magician when I was growing up, I have always loved magic.” By the time my response left my mouth it was too late. I must have sounded like a sappy idiot giving a speech like that. Singing praises for a magician that I didn’t even know the name of inspiring me to pursue magic.

“I see, well please, tell us what you will be performing?” she asked again.

“Right. I will be using these cards and coins I have with me to showcase my deception magic.” It wasn’t the coolest name, but deception magic was the nickname I gave my unique variety of sleight of hand magic which relies heavily on influencing the psyche of the participants. With a name like “deception magic” I probably sounded like your average middle school chunibyo.

The judges didn’t need to hear anymore as they nodded for me to begin. I opened the case for my deck and pulled out the cards. I felt the cards bobble in my hands as they trembled with nerves. The cards spilled out onto the stage floor before me. A few dampened laughs could be heard in the auditorium. I was blowing this audition already. It just keeps going from bad to worse. I quickly gathered the cards back up and presented the deck to the three judges.

“Here I have a standard deck of cards. If I could ask each of you to pick one card please, any card you like.”

Without hesitation the three judges leaned forward and each selected one card from the deck before me. I watched as they studied the cards. After a moment, the judges attempted to return the cards to me.

“Oh, sorry I should have explained,” I continued. “I won’t be needing the cards back to complete this trick. If it’s alright, I would like for the three of you to hand your cards off to random audience members in the first row.”

The female judge quickly grew an annoyed look on her face. The older judge began laughing cheerfully, he appeared to enjoy audience participation much more than she did. The third and final judge I still couldn’t get any read on at all, mostly because I couldn’t see his face.

All three judges stood up and walked back to the first row, handing their cards to three different audience members.

“Now, could I please ask the audience participants holding the cards to do me a favor? You may either keep your card, or pass it onto someone in the row behind you. Each new person to receive a card can follow the same process. Keep going until no one wants to pass off the card. I’ll face away from the audience while this is occurring.”

I stared blankly at the back wall of the stage trying to keep my cool. I had no idea what was going on behind my back. I was about to pull a really cheap trick, but hopefully it would work.

“You may turn back around,” the female judge said. Hearing her voice without seeing her face was somehow mesmerizing, it was almost angelic. I turned back around to face the audience. The judges looked like they were keeping an open mind, the students looked a bit more skeptical. Now was the moment of truth.

“Could the three students in the audience holding the cards please stand up?” I asked. My voice was shaking with nerves.

Three students in the audience stood up, everything was going according to plan.

“Could the same three students please look under their chairs? There will be an envelope taped to the bottom. Please take it out.” The audience began to murmur. Clearly my trick was confusing. But that didn’t matter, all that mattered was the payoff. “Now, please one by one starting from my left announce the cards you are holding.”

The first student up was a girl with long black hair in the 9th row. “Uh, it’s the 7 of clubs!” she shouted so I and the judges could hear.

“Jack of diamonds!” the next student announced. He had a look reminiscent of one of the most popular boys in my middle school.

“Ace of clubs!” the third and final student announced to the auditorium.

My mind flooded with relief, everything had worked out. “Now if all three of you could please open your envelopes and reveal the contents to everyone.”

All three students simultaneously opened their envelopes, although some were more careful than others. Even from so far away, I could see the looks of astonishment on their faces. No one spoke up.

“Well,” the old judge said, “what’s inside?”

Each student held up the cards contained within their envelopes with shocked expressions. The girl with the long black hair now held two 7 of clubs in her hand, the middle school doppelgänger held two jack of diamonds, and the third student held two ace of clubs. The entire auditorium fell silent, you could hear a pin drop. Did my trick go over well? Should there have been more of an audience reaction? When was it the right time to move onto my next trick?

I stood at center stage confused as ever as all three judges looked towards me.

“So um, for my next trick I’ll be using…”

“That’s quite enough,” the mysterious judge said. “We’ve seen all we need to see, you may exit now.”

I felt my stomach fall through my body. I felt like someone just swung a giant stone into my chest. All I got to do was perform one measly trick and they had seen enough. I blew it.

“Oh, well thank you for your time!” I said in a panic voiced. I bowed to the judges and made my way off stage. I couldn’t even muster up the strength to stay for the remaining auditions. In the blink of an eye I was at the train station, catching the first Maglev train home.

“Alright class it’s time for your lunch break,” Ms. Kawasaki said as she cleared the projector board. All the students around me got up to head to the cafeteria. I, like usual, stayed behind.

Even though both my parents were structural engineers and very busy my mom still found the time to make me a boxed lunch every school day. I appreciated her efforts, the school cafeteria food tasted like cardboard to me. I wasn’t sure how so many of my classmates ate that stuff every day. Like every lunch break, I pulled out my coins and lunch box. Having the classroom almost all to myself gave me my best opportunity to practice uninterrupted. I popped the lid off my boxed lunch. Nice, mom made rice balls, my favorite.

“Arata are you in here?” the voice undoubtedly belonging to Mr. Yamato called out. I looked up from the delicious rice ball I was about to chow down on and saw him standing in the classroom doorway.

“Hey Mr. Yamato, can I help you with something?”

“The results of your audition finally came in.”

Weeks had gone by since my audition for the Apex High School of Magic, I bombed it so badly I sort of pushed it to the back of my mind. Even though I knew there was no chance I was accepted, hearing that my results came in gave me the same anxiety I had on stage during the audition itself.

“Oh that’s alright, I don’t need to see them. I already know I blew the audition.”

“You really need to work on your self confidence,” Mr. Yamato said with a stern look on his face. “Even if you didn’t get in, you should still look at what they have to say.”

Without hesitation Mr. Yamato dropped the envelope on my desk. The envelope was extremely thin, so I naturally concluded it contained a rejection letter. An acceptance package probably contained much more material for prospective students. I let out a sigh and slid my finger across the envelope seal. I pulled from the envelope a single sheet of paper.

Dear Arata Nakamura, Thank you for your interest in the Apex High School of Magic. Passing the application round was no small feat, and your performance in the audition round, along with many others, was a sight to behold. This year our school received a record number of applicants, making the decision process extremely difficult. With that, we simply say, congratulations on your acceptance! On the backside of this letter is an introduction sheet to be brought with you when you arrive for school. Before classes begin, please read through the student handbook located in the envelope. We look forward to seeing you for the new school year! - The Apex School Admissions Committee

Wait, what? I was completely dumbfounded. I actually got in? They praised my performance at the audition? Was this real life? Mr. Yamato could clearly see my shocked expression.

“Judging by your face I take it you got accepted? I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone react this way to a rejection.”

“I… got in…”

I was at a complete loss for words. Mr. Yamato was undoubtedly congratulating me for the next couple of minutes, but I just nodded along, hardly hearing anything he was saying. I was no longer present in the moment. I was in complete and utter disbelief. Perhaps my story with magic was just beginning after all.

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