Time was passing for Luce in something of an uneventful drag. After speaking to Alistair and Cessair, she hadn’t been given an opportunity to follow up with them and ask any other questions. It left her more curious than ever. She was pleading with the universe to provide her with one moment to learn more, but it ignored her wishes and chugged on as it had before. It was frustrating, but she couldn’t do anything about it.
Tanith kept telling her it was the same thing that had kept her from seeing Alistair and Cessair the first time. There were meetings between the teachers talking about what to do with the current crisis regarding the hooded man. They met each day after school and spoke in hushed voices about what their next move would be. Not even Tanith had a clue what they were up to despite her efforts to press some information, anything of value, from Zylphia.
Two weeks had flown by before Luce knew what had happened. She kept on checking the calendar on her phone, thinking that even if she couldn’t talk to the teachers, she would at least be able to ask her father more about his past when the first large break came around. That was in seven weeks, making it two and a half months into the school year. She marked off each day as it passed, growing more desperate for the answers she sought as the days grew smaller in number.
Going into Millennium City was usually a welcome distraction from the knowledge that she couldn’t do much of anything. Since all her homework was done for the day, Luce figured it would be a perfect day to hit the town.
Strangely enough, when she asked her roommates if they were available, the only one who could go out was Sylvia. She had finished her work early for the first time all year instead of sleeping the day away. Tanith had been finished as well (since it seemed like homework was more of a suggestion to her than a concrete chore), but since she was still grounded under Zylphia’s orders, she remained at Alitia and continued her research into Luce’s magic.
That was how Luce found herself walking through the city streets, a scarf around her neck to protect her from the growing autumnal wind. It was obvious by now that cold was soon to cover Millennia, loathe as Luce was to admit it. Sylvia was wearing a large jacket that practically swallowed her small torso as she stared into windows silently.
There was an unspoken tension between the two, and Luce already knew what it was about. Sylvia was thinking about the hooded man. There hadn’t been any possessions since Sophia had been attacked and earned her Isolis. Luce almost wondered if the hardest part was over, if things would calm down from then on out. A feeling deep in her stomach told her not to believe it, so she never did. When leaving the school, she always had her trusty blade on hand.
Sylvia stopped to glance at something inside of a store. Luce paused when she realized her companion was no longer walking at her side and turned to face her. “What’s wrong?” Luce asked.
Sylvia was staring at a picture frame in the window of a family. It was a generic image, Luce noticed. There was a man and woman at the back with their three kids, two girls and a boy, standing in front of them. They were smiling brightly at whoever was taking the picture.
Luce frowned, realizing Sylvia hadn’t seemed to hear her. “Sylvia?” Luce questioned again.
Sylvia jumped upon hearing her name and turned to Luce. “I... Um... I’ll be right back,” Sylvia said before dashing into the store. She was gone in the blink of an eye, leaving Luce alone and confused on the street outside.
Luce was halfway tempted to follow after her, but she shot a brief glance across the street and saw a shop selling coffee and tea. Suddenly, she realized how parched she was from the dry air. Sylvia would probably be in there a while. She had enough time to dart in and out to get a cup of tea. Plus, she and Sylvia both had their phones, so they could always text if need be.
Luce looked at the store one last time before finding the nearest crosswalk and running into the tea shop. Sylvia would be fine on her own. No worries.
Even if the picture was on display, Sylvia grabbed it from its place in the window to stare at it solemnly. She brushed her fingers across the glass, a frown on her face. She looked at each of the faces, all so bright and cheery. Gods above, how she missed that.
It had been years since she last saw her family together fully. Following the death of her mother at the hands of a mysterious enemy, everything had fallen apart for her. She hadn’t been able to see her siblings, Chester and Myra, in ages. She didn’t even know where they were, but she doubted it was good. She longed to see the three of them reunited with their father, but part of her was positive it wouldn’t ever happen.
“Please put that back.”
Sylvia looked up when she heard the voice. After glancing around, she realized it was the person behind the check-out counter. He was likely the store’s owner or one of the employees.
There was something odd about him, Sylvia noticed as she put the picture back on its perch. She couldn’t see his eyes, and there was something familiar about his piercing gaze. She could feel it even if she couldn’t see it. It sent a shiver sprinting up and down her spine. Who was this man, and how were they connected?
Sylvia backed away, heading for the door of the store with a frown evident on her features. Now wasn’t the time to get suspicious of people, she realized. Something churned in her gut, and Sylvia knew it was her instincts telling her to run.
Sylvia turned for the door as a lock appeared around the handle to keep it in place. She gasped and tried to pull at it with all her strength.
“Now, now, Sylvia... Don’t bother trying to fight me. You know I’ll win.”
She felt his voice from behind her. He was breathing down her neck. Sylvia didn’t bother turning to see who it was. She was already fully aware it was the hooded man who had been plaguing her time at Alitia up to that point.
“We can take care of things easily... Come on. Why don’t you step away with me for a moment, my delicate flower?”
His hand crept up to her wrist. His grip was like iron. Sylvia tried to pull away, but an arm snaked around her waist, keeping her small frame in place. For someone of his age, he was pretty damn strong.
“Don’t bother resisting. We both know it’s futile. You know it better than anyone.”
Sylvia ignored his words and continued to thrash in his grasp. “Let me go,” she murmured, making it clear to him this was a threat. She felt energy dancing at the tips of her fingertips beneath the skin, ready to let lightning loose the second she felt threatened. If anybody was going to suffer under her magic, it was certainly going to be him. He was going to get zapped if he didn’t step away.
“What makes you think you have any power over me? If anything, I’m the one who has power over you. You’re not as strong as you think you are, Sylvia. Granted, you can barely control your magic to begin with.”
Sylvia let the energy coursing through her fly loose. Lightning hit the hooded man’s skin, leaving him growling in pain. He rubbed at his arm, which had been badly burned by the electricity.
“You shouldn’t have done that. You know you’re just as vulnerable to my control as the others. They gave in easily. You didn’t. That doesn’t change a thing.”
He seized Sylvia’s wrist, and more electricity pulsed through her. He was struck by the lightning once again, but instead of retreating to nurse his wounds, he lunged towards Sylvia. She let out a cry of surprise and pain as he took her down, his hand beginning to glow with a purple light.
Sylvia let out a scream as his hand grew nearer to her neck. She was wrapped in a white light, fending off the hooded man temporarily. She got to her feet while the light was still around her, and once it faded, wings protruded from her back. Her outfit had changed completely, and she didn’t have to look down to know it was Isolis . Something inside her was already aware of the fact, and while she didn’t know how, she wasn’t going to question it until she was in a safer position.
Her blonde hair was now tied into twin buns atop her head. A small violet crown sat in her hair. She had a purple dress on that had no sleeves, instead wrapping around her neck. The edges were pointed and reached her knees. She had tall fingerless gloves of a p ink color. Her boots were purple and were accompanied by pink tights. A purple star design was on the chest of her dress .
The man barked a laugh as Sylvia stepped towards him. “You really think a simple Isolis can scare me? You’re pathetic! You could never defeat me like that!” he exclaimed. “The other two stood no chance, and they are much stronger than you’ll ever be!”
Sylvia didn’t listen to his teasing any longer. She let out a blast of lightning at him. Despite her rising energy levels, provided by her newly awakened Isolis, she didn’t drain her own energy. Instead, she took it from the man before her. A sense of clarity had come over her for the first time in recent memory. Her head, normally dreary and hazy with exhaustion and unhappiness, was overcome by clearness, which was all she could have asked for in that moment.
“You can’t do anything to hurt me... I am on par with a god!”
Sylvia stomped one foot against the ground and sent her magic through the ground. She rose one hand, prompting her power to come seeping through the floorboards of the old picture frame shop. Lightning forged a cage around Sylvia’s predator. Determination flashed in her eyes.
“I have let you control me for far too long. I won’t let it persist,” Sylvia snarled. “It all ends today, here and now! God or otherwise, you have done enough harm!”
Sylvia concentrated her power on the cage. She focused on making it smaller to crush the hooded man where he was standing. He had to crouch down to avoid the cage and its dangerous, darting electricity.
“You’re a pathetic child! You always have been, and you always will be! You couldn’t save your pathetic excuses for siblings, and you can’t save yourself! You couldn’t do anything to save your mother either, could you? It’s because you’re powerless. Nothing you say or do has any impact. You thought coming to Alitia would be your saving grace. You thought it would bring you salvation after all the trouble you have gone through. You’re wrong. I will make sure you are aware of that!”
The hooded man stood up, but the cage had no impact on him. Instead, it scattered to the far corners of the room. Sylvia was hit by a rogue piece of lightning. She went sprawling backwards, where she hit a bookcase against the far wall. Shelves came crashing down alongside a variety of frames. A particularly heavy metal frame clapped against her head, leaving Sylvia screaming in agony as blood coursed through her blonde hair excessively. She rubbed at the wound, which was already forming a bump on her temple. Pain pounded in her head.
The man smirked as he stalked over to where Sylvia was slumped near the bookcase. “You’re still a child, no matter how large you are. You know who has trouble controlling their magic? Babies. You’re just like them,” he told her, a teasing tone overtaking his voice.
Sylvia pulled one leg back before letting it fly loose. She slammed her foot into the man’s ankle. He tripped over the blow, falling to the ground. He hit his head against the ground. Blood coursed from the side of his face onto the wooden floor.
Sylvia stumbled to her feet with one hand still clamped on her head injury. She limped for the door, praying she would be able to escape before he righted himself. The sooner she got away, the better. Sylvia longed for Luce to come and help her, though part of Sylvia knew she would scarcely help. Luce could control her magic even less than Sylvia, and her sword strikes would do nothing if the hooded man stayed out of her close range.
A hand suddenly came out of nowhere to clamp on Sylvia’s throat. She flew through the air and was pinned to the window beside the door. The hooded man had created a shadowy hand to keep her in place, she noticed.
He stalked to her side and began to stroke her cheek. “My dear, sweet Sylvia... Resist all you want. It will do nothing to save your damned soul in the end. The sooner you give in, the easier it will be on you in the future...”
He clamped his mouth onto hers in a sloppy, messy kiss. She would have pulled away if she had somewhere to depart to. Instead, she was forced to taste blood from his head injury as pain continued to shoot through her body.
He pulled apart for a brief moment, and Sylvia spit the blood back at him. It landed on the front of his cloak, leaving him frowning and snarling. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he told her. His voice was quiet in an unsettling, threatening way.
Suddenly, the door to the shop was thrown open. Sylvia was able to turn her head just enough to see that Luce had appeared on the scene. Relief washed over her limp body. Thank the gods for Luce.
The blue-haired swordswoman unsheathed her sword upon realizing the scene. She made a quick stab for the hooded man, leaving a large gash in both his hood and torso. He let out an angry, ear-splitting screech.
Sylvia fell to the ground as his energy dispelled from its place around her throat. She coughed wildly, relieved to feel air in her lungs again. Everything hurt, but she was unable to do much of anything about it in her weakened state.
The hooded man clutched at his stomach and glared at Sylvia and Luce. “This... This isn’t over... I will be back for you, Sylvia! Do not be fooled by this retreat!” he shouted. In a puff of purple energy, he disappeared, leaving the shop, and Sylvia, behind.
Luce was breathing heavily when the man disappeared. Her sword’s edge was soaked in blood, bright red and threatening. A cup of tea was left abandoned at her side, spilled over onto the old floorboards. She turned slowly to Sylvia as she sheathed the blade. “Are you alright?” Luce asked in between heaving pants.
Sylvia nodded slowly, but it seemed obvious to them both that she was lying. Luce noticed her head injury and dashed into the back area of the store. When she returned, a first aid kit was in her hands. Luce gestured for her to approach the counter and sit down. Sylvia did so. She stared silently at her lap as Luce wrapped a bandage around her head. There weren’t enough materials in the kit to properly care for the injury, but it would have to do until they got back to Alitia.
In a brief flash of light, Sylvia’s Isolis ensemble returned to her regular clothing. She rubbed at her unwounded temple in hopes it would dispel the headache pounding at the edges of her skull.
“What happened?” Luce asked once the bandaging was finished. She reached out one hand and wrapped an arm around Sylvia’s shaking shoulders. Now that the adrenaline had worn off, she was exhausted and felt ready to pass out at any moment.
Sylvia leaned into Luce’s grasp and shut her eyes. “I wanted to look at a picture frame... I didn’t realize the person behind the counter was the hooded man... He attacked me,” Sylvia explained, a sigh escaping her lips. “I feel sick... Let’s go back to Alitia.”
Luce nodded and took Sylvia into her arms. Sylvia was thankful Luce was so strong, as she was able to lift her limp and barely conscious form easily. Luce headed for the door, but Sylvia had her pause next to the window where the photo frame had been. Sylvia reached out for it, and Luce moved closer to allow her to grab it without saying a word.
Sylvia stared down at the frame silently. Tears formed at the corners of her eyes not from the pain in her head, but from the numbness of her heart at looking into the glass. The family detailed within seemed so happy, more so than most families Sylvia had seen in a long time. It reminded her of the past, something she halfway wished she could forget. At least then she wouldn’t have to think of this every time she saw a family with a similar structure to her now lost home.
Sylvia took the frame into her arms and nodded at Luce to head for the door. The blue-haired swordswoman said nothing, instead just walking out of the shop and onto the street. From there, they began the long trek back to Alitia to heal Sylvia’s injuries.
Sylvia sat silently in the infirmary roughly two hours after the attack. Her energy had been drained during the recovery process. Zylphia had healed her well alongside many of the seniors, but she was still exhausted, even more than usual. Her eyes were shut as she thought over all that had happened.
A knock came at the infirmary’s door. “Come in,” Sylvia said softly. She still had a pounding headache. Despite the healers sewing up the wound on her temple, the pain would remain until her body was fully recovered. The energy she had lost from the battle would have to be recovered on her own. She had to replace the blood lost as well.
Luce slowly walked into the room. She approached softly before sitting down at Sylvia’s side. “Hey... How are you feeling?” she asked gently.
Sylvia shrugged. “I’ve been better,” she murmured. It was taking much of her energy to stay awake. She wanted to fall asleep, but at the same time, if Luce had come to see her, she needed to at least try to make a conversation. It wouldn’t be right if she didn’t make an attempt.
“I’m just glad you’re alright. I was really worried,” Luce said, placing her hand on top of Sylvia’s. “I’m sorry I left you. I thought you’d be fine on your own. I never expected—”
“Luce, it’s fine,” Sylvia interrupted. “I didn’t think I’d be attacked either. Neither of us could have known. There was nothing we could have done to prevent it.”
Luce sighed and closed her eyes. “I didn’t mean for this to happen though.”
“It’s okay. I insist,” Sylvia pressed. “Don’t worry yourself. You’re going to be just as sick as me if you keep it up.”
“Still, I told you back before school started. I never finished my job. It’s my duty to protect you, and so I will. I don’t know who this hooded man is, but I’m not going to let him hurt you. Mercenary’s honor,” Luce told her. “I wish I could have been there sooner, but I know you don’t want me to keep saying that.”
“You’re right. I don’t,” Sylvia murmured.
“What do you know about the hooded man? Do you have any ideas as to who he is or what he wants?” Luce questioned. “I mean, back when I started my job here at Alitia , Professor Ogun told me the hooded man was a Sierra student with a grudge against you.”
Sylvia didn’t give her an answer. Her encounter with the hooded man swam behind her eyes. Just thinking about that incident made her unhappy. She had hoped the attacks were over after Sophia was assaulted two weeks or so before. After such a large dry spell, she was convinced he was finally going to leave her alone. Today proved that simply wasn’t the case. He had been biding his time. He had been planning for something, and in the end, he showed his face once he was finished. He seemed to know she would fall for the picture frame if she passed by. It was an odd way of going about finding her. He could have easily just come to Alitia and found her on his own instead of executing this overly complicated scheme with a frame shop.
She was snapped out of her thoughts at hearing Luce’s voice. “I’m sorry, what was that?” Sylvia asked.
Luce didn’t give her an answer. Instead, she stared down at the ground. There was a strange fire in her that Sylvia hadn’t seen before. Was it fierce protectiveness? She couldn’t say for sure, but it was odd.
“Listen, Syl... I understand if you don’t want to talk about it. Whatever is going on is hard for you. I understand that. I don’t want to put you under too much pressure given all you’ve gone through up to this point. However, I also want you to know that I’m here for you if you want to talk. I won’t let you suffer alone. The second you’re ready to open up to me, I’ll be there to listen,” Luce said next.
It was an offer that surprised Sylvia. She hadn’t ever heard such a thing from others before. Distant memories said her brother and sister were once there for her, but that didn’t apply anymore. Her father was distant and wouldn’t be able to talk to her about it. If he knew, he would take her out of Alitia, and the one glimmer of hope in her life would be gone in the blink of an eye. The prospect of having another person to talk to about the matter made her happy in a way she didn’t expect.
“Thanks,” Sylvia told her as opposed to letting that whole tangent tumble from her lips.
Luce and Sylvia sat in silence for a few more minutes, both unsure of what they were supposed to say. Luce eventually got to her feet and started for the door. “I think I’m going to head back to the dorm... If you need anything, feel free to text. I’ll come as soon as I can,” Luce told her.
“Alright,” Sylvia nodded. She watched as Luce left, softly shutting the door behind her.
Sylvia stared around the room quietly. What in the world was she supposed to tell Luce and the others? They were bound to find out eventually. Sylvia couldn’t bring herself to explain the full situation until she was sure they were trustworthy, and there was no way of determining if that was the case yet. It would be a while yet before Sylvia was sure if it was a good idea. Until she was positive, she was going to stay quiet the same way she had for many years.
Sylvia’s heart pounded at the mere idea of explaining the truth. She knew the consequences that would come about because of it. While she knew it would come one day, she didn’t want to face the truth. That would mean acknowledging the past she had been clinging to for so long was gone for good, which was the last thing she ever wanted to accept.
When Luce got back into the room, she sat down on the couch. The other six were all in their separate rooms, it seemed. She sighed and closed her eyes, leaning back against the cushions. She had explained the fight to them earlier on, but they hadn’t been able to talk about it extensively. There simply hadn’t been time in between answering questions from teachers and making sure Sylvia was okay.
“Hey, Luce,” came the soft voice of Tanith as she left her room. There was a small notepad in her hand.
Luce turned to face Tanith with a smile pulling at the edges of her lips. “Hey. What’s up?” she asked.
“I’ve been doing more research into what magic you could possibly have... And I’m afraid I don’t know what to do next... I’ve hit a road block, if that makes any sense,” Tanith explained.
Luce could tell there was something Tanith was holding back on and trying not to say. It made her nervous, but she wouldn’t get anywhere by avoiding the subject. “What’s on your mind?” Luce questioned, her tone urging Tanith to explain the full situation.
Tanith hesitated before sitting down on the couch beside Luce. “It’s... It’s not good news. I’ll say that much. How about that?” Tanith said simply, showing Luce the notepad after brief hesitation.
“Just say it already,” Luce insisted. She didn’t want to be left in suspense any longer than she had to be. The knot in her stomach would only grow and persist longer than necessary if she didn’t hear what was going on. She might as well get it out of the way now.
“I’ve been crossing off different magic that doesn’t fit the description of yours. It was going pretty well, but I’m afraid things have taken a turn for the worse... While you and Sylvia were out in Millennium City, I finished up the list. I crossed off the last few possibilities... Nothing fits the description we’ve seen up to this point,” Tanith frowned.
This was not what Luce had been expecting to hear. The knot in her stomach had grown larger than it ever could have if she was left in suspense. “What?” she managed to squeak out despite the nerves taking her over.
“It’s pretty self-explanatory... All the other magic on the list contradicts what you’ve shown in your combat capabilities. Nothing fits. The book is updated using magic as new types are discovered. And yet, it doesn’t have anything about the power you exhibit. If your mother has this same power, it should have already been categorized, and yet, no such category or name exists as of now,” Tanith explained. “It doesn’t make any sense. There has to be something out there that matches with what you’ve shown, and yet there’s nothing out there.”
“That... That can’t be right. There’s no chance I have some new blend of magic. I’m sure it exists out there somewhere. I’m positive I got my powers from my mother, and her light magic should be categorized already... There has to be an explanation. Maybe we should go back and look it over again,” Luce suggested.
“That’s the thing. I double-checked everything. I even went over it a third time. There’s nothing that matches it. If we were to restart, it would take another three weeks, and I don’t think we want to do that. I’m sorry, Luce. Your magic is unexplored territory,” Tanith frowned.
“This is awful. I don’t know what I’m doing. I was hoping to learn from example how to control my powers, and yet, they don’t match anything... I can’t follow anybody else’s example for controlling my messy magic if I’m the only one who has it,” Luce sighed.
“As hard as it is to believe... I think this is the only explanation for it. Let’s try and ask a few of the teachers about it if we get a spare moment. They might have something to say about it. Worst case scenario, we categorize your powers as something new and figure out where to go from now. I know it isn’t ideal, but it might be our only option. Unless somebody comes out of the shadows with a perfect explanation as for what the hell you have at your disposal, we’re going to have to improvise from here on out,” Tanith told her.
“Well... Let’s see what we can do. Let’s ask others about it. I’m sure they’ll have something to say. This can’t be a perfectly new thing. I won’t believe it until we’re perfectly sure,” Luce said firmly.
“Granted, we could have made a mistake somewhere along the way. We won’t know until we get a chance to ask an expert about it... Come to think of it, Professor Apollo is a wielder of light magic. Maybe she’ll be able to help us come to a conclusion. She probably knows it better than most other people around here,” Tanith suggested. “I can’t say when she’ll be available next, but when we get a chance to, we should ask her.”
Luce nodded. “It’s a good plan. She’ll probably be tied up in meetings like you’ve mentioned before, but we should go to her if she’s available at any point. During the school day is mostly taken, so we don’t have a chance to talk to her then. We’ll have to find a moment after school when there aren’t meetings about the school or what the next course of action will be. It’ll be hard, but we’re determined.”
“I have faith will be fine... I can’t say when we’ll be fine, but we will be,” Tanith said with a smile.
Luce nodded again, praying that Tanith was right. Things were taking a downhill dive, and her magic seemed to be one of the largest issues pushing them into the abyss.