Luce finished off the story about ten minutes later. She hadn’t been able to explain to her companions yet why the mysterious cantor was after Sylvia, as she didn’t entirely know herself. Luce was partially counting on the others in her room to help her come to a conclusion regarding what had happened.
“From what I can tell, the people who have burned you so far have something to do with Sylvia,” S.M. said, crossing her arms. “I mean, the cantor stirring up trouble with Sylvia burned you. The same applied to the DJ from tonight.”
“The trio who walked in after us didn’t seem to have a problem with her though,” Tanith pointed out. “Then again, I guess they didn’t interact... I would agree that this has something to do with Sylvia though. It’s just a matter of figuring out why it is they’re in a fight.”
“I can’t say yet. I suppose we can try and ask her in the morning, but right now, she’s out like a rock,” Luce sighed.
Iris opened her mouth to speak, but she was cut off by a soft ringing sound echoing throughout the room. Everyone fell silent to listen to the voice that followed.
“This is Zylphia Satim , the headmistress of Alitia . I have an update on the events that transpired at Acadia tonight. We have caught the culprit, but Headmistress Latheia is not allowing any students back on school grounds until the mess made tonight is cleaned up. Acadia students have been invited to stay at Alitia or Sacred Heart for the night. We have a few extra dorms for any students who need a place to sleep. Acadia should be ready to see you again in the morning. We apologize for this inconvenience. The remainder of the party has been canceled and will not be rescheduled. Do your best to stay safe.”
“There’s the announcement Luce mentioned would be happening,” Tanith commented. “I guess the damage to the Acadia campus really was bad...”
“It was a disaster. You could barely see the ground under the glass, blood, food, and debris,” Luce said. “You would have expected a tornado to cause so much carnage. If I hadn’t been there, I never would have thought it to be the doing of just one man.”
“If you want my opinion, we should try and find the truth on our own. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t want to see a repeat of what happened here tonight. I want to figure out who the faceless man was and why he would want to possess a DJ for a school event. I mean, we’re just kids. Why would some random man hold a grudge against us?” Iris asked.
“I don’t know, but I doubt this is the first time he’s done something with an impact on our lives,” Luce frowned. “Think about the man I ran into before I came to Alitia. According to one of the teachers, he was a student from Sierra. I don’t even know if I was able to get rid of his possession, unless that light explosion did the job. He was wearing the same dark hood, but his didn’t disappear after the battle.”
“In other words, he’s still out there,” Helena whispered, her eyes wide. Her face had grown unnaturally pale.
“I’m guessing he is. And if that is the case, he’s probably going to be back,” Tanith murmured. “If he has a grudge against Sylvia, he’s not going to let her off so easily. Plus, I bet he wants revenge on Luce for burning him so badly last time .”
“We need to be on the top of our game then,” Carys declared. “I don’t want to die because of some random cantor creep holding a petty grudge.”
“That’s a problem though. Only Luce here can transform right now,” S.M. pointed out. “You don’t get your Isolis until you choose a magical discipline, and since we’re all new here, and thus new to light-type magic, I doubt anybody else can change into Isolis.”
Isolis was the first level of magic used by all mages and leaths . It helped to transfer magical energy into a form that was easier to use. Luce didn’t know the details. That was all Lianna had told her years ago. For mages, it was much easier to access one’s magic and use it for combat. For leaths , it increased one’s manifestation of magic, so for her father, it would increase his swordsmanship. Isolis also allowed all females to grow wings., regardless of if they were mage or leath. Men never grew wings for some reason Luce didn’t know. She figured she’d hear what it was at some point in her time at Alitia.
“Speak now if you have Isolis,” Helena said. She glanced around the room, waiting for somebody to say something. Nobody spoke up. She let out a sigh. “Oh, my...”
“In other words, we’re screwed. We don’t have a way to fight back if somebody makes an appearance. Luce alone won’t be able to save us. Besides, she still needed Headmistress Latheia’s help in order to take down that DJ tonight, and it badly wounded her after the fact. If that faceless man sends more people after us, we’re going to need help if we want to get out of it,” S.M. told the group.
“I can’t believe I’m going to die in this place because of a stupid fight between a creepy man without a face and a group of teenaged girls,” groaned Carys.
“Nobody’s going to die. I’m going to make sure of that. We're all going to be fine. We’re just going to have to refine our powers further. Think about it. If Luce can cure people of possession with her magic, then we already have an advantage. If the rest of us get our Isolis to help her out, then we’re going to have even more of an advantage. In other words, it’s just a matter of time before we’ll be able to fight against this faceless man consistently,” Iris assured her.
“I just hope a matter of time isn’t too late,” Luce sighed. “Plus, there’s the matter of my powers. I don’t know if I’ve said this yet, but I can’t really control them. They’re hostile and do whatever they want. I didn’t realize I had powers until I was called here to do a job. I can’t exactly make them do what I ask of them. On top of that, my magic probably has something to do with the weird burns I keep getting when I touch people.”
“It only happens when you touch specific people, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say your magic has something to do with the possessions. Perhaps they’re opposites or something,” suggested Tanith. “I can do some research and see if I can figure it out. I can ask my mother as well.”
“I’m still not confident in our skills yet, but I suppose this is a step in the right direction,” S.M. shrugged. She cast a brief glance at the clock and sighed. It was nearing one in the morning now. “We should get to sleep. Even if classes still don’t start for a few days, I don’t think it’s a good idea to throw off our sleep cycles stressing about this. We can talk about it more in the morning if we think it’s necessary.”
Iris nodded her agreement. She tried to stand once again, but when she put pressure on her swollen ankle, she yelped and fell back onto the couch. Luce eased her to her feet and helped her hobble to her room. She hoped Sophia’s magic would have restored itself by the morning so she could help Iris. It wasn’t hard to see the poor girl was miserable.
S.M. carried Sophia into her room before setting her on the bed. “Night, everyone,” she called into the main area before disappearing into her own room.
Luce carried Sylvia over to her bed and eased her onto the mattress. She was about to leave when she felt a hand on her wrist.
“Luce...?” Sylvia murmured sleepily. Her eyes were only halfway open, and she looked on the verge of slipping into slumber once again.
“What is it?” Luce asked, turning towards Sylvia slowly.
“Thanks for helping me tonight,” Sylvia said softly.
Luce eased herself onto Sylvia’s bed hesitantly. “I... I don’t know why that guy was after you, but... I’m going to find out. Besides, if you want to get technical, the case regarding that cantor chasing you was never resolved. Under the code of a mercenary, and my contract, I still need to look after you until the case is solved,” she pointed out.
Sylvia smiled. “I’d like that,” she managed to say before falling asleep once again.
Luce got to her feet and walked for the door, turning off the light when she passed the switch. “Good night.”
The first thing Luce felt when she woke up was the pain.
She hissed at the sudden and pounding ache in her back. She certainly hadn’t gone to sleep with that pain. Luce reached one arm back and rubbed at the offending area, praying it would relax soon. It felt as if somebody had kicked her twenty times over in the spine. She would have certainly noticed if the battle the night before had hurt her spine so badly. Maybe Sophia would have a solution for it.
“What’s up with you?”
Luce heard Helena’s voice from nearby. She did her best to push herself off the bed, but her attempts were ultimately unsuccessful. She groaned unhappily and grabbed a pillow from behind her neck to press her face into. “Back hurts,” she grunted angrily. “I don’t know why. I didn’t hit a stage like the headmistress of Acadia. Why does this always happen to me?”
“I’ll see if the others know what’s going on,” Helena suggested. “I suppose I should have figured something was wrong when you weren’t the first one out of bed. You come off as an early riser.”
“You’re right in assuming that,” Luce scoffed. She knew Helena was aware her irritation was pointed towards her aching back and not her, so she didn’t bother to apologize for her gruff tone.
Helena left the room not long after. Luce did her best to roll over and return to sleep, but it didn’t happen. The pain was too much for her to even bother. If every battle was going to have this as the aftermath, she was almost tempted to leave Alitia and go back to her life as a mercenary.
When Helena returned, it was with Sophia and Tanith. Sophia was looking much better than she had the night before. Her eyes were no longer droopy, and life had returned to her features. She grabbed a chair from the closest desk in the room (which happened to be Luce’s) and sat down next to the bed. “What’s going on?” Sophia asked gently.
“I woke up, and my back was hurting like nothing I’ve ever felt before,” Luce explained. “I don’t know what could have caused it.”
“Well, you got your wings for the first time last night, right?” Tanith asked, tilting her head to the side slightly.
Luce attempted to nod, but all she wound up doing was hissing in pain. “Yeah, I did,” she answered. “Why do you ask?”
“It’s a pretty common occurrence among heroines, enchantresses, and witches the first time they reach Isolis. Since the body isn’t used to the foreign sensation of wings, it freaks out and hurts for a while,” Tanith explained. “It should go away sometime over the next few hours. Thanks to our magic, our bodies are rather adaptive and can grow used to wings quickly. It’s only a one-time occurrence, and if it happens more than once, you should go and seek medical help.”
Luce let out a sigh. “Thanks, Tanith,” she said, glad to hear she hadn’t suffered grievous battle wounds without being aware. “I hope this goes away soon...”
“I should be able to help with that,” Sophia told her. “Can you try and turn over?”
Luce, with some help from Helena, managed to flip over onto her stomach. The pain in her back had only worsened, but she didn’t openly comment on it.
Once she was in position, Sophia reached her hands out and pressed them to Luce’s upper back, just in between her shoulder blades. Warmth spread throughout the area, and when it dissipated, the pain left as well. Luce let out a sigh of relief when the pain disappeared. “Thanks a million,” she said. “That was awful.”
“Healing magic is pretty helpful,” Sophia giggled.
“Are you sure you should be doing that though? You looked exhausted last night,” Helena frowned.
“I’m feeling much better now, but I appreciate the concern. I guess all I needed was a night of good rest to be back on my feet. I hope I wasn’t too much of a bother while I was out,” Sophia answered.
“Not at all. I’m just happy you weren’t hurt worse,” Luce responded.
“A little exhaustion is nothing for me. I’m happy I could help,” Sophia smiled. “I’ll leave you be for the time being.” She promptly left the room.
“What are we supposed to be doing for the next few days though?” Luce asked. “I mean, we don’t have classes for another four days, right?”
“I don’t know what we’ll be doing either, but I’m going to assume we’ll get our schedules,” Helena said. “I guess we can wander around from there.”
“I’m not entirely sure if we’ll even be able to do that,” Tanith admitted. “Last night, after everybody else went to sleep, Zylphia dropped by. She said there’s going to be an announcement later on regarding what happened at Acadia. I don’t know what the teachers are going to do about it, but I doubt we’ll be able to do as we please. They might want to keep us in until that faceless man is caught.”
“I don’t know if they’ll be able to keep us here for that long though. We don’t have any details regarding this faceless man aside from the fact that he exists,” Luce shrugged. “It could be ages before they find anybody who fits that description, and for all we know, he could have been using a spell to hide his real facial features. That’s only going to make things harder.”
“Then we’ll just have to see how she decides we should handle things,” Tanith said. “I can’t say how it’ll go, but I can already tell this year is going to be interesting... I don’t think something like that has happened in years at the Millennium Six.”
“This faceless man is already stirring up so much trouble, and school hasn’t even started yet,” sighed Helena with a shake of her head. “Oh, well. Maybe we can ask the others about exploring the city. That could be fun.”
Luce nodded her agreement. “Sounds good to me. I only saw a little of Millennium City on my way to Acadia last night. I was in a bit of a hurry, so I probably missed out on a lot.”
“ Carys will probably want to shop,” Helena sighed. “I can’t tell for sure if that’s a good thing or not.”
“I figured she was that type... Maybe we can find a good spot for lunch near some other stores. I could certainly go for some brunch right about now,” Tanith suggested. “Do you want me to suggest it to the others?”
Luce and Helena both nodded. Tanith scurried from the room seconds after.
“Well, if we’re going to be hitting the town, we should get ready for the day,” Helena suggested. “There’s no point in holding it off any longer.”
“I’m getting a bit hungry too,” Luce admitted.
“I heard that Alitia serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a common cafeteria area each day. We should probably get used to that soon, but since we have today to do what we wish, we might as well explore Millennium City,” Helena told her. “We won’t be able to do that soon since classes will be starting. It’s probably worth taking advantage of while we still can.”
“Sounds good to me,” Luce said. She began rifling through her drawers to find an outfit for the day. Helena was doing something similar, though she was being much neater about the process.
It only took about another half hour before they were ready to face the world. Luce strapped her sword in its sheath onto her belt. After the night before, she wasn’t exactly eager to be left without her trusty blade any time soon. Until she gained better control over her powers, she was going to be using her sword to defend herself. While she would be at a disadvantage due to her lack of ranged attacks, she didn’t mind much. Luce had been fighting with only her sword for years, so she would be fine.
The other six were prepared by that point as well. Iris seemed to be thinking similarly to Luce. She had her rapier on her hip, perhaps out of fear they would be attacked again. Luce didn’t openly remark on it. Instead, she glanced around, making sure everyone was prepared, before heading for the door. Not even Carys was objecting to a day in the city. The prospect of shopping was clearly enticing to her.
The group was quiet as they left their apartment to head for the exit. Luce could see Iris hobbling along, her bruised ankle dragging behind her slightly. It appeared Sophia’s healing was unable to fully restore injuries. Still, Luce couldn’t fault Sophia. Her healing was still helpful, even if it couldn’t cure everything.
The silence continued until they arrived near Zylphia’s office. The headmistress exited her office as they passed by. “Hello, girls,” she said with an easy smile. Despite the brightness of her grin, Luce could see exhaustion pulling at her eyes. She suspected Zylphia had been awake for most of the night trying to fix Acadia after the attack.
“How are you feeling?” Tanith asked, approaching Zylphia hesitantly. “You look like you haven’t slept a wink.”
“Acadia’s courtyard was left in chaos. I had a lot of work to do,” Zylphia told her. “Don’t worry about me. Are you all feeling alright?”
“We’ve been better, but we should be okay,” Tanith replied. “I hope that doesn’t happen again.”
“Believe me, you won’t be seeing any major incidents like that again,” Zylphia assured her before turning to Luce. “How’s your back?”
Luce tensed upon being addressed. “Oh, it’s fine. Sophia helped me by healing it,” she answered. “It hurt pretty badly at first though.”
“It happens to all of us,” Zylphia laughed. “I’ll leave you to your day now. Be careful, wherever you’re off to. You never know what’s out there. Try to keep from being caught off guard, alright?”
“I’ll keep an eye on them,” Tanith smiled. “I’ll see you later, Zylphia . Try and catch some sleep, okay?”
“I’ll try,” Zylphia responded. She waved to her adoptive daughter before retreating back into her office.
The group was quiet before Tanith gestured for them to follow her away from the office. “Sorry about that. I couldn’t help myself. I haven’t seen her since before the party, and I was worried,” she said with an apologetic smile.
“Why don’t you just call her your mother?” Carys asked. “Isn’t it weird calling your adoptive mother by her first name?”
“Back when she first took me in, she didn’t know for sure if she was going to adopt me. I didn’t know either. I lived with her for about a month before she decided I was going to be living with her permanently. During that time, I got used to calling her Zylphia , and I can’t really go back on the habit now that I’ve had it for four years,” Tanith explained.
“Still seems weird to me,” Carys murmured.
“Oh, leave her alone, Carys ,” Helena said, taking Tanith’s hand. “I think it’s fine.”
Tanith’s face flushed pink. She avoided Helena’s gaze and stared at her toes as if they were the most interesting things in existence.
“Where should we head?” Luce asked to break the awkwardness. “Do we know of any places for brunch?”
“There’s one restaurant I go to with Zylphia sometimes,” Tanith answered. “They make some pretty good bagels and pancakes. Does that sound good with everyone?”
When nobody objected, Tanith smiled and gestured for the others to follow her. “It’s got a nice thrift store a few doors down. They sell upcycled designer clothes for cheap. I think it’s worth checking out. While it isn’t quite on the level of what you’re looking for, Carys , it’s got a lot of cool stuff. I hope it suits your fancy,” she continued.
Much to Luce’s surprise, Carys didn’t reply with a snide remark. Instead, everyone followed Tanith’s lead as they walked away from the Alitia campus and into Millennium City. “I know we saw some of this place last night on the way to Acadia, but it’s a different experience entirely to actually explore Millennium,” Tanith told them. “There’s a lot here to see. I’ve been living in this area for over four years now, and I still haven’t seen everything in the city. It’s impossible to cover in a day.”
“It sounds like this place is a center for activity,” Luce remarked.
“You could say that. If Millennia as a whole is the center of the universe, which it technically is, Millennia is the center of the center,” Tanith said. “It’s only between the Millennium Six schools, but a lot can happen in this stretch of a few miles.”
“Does anybody live out here?” Sophia asked.
“No, nobody lives in Millennium. It’s a hub for shops and restaurants, but there aren’t any homes. All houses are outside the ring made up of the Millennium Six, and people make the commute in between the school campuses each day to go to work,” Tanith explained. “Sorry if anybody was looking forward to living in here after graduation. Being inside the schools is technically the closest you can get though, so you can at least think about that as a positive.”
They were getting into the city now. Buildings were growing more crowded, and people were walking briskly by. They were drinking coffee from the scattered shops as they made their way through the busy streets. Cars seemed to race by.
“Wow. This place makes all the cities I’ve been to look like nothing,” Sophia murmured.
“It’s a new experience, that’s for sure,” Tanith said. “While it does look intimidating at first, you get used to it after a while. It’s fun to come through.”
“I see what you mean by the center of the center now,” Iris laughed. “But what about the center of the center of the center?”
“There’s a museum at the exact center point of the city. It houses various magical artifacts from different planets across Magia. There have been rumors going around for years now that the museum has a secret artifact hidden inside, but there isn’t any evidence as of now. It would take major investigating to see if that was true or not. The police here in Millennium would eat you alive before you even came close to the answer though. They’re pretty insistent on keeping anybody from doing anything in the Millennium History Museum,” Tanith replied.
She paused a few seconds later and turned to face a nearby building. “We’re here,” she told her companions. Tanith pushed the doors open and walked inside. The other seven trailed after her. Luce briefly tried to check the name of the restaurant, but she was unable to read it. The font was too fancy and swirly for her to figure out what it said.
Tanith briefly spoke with the hostess before getting them a table. By some miracle, they still had enough room to seat all eight members of the group at one table despite the crowds. Tanith thanked the girl who had led them there and took a seat. “Here we are,” she smiled.
“I like the atmosphere of this place,” Iris commented, glancing around. “It’s calm, in a way.”
“It’s a cozy little place,” Tanith agreed. “I know most of the people who work here, too. Zylphia and I came here at least once a week over the summer. Of course, that won’t be happening as much when schools goes into session in a few days. It makes it much harder to get some time away.”
“I’m sure you’ll find a way to make it work,” Iris assured her.
“Let’s look over the menu,” S.M. suggested, picking hers up. She opened it and began to read over with a blank and unreadable expression.
Luce followed suit. The only one who didn’t start looking over the menu was Tanith, who seemed to already know what she wanted. Tanith instead started staring down at her fingers, which she tapped aimlessly against the table.
A waiter came by a few minutes later to take their drink orders. Luce mindlessly asked for water since she wasn’t a fan of any kind of soda. Juice was okay, buy she had grown used to water with the mercenary company living far from any cities.
Nobody spoke when the waiter was gone. When he returned with drinks, Luce and the others ordered their food. Luce wound up getting a bagel with some hash browns on the side, not in the mood to go big. She had never been the type to indulge in expensive food anyways. It simply wasn’t in her nature.
After their food had been ordered, Tanith let out a small sigh. “Anybody have any conversation starters?” she asked.
Luce glanced over the table. Her eyes eventually fell on Sylvia, who was noticeably silent. She hadn’t said a word since they had left Alitia. Sylvia was sitting on the other side of the table from Luce. The two were in completely opposite corners, so there wasn’t an easy way to ask her if something was bothering her.
Luckily, S.M. seemed to have picked up on it as well, and she was much closer to the sleepy girl. “What’s on your mind?” she asked, taking a sip of the tea she had ordered. She set the cup down and added some sugar absentmindedly.
Sylvia practically jumped from her seat upon being addressed. “Oh... Um... I’m fine,” she told the group, but it didn’t take a genius to see she was lying.
“Come on. You can talk to us,” Iris pressed, nudging Sylvia with her shoulder. She had been sitting next to the sleepy teen.
“I can’t stop thinking about last night,” Sylvia finally admitted with a shake of her head. “I can’t help it. When I try and focus on something else, I just end up coming back to the hooded man who attacked last night. Plus, there’s the matter of the faceless man who put him up to it...”
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried,” Iris admitted. “Luce said she was attacked by a hooded figure supposedly from Sierra prior to the school year. Since the dissipation of the hood seems to indicate the end of possession and that didn’t happen to the cantor, we could be in trouble.”
“I’m sure we’re fine,” Carys scoffed. “What kind of idiot would want to attack teenagers in the light like this? We’re in the middle of Millennium City, the biggest city in all of Magia. There isn’t anything he can do to us unless he wants the police force to come after him in the blink of an eye. Plus, there’s bound to be extra consequences for attacking royalty, right?”
“At the same time though, attacking a large city means there’s more people. More people being around means more people could get hurt. If the damage at Acadia was that bad with just students from a few schools, imagine how large-scale it would end up with a city spanning multiple miles,” S.M. pointed out. “For the sake of the regular people, we need to be on our guard. Even if most of us can’t even fully utilize our powers yet, that doesn’t change the fact that we’re training to be their guardians. It’s part of our duty as students of the Millennium Six.”
“I think we should just be ready for a battle. I don’t want to fight, but I don’t know if we’ll have much of a choice,” Sophia murmured.
“We’ll all have our Isolis forms soon enough. When we’re all able to use our magic more freely, it’ll be easier to protect others and ourselves. All we need is patience,” Luce said with a frown.
“I don’t know for sure if we have that time though. We’ll just need to be careful,” Helena declared.
“I’ll tell Zylphia about what’s happened. I’m sure she’d be happy to help us out a little bit. Granted, she probably already knows something since she has a way of getting around, but we could still use her help,” Tanith told the group.
Sylvia’s eyes narrowed into a glare as she stared out the window. She was silent as she focused on something away from the table.
“What’s wrong?” Iris asked. She followed Sylvia’s gaze, prompting the others to do the same.
Luce let out a gasp when she realized what Sylvia was looking at. She was focused on a man wearing a dark cloak covering his facial features. He was wearing all black as well.
His stature was familiar as well, and it didn’t take Luce long to figure out who it was and where she recognized him from.
It was the man who had attacked her while she was on her mercenary job.