Hello, my name is Halinor Snowflake. I was born in the land of Frost, which is located on the planet Pan. It's my home planet, though there are plenty of other planets out there where people like me can live on. In this universe, magic exists. The story of how it came to be is a little bit complicated, so I will save that for later. For now, let's say it descents from a few elements. Those who use this magic, which is everyone in the universe by the way, call themselves Specialists. This is because we all specialize in one particular kind of magic. On my planet, there are four kinds: Cold Specialists, Heat Specialists, Wind Specialists and Plant Specialists. We all live in separate countries and don't really bother with each other. As you might have guessed by now, my country represents Cold.
I'll be honest, I wasn't really like normal teens my age. Normally, kids develop their magical powers around the age of ten. Some are late bloomers, but I was definitely the only kid I knew that hadn't developed any powers yet by the age of fourteen. I lived in the capital city of Frost: Glacia. It was just me and my dad. My mother died when I was ten years old. My older sister, eighteen at the time, left soon after her death and never came back. I guess I kind of lived a lonely and sad life. But that changed soon enough... Anyway, let's start at the beginning, shall we?
The day that changed my life started out like any other day. It was a Tuesday. The calendar told me it was supposed to be somewhere in mid-summer, but like all days of the year, the streets and houses of Glacia were covered in snow. When I finally got out of bed, after snoozing my alarm way too many times, my dad was already sitting at the kitchen table, munching on toast with cheese. He was reading the Frost Tribune, his favourite paper. I could read the big headline on the front page, yelling about some statement the Empress made last night. The Empress was our global leader, kind of like the boss of the planet. She dealt with interplanetary stuff, which mostly meant our enemy planet Ayao. You couldn't see it at night, but during the day it hovered like a giant black circle in the sky. Kind of like a black sun but a lot bigger than our actual sun. Ayao was the home of two kinds of Specialists: Psychic and Shadow. The leader of that planet, Cecillio, was considered an evil terrorist. According to most people, the Empress was the only reason he hadn't conquered our planet yet.
Personally, I didn't care much for universal politics. I had my own teenage troubles to worry about. Like my lack of magical abilities for example. Every day I woke up, hoping I'd suddenly feel all magically developed, but it never actually happened. My dad tried to cheer me up sometimes, claiming that he could feel the temperature dropping whenever I was in a bad mood. I knew he just made it up, but I appreciated the effort.
"Anything interesting?" I asked, as my dad put down the newspaper to wish me a good morning.
"Not really. They say a few agents from Ayao tried to break into the GSA headquarters on Akhata, but they were caught before they got inside."
GSA stood for Global Secret Agency. It was basically the Empress' personal 'secret' army. Their headquarters was stationed on a small planet not far away from here, named Akhata. No one else really lived there, since it hailed green balls the size of minivans nearly all the damn time. Pretty dangerous, but an excellent spot for a 'secret' base. Of course everyone in the universe knew exactly where this base was, but no one was moronic enough to actually try to go there uninvited. Well, except for the occasional idiot from Ayao, but since they were forced by Cecillio they didn't really have a choice.
"I'm late for school so I gotta go!" I grabbed an apple from the table and kissed my dad on his cheek with a smile. As soon as I closed the front door behind me, the smile vanished from my face. I hated school, but my dad didn't have to know that.
The main reason I didn't like school was a guy named Cedric Frost. A very long time ago, when it was decided that all Specialist races should live in different countries, the Frost family took charge of the land assigned to the Cold Specialists and named it after themselves. Though nowadays we lived in a democracy, the Frost family was still treated like royalty. Cedric was the oldest son of the head of the family, making him not only famous, but an arrogant snob as well. Why he was ruining my life at school? Well, he was my age and in the same class as me. As soon as he got to know me and realized I couldn't do any magic, he declared me an embarrassment to all Cold Specialists. According to him, I should be locked away somewhere so I'd never risk being the cause of other countries laughing at us for being a weak race. To say it short: he was a terrible bully and because he was famous, everyone followed him. The teachers didn't dare to do anything about it either, afraid to be reprimanded by Cedric's father.
"Did you hear?"
"What? About that failed break-in?"
"No, not that! James told me that Cedric told him that his father saw some GSA agents at the City Hall this morning. They left quite soon though, I wonder what they were doing there..."
I was standing in line at the cafeteria to get lunch. The two girls who were gossiping in front of me didn't really seem to bother to keep quiet, so I could easily eavesdrop on their conversation.
"Maybe it has something to do with the break-in? They might suspect an inside job."
"Even if that were true, it still doesn't explain what the GSA is doing in Glacia."
"True, though I guess we will never find out... they are a secret agency after all."
There really was nothing secret about the GSA if even someone like Cedric's father could spot two random agents in a crowd, but I knew better than to mix into the conversation. As soon as I grabbed lunch, I made my way to an empty table and started eating. Normally no one would come sit with me, but today I was unlucky.
"You don't mind if we sit here, do you, Halinor?"
I looked up, straight into Cedric's icy blue eyes. He was surrounded by a bunch of nobodies. I rolled my eyes as if I didn't care, though inside I felt slightly uneasy.
"It's not like you'll listen if I tell you to fuck off."
"Geez, such a foul mouth! I'd be a bit more polite if I were you. Especially if you hear what news I have."
"What? Are you gonna make up some story around those two agents at the City Hall to make fun of me? Try to be a little more original please."
Cedric laughed, sat down and stole my brownie. I slapped his hand so that it would fall onto the table, straight into a pool of old sticky lemonade. Now I couldn't eat it anymore either, but at least he didn't get his way. Cedric shrugged as if he didn't care. "It's really not something I made up though, you can check it with the City Hall if you like. Fact is, that my dad did some investigation after the two agents left. He has a lot of influence at the City Hall you know. He just texted me. Apparently, the agents asked for your address. They must be onto your lack of magical capabilities Halinor. Maybe they will finally lock you up this time."
"Bullshit." I didn't even bother looking at him. He made up these kinds of stories all the time. I learned to stop believing him a long time ago.
"I knew you would say that, so I thought I'd show you the proof."
He held out his phone in front of me. At first I didn't want to look at it, but my curiosity won me over and I glanced at his screen. It was indeed a text message from his father.
Agents only came to find an address. Seems they are looking for the Snowflake girl.
It had to be a lie. He probably faked it. No way the GSA would be looking for me. They didn't even bother with internal matters on Pan. But still, after I read that text, I felt nervous and a little scared. Not that I was going to let Cedric notice.
"Ha-ha," I said with a fake smile, focusing on my lunch again.
"Fine, don't believe me, but don't blame me when you go home this afternoon and find yourself a GSA welcoming party in your kitchen."
He stood up and left to sit at his regular table, his band of nobodies following him. I did my best not to show that I was worrying a bit. I knew he could have just let one of his friends text him and change the name into 'Dad', but still. Something didn't feel right. Maybe because I secretly believed something was truly wrong with me and it was about time someone came to lock me up...
By the end of the afternoon, Cedric had managed to spread the rumour throughout the whole school. Every corner I turned, whispering crowds suddenly turned silent and stared at me. Some giggled as I passed, though a few looked at me as if they pitied me. Personally, I thought the pity was worse. My hate for Cedric grew even more today. Why was he always so keen on destroying my life? Didn't he know that the mere absence of magic in my veins already caused me enough suffering?
Near the end of the final school bell, I suddenly received a text message that made everything a lot worse.
Get home as soon as you can. We have some important visitors.
My stomach turned. This message in combination with the message Cedric showed me, suddenly made his whole story a lot more believable. What if the GSA was really here to come and take me away? What was going to happen to me?
The Cold Specialist race was quite pale to begin with, but I very much doubted if there was any colour left in my face by the time the last bell rang. The worst thing was, that Cedric noticed.
"You don't look so well, Halinor. Are you scared to go home? Can't stand to face the fact that you are a dirty mutant that should be behind bars?"
I roughly pushed him out of the way, biting my lip not to curse and yell at him. As I made my way through a crowd of giggling and whispering students, my head felt like it was about to explode with both fear and rage. A strange thought that somehow comforted me a tiny little bit seeped into my mind. If I was really going to be locked up, at least I'd never have to face Cedric ever again.
Cedric was right. The agents were at my house, in my kitchen. Though, if they really came to lock me up, they sure as hell hadn't told my dad yet. He was cheerful when I came in, a broad smile on his face.
"Halinor! Good that you are home! Let me introduce you to our guests."
He guided me towards the kitchen, where the two men sat at the dinner table. They were both wearing black suits. One of them had a dark skin, black hair and bright red eyes. A Heat specialist. The other had olive skin, dark blonde hair and green eyes. A Plant Specialist. This was the first time in my life I stood face to face with two foreign Specialists. Now I understood why Cedric's father recognized them as GSA agents immediately. Normal citizens of Pan wouldn't think twice to visit a foreign country.
"You must be Halinor Snowflake," the Heat Specialist said, as he stood up and shook my hand. He smiled at me in a friendly way. I was terribly confused. It didn't seem like they were going to arrest me at all. But why else would they be here?
"My name is Jake Firespark. This is my colleague Aron Squirrel. We have come to congratulate you, as you have been accepted as a trainee to a brand new training academy for future GSA agents, founded and managed by the Empress herself!"
I was still shaking his hand, as I stared at him in complete shock. What sort of weird prank was this? Accepted into a training academy for future GSA agents? Founded and managed by the Empress herself?
"I-I don't understand," was all I could say, slowly retrieving my hand.
"Maybe we should all sit down for a moment so that we can properly explain," Squirrel said. He clearly didn't agree with the way his colleague had brought the news. We all sat down, the agents at one side of the table, me and my dad on the other. My dad was a lot less confused than me. He mostly seemed proud and ready to believe everything these two strange men were saying.
"Let's start over," Squirrel said with a gentle smile.
"For the past year, the GSA has been working on a secret project to set up a new academy for its future agents. The Empress has personally created and managed this project, which is now finally ready to be launched. This new academy will train young Specialists between the age of twelve and eighteen years old for a period of six years. The purpose of this academy is to train new agents at a younger age and for a significantly longer time, to increase the overall quality of the GSA as an organization. Now that the academy has been built and all the necessary arrangements have been made, the Empress is ready to officially open it. She has personally selected a group of 280 students who will serve as a test case to see if the academy is a success. We are here to inform you that you are one of these 280 students and have the privilege to join the new academy without having to pay a tuition fee, since you are part of the test-group."
Though Squirrel's story made everything a lot more clear, it was still very hard to believe. There was absolutely no reason the Empress would personally select me for one of her new projects, even if it was just to serve as some kind of test bunny.
"I still don't get it. Why was I selected?"
"Unfortunately we are not entitled to go into further detail until you have signed the contract and non-disclosure agreement that will confirm your participation in the project," Squirrel answered. "We are a secret agency after all," Firesparks added with a wink.
"Right..." I continued, slightly uneasy because of that wink. People in Frost didn't do such things. "And how can I know you aren't just all making this up to scam me in some way?"
"Halinor, don't be so rude!" my dad said, kicking my feet under the table.
"Oh, don't worry about it, Mr. Snowflake. Halinor is in fact very smart to ask this question. One should never blindly trust another person. It is one of the first things you will learn at the academy," Squirrel said, after which he grabbed some documents from his suitcase. He laid them on the table in front of me and pointed me towards a sign at the bottom of the first page. "This is the official seal of the Empress herself. You can check it if you want. Take some time to read the contract as well, just to make sure you are completely informed."
"This is quite a lot to take in..." I said, as I slowly grabbed the contract which carried the seal at the bottom. I had seen it before, in one of my textbooks at school. It looked genuine, but this only confused me more. Why would she pick me? Me, the girl with no magic? Still not understanding the situation at all, I started to read the contract.
GSA ACADEMY TRAINEE CONTRACT
Hereby both trainee Halinor Snowflake and trainer The Empress come to the agreement of the enrolment of Halinor Snowflake into the GSA Academy, starting on September 1st of the year 18025, according to the following terms:
The trainee will complete the total course of six years and is not allowed to break off the training unless requested by the trainer, but only for serious medical or mental matters, or because the trainee cannot keep up with the mandatory level of presentation and motivation.
The trainee will follow any orders given to them by their commander, unless the trainee suspects abuse. In this case, the trainee has the personal obligation to report to the trainer directly.
The trainee must accept that they are on equal grounds with all other trainees within the academy, regardless of their social background or specific skill set.
4. Living Conditions
The trainee will live on the campus of the academy for the duration of the course, with the exception of long holidays.
5. Future Employment
The trainee will automatically be offered a contract of employment for a fitting position within the GSA after they have completed their course. The graduate is free to decline the contract on any grounds without having to provide a motivation.
6. Nondisclosure Agreement
The trainee will not share any information regarding the GSA Academy with anyone outside of the academy, with the exception of their direct family members, who each have to sign a nondisclosure agreement themselves.
Any violation of the terms stated above will result in punishment, of which the contents will be decided by the trainer.
Halinor Snowflake The Empress
Date: 13-07-18025 Date: 12-07-18025
I read the contract again, and again, and again. It didn't matter how many times I read it, my confusion didn't go away. "This all seems rather official," I murmured, not really knowing what else to say. Something inside me was still convinced this was some kind of sick prank set up by Cedric, even though someone like him would never be able to copy the official seal of the Empress and make it seem completely legit. I could see the magical glow flowing through the seal. There was no way anyone could copy it, let alone a Cold Specialist. "Can I get some time to consider all of this? It seems rather hasty to sign right away... this is a life changing occurrence after all..." I asked, looking at Squirrel. He smiled at me in an understanding and friendly way.
"Of course. We will leave the contract here. Take some time to consider all of the terms. We do ask you to give us our answer before midnight tonight, because we have to be back at Headquarters tomorrow morning. This is my card. Call me when you have your answer."
He handed me a green business card with his name and telephone number on it. I nodded with a smile and watched through the kitchen window how my dad escorted them back to their car. He shook their hands with great enthusiasm and hurried back inside the house as soon as their car had left.
"Halinor, this is the chance of a lifetime. You'd be a complete idiot to decline this invitation," my dad said, waving the contract in front of my nose, a pen in his other hand. I sighed. My dad had such a simple mind.
"Dad, I know that... It's just all a bit... hard to believe, you know. I mean, why would the empress want me to enrol? I don't even have any magic."
Dad sat down at the kitchen chair across me, grabbed my hand and looked at me with great seriousness in his eyes.
"My dear Halinor. Will you please stop measuring yourself by your magical skills. If the adult world will teach you one thing, it's that magic is by far not the only quality you need to possess to live a successful life. There are many other qualities and skills that make a certain person fit for a certain job. If the Empress believes you possess the skill set to become a GSA Agent, you shouldn't doubt it. She's the Empress after all! And who knows, maybe she prospects your magic to bloom very soon. Maybe you blooming so late means you will be one of the most powerful specialists this planet has ever known. Maybe she doesn't want to miss the opportunity to have such a talent join the GSA."
It was endearing how much trust my dad had in me and my magic. Never once he believed that my magic would stay away forever. I loved him for believing in me like this, but sadly I never really believed in it myself. As if he read my mind, my dad continued.
"If you can't believe in all this, then just ask yourself the simple question: What's there to lose?"
That was exactly the question I needed to hear. I hadn't even thought about it yet, but my dad was right. I had nothing to lose. Even less than he was aware of. I had no friends to say goodbye to and I had absolutely no chance of success in high school, which I would have to go to next year and where magical capabilities were part of the final examination. There was my dad, who would be alone if I left, but he was old enough to take care of himself. Maybe he would even find himself a girlfriend with his failure of a daughter out of the way.
"I guess I'm just scared that I end up being a mistake. That they realise after a week or two that someone else was supposed to enrol instead of me. I don't want any false hope..."
"Then go there and expect nothing. If you expect nothing to come from it, it could only turn out better."
I stared at the contract that my dad had laid in front of me, his pen right next to it. I stared at it for a long time, biting my lip and considering all arguments. Looking at the Empress' official seal once more, I ruled out the possibility of it being a prank. Now that I was certain it was all real, the 'you have nothing to lose' argument outweighed all the others.
And so I grabbed the pen, pulled the contract towards me and signed it, changing my life forever.