"We've got a mission."
Cryon's blunt voice had Luce looking up from her task of polishing her sword. Her hands, covered by black fingerless gloves, were grimy from the cleaning fluid, but she showed no signs of minding it. Instead, she met Cryon's navy eyes with her own cerulean ones. Her blue hair, cut short as it always had been, was covering up one eye. In recent years, it had grown to match Cryon's even more, being darker at the top though lighter at the bottom. It was a trait that had run in the family for years.
"Oh?" Luce asked, capping the cleaning fluid and examining her silver blade. She got to her feet and gave it a few practice swings, showing off her white shirt with its flared collar. She had black leggings and combat boots on as well. Her brown belt had two sheaths hanging from it, one for her sword and the other for her knife. Luce put her sword back into its place on her hip before meeting Cryon's eyes once again.
"It's Millennia," Cryon explained, crossing his arms. Much like Luce, he was wearing his regular clothes for missions, which consisted of dark pants and a white shirt. He had brown boots and a matching belt, which held his sword and knife similarly to Luce's. He was also brown shoulder pad with gloves of the same shade.
"What about it? What, was there another fight between a witch and an enchantress we need to solve?" Luce scoffed. She followed after Cryon away from the training room and out into the central area.
"It's much more complicated than that," Cryon told her with a shake of his head and a sigh. "I'll get to that later. For now, we should round up everyone we're bringing and get out and into the ship. I'd rather not go over this more than once."
"Who's coming along?" Luce questioned.
"Lianna for one," Cryon replied. "In fact, it might just be her and the two of us. I think we can trust the others to hold down the fort without us."
"Understood," Luce nodded curtly. "I'll go get her."
Luce dashed out of the main room of the fort and past the quiet rooms around them. It was eight in the morning, which was earlier than most of the mercenaries in her father's company awoke. She knew fully well that Rie and Reye weren't going to be waking up for another few hours at least. The twin warriors liked to sleep in more than any of the others. Lewith was a relatively early riser, but none were ever awake before Luce and Cryon were. Sinin and O'Rourke would be a while, though not quite as long as the twins.
However, if there was one person Luce could trust to rise with the sun, it was Lianna. Sure enough, when Luce rapped her knuckles against the enchantress' door, she found the older woman awake as could be.
Lianna didn't seem to notice her at first. She was looking out the window of the stone fort silently as she brushed through her lengthy pale blonde curls. She was wearing a tight white top that hugged her skin tightly. She had pale blue tights on. Her feet were left bare, but if Luce had to guess, she was going to wear her typical pink ballet flats when it was time to leave the fort.
"Lianna?" Luce asked the silence.
The woman turned, giving Luce an ethereal smile. "Good morning," she said softly. Lianna set down her brush and got to her feet. "Do you need something?"
"Father wanted you for a mission," Luce explained simply. "We're going to Millenia. He says we should be leaving soon. I hope you're ready for a ride on the ship."
Lianna slipped into her shoes (the exact ones Luce had expected her to wear) and began to walk for the door. "Alright. I'll come out in a moment," Lianna told Luce. She reached for a pastel yellow ribbon just barely brighter than her hair and began to tie her tresses into a ponytail. "Any idea what it's about?"
"Not yet. He said he only wants to explain it once," Luce shrugged. "We're leaving the others here. I'm sure O'Rourke can keep the twins from destroying the place."
"I don't know if anybody can stop Rie when she gets in a bad mood, but I'll trust you on that," Lianna laughed.
Luce chuckled under her breath as Lianna followed her back into the lobby of the fort. Cryon wasn't there, and it only took a quick glance out the window to show he had gone to work on the ship.
It was something of a hunk of junk after having been used by Cryon's mercenaries for nearly two decades. Nobody in the company was very technically inclined, so nobody had bothered to touch up on it. The peeling paint and natural creak when it landed and took off had become homey to Luce after many years. The worn cushions showed the years of love it had received as well.
Cryon exited the ship and patted the side of the black ship. "Alright. She's ready for takeoff," he declared. "Are you two prepared?"
Luce double-checked for her sword and knife and nodded. Lianna didn't hesitate to give Cryon a sign of agreement.
The man smiled and gestured for them to follow. Luce and Lianna trailed after him and into the hull of the ship. Cryon pressed a switch on the way to the main room to close the hatch. It whirred softly and shut.
Cryon flicked a few levers and pushed half a dozen buttons before the ship began to take off. It complained before bursting into the sky. It was only a few moments before they had pierced the atmosphere and were into the dark infinity of the cosmos.
Luce fingered with the knife in its sheath at her side. "What's this about?" she asked. "It sounded like you had a headache just thinking about it. Come on, it can't be that bad, right?"
"There's been an incident involving a student attending one of the Millennium Six," Cryon began.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Luce fetched information abut the Millennium Six. It didn't take long for her to recall it. The Millennium Six was a group of six schools, some say the best in the universe, located on the famous planet of Millennia at the center of all living planets. The summer was quickly drawing to a close, so classes at the Millennium Six would be starting again soon.
"It's a student from Sierra," Cryon continued. "Nobody knows exactly who it is, but a Sierra cantor has been putting spells on people, manipulating them to attack enchantresses and heroines."
Sierra, or the Sierra School of the Dark Arts, was one of the Millennium Six, Luce remembered silently. It was a school for cantors, or male practitioners of volatile dark magic. Dark magic was difficult to control but ultimately easier to master once somebody gained that control. While he hadn't been a Sierra student, O'Rourke, another one of the mercenaries, was a cantor. Despite using dark magic, he wasn't a bad person, being rather friendly and conversational. Stereotypes often dictated that dark mages were evil, but Luce had never bought it. She couldn't imagine the wisecracking O'Rourke as evil no matter how hard she tried.
"I understand. We need to break the spell, yes?" Lianna questioned.
"Exactly." Cryon pressed on the touch screen near the pilot's seat, putting the ship on autopilot. He got to his feet and looked at Lianna and Luce. "Since you're an enchantress, I figured you'd have a solution."
Enchantresses, on the other hand, were the opposites of cantors. They were female practitioners of light magic, which was easier to control but harder to refine. Lianna was the only one in the mercenary company, and her knowledge of charms was invaluable. Her powers over light had an incredible impact on the forces of darkness the mercenaries were called to battle. Luce couldn't imagine not having her around. Lianna was the closest thing to a mother the company had, and Luce appreciated her presence immensely.
"I might have a way to fix that, yes," Lianna nodded. "I didn't expect to use any charms like that for many years though... Amity has always been so calm and relaxed... On top of that, we're far from any realms inhabited by those who use possession spells. I suppose our name really has spread farther than we thought."
"You must be right if somebody from Millennia is calling us," Luce agreed. "They're basically halfway across the universe from Amity."
Luce couldn't help but stare out the window at Amity now that they were mentioning it. Amity was the planet she had grown up on all her life as well as the origin of Cryon's mercenary company. While they had done quite a bit of travel across the dimension as more learned of their abilities, Amity had always been her home, and she couldn't imagine it any other way. From up in the black, star-filled sky, Amity's delicate green surface looked beautiful.
"We can consider this good then. This will help bring in more jobs. Business has been a bit slow lately," Lianna smiled, once again showing off her radiant grin.
"We'll be there in about an hour. This hunk of junk doesn't travel quite as quickly as modern ships do, but it gets the job done at least," Cryon declared.
Luce was halfway tempted to get up and begin swinging her sword around, but she decided against it. She and Cryon had been sparring for most of the day before, and there was no point in wasting her energy before they got closer to Millennia. She doubted her father would agree to spar in such close quarters anyways. It would be worse if the other mercenaries were with them, but Luce still was hesitant to believe he would go along with it.
Instead, Luce continued to look down at the planets as they passed by. She couldn't even list half of the realms of the universe, nor did she ever try to. There were hundreds at least.
A few were easy to pick out. As the ship passed over a world coated in emerald green, Luce thought through their regular route when going towards the center of the universe. That had to be Fortunia, a realm known for its natural environments. It was a monarchy, as Lianna had once told her, but Luce didn't know much else. They hadn't ever gotten any missions there before, so Luce didn't consider knowing anything about it relevant.
A couple other planets passed by, though Luce didn't bother to think through their names. Instead, she let her eyes slip closed. The job could easily be difficult, as she hadn't ever dealt with possession in her two years working under her father. To her knowledge, none of the other mercenaries had seen these cases either. It would explain why her father had been so stressed thinking about it.
Luce didn't try to stay conscious as she propped her head against the window. The ship wasn't rocking about too much today, so she was easily able to fall into slumber without an objection.
Lianna shook Luce awake as the ship landed. "We're here," the woman whispered softly. Her hair was now tied into a lengthy braid with the ribbon she had been using before.
Luce nodded and rubbed at her eyes. She stretched her arms upwards and rotated her neck to free it of cramps. "Got it. Thanks," she murmured.
Lianna smiled at her once more and looked over at Cryon, who was managing the landing. When the ship jolted, Lianna and Luce took it as a sign it was time to get going. They were on Millennia.
The hatch opened as soon as Luce's finger graced the button. The ship groaned a complaint for a few moments before opening the door. Cryon joined Luce and Lianna as they stepped out. Cryon hit a few buttons hidden on the outside of the ship to shut and lock it while Luce glanced around at their surroundings.
They were in a wooded area that seemed to be far from civilization at first, though it didn't take long for Luce to spot the outline of buildings in the distance. Birds chirped around them, though something felt off about the song of the creatures. It sent a shiver up and down her spine.
"Ah. I'm glad you're here."
A man came into view a few feet away, making Luce whirl around. He had his arms crossed over his chest. He was wearing a mahogany suit jackets with white gloves and a black vest. His trousers were black as well, and the same applied to his dress shoes. His hair was a dark color and fell over his back in a ponytail. His eyes were dark brown and strict.
"It's been a while since I've seen you," Lianna smiled. She approached the man as recognition dawned in his eyes. "I didn't realize you were the one who called."
The man let out a laugh. "It's fine that you didn't know until now, I suppose. I'd assume this man here is Cryon Elenes. It's nice to meet you."
Cryon took a step forward to shake the man's hand. "You must be Alistair Ogun. It's good to meet you too."
The man, Alistair, focused his attention on Luce. "Who might you be?" he questioned.
"I'm Luce," she said bluntly before turning to Lianna. "How do you two know each other?"
"I'm sure you know how I used to attend Alitia Academy, one of the Millennium Six. Alistair here was a student in the same year at Angelwood," Lianna explained. "He works as a teacher at Alitia these days."
Alitia and Angelwood were two other schools in the Millennium Six. Alitia was for enchantresses while Angelwood was for wizards, the male counterparts to the light-based enchantresses. Alitia Academy and Angelwood College were known for putting out strong users of light magic each year with their graduating classes even to the edge of the universe where Amity lied.
"I see," Luce murmured under her breath.
"Our problem has been growing worse in the past few days. We figured an incoming student at Sierra was just getting reckless with his powers, but it's much more than that. All of these possessed students seem to be after one person in particular. Her name is Sylvia. She's a freshman from Alitia who will be starting at the semester in a few days," explained Alistair. "She's currently under protection from the Millennia police force, but I thought it would be best to bring in outside assistance to take care of the possession victims and find out who's behind this."
"We'll get right to it," Cryon told him firmly. "Is there anything else you know about the situation?"
"The culprit has been wearing a dark hood. He's seemingly able to turn people into his puppets with a simple touch. He can shoot energy spheres as well, though they aren't very effective," Alistair continued. "He's been lurking in this area for the past week, ever since Sierra has allowed its students to enter after summer vacation."
"Do you think we can talk to Sylvia about this?" Luce questioned.
"I don't know if you'll have time to do that," came the wary voice of Alistair. He pointed over Luce's shoulder at a figure steadily approaching.
When Luce turned to see who it was, she frowned. It was a figure in a dark hood, just as Alistair had described. She drew her sword, but a hand on her shoulder from Cryon had her hesitating. "We can't touch him. It might be best to leave this to Lianna for now," he told her.
Luce slumped over slightly, but deep down, she knew he had a point. Luce had been born without magic, instead being one of the half-blooded leaths. Mages had access to magic, but leaths lacked that skill. Any blood percentage of magic that didn't result in a mage gave birth to a leath. Even if they couldn't use magic, leaths were given incredible aptitude in one given category. Much like her father, Luce was a leath with a gift regarding her use of the sword. The one downside to using a sword was that they lacked range in fights such as this one, so they were forced to hang back.
Lianna, on the other hand, was a full-fledged mage of light. She had the ability to manipulate beams of light for her own needs. She prepared herself by forging spheres of light in both hands. Her golden hair ruffled in the wind that seemed to pick up out of nowhere.
Lianna thrust her hands forward as the hooded figure grew nearer. Luce drew her sword instinctively. This time, Cryon didn't stop her, instead removing his own blade from its sheath. He seemed to understand she was only using it for defensive purposes, and she realized the same applied to him.
The light beam exploded from Lianna's hands instantly, slamming straight into the hooded figure's chest. He was sent hurtling backwards until he hit a nearby tree. He slumped to the ground, but he wasn't going down quite so easily. He got to his feet and created an orb of crackling indigo energy. He rolled it in his fingers for a moment before tossing it forwards.
The orb flew closer to Luce, but she rolled out of the way. The energy hit a tree a few feet away from her, making it creak and splinter before collapsing. Luce had to cover her head with her arms to keep from being covered in stray pieces of wood.
Lianna retaliated quickly, jumping to one side before striking once again with her spheres of light. They curved slightly before hitting their mark, smacking the hooded figure in the side. He crumpled to the ground for a brief moment before rolling up to his feet to continue his assault.
Luce watched Cryon jump around a few times to avoid dark energy. He was a lot more nimble than he appeared. Nobody would expect the lumbering mass of muscle to be so quick and dodgy, but that was one of the things Luce appreciated most about her father, so she didn't mind. Instead, she glared down the hooded figure as he pressed against a tree.
His fingers curled into the bark, causing the tree to explode. Once again, shards of wood flew every which way. Luce closed her eyes and winced when a particularly stubborn splinter lodged itself in her upper arm. That would be a pain in the ass to remove later, but she couldn't worry about it now. It wasn't in her dominant hand anyways, so she was fine for the time being. She could push through.
When Luce looked up, fire was being sent in the hooded figure's direction. She realized it was coming from Alistair, who was glaring daggers at the hooded man. The fire spread around the hood, instantly catching it on fire.
The man didn't give a cry in pain, instead electing to ignore the raging flames. He snapped his fingers, prompting hands made of dark energy to creep up from the ground and wrap around his body. The fire was extinguished nearly instantly.
"Think twice before you let out a blast like that again. We're still in the woods. If fire hits these trees, everything could go down around us," Lianna called out to Alistair. "Have your tactics really stayed the same since our school days? I didn't think you were supposed to go backwards in developing battle plans, but you were never the best at that anyways, were you?"
Alistair rolled his eyes. "As much as I hate to admit it, you make a good point. Keep at it, Li," he cried out as the hooded figure came crawling closer.
The hooded figure suddenly accelerated himself through the air, dark energy speeding his movements immensely. His hand was suddenly cramped around Alistair's wrist, making the latter cry out in pain. His body slumped to the ground a few moments later. A purple symbol burned where the man had touched him.
When Alistair moved a few seconds later, his action seemed unnatural, as if he were a puppet being controlled by some higher power. Luce glared, feeling something run down her neck, a shiver most likely. She was too focused on his strange behavior to concern herself with it.
"He was touched!" came the cry of Lianna. "Stay away from him! He's being manipulated by the cantor now!"
Luce nodded and ducked underneath a punch coming from Alistair. Cryon was there over her shoulder immediately. He slammed the hilt of his sword into Alistair's cheek, making the man stumble backwards. Cryon followed it up with another quick blow to the nose, causing blood to flow freely onto the grass. Luce could have sworn she heard the teacher swear under his breath, but she didn't remark on it.
She dared to glance at Lianna and the hooded man, who were still battling intensely and at a distance. An occasional shot from the hooded man would come dangerously close to gracing Luce, but she was quick enough to jump out of the way when something was coming.
Cryon, on the other hand, found himself being cornered by the wayward shots from the hooded man and Alistair. When Luce looked at him closer, she could see that Alistair's eyes were glassy, as if covered by a thin layer of amethyst. She glared at him, but her intense observation was cut off when a dark sphere from the hooded man knocked into Cryon's side, slamming him into a tree.
The tree caved under his weight nearly immediately. It bent backwards, sending a resounding crash echoing throughout the woods. Branches, leaves, and wood flew everywhere.
Cryon was too dazed to look up until it was too late. Alistair was practically on top of him, a knife in one hand. By the time that Cryon had recovered, Alistair was stabbing downwards.
Luce jumped in at the last second, her sword blocking the knife with near-perfect accuracy. She grunted under the effort of holding such an odd angle for so long. She managed to get the upper hand however, throwing Alistair back and knocking the knife from his hand. She picked it up and smirked his direction. "Do you want to try that again?" she asked of him tauntingly.
Alistair seemed sick of holding back on his magic, conjuring an orb of fire with both hands. Lianna's words about burning down the woods echoed in the back of Luce's mind, but she didn't have time to cry out to warn the others about it. Before she knew it, Alistair had fired his attack, and Luce was forced to dodge it.
The fire hit the tree behind her, setting alight instantly. Luce ran over to Cryon and hauled him off the ground as he gathered his bearings. "We have to get out of here," she said hurriedly.
Cryon didn't say anything, just nodding silently as they headed over in the direction of Lianna. The enchantress was dealing with the hooded man perfectly fine, but Luce and Cryon were able to tell easily she was growing worn down. The sudden smoke that was clouding the sky was making things harder on her since breath was escaping her more with each passing second.
"We have to retreat!" Luce exclaimed to Lianna, who was holding up a shield of light to block an onslaught of dark energy.
Lianna dropped the shield and nodded. She began to sprint for an opening between the trees, Luce and Cryon just behind her. Luce could feel her chest heave with each breath, internally cursing the smoke causing such problems.
Luce was falling behind the other two when she felt the presence of somebody behind her. She turned to see the hooded man levitating just behind her. Luce willed her legs to go faster, but it didn't work out well for her.
The hooded man seized a clump of her short hair and held firm. Luce let out a cry of shock and desperately attempted to rip herself away, but her attempts were unsuccessful. A ball of light flew past her, barely missing her cheek, before hitting the hooded man to throw him off. Luce was just happy hair didn't seem to trigger the rule of possession.
However, she wasn't able to celebrate for long.
A hand reached out to grab her ankle from the ground. A roar of shock left Luce's lips at the contact, but unlike Alistair, she didn't fall to the grass. Instead, a surge of energy seemed to build from her core before expelling itself outwards as she screamed.
The light was blinding to both Cryon and Lianna from the outside perspective. Luce couldn't even will her eyes to stay open. She found herself ready to slip into slumber, but some feral part deep inside her told her to remain conscious as long as possible.
The glow coming from Luce's body only spread further. The hooded man found himself letting out a scream as well. He recoiled in pain, grasping at his hand, which seemed to be covered in burns. He had to bite his lip to keep from screeching further, which caused a thin line of blood to drip from his mouth. It wasn't enough to stain the grass, but it was still perfectly visible to those nearby.
When the light struck Alistair, the purple tint to his eyes instantly faded. He blinked a few times before seeing the silhouettes of Luce and the hooded man before him. It was difficult to see exactly what was happening, but he had a good enough idea of what was taking place.
The hooded man whimpered as he retreated, holding his hand tightly to his chest. The singed skin was bleeding into his cloak and fading into the dark shades quickly. He seemed to disappear into thin air when his body transformed into a cluster of black particles that soared skywards.
The light faded at the same time. Luce was still standing in the same place, unable to move in her shock. Her ankle was burning from the sudden contact and something inside her was alight, like a burning flame that refused to be extinguished. Adrenaline was coursing fitfully through her veins, as it was the one thing keeping her upright after the encounter.
Alistair sat up and rubbed at his head, still looking at Luce. His nose was still bleeding rather violently from the blow Cryon had dealt, but he said nothing on the matter. Shakily, he got to his feet and walked closer. He looked as if he was trying to form a sentence, though the words seemed to just die away on his lips.
Cryon took a hesitant step towards his daughter as well. His eyes were a mix of confusion and entrancement. "Luce, I..." he murmured under his breath. Much like Alistair, he seemed to lack the ability to forge complete thoughts in that moment.
Lianna said nothing as she approached Luce. She put a hand on Luce's shoulder and tried to snap her out of her trance, though it wasn't successful. Luce was still staring down at her ankle as heavy breaths rattled in her chest.
"What the hell was that?" Luce finally managed to ask, staring down at her gloved hands. Her sword was abandoned beside her, having been dropped in the chaos. She went down to retrieve it. The moment her fingers came to rest on the hilt, a tremble sprinted through her.
Lianna eased Luce onto the ground as she surveyed the surrounding area. It was a mess of splintered trees and destroyed grass. The fire had been quelled by the light, leaving a small clump of trees singed horribly, though somehow they were still alive.
Luce wasn't entirely acknowledging Lianna as she sat down on the ground. She wanted answers instantly. A thousand and one questions--no, a million and one questions--were repeating themselves over and over in her mind like a sudden and strange mantra. What was that light? Where did it come from? What did it mean? Why did it come on so suddenly? How had this happened?
Luce wasn't a mage. She was a leath. A half-blood. A being without any powers. All her life, she had been positive her sword-based aptitude had been a blessing granted by the locked magic coursing through her veins, a heritage unchained in unconventional means. However, this changed everything. That light had to be magic. She had felt the pulse of magic enough over the course of her many missions as a mercenary on the receiving end of its power to know it when she felt it. That was magic for sure.
"What just happened?" Cryon managed to grumble as he came closer. He crouched down beside Luce, who was staring numbly at the grass.
"I don't know," Lianna admitted. "All this time, I assumed she was like you... A leath..."
"That was not the power of a leath," confirmed Alistair. "That's magic for sure."
"I don't understand," Luce murmured softly. "I'm not..."
"You are," Alistair pressed on. "And yet you were unaware. Interesting..."
"Don't turn her into another one of your weird study subjects," Lianna told Alistair as harshly as she could without breaking her elegant aura. "I know how you are. She's a teenager, not an object."
"We need to figure out what that was about," Cryon insisted, looking down at Luce with half-frightened eyes. "She never showed any signs of magic before. What could have happened to change that? Most mages develop powers by the age of six... She's eleven years late. How is that possible?"
"It's a rare phenomenon... I'll have to research it..." Alistair whispered, seemingly having ignored Lianna's pressing to not use Luce as a subject for his studies, prompting Lianna to shoot him a glare he didn't notice.
"What in the world...?" was all Luce could push out through her confusion. She wasn't sure of what else she was supposed to say on the matter. After the light faded and the adrenaline had begun to calm, she was left feeling numb, like nothing could break through her sudden cloud of haziness. "What the hell just happened to me...? And more importantly... What the hell am I?"