The Conservatory had long operated in this manner of criterion to select its elite, and most people in Metropolis understood that those who passed the most difficult tests were awarded their hearts’ desire, whatever it may be. The predictable unpredictability (or the unpredictable predictability, depending on how you wanted to think of it) of the tests were nothing new to the natives. Truly only the elite passed the tests, and even many of them had trained for years to develop their fortitude for such evaluation.
Katrina smiled to herself at the thought of her inner strength and willpower. She hadn’t always been that way – in fact, her earliest memories include receiving her FAIL reports regularly. The disapproving look of the testmaster, brow wrinkled permanently from years of judging others, peering over her glasses, making Katrina feel weak and powerless had become so ingrained in her psyche that she simply accepted failure as her status in life. She had thought about her hearts’ desires, just as all the other inhabitants of the Conservatory, and dreamed colorful dreams about what life would be should she ever be rewarded in that manner, but the reveries were often short-lived as she sank back into the reality of her desolate plight. She could no longer count how many FAIL reports she’d received over the years. She used to review them meticulously, trying to learn why she had failed so she could improve the next time. But over time, their meaning diminished and she simply stopped trying. Her willpower was so weak that it was impossible to avoid failing…. that is, until she met Jonas.
Jonas was kind and compassionate, but challenged her to stand strong in the face of adversity. Once she got to know him, he became part of her every thought, and brought strength to her weakness. Jonas wanted what was best for Katrina, and, in fact, for all of the Conservatory dwellers, and when she stumbled into her old ways, he gently encouraged her to do better. He never looked at her disapprovingly like her testmaster. Instead, each time she failed, he enveloped her in his arms and told her to try again. Jonas had achieved his Heart’s Desire status years ago and was granted his wish – which was to help other achieve their Heart’s Desire.
Over the years, with Jonas’ guidance, Katrina had become strong. She’d passed many of the her catechisms, and was working her way through the passion ladder, one rung at a time. She had become so strong, in fact, that Old Scratch approached Jonas with a challenge.
“Let me see if I can pull her down,” he said to Jonas one evening, “into her former trespasses. If I can’t, Jonas, you know she’s yours forever, and she can be rewarded with the passions of her heart. If I can, you know she isn’t ready for her ultimate prize.”
Jonas, knowing the cunning and conniving beast Scratch as he did, but having full confidence in Katrina and wanting to see her receive her ultimate reward, reluctantly agreed. Jonas had watched her grow in confidence and skill over the past ten years. He knew that if she got in too deep, he’d provide a way out for her, and was confident she’d find it, just as she had all those years ago. Old Scratch knew just where to test Katrina – in the place where he knew she had failed before. He would enlist the help of Dustin, an old friend of hers, and catch her first with the element of surprise. Jonas and Scratch discussed at length details of the test with Dustin, and each of them agreed to the terms. Dustin was somewhat confused about his part in the test initially, but by the time they had talked through the details, Dustin knew exactly what was expected of him.
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