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Alitia: Welcome to Millenia

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"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?"

Chapter Text

The hour after the encounter with the hooded man was a whirlwind for Luce. She vaguely remembered Lianna carrying her somewhere and a burning sensation in her ankle. It had taken a while for the pain to set in, but once it had, it refused to let her go. Luce felt more exhausted than she had been in years, struggling to keep her eyes open.

Cryon was walking nearby, holding Luce's sword loosely in one hand. He looked over at his daughter from time to time, but Luce didn't seem to notice. She was too focused on staying awake with all that had happened.

When Luce felt solid ground underneath her again, her eyes cleared up and her haziness faded. She rubbed at her eyes and glanced around. It looked like she was in a medical room of some sorts. She was lying on a bed with white sheets. For the most part, the rest of the room was empty. Alistair, Cryon, and Lianna were gathered around Luce's bed, but there was one other bunk that was occupied. 

It was being used by a sleeping girl with blonde hair falling onto the pillows. She was facing away from Luce, so not many details could be captured well, not that Luce cared to try.

Alistair pressed a hand to Luce's forehead and felt for a moment before humming under his breath. "No fever," he murmured. "But I can certainly sense a magical presence."

Luce looked up at him with a shaky gaze. "This can't be happening," she said numbly. "I don't have magic. I'm a leath. I'm no mage."

"That light certainly says that you're a mage to me," Lianna frowned. Something deep inside Luce said that Lianna didn't sound very surprised, as if she had seen this coming. She was too tired to bring it up, instead leaning back on the bed to stare up at the ceiling.

"We should give her some time to rest," suggested Alistair.

"Would you be willing to come out into the hall with me, Alistair?" Lianna asked. "I need to talk to you."

The man nodded slowly before trailing after Lianna out of the room. Luce's head began to pound as Cryon came into view. "I don't get it," Luce whispered weakly. She hated this sudden weakness she had. She hadn't ever been this exhausted in her life, and it was far from being something she liked. As a mercenary, she had been taught not to show weakness around people she couldn't trust, and that included Alistair. She despised the fact that she had broken her track record over this incident, one she had anticipated to be normal.

"I don't either," Cryon told her. He didn't say anything further, instead just intertwining his fingers with hers. "Try and get some rest for now. We can talk about this later when you're feeling better. You look ready to pass out at any moment."

Luce didn't give a response and shut her eyes without putting up a fight to keep her consciousness. It only took her a few moments to fall deep into slumber. 

~~~~~~

Lianna frowned at Alistair when they arrived out in the hallway. "Do you have any idea what this is about?" she asked.

Alistair responded with a shake of his head. "Not a clue. I've never heard of magic taking this long to show itself. Most magic is developed by the age of six. How old did you say she was?"

"Seventeen. In other words, her magic took eleven extra years to show up," Lianna sighed. "What could cause something like this?"

"There's always the chance that a higher figure gifted her with these abilities. It's highly unlikely, but it has happened in the past," Alistair remarked. "I do know that I can't send her back to Amity in good conscience knowing what I do now."

"What are you saying?" Lianna questioned. "I already told you not to use her for any of your weird experiments. She's not your rat in a lab. She's a human being."

"I know that. However, this is something I have never seen before. This is the only way I can think of where we can learn about where her magic comes from and why it took so long to appear. I'm sure she wants to know the truth just as much as I do," Alistair pointed out.

"How would you even figure it out?" Lianna pressed. "I'm going to need an answer to that before I even think of agreeing to anything."

"If she came to Alitia, I'm sure I could spend some time figuring out the origin of her abilities. Plus, she could learn how to control her magic. It would help prevent any potential future light explosions," Alistair pointed out. "I'm sure the principal will allow her to enter the school as a student when I explain what happened."

Lianna's eyes went wide. "You're saying that you can get her into one of the Millennium Six immediately?" she asked in shock.

Alistair nodded. "I think so. I believe this will help us learn the truth behind her powers and allow her to control her powers further," he told her.

"Luce wasn't planning on going to any school to hone her powers. She said she wanted to be a mercenary instead and focus on taking care of jobs with the rest of us. why should she change her mind to attend Alitia now?" Lianna demanded. 

"Consider this: I can get her into Alitia, and in exchange, she can learn how to control her powers. It's a sudden change, and a mysterious one, at that. I'm sure she'll be curious and will want to know what caused all of this. I can help her find those answers, and she'll be going to one of the best schools in all of Magia. I know I wouldn't be able to pass up an offer like that," Alistair told her. "It's true that it'll be a huge adjustment for her, but I have faith she'll be okay after a while."

"I can't make that decision for her. You'll have to ask her yourself. I don't know how she's going to respond. On one hand, she's lived with the mercenaries all her life. On the other, she might want to know where this power of hers comes from," Lianna said softly. "I don't know. I'll let you ponder how you want to approach her about it. For now, I'm going to talk to her father on the matter."

Alistair nodded and turned on his heel. Before he left, he turned over one shoulder and frowned. "I still don't quite understand why you became a mercenary. You were on your way to becoming one of the most powerful mages of our time, and yet, you gave it all away to go somewhere secluded on the edges of the universe."

"I made the choice that was right for me," Lianna insisted. She didn't say anything, prompting Alistair to walk away.

Lianna poked her head into the room where Luce was sleeping soundly once again. Cryon was looking down at her with a tight frown. "Sir?" she asked softly so as not to wake Luce.

Cryon looked up. "What is it?"

"Can we talk for a moment?" Lianna questioned.

Cryon nodded and walked into the hallway. He couldn't help but shoot a few glances at Luce through the open door from time to time as he spoke. "Yes?"

"Alistair offered to give Luce a spot at Alitia to study her magic," Lianna told him simply.

Cryon's shoulders went tense. "He did what?" he asked in shock.

"He's curious about where her powers come from. He said he would find a way to get her into this year's class if he could study her magic and its origins," Lianna went on. 

"I... I didn't expect that," Cryon grumbled with a shake of his head.

"I can understand why you would be hesitant. Luce is your only daughter and all that. Hell, she's your only child. However, I think she might want the freedom to make this choice for herself. I know you're a sensible man and will respect whatever choice she makes," Lianna said. "If you're worried about Alistair, don't be. I've known him for over ten years now. Luce would be in good hands."

Cryon stared in at Luce, who was still sleeping soundly. "I'm going to leave it up to her," he told Lianna.

"Alright," Lianna nodded. She pulled the door shut and gestured for him to follow after her. "Come on. We should follow after Alistair and make sure he doesn't get into too much trouble."

~~~~~

When Luce came to, the first thing she felt was a warmth coming from her foot. She glanced around the room numbly before her gaze fell upon a young woman her age.

She had two blonde braided ponytails that fell over her chest. Her eyes were purple and focused on Luce's ankle. She had on black overalls with a skirt as opposed to shorts. One of the straps was left unclipped, sitting on her chest alongside her hair. A white button-up shirt could be seen beneath the denim, the top few buttons left unbuttoned. Her socks were tall and black. Her gray shoes covered the bottom of her socks.

"What's going on...?" Luce grumbled as she sat up.

The warmth from her ankle faded as the girl looked up. She looked tired, and that was putting it lightly. It appeared to Luce that she hadn't slept in days, if not weeks.

"Your ankle was burned," the girl said bluntly. "I was healing it."

"Thank you," Luce smiled gently. Memories of the battle from earlier in the day had her smile dissipating seconds later. She remembered the hooded man grabbing at her ankle, the painful sensation that seized her body when he did, and the burning that followed. The explosion of light was a distant recollection as well.

"I heard you were fighting that hooded cantor," the girl went on. 

"Something along those lines," Luce shrugged. "Why do you ask?"

"He's been bothering me ever since I came to Alitia," the girl explained. 

Luce remembered something that Alistair had mentioned prior to the battle. He said that he had called in Cryon, Lianna, and Luce to begin with because the cantor had been harassing one of the students of Alitia, a girl named Sylvia. From what this girl had said, it seemed clear to Luce who she was.

"Your name wouldn't happen to be Sylvia, would it?" Luce questioned.

The girl nodded slowly as she rubbed at her eyes. "How did you know?"

"One of the teachers here told me," Luce explained. "Alistair Ogun, I believe."

"Ah... I see..." the girl murmured. She didn't seem to be in much of a mood to talk further, so she walked back to her own bed slowly before laying down.

Luce, admittedly bored and unsure of what to do in this strange environment, wasn't about to let this conversation go so soon. Without Cryon and Lianna to lean on, Sylvia was her only option for human contact. "So... What's your magic like?" Luce asked. 

She got the feeling she was phrasing that wrong, but she didn't have much of a choice. In her mercenary company, she knew an enchantress, a cantor, and a wizard, but she hadn't encountered any other mages extensively. The twins in her mercenary company were both leaths, and the same applied to her father. Luce had thought herself to be a leath as well up until an hour and a half before as well, so she was as lost as it got where magic was concerned.

"Energy," Sylvia replied. Luce almost thought she was joking at first with how drained she appeared to be, but when Sylvia didn't laugh it off, Luce frowned. She was serious. But what was an enchantress of energy doing with so little energy?

"I see," Luce whispered. She didn't know how to respond when Sylvia was doing so little to uphold their chat. She wished Sylvia would at least try to put forth a little effort, but she doubted that was going to happen with how lazy she seemed to be.

"What about you?" Sylvia asked tiredly, rubbing at her eyes.

Luce hesitated. How was she supposed to answer that? 'I can summon light that burns cantors that possess people?' 'I can cause an explosion of light that puts out fires?' 'I don't know, I thought I was a leath up until an hour and a half ago?'

She ultimately decided the last option was the best. "I have no idea," she admitted bluntly. "Up until today, I was sure I was a leath. I thought I had inherited my aptitude with a sword from my father. Fighting off that cantor unleashed whatever magic I had running through me all these years and caused an explosion of light."

Sylvia hummed her lack of interest and rolled over. She was asleep in seconds.

Luce let out a sigh. She didn't care if Sylvia was asleep. While others found her habit of talking to herself strange, she wasn't at all perturbed by it. She leaned back against the headboard of the infirmary bed and began to mutter. "I wonder if maybe we can make this a mutual agreement... She's being harassed by this cantor. I want to know why I burned him when we touched. I'm curious as to why I wasn't possessed too. Maybe we can make this something like the mercenary contracts I've grown used to my whole life. I can protect you if you help me learn the truth behind my magic."

Sylvia responded by rolling over once again. A small snore escaped her.

Luce shook her head. "Gods above, I probably look ridiculous... I don't care. I want to learn more about whatever powers I have no matter what I need to do. This is my first time on Millennia, and something about this place caused my magic to open up. Maybe the answers are somewhere around here. Somebody has to know... Maybe Alistair can help out. He seems pretty knowledgable. I doubt he would be teaching at one of the Millennium Six if he didn't know a lot about Magia. It wouldn't make sense..."

Luce looked down at her ankle. The fabric was still intact from when the cantor had grabbed her, but the skin beneath it throbbed slightly. It was no longer an intense flare of pain thanks to Sylvia's healing, but it still hurt more than it should have. "I don't understand any of this," she admitted.

A knock came at the door. Luce looked up and frowned. Lianna, Cryon, and Alistair entered the room one after another. Lianna and Cryon took the seats next to Luce's bed while Alistair stood behind his old friend.

"What is it?" Luce asked.

"I have a question for you," Alistair began before Lianna or Cryon could speak. "It's more of a proposition, I must admit, but I that isn't important."

"Alistair wants to offer you a place at Alitia," Lianna cut in, knowing her friend had something of a flare for the dramatic. "He wants to help you learn the truth behind your magic."

"What?" Luce repeated in shock.

"He thinks that with enough time and effort, he can figure out where your magic comes from. Plus, this would give you a chance to learn to control your abilities. I doubt uncontrollable explosions of light would help you much practically," Lianna continued.

"At the end of the day, the choice is yours. I won't push you in one direction or the other," Cryon said, though Luce could see in his eyes that he didn't want her to go.

"I'll consider it," Luce told them after a brief pause. "Give me a few minutes to think it over."

"Alright," Lianna nodded. She walked from the room, taking Cryon's hand and dragging him away to give Luce some space. Luce could see the hesitance in her father's gaze, but she appreciated Lianna's effort to give her time to think. Alistair trailed after them.

On one hand, Luce wanted to stay and learn more about her magic. After years of training as a leath, going to a school that could develop her magic would help her immensely. She could learn how to use her light for missions when she inevitably returned to her mercenary company. It would certainly help to have a second enchantress among those working in the group. Lianna was the only one, and because of it, she was the main healer. A second enchantress would help to ease her burden. Plus, extra mages would always help out. You could never have too many of them, and at the moment, there was an even split between mages and leaths.

On the other hand, Luce didn't want to leave her company at all. She only traveled outside the borders of Amity when with the other mercenaries. She was as good as useless on her own. While she did know how to survive on her own, she didn't know how well she would fare in a strange environment filled with magic. Luce only loosely encountered magic from her fellow mercenaries and the clients who hired them. it would be a change of pace, and that was probably putting it nicely.

However, she would be able to visit the mercenaries when on break from school. She wouldn't be able to randomly decide to attend Alitia again after making this decision. It was something that would probably only happen to her once, and this was her chance. Why would she let it go so easily when it the opportunity was sitting right in front of her? She couldn't really do that in good conscience.

It was for this reason that when she called for her father and Lianna, she knew what she had to do. Cryon and Lianna took their seats once again. Alistair continued to hover over Lianna's shoulder silently with expecting eyes.

"I've made up my mind," Luce said firmly. Some part of her mind screamed that she didn't know what she was doing, but she did her best to ignore it and focus on the task at hand. "I'm going to stay here at Alitia."

"Good for you," Lianna smiled, placing one hand on Luce's shoulder. "I had faith you would make the best choice for you."

"You sound like you knew she would choose to stay," Cryon frowned.

"I had a sneaking suspicion. I've learned the way Luce thinks over the years," Lianna shrugged. "Thank you for your offer, Alistair. As she just stated, she'll be taking you up on it. I'm proud of her for this choice. I know it couldn't have been easy."

"I want to know more about what happened," Luce insisted. "I can't just let this slip away from me. I've lived my whole life as a leath. I won't let this opportunity disappear. I need to know what my magic really is and where it comes from."

"I'm proud of you, Luce," Cryon told her. Luce could tell he was sad to see her leaving. A few tears were forming in his eyes. He rubbed furiously at them.

"I'm going to be back as soon as I can be," smiled Luce. "I can't leave you to do all the mercenary work on your own. I don't even know what you'll get up to, but I doubt it'll be good."

Cryon rolled his eyes. "You're pretty snarky, you know that?" he asked.

"I've been told," Luce remarked. 

"We should probably get back as soon as we can. I should get to packing up all your things to send them here. I doubt you'll have time to go back to Amity, pack, and then come back. I'll ship everything you'll need, okay?" Lianna said.

Luce nodded. "I appreciate that, Lianna... Thank you, both of you, for letting me do this. It means a lot to me. I didn't think you would be willing to let me leave."

"I know you're doing what's best for you. Plus, I know you'll be responsible. You're not the type to get into trouble," Cryon told her. "Lianna is right in saying that we need to get back to Amity though. I don't know how I'm going to explain to the mercenaries that you left us while they were sleeping. I doubt they'll be too particularly happy about it, but they'll get used to it after a while."

"Rie will need a new sparring partner. Maybe she can teach Lewith to use a sword," Luce suggested.

"As if. Lewith wouldn't touch a sword with a ten-foot pole. You know that well," Lianna laughed. "I suppose we can try though."

"It's time to get going," Cryon said. He got to his feet with a bittersweet smile at his daughter. "I'll see you soon, Luce. You'll call, won't you?"

"Of course," Luce assured him. She got to her feet despite the pain in her ankle and pulled him into a hug. Cryon had never been a particularly touchy person, so this was rare experience for the two of them. However, Cryon didn't seem to mind the public display of love given the situation. He ruffled her short hair with one hand before walking out of the room with Lianna.

"I love you," Luce whispered after him. He paused for a moment and smiled to himself as Luce continued to speak. "I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you," Cryon said. He and Lianna disappeared around the corner not long after.

Alistair was the only one left in the room. Technically, Sylvia was still there as well, but she was still sound asleep, so Luce chose not to count her. Alistair turned to her and gestured for her to follow him. "I can show you to your room. We had a student drop at the last minute, so you can take her place. You'll be in the same apartment as Sylvia," he explained.

"Thank you," Luce nodded curtly. Now that Lianna was gone, she didn't know how to respond to his actions. He seemed like a knowledgeable and orderly man, but aside from that, she didn't know much about him. If he hadn't been a trusted friend to Lianna, Luce wouldn't have trusted him.

"I'll have to go back and check in with the main office to let the principal know you'll be staying," Alistair told her. "I apologize for having to leave so soon, but I have faith you'll fit in well. Nobody here knows anybody else, so you're on equal ground. You can talk with your roommates for a little while before curfew tonight. Orientation is in the morning, just in case we don't see one another until tomorrow. You'll find a full schedule for tomorrow in your room."

Luce nodded. Alistair led her up a flight of stairs to a lengthy hallway that curved around. She glanced out the window to see that Alitia had the same horseshoe shape she had seen in countless pictures. The entrance was a small door at the northern end of the school. The hallways looped around to forge a nearly complete circle around the outdoor commons area.

"Alitia has five floors. The first floor is for classrooms. The second, third, and fourth floors are all dorms for first, second, and third year students respectively. The fifth floor has more classrooms," Alistair explained. "Orientation tomorrow will start in the commons."

Luce nodded again as they walked away from the window. Alistair walked with her in silence, both unsure of what to say, for about two more minutes before Alistair stopped. "Here you are," he told her, gesturing to a door. There was a paper taped to it with a list of eight names. 

"Thank you," Luce repeated.

"There will be seven other girls in your apartment. Everybody will be roomed in pairs from there. Assignments will be inside," Alistair continued. "I'll leave you to look around. I'll be seeing you later, Luce."

Luce nodded to herself for a third time as Alistair disappeared from view. She glanced around the hallway for a few more moments before looking at the paper on the front of the door. Just as Alistair had said, there were eight names on it, though the first one had been marked through with a pen. Luce assumed that was the drop. She couldn't read the name due to the excessive scribbling, but she deemed it unimportant and didn't bother to figure it out. She instead read over the other seven names to herself: 

'Princess Sylvia Loveknot of Hiloft
Princess Sophia Greeves of Fortunia
Princess Carys Palpatine of Etruna
Princess Helena Palpatine of Etruna
Lady Sana Maestre of Igni
Iris Pembroke of Loduke
Tanith Satim of Millennia'

Luce nodded to herself after looking after the names. She was hesitant to enter the room after reading how many royals were in the room. Each planet had its own royal family for the most part, whether they actually held government power or were merely figureheads. She was nervous they would wind up being spoiled brats, which was the last thing Luce wanted.

The last time she had been in the company of royals, it had been when she was helping out the rulers of Aerania, as a matter of fact, track down a few rebels and threats to the crown. The king had been a harsh and insufferable man to Luce, and she had been happy to receive her pay and leave his realm behind forever. She could only pray the princesses and noble in her room weren't quite that bad.

Luce let out a sigh and let her fingers grace the door handle. For a moment, she thought of her father and Lianna. It probably wouldn't be too late to go back home and continue her life as a regular mercenary. She could still return to Amity as if none of this had happened.

She shook off the thought and opened the door to her room, ignoring the fear that was nipping at her mind. She glanced around the area she had stepped into, which she found was mostly empty and unoccupied.

There was a single TV sitting at the far edge of the room across from a couch shaped in a semicircle. A table sat on either side. From this room, there were four other doors, two on each side of the room. In between two of the doors, a small kitchenette could be seen. The other pair of doors had a bookshelf between them. Just past the couch and TV, there was a fifth door that was propped open. Luce deduced it to be the restroom, and a rather nice on at that, from what she could see of the room.

There was one person already in the room when Luce had arrived, however. She was sitting on the couch silently, reading a book that sat on her lap. Her hair was black and cut short much like Luce's own hair. Her eyes were a burgundy color. Her skin was tanned. She wore a cropped hoodie with the Alitia emblem on the front. Her jeans were worn out from years of love. Her shoes were black tennis shoes that were perched on the couch beside her.  She hadn't looked up, so Luce assumed she hadn't noticed her yet. Either that, or she knew Luce was there and was choosing to ignore her. Luce couldn't tell.

Luce cleared her throat in a subtle bid to earn her roommate's attention. The girl continued to read, flicking to the next page of her book silently. Luce repeated the action once more, but once again, the girl didn't give a response.

"Hello," Luce finally said. "Who might you be?"

The girl finally looked up. She shut her book and placed a bookmark in it. Luce hadn't even noticed the marker had been sitting on the table beside her this whole time. The girl's gaze met Luce's a few seconds later. "You can call me S.M.," the girl answered bluntly before looking back to her book. She seemed desperate to return to reading despite it having only been a few seconds.

"I'm Luce," Luce introduced, sounding just as blunt. She expected something more from the girl, but in the end, she got nothing. Instead, S.M. reached over to pick up her book once again. She was back to reading within a matter of seconds. The room was silent aside from the occasional turning of a page.

Luce watched S.M. for a few more seconds of silence. She thought back to the names on the door. She could only assume this was Sana Maestre since nobody else had the initials S.M. 

Luce couldn't help but wonder about the other five set to be in their room. She knew Sylvia was probably still in the infirmary sound asleep, but she didn't know about the others in their room. She hoped they arrived soon. While Luce wasn't exactly a conversational person, she was practically begging the universe to break the awkward silence that had settled over her and S.M.

Luckily for her, it seemed the gods were merciful. The door creaked open a few seconds later. S.M., as expected, continued to read and ignored the presence of the newcomer. Luce turned to see who it was, but she was met only with the face of Sylvia, who was rubbing at her eyes in silence.

"Hey," Sylvia said simply under Luce's gaze. She darted off to one of the rooms on either side of the room, specifically the room in the front on the left. The door shut behind her, leaving Luce and S.M. alone in the silence once again. Luce heard S.M. turn yet another page.

Luce let out a small sigh of exasperation. It was probably a bit early to be making assumptions about her new roommates, but she couldn't help being worried. She hoped the others weren't as asocial as S.M. was. 

For the first time in her life, Luce begged the gods for somebody to talk to. Most of the time, she liked the quiet since it gave her time to think to herself. However, with how awkward things already were, she longed for somebody to share her pain with. For once, the silence was not sufficient. 

Luce shook her head to herself and shot a brief glance at the door before starting to follow Sylvia into her bedroom. She was stopped, however, when the door opened once again to show a new figure. 

"I hope this is right..."

Chapter Text

Luce looked over the person who had just entered the room for a moment. It was another girl about her age. She was short in stature with straight brown hair tied in ponytails. Her hair faded out to blonde at the edges. She had pale blue eyes. She wore a low cut purple dress, the top of which was cut into the shape of a 'V'. There were slits in the dress on the neckline and on both sides near the hem. She had brown fishnet stockings held up with garter belts and purple heeled shoes. She had a cream fur boa draped around her shoulders. A golden bangle bracelet hung from her right wrist.

The girl looked over Luce and S.M. silently. She let out a small huff and shook her head. "Commoners, I see," she murmured. "Helena! Come on!"

Another girl came wobbling into the room not long after. She was much taller than the other girl and had a lanky figure. Her hair was fuchsia and tied into a ponytail on the left side of her head. Her hair was held in place by a black bow. Her eyes were the same pale blue as the other girl's. She wore a black knee-length dress with a white jacket. She had white socks and black flats. A golden bangle similar to the other girl's was hanging from her left wrist.

The second girl, 'Helena', as the first girl had called her, was carrying excessive amounts of luggage. She was practically shaking under the weight of pair of suitcases sitting on her forearms. She managed to hobble over to the couch where S.M. was sitting before dropping the bags loudly onto the cushions, making S.M. jump.

"I'm so sorry!" Helena exclaimed with a gasp. She began to pull the luggage together to take it to one of the rooms, specifically the room near the back right corner.

"You're so clumsy!" the first girl groaned with a shake of her head.

"I'm sorry," Helena repeated. "I didn't mean for that to happen, Carys..."

Carys rolled her eyes. "Just get the job done," she instructed harshly, prompting Helena to take the luggage to its proper location.

Carys turned to face Luce, looking the mercenary up and down. She glared at Luce's muscled arms and relatively unkept hair. She shook her head. "Not at all ladylike," Carys murmured.

Luce thought back to the list on the door. These two had to be Carys and Helena Palpatine, both of them princesses. However, only one of them acted like a typical princess. Carys was acting spoiled as all hell, and it seemed like Helena was more of a servant than a noble. It was unsettling for Luce. Of all the things she may have been anticipated, this was not one of them.

Helena returned from putting all the luggage away and wiped off her forehead with one hand. "It's done, Carys," she said simply. She grabbed a single abandoned suitcase from near the door before dragging it away to the door at the top left of the room.

Carys hummed her happiness before entering her room. Luce felt a sigh of relief build in her chest the moment Carys left. She hoped the rest of her roommates weren't as insufferable as Carys had been.

"Strange crowd," muttered Luce with a shake of her head. She looked to S.M. for any signs of agreement, but S.M., as expected, said nothing. She turned another page in her book.

Luce shook her head and began to glance over the pages on each of the four directional doors. She started with the room on the bottom right. She hadn't seen anybody go in there yet, so it was a good place to start in her eyes. She read over the paper silently:

'Tanith Satim of Millennia
Princess Sophia Greeves of Fortunia'

Luce peered into the room for a moment, anticipating to see somebody inside. She turned out to be right, as there was a girl sitting inside. She was hunched over the desk at the far end of the room.

The room itself had two desks, one to the right end of the room and the other at the back. There were two beds on the left side of the room, one closer to the door and the other further. The further bed had a single suitcase sitting on it. The bag was still unopened. It was gray in color. The other bed was unoccupied.

The girl sitting over the desk had long curly hair tied into a ponytail by a black and silver comb. Her hair reached down past the backboard of the chair and towards the floor. It was a pale honey blonde in color. She was wearing a dark gray hoodie with black leggings and combat boots. Her shoulders were tense and rigid.

The girl didn't seem to notice Luce's presence at first. Luce knocked quietly against the frame of the door. "Hello," she said softly.

The girl jumped and turned with fearful turquoise eyes. She set down the pencil she had been writing with and got to her feet. "S-Sorry," she stammered. "Wh-Who might you be?"

"I'm Luce," the mercenary answered simply. "What's your name?"

"T-Tanith," the girl stuttered. She bowed her head over. "I-It's nice to meet you."

"Same to you," Luce said casually. She strolled over to Tanith's desk. "What are you working on over there?"

"N-Nothing much... I'm just writing something," Tanith replied.

Luce frowned when she saw the paper Tanith had been furiously writing on. It looked to be in an another language, but it wasn't one Luce had ever heard of. The common language of Magia was the only one she knew well, but she was able to recognize most others easily. These symbols, however, proved themselves to be the exception.

"What language is that?" Luce questioned.

"It's the ancient script used by the gods who originally created the Magia universe," Tanith explained softly, fiddling around with her curled hair absentmindedly. "I was just making sure I still knew it."

"That's impressive," Luce remarked.

"Th-Thanks," Tanith murmured, her face going bright red. She sat back down at her desk and began to write once more. Luce took that as a prompt to leave and exited the room.

When she got back out into the main segment of their apartment, S.M. was the only one there just like before. She let out a heavy sigh and started for the next door in the set of four. It was the room at the top right of the main area. Luce read over the paper to herself silently:

'Iris Pembroke of Loduke
Princess Carys Palpatine of Etruna'

Luce wasn't exactly in the mood to deal with Carys more than she already had, so she shook her head and passed by the door. She pitied this Iris girl. She was being forced to hang around one of the most irritating people Luce had met in a while.

She moved onto the next room. This was the one at the top left of the room. She checked over the paper, but only one name was present, and that was Helena's. The other name had been violently scratched out. Luce assumed this was the room she was going to be taking since the previous owner of it had dropped out.

Luce didn't go inside yet. Instead, she headed to the final room, the bottom left one, to read what was written on the paper attached to the door:

'Lady Sana Maestre of Igni
Princess Sylvia Loveknot of Hiloft'

Luce peered through the door's window, which was made mostly of blurry glass. She could see Sylvia asleep on the bed closer to the door. The lights inside were off. It was structured the same as Tanith's room had been, so Sylvia didn't bother entering. Besides, she didn't want to bother Sylvia.

Luce looked back to the couch, back to S.M., once more. She was still blocking everything out. No conversation with her was going to get very far. In other words, it would be best to just leave her be. Luce had other things to take care of anyways. While she couldn't unpack yet since Lianna likely wasn't even back on Amity, she could look around a little.

She eventually decided to enter her room. She knocked her fingers against the glass lightly before entering. Helena was already inside unpacking her things from her single suitcase. Luce cringed. Before, Helena had been carrying so many bags, but it seemed painfully obvious now that all of those bags truly belonged to Carys. She pitied Helena once again.

"Hey," Luce said conversationally. She sat down on the unoccupied bed, the one further from the door, and glanced around the room. It was rather bland and lacking in decorations. She and Helena would surely find a way to spruce it up over their time in Alitia, so she doubted it would remain this way for long.

Helena placed a stack of folded clothes onto a dresser next to the door. She opened a drawer and set the clothing inside. "Hello." Helena didn't meet Luce's eyes as she went back to her suitcase to continue unpacking. She didn't say anything else either.

Luce watched Helena for a few moments longer. Helena had her whole suitcase unpacked within five minutes, which was impressive in Luce's eyes. She never would have been able to pull that off. When she packed to go on overnight missions, she wasn't neat at all. As a matter of fact, Luce just wasn't neat period. Lianna often told her that being clean had all sorts of benefits, but Luce chose to ignore her advice in favor of going on about her life the same way she always had.

"Do you think we should do something with our roommates?" Luce eventually asked.

Helena paused. She was pushing her suitcase underneath her bed. "I don't know," she admitted.

"Nobody seems willing to start a conversation. I'm no chatterbox either, but I feel like if we're going to be living together for the next three years, we'll need to get along," Luce explained. "Our lives are going to be hell if we can't learn to talk to each other."

"I suppose you have a point," Helena agreed. "We could order a pizza and hang out in the main area of our room. The girl already out there shouldn't mind, right?"

"S.M.? I hope not. I can't say for sure. I guess the least we can do is ask," suggested Luce with a shrug. "We should wait for the last two people in our room though."

"Classes don't start for another few days though," frowned Helena. "What if they aren't coming until later on?"

"Then we give it an hour and then get into things without them," Luce shrugged. "Why are they having orientation tomorrow when classes won't be starting for a while though?"

"I don't know. Maybe that's just how Alitia works," Helena said.

"I'll go and suggest it to everybody else," Luce told Helena. She walked from the room and back into the common area, halfway glad she was leaving the awkward silence of her shared room with Helena. She knew they would probably get along well after breaking out of their shells, but since that hadn't happened yet, Luce didn't know how to handle things.

There was a new face standing out in the new area when Luce arrived. Judging by the suitcases, she suspected it was another one of their roommates. She had long red hair tied into a high ponytail and green eyes. She wore a short blue dress with black tights. She had blue fingerless gloves and golden boots. She had a brown headband on and a sheath containing a sword at her waist.

In other words, she was already Luce's type of girl.

"Hey," Luce told the girl simply. She heard S.M. turn another page in her book in the background. Did that book ever end?

"Hello," the girl greeted. "It's nice to meet you. I'm Iris."

"Luce," the mercenary replied. "You're living in here, right?"

Iris nodded. "I am, as a matter of fact."

"We're glad to have you," Luce smiled. She looked over to S.M., halfway expecting a response to her use of 'we', but the girl didn't do anything in response. She turned another page.

"I'm glad to hear it," Iris grinned. She took her suitcase towards her room and tossed her bags inside before shutting the door behind her.

Luce was about to head towards Sylvia's room to wake her up for their festivities when the main door opened once again.

"I hope I'm not here too late..."

The eighth and final girl staying in their apartment was standing in the doorway. She shut the door behind her and looked to Luce. She had light brown hair that reached her waist and curled at the bottom. Her eyes were a pale mint green. She had a white and light purple dress with a white cardigan over the top, and judging by the fabric, both were rather expensive. She had tall white socks with lace-up leather shoes that were black in color.

"You're right on time," Luce smiled. "You must be the last one in our apartment."

"I'm here last? That's not good..." the girl murmured with a shake of her head. "I apologize for my tardiness..."

"It's fine. Don't worry about it," Luce assured her. "What's your name?"

"Sophia," the newcomer replied. "What's yours?"

"Luce. I'm sure the others will be able to introduce themselves soon. I was thinking of doing a bonding night. We can order a pizza and talk about ourselves," Luce explained.

"That sounds lovely," Sophia grinned. The way her eyes lit up was precious to Luce. She didn't think Sophia was exactly her type, but she couldn't deny how adorable it was.

"We're doing what?" S.M. asked from her place on the couch. Luce whirled around to face her as she slammed her book shut.

"A bonding experience. I refuse to let us hate one another for the rest of our time at Alitia," Luce said firmly. "I'm going to get the others."

S.M. let out a sigh, seeming to recognize that she couldn't get out of it. "Fine," she grumbled.

Sophia giggled in excitement and dashed off to her room to pull Tanith away from her hiding hole. Helena exited her room at about the same time, glancing around. "What's going on?"

"Everybody's here, so we're getting right to it," Luce explained. "Go and get the others."

Helena nodded. She deliberately headed to Sylvia's room, perhaps to avoid her sister. Luce found herself sighing. She would have to get Carys. Perfect.

Luce peered into Carys' room. She was sitting on her bed and playing around on her phone. Iris was slowly unpacking her things nearby.

"What?" Carys asked, not even bothering to look up at Luce.

"Everybody's hanging out in the main area," Luce explained. "We're going to order a pizza."

"Alright," Iris nodded. She stretched her arms up and headed out to the main room.

Carys, on the other hand, needed much more convincing. "Why should I grace people like you with my presence?" she asked.

"Because if you don't, we'll hate you, which is a fate worse than human interaction," Luce snarked in response. "Come on."

Carys huffed a sigh of protest and followed Luce. Apparently, her comment about being hated had worked just as she'd expected it to. Perfect.

When Luce got back out to the main area with Carys, most of the group was sitting on the couch. S.M. looked squished from her place alongside an overly chipper Sophia. Beside Sophia was Iris, a half-awake Sylvia, and an empty spot. The other side of the couch had Tanith on the edge and Helena beside her. Luce pretended she didn't notice how red Tanith's cheeks were when she looked up at Helena.

"Glad to see we're all here," Luce grinned. "Anybody have a phone? I can call in the pizza, but I'm afraid I left mine at home. I promise to pay you back later." Internally, Luce cursed herself for forgetting it when she left for Millennia with her father and Lianna that morning. She wished she had brought money too.

"Don't worry. I'll take care of it," Helena said. She pulled out her phone and punched in a number before starting to talk into the speaker.

"We should exchange numbers," Iris suggested. "I believe it's customary for roommates to do that."

"Yeah, that's normal," Luce nodded. "Like I said, I don't have my phone on me, but I can join in a group text with you guys later."

"A group chat with you people? I don't like that idea," Carys scoffed.

"We also don't like your attitude, but it seems we'll all have to suck it up," S.M. snapped. She pulled out her phone and tapped on it for a few seconds. "Who wants to share their number first?"

Helena hung up from her call with the restaurant and glanced around. "It's going to be here in about twenty-five minutes," she said. "Are we exchanging numbers for now?"

"No, you all are. I refuse to," Carys cut in.

"Please?" Helena asked.

Carys glared at her sister for a moment before groaning and pulling out her phone. "Fine," she grumbled unhappily. "Let's just get this over with."

As the others exchanged numbers, Luce looked around the circle. She took her place in the empty spot near Helena. Carys sat beside her.

She didn't know how this was going to turn out. Part of her was frightened this would end horribly. They were all so different. S.M. seemed tempted to ignore everybody in the room. Carys was just snooty. Sophia was kind, but she was also shy. Helena and Tanith seemed on the quiet side as well, though the latter seemed more sensitive. Sylvia looked ready to fall asleep at any moment. Iris was the only one who seemed somewhat conversational, and even then, Luce got the feeling she was a little nervous. Luce herself was blunt and didn't talk much. The only reason she had even organized this was out of sheer terror her awkwardness was going to linger for longer than it needed to.

In other words, Luce thought they were fucked.

When the other seven had finished exchanging numbers and making a group chat, Luce spoke once again. "Maybe we should talk about ourselves. I'm sure we can share a few tidbits, right?" she asked. Nobody responded, so she continued. "Who wants to start?"

Iris raised one hand. "I guess I can," she said. "My name is Iris Pembroke. I come from Loduke. My magic revolves around metal. I can manipulate metal however I wish and send electric pulses through it. I'm from a long line of knights serving in Loduke. I'm trained in using a rapier for self-defense so I can spring into action whenever I need to."

"I figured we would get along well," Luce smirked. "Maybe we can be sparring partners at some point."

"Perhaps," Iris shrugged with a smile. "I aspire to be the best knight possible. I'll happily defend any of you should the need arise. You can count on me."

"You're pretty confident," Carys commented. "How good are you really?"

"I was at the top of my class on Loduke. How about that?" Iris asked.

Carys let out a huff as Luce spoke up. "Maybe you should go next, Carys."

"Fine!" Carys cried. "I'm Carys Palpatine. I'm a princess of Etruna and the heir to the throne. I can use ice magic. My magical power is stronger than most seen in my bloodline in generations. It would be best if you avoided getting into a fight with me, unless you're ready to be frozen to death before your time."

"That would explain your attitude," S.M. murmured with a shake of her head. "Cold as ice..."

"What was that?!" Carys snapped.

"Nothing," S.M. hummed.

"Anyways, I'm not someone you want to mess with. I'm here to be the best of the best. My people need me to be the most powerful enchantress possible," Carys continued. Her voice had gotten a bratty undertone that bothered Luce. Judging by the look on S.M.'s face, she felt the same way.

"Helena!" Carys suddenly exclaimed. "Come on, tell them how amazing I am!"

Helena gasped before nodding furiously. "Carys is the most powerful mage in our family. Her power surpassed mine, even if I'm the older of us," Helena explained.

"Lovely transition," Iris said, turning to Helena. "Why don't you introduce yourself next?"

Helena looked to Carys, who rolled her eyes dramatically, before nodding. "Alright... I'm Helena. I'm Carys' older sister. We're twins. Even if I'm older than she is, I don't have as much magical power, so she was named as heir to the throne of Etruna over me," Helena said.

"That must be awful," Iris gasped.

"Our parents just recognized that I'm more able to rule," Carys bragged. "I'm sure that even you can see that, Helena. Your powers are much more limited than mine ever could be."

"What is your magic like, Helena?" Luce questioned.

"I can manipulate fire," Helena replied. "I know it's probably not as helpful as Carys' is, but I'm doing my best..."

"I think that's pretty cool," Tanith murmured, speaking up for the first time since the conversation had begun.

"That's kind of you," Helena smiled. "Thank you, Tanith."

Carys opened her mouth, likely to interrupt the sweet moment, but Luce wasn't having any of it. "S.M., why don't you introduce yourself next?" Luce asked.

S.M. frowned for a moment before sighing. "Alright," she said. "I'm S.M. Maestre. I'm from Igni. I can control volcanoes and such. It's a bit hard to explain, but I control geothermal energy. Basically, it's when rocks and fire combine. I can manipulate both on their own, but it's best when they're combined. I'm most powerful then."

Carys looked over to Helena with a smirk. "It looks like we won't need your fire power after all," she commented.

Hurt crossed Helena's face for a moment. She looked down at her feet sadly. Tanith squeezed her hand, prompting Helena to look up with a sad smile.

"You don't need to be so bitchy, you know," S.M. told Carys. "Can you calm down for a moment? Life isn't about just being the best. Of course, I doubt you would know that after spending your whole life believing everything revolved around."

"Let's not start any fights the first day," Luce cut in, holding up her hands in such a way to keep the two of them from going after each other's throats. "We have more introductions to get on with. Who would like to go next?"

Sophia glanced around silently before nodding. "I... I suppose that I can," she said softly. "Well, only if that's okay with all of you..."

"Go right ahead," nodded Luce.

"I'm Sophia Greeves. I'm from Fortunia. I'm its princess, though I'm not the heir. That would be my older brother. Unlike Etruna, in my kingdom, it's based solely around who the oldest is. Well, specifically, it's the oldest son," Sophia explained. "I have powers over nature. I can heal pretty well too. Even before my nature-based magic came in, I was a potent healer... If you ever get hurt, I'll gladly stitch you up."

"Aren't you sweet?" S.M. commented. "That's a nice change of pace."

Sophia went pink in the face. "I'm just trying to be as kind as possible... I don't want any of us to argue. Like Luce said, we're going to be living together for the next three years. I don't want to be miserable since we can't stop fighting. That's just going to make us all hate each other, and we won't be able to enjoy our time here," she said.

"Wow, you're pretty logical," Luce remarked. "I like you, kid."

Sophia's blush only increased at that comment. "Are you trying to embarrass me or something?" she asked softly.

"Perhaps we should move on before she overheats enough to get a fever," Iris advised. "We don't want to start off with treating our healer of any sicknesses she might get."

"I don't think that's how sickness works, Miss Top of Her Class," Carys cut in with a roll of her eyes. "I don't care if you were trying to be funny or not. It just makes you look stupid."

"That's enough!" Helena cut in. "Who's going next?"

Luce looked over to Sylvia. She was about to drift into slumber once again, so Luce nudged her arm. Sylvia snapped out of her trance and glanced around. "What?" she asked.

"Go on and introduce yourself," Luce instructed.

Sylvia rubbed her eyes and nodded. "Okay... I'm Sylvia. I'm from Hiloft... I'm the youngest of the three royals there, so I'm nowhere near set to inherit the throne... At least, that's the plan... Anyways, I can control energy... Sorry if I ever zap you guys... I'm sleepy," she murmured before curling in over herself, ready to return to her nearly-asleep state.

"What's that about zapping us?" Carys suddenly asked in a panic.

Sylvia didn't give a response, instead grumbling and rubbing at her eyes.

"It's ironic how you have power over energy and look ready to pass out from lack of energy," S.M. remarked with a shake of her head. "I suppose the universe works in strange ways."

"I guess it's best not to dwell on it," shrugged Helena.

"Why don't you go next, Tanith?" Luce suggested.

Tanith jumped slightly at being addressed before nodding. "Alright... I'm Tanith. I'm from Millennia... At least, I think I'm from Millennia. I can control air. Is that enough?" she said hurriedly.

"You think you're from Millennia?" Carys repeated. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"I don't actually know where I'm from. I think it's Millennia, but I can't say for sure... I was found here four years ago with no memories of my previous life. For all I know, Tanith isn't even my real name. It's complicated," Tanith continued quickly. "I'd rather not talk about it."

"That got really heavy really fast," S.M. frowned.

"Maybe we can try and help you recover your memories at some point," Iris suggested. "I mean, at first we're obviously going to need to focus on our schoolwork, but we can do that a on the side in the future."

"We can figure that out later. For now, let's move on," Tanith told them.

"I guess that means it's my turn," Luce said with a small shrug. "I'm Luce. I'm from Amity. Up until today, I didn't even know I had powers. It's a complicated situation. I think they're relating to light somehow, but I can't say for sure. I worked as a mercenary traveling around Magia until today. One of the teachers offered me a position here at Alitia after a student dropped out. He wants to know more about where my powers come from."

"I guess that explains the scratched-out name on our doors," Iris remarked. "I think that's something interesting to look into also. We can try and figure out where your powers come from."

"I have no idea. I lived as a leath my whole life. I never showed any signs of having magic until this morning," Luce said with a shrug. "Like I said, it's complicated. I figured I followed in the footsteps of my father. He's a leath too. He has incredible skill with a sword. I was sure it passed down onto me, but I guess magic wound up in my bloodline somewhere."

"Do you think it comes from your mother?" Helena asked.

"I can't say. My dad never talks about her. She went missing years ago. Nobody has a clue where she got off to. He says all the time that he would introduce me to her if he knew where she was. I've done as much research as I can without a name. None of my fellow mercenaries know it, and my father refuses to tell me. I don't know what his reasoning is, but I'm sure he has some solid logic behind it," Luce continued.

"Light-based magic is commonplace on Amity. I read about it one time. Most mages that originate there have light powers. Their magic is said to have the ability to banish even the darkest of foes," Tanith cut in. "Of course, that could easily be just legend. There's nothing solid to back it up, at least not in modern texts. There are myths about vanquishing the darkness, but I haven't found anything conclusive to show the true powers of Amitans."

"That's quite a bit of detail. Where did you read about that?" Helena questioned.

"Well... I read about it three years ago in a book at my school's library... I've been able to hold onto it for so long because of my really good memory," Tanith explained. She looked ready to run back into her room or retreat further into her hoodie. Luce already got the feeling she was easily the most shy out of the bunch, which was saying quite a bit considering Sophia was on the fragile side as well.

"That's a pretty good memory," Iris commented. "I wish I had something like that. It would make studying much easier for me."

Tanith nodded silently. She didn't say anything out of refusal to continue the conversation. She curled into a ball and tucked her head into her hoodie. Everybody watched her silently, unsure of how to respond to such an action without offending her.

"Well, now that we've gone over basic details, maybe we can have fun for the rest of the night by talking more about ourselves," Luce suggested. "The pizza should be getting here soon, right? We can eat it and talk some more. Basic details are nice, but they're hardly enough to start up long-term friendships."

"Long-term friendships? If you want my opinion, we're just going to be roommates for the next three years. It's nothing more than that," Carys cut in bluntly.

"Nobody asked for your opinion, but okay," S.M. said quietly, doing her best to avoid being heard by Carys. It seemed to work, as the princess of ice said nothing in response to her snide comment.

"Sounds good to me," Iris agreed. She smiled brightly in Luce's direction.

Helena nodded her response. Sophia did the same. S.M. reached for her book, which was still sitting on the nearby table. Carys was, for once, silent. Tanith didn't say anything either. Sylvia snored.

"Then let's chill out until then," Luce said. "Anybody have anything else to say for the time being?"

 

Chapter Text

As it turned out, no, there was not anything for anybody else to say that night.

Luce fell asleep a few hours later with a frown. Helena was already sawing logs when Luce tried to slip into slumber. She couldn't help but think back to how unsuccessful tonight had been. So far, all she knew was that Carys was mean, S.M. wasn't into her rude behavior, and Tanith hated talking about herself. That wasn't enough to truly begin the foundations for a longstanding and happy friendship.

When Luce awoke the next morning, there was a familiar face standing above her. Lianna waved as Luce shook herself awake. "Hey," Lianna smiled.

"Hi," Luce said in shock, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. "What are you doing here?"

"I was dropping off your stuff. I had to practically force your father to stay at home so he wouldn't drag you back to the fort," Lianna giggled. She set down a large suitcase beside Luce's bed as the teenager rubbed at her eyes.

"Thanks," Luce grinned. "I'm glad to see you here."

"I couldn't stay away... Especially not when you're staying in my old dorm from my time at Alitia," Lianna told her. "I didn't sleep in this room of the apartment though. I was in another branch. I don't think it matters much now. The point is, I brought your stuff, and I hope you have a nice time today. I'll be seeing you next time you're home, alright? Also, if you ever need anything, don't hesitate to call."

"Thanks, Lianna. That means a lot to me." Luce rose to her feet and pulled Lianna into a hug.

"It's my pleasure," Lianna assured her. "Well, I should be on my way back. I'll see you later."

Luce waved as Lianna crept out of the room to avoid waking Helena, who was still curled up with her pillow. Luce watched as Lianna disappeared from view before starting to unpack her suitcase.

A quick glance at her phone indicated it was just before seven. She probably had some time to settle in before orientation later in the morning. The others probably wouldn't be awake for an hour or so. That was fine with her. She had always needed a little quiet time to herself. No matter how social she got, Luce required a few minutes alone with her thoughts to keep from strangling somebody out of her natural social frustration.

She began setting her clothes in the drawers Helena's things didn't occupy. She set out a pair of jeans and a loose t-shirt for when she was ready to get dressed. It was probably best if she prepared herself for the day sooner rather than later, as there were eight girls in the apartment sharing one bathroom. She didn't know who had come up with that, but she wanted them fired for their poor decision-making choices.

Luce hummed to herself as she shoved her suitcase under the bed a few minutes later once she was satisfied with her unpacking. She grabbed a picture she had propped up moments before on her bedside table. She glanced at it fondly.

It was a picture of her with the rest of the mercenaries. Her father was in the back with one hand on her shoulder. Lianna was standing on the other side of Luce. The twins were in front of her alongside Lewith and O'Rourke. They had taken it a year before after accepting O'Rourke into their company as the final mercenary for the time being. It meant a lot to Luce whether she chose to admit it or not.

Luce hadn't ever known any of her family members aside from her father. The other mercenaries in the company had acted as substitutes for many years. They meant the world to her.

Luce decided now was probably a good chance to take over the bathroom. She wouldn't take long since she hadn't ever been fond of makeup and only needed to get dressed. She seized her clothes and started for the bathroom with a hum.

~~~~~

About two hours passed before everybody was up and ready to go to orientation. Luce was sitting on the couch alongside Tanith, who was scribbling furiously in a notebook. Carys was brushing her hair with a frown as she attempted desperately to work through a tangle that refused to dispel itself. She grunted a few times as she fought her hair using the brush as her weapon.

"I think we should get going," Helena suddenly said, walking into the room. She shut the door of her apartment behind her. "Orientation will be starting soon."

"Okay..." Tanith murmured. She set her notebook to one side, allowing Luce to catch a quick glance of what was written on the page she had been looking at. Just like the day before, Tanith had been writing in ancient runes. Luce didn't have the slightest idea what it said, but if Tanith knew, that was probably what mattered.

Carys set the brush down on the table beside the couch and started for the door, leading the group confidently away from their apartment. Luce saw S.M. roll her eyes as Carys walked by, but she didn't comment on S.M.'s strong dislike of Carys' stuck-up behavior. Nobody seemed fond of it, so S.M. shooting her glares and eye rolls didn't make her special.

Nobody said a word as the group headed out to the common area. There were many other students in their class grouped together around a stage. There were about twelve people up there, each one sitting around a podium. Luce silently assumed those were the teachers of Alitia. The staff was on the smaller side, but that made sense given that it was an exclusive school. Only the best of the best were able to get into Alitia, or any of the Millennium Six, for that matter.

Luce glanced at the other students standing around them. They were all chattering away with the people nearby, likely their roommates. Luce couldn't help the pang of jealousy that rose in her chest at the other students seeming to have made friends already. The people in her room seemed either opposed to it or were too awkward to try reaching out, which was a far from optimal combination.

A woman sitting in one of the twelve chairs behind the podium looked over the audience before getting to her feet. She had a refined aura about her that Luce found mesmerizing. She sure did know how to carry herself.

The woman had black hair tied into a bun atop her head. She had blue eyes hiding behind white glasses. She had an indigo suit jacket with a white button-up shirt. She had white tight trousers and black flats on as well. There was a pearl necklace tied close to her neck, each one of the pearls being a different color. Luce couldn't pick out the individual colors, but she figured it wasn't important and let the subject drop.

As soon as the woman approached the podium, silence covered the crowd. Everybody else seemed to know who she was, but Luce was at a loss. Since she was from Amity, which was on the far edge of the universe, she didn't know much about the affairs of Millennia. If it was important enough for her to have heard about it though, she would have already been aware. Clearly this woman's name didn't reach that level.

"Welcome to Alitia Academy for Enchantresses!" the woman declared grandly. Her voice was stern and commanded order, but there was still a kind sense to it. "My name is Zylphia Satim. I'll be your head teacher in your time at Alitia. We're all glad to have you here attending our fine school this year. The next three years of your life will teach you how to use your light-oriented magic for good to protect our dimension of Magia."

A cheer rose up from the ground. The woman, Zylphia, silenced it by raising one hand. "Here at Alitia, we encourage our students to pursue what they feel is best for their futures. We'll be helping you to reach the best versions of yourself by the time you graduate."

"Satim?" Luce heard Iris mutter from beside her. "Hey, Tanith, you wouldn't happen to be related to her, would you?"

Luce glanced over at Iris and Tanith. The latter had retreated into the large hoodie she was wearing and was staring at the ground silently. She didn't answer Iris' question, instead pointing back up to the stage at Zylphia, telling her to keep listening wordlessly.

"As is tradition, there will be a party tonight taking place on the campus of Acadia School for Heroines. The Millennium Six head teachers organize an event at the start of each year so the students can learn who they'll be spending the next three years with. This year, it's at Acadia. An appearance isn't necessary, but it is highly recommended. I hope to see as many of you there as possible," Zylphia continued.

A soft rush of noise covered the crowd. Instead of turning to talk to others, Luce continued looking up at Zylphia. The head teacher raised her hand once again to quiet the crowd, but as she did so, she met eyes with Luce for one brief moment.

In those few seconds, Luce felt heat rise on the back of her neck. Her right eye was overcome by a strange sensation, but she didn't reach up to hold it. Instead, she continued looking at Zylphia, who stared at her in return. Something felt strange, though Luce couldn't put a finger on what it was.

"Over the course of the next week, I'll be doing my best to meet with as many of the newer students as possible to learn more about them. One advantage to having such a small class is that I can get closer with all of you. I don't want to be merely your head teacher. I want to be somebody you can come to when you feel you need it. Schedules will be handed out a bit further down the line, likely in three days or less," Zylphia said once she had broken off the eye contact she had shared with Luce. "I'm afraid not all members of our teaching staff are here yet, so I'll have to postpone introducing them. For the time being, I'll leave you to enjoy your day. I hope to see you at the part at Acadia tonight. It's nothing fancy, so you don't need to dress up. Until then, I hope you enjoy your time here at Alitia."

Zylphia walked off the stage a few seconds later. The crowd burst into speech once again. Iris turned to look at Tanith as soon as she sensed it was okay to talk. "What's the answer? Are you related to the head teacher?" she asked Tanith hurriedly.

Tanith opened her mouth hesitantly to say something, but she was cut off when Zylphia herself approached the group of eight. "Pardon my interruption," she said with a small yet regal smile. "Hello, Tanith."

Tanith waved shyly, her cheeks growing pink from the sudden attention. "H-Hello, Zylphia..." she murmured.

"Shouldn't you use a little more respect?" Carys scoffed at Tanith, making the smaller girl flinch and scuttle away to hide on the other side of Helena.

Zylphia looked at Carys with a small frown, but she didn't address her comment, instead looking to Luce. "You must be Luce," she remarked instead. "Alistair told me we were getting a student with blue hair as a replacement for one Aries Tallir. I'm glad to see that you're settling in alright. Would you mind coming to speak with me for a moment?"

Luce's shoulders went tense as she met Zylphia's eyes once again. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing up. Something was unnatural about Zylphia's presence. She wanted to bolt, but at the same time, she felt like standing before Zylphia was where she was meant to be. It felt halfway right but halfway wrong at the same time. She couldn't exactly describe the way her instincts were behaving.

"Alright," Luce answered with a small nod, unable to force any other words out.

She gave her new companions one last longing glance as Zylphia led her away. She didn't think she could really call them friends yet, but she felt infinitely more comfortable around them than around Zylphia. Something felt wrong no matter how she put it.

Nobody stepped forwards to keep Luce from going with Zylphia. While Luce had expected such, she was still slightly disappointed by the lack of assistance from her roommates.

Zylphia and Luce were silent on the way to the former's office. Luce didn't know what to say, and she got the feeling Zylphia would talk when she was ready. She wasn't sure how one was supposed to start a conversation with the head teacher at one of the most prestigious schools in all of Magia.

When they finally arrived at the office, Zylphia opened it silently and gestured for Luce to walk inside. Luce nodded curtly in her direction and entered the office.

The main area was all that could be seen. There was a large window that overlooked the center of the school with light streaming through it. A desk sat plainly at the center of the room. Bookshelves lined either side of the room. There was a chair in front of the desk and a couch positioned to the right of the door. There was a door hiding on the other side the bookshelf to the left. Without any windows to peer through, Luce was left to just wonder what was on the other side of the blank door.

Zylphia took a seat behind the desk and snapped her fingers. A pair of teacups appeared on the desk, one before Zylphia and the other before Luce. The woman picked up her teacup and sipped briefly.

Luce didn't reach for her tea, instead leaving it be. Lianna had been trying for years to get Luce to settle down with a type of tea she was fond of, but it hadn't ever worked. Luce had always preferred coffee no matter how hard she tried to enjoy tea. It simply wasn't her thing, it seemed.

Zylphia set down her teacup and crossed her ankles before speaking. "Alistair mentioned to me that you had a peculiar power," she said.

Jumping right into things, I see, Luce thought dully to herself. She shook it off, making sure not to meet Zylphia's eyes. "Yeah. He said he wanted to research it," she explained simply.

"I heard that, yes," Zylphia nodded. "He said it caused an odd explosion of light while you were battling a rogue student from Sierra yesterday. He also mentioned that you were suspected to be a leath up until this point with no magic manifesting itself until then."

"That's true. I thought I inherited my father's aptitude for the sword. He's a leath too. He's the best swordsman and mercenary on Amity," Luce replied. "Of course, I don't think a leath could cause an explosion of light."

"I don't think so," Zylphia chuckled. "Speaking of your father... Who might he be, if you don't mind my asking?"

"My father?" Luce echoed in surprise. "Why do you want to know about him?"

"I like to get to know all my students. I suppose this is a fine place to start," Zylphia explained with a small shrug. "What's his name?"

"Cryon Elenes," Luce answered. "He's a mercenary leading his own company in the isolated areas of Amity, but we do a lot of traveling for jobs all over Magia. We have something of a reputation, I suppose you could say."

"Cryon... It's been many years since I saw him," Zylphia whispered with a smile. "It hasn't been since he moved back to Amity, as a matter of fact."

"You know my father?" Luce asked in shock. She hadn't ever heard her father bring up much about the Millennium Six. To her knowledge, he didn't know anybody outside of Amity. He had told her that he was a simple mercenary who traveled around the dimension. He hadn't mentioned knowing anybody relating to the Millennium Six before, which was odd given that O'Rourke, Lewith, and Lianna were all alumni of the different schools.

"Cryon was in my year when I was attending Alitia for myself. Of course, he attended Ridgeview School for Heroes while I was here. We met at the same party that Acadia is hosting tonight. We ran into the rest of our friends there as well," Zylphia explained. "I'm surprised he never told you about it, especially with you now attending a Millennium Six school."

"Yeah... It is weird," Luce murmured. She would have to ask him about it next time she saw him. Unfortunately, she figured it would have to wait until she saw him in person. He was good at dodging questions over the phone, something Luce knew all too well. It would be a while, but she hoped it would be worth it.

"You look exactly like him. I didn't know that he had a daughter, much less that she was practically his spitting image," Zylphia smiled. "You have the same hair, the same eye shape, facial structure..."

"I've been hearing how similar we are for years. Most people see it instantly when they see us together," Luce commented, feeling her shoulders relax. The casual subject had allowed her nervousness around Zylphia to start dissipating. She doubted it would be leaving her entirely for quite some time, but it was a start.

Zylphia was quiet for a moment before a frown creased her features. "Tell me, Luce... Do you know of a woman named Dawn?" she asked softly.

Luce searched through her memories silently. She hadn't heard that name before. She knew of dawn when it came to the period of the day, but Dawn, with a capital 'D', was completely foreign to her.

"I'm afraid not," Luce frowned. "Why do you ask? Do you think it's important?"

Zylphia eyed her for a moment before shaking her head. "No, not at all. That's all I wanted to discuss. You can return to your room now," she said. She went for her teacup once again, but Luce could tell by the glaze that had appeared on her eyes that she was distracted, likely by thinking of this 'Dawn' woman.

Luce took this as a prompt to leave. She pushed away from the desk and rose to her feet. She headed for the door, stealing a quick glance at the commons area. The students that had been standing outside were now gone, likely having returned to their dorms.

Luce headed for her room as well, doing her best to find the nearest staircase in this unfamiliar setting. If she walked long enough in one direction, she was sure to find a stairwell or elevator that would take her up to the floor with her room. She made yet another mental note to learn the layout of Alitia as soon as possible. She didn't want to wander around lost at any point during the year. That would be a recipe for disaster.

She found a staircase and started her ascent, her thoughts continually dancing back to Dawn. Who in the world was she? Why did Zylphia seem to think she would know her? Why had Cryon kept so many secrets about his past? If Zylphia was right, he had attended Ridgeview as a hero when he was Luce's age. From what he had told Luce, Cryon had never left Amity. Now, she saw that for the lie that it was though.

Why would he lie about the Millennium Six though? Luce saw no reasoning behind it. Graduating from any of the six academies was a point of pride. It was something to commend yourself for. Even getting into one of the schools was an accomplishment since only the best in all of Magia were accepted into the different institutions. There wasn't any reason to hide it as far as Luce was concerned.

Unfortunately, Luce knew her father well enough to know that he wouldn't easily tell her why he had hidden so much. It would take a lot of pressure from her to get him to crack. He was skilled in avoiding questions where he wanted to. It had helped him hide the truth about Luce's mother for so long, and it was probably going to keep his past with Zylphia under wraps until she could confront him face to face over the school's first break.

Luce briefly entertained the idea of going to see her father on Amity then, as school wasn't going to be starting for another week. However, she wanted to go to the party between the six schools. Since she wasn't making any progress in growing closer with her roommates, she was going to have to settle for making friends at the other five schools. It wasn't exactly convenient, but until she could get her roommates to open up, it was her best option. She had been hoping to find companionship in Alitia, but that was seeming less and less likely the more she spoke with the girls around her.

Soon enough, Luce was back outside her door. She knocked against it to indicate she was coming inside. Nobody responded or came to open it for her, so she let herself in.

Helena and Tanith were the only people in the main area. Helena was watching TV on the large screen in the room while Tanith scribbled furiously at her notebook again. Luce frowned and glanced around for traces of the other five. When she found none, she let out a sigh and sat down next to Helena, who moved to the side to make room for her.

"What did Zylphia want to talk to you about?" Tanith asked as Iris came in to sit beside her. Tanith moved closer to Helena to make room for Iris.

"She just wanted to know about the circumstances that led to me being invited here by Alistair in the first place," Luce explained with a shrug. "It's nothing big. You don't need to freak out or anything."

"Speaking of her," Iris cut in, "I want to know why you're on such casual terms with our head teacher. You've avoided my questions up until now, but I want to know the details. We won't hold anything against you. I know we aren't that close yet, but I can assure you we won't resort to those cheap tactics."

"At least most of us won't," Helena murmured bitterly with a shake of her head.

"What was that?" Iris asked.

"Nothing," Helena said quickly. Luce didn't need to press her to know she was talking about Carys, who was currently Luce's least favorite of the roommates. She was happy Carys was in her room and away from Luce.

"Anyways, go on," Iris urged of Tanith with a small nudge.

"Fine," Tanith sighed. "I had been hoping to keep it out of the public eye, but... I am related to Zylphia. Well, at least through adoption. I mentioned yesterday that I have amnesia and randomly turned up on Millennia four years ago. Well, Zylphia was the one who found me. She decided to look after me and has been my adoptive mother ever since. I promise that she isn't going to treat me differently just because we're related though... She's not that type. She's still somewhat stern and has a reputation to uphold."

"That sounds sweet," Helena smiled. "She seemed somewhat intimidating this morning. I wouldn't have expected her to have a soft spot like that."

"Well, now you know," shrugged Tanith with an awkward grin. "She's nice to live with. I enjoy her company. She's kind and puts all her effort into her job here at Alitia. She just wants the best for all of us. Her speech on the matter was brief, but she really means it."

"I'm glad we've solved that mystery," Iris said. "I was curious from the second she said her name."

"Yeah... Just try not to tell anybody if you can. I don't want it getting around. People are going to accuse her of treating me better than everybody else, which isn't the case," Tanith told them.

"What do you think of this?"

The door to Carys' room flew wide open a few seconds later. She entered the room wearing tall black heels with a sleek shine to them. She was wearing a pink dress that hugged her chest and hips, showing off her curves well. She flexed her hands, which were covered by white gloves.

"What's that for?" Luce asked with a frown.

"The party tonight, of course!" Carys exclaimed, turning around so everybody could see her in full.

"I think you look nice, Carys," Helena smiled. All of her previous bitterness towards Carys seemed to have disappeared, though Luce knew it wasn't that easy to stop hating somebody and that Helena's distaste was likely hiding somewhere in her subconscious for the time being.

"Headmistress Satim said it wasn't a fancy party though," frowned Iris. "She said we could just go as we are now. You heard that part, right?"

"Of course I did, silly!" Carys exclaimed. "But the boys from the other schools are going to be there. I won't be able to impress them if I turn up looking like an urchin. I don't know about you four, but I want to date somebody during my time here. I won't attract anybody if I don't look my best."

"I don't think that's really needed," Luce remarked. "If a guy decides to ask you out, it should be because he wants to get to know you better, because he likes your personality. I don't think it should be based solely on his attraction to your physical appearance."

"Then your philosophy is different from mine," shrugged Carys. "I think this will work fine. It shows off my womanly assets well."

"Womanly assets?" Tanith echoed.

"You know, the ones you don't seem to have hiding under that hoodie," Carys told her with a smirk. "I'm going to hang this back up. I don't want to wrinkle it or risk it getting messy before the party tonight."

Tanith couldn't hide her anger at Carys after her final comment. She huffed to herself and shook her head before returning to her writing.

"Alright," Helena said, turning back to the TV as Carys left. The girl shut the door behind her with a loud thud.

"She's a handful, huh?" Luce asked, unable to hold back her sarcasm.

"She doesn't understand how much she's been given throughout her life," Helena shrugged. "I know she'll get better by the time we graduate from Alita. Don't worry about it."

"She had better change if she wants to keep her tongue."

S.M. entered the room from her dorm. She didn't say anything else, instead heading straight for the bathroom. Luce, Iris, Helena, and Tanith watched her cross the room and disappear behind the door.

"I suppose it would be asking for too much if we wanted everybody to get along perfectly," Iris sighed. "I had been hoping for everybody to become friends early on, but that simply isn't how people work. There's bound to be conflict from time to time. It seems our 'time to time' is whenever Carys and S.M. are in a room together."

"I'm sorry about her. I'm going to try and help her improve while we're here," Helena said awkwardly. "I know she's a bit spoiled... I'm trying."

"It's not your fault. I think she needs to learn when to hold her tongue to keep from insulting people," Luce assured Helena.

"I agree. She seems snappy regardless of if somebody provokes her," Iris agreed.

"Maybe we can work together on it while we're here. It would be somewhere to start with getting along as roommates, right?" Luce suggested.

Helena didn't seem entirely sold on the idea, but she didn't comment on it further. Instead, she looked to the TV and continued to watch as a sitcom played out onscreen.

"What's happening now?" Luce asked. She paused before asking another question. "What show even is this?"

"You don't know?" Iris questioned. "Do you not watch TV or something?"

"Not particularly. I live basically in the middle of nowhere. I'm pretty busy doing jobs most of the time, so I don't have time to watch much anyways. There's a TV in the living room of the fort I live in with my fellow mercenaries, but I don't watch it often. I have other things to do, I suppose," Luce shrugged. "I guess that's another thing I'll have to get used to here. I can catch up on the seventeen years of television I missed while training to be a mercenary and actually taking up work in the family business."

"This show is about a time traveler from learning about his ability to shift to the future and past. He uses it to prevent things from happening, most of which have greater consequences," Iris explained. "It's not the most original, nor is there really a plot to keep you coming back, but it's nice background noise."

"I like the romantic aspect on the side. I like seeing the main character fall in love with the people around him," Helena smiled. "I don't know if this TV has a recorder in it, but if it has access to the internet, maybe we can start from the beginning and watch a few episodes before the party tonight. Well, assuming that you guys don't have anything to do..."

"Are you watching 'TTT'?"

S.M.'s voice prompted Luce to turn her head over one shoulder. S.M. sat down beside Luce and stared at the TV with a small smile. "I love this show," she commented.

"Let's do it!" Iris grinned.

"What about the others?" Tanith asked.

"Sophia said she had some reading she wanted to get done, Sylvia's asleep, and Carys... Well, she's being Carys," Helena said. "I think we're alright as we are."

"In that case, I guess we can get to it," Luce smiled. As far as she was concerned, things were starting to look up already. It would take a while to get used to her new home at Alitia with her unique roommates, but it was starting to get better already, which was enough for her for now.

 

Chapter Text

A few hours passed of Luce and the girls watching 'TTT', which she learned stood for 'Time Traveling Thornton'. She was nowhere near as familiar with it as her friends were. Half of the show made no sense, but S.M. had promised to start watching the show from the start with her at some point, which was progress in Luce's eyes. Getting along with S.M. had seemed like a daunting task at first, but it was starting to seem more possible.

The other people in Luce's room were taking longer to head over to Acadia. Carys had a few 'last-minute additions' to make to her outfit. Helena was waiting for her sister. Iris had taken it upon herself to wake Sylvia up, which was much easier said than done. She wasn't sure what the other three were up to, but she got the feeling it had something to do with their habits of reading, writing, and avoiding human contact.

Luce had always been taught to arrive as quickly as possible to formal events. Her father had insisted timeliness was an important quality for a mercenary to have. Lianna had said similar things throughout the years. It had become deeply ingrained in her mind and wasn't something she could easily forget.

Luce casually strolled away from the gates of Alitia and towards Millennium City. The hub of activity was located in between all six of the famous academies of Millennia, which were positioned in a circle. If she walked through Millennium City, she would likely find directions to Acadia. It was a nice way to get used to her new home and reach the party.

Millennium City was as busy as it had been in the pictures Luce had seen online. Lianna had shared many photos of her time at Alitia with her friends, and some of them were taken in Millennium City. There wasn't anything in the pictures that would help Luce get to Acadia, but they did show how the city looked, even in limited quantities.

People were constantly moving. Hover vehicles slid across the streets in between crowded buildings. Every few doors, Luce would see a boutique or other clothing store. Judging by Carys' earlier love for clothing, she would have a field day if she learned how many dress shops were located in Millennium City.

Luce wasn't entirely sure where she was walking, but she didn't think it mattered much. She caught a glimpse of a sign pointing Acadia was three blocks away. She had been wandering somewhat aimlessly, but apparently, it paid off.

She walked silently towards Acadia for a few more minutes. Luce couldn't help but think about her roommates. Her intense session of watching 'TTT' with them seemed to ease her worries about getting along with them. Carys was still a note of concern, but Luce hoped she would relax the more time they spent together. It was going to be an uphill battle, but nobody ever said life was going to be easy. She would find her way through it. Luce was sure of it.

When Luce arrived at Acadia, she didn't go in immediately, instead staring up at the tall building before her. It was similar to Alitia in shape, as both were large and circular. Acadia had about five floors as well, though Luce couldn't tell for sure. There was a dome atop campus that appeared to be a sunroof of some kind, and if that was the case, it was the largest sunroof Luce had ever seen.

Since nobody was outside, Luce assumed the festivities were going to take place inside the dome area, so she started for the doorway. The entrance was grand with doors twice as tall as her. She pressed against the door on the right, praying it would open. Unfortunately, the door refused to budge.

Luce stepped away and observed the door with a frown. How in the world was she supposed to get inside? Was she too early? Were the doors not going to be opening for a while yet?

As if on cue, the doors opened. They creaked slowly before stopping near the outside walls. There was a woman standing on the other side, and Luce assumed she was responsible for the doors opening.

Her hair was long, almost reaching her knees, and tied into a high ponytail. It was a navy blue color with purple edges. She had a white loose shirt with three quarter sleeves on. She had a black corset and purple skirt on, the latter of which matched the color of her hair. She had black knee-high boots that laced in the front. Silver fingerless gloves covered her hands.

"Who might you be?" the woman asked. Her voice was quiet, her tone blunt, though not exactly harsh.

Luce couldn't help the intimidation that crept into her mind when she noticed what else the woman had on her. She had twin swords, one sheath on each hip, with a bow on her back. She was sure a quiver was hiding somewhere on her, as there wasn't a point to a bow without arrows.

"I-I'm from Alitia... I was told there was a gathering here tonight," Luce explained, trying to swallow her nerves.

The woman nodded and walked to the right. She pressed a few buttons on a keypad attached to the wall. "You're the first arrival from another school. Thanks for reminding me to open the doors, Miss...?"

"Luce," the teen replied. "My name is Luce."

"It's nice to meet you, Luce." The woman didn't give her name, instead gesturing for Luce to follow her. "The party is in the courtyard."

Luce allowed the woman to lead her away from the entrance and toward the center of the school. Like Alitia, it was shaped in a circle around a large courtyard, though this courtyard had no real grass, instead being covered with short turf. She didn't see the purpose in having turf when there was a large glass dome overhead that would surely allow plants to grow, but she didn't question it aloud.

There were a few dozen other girls around Luce's age milling about the courtyard. They didn't seem to notice her appearance, instead focusing on the tables set up around the edge of the yard. They were small and circular, but they could still easily fit about five people. There were long, rectangular tables at the other end of the lawn, covered in tablecloths and snacks for the evening. A DJ stand (Luce didn't know the official name for it) was set up nearby. While the manager of the music hadn't arrived yet, the stand was already propped up for when he did come.

Luce assumed the other students were the students of Acadia since the woman from before had said nobody from outside was here yet. She was halfway tempted to go and talk to them some, make a few friends outside her dorm, but she didn't make a move.

Instead, Luce looked over at the woman who had brought her here to begin with. She had left Luce behind and was now chatting with a group of people. One of them Luce recognized as Zylphia, but the other four were unfamiliar. Three were men while the final person in the crowd was a woman.

Luce observed the small cluster with a frown. She first turned her attention to the woman, who had fiery red hair that was black near the roots. Her eyes were a deep lilac shade. She had a black suit jacket on over a white shirt accompanied by a red tie. Her gloves were the same shade. She had black trousers and leather shoes to match her jacket. A strange sensation spread over Luce when the woman looked her way, but neither of them said anything.

Standing behind Zylphia was a man with blue hair and matching eyes. He had a green tie with a heart pin attached to it. He had a gray vest and black jacket on. The chest pocket of his jacket contained a vibrant rose. His trousers were black and covered the tops of his brown shoes. When Luce looked closer, she saw he was holding Zylphia's hand, and while neither of them seemed to acknowledge it, Luce got the feeling they were happy.

The second man appeared to be the youngest of the crowd. He had green eyes and black hair. His bangs were long and covered his left eye, casting an ominous shadow over his face. He had a red-lined white suit on with black trousers and dark shoes. A gray scarf was wrapped around his neck. The black gloves on his hands ensured no skin beneath his chin was shown. He seemed to be chatting with the redheaded woman, though Luce couldn't hear their conversation.

Lastly, there was yet another man with black hair, though his was much longer and was tied into a topknot. His eyes were gray and threatened to be swallowed by his purple scarf. There was a single gray earing in his right ear. He had a tight black bodysuit on with armor here and there. The silvery plates shone in the final rays of the dying sunlight.

"Those are the head teachers."

Luce turned upon hearing a voice. She saw Iris, the one who had spoken, approaching her alongside S.M. and Tanith. They were all wearing fancier clothing than Luce's simple leggings and hoodie. Iris had a sleek black dress that showed off her figure nicely. S.M. was wearing a deep mahogany crop top that exposed her midriff and defined shape with dark leggings and flats. Finally, Tanith had a pale blue dress reaching halfway between her knees and thighs. She had white tights on with black flats as well.

"I didn't expect to see you here so soon," Luce admitted turning and approaching her friends.

"We wanted to be here early," shrugged Iris. "Do you want to know who those people are?"

Luce nodded. "You said they were the head teachers."

Tanith pointed out the man with blue hair. "Jin Maestre. He's the head teacher of the Angelwood School for Wizards," she said. She didn't comment on how his hand was tightly clutching Zylphia's, instead allowing Iris to pick up next.

"The one with the bun is Caius Minato. He's the head teacher at Ridgeview, the school for heroes," Iris explained next. "The other man with black hair is Fromir Carpathia. He works at Sierra Academy for Cantors."

"Finally, the woman with red hair is Minerva Claudere, and she's the headmistress at Sacred Heart, which is where witches go," Tanith finished. "Oh, yeah. The woman with the ponytail is Altina Latheia. She's the head teacher here at Acadia."

Luce couldn't help the embarrassment that crept into the forefront of her mind as she realized how blunt she had been acting around the head teacher of Acadia. She hoped the older woman would forget it soon.

"Where are the others?" Luce asked next to change the subject.

"Sophia is still trying to drag Sylvia out of bed. Carys demanded Helena help her with finding the right bottle of perfume, so I think they're going to be a while," S.M. replied.

"People should be arriving soon. I hope, at least. I feel kind of awkward being one of the only Alitia students in a crowd of Acadia heroines," Iris admitted. "I'm not the only one, right?"

Luce was about to answer that she felt nervous as well, but she was interrupted when another cluster of students entered behind them. The quartet hurried forward to avoid being in the way.

The group consisted of two boys and a girl. Judging by their darker clothing, Luce assumed they were from Sierra and Sacred Heart. She knew she didn't recognize the girl from Alitia's orientation that morning, though in all fairness, she hadn't been paying much attention.

The leader of the group, a young man with black hair, gestured for the others to follow him. He had a navy hoodie on that covered most of his head. His jeans were torn and ragged, reaching his ankles above his torn-up tennis shoes.

The boy and girl had the same blonde hair and purple eyes. They wore all black. The boy wore a long-sleeved shirt and trousers. The girl had a crop top that looked more like a bikini top than an actual shirt, putting emphasis on her chest. She had shorts that edged on being as short as, if not shorter, than Luce's bobbed hair. It was enough to make her cringe.

When the boy at front walked past Luce and her companions, he slammed against her shoulder with his. Luce hissed at the fresh pain that rose on her upper arm. It appeared the trend of her arm burning hadn't yet gone away.

She was too focused on the pain to notice the boy and girl were following suit. The sting was felt when they bumped into her as well. The burning sensation sent pain shooting throughout half her body. She gripped at her shoulder and rubbed it, praying the ache would disperse soon.

"Rude," Iris murmured with a shake of her head.

"Is your arm okay?"

When the group turned this time, they saw Sophia and Sylvia standing at the entrance. Sophia, the one who had spoken, was wearing a simple yet elegant pale green dress. It flowed around her in the light breeze. A pink scarf was wrapped around her neck. Sylvia, on the other hand, was wearing a loose and comfortable gray jacket over a purple shirt. She had dark purple leggings on as well.

"Y-Yeah, I'm fine," Luce answered, internally cursing the stammer.

Sophia took a few steps closer, leaving Sylvia to rub her eyes in silent complaint, and pressed her fingers to Luce's shoulder. A gentle blue light emanated from her fingers, and when it left, so did the pain. A warm, tingly feeling spread throughout Luce's arm as the light dissipated.

"That should help a little," Sophia said. "I can't do anything about your burnt sleeve, but it's something..."

Luce looked at her shoulder, surprised to see the pain gone. However, she was even more surprised when she noticed a patch of fabric had burned a hole in her jacket. She resisted the urge to swear under her breath. This was her favorite jacket, a gift from Lianna two or so years ago.

"Let me try," Tanith spoke up. She closed her eyes and murmured something in a foreign language. Strings from the jacket burst into existence and closed the hole seamlessly in seconds.  

"Wow. You guys are good," Luce remarked with a small smile. It looked as if nothing had happened at all.

"And those people were rude," Iris grumbled. "Don't they know human decency?"

"I guess not," S.M. shrugged. "I don't know if there's much we can do about it now though. I've lost sight of them."

"People are starting to arrive in greater numbers," Sophia commented, pointing to the entrance. "We should probably find a table. I get the feeling they'll all be occupied soon if we don't do something."

Nobody objected to her suggestion. They found a table, one of the larger ones, thankfully, and took their places around it. Luce was between Iris and Sophia. S.M. was beside Sophia, Tanith beside her, and Sylvia completed the circle. She looked ready to fall back asleep any moment now, and Luce couldn't help but wonder if it was a good idea for her to come given her obvious exhaustion. She didn't say anything like this out loud, not wanting to offend Sylvia in any way, but she was still concerned.

"Where are Helena and Carys? Any updates on them?" Luce asked to break the silence.

"Carys is trying to find the perfect bracelet now," Sophia giggled. "Apparently, she couldn't find the one she was planning to wear. She begged Helena to help her."

"I feel bad for Helena, having to constantly deal with somebody with the personality of a pufferfish," S.M. scoffed.

"She can't be that bad. I'm sure we just got off on the wrong foot," Iris said. "I bet Carys is a nice person underneath the mask she puts up."

"I don't know..." Tanith frowned uneasily. "She seemed pretty harsh to me..."

"I'm sure it'll be okay," Iris grinned optimistically. "We'll be fine."

"I hope you're right. I fear for our future if we don't get along," Luce sighed with a shake of her head. "I guess for now, we can talk about our plans for the evening. Anybody have anything in particular they want to do?"

"Not really. I don't know how much socializing I'll do. I wasn't even planning on coming, but the headmistress mentioning it's suggested made me think I should..." Sophia admitted. "I'm not the best with large crowds of people."

"At least they have food here," Iris pointed out. "I heard the cakes are spectacular. We should try some out when we get up for food."

"I haven't eaten all day," Sylvia spoke up.

"Because you've been sleeping?" S.M. asked, prompting Sylvia to nod.

"I can hold down the fort if you want to get food," Tanith said. "I know we don't want anybody taking our table..."

"Sounds good. Thanks, Tanith," Sophia smiled. She got to her feet and started for the snacks table. Iris, S.M., and Sylvia trailed after her. Luce hung back for a moment before leaving as well.

She picked up a plate and cup. She ladled some punch into her glass and snagged a few cookies and a cake. She could smell burgers and hot dogs being grilled, likely with magic, nearby, but she didn't move to get one since they weren't out on the table yet. Luce figured what she had was probably enough for the time being, so she started back for her table.

However, while she was heading back, she passed by the group of head teachers. They waited until she was seemingly out of earshot before starting to speak, but luckily for Luce, she'd always had a strong sense of hearing, so she was able to pick up on everything.

"That one yours?" This voice belonged to a woman, but since it wasn't Altina or Zylphia's, Luce assumed it belonged to Minerva.

"Yes. She looks exactly like our favorite mercenary, doesn't she?" Zylphia asked. "I didn't realize he had a daughter, but apparently, he does. With how similar she looks to her father, you'd never guess she..."

"Does she know anything?" This was a man. His voice was deep, and while she didn't know exactly whose it was, she was assuming it belonged to Caius.

"No. As far as she's aware, she doesn't exist. I asked the first chance I got. We're going to have to keep looking," Zylphia replied. "I don't know what we're going to do. We know she's out there, but..."

"Don't lose faith. We know how hard it is for that woman to die," Altina pointed out.

"Then we'll have to keep looking, like Zylphia said. We'll be alright." While she didn't have any evidence of this, Luce assumed this voice belonged to Jin. "I have faith we'll be fine. Don't worry about it. You people have no hope."

Luce was suddenly struck by the feeling that she shouldn't be hearing this conversation, so she quickened her pace and started back for her table. Luce wished she could forget what she had heard, as it only served to confuse her further, and she had been lost enough when arriving at Alitia to begin with. 

She arrived back at the table a few moments later, a frown still painted on her features. Luce did her best to banish the thoughts, but it was proving harder than expected.

Iris seemed to notice her sudden negative expression. "Is something wrong?" she asked.

Luce tried to summon an explanation for her frown that wouldn't involve her eavesdropping on the head teachers of Magia's most exclusive academies, but it was much harder than anticipated. Lying had never come easily to her, as Luce was blunt and honest to a fault. It would take far too long to come up with a reason, and by that point, it was probably better to just blurt out the truth and leave it be.

Luckily for her, a distraction came right as she was struggling to think up an excuse. Carys and Helena came walking through the main gate of the courtyard. Carys was strutting powerfully through the crowds, garnering much attention the more people she passed, while Helena shuffled a few feet behind her. The latter looked embarrassed to be with her overdressed sister.

Helena was wearing a simple light blue dress reaching halfway between her knees and ankles. She had white flats on that were luckily left clean due to the lack of actual grass on the Acadia campus. The dress looked good on her in Luce's opinion, though it looked like nothing when compared to Carys' over-the-top ensemble.

Carys was wearing a tight baby pink dress that hugged her hips tightly. The pencil skirt barely reached her knees and had slits on either side. She had a white feather boa around her neck with gaudy silver jewelry as well. Black gloves went up her arms, though the wrists could scarcely be seen underneath the shining silver and gold bracelets she wore. Her heels were taller than Luce's pinky finger, which was multiple levels of disturbing for the mercenary. She didn't know what to do in response to Carys' attire, so she merely stared blankly and blinked from time to time, wondering how Helena put up with all of this.

Carys and Helena were upon the group's table before long. "What do you think?" Carys cooed, turning in a circle to show off her outfit in full. Luce watched as she spun, knowing she should probably say something to encourage her but still not finding the words. She internally cursed her awkwardness, not sure of what else to do. Was it normal to be this speechless upon seeing a mere outfit?

Luce excused her odd behavior by thinking she was from Amity, which was as far from Millennia as it got. She didn't know much about modern fashion since she grew up in essentially the middle of nowhere, her phone being the only trace of modern technology in the fort where she and the other mercenaries lived. While they did have money, none of them spent it on excessively expensive outfits such as Carys', and after spending so many years without access to clothing that fancy, she didn't know what to do. It might have been a lousy pardon, but it was all Luce could think of, and she wasn't going to try any harder given how distracted she was by Carys' shining jewelry.

"You look great!" Iris chirped, practically jumping out of her seat to greet Carys. "Where did you get that dress? It looks amazing on you!"

Luce thanked Carys and Helena for appearing since they had easily distracted Iris from her earlier question. She didn't know what she would have done if they hadn't interrupted her conversation with Iris.

"I brought it from home," Carys answered, smiling brightly. This was the first time Luce had seen her look so genuine, so it was a bit of a shock, but the surprise faded when she realized it was because she was talking about herself. "I figured I could use it for a party or two while we were here. I knew they were bound to happen, so I made it easier for myself and just brought a few dresses. It's easier than having to go out and buy one."

"You sure did come prepared," Sophia said with a nervous smile. She was eyeing Carys' tall heels with a wary gaze, likely fearing what would happen if one of them gave way or she tripped. While both girls were royalty, Sophia didn't seem as in love with fashion as Carys was. Luce couldn't blame her nervousness, as she felt dizzy just looking at the seemingly mile-tall heels.

"There may not be many boys here yet, but they'll come, and when they do, I'm ready for them," Carys explained, tossing a few strands of hair over her shoulder. Her hair was down, which was the most normal thing about her outfit. Luce was thankful to have been given some normality, even if it was limiting as all hell.

"So far, it's only Acadia students, us, and that mopey group who bumped into Luce earlier," Iris said, pointing across the lawn to where the three students stood. They were all talking, the boy who had led them in shooting occasional dirty looks at Luce and company.

"What?" Sylvia asked, suddenly perking up. Luce was surprised she was even still awake, but she seemed pretty alert now that the trio on the other side of the courtyard had been mentioned. She looked for them and even met eyes with the leader of the group. After their gazes locked, Sylvia whimpered and looked away, seeming ready to sink into the ground, never to be seen again.

"I wouldn't want to hit on anyone like that," Carys scoffed when she saw the two boys of the group. "Besides, it looks like one of them is already dating that girl with them. She's barely wearing anything... What, are they planning on having public sex after this party is over?" She shook her head in dismissal while Luce, and seemingly the rest of the table, were surprised she had brought that subject up so openly.

"Then who do you want to hit on?" Helena asked. She took a seat next to Tanith, who had moved aside to offer her a place to sit. "You seem to have pretty specific standards..."

"You should know who by now," Carys told her with a roll of her eyes. Luce wondered if she could get more dramatic, but she didn't say anything, instead listening to Carys further. "I want to get with a powerful hero from Ridgeview. They know their stuff. I've always wanted an older man. I'm sure there's an upperclassman who would be interested in me. I guess someone from Angelwood wouldn't be too bad, but you simply can't top the heroes of Ridgeview... I wasn't sure about this party at first since most school-based parties are a bore, but if they're going to be here, I can't complain. It'll be great."

"I guess most girls at parties take a chance to talk about boys," Iris pointed out. "I can't think of any other subject to pass the time, so how about we do that?"

Carys pushed her way into the table, finding a place next to Iris, with a wide smile on her face. "Sure! Maybe I can set you all up with the friends of my future hot hero boyfriend," she said. With how nice she was being all of a sudden, Luce couldn't help but wonder if she had been replaced by a clone. Then again, maybe Carys was this nice most of the time and they had just gotten off on the wrong foot. That was a possibility too.

"So... Where should we start?" Iris asked. "Oh, I'm excited! I haven't talked about boys with anybody like this before!"

"I don't really get the hype. Guys exist. So what?" Luce questioned with a shrug. "I guess you could say I have high standards. Then again, I never really had any guys my age to crush on, so I suppose it's kept me from liking them. Maybe I'll come around one day. Maybe I won't. Only time will tell, and I'm not desperate to hear the answer."

As if on cue, a large group of students from Ridgeview flooded the gates of the courtyard. Carys' fate lit up in excitement, prompting her to jump from the table so she could mingle with the newcomers. Luce couldn't help but blink in surprise. She hadn't ever seen so many boys in the same area before, again due to her sheltered upbringing. She didn't know what Carys seemed to see in them, but she kept her mouth shut on the matter so as not to ruin her roommate's moment.

"I wonder if the teachers are going to make an announcement soon," Helena said after Carys had disappeared into the crowd. "I don't know how this party works."

"Zylphia makes it sound like they do a little talking, but they try and keep it limited so the students can wander about and make friends," Tanith replied. "I can't say for sure. I didn't think to ask her about it."

"I suppose we'll just have to see," Luce shrugged. She reached for a cookie on her plate and took a bite from it. Even if Carys was off socializing, she still saw no reason why she couldn't enjoy the evening with her remaining roommates, though she didn't know where to start on getting a conversation going.

While trying to sift through ideas, Luce thought back to what she had overheard from the head teachers. Guilt settled in her stomach once again. She tried to avoid it, as she didn't want to make Iris question her once again now that the topic had been dropped, but Luce found that was nigh impossible. The words kept replaying in her head over and over despite her pleas for her brain to put a sock in it.

She couldn't help but wonder why they had been talking about her to begin with. For some reason, they thought she was related to a woman named Dawn, the same one Zylphia had asked her about earlier in the day. Luce didn't know who 'Dawn' was, but she couldn't help her curiosity. Maybe she could do some research on it in her spare time. She didn't know how well it would work out, given that she only had a first name, but it had to be worth something. Despite Luce's plans to look into Dawn, she couldn't help the question that continually repeated itself in her brain like a chant. 

Who was Dawn?

Chapter Text

Luce’s silent musings on the existence of Dawn were ultimately interrupted when Iris tapped her shoulder. Luce was positive she was about to be bombarded with questions about her glassy eyes and unfocused gaze, but much to her surprise, Iris didn’t say anything of the sort. Instead, she pointed towards the far end of the courtyard. The DJ booth (stand?) was still unoccupied, but the head teachers were walking towards it.  Zylphia  snapped when she was a few feet away, prompting the machinery to lift itself from the ground only to resettle away from the stage it had been on before. She made it look effortless, which made jealousy stir in Luce’s core. She wanted to do that one day. It would certainly make mercenary work easier.  

“I guess it’s time for them to make a speech,” Tanith said, a frown on her face. “I wonder what it’ll be about...”  

The six teachers all filed onto the stage, led by  Zylphia Jin  was beside her.  Altina  stood at the center, a hardened gaze on her face. Minerva came after  Altina , followed by Caius and finally Fromir.  

“They look like they’ve practiced this,” Helena whispered.  

“I doubt it. They couldn’t have gotten here even an hour before the rest of us,” S.M. pointed out. She took a bite of a small orange cake while tapping one foot against the ground.  

“I don’t think it really matters,” Iris shrugged. “We should probably quiet down though. I don’t want to be too much of a distraction.”  

As if on cue, a hush fell over the crowd of students. Everyone’s gaze unanimously found the group of six teachers atop the stage. Luce wondered dimly where the DJ was for the evening, but she figured it wasn’t important and refocused herself on the subject at hand. She wouldn’t be doing herself any good by spacing out more than she already had.  

No microphones appeared before the teachers, but it seemed as if a spell was being used to make their voices louder when they did speak up. They at least sounded louder than was natural to Luce.  

“Welcome,”  Zylphia  began.  

“I hope you’re enjoying your time at Acadia here tonight,”  Altina  continued, her hands pressed firmly together behind her back. “We’re here today to celebrate the start of a new school year. For the freshman, welcome to the Millennium Six.”  

“You’ll be spending the next three years here, so you had better get comfy,”  Jin  joked, making a small chuckle  rise up  from the crowd.   

“We encourage you to get to know one another, as we collaborate as a group frequently. It’s best if you make yourself known among students at other schools,”  Zylphia  went on, shooting  Jin  a small eye roll at his joke.  

“However, we don’t want you making any enemies,”  Fromir  spoke up. “We don’t tolerate inter-school rivalries. They tend to get people hurt, which is the last thing we want. Don’t let hate fester. Talk to an administrator if you feel tension is building.”  

Luce glanced over at Sylvia with a frown. Was her mission in the first place based around a such rivalry between Sylvia and the cantor from Sierra she had fought against before? She couldn’t say for sure, as it felt odd to call in a mercenary company to deal with a rivalry that should have easily been settled between two teachers of different schools. Luce could ask her about it later, as she doubted Sylvia was going to simply open up about it without being prompted.  

“In other words, don’t kill each other, for the love of all things holy,” Minerva cut in bluntly. While all the head teachers were intimidating in their own ways, she was a special kind of terrifying. Her red hair looked ready to burst into flames at any moment, and her glare was enough to strike fear into even the bravest of hearts.  

“I think that’s about all we wanted to say,”  Zylphia  said after a brief pause. She looked down the line of teachers with a tilted head, a silent question of if they were finished.  

Altina  took a small step forwards with an exasperated sigh. “Speaking of all things holy, I have caught students nearly every year doing dirty things at these parties. Get a room,” she told the crowd bluntly.  

Zylphia  kept talking as if she hadn’t said anything of the sort. “That should be it. Please, enjoy the party. The next set of hot dogs and burgers will be finished soon. Feel free to ask us any questions you may have. We want to be approachable,” she finished. With a quick glance at the far edge of the line, the teachers filed back off the stage. It only took a brief snap to return the DJ equipment to its regular place.  

The crowd of students began talking not long after. Music struck up despite the lack of a person behind the booth. Luce couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to the mysterious DJ, as if they were just going to play the music with magic, why even set up all that equipment to begin with? It seemed a bit unnecessary.  

Luce ignored it and turned back to the group. “What now?” she asked.  

“I guess we can talk about boys like we were planning on before,” Iris suggested. “ Carys  might not be here, but I'm pretty sure this is a routine development for groups of girls. I can’t say for sure. I’m not used to this sort of thing.”  

“I... I suppose it wouldn’t hurt,” Luce shrugged. She didn’t think she had much of anything noteworthy to talk about though. Her whole life, she hadn’t been around many boys. Besides, they would probably just get in the way of her life as a mercenary, which was the last thing she needed. If she was going to follow in her father’s footsteps one day, she couldn’t get distracted with boys along the way. It was an unnecessary stop in the path that was her life.  

“Who wants to start?” Iris questioned, glancing around the circle. When nobody volunteered, she smiled. “I suppose I can start... I guess I haven’t ever thought much of the kind of guy I want to end up with. I guess I’m neutral on if I want a guy or a girl to live with me forever after. That’s okay too, right? If we talked about girls instead?”  

“Girl cute,” Sylvia murmured numbly. She had slumped back forwards onto the table before her, head cradled in her forearms. Judging by her sleepy tone, she had been asleep until the notion of female attraction had been brought up. A small snore from her indicated she was returning to dream land a few seconds later.  

“Um... I think girls are pretty cool. So are guys. So are others. I guess everybody’s fine,” Helena shrugged. “I never really had a preference.”  

“You know what they say about gays. All the gays know all the other gays,” S.M. commented with a relaxed shrug. Her voice was deadpanned.  

“Honestly, dating a girl from  Alitia  sounds much better than falling for a hero at Ridgeview,” Tanith admitted. “I mean, think of all the benefits. You don’t have to go through Millennium City whenever you want to see each other, you’re closer, you can have sleepovers... Plus, girls are cute.” She was quiet for the next bit, barely above a whisper. “I want a strong woman to hold me in her arms...”  

“Raise your hand if you’re in favor of overthrowing all men from our society and living with only women,” S.M. said, throwing her arm into the air. With her monotonous way of speaking, it was hard to tell if she was being serious or not, but Luce was too busy snickering under her breath to care much.  

Sylvia, still half-asleep, raised her hand. “Bye, men,” she grumbled before slipping back into slumber.  

“Well, this conversation has certainly taken an interesting turn,” Helena laughed, taking a sip of a red cup before her. “ Carys  is certainly missing out on this. I didn’t think I needed to see S.M. joke about overthrowing all men until now, but I think I like it.”  

“Is  Carys  straight?” S.M. asked bluntly, taking a large piece out of a strawberry cake and shoving it in her mouth before washing it down with a gulp of punch.  

“I don’t know. She’s never shown any interest in girls, but at the same time, she doesn’t really talk about it with me. She might be bisexual, but I wouldn’t know. I guess I can ask her at some point, but I don’t know if she’ll be willing to answer it. I assume we’ll find out at some point regardless of if she tells us now or not though, as like the head teachers said, we’ll be spending the next three years of our lives together,” Helena replied. She continued to nibble at a cookie as she spoke. “We can see, I suppose.”  

“I don’t think we need to focus on it right now. There are other things to talk about, right?” Sophia asked. She had been incredibly quiet during the prior question, though Luce didn’t question it, as Sophia seemed like the shy type.  

Tanith glanced around with a frown. “Do you guys feel that?” she questioned uneasily.  

“Feel what?” Helena asked.  

“It feels like there’s been a disturbance in the air,” Tanith murmured. “I can’t be the only one who feels it, right?”  

“I... I guess I sort of know what you’re talking about... It’s like something really bad has happened, but I can’t describe what,” Sophia agreed.  

Luce frowned and tried to see what was wrong with them. Iris seemed to be picking up on it as well, but S.M., Helena, and Luce were all oblivious. Sylvia was still sound asleep, so she didn’t seem to have noticed anything.  

Luce figured out what was wrong  pretty soon  after though. She looked skyward upon  hearing the sound of  cracking glass. She was met with shards of the clear dome overhead  falling down . She swore under her breath and threw her arms up to protect her face from the sharp pieces.  

The other girls appeared to have followed suit in hiding their faces from the pieces of glass as screams pierced the suddenly tense air. Sylvia had snapped out of her sleepy trance just in time to cover her head with her arms, which were red from her using them as a pillow.  

Once the onslaught of glass had halted, Luce looked up to see a figure appear in the place of the glass dome. It looked like an older man. He was wearing all black underneath a dark hood. The shadows seemed to move to keep his features obscured. He didn’t even appear to have a face behind the darkness, which only served to unnerve Luce further.  

A spire of flame rose into the sky, striking the figure head on. He seemed to fly backwards for a few feet before righting himself and continuing to levitate where he had before.   

When Luce followed the path of the flame, she saw it had been fired by Minerva. The witch had a frown painted on her face before turning to face the rest of the crowd. “ Everyone,  get out of here. Return to your schools. Acadia students, go to Sacred Heart,” she called out, her voice demanding. It was clear she wasn’t going to be taking any objections.  

Luce’s group was far from the entrance, which meant they would have to wait for others in the way to file out through the doors before they could go. Luce pushed herself to her feet and gestured for the others to do the same. Her heart was pounding in her chest. She was used to danger after living so many years as a mercenary, but since she hadn’t been anticipating it, she was struggling to find her calm place with the screams of fear echoing in the evening sky.  

Helena glanced around in a panic, trying to locate her sister in the chaos reigning over the courtyard. She eventually found  Carys  among the crowd and dashed over to fetch her. Tanith, who had been holding Helena’s hand out of fear, was dragged with her to greet Carys. They were lost in the chaos not long after. Luce’s height wasn’t helping her to locate them at all, prompting another swear to leave her lips.  

Suddenly, a figure burst into the sky. It took a moment for Luce to recognize her as  Altina . She looked different now, her hair tied into a braid down her back. Due to the distance, it was hard to tell what she was wearing, but she had wings sprouting from her back. Luce’s mouth fell open. She had seen mages and  leaths  with wings a few times before, but Lianna didn’t show them much. It was a rare occurrence at best.  

Whether one was  leath  or mage, wings naturally came about at a given age, usually around sixteen or seventeen. Luce hadn’t gotten hers yet, nor did she know how it was even supposed to happen. The details were fuzzy, as she had only ever heard them once from Lianna, and it had still been years ago.  

Luce pushed the thoughts from her mind as  Altina  drew one blade from its sheath at her hip and sliced forwards. The cloak of the hooded figure was torn cleanly in one segment, leaving black fabric to drift towards the ground. It wound up landing in the punch bowl.  

The hooded figure tried to punch her, but  Altina  dodged by moving swiftly to one side and dealing a punch to the figure’s cheek. The sickening crack could be heard even on the ground, making Luce cringe. It sounded as if  Altina’s  punch had broken the man’s nose. That had to hurt.  

The hooded figure ducked under another slash from  Altina  and went to retrieve the lost fabric in the bowl of red punch. When he grew nearer to the ground, screams increased in volume. All near the punch bowl scattered, but he didn’t seem at all bothered by them. He didn’t try to lash out at those in his range, instead surveying the area in search of something.  

Luce looked around frantically for her companions, praying they would be able to escape before he could decide to attack. However, she didn’t see anyone but Sylvia. S.M., Sophia, and Iris had vanished into the chaos, leaving Sylvia, who was practically shaking with terror, alone with Luce.  

The mercenary curled one arm around her friend and went to whisper words of comfort into her ear as they waited for the crowd to clear sufficiently for them to escape. However, she never got the chance, as the hooded man came rocketing towards them seemingly out of nowhere.  

Luce dove to the ground, taking Sylvia down with her. She was thankful nobody was close enough to be pushed as well as she got to her feet, pulling Sylvia up.  

The man landed roughly on the table Luce had been sitting at mere moments before. By some miracle, he was still on his feet. Luce grabbed Sylvia’s hand and started dragging her towards the exit. She could hear Sylvia whimpering in fear as they moved.   

The hooded figure burst into the sky once again, but  Altina  was ready for him. She nocked an arrow onto her bow and fired it, but she wound up missing, lodging an arrow into the wall of the building. The hooded man held up one hand, creating a rough pulse through the air. A noisy echo reverberated around the courtyard, making Luce cover her ears. It appeared the man had some sound-based magic. The sound was already hacking at her brain, bringing on the warning of a headache. Sylvia whined once again.  

Altina  was sent backwards due to the sudden energy. It knocked her out of the sky, sending one of her blades flying from its sheath as she hit the stage, all air yanked from her lungs. Her sword slammed into the turf a few feet from Luce and Sylvia. When Luce cast  Altina  a brief glance, she saw the warrior clutching at her abdomen and coughing up blood. From that height, a sudden crash was sure to cause significant damage. Luce cringed at the sight when she saw blood begin to flow from her temple. She prayed somebody around here could heal her wounds.  

Zylphia  was already on it. As shadows and fire danced into the sky, she pressed her hands against  Altina’s  torso. Light passed from her fingers to the heroine’s body, making her head wound dry of blood. She stopped coughing up red liquid soon after, and her hand left her abdomen. She gave a nod of thanks to her subordinate before bursting up into the sky once again.  

Fire and shadows swirled skywards, but the hooded man dodged the attacks in the nick of time. He let out another pulse of energy, sending a soundwave echoing through the evening air a second time. Luce covered her ears as she attempted to push through to the exit, her arm linked with Sylvia’s still. She saw  Altina’s  sword in its sheath and broke away from Sylvia to pick it up. She was still rattled from the hooded man’s direct assault on Sylvia, and she got the feeling she would need an extra push to keep her safe until she could properly control her magic.  

The hooded man saw her retrieving  Altina’s  blade and ducked down towards Luce and Sylvia. He punched the ground, knocking all remaining figures on the turf off their feet. The remaining students collapsed before scrambling to their feet to escape the chaos. Sylvia was knocked into Luce, leaving the pair a heap of tangled limbs on the green. Across the lawn, the head teachers were tossed backwards into the walls.  Altina  was the only one who escaped his assault due to her airborne position.  

Luce and Sylvia managed to get to their feet, though both were shaking. Luce’s head was ringing from the pounding noise. She was dimly aware of her  right hand  clutching at  Altina’s  sword, which was struggling to keep hold of the handle. Luce was stumbling, her legs on the brink of collapse. Sylvia wasn’t doing much better, hugging herself tightly.  

The hooded man dove for Sylvia and grabbed her by the center. Sylvia froze as the hooded man attempted to fly skywards with her in his grasp. Tears flowed emotionlessly down her face. She was shutting down, dissociating from the danger of the present situation.  

Luce lashed out, adrenaline pumping wildly through her veins, as the hooded man began to rise. She swung  Altina’s  blade blindly, leaving a wide gash on the hooded man’s leg. He let out a roar of pain and crashed down to the ground. Sylvia was released. She slid along the turf and landed a few feet away, leaving a wicked burn on her arm from the friction. She was still too numb from her fear to acknowledge her pain, instead curling in over herself and beginning to cry silently.  

When the man hit the ground, he reached one arm out and tried to grab at Luce’s ankle. The second his skin  made contact with  hers, the burning began once again. Luce yelped and fell to the ground to attend to her injured foot. She swung the sword once more, hitting the man’s forearm. Blood flowed freely onto the green.  

A sudden ignition of energy stirred in Luce’s core. The adrenaline that had been controlling her subsided, if only slightly. Renewed vigor spread throughout her body as she got to her feet. Her eyes narrowed as a peculiar sensation spread to every fiber of her being.  

Before she knew it, a wave of light covered her body. When it cleared, her outfit had changed, and her determination had been restored. She was now wearing a cropped cerulean shirt with her right sleeve going just past her shoulder. She had shorts of the same color. White wristlets appeared on her hands. A white sarong reached her knee on one side (Luce’s right, though a viewer’s left). Her boots reached her knees and were a white color. Pale blue wings had sprouted from her shoulder blades, sitting dormant behind her.  

The hooded man unfolded his palm and released yet another energy blast. Luce slashed through the air with  Altina’s  sword, leaving a gash on his shoulder. He retreated his casting hand to his upper arm to nurse his wound, but Luce didn’t give him time to rest. She clenched her free hand, her left one, into a fist. When it unfolded, a delicate sphere of  pale yellow  light came into view. She fired it towards him.  

The light sphere slammed into his chest, sending him flying backwards. Luce lunged towards him. She didn’t know what controlled her to do this, but she pressed her left hand to the back of his neck. The palm of her hand began to burn. The same effect spread to his neck.  

The hooded man let out a scream of pain. His cries slowly grew softer before diminishing entirely. His hood evaporated into thin air along with his dark clothing, revealing a man curled up and bloodied on the ground.  

He had brown hair and was wearing neon green and blue clothing. He was breathing heavily, chest heaving every few seconds. His eyes were shut against the bitter pain from his three cuts and burned neck.  

Luce fell to her hands and knees not long after. Her outfit returned to normal as her exhaustion crept in once again, banishing all senses of adrenaline instantly. The foreign feeling of wings on her spine faded. She continued to pant wildly as breath returned to her lungs following the excessive exertion of energy.  

Altina  returned to normal as well. She and  Zylphia  approached the man on the ground. The other four head teachers joined them.  

“Wait... This was the man we hired to take care of the music for tonight’s event,” Fromir remarked with a frown.  

“That’s why he didn’t show up,” Minerva commented softly before looking harshly to the man on the ground. “What happened? Tell us. Now.”  

The man scrambled into a sitting position, cradling his injured arms.  Zylphia  used her magic to heal his wounds the best she could, though he remained incredibly pale as he spoke. “I-I got here about two hours ago to set up my equipment... I put everything in place, even if nobody was here yet... Then, there was this older man who approached me. I couldn’t see his face. It was like he had no features at all... He said I was going to be his puppet for the night. Everything gets fuzzy after that,” the man explained. “I think he was controlling me.”  

Luce dimly heard what he was saying, but she didn’t remark on it. Instead, she shakily pushed herself to her feet and looked around the courtyard. The stage was a mess from when  Altina  fell into it, dented where she had impacted. Food littered the turf, making it nearly impossible to see much of the green below. Tables were on the verge of collapse. Bloodstains from  Altina  and the man who had attacked them looked eerie in the dying rays of the sun. Glass was everywhere, making it near impossible to step without shattering the shards further.  

“We’re going to need to report this to the police,”  Jin  commented. He made his way over to Sylvia and helped her to her feet. She was still in shock, her eyes glazed over as she stared emotionlessly at the ground. “Are you alright?”  

Zylphia  approached Luce and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Come on. Let’s get you back to Alitia,” she said firmly. “Should I make an announcement to the students?”  

“Broadcast it throughout all of Millennium City too. Tell them not to come to Acadia until we say so. This place is a wreck,”  Altina  instructed. She was still pale from the battle as she limped over to Luce to take her blade back.  

“Will do,”  Zylphia  nodded. “I’ll come back as soon as I’m able. Jin, we should take them back. I bet the students with healing magic are exhausted by now. The glass likely injured most of our students...”  

“Nothing like this has happened in years,” Minerva frowned. “In fact, the last time there was an attack at this event, it was when we were students...”  

“Do you know anything about the man who caused this?” Caius questioned, looking to the DJ once again.  

“No... It looked like his face was completely blank. I didn’t see eyes, ears, a nose, or a mouth. It was just... skin,” the man replied. “He touched the back of my neck though. That’s where my memory stops.”  

“You’re lucky we were able to snap you out of it,”  Fromir  commented, shooting a small glance at Luce. She examined her burned hand with a frown. Her ankle felt much worse, but the pain on her palm was still noticeable. If Sophia hadn’t run herself dry with healing yet, she could certainly use some help in patching up the burns. She didn’t understand why they had come into existence to begin with, but she was too exhausted to bother questioning it then. All Luce wanted to do was get back to Alitia.  

“What happened to your hand?”  Zylphia  asked, a frown on her face.  

“I don’t know. When I touched his neck, when he was still possessed, my hand started burning. I don’t know what caused it,” Luce explained. “He grabbed my ankle too...”  

Sylvia wandered over in her direction,  Jin  not far behind her. “Thank you,” she said softly.  

Luce smiled gently, able to ignore her exhaustion and burns for the first time that evening. “You’re welcome,” she replied.  

~~~~~  

It was about another hour before Luce and Sylvia were clear to return to their rooms.  Zylphia  had patched up Luce’s burns and ushered her and Sylvia alongside  Jin  back to Alitia. She encouraged the younger girls to rest as much as they could for the evening. In the morning, they could talk more about the incident if need be.  

Luce limped into her apartment, Sylvia at her side. Even if her burns were mostly healed, the dull ache on her ankle was still present. She was surprised to see the other six girls in the main area when she entered.  

Sophia was asleep, her head resting on S.M.’s shoulder. She had a large cut on one cheek that had mostly healed over. Tanith’s hair had blood staining the edges on one side. She was sitting beside Helena, whose arms were cut from the falling glass. Carys’ arms were much the same, though their cuts were mostly healed, likely thanks to Sophia’s influence. Iris had ice on one ankle, which was propped up on a pillow. It looked swollen and bruised, as if it had been badly sprained.  

“You’re back!” Iris exclaimed. She tried to get to her feet, but a gentle tap on the shoulder from S.M. had her sitting back down. “We were really worried about you guys. What happened to you?”  

Tanith hushed her and pointed to Sophia, who looked practically comatose in her heavy slumber. There were dark circles beneath her eyes as she snored lightly. She was paler than usual as well, which sent a shiver of nerves sprinting up Luce’s spine.  

“I fought a crazed DJ,” Luce explained, helping to ease Sylvia onto the couch beside her. She rubbed at her eyes. She hadn’t realized how tired she had been until getting back, now that her bed was calling for her to take her place inside it.  

“I want that full story,” S.M. said with a small smirk. “Don’t hold out on us. I want details.”  

By the time Luce had finished detailing the fight with the DJ, she was slightly less tired. It was as if recounting the events of the evening had stirred her energy once again and rejuvenated her fully.  

“That’s awesome! You transformed for the first time!” Helena exclaimed in excitement.  

“It was a shock, that was for sure,” Luce sighed. “I hope we learn more about that stuff in class. I’m practically clueless on the matter. It’s been years since I heard details.”  

“I want to know more about who the faceless man who approached the DJ was,”  Carys  murmured. “He sounds like a real creeper.”  

“He’s probably not one of your precious heroes. No hero could possess somebody by simply touching them,” S.M. told her, earning an eye roll from the princess.  

“I’m more unsettled by the fact that this is the fifth person who’s burned me,” Luce admitted. “First, it was the cantor from when I first came to Alitia. Then, it was the trio at the party. Finally, it was the DJ. I don’t get any of it.”  

“What cantor?” Tanith asked.  

“I guess I forgot to explain that part,” Luce sighed. “It’s how I wound up here in the first place. Sylvia might be able to help me tell you about it.”  

Unfortunately for Luce, Sylvia had already fallen asleep. She wasn’t surprised, but Luce lacked the energy to take her to her bed, and instead left her where she was.  

“What happened to you guys after we were split?” Luce asked. “We can go over my part later.”  

“I found  Carys , but Tanith was dragged along with me. We got back here  pretty quickly  and waited. Sophia, S.M., and Iris followed afterwards. Sophia had been healing people. She’s exhausted by now. I doubt she’ll be waking up until tomorrow,” Helena explained.  

“Now, I want to hear about this cantor you came across before the school year,” Tanith said, looking to Luce intently.  

“Alright,” Luce nodded. “It all started when I got a mercenary job...”  

Chapter Text

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.  

Probably.  

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.  

Chapter Text

There was one chilling moment where Luce’s eyes met those of the hooded man. She couldn’t see much about his features, but she knew their eyes were locked. When he finally broke the contact by backing away from the window and running, Luce was on her feet in an instant. She didn’t offer any explanation to her friends before running after him.  

“Luce, where are you going?” Iris asked hurriedly, chasing after her. Sylvia, surprisingly enough,  followed after  her. In fact, everyone did save for S.M., who was frowning deeply at them. She looked ready to give chase, but she still stayed where she was with a deep frown painted on her features.  

Luce had been running for about half a block before the hooded man suddenly turned to face her. She drew her sword to fight back, though she knew it was going to be hard to get him up close. After all, he was a mage and could attack from far away, and Luce’s sword exclusively worked at melee range. Despite this handicap though, Luce was ready to take on the challenge.  

The man snapped one hand out before him, creating a ripple in the air. A dark sphere appeared, prompting him to hurl it forwards. Luce barely managed to dodge the hit, stepping to the right. She could feel the air distort as the orb whizzed past her ear. Her heart beat a little faster.  

Iris arrived not long after. She glanced around for a moment before settling her gaze on a nearby streetlight. She pressed her palm against its surface. The metal quaked and distorted itself until it looked like a large gun, but it wasn’t like any gun Luce had ever seen. It was much larger and couldn’t even be carried around. It was more like a canon in that respect.  

Iris fiddled around with the streetlight a while longer before grinning. She pressed her hand against the top of the newly-formed gun. Soon after, light exploded from the end of it, flying through the air towards the hooded man.  

He had been too busy focusing on Luce to pay attention to Iris, so he was caught off guard when the light came in his direction. He flew backwards before hitting a nearby building. There was a visible dent from where he had landed. Luce heard him gasp as the air abandoned his lungs. She took a few steps closer and pointed her sword at his throat, ready to demand answers or grab him by the wrist to hopefully reverse the possession.   

However, that didn’t come to pass. Instead, the man cut her off by clapping one hand onto the pavement. A shockwave traveled through the ground, knocking Luce off her feet. The other five, who had caught up to her and Iris, were sent sprawling not long after. The only one who managed to dodge it was Iris, who evaded the chaos by transforming her gun into a platform that floated a few feet above the ground. Luce couldn’t help but be impressed, even as she was sent to the pavement by the shockwave.   

The hooded man blew something into the air. It looked to be dust, but Luce couldn’t see very well since the particles were small and she was distant from where the man was now. She watched as the dust traveled through the air to attach itself to Iris.  

The girl yelped in shock as the dust made its home on her skin. Shortly after, the dust seemed to be absorbed by her body, disappearing just as quickly as it appeared. Iris began to claw at her arms, muttering a few curses under her breath in a panic.  

“Cancel dust,” Tanith whispered in shock.  

“Cancel?” Luce echoed with wide eyes.   

“It’s an illegal substance used to censor all magic. Only police  are allowed to  use it when they restrict incredibly dangerous criminals. It takes a few minutes to go into effect, but it can have awful effects when used in excess. Beings of magic being cut off from their power can cause medical issues, as they need it in order to survive,” Tanith explained, her speech hurried from her panic. “We have to find a way to get that stuff away from her.”  

“I don’t even know if we can at this point,” Helena admitted, pointing over to Iris. The dark purple dust was forming again, though now it was spreading over the surface of her body. She was trying to pull it away, but her efforts were being proven fruitless.  

“If he has more of that on him, we’re going to need to be careful,” Tanith said next. She closed her eyes before clapping her hands together, creating a large gust of wind that passed through the street quickly. It was enough to knock the hooded man to the ground.   

Iris was panting heavily now under the dust’s influence. She clenched one hand into a fist and slammed it against the concrete when she collapsed to the ground in a final show of defiance.   

However, when her consciousness seemed to be fading, something strange happened, shocking Luce and everyone else present.   

Iris began to glow, sending the dark dust scattering through the sky. It disintegrated after a few feet with a sizzling noise. Luce was halfway tempted to cover her ears to block out the irritating sound, but she was far too focused on Iris to bother.   

She was getting to her feet amidst the bright glow emanating from her core. The light steadily got brighter as her street clothes were replaced with a different ensemble entirely. Luce had to cover her eyes to keep from being temporarily blinded by the inferno of light.   

Instead, she looked to the hooded man, who was still wounded from Tanith’s bold act seconds before. The closer she looked the more Luce was sure there was blood dripping down his neck. Perhaps that gust of wind had been much stronger than she had anticipated.   

Luce’s attention  reverted back  to Iris when the light around her faded. She was wearing a different outfit now, one with similar vibes to Luce’s from the night before. There was a silvery visor covering her eyes. A metallic ponytail kept her hair tied up high on one side of her head. She had on an orange tube top with metal segments at the top and bottom. Her skirt was made of metal as well. Her armbands and short boots were the same metal as her top, each adorned with a purple diamond design. She had metal leg pieces to match her other metallic accessories.  Iris’  wings were silver with purple diamonds on them.   

“I suppose her desperation allowed her to call upon her  Isolis ,” Helena murmured, getting to her feet. She helped her sister rise as well.   

“That’s good. It means we have more firepower to fight back with,”  Carys  grinned.   

“I wish I knew how to transform again. That would probably help us a lot,” Luce admitted as Sophia helped Sylvia to her feet.  

“Focus on transforming. It should come to you naturally,” Sophia instructed, wrapping an arm around Sylvia’s shoulders. She examined a skid mark on the latter’s shoulder from roughly hitting the pavement before pressing her palm to the wound. It was closed in seconds.  

Luce did as Sophia had instructed, and not long after, she had changed once again. The sheer power that came with being in this new form had her feeling livelier than ever before.   

This feeling did not have time to last. The hooded man got to his feet and created a ring of dark purple spheres around himself. When he twirled his arms, they spread outwards.  

Iris and Luce were able to dodge the attacks with some well-timed jumps and the help of their wings. Tanith ducked alongside Sophia and Sylvia just in time to avoid the orbs as well.  

Helena and  Carys  weren’t quite so lucky.  Carys  was hit by one of the spheres in the abdomen. She flew backwards, slamming into Helena before they both fell to the ground. Luce heard the sickening crack of bone as the two girls landed. A high-pitched cry from Carys told her all she needed to know.  

Luce and Iris didn’t allow themselves to be distracted by  Carys  for long. They both lunged for the hooded man, swords outstretched. Luce noticed that  Iris’  rapier had appeared in her hand following her transformation, which was probably a good thing for them all.   

Luce swiped her blade through the air, but the hooded man jumped backwards to evade the hit. Iris followed up with a stab that managed to poke a hole in his cloak.   

“You pest,” the hooded man snarled. His voice sounded oddly distorted, like he was behind a scratchy malfunctioning microphone. He snapped his fingers, creating two dark swords out of thin air.   

He swung one of the swords at Luce, but she blocked with her own blade. Iris stabbed forward once again, tearing a much larger hole in the hooded man’s cloak.   

The hooded man continued to swing his swords about somewhat haphazardly. The longer they fought, the surer Luce was that he lacked any true experience with the sword and was doing this out of instinct. Granted, he was still holding up well, but his fighting left a lot to be desired.  

Meanwhile,  Carys  was still whining from her place on the ground. She cradled her left arm, which was limp and bent at an unnatural angle, as Helena helped her to her feet. Tears were appearing in her eyes from the pain.   

“I’m going to do all I can to help you, alright?” Sophia said softly, quickly making her way towards Carys. She pressed her hands up against the girl’s arm. Light radiated from her fingers and into Carys’ arm.  

“Do you think you can fix it?” Helena  asked  nervously.   

“I’m going to try. I’ve never healed bones before though. I’ll do the best I can. At the very least, I’ll lessen the pain,” Sophia explained hurriedly. Soon after, the light surrounding Carys’ arm and Sophia’s hands faded. “That’s all I can do for now. I’m afraid I’m not a professional.”  

“It hurts...”  Carys  whispered. While she wasn’t openly whimpering now, it was clear by the contortion on her face that her arm wasn’t going to be healing for quite some time.   

“We should call for help,” Sylvia advised, fumbling for her phone in her pocket. It had miraculously not broken during the blast fired by the hooded man. She pressed a few buttons before starting to whisper into  it  fearfully.   

The hooded man stomped his foot on the ground and let out a whistle. It was piercing, prompting Tanith to cover her ears in pain. She winced at the wound.   

The hooded man created a shield between himself and the girls quickly gaining ground before him. His shields morphed into a  navy blue  shield that defended him perfectly. He glared at them harshly before whistling once again.  

“What is he doing?” Helena asked nervously. She was still holding Carys.   

“I think he’s calling for reinforcements!” Tanith exclaimed in shock. “We’re having trouble just dealing with him ourselves. We need to fall back. I doubt we’ll be able to deal with him and any others that he might call to the scene.”  

Sylvia shoved her phone back into her pocket. “I’ve called the police,” she said to the other girls. “They should be here soon... Apparently, I’m the third person to call yet about this attack. I’m sure we’ll be safe in no time.”  

“In that case, we can’t exactly leave. The police will want to question us,” Sophia pointed out. “I don’t think they’ll take kindly to us disappearing when we asked for their help to begin with... Maybe we should find a place to hide until they get here. We’re sitting ducks out here since we can’t do anything to transform or fight back. Plus,  Carys  needs help.”  

“There should be some place around here,” Tanith murmured, glancing around in a hurry. She eventually settled her gaze on a nearby café. It had many windows that allowed for view inside, and from what she could tell, there was nobody inside. “Let’s go in there. It’s empty. We should be safe.”  

Helena led them to the café, still holding  Carys  in her arms. Sophia and Sylvia trailed after her with Tanith taking up the rear. They were moving as quickly as they could with  Carys  struggling to walk in her focus on the pain in her arm. Tanith glanced around in fear as they traveled.  

Iris managed to get a jab through the shield the hooded man had created. It shattered into a million pieces, scattering along the concrete. She prepared to continue her advance, but she was stopped when the fragments transformed into a dark liquid. She wound up slipping on it, falling down seconds later.   

Luce stepped to the side and slashed towards the hooded man to make up for  Iris’  inability to fight. She managed to clip his arm, but the cut was nowhere near as severe as the wound she had inflicted on the DJ the night before. It was enough to draw blood, though it was limited in quantity.  

Iris attempted to push herself off the ground, but she found she could not. The liquid was turning into a sticky substance keeping her in place. Despite her struggles, she couldn’t get far, and her energy was quickly being drained.   

Luce looked at Iris in her struggling state and tried to concentrate the way she had the night before when firing off energy. She put forth as much effort as she could into her fingers. A light sphere created not long after, though it was small and unimpressive. Still, she fired it at the stickiness keeping Iris in place.   

The substance absorbed the light, swallowing it in a matter of seconds. It only seemed to multiply when impact was made, making Iris cry out in shock. She continued to struggle, but nothing seemed to be working. Not long after, her energy seemed to fade completely, and she fell fully onto the pavement, breathing heavily. Sweat had formed on her forehead in the conflict.  

The hooded man didn’t wait for Luce to attack. Instead, he kicked her in the stomach. Burns formed on her exposed abdomen in seconds. She fell backwards, clutching at her wounded skin. Luce’s jaw was clenched as she got to her feet despite the injury. She slashed her sword forwards, but the hooded man avoided it. Luce kept up the advance for as long as she possibly could, hoping to get him in a state of desperation soon enough. Luce just prayed he ran out of energy before she did. Either way was plausible given how quickly her energy was draining, as she still wasn’t used to utilizing magic and the burn was causing flashes of pain to spread throughout her body.   

The other five girls were attempting to make a speedy escape into the emptied restaurant Tanith had noticed. They were standing outside the door while Sylvia applied a spell to the locked door to open it. She seemed positive they wouldn’t get in trouble if they explained they were trying to hide from a criminal out to attack them, though Tanith wasn’t quite so sure, glancing around in hopes nobody saw them.  

However, someone did.  

A ray of a shining copper color shot through the sky. Before anyone had time to react, Tanith was sent flying through the largest window of the café. She let out a strangled scream as the air was ripped from her lungs. She landed not long after, her head hitting the back counter in the process. For the second time, the crack of bone echoed eerily. Blood began to flow freely from the back of her head in a matter of seconds.  

Helena left  Carys  where she was before jumping through the window to check on Tanith. She was unconscious and likely had a concussion from her rough landing. Bruises were already starting to show on her wrists, though she didn’t appear to have a broken arm like Carys did.  

Helena managed to heave Tanith off the ground, surprised at how light her friend was. She dragged her bloodied and bruised form out of the restaurant, where she was met with the other three glaring at a figure floating overhead.  

It was another person in a dark hood, though this one seemed to be female judging by the laugh piercing the sky. She let out yet another ray of light, though Sophia and Sylvia managed to push  Carys  out of the way before she could be hit. The three landed in a tangled mess of limbs on the ground, Carys still whimpering in pain from her broken arm.  

“We have to get out of here,” Sophia said hurriedly, trying to get to her feet. Her face had a prominent cut on it from when she had hit the ground. Blood dripped slowly down her cheek.  

“Let’s call for a taxi or something,”  Carys  suggested, pointing with her uninjured arm towards a car that had appeared on the street corner.  

“Let’s go then!” Sylvia exclaimed. She was paler than usual as she stared up at the hooded figure. She managed to turn on her heel, sprinting towards the car as quickly as she could in her exhausted state.  

Helena  followed after  them, slower than usual because of her burden of a second person. When she did arrive near the car though, they let her in first. Helena wormed her way inside, struggling with Tanith’s unconscious body. Sylvia helped her inside before clambering in herself. She shut the back door before trying to hurriedly explain their situation to the confused cab driver.   

Sylvia scarcely got out three words before a scream left her lips. Another ray fired by the hooded woman had hit the car, instantly setting it ablaze. She struggled with the back door, coughing as the foreign sensation of smoke invaded her lungs.  

Helena was doing the same on her side, holding her breath as she tried to push the door open. When she eventually got it, she practically fell out of the car, Tanith on top of her. Sylvia crawled out not long after, coughing wildly. By the time she was finished hacking, her face was as red as a tomato. A burn had appeared on one of her hands, the one she had been using to try and open the burning car door.   

Carys  and Sophia dashed around the car to examine the three girls. Sophia pressed her hands up against Sylvia’s burn injury. Light moved between their hands, but when Sophia was done, she was breathing heavily. Sylvia rubbed at her healed hand silently.   

“I don’t think I can do much more. Healing Carys’ arm really took it out of me,” Sophia explained in between gasps for breath.  

Luce slashed her sword at the man before her. The pain in her torso was growing stronger with each passing moment, but she bit her lip against the ache despite the agony she was in. Adrenaline was all that was keeping her going at this point.   

She finally got a blow in on the hooded man when her sword  made contact with  his shoulder. Blood flowed freely. When his hand retreated to nurse his wound, Luce dealt him a swift kick to the stomach. He was sent flying backwards, sword pointed at his throat.   

“Game over,” Luce hissed at him.  

In the end, she was cut off by another ray appearing out of seemingly nowhere. The beam hit her stomach, and therefore, her burn wound, making her collapse in seconds. She cradled her stomach, which was hurting more than any other wound she had ever had.  

A second hooded man appeared nearby, crossing his arms with a smirk. “Are we done here?” he asked. His voice sounded distorted, as if a thousand other voices were talking and echoing simultaneously to make up his speech.  

“I believe so,” the first man replied, walking towards Luce. Her sword had been lost in the struggle. She didn’t know where it was, but it was likely a few feet away, just out of reach of her pained figure.  

Luce managed to summon some of her remaining energy into her palm. She extended one hand, letting another sphere of light form. It hit the first man, causing him to fall into the second man seconds later. They grunted angrily. Luce wanted nothing more than to pursue them further, but her draining energy and the pain in her stomach forbade that idea immediately.  

“You’re going to pay for that,” the first man growled. Luce’s head pounded with the sound of his voice. She had been on many jobs before as a mercenary, but none of them could have prepared her for this one. She didn’t know how the other five were faring, but Iris was on the brink of passing out, and Luce herself was struggling to keep from screaming due to the pain in her stomach.  

The second man crouched down beside Iris not long after. His tone made Luce sure he was smiling sadistically. “Poor thing... You look like you’re in a lot of pain,” he mocked. His voice only served to worsen Luce’s headache further. “I guess it’s time to put you down.”  

He snapped his fingers, and the goo surrounding Iris began to spread. It moved swiftly up her neck to her mouth, where it remained put to cut off her air supply. Her chest rose and fell emptily as she attempted to get even a shred of the air she so desperately needed.  

Luce tried to push herself up to her arms and legs, but she found herself unable to ultimately. She fell back down, breathing heavily. Was this really the end for them? She couldn’t believe one stupid choice had caused her to nearly die. She had chased after that hooded man, and it was going to cost her and her friends everything. How stupid could she have been? That was quite possibly the worst decision she could have made, and—  

Sirens blared in the distance. They quickly grew nearer, making Luce’s heart flutter with relief. The police had arrived. They were going to be fine, or at the very least, that’s what she hoped for. After a few morbid moments of thinking about her own death, this was what she needed more than anything.  

She felt a wave of energy wash over her as her wings and general  Isolis  outfit faded away. She was left in her regular clothing, still clutching at her burned stomach. She heard Iris start to cough shortly after a rush of air passed by her. When she opened her eyes, she saw that the two hooded men had disappeared, likely due to the appearance of the police.  

Foreign figures came into view not long after. Luce tried to grasp onto her quickly fading consciousness, praying she would be able to explain the situation, but keeping her eyes open proved to be far too difficult. Instead, she let the darkness come in and take her into its embrace with one final pound of pain from the burn on her torso.  

~~~~~  

When Luce came to, she didn’t know where she was. She recognized a few faces over her belonging to Sophia and Sylvia. Sophia had a bandage over one cheek. Sylvia’s hand, which was on Luce’s, was covered in a wrap of some sorts. Both of them looked exhausted , but relief painted their features when they noticed Luce was conscious.   

“What happened?” Luce asked, pushing herself up into a sitting position.  Her stomach didn’t hurt like it had before, which she was thankful for. She didn’t feel the unpleasant sensation that came with burn wounds, which meant she had likely been healed. Even if she didn’t know what was happening, at the very least, that was a positive note.   

Luce  was in what looked like a hospital. When she got up, she saw that she wasn’t alone with Sylvia and Sophia. Helena was on the other side of the room sitting on a couch, a nurse to her right drawing blood. She looked dazed and sickly , her face as pale as snow . Iris was curled up beside her, as still as a rock.    

“After the police arrived, most of us were taken into questioning about what happened. Luckily for us, we aren’t getting in trouble for what happened,” Sophia explained. “You and Tanith have been asleep ever since the police arrived. They don’t need to ask you anything since they got the full story from the rest of us, so don’t worry about that.”  

“Where’s S.M.? We left her at the restaurant,” Luce frowned. She felt bad they had abandoned their friend so long ago, as she was probably worried out of her mind or waiting for them either at the restaurant or at Alita. Either way, Luce felt guilty.   

“I’m here.”  

S.M. walked in the room a few seconds later, two stacks of to-go boxes in her arms. She passed them out to Sophia, Sylvia, Helena, and Luce before setting  Iris’  box to her side. Two other boxes wound up beside Iris’. “You’re lucky I got our food from this morning. I managed to get to the microwave to warm it up,” she told them before sitting next to Iris and shaking her awake gently. When the girl woke up, she passed Iris her box.   

Carys  walked over to retrieve her box. Her right arm was wrapped in a bandage, and Luce assumed it was because of her broken bone. While Sophia had healed her before, she hadn’t been able to fix everything.   

“Thank you,” Helena smiled as the nurse placed a cotton ball over her arm before leaving. “I wonder how we’re going to get back to Alitia. I bet the news has heard about the fight that broke out in the middle of Millennium by now... It wouldn’t surprise me if somebody had heard about it.”  

“I heard someone say they’ll be giving Luce and Tanith one last checkup before letting us go,” Sophia told her.  

Luce looked around the room in hopes she’d be able to locate her friend. Tanith was on a bed adjacent to Luce’s. Her chest was rising and falling peacefully, and she would have looked asleep if not for the bandage wrapped around her head.  

“She got a concussion and broke two ribs from the impact,” Helena sighed. “I doubt the headmistress is going to be very happy when she hears about this...”  

“I hope we’ll be able to get back soon. I doubt the staff will let us get away with getting into a fight without some disciplinary action or something similar,” Sophia sighed.  

“Maybe they’ll have mercy on us. We didn’t exactly initiate the attack. We followed that guy, yes, but he was the one who lashed out at us first. That isn’t our fault,” Carys pointed out.  

“He got away. He summoned two people to help him fight us, and as soon as the police showed up, they turned tail and ran the other way. If not for the truth spells the police cast on us, they wouldn’t know if we were telling the truth. He just left,” Helena muttered with a shake of her head, taking a bite out of her food.   

Luce reached for her own food and began to eat it. She didn’t know she could possibly be so relieved to eat food, but here she was. It wasn’t as good as it would have been had she been eating it fresh, but the warmth from the microwave was enough for her. She hadn’t realized how hungry she had been until the food had been in her reach. Her stomach grumbled in happiness as she continued to eat her meal.  

“What time is it?” Luce asked. It had dawned on her that their meal was supposed to be eaten that morning as brunch, but it was no longer the morning. The limited light streaming in through the hospital window made that fact obvious.   

“It’s closer to five now. We left  Alitia  six hours ago,” Sylvia replied, taking a bite out of her pancake. “I think the police showed up close to noon.”  

“I’ve really been asleep that long...?” Luce  murmured,  her eyes wide. She checked the clock hanging on the wall above the door and saw Sylvia was correct. It was ten minutes before five, which would certainly explain why she had been so hungry. She hadn’t eaten anything all day.  

“We should be getting back soon,” Iris suggested sleepily in between bites of a waffle.  

“Will we even be able to do that? Tanith is still asleep. She has been for hours,” Helena pointed out. “We are so dead once the headmistress hears about this...”  

“My sister is a third year here at  Alitia . When she heard I was coming here, the first thing she said was to not cross  Zylphia  Satim. The school year hasn’t even started, and I’ve already messed that up,” S.M. grumbled. “My sister is going to have a lot to say when she hears I got into a fight before the school year even started and it ended with me being hated by the head teacher.”  

“We should be back in an hour. It shouldn’t take too long for the nurses to look Luce and Tanith over one more time,” Sophia told them. “We’ll be making curfew at the very least, though I get the feeling that will be the least of our issues...”  

“I guess the best we can do right now is hope we get out of this alive,” Luce sighed with a shake of her head. “If the head teacher is really as terrifying as S.M. was implying, the chances of that might not be in our favor.”  

Chapter Text

The girls in fact arrived back at  Alitia  within an hour, just as Sophia had predicted. Luce had been tasked with carrying Tanith back, unconscious as she still was, due to her impressive physical prowess in comparison to her companions. She was somewhat worried she’d be the one to get in trouble with Zylphia because of this, but she hushed her worries the best she could.  

Darkness was starting to seep in around the campus. When the girls were approached, it was by a pair of teachers with flashlights. It took a moment for Luce’s eyes to adjust to the brightness before she realized she was facing down Zylphia and Alistair.  

“We heard about the incident in Millennium City today,” Alistair commented. Contrary to what Luce had expected, he was calm and composed. Granted, he didn’t seem to be the type to simply explode in rage, but she was still choosing to take it as a positive for the time being.  

“How did you get into a fight?”  Zylphia  asked firmly, looking to Tanith with narrowed eyes.   

“A hooded man was watching us through the window of a café. When we went to investigate, he lashed out,” S.M. explained  despite the fact that  she hadn’t been present. “In case you’re concerned, we weren’t the aggressors.”  

Alistair shared a wary glance with  Zylphia . “We understand,” he said shortly after.   

“Until the school year begins, we’re keeping the students within Millennium Six boundaries. Too many incidents have been taking place. We’ll decide on a resolution for this  later on . For now, head up to your rooms. Curfew will be coming soon,”  Zylphia  told them bluntly. She took a few steps towards Luce and took Tanith from her grasp. “Your schedules will be coming to your rooms in the next few days. Until then, do your best to stay safe.”  

Zylphia  turned on her heel and headed into the school. Nobody dared to speak until she had disappeared into the  building . Even Alistair was silent.   

Once she was gone, Alistair turned to the seven girls. “Headmistress  Satim  may be acting harsh now, but she’s acting this way because she cares. She found out about it through the news and was incredibly worried. She already told me she has no intent of punishing you when you were not in the wrong,” he said. “She makes a point about getting to bed though. It might be best for you to head your rooms. Classes will be beginning in four days. Until then, do your best to relax.”  

“Does she really mean that she won’t be letting  Alitia  students leave the Millennium Six boundaries?” S.M. asked with a frown.  

“She does. Three incidents now have taken place that have endangered students of  Alitia  in the past three days. She is asking the other schools to crack down on security as well. The Millennium City police are also being asked to focus more on protecting students out in the city. However, it might be best to remain within the campus for the time being. It’s for your safety,” Alistair explained. “Until most of our students can put their magic into a usable form, it’s the best course of action.”  

“What’s going to happen with Tanith?” Helena questioned.   

“Headmistress  Satim  is going to be watching over her personally. You have no need to worry,” Alistair assured her. “Now, have a nice night. I look forward to seeing you later on. And Luce?”  

Luce looked up sharply, surprised she was being addressed suddenly. “Y-Yes?” she asked, hoping Alistair hadn’t picked up on how shaky her voice was.  

“You should send Lianna a call. I’d rather she not  find  out this information on her own. She has her ways of learning these things,” Alistair told her, a hint of a smile appearing on his face. He walked away, disappearing into the school just as Zylphia had minutes before.  

Nobody spoke until they were sure he was out of earshot. Luce turned to the other members of the group. “It looks like our adventures are going to be much more limited from here on out,” she commented with a small shrug. “It might be for the best.”  

“I want to know who that man was,”  Carys  grumbled. “He broke my arm, for crying out loud! His reinforcements were a pain in the neck too.”  

“We’re going to have to leave it alone for the time being,” S.M. told her. “I doubt this is going to be the end of our investigation though. Whoever that was, they know who we are now. There wasn’t much of a victory for either side, but they were chased off. If they decide to be intent on revenge, we could easily be in trouble.”  

“So long as we are in  Alitia’s  borders, we should be fine. I doubt he would dare to creep inside of this place. It’s relatively well-guarded, and the teachers never let harm come to the students. In other words, we’re fine,” Iris said. “If we stay in the school like the teachers suggested, we’ll be safe. I assume that if we hold off for a while, we can let this blow over. I bet their need for revenge will die down after a while.”  

“We should focus on our classes anyways. They’ll be starting up in a matter of days, so it would be best if we thought about our schoolwork. The start of year is on the stressful side from what I’ve heard,” Helena pointed out. “I know it’s on the earlier side, but I’m exhausted. All in favor of going up and heading to sleep early?”  

A few groans of agreement rose up from the rest of the group. Luce couldn’t find it in herself to disagree either. She trudged over to the nearest door, ready to head up to their room and go to sleep. She hadn’t been this exhausted in a while, and she wished her bed would just float to her so she wouldn’t have to walk up multiple staircases.  

~~~~~  

Midnight was gone by the time Tanith finally stirred and began to awaken.  Zylphia  was sitting in a chair next to her bed in the infirmary, arms crossed as she nodded off slightly.   

Tanith’s eyes fluttered open, prompting her to glance around in confusion. Her hand flew to her pounding head as Zylphia noticed she had regained consciousness.  

“I see you’re awake now,”  Zylphia  remarked, moving her chair a bit closer. “How do you feel?”  

“Like somebody’s repeatedly clubbing my head,” Tanith answered, sinking back into the bed. “Where am I?”  

Alitia . Your friends brought you here after what happened in the city,”  Zylphia  explained. “Would you mind telling me what happened? What’s the last thing you remember?”  

“We were in Millennium City. A man in a cloak was watching us. We chased after him and he attacked us. He called for reinforcements, and I think one of them blasted me into a shop window when they arrived,” Tanith explained.  

Light suddenly appeared in the room as a figure came into existence. The light faded a few seconds later to show Jin.   

“You sure did take a while,” Zylphia told him with a frown.  

“I’m sorry. I had a lot to do to get ready for the start of the school year. This is the first chance I’ve gotten to be away from my office all day,”  Jin  sighed, pulling up a chair of his own. “How are you feeling, Tanith?”  

Tanith rubbed at her eyes, the sudden flare from  Jin’s  appearance having temporarily blinded her. “Okay, I guess. I mean, I’m awake. That’s something, right?” she asked with a shrug.   

“I want to talk to you about what happened out there today,”  Zylphia  said. “Well, after we make sure you’re really okay...”  

Zylphia , it’s fine. I’ve been worse off before,” Tanith assured her.   

“Then explain how you wound up with a concussion and two broken ribs,” Zylphia frowned.   

Tanith’s eyes widened in shock. “Wait... What?” she asked. “I didn’t know about that part!”  

“Neither did I! How could you keep that from me?!”  Jin  exclaimed in shock.   

“I didn’t want you to panic before you could get away from work,”  Zylphia  explained to  Jin  

“But this is our daughter we’re talking about!” Jin cried out in a panic.  

Even if Tanith was technically only  Zylphia’s  daughter,  Jin  had been in a quiet romantic relationship with  Zylphia  for as long  as long as  Tanith could remember. He had even taken to calling her his daughter, though Tanith still didn’t call him her father. Then again, she also didn’t call  Zylphia  ‘mom’ openly either, so  Jin  didn’t seem to be too bothered by it.   

“I didn’t think it was that bad... I mean, I know I went flying during the fight, but I didn’t realize it was that severe,” Tanith murmured. “Then again, I haven’t had the chance to talk to anybody about it since the fight, and I was kind of unconscious then too...”  

“I don’t like this,”  Jin  whispered with a shake of his head. “We can’t be putting you in danger like this.”  

“You didn’t know. I didn’t either. It was an ambush in the middle of Millennium City. How were any of us supposed to know that somebody would attack me in the city? People normally don’t do that because of the abundance of police officers prowling around,” Tanith told him. “Don’t blame yourself.”  

“Even if we didn’t know it was going to happen, we can still do something about it,”  Zylphia  said firmly. “And trust me, I plan to keep this from happening again in the future.”  

“What are you going to do?”  Jin  asked with a frown.  

“Tanith, we are fully aware of your skills as a mage. However, since you lack Isolis, and thus the ability to put your magic into a usable form, it’s risky for you to be out in the world on your own. Your friends might be earning their transformations slowly, but it’s still dangerous. It’s a chance I don’t want to take,” Zylphia said firmly.  

“What are you saying?” Tanith questioned, already getting the feeling she wasn’t going to like the answer.  

“I don’t want you leaving the  Alitia  campus without either me or  Jin  until you’ve earned your  Isolis ,”  Zylphia  told her. “Until then, you’re going to be staying here where it’s safe. Nobody would dare openly attack  Alitia . I think they know better than to tempt me, whoever it is that’s come to hold a grudge against the people in your apartment.”  

“You can’t be serious!” Tanith exclaimed. “You’re going to lock me up here because of one little incident?”  

“There’s nothing little about it. Plain and simple, you were attacked. I don’t want it to happen, so I’m not going to give it a chance to repeat itself. My decision is final,”  Zylphia  said sternly. “You’ll be staying here on the Alitia campus until you’ve earned Isolis.”  

“But how in the world am I supposed to earn my  Isolis  if I’m stuck here?  Isolis  only comes about through desperation in a bad situation,” Tanith reminded her, hoping it would help to reverse Zylphia’s choice on the matter.  

“I’m sure it will happen on its own. Call it a gut instinct,”  Zylphia  replied. “You won’t be changing my mind. I’m not going to take any chances with your safety. Things could have easily gone horribly wrong today.”  

“But they didn’t,” Tanith told her.   

“The chance was still there. I don’t want it to happen again. You’re staying in  Alitia  until further notice,”  Zylphia  pressed. “I’m not going to make you stick around in the infirmary, but you’re going to stay on the campus until you earn your Isolis and can defend yourself without any issue.”  

“This is unfair,” Tanith grumbled with a shake of her head. “You aren’t keeping anybody else here.”  

“Nobody else here is my daughter. I care for all my students. This much is true. However, you’re a special case. You’re my child. I can’t chance your safety by letting you out there. Since the start of school preparations have begun, two incidents have taken place where you were hurt. First, there was the attack at Acadia. Your injuries were minor, yes, but it still happened. Today was simply my breaking point,”  Zylphia  told her.  

“She isn’t doing this because she hates you. It’s because she cares that you’re being kept here,”  Jin  cut in, attempting to moderate the situation. “I must agree with her decision. The risk is too great. Parents do ridiculous things for their children. This is just one example.”  

“But I’m okay!” Tanith exclaimed in exasperation.  

“But what if you weren’t?”  Zylphia  suddenly snapped. She took a deep breath after the tense silence hung in the air for a moment. “I was terrified when I heard on the news there had been an attack in Millennium City. The reporters were only saying students of  Alitia  had been sucked into the fighting. I didn’t know if you were okay or not.”  

Tanith fell silent, unable to look  Zylphia  in the eyes. Guilt pulled at her heart, though she remained quiet.  

“After that, I saw a few paramedics carry you and everybody else in your room off into ambulances. I was scared out of my mind. I thought something awful had happened to you. How was I supposed to know you were going to be fine with just some bed rest?”  Zylphia  asked. “I didn’t know what was going to happen to you.”  

Tanith could feel tears forming at the edges of her eyes. She sniffled and rubbed at her eyes as  Zylphia  moved closer to her. “I’m sorry,” Tanith murmured, pressing her forehead into  Zylphia’s  chest as the two embraced each other.   

“I didn’t hear what had happened until a few hours ago. The hospital called me and said you had a minor concussion and two broken ribs. The healers did what they could, but you still need a few  days worth  of bed rest,”  Zylphia  whispered into her hair.  

Jin  wrapped his arms around the two of them a few moments later. “I love you both,” he said softly as tears continued to stream down Tanith’s face. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”  

“I feel the same,” Tanith muttered. Her anger had faded, giving way to sadness in her sympathy for Zylphia.   

“How long are you going to stay?”  Zylphia  asked of Jin. “Do you have to get back to your school soon?”  

“The others are covering for me. They were sympathetic when they heard what happened,”  Jin  explained. “I can stay all night if need be.”  

“Can... Can we stay like this for a while longer?” Tanith asked quietly, rubbing at her eyes once again. “I’ve missed spending time with you these past few days with all that’s been going on...”  

Zylphia  smiled sadly and nodded. “Of course,” she whispered, stroking her daughter’s hair with one hand. “We can stay as long as you like.”  

~~~~~  

When Luce awoke the nex t morning, most of the others in her room were awake already.  Carys  was still in her room sawing logs, but the other five were out in the shared area of their apartment. There was still no sign of Tanith.   

Iris was stretched out on the couch while Sophia pressed her hands to her upper spine. Luce didn’t even need to ask to know she was suffering from the post-transformation backache due to wing formation. She felt bad for Iris, as she knew it was far from a pleasant experience. It had been bad enough when it had happened for her.  

It hit Luce suddenly that she had suffered from her back pain the mere day before. It felt like it had been years ago with how much had taken place on their outing in Millennium City. It was a reality check for sure. It seemed the battle in Millennium City had distorted her perception of time more than she had initially realized.  

“We should go and get some breakfast later on,” Helena suggested as Sophia took her hands from  Iris’  back. “We can’t head out and get anything in the city because of what the headmistress told us last night.”  

Iris stretched her torso out and smiled at Sophia. “Thanks,” she said, prompting the healer to nod with a light grin. “That back pain is wicked. Who knew wings could hurt so much?”  

“I think we should see Tanith too,” S.M. suggested. “I don’t know how long I’ll be sticking around with you all though. My sister wanted to see me to ask about what happened yesterday. She was curious after hearing about it on the news.”  

“Then we’ll try and make breakfast quick,” Luce suggested. “We can meet up with Tanith after the fact. I bet she’s getting lonely in the infirmary. She isn’t back yet, so I assume she’s still there.”  

“Should we get Carys?” Sylvia asked, rubbing at her eyes. Luce was surprised Sylvia was awake while Carys was still asleep. It was an odd role reversal, to say the least.  

“I’ll get her,” Helena nodded, heading towards the room Iris shared with Carys.  

“I guess we can see what breakfast is like around here,” shrugged Luce. “We don’t have much of a choice. I hope the food is good. We aren’t exactly supposed to leave for a while.”  

“Technically, we can leave, but security is being tightened in Millennium City to compensate. Even so, we can’t leave the ring formed by the Millennium Six,” S.M. pointed out.   

“After what happened yesterday though, I don’t want to leave Alitia. It’s going to be a while before I can bring myself to head out,” Iris admitted. “We’re going to have to get used to what they’re serving here.”  

Carys  and Helena came out of the former’s room a few seconds later. “Where are we going?”  Carys  asked.   

“Breakfast,” S.M. replied. “Come on. Today isn’t going to take care of itself, now, is it?”  

~~~~~  

Jin  was gone when Tanith woke next. He had likely returned to his school during the night. Since school was starting soon, the head teachers had a lot to do. Preparations took hours each day. It was exhausting, something she knew after having lived with  Zylphia  for years. She had seen four school years begin, though this was the first time she was actually attending the school.  

Despite the work awaiting her outside,  Zylphia  had remained in the infirmary all night. She was filling out notes in a notebook while waiting for Tanith to open her eyes again. The night before, she had rocked Tanith to sleep, something she hadn’t done in years, due to being distraught following the attack. However,  Zylphia  didn’t appear to have slept a wink herself, which concerned Tanith.  

“Hey,  Zylphia ,” Tanith said, avoiding commenting on  Zylphia’s  exhausted appearance deliberately.   

“Sleep well?”  Zylphia  asked, walking over to sit beside Tanith on the bed.   

“I’ve been better,” Tanith admitted. “My head is still pounding, and my stomach hurts a little, but I’m doing better than I was yesterday.”  

“That’s good,”  Zylphia  smiled, her exhaustion showing fully. “You look better than you did before. I agree there.”  

“You don’t look quite so good though,” Tanith frowned, gesturing to her mother. “Please tell me you slept last night.”  

“I took a nap near two.  Jin  forced me to,”  Zylphia  replied. “After that, I had to do some planning for the first few weeks of school. The others are covering for me for now. They sympathized with my dilemma and decided to let me stay here with you. I thank them for that.”  

“You should get some sleep. I can help you if you need it,” Tanith pressed with a frown. “I don’t want to leave you to do this alone.”  

“It’ll be fine, Tanith,”  Zylphia  assured her. “I’ll get some time later tonight. For now, I should get going. I get the feeling you’re going to have visitors soon anyways.”  

“You think so?” Tanith asked.   

“I do. Your friends seemed concerned last night. I’m sure they’ll want to check on you,”  Zylphia  explained. “I have a few things to take care of while they’re here. If you need me for anything, and I mean anything, I’ll be here for you. You can call or text me, and I’ll come running, alright?”  

Tanith smiled at her protective nature.  Zylphia  had always been this way, overly defensive where Tanith was concerned, but it still made Tanith happy to know she cared so much. “Alright. Thanks, Zylphia,” she grinned.  

Zylphia  pressed a kiss to Tanith’s forehead and walked from the room, leaving Tanith alone. She wished her mother would have been able to stay longer, but she knew  Zylphia  had other business to attend to, and she didn’t want to keep her. She could always distract herself by spending time with her friends if need be. That would probably be better for Tanith, her roommates, and for  Zylphia  in the long run, which was an extra bonus.  

Tanith only had to sit in the silence for two or three minutes before a knock came at the door. “Come in!” she exclaimed. It was the loudest she had been in weeks. The start of the school year was already having strange impacts on her life.  

The room was overflowing and crowded seconds later. Luce, Helena, and Iris were leading the pack. They were much better than they had been yesterday, as they didn’t look ragged at all. Tanith had been unconscious while they were recovering, but she had heard from  Zylphia  they had been injured in the fight as well. Tanith was relieved to see they were doing well.  

“How are you doing?” Luce asked, taking the chair Zylphia had been sitting in up until her departure.  

“Fine,” Tanith replied. “ Zylphia  made sure I was okay before taking her leave. What about the rest of you?”  

“I finally understood Luce’s struggles with wing pain,” Iris said with a nervous laugh. “It hurts a lot more than you’d expect.”  

“I’m with you there. It’s wicked, isn’t it?” Luce smiled.  

Carys  finally got her arm healed,” Helena continued. “It was broken like we thought. She’s okay now, but it was a bit rough at the start.”  

“I can’t go around saying I’ve never broken a bone anymore,”  Carys  huffed with a shake of her head. “It can’t be helped.”  

“It sounds like the fight was rough,” Tanith frowned. “What are we supposed to do about all of this?”  

“What do you mean?” S.M. asked, raising one  eyebrow .  

“We were attacked. It was the hooded man that Luce described before. He was dressed so similarly to the attacker from the party at Acadia. The same applies to his reinforcements. There  has to  be a connection. Do you think they’re being controlled by the same person?” Tanith asked.  

“The possibility is there at the very least. I don’t know if anybody noticed this, but it didn’t seem like the possession was dispelled. He was still wearing the hood when the police showed up. We would have seen some significant physical change if the possession was removed,” Helena agreed.   

“I don’t know what we’re going to do about all of this. It’s already turning out to be a disaster. School hasn’t even started, and we already have an enemy we don’t know the name or face of,”  Carys  groaned with a shake of her head.   

“For all we know, the changing of physical appearance was a  one time  thing. We can’t be sure. We don’t have enough experience to be positive of what’s actually going on with this possession and attacking thing,” S.M. remarked. “We’re going to need to battle more if we want to learn the full truth behind all of this.”  

“I don’t think I like that idea. It’s going to put us at risk,” Sylvia cut in with a shake of her head. “We should stay out of it if we can. We’ve gotten into enough trouble.”  

“I agree. We’re freshman at one of the most important schools in existence. We can’t let ourselves be distracted by attacks from random people who have beef with us for no reason,” Iris nodded. “We shouldn’t go around inviting danger. All it’s going to do is hurt us in the long run, and that’s the last thing we need. We’ve suffered a lot already. The battle from yesterday had us walking away with casualties. We don’t want that to repeat. We should leave this alone for the time being and let life play out as it would have if we never ran into the hooded man downtown or were attacked at Acadia.”  

“At the same time, I don’t think that’s going to be an option. I mean, we already know that the person who attacked Luce and her father prior to the school year had been harassing Sylvia for quite some time. He still hasn’t left us alone. I don’t know if he ever will. No matter how much we try to settle this with diplomacy, we don’t know if it will work. There’s always the chance that he’ll take advantage of our wish for peace and attack,” Tanith said.  

“I think we can find a healthy balance. Do no harm but take no harm,” Sophia suggested. “We won’t openly attack anyone unless they put us in danger first. Still, I think it’s a better idea to be as peaceful as possible. We shouldn’t lash out without sufficient reasoning.”  

“That sounds like a good idea to me,” Luce nodded. “I want to avoid fighting just as much as the next person, but I don’t think we’ll really have much of a choice. I mean, if our foe has been this insistent on attacking us thus far, I doubt it’s going to stop soon.”  

“Let’s go over what we know then. We can do some quiet research on the side and see if we can figure anything else out,” Tanith suggested. “Let’s talk about our main enemy.”  

“I only know that he’s a cantor from Sierra. When I was hired to take care of him, I heard as much from the teacher who called us here,” Luce replied. “He seems to have some sort of possession magic that activates when he touches people. He was able to control both Professor Ogun and the DJ from the party just by touching them. It wasn’t until I touched either one of them, whether it be physically or with my own magic, that they snapped out of it.”  

“I’ve heard some magic types are complete opposites. When put against each other, a negative reaction comes about. I won’t be able to  look into  it much without an official name for his powers, but it’s going to have to do for now. I’m going to investigate magic that opposes possession for now. Well, not right now.  Zylphia  will have my head if she hears that I was up and about before fully recovering,” Tanith sighed with a shake of her head.   

“The other two people with him seemed to be an exception just like he was. I mean, none of them snapped out of it after the fact, and the hooded man touched Luce at the end of the fight directly. I get the feeling this is more than a simple possession case,” Iris reminded her companions.  

“Then we’ll simply have to treat it as more than a simple possession case. With some digging, I should be able to figure out more about what magic it is their leader could have. It remains to be seen if the hooded man who we were attacked by is the same person as the faceless figure the DJ ran into before attacking Acadia,” Tanith said.   

“Do you know what your magic is called, Luce?” Sophia asked. “If so, then we can research it and find magic that naturally opposes it, which would lead us right to the information we need.”  

“I have no idea. I didn’t know about it until recently, and I haven’t had a chance to ask Professor Ogun what he knows. I get the feeling it has something to do with my missing mother though. My father is as normal as can be. He has no magic, and I doubt he would be able to keep that secret from me so well for all these years. I don’t think we’ll be able to go home for a few weeks, but I want to ask him in person what’s going on. He’ll dodge the question if we aren’t face to face,” Luce answered. “It’s a bit inconvenient, yes, but we don’t have many other options. I doubt my father is going to let anything like that slip over the phone. It simply isn’t in his nature.”  

“In that case, get in good with Professor Ogun. If he can really do enough research into your magic to potentially figure out what it is, we’ll be on easy street,” Iris suggested.   

“I’m going to guess it’s something rare. I’ve known Professor Ogun  as long as  I've been living with Zylphia. He’s been researching magic for years. He knows something about nearly everything. However, he was clueless where Luce’s magic is concerned. That tells me something is working behind the scenes. We have rare magic on our hands, and that could easily turn out to be a bad thing,” Tanith frowned. “We’re going to have to be careful. For all we know, the mysterious man is after that rare power. We can’t say for sure. We’re mostly in the dark right now.”  

“I’ll be sure to talk to him about it when classes start up,” Luce nodded. She couldn’t quite put a finger on it, but she already had a bad feeling about this ‘rare magic’ Tanith had been talking about. Her stomach twisted itself turbulently at the mere thought. And here she had been thinking her time at Alitia would be at least somewhat normal...  

 

Chapter Text

The next few days passed in an uneventful slog. Tanith eventually got to walking around again, though she was prone to tripping and stumbling. Luce felt more like a prisoner than a student, as the training grounds weren’t open to first years for a while. She wanted nothing more than to swing her sword around and think about all that had happened up until that point, but the universe seemed intent on forbidding it.   

The group’s schedules had finally come around as well. Luce and her friends had taken a day to walk around the school with Tanith as their guide to see where their classes were. The school ran on a two-day schedule, going back and forth between two schedules with five classes each every day. Luce had every class with at least one of her friends, which was always a positive. She hadn’t even spoken to the people outside her dorm, so it was for the best that she could stick close to them.   

Her first class was in basic spells and charms, which Luce was more than happy about. It was a relief to be able to learn to use her magic without burning herself or exploding in the process. While the second one hadn’t happened yet, it could happen at any moment with how little control she seemed to have over her light manipulation.  

Luce had this class with all her friends but  Carys  and Helena, who shared the class on the second day of the rotation. The remaining six of them all sat together and waited for the teacher to arrive  with held  breath.   

“What do you think the teacher is going to be like?” Sophia asked.  

“I’ve heard from my sister that she’s... She’s a lot,” S.M. replied with a frown. “She didn’t really explain what she meant by that, but it has me nervous.”  

“She’s not exactly wrong... Ms. Luna is... She has a lot of energy. I’ll put it that way,” Tanith told them with a sigh. “I’ll let you decide how you want to take that. She’s oftentimes more energetic than most of the students, if you can believe that. As for the way that she treats people, she’s sort of like a mother, but she can be a bit smothering if you aren’t used to her. It takes time to get into a routine with the way she behaves, but once you do, she’s pretty nice.”  

“It sounds like this year is already off to a pretty weird start,” Luce scoffed with a shake of her head. She found herself being impatient, waiting this way for the teacher. For one, she wanted to know what she was like and the sort of spells she’d be teaching. Secondly, her next class was set to be physical combat and defense, which Luce knew better than most people she knew. Her muscles were easily visible through her shirt, and that was putting it lightly. Iris, who sported a strong figure as it was, seemed normal in comparison to Luce due to the latter’s mercenary upbringing.  

Not long afterwards, the door flew open, the handle slamming into the wall nearby. Everyone in the room jumped, Luce included. She looked at the person in the doorway, assuming she was the ‘Ms. Luna’ Tanith had mentioned moments before.   

She had bright red hair tied into two ponytails, one on either side of her head. Her eyes were a deep chocolate brown. Her hair was tied up by matching pink ribbons. She had black gloves on her hands. She had a pink and white jacket that seemed to be on the smaller side. Her midriff was exposed because of this. The buttons on the jacker showed signs of having been replaced multiple times over. She had a checkered pink and white miniskirt on with long black stockings. Her boots were pink. Finally, she had a black collar with a small pink heart on it.   

“For the love of Starlight,” Luce heard S.M. mutter as she buried her face into her hands. Nobody else seemed to notice, and Luce didn’t say anything in response, but she very much agreed. S.M.’s sister and Tanith had been right. Ms. Luna was certainly a lot.  

“Welcome to class, kiddies!” the woman chirped. “My name is Adrianna Luna. I’ll be your spells teacher in your time at Alitia. It’s lovely to meet all of you! Aren’t you just adorable?”  

Tanith bit her lip as Adrianna walked past her desk, praying that Adrianna would leave her alone despite their relationship. Adrianna refused, instead looking down at the young girl. “Aw! That’s right! You’re all grown up now, aren’t you? What a cutie!” Adrianna pinched Tanith’s cheeks, making the young girl cry out in surprise. Tanith looked over to Sophia with an expression pleading for help, but Sophia was too surprised to take any actions to help her out.   

“Well, now you all know me! I want to get to know about all of you now, too!” Adrianna chirped, walking away from Tanith, much to the latter’s relief. “I’m going to take roll, and if you hear your name, be sure to call out that you’re here! Afterwards, tell us all about yourself! Give us a fact about yourself and talk about your magic!”  

Adrianna began to take roll, though Luce wasn’t really paying attention. She tried her best to match names and faces of her classmates, but her attempts were ultimately unsuccessful. She hadn’t ever been good with names anyways. It was a miracle she could keep  all of  the people in her dorm room straight, especially when Sophia, Sylvia, and S.M. all had names starting with the same letter. It was like the gods above had blessed her with the ability to remember everything.   

Luce’s name was the first one called out of her group. “Here,” she declared when Adrianna got to her.   

“I remember you! Alistair was talking all about you, saying that you’ve got crazy powers!” Adrianna commented. “Tell us! You can do it!”  

It took everything Luce had to keep from screaming at this comment. Her face had flushed bright red, and she immediately hated her inability to speak in front of people. It was likely because of her home being out in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, but Luce had never been good with speaking in front of others. Casual conversation was fine, but anything past that was out of her reach and always had been.   

“Um... My name is Luce. I’m from Amity, where I worked as a mercenary... As for my powers, I have no idea what they do. Sometimes they blow up, sometimes they don’t. I guess we’ll have to see how things turn out,” Luce said quickly, just wanting to get this over with.  

“Explode? Well, that’s certainly interesting! I’m sure you’ll be able to learn more about that stuff when you get older! I’d love to hear the details,” Adrianna grinned. When she was unable to get a response out of Luce, she shook her head with a sigh. “Moving on...”  

“Not a speaker, huh?” Iris asked with a small smile.  

“Gee, where did you get that impression?” Luce snarked with a roll of her eyes. “I’ve never been good at that stuff. I grew up in an abandoned fort from wartime, a fort that just so happens to be miles from any traces of civilization. What did you expect?”  

“Ms. Luna won’t harp on you for it. She might be a bit excessive at times, but she doesn’t deliberately act mean to her students,” Tanith hissed next. “Now, we should probably focus. She’s relaxed most of the time, but I can assure you that she isn’t someone you want to be angry with you.”  

“Sophia Greeves?” Adrianna questioned.  

Sophia nodded and raised her hand. “Present,” she said with an innocent grin.   

“Tell us about yourself, Sophia,” Adrianna instructed.   

“I’m from Fortunia. It's far away from Millennia, but it’s still a nice place. It’s a realm of nature, which would explain where my powers come from. On top of that, I’m a pretty good healer, if I do say so myself,” Sophia told the class. “I want to do my best to get along well with the rest of you and to improve my powers. I hope we can become friends.”  

“Aren’t you a sweetheart?” Adrianna asked with a smile of her own.   

Sophia giggled and blushed in response, but she didn’t say anything as a reply.  

“Moving right along...” Adrianna said. She called out a name Luce didn’t recognize, and she went back to spacing off. She’d probably figure out these names later on anyways, so it wouldn’t be that big of a deal if she didn’t listen, right?  

“Sana Maestre?” Adrianna declared next.  

“I go by S.M.,” S.M. told her bluntly as a substitute for saying she was present.   

“I like that. It’s all cool and stuff,” Adrianna smiled. “Tell us about yourself, then. Where are you from? What are your powers like?”  

“I can control geothermal conditions,” S.M. announced solemnly.   

Silence controlled the room for a few seconds in response. S.M. let out a sigh before explaining. “Hot rocks. I control hot rocks.”  

The tension in the classroom vanished following her explanation. Everyone who had previously been confused seemed to understand once again. Adrianna seemed relieved herself.   

“I can control rocks and volcanoes, but anything that’s purely fire-based is out of my reach,” S.M. continued. “That’s the easy way of  explaining  it at least. There are all sorts of other technical things that go with it, but I’m going to take the easy route here.”  

“You know, your initial explanation reminded me of Alistair. Well, he’ll be Professor Ogun to all of you. You’ll have him later on. He’s a teacher and the leader of magical research here at Alitia. He runs the library too, because he apparently has enough free time to do all of that. He’s a big nerd into a bunch of technical terms. It isn’t bad though. I think he’s kind of adorable,” Adrianna admitted with a smile.   

Luce didn’t say anything about Adrianna’s seeming confession of love. Sylvia looked over at them with an expression of pure horror, which made Luce snicker. It was as if she had never seen romance in her life. Even if it probably made her a bad person, Luce would be lying if she said it wasn’t hilarious in its own unique way.   

“Well, I’ll stop talking about my fellow staff members and keep going,” Adrianna said next when she noticed the confused expressions of her students.  

“I have never seen her do that before. That was a new one,” Tanith murmured. “To my knowledge, they barely spend any time together... Plus, knowing her, I doubt she  actually has  a crush on him. I think it’s just part of her weirdness. Don’t question it. Questions lead to pain.”  

Adrianna’s mere existence seemed to terrify and confuse everybody in the room. Iris seemed to be paying full attention to the class, but aside from her, everyone had decided to look to their friends in horror to talk about Adrianna’s odd habits. Luce herself didn’t know what to make of them, but she wasn’t planning on talking to the others about it until they got back to their dorm room later on.  

Iris wound up being called next. “Here,” she announced at the call. “My name is Iris. I’m a knight back on my home world. Here, I’m going to learn how to manipulate metal magic, what people in my family have been doing for generations. I want to hone my skills so I can better protect the nobles of my home.”  

“First a mercenary, and now a knight. It seems like we have a lot of people with experience in physical fighting. The others are going to like that a bunch, that’s for sure,” Adrianna laughed. “Metal manipulation is a different type of magic, isn’t it? It’s harder to use shots of energy with metal magic. Instead, it’s much more oriented in changing other objects to fit your whimsy. I bet you’d have a field day in Millennium City.”  

Iris chuckled tensely. “I’d rather not get in trouble with the police, thank you very much,” she commented quietly, making Adrianna laugh  boisterously  before moving on.  

Even if she knew why Iris was tense, Luce remained silent. She was positive Iris had been so worried because she couldn’t forget about the incident that had taken place in Millennium City a few days prior. Even if they had come out of the battle mostly unscathed (the primary exception being Tanith, who was still stuck at  Alitia  under  Zylphia’s  orders), it had been something of a turning point for all of them. They were realizing that it wasn’t a game, what they were doing at Alita. Fights weren’t mere sparring matches. They had weight behind them, and there wasn’t any way of resetting things if somebody got badly hurt or killed.   

Luce felt her stomach tie into a knot. In the past, she had battled many different criminals. All sorts of people called mercenaries, which meant her rivals could easily be anyone. Even so, those battles felt like child’s play when compared to the possession incidents. It was enough to make her nervous, and that was putting it lightly.   

Luce was glad when Adrianna called for Sylvia to introduce herself. It meant that she was able to keep herself from thinking about the horrors of the battles they’d faced thus far, which was perfect in her eyes. She didn’t want to think about it wherever it was possible, as it only made her focus more on the stakes on the line with each and every skirmish.  

“Here,” Sylvia said simply, her head still leaned over on the desk. It had been that way ever since class had begun. Despite having slept more than enough over the past week, Sylvia still seemed exhausted, and at this point, Luce was convinced tired was a permanent state of being for Sylvia instead of being temporary like it was for most people.  

Adrianna waited for a moment before speaking again. “Go on. Tell us about yourself,” she prompted. Luce could tell Adrianna was relaxed in comparison to other teachers she had heard about as a child since she didn’t demand that Sylvia sit up properly. Instead, she seemed indifferent. Luce was fine with that. She had heard about rude teachers on TV when she was younger, and she wanted as few of them as possible.   

“I can control energy currents... Sorry if I zap anyone,” Sylvia told the class simply. “That’s it.”  

Not for the first time, Luce was hit by the irony that Sylvia was able to control energy when she generally seemed to lack it. She didn’t think that the gods cared much for discrepancies between powers and personality, but it was still an odd quirk about Sylvia. It was something to think about, she supposed.   

Adrianna continued with calling out names for the next few minutes before settling her gaze on Tanith. “Finally, we have Tanith. I know you’re here since I was picking on you earlier. Tell us about yourself. I already know most of it, but I don’t know if anybody else here does,” Adrianna smiled.   

Tanith nodded. “Um... I’m Tanith. I can control air with my magic. Y-Yes, my mother is the head teacher here. No, I don’t want to talk about it. No, I can’t get you any test answers. I just wanted to get that out of the way.”  

“Have upperclassmen messed with you because of that?” Adrianna asked.  

“You have no idea,” sighed Tanith.  

“Well, I think that we’re all finished with introductions. We have a little extra time left over, so let’s try a basic charm for the time being,” Adrianna declared. She snapped her fingers, prompting a small rock to appear on each desk in the room. “I want you to focus your energy on levitating it above the desk. Think hard about what you want it to do.”  

Tanith focused on the rock before her and made it move without even blinking. She set the rock back down a few seconds later. Luce got the feeling that she was having such an easy time with it due to her natural affinity given by her magic.  

Luce looked to the rock in front of her. She thought it would probably explode if she looked at it wrong, given how volatile her magic could get. With all the trouble it had caused thus far, she had a bad feeling about it.  

Regardless, Luce managed to set her reservations aside to focus on the rock the best she could. She thought of it lifting itself off the desk and into the air. She extended one hand out, hoping her energy would transfer from her outstretched fingers to the rock to make it float.   

Unfortunately, the rock seemed to be able to smell her insecurity. The rock did exactly what Luce feared it would. It exploded into dozens of tiny pieces, spreading out on her desk. Luce flinched as a particularly large  shard  of the stone struck her cheek. “Ow,” she grumbled, shaking her head. She pressed one hand to her injured cheek, touching the debris from the rock with her other hand. It burned with heat, making Luce sigh.   

Adrianna’s attention shifted to Luce when she saw the rock. “Oh, my,” Adrianna frowned. “Are you alright? I hope you didn’t get too hurt from that...”  

“I’m fine,” sighed Luce, shaking her head. “I guess this was going to happen sooner or later anyways. She felt unrestricted anger towards the rock, and she wanted nothing more than to throw the pieces that remained out the damn window. Sure, it would probably cause property damage, but Luce needed to get rid of her pent-up anger at the stupid stone.  

“Let me look at that,” Adrianna murmured, turning Luce’s face so she was facing her. Adrianna pushed Luce’s hair away from her cheek and observed the mark, which had formed itself into a small scratch. “Ouch.”  

Adrianna reached out her hand and pressed it up against Luce’s cheek, releasing warmth from her fingers and onto Luce’s skin. A few seconds later, the wound was gone, but Luce’s pride and morale were still as dented as before.  

“Don’t get discouraged,” Adrianna smiled, as if she was reading Luce’s mind. “We all make a few mistakes the first time through. It takes time to get used to manipulating your powers in this way. From what I’ve heard, your magic is particularly naughty, is it not?”  

Luce nodded hesitantly. “I suppose you could say that. It seems to have an attachment to exploding whenever it gets the chance,” she admitted, wishing she could yell at her magic to relax without looking like a fool in front of her classmates.  

“Later on, you’ll have a class that helps you control your powers. Don’t worry at all about it now. There are many students here who aren’t used to their magic either. You’ll get it in no time,” Adrianna assured her with a smile. “Now, let’s clean up this mess. How does that sound?”  

“Alright,” Luce agreed, swiping all the debris off her desk and into her hand. It was still warm, but it no longer burned to touch. It was too comfortable of a feeling, holding the rock pieces like that. It felt weird to think that the pieces had exploded not long before.  

Adrianna walked Luce over to the trashcan, where they discarded the pieces of the rock. “I’m sure you’ll get used to it soon enough,” Adrianna whispered to her. “For now, you should pack up your things. Class will be switching soon, and it’s best if you’re ready for when the bell rings.”  

Luce nodded and took her seat, eyeing her untouched backpack at her feet. She could feel her stomach twisting into knots as she thought more on her failures. Was she really cut out to attend  Alitia  if she couldn’t do something as simple as float a stupid  rock?  What would happen if she needed to pull off more complicated spells but found herself unable to? Battle was going to be hell if she couldn’t learn to control her powers soon.  

The bell rang out a few seconds later. Luce got to her feet, swinging her bag over one shoulder. She followed S.M. out of the room, Iris at her side. The three of them were the only ones out of the group to share their next class, which was physical defense. Luce was excited for this one, as it meant that she could shine at what she was truly good at, which was melee combat. After training for years to learn the ways of the blade, she knew what she was doing. That meant it was automatically a step above Adrianna’s class, where she had failed the first attempt to do something cool.  

Luce, S.M., and Tanith all walked towards the gymnasium where the physical combat class took place. “Don’t sweat your broken rock too much, Luce,” S.M. told Luce with an encouraging smile. “It takes a while to get used to that stuff.”  

“You were fine when you were floating it though. I mean, you didn’t make yours blow up, so just about anything is an improvement,” Luce sighed with a shake of her head. “It’s fine. You don’t need to encourage me with empty words.”  

“The first time I tried to make a rock float, I nearly caused a volcanic eruption,” S.M. said with a small laugh. “Sometimes, it isn’t good that I’m from a world of volcanoes, you know?”  

“That’s... Oh my...” Iris said in shock, her eyes as wide as saucers. “I didn’t think that was even possible... Who knew geothermic conditions could be so hostile?”  

S.M. raised her hand, making Iris laugh. “Okay, maybe you have a point there,” Iris remarked with a shake of her head.   

“Thanks for this, guys,” Luce smiled as they approached the gym. Luckily, it wasn’t far from Adrianna’s class. The trip took less than two minutes in total, which meant they had a few minutes to unwind before their next period began.  

The few students that were already in the gymnasium were talking in groups. Some were standing and others were sitting. Luce decided to claim a place over by the far wall. She sat down, prompting S.M. and Iris to follow suit.   

“It’s a shame we can’t just drag Tanith around with us. It’s best if we can hear about the class before it starts, you know?” asked Iris. “I wish that we could hear about all our classes from her before they started, but she apparently has other things to do. She knows the teachers better than any other freshman here.”  

“I guess we’re just going to have to go along with the mystery of it all without her,” Luce shrugged. After Adrianna, Luce wasn’t sure what to expect. She had been just as Tanith had described her, but she was still overall strange. What if everybody else at the school was just as strange? Luce wasn’t sure if she’d be able to survive it all. Alistair seemed normal enough, but she wouldn’t be seeing him for a while.  

“I hear the first day has a physical examination of what you can do,” S.M. frowned. “I think people on different levels go through different training to hone their skills. We'll just have to see how it goes,  though . I don’t know much about the teacher here. My sister didn’t tell me much about him.”  

“This class is going to be a bit more interesting with a mystery aspect to it. Think about it that way,” Iris shrugged. The bell rang out. “The teacher should be here soon enough... Now that the bell has rung, we don’t have much longer to wait. Your anticipation will end soon.”  

A door opened somewhere to Luce’s left. She turned her head and noticed that a door at the center of the wall to her left had been pushed open. A man walked out of it. Judging by the quick glance Luce caught at the room, it was an office of some sorts. The details were fuzzy due to distance, but she could see a desk and matching office chair.  

The man had spiky blonde hair and bright yellow eyes that sent a shiver up Luce’s spine. The irises of his eyes were black while the pupils were golden, Luce realized upon further inspection, though this only served to unsettle her further. His entire body appeared robotic aside from his head. His arms were clearly coated by metal. He had a navy vest on with a vibrant red tie. He had on dark trousers and brown shoes. From what Luce could tell, the material had been made to allow for easy movement despite the formality of his appearance.  

“That must be him,” Iris hissed to Luce and S.M., rising to her feet as she did so. “He looks different from what I expected... He’s a lot more robotic than I had anticipated...”  

“I remember my sister mentioning that, come to think of it,” murmured S.M. under her breath. “He works as the teacher here where physical combat is concerned, but he’s not the same sort of person as most of us. Instead, he’s a robot. I can’t remember the details since it’s been a while now, but apparently you get used to it pretty early on.”  

The man clapped his hands together to calm down everyone in the room. Conversations fell silent. He smiled to himself as everybody turned their attention towards him. “Hello, everyone,” he declared with a wide smile. “It’s nice to see you all so excited today! My name is Gensai. I’ll be your teacher.”  

Chatter ignited once again, though Luce’s group remained silent. Instead, they all focused intently on Gensai, waiting for him to answer some of their questions, such as where his robotic appearance came from or why he seemed to lack a surname.  

Gensai  frowned and clapped once again, bringing all conversation to a close in a matter of seconds. “Allow me to answer a few of your questions. Yes, I am partially a robot. No, I am not trying to  rise up  and overtake the world. I don’t have enough time in my daily schedule to plan a revolution in which I overthrow  the human race . No, I don’t have a last name. You can call me  Gensai . I’m not going to make you use formalities around me,”  Gensai  declared, pacing back and forth in front of the door to his office as he spoke. “Now that we have all of that out of the way, it’s time for roll. I know it’s boring, but I need to start matching names with faces sooner or later, and this is the best way to handle it. Be sure to speak up. I won’t be able to hear you very well with how far away some of you are. It’s a downside to how large this gym is.”  

Gensai  went on to call most of the names of the students in the gym. Luce’s party was quiet most of the time, only saying something when their names had been called. S.M. expressed her preference in name when her name was spoken, but aside from that, they only said ‘here’. Nothing much had happened, making it come off as rather boring, but Luce got the feeling the pace would pick up more when they got into actually fighting.  

When  Gensai  finished, he clicked his pen shut and set down the clipboard with the name list against the wall. “And now that we’ve got roll call out of the way, it’s time to get into the genuinely interesting things now. Yay!”  Gensai  raised his hands above his head in a cheery way, but nobody seemed to share his joy. Luce smiled to herself, but she made no other outward display of her excitement.  

Gensai  awkwardly put his hands down at his sides and shook his head. “Anyways, I’m going to put you all through tests of your physical strength today. We’re going to go into groups of five or so for this. I’m not trying to embarrass you in front of your classmates or anything, so don’t worry about that. Instead, I want to make sure that I know what I’m dealing with here. I want to make sure I’m not pushing you past your limits or anything,”  Gensai  explained. “There are about five tests we’re going to be taking care of. They should all be done by the time the period ends, and if all goes well, we won’t need to go over into our next period in two days.”  

Gensai  called out the first five names for the tests. Since Luce’s surname was near the beginning of the alphabet, she wound up being in the first group. Her friends would have to wait for another fifteen or so minutes before they could get started on their tests, so she would be going at it alone. While it was unsettling at first, Luce reminded herself that physical strength was where she excelled. After training for years under her father, she had learned many things about how to use a sword and to manage her strength otherwise. Her upbringing as a supposed  leath  had done much more for her than her magical training had so far, which meant that she was going to be alright. It had been a while since she had been given a chance to stretch and show what she was capable of anyways. Perhaps now was her big chance.  

Luce stretched out one arm as she walked over to  Gensai  with four other girls. She rolled her neck as he began to speak. “Alright,”  Gensai  started. “Here’s what we’re going to do...”  

Chapter Text

Luce took her seat back on the ground after finishing up the tasks  Gensai  had put forth. She had gone through five tests, each one meant to explore a different aspect of physical ability, whether it be stamina, flexibility, strength, speed, or technique. Luce had done well in all subjects due to her previous experience with all these topics. Her life as a mercenary was already turning out to be more helpful than she ever could have anticipated. In the running test meant to explore stamina, Luce had gone on for longer than anybody else in the class, leaving countless people staring with wide eyes. It was nothing to her, but it seemed to impress the others.  

S.M. and Iris were just as impressed when Luce returned to them. “Damn,” S.M. said simply. “I had no idea you had that in you.”  

“I guess my years of training are starting to pay off,” Luce laughed. “Anyways, it’s time for one of you to head up.”  

Sure enough,  both of them  were called to take part in the next group. There was a large gap in surnames between G and L, so both S.M. and Iris were in the testing set to follow. S.M. had an unreadable expression on her face, but Iris seemed determined. The latter stretched one arm above her head before bending backwards and placing her hands against the wall. S.M. watched blankly. She didn’t seem to be looking forward to this examination.  

It was over before they knew it though. Iris had done incredibly on the speed, technique, and stamina tests, nearly matching Luce’s high score on the running segment. Her time with a lighter blade meant that her strength was lessened, but she was faster than Luce was because of it.  

S.M. seemed to be the opposite of Iris. She was much more flexible and had high strength levels with solid technique as well. She seemed to be able to throw a pretty decent punch, as the sound from when she hit a training dummy echoed throughout the gymnasium. It caught Luce off guard, as she never would have anticipated S.M. to be the type to have such a strong arm.  

As the third group got up to do the test, S.M. and Iris sat back down with Luce. “That was fun, I suppose,” Iris shrugged. “I didn’t like the flexibility thing though. I suppose it’s a curse that I never stretched much in gym as a kid.”  

“You’re pretty fast though,” Luce pointed out. “Everybody has different strengths. It’s fine.”  

“I somehow get the feeling that we’re going to be the most physical capable out of the three of us,” S.M. commented. “I mean, Sylvia spends all her time sleeping, and the twins are on the scrawny side.”  

“I would have to agree. Tanith and Sophia are lacking in muscle as well,” Iris nodded. “Maybe we can be each other’s sparring partners. It sounds fun to me, assuming you two are up for it.”  

“I don’t do swords,” S.M. told them bluntly. “I’ve never been good with them. If I had to pick a witness, I would go with brass knuckles or something. I might as well capitalize on my good arm.”  

“Axes are larger weapons that, while not quite as accurate, they’re good for high strength levels,” Luce pointed out. “My father is pretty good at using them, though I think he prefers using swords at the end of the day. I can’t blame him. It’s his manifestation to be good with the blade. Why would he bother going away from that when it’s his natural ability?”  

“Did you learn how to use that at all?” S.M. asked.  

Luce shook her head. “He said he would teach me one day, but we never got around to it. I’m terrible with them anyways. Besides, it might be for the best. I’ll have to put all my time right now into mastering this picky light magic of mine. I can’t have it spontaneously combusting for much longer if we want to get out of this school alive,” she sighed. “I can’t be focusing on another weapon when my magic is being as difficult as it is.”  

“It must be rough being thrown around like this,” Iris said. “I mean, you thought you were a leath for most of your life, yes?”  

Luce nodded. “Yeah, I did. I thought I had inherited my father’s manifestation of being good with a sword. It would make sense since manifestations are genetic most of the time, but in the end, I turned out to be a mage. If I’m being perfectly honest, I wouldn’t be here if my magic didn’t completely fascinate one of the teachers. That’s why I’m here. He wants to study my powers and learn what they’re about.”  

“You would probably be at Acadia otherwise,” S.M. said.  

“Maybe. I could have always stayed with my mercenary group. I’ve been with them  as long as  I can remember. Ever since arriving at  Alitia , everything’s been moving so quickly. I suppose I’m going to have to get used it sooner or later, but it’s going to take some time. After all, it’s like getting whip lash going from a  leath  background to a mage future so quickly,” Luce commented.   

“I think you’ll fall into it soon. Once you can fall into a routine with your powers, you’ll be fine. It’s not hard once you get past that. I mean, once I figured out how to not blow up the universe with a volcanic eruption, I was okay. You’ll be there too,” S.M. assured her.  

“I might see if I can meet up with Professor Ogun after school. Maybe he can give me a hint about where my powers come from. It’s going to be a work in progress for a while since neither of us know where to start but getting anywhere is progress. There’s no place to go but up and all,” Luce shrugged. “It’ll be easier to fight off the hooded figures once I figure out what I’m doing.”  

“There’s a class here that teaches how to use your magic, apparently,” Iris told her. “I don’t know how much help it’s going to be, but it might be worth looking into. After all, if it helps with usage, that  could  teach you control.”  

“It’s sort of about energy conservation,” S.M. explained. “It’s teaching you how to use your magic without running yourself down after time. Fighting for long periods of time can wear down your power, and if you’ve transformed, it can cause you to revert. Magic usage helps you to conserve your energy for as long as you need it, though I suspect control is part of that. If you’re using smaller attacks that are easier to control, you’ll conserve energy.”  

“All I’m hearing right now is that I have a lot to learn,” Luce laughed.  

The bell pierced the air a few seconds later. The three girls got to their feet. The class period had flown by a lot faster than they had anticipated. Luce stretched out before picking up her bag. “I think I’m headed to the library now. What about you two?” she asked.  

“I’ve got magic usage, speaking of,” Iris replied.   

“Magical combat here,” S.M. answered.  

“Damn. Guess I’m alone on this one,” Luce sighed with a shake of her head. “Well, that is unless the twins have something with me. I haven’t seen either one of them all day, so I haven’t had the chance to ask them what they have. Oh, well. I’m sure I’ll figure it out soon enough.”  

“Well, I’ll see you later,” S.M. said. She waved and headed for the door to the gymnasium. Iris waved to Luce before following her out.  

Luce stretched out one more time before leaving through the other doors. The library was apparently on the opposite side of the building when compared to the gym, which wasn’t exactly convenient for her, but she would make it work.   

Luce hurried through the hallways to reach the library, only stumbling in just as the bell rang. She glanced around the library, praying somebody from her dorm was in that class with her. She couldn’t remember for the life of her if the twins would be in there with her, but she soon enough got her answer.  

Helena and  Carys  were sitting at a table in the back corner of the library.  Carys  was tapping her manicured fingers against the table mindlessly while Helena looked down at her phone. It wasn’t until after Luce sat down that they noticed she was there.  

“I hope it’s alright that I sit here,” Luce said with a small smile, dropping her backpack onto the floor beside her.  

“I’m glad to see you here!” Helena smiled. She tucked her phone back into her book bag (which was a messenger style unlike Luce’s). “I was getting worried you weren’t going to make it.”  

“The run from the gym to here is not one I’ll be looking forward to making. I’ll put it that way,” Luce sighed with a shake of her head. “Hopefully I’ll get used to it after a while.”  

Luce looked over to  Carys  next, hoping she’d have something to say to add to the conversation.  Carys  raised an eyebrow. “What?” she asked harshly.   

“Nothing,” Luce grumbled with a shake of her head. She shouldn’t have expected anything less from the resident drama queen.  

Carys  pulled out her own phone and began tapping at the screen as the teacher entered the library. Luce was pleasantly surprised to see it was Alistair. This would give her a perfect opportunity to ask him about what he knew about her magic, assuming he had figured anything out. Luce was just as in the dark as ever, but it still wouldn’t hurt to ask him. He was the bookish type and had likely started his research by then.  

“Welcome, students!” Alistair exclaimed, making everyone scramble to put their phones away before they were caught. Alistair didn’t seem to notice, or if he did notice, he didn’t care. “Welcome to the library. It’s a glorious place, wouldn’t you agree?”  

Nobody said anything in response. Students looked at each other silently, waiting for one of them to speak up and give him an answer. It seemed no one was brave enough to tell him that they didn’t want to be there. Luce was genuinely interested, though she seemed to be alone. This was her chance to get Alistair alone to ask him about her magic.  

“This is where your magical research class will be taking place,” Alistair continued, starting to pace back and forth slowly in front of the students. “You see, the best place to learn from would be the past. I doubt many of you have had magical history yet, but you’ll get there soon enough. Throughout the past, many mages have shared the same powers. No magic is fully unique. There is always someone who has manipulated the same elements in the past.”  

“I think mine is unique,” Carys grumbled under her breath, making Helena giggle to herself.  

“In magical research, we take the resources we have to look back at the past and mages who have used your same powers before. It can help you hone your manipulation of your given magic. You can learn new techniques from historical figures who share magic with you,” Alistair continued, either not hearing or choosing to ignore Carys’ snide remark.  

“It’s not the sort of class where you have tests or anything, as there isn’t much you can do to put this sort of thing on a test. Instead, what you learn here will help you improve in your other classes. You can apply methods of usage in your other classes. Think of it as something of a study hall with a purpose. I know you’ll all have study hall eventually, but I’m sure you understand what I mean,” Alistair smiled. “There isn’t much to say about this class, if I’m being perfectly honest.”  

“Then why do we have to take it?” Carys complained softly with an eye roll.  

“Because, young lady, it will help you in the future,” Alistair responded, making  Carys  jump when she realized he had heard her. “Here at Alitia, we prioritize preparing our students for the future that awaits us. It’s part of my job to make sure that you know what you’re doing when we stop teaching you and release you into the world. You are the most talented students in the universe. It’s why you’re here at the Millennium Six. The future rests in your hands.”  

“How are we going to be starting today?” another student asked. Luce didn’t recognize her, but she internally noted that she had dark hair and matching eyes.  

“You’re going to look into your magic and discover its official name,” Alistair explained. “There are many charts regarding magic. While multiple mages may have manipulation over water, there are different variations, such as being a cantor or witch. That changes your mastery over the given element.”  

Alistair snapped his fingers, causing a chart to appear in his hands. He spread it out on the table before him. “For example, a mage with fire manipulation would look at this chart to see specifically what they can do. By answering the simple questions, you'll eventually come to the official title of your magic. From there, you can  look into  history and discover other mages who shared your magic. You can learn more once you have the true name of your magic,” he explained.   

Alistair gestured to a shelf behind him, which was filled to the brim with scrolls tied up by worn yet elegant red ribbon. “There are the charts. They’re organized in alphabetical order. Please, put them back after you’ve finished, and be gentle so as not to break them. I leave you to it,” he announced. He rolled up the chart he had been using before leaving it on the table for a student to pick up.  

Luce got to her feet and went to pick up a chart when Alistair called her name. “Luce?” he asked, making her look over to him. “Would you come and speak with me for a moment?”  

Luce shared a brief glance with Helena, who gave her a pair of thumbs-up, before walking over to Alistair. She had been waiting for this moment, but she still felt her heart skip a beat in her chest.   

Alistair walked over to his desk, which was out in the main area of the library near the checkout. He took his place behind the light brown wood before looking up at Luce. “I know you don’t know much about your magic, but I’m going to help you find out everything I can,” he smiled. “To start, I would like you to answer a few questions about what you’ve figured out so far. I’ve heard you’ve already seen a few battles with your magic at your side.”  

Luce shrugged. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.” While she had gotten into a few fights up until that point, she hardly would have called them such. They seemed more like beatdowns when looking back in reflection, given how badly she and her friends had failed. The first one had caused an entire school to be thrown into chaos and the second resulted in her friends being horribly injured and traumatized.  

“What patterns have you noticed in your magic?” Alistair asked. “You must have caught onto something odd happening. Is there anything in particular your powers do in routine when you use them.”  

“I mean, they seem to be based around light. I can fire bright energy beams, though they seem to backfire more often than not. It’s like I have more than I know what to do with,” Luce sighed.  

“Magical power increases with age. Children have the least magic, and by your age, most people have gotten together much magical strength. If you can teach kids to control magic on their own from a young age, it becomes less of an issue later on. You’re starting from square one where most kids begin, but you’re still new to it all. You have power for your age but not the control,” Alistair explained.  

“I think I get it. I just need to get my control to eventually match up with the power level I’m at now,” Luce nodded. “That can’t be too bad. You know, assuming it st ops making things explode. That’s a good level to get past sooner rather than later.”  

“How many incidents of that have you seen so far?” Alistair asked. He pulled out a notebook and began to write in it, likely keeping notes of what Luce told him.  

“Pretty much every time I use them. They don’t want to stay tame. It’s annoying, to say the least,” Luce sighed. “I’m hoping somebody here will be able to help me keep them in check.”  

“It might be worth looking into some dampeners,” Alistair suggested. “They’re devices meant to calm the flow of magic. Most of the time, they’re used by government officials to keep criminals from lashing out with their powers, but since your magic is so volatile, you should try and lessen its strength until you can keep them under control.”  

“Dampeners. Got it,” Luce nodded.  

“If they’re based around light, then we can probably refer to one of the charts I’m having the others look at. If we can find any clues, that will mean we’re making progress,” Alistair suggested. He snapped, and one of the charts flew from its place on the nearby shelf and over into his waiting fingers. He unfolded it, setting the ribbon off to one side. “Light magic... Hm...”  

Luce was surprised at how much detail there was on the chart. There were roughly ten different end results divided between three different branches. Two of them were split off into four while the other one only had two different results.   

“Why does this one only have two possible outcomes?” Luce asked, pointing to the offending area.  

“That’s Starlight. It’s a complicated subject, to say the least, and one I’m sure you’ll hear more about in your magical history class,” Alistair explained. “I’m sure you’ve heard the story of Starlight and Moonlight, yes?”  

Luce nodded. “Yeah. One of the magical communities on Earth had twins named Starlight and Moonlight who could turn into dragons. When the community was ravaged, they left Earth behind and created Magia as a safe place for the people like them,” she answered. “Starlight had manipulation over light magic while Moonlight could use dark magic.”  

“Exactly. Starlight and Moonlight died many centuries ago after making our fair dimension. However, they live on to this day in the form of the Keepers. Reincarnation takes place once the previous Keeper dies. Starlight and Moonlight’s Keepers can only take up light magic and dark magic respectively. When a new Keeper is born, the news typically spreads quickly, and no Keepers have been reincarnated in over forty years,” Alistair told her. “The previous Keepers were Dawn Shira and  Ragnor  Malefician, who were reincarnated the same year.”  

“Dawn?” Luce echoed. Her memories were cast back to what  Zylphia  had asked her at the start of the year, if she knew anything about a woman named Dawn. Part of her thought this was merely coincidence, though a louder voice in the back of her mind screamed otherwise. Without any evidence, she couldn’t say anything though, so she was silent.   

“Yes. Dawn Shira was a student in these halls when she was your age, if you can believe that. She went to  Alitia  for the full three years, though at the end of her third year, she was wrapped up in battle against  Ragnor Ragnor  attempted to kill her for her position as the Keeper of Starlight as his first step of conquest. Dawn ultimately defeated him, and it is assumed that  Ragnor’s  reincarnation was hidden from the world as a way of paying reparations for his actions. By not allowing his successor to roam freely, trouble was avoided,” Alistair continued.  

“Wow... I see,” Luce murmured.  

“It’s simply not possible for anyone in this building to be the Keeper of Starlight, I’m afraid. Dawn is still alive, at least that’s what we believe. She vanished shortly after her battle against Ragnor. Since no body has been found, we think that she still yet lives somewhere, likely on Amity. Amity is the realm of Starlight, after all, just as its opposite, Enmity, is the realm of Moonlight. We have no full evidence as to where she may be, but soon enough, she’ll be found. I have faith,” Alistair finished.  

Luce continued to stare down at the chart with a frown. She hadn’t expected to learn more about Dawn here of all places, but she wasn’t objecting. The more she could learn, the better. It would help her figure out more about why Zylphia seemed to think they were connected.  

“Anyways, I apologize for being so long winded. The point is, nobody here could possibly have the power of Starlight. The Keeper is still alive,” Alistair finished. “That’s why this branch only has two endings. The Keeper can only be a wizard or enchantress. That's the way it has always been.”  

“I’ve heard that Starlight can repel Moonlight,” Luce frowned. “The magic grows hostile when nearby one another, I think.”  

“Yes, that’s true. It isn’t uncommon for opposite magical practices to repel one another. For example, some fire repels water and vice versa. Wind and earth repel one another. Light and dark magic don’t get along. I suspect that your magic comes down to the final example. Your magic seems to be light oriented, which is different from fire, as I’m sure you know. It would explain how you were able to expel the dark based possession of the assailant at the Acadia celebration,” Alistair told her. “If we can find the answers to these questions proposed on the chart, we can learn more about your magic and discover the specific branch. You’ll learn how to control your magic soon after, if all goes according to plan.”  

The bell pierced the air a few moments later. Luce jumped in surprise. She hadn’t realized how long she and Alistair had been talking about Starlight and Moonlight. A glance at the clock told her such loud and clear. Perhaps they were more talkative than they had realized.  

“I apologize for keeping you for so long,” Alistair said with a small smile. “Class dismissed. It’s time for you to head to the cafeteria for lunch. I’ll be seeing you tomorrow, Luce. Feel free to drop by anytime if you want to think more on what magic you possess.”  

“Thank you,” Luce smiled, giving him a small nod. She walked back over to where Carys and Helena were sitting. Carys was playing on her phone while Helena rolled up the scroll she had been reading from.  

“Well, are we ready to go?” Luce asked. “It’s time for lunch, and I don’t know about you two, but I’m starving.”  

Helena nodded. She grabbed her bag and got to her feet, stretching one arm above her head as she did so. “Let’s get going, Carys. I know you’re bored in here. Maybe you’ll feel better when we get to the cafeteria.”  

Carys  didn’t even look up from her phone as she pulled her things together. “Yeah, yeah. It’s better than sitting in here,” she groaned with a shake of her head. “I’m glad it’s finally over. I don’t want to be here.”  

“Then let’s go,” Helena smiled. She headed for the door,  Carys  and Luce  following after  her. It took  Carys  a few nudges from Luce’s direction to start walking at a decent pace so as not to slow their arrival at the cafeteria.  Carys  glared at Luce a few times, but Luce didn’t let it get under her skin. It seemed that was just in  Carys ’ nature.  

Luce seized a seat at a table once they arrived in the cafeteria. Tanith, S.M., and Sylvia all walked over to her next and joined her around the circular table. “How have you been doing?” S.M. asked. “You’re still alive after having a class with the pest, so that’s a positive.”   

Luce rolled her eyes. “Don’t let  Carys  hear you say that. You’ll get in trouble, and the last thing we need to do is get into an argument about anything. It’ll only make this year an unpleasant experience,” she told S.M. sternly, though she couldn’t exactly blame S.M. for being so harsh on Carys. After all, her attitude was far from pleasant, and she seemed to be bitter more often than positive. It was something Luce would have to get used to for sure.  

“I’ll hold back, fine,” sighed S.M.   

Sophia and Iris came to the table next. Both were holding trays in their hands.  Carys  and Helena followed soon after, prompting the other four to get up and get their own food. They had time to spare during lunch since it was  as long as  one of their other classes, or an hour in length. It gave them time to talk about what they had been through thus far.   

Luce got a chicken sandwich with an apple and a water bottle before returning to the table. She took a hefty bite out of the apple as she sat down. She was the last one to get back despite having the simplest meal. She figured it was because she wasn’t familiar with the structure of the cafeteria yet and ignored it.  

“How have your days been?” Tanith asked. She spooned a diced pear into her mouth using a small spoon. “I bet it’s been better than mine.”  

“Why? What’s happening?” Sophia asked.  

“Because I know all these teachers, they seem intent on babying me. I always figured it would be good that they knew me ahead of time, but it isn’t turning out that way at all. I know it isn’t on them since they don’t know it’s embarrassing, but it’s probably going to make a prime laughing stock for a while,” Tanith sighed.   

“Think about it this way. If anybody bothers to mess with you, they’ll be as good as dead since your mom is the head teacher,” Iris pointed out. She chugged from her can of fizzy cherry soda.  

“I guess that’s true,” Tanith shrugged. “But enough about me. How have all of you been doing?”  

“Apparently, when I punch things, I scare people out of their mind,” S.M. smiled. “I didn’t realize how strong my arm was until I hit physical defense class today.”  

“I don’t think any of the teachers like me,” Carys sighed. “I don’t get it. How could they hate me? I’m delightful!”  

Nobody dignified that remark with a response. Iris looked down at her hands silently. “I guess it’s been going fine. All the teachers so far seem pretty nice. I don’t have much of a reason to dislike them, so I think they’re alright,” she said simply.  

“I think the librarian, who doubles as the magical research teacher, is going to help me figure out what my powers are made of,” Luce told them. “We’re going to look through some charts involving light magic to see if anything matches up to the volatile mess that likes to explode itself from my hands every once in a while.”  

“That’s good. The sooner you figure it out, the better,” Sophia grinned.  

Everybody looked over to Sylvia next, who was drinking a smoothie silently. She barely looked conscious, and it wasn’t until S.M. tossed some water at her (which had previously been condensation on her glass) that she started to snap out of it. “ Wh -What?” Sylvia asked, glancing around in a panic. “Has anybody died?”  

“No, nobody’s died. I don’t know why you’d think somebody died,” Iris said in shock. “Are we sure Sylvia is okay? She seems to be halfway out of her mind to me!”  

“I’ll be fine,” Sylvia groaned. She seized a chicken nugget from her plate and dunked it in mustard before putting it into her mouth. She repeated the process with the second half of the nugget before slumping over to rest her head on her arms on the table.  

“Anyways, is there anything else we want to talk about regarding today?” Sophia asked. “I think we’ve gone over just about everything.”  

“After today, I think we could use some time to relax, but I don’t think we’re going to get it. After all, Headmistress  Satim  still wants us to stay within the Millennium SIx ring, and Tanith isn’t allowed to leave campus,” Iris admitted.   

“Maybe we can watch a movie or something. I mean, on the first day of school, none of us should have any homework. We’ll have the time for it,” S.M. suggested.  

“That sounds delightful,” Sophia smiled.  

“I’d be down for that,” Helena nodded.  

“Then let’s make it a date,” Tanith declared. “Of course, in order to watch a movie in our dorm tonight, we need to find a way to get through the main part of the day first. The afternoon might have fewer classes, but I’ve heard it can drag on just like mornings since you’re closer to reaching freedom. Alitia may be exclusive, but boredom still happens.”  

“I’m just happy I have someone in all my classes,” Luce admitted. “I’m not exactly a sociable person, s it’s halfway a miracle that I even found you guys to hang out with.”  

“We should focus on eating though,” Sophia cut in. “With how much we’ve been talking, we aren’t going to finish our food at this rate.”  

Luce grinned at the comment and took another bite of her apple. Despite the rocky patches here and there, she was already starting to like it at Alitia. She hoped the rest of the year would follow up on this happiness well.   

Chapter Text

After lunch ended, Luce trekked across the school to a large, open classroom with a high ceiling. There were three rows of desks, and she took a seat in the final row. Supposedly, this class was supposed to be for metamorphosis. While magic was often based off a specific subject, there were some things all mages were capable of, such as telekinesis, a few other basic charms, and metamorphosis. Luce didn’t know exactly how helpful metamorphosis was going to be to her when she could barely control her magic as it was. It would probably just add another pile of tasks onto her mountain, which was the last thing she needed.  

Sylvia came into the room not long after. She looked as exhausted as ever, rubbing her eyes as she shuffled over to where Luce was sitting. Sylvia didn’t even bother to grace her with a greeting before laying her head down on the desk. She was snoring and unconscious in a matter of seconds. Luce wasn’t exactly surprised, given Sylvia’s track record for being able to sleep pretty much anywhere, but it was a bit unsettling to be the weird kid in the back sitting next to a sleeping classmate.  

Luce was praying internally for the bell to ring, signaling the start of class, as it would force Sylvia to wake up and face the rest of the day. With Sylvia asleep next to her, Luce felt like she was alone despite physically having other people around. Granted, Luce had always liked her time alone, but this didn’t exactly make her happy.   

She wound up pulling out her phone underneath her desk to check if she had gotten any new messages. Luce smiled when she saw one from Lianna telling her to have a nice day. Luce responded with a brief thanks before tucking her phone back into her backpack. The bell rang out not long after, startling Sylvia out of her brief slumber, much to Luce’s satisfaction.  

The other people in the room continued to chatter despite this though, talking about how their classes had gone so far and what they had to get up to next. Since nobody was nearby, Luce didn’t have this luxury, as despite having just woken up, Sylvia had gone back to sleep. It was odd how easily she could close her eyes and descend into slumber. She wanted to know how she could do that, but Luce feared it would be odd to ask something like that so soon after meeting her, so she held back for the time being.  

It took a few more minutes for the teacher to arrive inside the classroom. It was a man, and as was expected, Luce didn’t recognize him. He had short blonde hair that was left unkempt. His eyes were brown, and he looked closer to Luce’s age than her other teachers thus far. He had freckles, she realized upon closer examination. He had a white shirt that was untucked under a brown jacket. He had brown trousers to match with black shoes.   

He took a seat behind the desk sitting by the door and tapped the wood to silence all the conversations taking place. “Good,” he smiled once silence overcame the room. “Glad to see you know when quiet is needed.”  

He stretched his arms up before kicking his legs onto the desk. Luce blinked in surprise, not believing her eyes. To her knowledge, the teachers of  Alitia  were the best in their fields and were serious about their work, but here she was, sitting in front of a strange man who was more casual than half her roommates.  

“I’m  Vitellary  Cremond. I’ll be your metamorphosis teacher for this year, and, well, every year you’re here at Alitia. I’m one of a kind, the only teacher of such an amazing subject at this fine academy,” the man explained. “It’s nice to meet you all. I’ll call roll really quick, and then we’re going to get right into a practical activity! I doubt anybody here will object to that. I mean, everybody likes a little fun. It’s a break from the constant syllabus slog that most teachers throw at you on the first day.”  

Roll call seemed to pass by much faster than in other classes.  Vitellary  didn’t bother to assign seats to any of the students, which was fine with Luce. She didn’t really mind either way, so long as she was near Sylvia to hold onto some semblance of familiarity. If she could sit where she wished, then it would be no issue, which she was also okay with.  

Once he was finished,  Vitellary  shoved his clipboard back into his desk and got to his feet. “Alright! It’s time to have some fun! I’m sure you all know the basic idea behind metamorphosis. It’s the study of changing your physical appearance to fit your own ends. Just try to be responsible with it. I know it’s not hard to get into trouble with other people if you abuse this power of yours,” he declared.  

Vitellary  closed his eyes for a moment. A subtle glow surrounded him as he changed shape from a person into a frog. He hopped around the room for a moment before settling on the wall, sticking to it. He closed his eyes a second time and changed into a horse that was still stuck to the wall before jumping down to the ground, changing into a cat on the way down. He shifted back into a person once he had landed, raising his arms into the air with a wide grin. “Pretty cool, right?” Vitellary asked.  

Applause erupted from the students in the classroom. A few whistles pierced the air as well. Sylvia’s eyes were as wide as saucers as she clapped. Luce could only stare in shock. It seemed effortless for Vitellary, so maybe this class wouldn’t be as hard as she had been anticipated. Perhaps magic wouldn’t be as hard to master for her as she had thought...  

“Now, I won’t be making you do something as complicated as that on your first day. However, I personally find that reading from a textbook each day is impressively ineffective when it comes to changing the way you look. It’s all about practice. If you read about getting good at something, it doesn’t make you good. You  actually have  to practice it and put your skills to good use.  That being said, I  want you all to try and change into a basic animal. It’s a good place to start from. Focus on changing your shape into said animal. Imagine yourself changing. Close your eyes if you  have to . The change may come slowly at first, but you’ll get used to it after a while. Once you leave  Alitia , the goal is to have you changing back and forth like it’s nothing,”  Vitellary  told everyone. “If you have any questions, please, feel free to ask, but you should try it out on your own before begging for a tutorial. Now, get to it!”  

Vitellary  returned to his desk shortly afterwards. Chatter burst out once again. Everyone turned to different cliques to talk about what they had heard from  Vitellary  in his brief explanation of the subject.   

Luce herself looked to Sylvia, though she wasn’t sure how much good she would be. Sylvia still looked shocked out of her mind that  Vitellary  had managed so many sudden changes so effortlessly. It took her a good thirty seconds to notice that Luce was staring at her, hoping she would make conversation. “That was...” Sylvia finally began, though her sentence trailed off, and it was never finished.   

“Guess we had better make an attempt at the very least,” Luce sighed once she realized Sylvia had no intentions of finishing her thought. “He told us to close our eyes and focus on changing shape. It sounds sort of like the basic charms, but instead of making magic happen to something else, we’re our own crash test dummies. Great. That’ s exactly what I’ve always wanted.”  

Sylvia whined under her breath in response. She shut her eyes and began to concentrate her energy. A glow surrounded her, but when it did, Luce felt her energy slipping away. For the first time, she felt as tired, if not  more so than  Sylvia.   

Her hands went to her eyes as she rubbed at them slowly. Luce wasn’t entirely sure if she was truly on her feet still, as she was halfway convinced the world was swaying gently around her. She sat down once again and shut her eyes slowly. Suddenly, all thoughts of class were gone, and she only wanted to sleep, regardless of what the consequences would wind up being.  

“Sorry,” Sylvia said distantly, snapping Luce out of her trance slightly. She felt dizzy and dazed. Why was Sylvia bothering to wake her up? Luce was merciful and rarely pulled her from sleep, so why go back on their unspoken mutual agreement now? In Luce’s opinion, it was a rude move, and that was putting it lightly.  

“What are you sorry for?” Luce asked dreamily, rubbing at her eyes once again.  

“I think I zapped your energy on accident,” Sylvia told her, reaching out her hand to shake Luce awake. However, the arm didn’t feel like a human hand, but instead like something else...  

Luce was only halfway shocked when she saw Sylvia, who was now a sheep, standing before her. She thought she was hallucinating in her suddenly-sleepy daze. Why would Sylvia be a sheep in real life, after all? Sylvia was obviously a person as far as Luce knew. Well, unless Sylvia was secretly a sheep in a  trench coat , but Luce sort of doubted that given their interactions up until that point.  

“Zapped my energy...?” Luce asked, rubbing her eyes and sitting up. She stretched her arms skyward as her energy slowly began to return. “What does that mean?”  

“My energy magic can backfire sometimes,” Sylvia sighed. With another glow, she returned to her full height and was significantly less sheep-like in appearance. Luce’s energy drained away once again, and it took practically all her energy to keep her eyes open.   

“Backfire...?” Luce questioned. She wanted to sleep now more than she ever had before. Why did she have to go to class? She should have stayed in her dorm room to enjoy the afternoon. Why had she come to class when she could have just as easily gone back home to sleep? It would have been much better for her and everyone else.  

“My energy magic is often used by taking away my energy, but when I’m particularly drained, it can take away the energy of the people around me... It isn’t quite as common as taking my own energy away, but it’s still something worth noting...” Sylvia explained with a frown. “I’m sorry about that... I didn’t mean to.”  

Luce stretched her arms up once again, though she couldn’t remain upright any longer, so she leaned forward once again, placing her head on her arms as her eyes shut. She heard Sylvia distantly calling out for help from the teacher, but Luce was too dazed to hear anything specific.  

“Luce! Wake up, young one!”  

A shock spread throughout Luce’s body, making her yelp in surprise. She sat upright suddenly, glancing around for the offender who had surprised her into consciousness. “What’s going on?” Luce asked in shock. She searched around until she met eyes with Vitellary.  

He smiled awkwardly in her direction. “Sorry about that. I had to keep you up somehow. Clearly it wasn’t going to happen if you were left on your own, so I had to do my own thing,” he told her.  Vitellary  shocked her once again when she attempted to slip back onto the desk. “We’ll have to worry about this magic energy thing. I can’t have you suffering each day because her powers can be a bit volatile at times... I’ll talk to Headmistress  Satim  about finding a solution. She knows what she’s doing, so maybe she can figure out what we should do next.”  

Vitellary  walked away as Luce got to her feet. Luce stretched out more now that her energy was back. “That was weird,” she murmured under her breath. She shook her head and sighed. “I had no idea your magic could do something like that.”  

“I haven’t used it much... It’s hard to mess around with sometimes... It takes a lot out of me or a lot out of other people. I don’t like using them if possible. I don’t want to make anyone pass out whenever I need to defend myself,” Sylvia explained. “I hope we can change this soon... I don’t want to repeat this each day because my magic acts up...”  

Luce popped her neck and shook her head. “You don’t need to apologize. It’s okay. I’m tough. I’ll be fine,” she said, though she got the feeling Sylvia could see through her lie. Luce was nowhere near being a fan of having her magic suddenly drained by Sylvia’s peculiar energy powers. She certainly preferred having her own magic to use on her own. It was more comfortable for them all.  

“Why don’t you try and change shape?” Sylvia asked, rubbing at her eyes. Despite having zapped some of Luce’s energy, she didn’t seem to be more alert than she had been before. She sat back down at her desk and perched her head onto her arms. “It’s easier than you’d expect.”  

Luce nodded. She was still feeling strange from losing and gaining energy suddenly and back to back, but she was willing to try it. After all, if it was as easy as Sylvia and  Vitellary  were telling her, then she needed to make an attempt. Plus, even a small step to control her magic would be helpful. Small steps would add up eventually, and with how much work she had to get done, it would be best if she started sooner rather than later.  

Luce closed her eyes and thought of changing shape into a rabbit. It was a simple animal as far as she was concerned. She focused on the imagery of her human form shrinking into a small bunny sitting on the floor of the classroom.  

However, it backfired on her immensely, as before she could change shape, a small explosion started up in front of her chest. She saw it in her mind’s eye before she  actually saw  it. An explosion of light hit Luce head on, making her trip and fall over. Her collarbone burned from a particularly large light sphere hitting her. She groaned softly as everyone in the classroom looked over at the source of the sound.  

“Are you alright?” Vitellary asked.  

Luce nodded. “Yeah,” she grumbled, unsatisfied with her failure.  

“Please head down to Headmistress  Satim’s  office. She can check you up and make sure you aren’t hurt too badly. She’s a potent healer, you know,” Vitellary instructed.  

“Of course,” Luce nodded. She picked up her bag and began her shameful march from the classroom, wishing her classmates would stop looking at her as she made her way out. It was the first day, and she had already gotten a reputation as the weird explosion girl. Great.  

Luce wandered around for a few minutes before finding  Zylphia  in the healing classroom. On top of leading the school as its head teacher, she taught healing classes for the students of  Alitia  on the side. Her aptitude with healing was known well and had been shown to all during the Acadia fight when she helped Altina. Luce was sure Zylphia would be able to help her out, though she was certain the assistance would come with a few questions about how her injuries had forged to begin with.  

Luce was thankful the bell had rung by the time she arrived. It meant she didn’t have to walk in awkwardly on her teaching a class asking for help. She knocked on the door to the classroom hesitantly, waiting for  Zylphia  to open the door.  

She did not long after. “Hello, Luce,”  Zylphia  greeted. “I didn’t expect to see you here. I don’t have you in class until tomorrow.”  

“I-I was sent from another class,” Luce said hesitantly. She was normally confident when talking to other people, but  Zylphia  had such an aura of power about her. It was enough to scare Luce somewhat. Even her father, an imposing presence in his own right, felt like child’s play to talk to in comparison.  

Zylphia  noticed what Luce was talking about not long after. She eyed the burns on Luce’s collarbone with a frown. “What happened?” she asked, careful to be stern yet caring in her tone.  

“I was trying to change shape in metamorphosis. Let’s just say it didn’t go well,” Luce explained. “Instead of changing into an animal, I caused an explosion that burned me.”  

“And you were the only one hurt?”  Zylphia  prompted, reaching out to touch Luce’s burn with one finger. The pain began to drift away the longer  Zylphia  held contact with her skin.  

“Yeah. It was just me. It was a small explosion,” Luce replied. She felt warmth continue to flood her chest as the pain disappeared fully.  Zylphia  certainly knew what she was doing. Sophia’s skills were solid as well, but it seemed obvious she was inexperienced in comparison to Zylphia.  

“Well, there you are,”  Zylphia  said. “You can head to your next class now. Feel free to come by my office whenever you need something. I’ll be glad to help. However, I’d like you to stay out of trouble. We don’t want this incident repeating itself, yes?”  

“You’re right,” Luce nodded. “Thank you.”  

Luce darted away from the classroom’s door a few seconds later. She didn’t want to linger any longer than was necessary.  Zylphia  was still vaguely terrifying in her mystery, and Luce felt more at ease on her own in the strange school that was  Alitia  than she did at  Zylphia’s  side, as odd of a phenomenon as it was.  

Luce barely managed to stumble into her final class of the day before the bell rang. She was left breathing heavily as she entered the classroom. She glanced around, praying to have something familiar to hold onto. She wound up seeing Sophia on the other side of the room, standing far from the other crowds of students.  

Luce smiled to herself and made her way over to Sophia’s side. “Hello,” she said simply, still attempting to catch her breath after sprinting to get to the classroom on time. She knew she probably wouldn’t have been counted tardy, but she still wasn’t going to take any chances on her first day. It was going badly enough as it was, and issues with tardiness would only make things worse.  

“You look exhausted,” Sophia frowned. “What happened to you? Did you run from a bear on your way here?”  

Luce sighed as Sophia giggled. “No, nothing like that. Well, let’s just say I had an issue in my last class. I mean, I caused a miniature explosion and had to run to get my burns healed before running back here. I’m tired now,” Luce explained, letting out a sigh. “Here’s hoping we don’t have to do anything too over the top today.”  

“It’s flying class, but I somehow doubt we’ll be doing too much work today,” Sophia assured her. “After all, I don’t think anybody aside from you has earned their wings yet. I mean, if they have, we don’t know about it, at the very least.”  

“Good point. I don’t want to do more than I  have to  today. At this point, I’d just like the day to be over. After all, the sooner the day ends, the sooner I can go home and re lax... I’m sick of all that’s been going on today,” Luce grumbled, shaking her head.   

“Hopefully, you’ll be fine. Even if you  have to  do more today, think about it this way. You’re almost done for the day, which means we can go back to the dorm and have fun,” Sophia smiled.   

Luce nodded. “You have a point. Either way, we’re getting closer to leaving classes behind... I assure you I wouldn’t be complaining this much normally. I guess today simply hasn’t been agreeing with me much. It doesn’t surprise me, given that I’ve seen two explosions, and it’s only the first day,” she said.  

“Don’t worry about it. You’re fine,” Sophia told her, placing one hand on Luce’s shoulder.  

“Thanks, Sophia,” Luce smiled. Sophia had a calming aura about her, and it was much different than the way  Zylphia  made her feel. It was a relief to see a familiar face after having to face Zylphia on her own.  

“No problem,” Sophia grinned. She dropped her hand down to Luce’s to squeeze it gently as a show of comfort. Luce continued to smile at Sophia, an unspoken way of communicating thanks, as a woman entered the room.  

She had lengthy black hair that was tied into two ponytails low on her head. Her hair faded to a  navy blue  shade at the edges. She had a black dress underneath an aquamarine suit jacket. She had white tights on as well with black boots that laced up and reached just below her knees. She had a purple bracelet on her right hand and black gloves on as well.  

“Hello, everyone!” the woman chirped. “It’s nice to meet you all today. I’m Erika Linux, or as you’ll be calling me, Professor Linux. I’ll be your flying instructor here at  Alitia . We won’t be throwing ourselves right into swooping through the sky though. Let’s start off with roll call and talk about what you can expect from this class throughout the year. Today will be nice and easy. I won’t make you do anything horribly difficult on the first day. I’m simply not that type of person.”  

During roll, Luce took some time to look around the room they were in. There weren’t any seats in it, for one thing. She had been too distracted by her arrival in the classroom to notice the odd qualities of it. The ceiling was high as well. The windows on one side of the room were tall and seemed to stretch across the entire wall. They offered a nice view of the courtyard below out in the center of the school. Nobody was out there at the moment, but it was fine with Luce, as even if she couldn’t watch people, she could enjoy the environment.  

When roll ended, Erika set her clipboard off to the side. She stretched her neck out. “Alright. Before we get started, I want to know. Who in here has ever transformed into their  Isolis  form?” she asked.  

Luce raised her hand slowly. Nobody else followed suit. After a few seconds, she dropped her arm back by her side.   

“Good to hear. I’m sure you’ll hear more about this in your other classes but allow me to give you a brief history lesson on magic. Magic can be used regardless of the form you’re in, but it’s much easier to use when you’re in one of the three transformations, Isolis, Illunae, and Inlustris. Magic levels raise when in one of those three forms, and any hidden power is unleashed, making it easier to use your magic. When you transform, your magic levels rise, and in women, it creates wings,” Erika explained. “I’m sure most of you knew that, right?”  

A subtle hubbub of agreement rose up before Erika continued. “It’s basic magical knowledge. However, something that’s not quite as well known is that wings aren’t the most natural thing. It’s hard to learn how to fly. Sometimes, you can fly around based on adrenaline and desperation, but it can cause back problems if this happens excessively. Also, if you fly wrong when wings first come in, it causes back pain when you  revert back  to your normal form. Some pain is normal, but if it gets to be excessive, it’s an issue with the way you’re flying. To prevent that,  Alitia  teaches its students how to fly with proper technique.  

“I know it sounds as boring as can be. I get that. However, you need to understand that this is for your own health. Healing magic won’t be able to fix all issues. Permanent damage is much more difficult to fix. It’s much better to prevent that damage entirely by flying properly. That’s why we’re going to be meeting up here.”  

Erika leaned up against the wall. “Of course, we aren’t going to be jumping into anything quite yet. After all, only one of you  has the ability to  fly. Until then, we’re going to be having a few casual discussions about flight, but I don’t know if we’ll have enough time to do it today. Talking about flying can often get in-depth. I won’t get into anything technical for the time being, but I want you to be warned that it can be detailed when you get deeper into the rabbit hole that is learning about flight,” she told the class. “In fact, I think we’re going be done for today. Feel free to mill about for the rest of the period since it’s almost over anyways.”  

“That didn’t take long,” Luce murmured with a shake of her head.   

“I didn’t expect that,” Sophia murmured. “Are you excited for movie night later on?”  

Luce smiled. “You bet.”  

~~~~~  

It wasn’t until after the movie had ended and dinner was over and done with that Luce got a moment alone. She was playing on her phone for a few minutes before going to sleep. She was exhausted, but at the same time, she wanted a few minutes to relax. While she did like hanging out with other people, she needed time to herself in order to stay sane.  

Her phone let out a brief beeping sound. Luce hit a button on the side of her phone to turn it to vibration mode so as not to awaken the sleeping Helena nearby. Luce went to the text message section of her phone to explore what message had been sent to her.   

It was from Lianna, she realized soon after. Luce smiled to herself as she read the  message  silently:   

Lianna: Hope you had a nice day. Your father already misses you, and so do the rest of the mercenaries. Can’t wait to see you on your next break. Call me when you can. I want details. Night.  

Luce began typing her response, continuing to grin that Lianna had texted her at all.  

Luce: My day was fine, except for the occasional explosions my magic caused. It’s going to take a while before I can get better with using it, I guess. I wish I had been trained with it for years before now. Everything seems sudden in comparison, and everybody else has much more experience.  

A response came through not long after.  

Lianna: You’ll take care of it soon enough. I believe in you. You’re a fast learner. Even without  leath  aptitude, it didn’t take you long to learn how to use a sword. I’m sure you’ll become just as strong with your magic. It’s just a matter of time before you’re out there kicking ass with the best of them.  

Luce: Thanks. I hope you’re right. I’m sick of having everything blow up in my face.  

Lianna: Your father wanted me to tell you to call him  later on  this week. He wants to know what you’ve been getting up to at  Alitia . You’re settling in okay, right?  

Luce: Yeah. I get along with my roommates fine.   

Lianna: I’ve heard about some issues taking place on Millennia though. What’s going on?  

Luce: You are not going to believe this.  

It took Luce a good fifteen minutes to explain everything that she had gone through since arriving on Millennia. She told Lianna about the hooded man, the incident at Acadia, and the battle in the heart of Millennium City. It was much more information than she had originally though it was, now that she was relating the information to an outside party.   

Lianna: Sounds like you’ve been busy.  

Luce: Yeah. I’m glad to have gotten  Isolis  and all that, but I think it would be much more helpful if I could actually use my magic in a way that wouldn’t involve me blowing up.  

Lianna: Magic takes time and practice. You’ve got too much magic to know what to do with it. It’s going to take a while to get used to using, but I have faith you can pull it off. Plus, it’s better that you learn how to use it now than have it backfire on you one day while out on a mission.  

Luce: I suppose you make a good point.  

Lianna: It’s getting late for both of us. You have class tomorrow. We should both get to sleep. We can talk more in the morning if you want to.  

Luce: Good point. I’ll talk to you later.  

Lianna: Good night.  

Luce: Night.  

Luce powered her phone off shortly after sending that final text. She plugged the small device in and set it down on the table beside her bed. She shut her eyes, and it wasn’t until she had closed them that she realized she was as tired as she was.   

It didn’t take long for Luce to fall asleep. Before slipping into slumber, she thought dully of her excitement for the next day and of her dread to match it. She hoped her future days at  Alitia  would go better than the first day, as she had seen enough explosions of light to last a lifetime. If this kept up, she had no idea what she would do, but chances were she would wind up as a frequent visitor of Zylphia’s healing classroom, which was the last thing she wanted.  

Chapter Text

The next morning, Luce didn’t speak with her roommates at all before going to class. Everyone was too tired to try and force a conversation at such an early morning hour. Luce was normally an early riser, but  it  was clear that her roommates did not follow such a schedule, so she didn’t force them into a chat.  

Unfortunately, she got the feeling she wouldn’t be seeing any of them for a while. There had been a last-minute switching of classes that took S.M., who had previously been in her first class on their second day rotation, out of the period and put her into another one. In other words, Luce was going to be alone, though this was thankfully the only class that applied to.  

Luce shuffled her feet as she walked into her history class. She wasn’t the first one in there, as a few clumps of chatting students had already formed. She saw students from her metamorphosis class the day before give her weird looks, but she rolled her eyes and pressed on to her seat as if nothing was happening.   

Luce slid into her desk and put her head in one hand. With a yawn, she closed her eyes, unsure of if she was ready for the day ahead of her. After all, the day before had been a straight disaster in her perspective with  all of  the explosions. She was halfway excited for the end of the day, as it meant that she could spare a moment to talk to Alistair. Since she had made plans with her friends the day before, she hadn’t been given the chance to research her magic with him. To make up for that, she planned to head to the library to  look into  her powers further once the day had come to a close.   

She reached into her backpack and pulled out her phone not long after. She didn’t have any texts yet, which was halfway surprising to her. Lianna and her father woke up just as early as she did, if not earlier, but they hadn’t sent her anything. Now was hardly the right time to call  Cryon  and tell him she was doing fine in her new environment, as the bell was set to ring any minute. It would be unsatisfying for Luce to hang up on him suddenly like that. She could easily do it later without an issue, so she made a mental note to do so.  

Luce thought she was going to slip into slumber once again when the bell pierced the air. The shrill noise startled her from her trance. She let out a sigh and slumped backwards into her desk, wiping one hand across her forehead. She was used to waking up early as a mercenary, yes, but that didn’t change the fact that she was susceptible to exhaustion like everyone else. She would have done just about anything to go back to sleep for even just an hour more of rest before the stress of the day.  

A pair of figures entered the room shortly after. One was a taller woman while the other was a shorter girl and appeared to be about Luce’s age. The woman had curled blonde hair tied back into a lengthy ponytail. She wore a short black and purple dress. A purple collar was around her neck, and from it, a magenta cape hung down to her hips. Her dress had long sleeves as well. She had black tights and purple heeled shoes on her legs and feet. Black gloves completed the look.  

As for the younger girl, she had ginger hair reaching her shoulders. Her eyes were brown and full of life from their position behind rounded glasses. She had a black tank top hiding beneath a white shirt that fell off one shoulder. She had a green jacket trimmed with fur on top of that. Her black skirt was pleated and accompanied by tall black socks and brown shoes.  

Luce thought partially that the younger girl was a student that had been caught by the teacher walking into class late. She felt loosely bad for anybody who was faced with that sort of punishment, as the teacher seemed to have a severe streak to her as far as Luce could tell.  

“Welcome to history, everyone,” the woman said instead, acting as if the girl at her side wasn’t even there. “My name is Severine Maness. I’ll be your history teacher during your time at  Alitia . This young woman is my assistant.”  

Cessair   Lesulla  here. It’s nice to meet you all,” the young girl smiled. She waved to the class and earned a few waves in response.  

“I know most of your classes are starting off with an introductory period talking about what you’ll see in the class throughout the year, but I usually don’t do such a thing. Over the course of these three years, I’m going to teach you as much about significant planetary events for most realms across Magia. We don’t have a moment to spare, so we’re going to jump right into things with the creation of the universe. How does that sound to everyone?” Severine asked.  

Nobody gave an answer. Luce personally was afraid of what would happen if she spoke out of term, as she could tell that Severine was a serious woman. That much was obvious to everyone in the room. She stayed silent instead, looking down at her desk, praying that the wood of the surface would give her advice on what to do next.  

Severine noticed the quiet and sat down on top of her desk.  Cessair  sat beside her. “If you’re worried about this class being boring, don’t be. History is the backbone of the world we have today. I won’t make you read from a textbook every day as we talk about the way an ancient longbow functions. Instead, I’m going to try and make this class as fun and painless for you all as I can. How does that sound?” Severine questioned.  

A few murmurs of approval rose up from the crowd, leaving Severine with a satisfied smirk. “During the lecture, I’m going to have  Cessair  come around and ask you for your names. I’m going to make a seating chart for the time being. Where you are is where you’ll be sitting for the first few weeks or so. However, after that, I’m going to let you sit where you wish. It just takes me a month or there about to learn your names, and I don’t want to make any embarrassing mistakes. Once I’m sure who’s who, everything will be up to you as far as seating arrangements though,” Severine continued.  

Cessair  began to dig through the desk she had been perched upon, pulling out a clipboard a short while later. She started at the front right corner of the room. Luce was in the top left corner to avoid the cliques of girls scattered around the classroom. In other words, it would be a while before Cessair got around to her.  

Severine leaned back on the desk. “You don’t need to take notes today. The birth of the Magia dimension is something all history classes go over, so I’m sure you don’t need to hear it a fifth time or so. Basic information is all we need for the time being,” she told the class.  

Luce hadn’t heard the story quite that many times, but she was fully aware of how the universe was forged. Lianna had once told her the story when she was little and had trouble sleeping. That was close to ten years ago now that Luce thought about it. She had been eight at the time, Lianna twenty and a new member of the mercenary company after graduating from  Alitia  the previous year. After a nightmare, Luce had wandered around the fort in search of comfort, where she came across Lianna. Lianna had taken her back to bed and told the story to calm her and help her rest.  

“Originally, there was no dimension of magic. There were only people living on Earth who had somehow developed magic. They lived in small communities, but they were subject to persecution by the ancient people of the realm. Two half-dragons, Starlight and Moonlight, lived in one of these communities. When their home was destroyed, they left in search of other lands, and it took them to empty space.  

“The two dragons used their immense power over light and darkness respectively to create Magia, a haven for all magical people. Communities moved to the dimension and came to live on its many planets. However, Starlight and Moonlight only gave life to three planets, Amity, Enmity, and Millennia. Particularly powerful mages gave life to the other desolate lands throughout the ages.  

“Starlight settled on Amity, and Moonlight settled on Enmity. They died shortly after, but they promised to return in the form of Keepers, reincarnations of the twin dragons. Ever since then, Keepers have been born in the temples made to look over Starlight and Moonlight’s resting grounds. They are forged from pure energy and are a manifestation of the dragons’ powers. Keepers have existed since the dawn of time, and they will continue to exist in honor of our founders for centuries to come.”  

It was a simple story, and while some claimed it was likely legend, evidence remained of the era of the dragons. The Keepers of Moonlight and Starlight were as real as could be. Everyone was aware of their existence, and when one died or was created,  it  was news spread all over Magia to the far corners of the universe.  

“We’re going to be talking about founding of major realms next. All founding eras took place after Starlight and Moonlight passed, but they are also before other significant events such as wars. This section will take up the bulk of our studies these first two or so months. From there, we’ll go into specific subjects regarding the planets and what happened after they were founded such as wars,” Severine announced. “Class is almost over. Feel free to pack up your things and prepare to leave.”  

Cessair  appeared at Luce’s side a few seconds later. “What’s your name?”  Cessair  asked, tapping her pen against the clipboard in her hands.  

“Luce,” Luce answered bluntly.  

“Last name?”  Cessair  prompted, looking down at her paper to scratch Luce’s name into a specific region.  

“Elenes. Sorry,” Luce replied, feeling pink rise in her cheeks at such an obvious oversight.  

“What?!”  Cessair  exclaimed, causing the entire class to go silent as they turned to stare at her.  

“Um... What about it?” Luce questioned. Her heart was pounding in her chest.  Cessair’s  sudden scream had surprised her a lot more than she would have cared to admit.  

“Are you related to  Cryon   Elenes ?!”  Cessair  cried out.  

“He’s my dad,” Luce frowned, still feeling the quickened and noisy thrumming of her heart.  

“That’s amazing! I didn’t know he had a daughter!” Cessair exclaimed. “That’s amazing! Can you talk to me about him sometime?!”  

“Uh... Sure,” Luce said simply as the bell rang. She gathered her backpack into her arms before swinging it over her shoulder. She dashed from the classroom shortly after, unable to tell if she should be excited Cessair was so interested or creeped out that she knew his name so well.  

Cryon  had a reputation as a mercenary, sure, but it wasn’t as if he was known across the dimension. He wasn’t that famous as far as Luce was aware.  Cessair  was obviously too young to hire mercenaries, and yet, she seemed to know quite a bit about him.  

Luce thought of her mother and frowned. What if he was famous for something to do with a history event? It would make sense given that  Cessair  was the assistant to the history teacher. Maybe the occurrence that taught Cessair about Cryon would give clues about her mother, and by extension, her magic.  

She would  definitely have  to see  Cessair  and ask her about  Cryon  to get some answers.  

Luce wordlessly made her way to her next class, a place she knew all too well. It was  Zylphia’s  healing class, the same place she had been forced to go the day before to help remedy her spontaneous explosion. She wasn’t exactly keen on returning, as it was a sore subject and one of embarrassment for her, but it wasn’t as if she had much of a choice in the matter.  

When Luce got there, a cluster of her friends were already in the room. She saw Sophia, Helena, and Tanith sitting together in the front left corner of the room. They were talking amongst themselves. It wasn’t until Sophia waved Luce over that Helena and Tanith realized she was there.   

“Healing should be an easy class,” Sophia said, looking to Luce. “Well, it depends on your magic, I suppose... Enchantresses and wizards can use this ability, though dark magic users lack it. It varies depending on your  particular element  as well. Earth and ice magic makes healing much easier for one, but it’s never been something particularly difficult as far as I’m aware.”  

Finally. She needed this. On top of being an easier class, learning how to heal would benefit her in many ways, as she would be able to care for herself much more easily if she could heal herself on her own. Explosions wouldn’t be an issue anymore, which was a relief.  

Zylphia  might seem stern at first, but she isn’t going to be hard on you or anything. She’s patient and will wait for you to catch on if you don’t understand something. I suppose that would make it easy as well. After all, she’s happy to tutor anybody who’s falling behind,” Tanith agreed.  

“I’m glad to hear that. I need to be able to fix this explosion problem as soon as possible. It might be a while before I can learn to control my magic, but it would be easy to heal myself up with help like this,” Luce grinned. The mere thought got her excited.   

The bell pierced the air.  Zylphia  entered the room and shut the door softly. “Hello, everyone,” she announced. “It’s nice to meet you all. My name is  Zylphia   Satim . I’ll be your healing instructor as well as your headmistress while you’re here at Alitia. I assume most of you already knew that though. I know all of you as it is thanks to earlier investigations since your arrival here at our fine institution.”  

Zylphia  took a seat behind her desk and began to make notes on a small notepad. After a few quick glances over the room, she finished writing and got to her feet once again. “This is a practical class. We rarely read over passages or do homework. Instead, healing is about application. You need to put it into work in order to be successful. Practice is key to mastery,” she told the class.  

Zylphia  briefly looked over at where Luce was sitting with Sophia, Helena, and Tanith. Her eyes briefly wandered down to Luce’s collarbone, checking for lingering marks of the explosion. After a few seconds of silent observation,  Zylphia  deemed her work acceptable and moved on to continue her speech.  

“Healing is a vital part of battle. Injuries are inevitable. In order to minimize serious damage, it’s important to eliminate your injuries before they worsen. Light magic users are the only ones who can heal using  magic.  It’s important for us to learn how to heal our comrades of other techniques of power. Plus, healing has benefits for other light magic users. You can heal minor injuries at the cost of a small amount of magic. It’s a simple concept to master, but sometimes, the basics are the most important tidbits to keep in mind,”  Zylphia  said.  

Zylphia  went back to her desk and began to reach inside for something. She pulled out a small sphere and began to look it over silently. “Most magical blasts at about your age and skill level are this large. As you can see, it’s the size of a small apple. It can fit in your hand easily. It’s simple to cast and doesn’t take much energy,” Zylphia continued to announce.  

She rubbed her fingers over the sphere, surrounding it in crackling blue energy. “Overall, something this small looks harmless. However, whenever it’s flying around at high speeds and covered in magic, it is most certainly dangerous. My power is to manipulate electric currents. I would fire bolts of electricity as part of a battle team. Energy spheres would be larger than this in my case due to my experience, but at one point, I cast magic this small.”  

Zylphia  pulled one arm back, the one with the sphere in hand, Luce realized. She suddenly threw it across the room to slam into the wall. It hit with a loud cracking sound, splintering the wall and badly denting the wood. Luce flinched at hearing it.  Zylphia  sure as hell could throw hard.   

“It doesn’t seem so harmless now, huh?”  Zylphia  asked. She crossed to the other side of the room and touched the dented wall. In a few seconds, the dent disappeared, making it seem as if nothing had happened. The sphere fell from the wall into  Zylphia’s  waiting hand. “Magic is dangerous when used in battle. It can injure people severely. It isn’t all fun and games.”  

Visions flashed through Luce’s mind over the previous two battles she had fought in. Memories danced of Millennium Six students covered in cuts from fallen glass, Iris with a swollen ankle, and Tanith crumpled and unconscious in the store at the heart of Millennium City. Her heart skipped a beat. Luce avoided  Zylphia’s  eyes for a few seconds as she pondered her words.  

Her years as a mercenary had certainly taught her that every battle had consequences. Lianna was a talented healer and was able to mend most injuries after missions, but that didn’t change the fact that fighting was still risky. However, nothing she had seen then compared to the things she had seen in the short few days since she had arrived at  Alitia Zylphia  sure as hell wasn’t messing around when she said those things.  

“Healing is vital to saving lives. It’s important to patch up any injuries before they can grow severe, even if you think you’re alright. It isn’t something to mess around with. Don’t think about leaving a wound untreated. Sometimes, that can be just as dangerous, if not more so, than the foe you’re up against. Hopefully, none of you will be tied up in battle before learning how to heal yourselves and others. I advise learning about healing magic at least a little before going out to fight  in an attempt to  earn Isolis. If something goes wrong, you need to be able to recover quickly,” Zylphia continued.  

Zylphia’s  eyes fell on Sophia next. “Some of you are already aware of how to heal at a basic level. You will help to lead our class in learning how to recover from injuries and help others to do the same. We’ll go more into detail as time goes on, but basic knowledge is imperative for the time being,” she announced. “Until you’ve learned how to utilize basic healing magic, don’t pick fights. For the love of Starlight, I don’t want to see you students coming back on stretchers from the hospital after a rowdy battle.”  

Luce stole a brief glance at Tanith, who was staring down at her hands silently. She had scarcely moved the entire conversation. Luce was sure she was thinking about the battle in Millennium City against the hooded man and how badly she had been hurt.  

The bell pierced the air. “We’ll officially get started next time we’re in class,” Zylphia announced. “Until then, stay safe, alright?”  

Most of the students left after this. Luce got her own things together, but she waited for her friends to prepare as well. Tanith walked over to  Zylphia  and briefly spoke with her, though the conversation was in hushed tones Luce couldn’t hear. She frowned, but she knew the conversation likely wasn’t something for her to hear in the first place.  

After Tanith was finished, Luce, Sophia, and Helena accompanied her to the door to leave the room. “What was that about?” Helena asked. Luce wondered if Helena was reading her thoughts with how similar her prompt had been to the question running through Luce’s mind.  

“I’ve heard about that speech before, but she’s never been so intense on the fear factor. I think she’s still reeling over what happened in Millennium City,” Tanith sighed. “I don’t know what to do about it, but I want to do something to ease her fears somehow.”  

“Maybe we can talk about it at lunch,” Sophia suggested. “I know we have to split up for now, but it might be worth looking into.”  

“Thanks, Sophia,” Tanith sighed. “I’ll see you guys later.”  

Sophia and Helena bid Tanith and Luce farewell before heading their separate ways. Luce was heading to a class apparently about magical usage. She didn’t know what the hell that was supposed to mean, but she got the feeling she was going to figure it out soon enough. Plus, the teacher would likely explain it, making things even easier on Luce.  

She was happy to see S.M. walk in shortly after she had taken her seat. S.M. sat down beside her and set her bag on the floor. “Hey,” S.M. said in simple greeting. “You look shaken.”  

“Let’s just say Headmistress Satim didn’t hold back in the first period of the year,” Luce explained with an awkward smile. “I can explain it more at lunch.”  

S.M. nodded. “Alright. Sure.”  

Unlike in her other classes, the teacher was already sitting behind his desk when the bell let out its cry. He had brown hair on the longer side and brown eyes. He had a white button-up shirt on with a purple gemstone on its chest. He had a dark purple vest on with a pale pink flower in the pocket. He had black trousers and brown boots as well.  

Luce noticed a young girl sitting in another chair beside the desk. Her chair was simple, but it was on the taller end of the spectrum in comparison to her small form. The legs had the seat high enough off the ground that she could swing her legs back and forth freely. She had green hair and brown eyes. She had a pink tunic on with a large red ribbon wrapped around the waist section. A white flower crown sat atop her head. She was wearing a pale purple scarf. Her swinging feet were inside pink sandals. Her hair, which rustled slightly with each movement, was tied into twin ponytails by vibrant red ribbons.  

The longer Luce looked at the odd duo, the more relaxed she felt. A wave of calm hit her gently, and she felt her tension slip away. All thoughts of  Zylphia’s  frightening speech left her mind shortly after. This sensation was different from how she had felt when Sylvia accidentally sapped her energy, but she was calm still.  

“Welcome to the magic usage class at  Alitia ,” the man explained, rising to his feet. His voice was smooth and relaxing. “My name is Miles  Zorander . I’ll be your teacher this year. This here is Eve, my daughter. It’s nice to meet you all.”  

Luce heard a few comments from other girls in the room about how he was hot. She shuddered at the thought of students wanting to be romantically involved with their teachers. Luce hadn’t ever gone to a traditional school, so she couldn’t say whether it was normal or not, but the idea unsettled  her  nonetheless. Her calm was starting to dissipate at the mere suggestion, but she did her best to ignore it and return to serenity.  

“Magical usage is important in battles. It’s vital to be careful with how much energy you are expending. Usage also involves control. If you unleash a particularly powerful attack, it can be difficult to control. Using too much will drain your energy. Using too little won’t be as effective. Going all out can cause damage to you or others fighting at your side. Holding back won’t get the job done quickly. All in all, it’s a vital part of learning how to fight,” Miles explained, getting to his feet to slowly pace back and forth.   

Control? Now this was something Luce needed to hear about. Her magic, as stubborn as it was, didn’t like being controlled. A class on the subject would certainly help to halt the explosions before they could begin. In other words, it was better for both her and the people around her.  

“I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking about how useless this is going to be. Why do you need to learn how to control your magic? Most of you are already fully aware of how to use your magic in a practical sense. Why is this class necessary? Furthermore, you all can use magic. What is the point of a class that shows people how to use magic in a broader way? It can’t be specific when it’s being taught to an entire class instead of each student individually. You’re thinking through all the holes this subject could have, yes?” Miles asked.  

Nobody gave much of a reply. Luce didn’t know how to give an answer to something like that.  

When Miles didn’t wait for a response, she realized the question was rhetorical. “This class is important when it comes to refining battle techniques. Magic is both infinite and finite at the same time. It’s a peculiar paradox. It’s infinite in the way that magic can be replenished easily when the mage takes time off to rest. It’s finite in the way that only a certain amount can be used at a given time before energy is taken away completely. In order to prevent those moments of exhaustion,  Alitia  teaches this class about conserving power for the proper moment. By shortening this time of weakness, battle prowess will increase. It’s a fundamental principle of magical power, and therefore, it’s something we must discuss as a school based on magic,” Miles continued.  

He glanced out over the students and tilted his head to one side. “How many of you have unlocked your  Isolis  transformation?” he questioned.  

Luce raised her hand. Unlike the last time the question had been asked, she wasn’t the only one to raise her hand. Two others followed suit scattered around the classroom.  

“Thank you. You can put your hands down now. Until you earn access to your  Isolis  transformation, it’s incredibly important to use your magic sparingly.  Isolis Illunae , and  Inlustris  put magic into a form that’s easier to use. However, before they’re unlocked, you have less magic to use for a shorter period of time. It’s vital to use your power sparingly. Getting into a large fight without any of these transformations at your disposal decreases success chances, especially if a particularly powerful and draining attack is used at the start. It’s important to conserve your power,” Miles went on.  

“This is going to be important for us especially,” Luce heard S.M. hiss to her. S.M. didn’t even turn her head to speak to her, instead continuing to face straight ahead as she whispered out of the corner of her mouth. “The hooded figure isn’t going to wait for us to earn Isolis and put it to good use.”  

Luce didn’t give a verbal reply, instead shooting S.M. a frown and a severe gaze. She had a point. The danger they were in was as real as ever, and after  Zylphia’s  speech, it was even more pressing than ever before.  

The bell rang a few seconds later. Luce looked up at the clock and frowned. The period had passed by much faster than she had anticipated. The calm surrounding her had made the time fly, and that was putting it lightly.  

“You may head to lunch,” Miles told the class next, gesturing towards the door.  

The students all got to their feet. S.M. and Luce did the same. They walked out of the classroom silently, but once they left, Luce felt the calm around her fade. “Wow... I feel stressed all of a sudden,” she whispered with a shake of her head.  

“Professor  Zorander  has a power regarding emotional manipulation of sorts. People near him are calmed down instantly, and he can use it to diffuse conflict. He’s always called in when a fight breaks out among students,” S.M. explained. “My sister told me all about it.”  

“Wow... I think I’ll like his class. Helping with control is great. Plus, I’ll be relaxed in there. His assistant is a sweetheart as well,” Luce said with a small smile. “Eve, I think. I hope we’ll be seeing more of her as the year continues. She seems kind, though I would never expect to see a girl so young working here in a high school of all places... It seems odd, don’t you think?”  

“My sister told me she’s been there with him for a few years now. She’s in most class periods with him, if you can believe that. She’s  sort  of like a member of the staff, though she’s the youngest one here, as I’m sure you noticed. She’s considerably younger than we are,” S.M. went on.  

“I see... Yeah, I think I’m going to like that one,” Luce told S.M. with a grin.  

“You wouldn’t be the only one,” S.M. answered, hints of a smile playing on her lips. “That’s enough talk here though. You  ready to  go get lunch?”  

“Of course,” Luce responded. She followed S.M. as they started the journey to the cafeteria where their friends would inevitably be waiting for their first daily conversation.  

Chapter Text

“I think Zylphia traumatized Sophia.”  

When Luce sat down at the lunch table, Tanith was sitting beside Sophia. The latter was frowning deeply and glancing around nervously, as if she couldn’t sit still. Tanith had one arm around her shoulders. “It’s okay, you know. She gives that speech every year. You’re going to be fine. While fighting is dangerous, we’re here to train and improve our skills. By the time we graduate, we’ll be perfectly suited to battle evil out in the real world. It’ll be fine, really,” Tanith assured her. “I know her speech is on the intense side, but I want you to know she was going over the edge today too.”  

“It just worries me to think about,” Sophia sighed, shaking her head.   

“We’re going to be fine, promise,” Luce agreed as she took a bite out of her apple. S.M. sat down next to her and Sylvia, the latter of which was asleep with her head on the table.  

“The magical combat teacher seems pretty nice, I must say,” Iris commented before taking a chug of her water bottle. “It’s strange to think she’s teaching us how to fight people with magic, as she seems so nice... To me, she has that aura of somebody who wouldn’t hurt a  fly.  It’s odd.”  

“I haven’t had that yet,” Luce frowned. “What’s it like?”  

“Her name is Michaela Apollo. She’s a sweet woman with light magic. Maybe you two have something in common in that respect,” Iris said with a loose shrug. “What are you planning on doing after school today? Maybe you could talk to her more about your magic.”  

“I was going to see Professor Ogun or  Cessair , the history assistant. Professor Ogun and I are going to try and figure out what my powers are.  Cessair  seemed to know something about my father. When she heard my last name, she asked if we were related. When I said we were, she freaked  out.  She clearly knows something I don’t, and I want answers. I heard he attended the Millennium Six back in the day, but I don’t know any of the details,” Luce explained.  

“I don’t know if that’s going to be possible. I got a text from  Zylphia  that a last-minute meeting was scheduled between all the teachers of the Millennium Six. They want to discuss what’s going on with the hooded figures attacking people. The repeated assaults are starting to become a concern to the media, and some influential figures, such as nobles of various realms, are thinking of pulling their children from the school. The danger is proving itself to be an issue. They’re on publicity control, I guess you could say,” Tanith shrugged. “I don’t know if you’ll be able to see them for a while because of the extra work they have to take care of.”  

“Damn,” Luce muttered, shaking her head. “That sucks. It looks like we’ll be waiting quite a while for the truth about my magic. It isn’t convenient, but it’ll have to work.”  

“It’s fine, I think. I mean, we’ll get there eventually, right?” Helena asked.   

“I don’t think we’re necessarily locked until Alistair and  Cessair  can get time away from the media,” Tanith frowned. “Just because we can’t ask them doesn’t mean we can’t look around for ourselves.  Alitia  has a huge library. All we need to do is head inside and look around for light magic and categorize it from there. We need something that repels possession magic. I’m positive something like that exists. We just need to do is do some digging of our own.”  

“It’s the start of the year, so we don’t have much homework. I think it would be a good idea to look into,” Iris agreed.   

Carys  rolled her eyes. “Why are we bothering to investigate when we’ll get the answers we need eventually anyways? It seems like a bit of a waste of time to me,” she muttered.  

“Think about it this way. Luce can repel the possession magic of our enemy and free innocent people from his influence. If we learn more about that magic, then it’ll be easier to defeat whoever has a vengeance for us. Plus, if we defeat them, it’ll be easy to figure out what they want from us. It’s just a good idea on all fronts. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be put in extra danger because we didn’t read some books we have easy access to,” Iris explained.  

“For the sake of our safety, it’s best to figure out what magic Luce has. If we can learn its name, we can buy capsules to help repel the possession in the future,” S.M. pointed out.   

“Capsules?” Luce echoed. She could have sworn that she had heard about capsules at some point before, but she didn’t  knew  what they were. At the end of the day, the fact remained that she didn’t know much about the magical world due to her isolated upbringing. It would take a while before she fully  understand  what was going on in the world around her.  

“Capsules are a substance known to contain magic. Originally, magic was drawn from gemstones that anybody could use regardless of their elemental orientation. However, the jewels grew rare as time crawled on, so capsules were invented as an artificial container for magic. They’re one use only and have a specific purpose, so it’s hard to use them for anything aside from what’s written on the box. If the people with this possession ability are weak to Luce’s magic and we buy capsules with that same magic inside, it’ll be easier to stun them and remove the possession. If we’re lucky, we can find some that eliminate the possession completely,” Tanith explained.   

“That certainly sounds helpful,” Luce nodded. “It sounds to me like it’s a chance we don’t want to pass up on.”  

“That’s exactly what I was thinking. We should do as much reading as we can in between classes. The main problem will be pinning down the types of light magic. After all, there are many variations. Some draw power from sunlight, others the stars, and some from another energy source. Some are healers and others aren’t. I’m sure there are countless variations of light magic that remove possession, but we’ll need to break it down with explosions as our guide,” Tanith went on.   

“There’s a sentence I never thought I’d hear somebody say,” Helena joked with a small laugh.   

“I have study hall next. Do you think I’d be able to leave and check out the library?” Luce questioned.   

“I’m sure of it. The study hall meets here in the cafeteria. It’s a time to let the students catch up on homework and such. It’s an easy way to keep homework in check. Since this is the highest school for enchantresses in the dimension, homework and other tasks can get out of hand, so  Zylphia  put a study period in effect to help with that. You can do whatever you want so long as it doesn’t bother other students or teachers in classes, and free library travel is encouraged,” Tanith replied.  

“Some of that was so formal... It sounded like you were reading from a pamphlet,” S.M. remarked.  

Tanith shrugged. “It’s easy to memorize the student handbook if you read through it carefully enough,” she answered with a hint of a smile.  

“Our next step will be to learn more about Luce’s magic then. After that, we can order capsules that will help with defeating anybody that faceless man throws at us. From then, we take the enemy down, but we don’t actively seek out trouble to do it. Finally, we’ll learn what in Magia they want with us to begin with. How does that sound?” Helena suggested.   

Nobody gave an objection. Not even  Carys  provided a counterargument, which was a welcome change of pace in Luce’s eyes. She could feel the determination from everybody else at the table as they spoke of their plans for the future. Despite having been strangers less than two weeks before, they were starting to feel a sense of camaraderie and friendship. Luce guessed that was what happened when you were fighting for your life alongside others against an unknown enemy.  

When the bell rang, everybody but Luce and Tanith left the table. Luce smiled when she remembered that she shared study hall with Tanith. “So, off to the library we go, right?” she asked.  

Tanith nodded. “Yes. There’s no supervisor in study hall, so we can just go as we wish,” she told Luce.  

“Really? That seems odd. I would have expected an area for students to do as they please to have at least one person looking after the kids,” Luce frowned.  

“The students at  Alitia  are the best of the best. We know how to take care of ourselves, and the teachers know it. Besides, punishments at  Alitia  are severe, and the students are fully aware, so nobody acts out. Everything works out fine for everyone,” Tanith explained.  

“Sounds good to me. Let’s head for the library then. I hope we don’t interrupt Professor Ogun,” Luce said.  

“Oh, not at all. He’s used to students coming and going either on recommendation from other teachers or from study hall. He won’t mind a bit,” Tanith assured her. “We’re probably going to be spending the whole period there, so we can just take our things with us. From there, when the final bell rings, we can head to our last class of the day. In other words, it’s all in the bag.”  

Luce nodded as she picked up her bag. “I wonder if the magical combat teacher is as nice as Iris was saying before,” she said under her breath. “That’s what I have after study hall, and I guess I’m curious.”  

“Oh, she’s great. She’s been around here at the school  as long as   Zylphia  has been the head teacher. She’s kind to all and acts as a shoulder to cry on for all who need it. Some have even called her a fairy godmother or something. I hear that’s a popular term in Earth literature referring to a kind guardian, and it certainly fits,” Tanith replied.  

“It makes you wonder why she’d even bother fighting to begin with. If she’s so sweet to everyone, why does she spend her time teaching people how to defeat others in combat? It seems a bit odd to me,” Luce remarked.  

“Rumor has it she was a well-known soldier in the War of Starlight from before we were born. She’s an incredible mage who knows what she’s doing when combat is concerned. I guess she learned the ways of battle during the war and wants to spread her knowledge to the next generation now,” Tanith said with a small shrug. “I can’t say for sure, so consider that an educated guess.”  

“I’m sure I’ll figure her out on my own soon enough,” Luce shrugged. “Let’s head for the library now... But if you don’t mind my asking, what’s our battle plan for the time being?”  

“There’s a book in that library listing off each type of magical element. From there, it has chapters about specific mastery types of that element with a brief description. If we can find something in there that matches your magic, we can  look into  it more. It should be  pretty easy  to cross a good chunk of magic off the list. Color is one thing we can use. Some light magic is blue, but yours is a yellow and white blend. Anything that doesn’t fit that description can be taken off the list,” Tanith replied.  

“You seem to know what you’re doing here. Do you have experience or something?” Luce asked. Deep down, she knew the answer was probably no, as it seemed odd to need to  look into  a specific type of magic from an elemental type. Most people were probably fully aware of the type they had from birth.  

“Yes, as a matter of fact. I mentioned before that I don’t really know where I’m from, right? Well, I had to do some research in this library of my own to figure out what type of magic I had.  Zylphia  wanted to know, and so did I, for that matter. I forgot what magic I had, which meant I had to go through this process on my own four years ago. I remember every step of the process I followed, so we can use that as a guide.  It  shouldn’t be too hard to repeat for you,” Tanith answered.  

“Sounds good then,” Luce nodded. “Do you think we’d be able to use my father as a hint? He’s a leath and all...”  

Leaths  have magic in their veins depending on their parents, but they can’t use it, so it’s often hard to figure out what it is. Instead, they have manifestations of magic in their physical abilities. It’s impossible to determine what magic they have. Oftentimes, when a  leath  and a mage have a child, much like in your case, the mage parent will pass down their powers. The  leath’s  magic is there, dormant, but it’s much less likely to make itself known. If two  leaths  have a child who happens to be a mage, it seems to be sort of random as to what magic comes to exist then. It’s a lot of  complicated  genetic stuff,” Tanith said.  

“What I’m hearing is that my father won’t help a lick in learning the truth. If I want to find out what it is, we’ll need to either learn about my mother or go the long way around, and I don’t think there are even any records of her existence. My father never told me, and none of the mercenaries in our company know,” Luce frowned.   

“I’m sure we’ll figure something out,” Tanith assured Luce. “I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I’m sure it’ll all be resolved in a matter of time.”  

“I hope you’re right. I don’t want to be fumbling around in the dark like this for much longer. It’ll be a disaster for us all,” Luce sighed. “Now, let’s start this.”  

The two walked into the library, Luce opening the door once they had arrived. Luce saw a class of seniors sitting throughout the library, likely Alistair’s current period of magical research students. Tanith motioned for her to follow as they made their way to the other side of the room. Tanith grabbed a noticeably thick book off the top of a shelf, struggling to reach it due to her lack of verticality. When she finally had the book, she took a table and set it down. “This is our golden prize here,” Tanith explained, flipping the book to the table of contents.  

She only had to scan it for a moment before she had found the page where the light magic descriptions started. “We can skim this section for the most part. Let’s take a list of the magic and cross things off as need be,” Tanith suggested.  

Something Luce hadn’t expected was how many types of light magic there were. She had pulled out a notebook to write down the name of each headline, and therefore, every type of light magic. She and Tanith crossed some off after reading over their descriptions, but the fact remained that there were over two hundred possible candidates they would have to go over. They had an hour or so every other day to come into the library during study hall, and that would be it for checking into the magical types where light was concerned unless they wanted to dip into free time.  

“And that’s the last one,” Tanith said softly, sighing as Luce wrote down the final headline.  

Luce shook out her hand  in an effort to  relieve the pain. “Wow, there’s a lot of them here,” she grumbled. Ideally, they would have typed up the magical types, but since neither one of them thought to do such, Luce was left with an aching hand and a longing for rest to ease her tense muscles.  

“We can eliminate quite a few right off the bat though. We already crossed through everything that isn’t yellow or white. You never realize how many types of light magic are related to  the color blue  until you actually put them down like that, huh?” Tanith asked with a humored smile. “It’s a good place to start at the very least. I don’t think we’ll be able to get much further before the end of the period, but we have our organization started, and that’s the best place to begin from in these cases.”  

“We still have over a hundred types to look through,” Luce sighed with a shake of her head. “This is going to take a lot longer than I expected.”  

“Even if you can’t go and see Alistair for a while, doing research on the side will help out a lot. You can tell him about what you’ve learned, and when you do get the chance to ask him about everything, you two can narrow things down from there,” Tanith pointed out. “We’re taking major strides already to learning the truth, and it hasn’t even been an hour. At this rate, we’ll have figured it out in no time at all.”  

“Thanks again for the help on this, Tanith. I imagine it must be boring to read through different types of magic and cross names off a list,” Luce said.  

Tanith replied with a shrug. “It’s nothing. Really. I want to learn about more magical types anyways. It makes them easier to identify out in the field, and therefore, easier to exploit the weaknesses of. The more you know, the better,” she answered.  

Luce looked up and down the list with a frown. It was still much longer than she would have liked, but Tanith did have a point in that they were making major progress. If she was right about their fast pace, they would have the truth all figured out in a matter of weeks, if even that.  

The bell rang out not long after. Tanith shut the book and put it back on the shelf. “This one unfortunately isn’t allowed to leave the library. It’s the only copy and is vital for most magical research classes, but we can come back and visit it whenever we feel like it. That’s the positive of living in the same building as one of the largest libraries in the whole dimension,” Tanith told her.  

“I’m certainly going to have to keep this place in mind for future research,” Luce murmured, tucking the list away into a pocket of her backpack and hoisting the bag up over her shoulder. “Well, we should probably get going. I guess I’ll see you back at the dorm. We can tell the others about our plan once we get there, alright?”  

“Sounds good to me,” Tanith smiled, heading for one of the library’s many doors. “See you around, Luce.”  

Luce waved and headed out another door heading in the opposite direction. She was heading to magical combat, which was on the other side of the school. Luce let out a sigh and shook her head. She was certainly getting her exercise in between trekking across  Alitia’s  campus and physical defense class. By the end of the year, her legs would be even stronger than her sword arm, which was saying a lot, to say the least.  

Luce miraculously arrived in the classroom on time. She quickly noticed that it didn’t have any seats, instead being an open gymnasium much like the physical defense classroom. She saw Sophia and Sylvia standing beside each other on the opposite side of the gym, prompting Luce to dash over to greet them.  

“You look excited,” Sophia commented. “What happened?”  

“Tanith and I have a plan to figure out what type of magic I have. We started putting it into action during the study hall period we have together, and it’s already going well,” Luce explained. “I can go into more detail when we get back to the dorm, if that sounds alright with both of you.”  

Sylvia nodded and rubbed at her eyes. “Good on you for being productive... I slept during my whole study hall period,” she murmured with a shake of her head. “I couldn’t help it.  Alitia  just exhausts me... The other classes take enough energy out of me, so I have to get back into things somehow.”  

“I don’t know if this is the best class to recover energy unfortunately,” Sophia commented. “After all, we’re going to be sparring consistently, and that’s nowhere near sleep on the scale of getting your energy back to normal.”  

“There’s a scale for that?” Sylvia asked, suddenly intrigued.  

Sylvia never got an answer for her question, as a woman walked into the room not long after, her arms tucked behind her back. She seemed much older than the students in the gymnasium, so Luce had to assume she was the teacher, Michaela Apollo, as Tanith had called her.  

She had white hair that reached the bottom of her shoulder blades. Braids wrapped around her head. She had a teal dress on (which Luce assumed was on the expensive side) with black flats. A dark blue cardigan covered her arms. Her eyes were a bright blue color, almost the same shade as Luce’s own irises.  

Michaela wound up looking in her direction shortly after entering. Luce felt an odd electric feeling surge through her body. She frowned to herself, unsure of what could have caused such an odd sensation. Whatever it was, Michaela seemed to be involved.   

Michaela smiled and took her place up at the front of the gymnasium. Everybody in the room fell silent to look at her. “My name is Michaela Apollo. I’m the teacher of magical combat here at Alitia. It’s a pleasure to meet you all,” she declared. Her voice was smooth and had a rolling texture to it that calmed Luce instantly. With the way she spoke, it was almost as if somebody was constantly singing a lullaby in the background. Sylvia certainly seemed to agree, as she was barely able to keep herself standing straight after hearing the serene sound of Michaela’s voice. Luce and Sophia both had to reach out arms to steady her and prevent her from collapsing.  

“I’m going to start off with calling roll. I don’t want to miss anyone, after all,” Michaela continued with a smile. She didn’t even bother grabbing a clipboard, instead merely starting to call off names without any reference. She glanced around and took in the names and faces of her students, adapting her speech to fit nicknames as need be.  

When she came to Luce, Michaela smiled more brightly than before. “Luce Elenes?” she prompted.  

“Here,” Luce called out, raising her hand slightly to be noticed among the crowd. She earned a variety of confused expressions from her classmates, and Luce didn’t have to think twice to know they were wondering about the strange mercenary who had randomly shown up at the academy after an explosion near campus.  

However, for the first time since arriving at  Alitia , Luce didn’t mind. Instead, she found herself wrapped up in the calm Michaela brought. It was different from the relaxation that  Gensai’s  presence caused. Instead of coming from magic or anything of the sort, Michaela’s relaxing aura was perfectly normal. It was merely the way she behaved that calmed the people around her.  

“It’s nice to meet you, Luce,” Michaela smiled. “I’m looking forward to our year together.”  

A lingering thought in the back of Luce’s mind was cast back to her earlier conversation about Michaela. She had been a soldier in the War of Starlight. It was strange to think such a king and serene woman would have ever stepped on a battlefield with intentions of hurting others. She seemed to be so opposed to violence just from a first glance alone.   

Luce wondered about this as roll call was finished up. Once all the names had been called and names had been matched with faces, Michaela addressed the whole class once again. “In this period every other day, I will be helping you all to develop your abilities relating to magic on the battlefield. We mages are dedicated to helping others both in and out of combat. It’s important to know what you’re doing so as not to hurt yourself or others. Magic works differently from a physical weapon, and it’s important that we train to show that.”  

Michaela glanced out over the class and smiled. “I see a group of talented students standing before me. I have faith that every one of you will one day grow up to be a powerful mage intent on protecting Magia  as a whole as well as  your homes from every corner of the dimension. I know you will give it your all, and that’s all I ask. If you struggle, I’ll always be here to talk to you. I don’t want to just be your teacher. I want to be there for you should you require such,” Michaela declared.  

“She’s nice for sure,” Sophia murmured with a shake of her head.  

“Of course, I’m afraid beginning today will be challenging. After all, I doubt many of you can transform at this time. The first transformation, Isolis, only comes about after choosing a magical discipline at about the age of fifteen, and even if most of you in this class are seventeen by this point, it’s still rare that people have reached their first transformation before attending an academy. I don’t want to put too much stress on you by having you fight before you’ve transformed properly for the first time. After all, it’s easy to overexert yourself and grow exhausted when magic is in its less usable form,” Michaela continued. “For today, I’m going to let you all roam about as you wish. Feel free to come and ask me anything. I may call a few of you over myself to talk to as well. That being said, you are dismissed.”  

Conversations started up once again after she gave the word. Luce turned to her friends and sighed. “She seems amazing,” Luce commented. “I mean, none of our teachers up until this point have been particularly horrible, but she seems so kind and approachable. It’s something I appreciate.”  

“It does seem odd that she teaches combat though... I never would have expected that,” Sophia remarked with a shake of her head. “Doesn’t it feel strange to you two?”  

“Maybe... I don’t know. She’s just calming enough to put me to sleep. If only she did that for a job,” Sylvia murmured, rubbing at her eyes.  

“I imagine you won’t be faring well in Professor  Gensai’s  class,” Sophia giggled. “That’s his magical practice, after all.”  

“I’ll practically be putty in his hands,” Sylvia groaned, sitting down.   

Sophia followed suit, sitting down beside Sylvia. Luce thought about joining them, but when she cast a glance at Michaela, she changed her mind. “I’ll come back in a minute,” Luce told the two before dashing off to greet her teacher.  

“Professor Apollo?” Luce asked once she had arrived in front of Michaela. She was feeling calmer than she ever had in her time at  Alitia , though she couldn’t say why for sure. After all, it wasn’t Michaela who had that sort of ability.  Gensai  should have taken the cake there, but for some reason, he didn’t. Luce found it odd, but she didn’t know how to go about asking her for the reason why. Besides, even if it wasn’t her magic, it was probably just her exhaustion taking over.  

“Yes, Luce?” Michaela asked, tilting her head to the side.   

“I... I just...” Luce suddenly realized that she didn’t know what she was going to say to Michaela, and embarrassment crept up through her cheeks, turning them pink. How had she thought this was a good idea? She didn’t have a clue what to say to strike up a conversation with her teacher.   

“I was planning on talking to you, Luce,” Michaela smiled. “I’ve heard about you from the other members of the teaching staff. You’ve recently developed your magic and don’t know how to control it, yes?”  

Luce felt her face grow warmer than she ever thought possible. “Yeah... Yeah, that’s true,” she said softly.  

“Well, your magic is related to light, so I’ll gladly help you learn to control it. I have light magic as well. If you ever want my assistance, I’ll be here to talk to you about your magic. Granted, there are different brands of light magic, but some help is better than none at all, yes?” Michaela asked.  

Luce nodded, swallowing down her previous anxieties. “Yes... You make a good point,” she agreed.  

“I want to be here for all of my students. I understand you’re trying to learn how to use your powers, putting you at a serious disadvantage... I’ll be available to listen or train you whenever you need it,” Michaela told Luce.  

“Thank you,” Luce nodded.  

Luce started to turn away when Michaela took her wrist gently between her fingers. “Have a nice day, Luce,” Michaela said from behind her.   

Luce scarcely heard her, too focused on the tingling that had formed where Michaela was touching her. She nodded once again, speaking miraculously through the haze over her mind. “Thank you, professor,” Luce replied.  

Michaela released her, allowing Luce to go back to her friends. She was sure Michaela was smiling behind her. Luce didn’t know why she felt so relaxed around Michaela, but she was positive she would find out eventually. She would put a finger on why she felt so strange at some point or another through the power of sheer determination.  

Luce’s to-do list was only getting longer the more she spoke with people at Alitia, but strangely enough, she didn’t mind it a bit.  

Chapter Text

As hard as it was to believe, the week passed uneventfully in most other ways. Luce had some homework, but it wasn’t anything excessive, thankfully. On Saturday, she was sitting in the main area of their apartment with a history book in her hands as she read through a chapter about the founding of Amity, Enmity, and Millennia. Severine wanted it finished by Monday so they could discuss it as a class.  

Luce unfortunately hadn’t been given a chance to approach Alistair or  Cessair  to ask about what they knew. She was itching to ask  Cessair  in Severine’s class, but she couldn’t do anything about it. Severine insisted on keeping everyone busy  a majority of  the time, which meant Luce’s spare moments were filled with completing assignments or writing down notes. In other words, the universe was going out of its way to keep Luce from learning more about her father, much to her irritation.  

“What’s the plan for today?” Helena asked as she came out into the main area. She had been hiding in her room up to that point while reading over a text for another class.  

“I think it’s work on homework and go about life as normal,” S.M. replied with a loose shrug.  

“I’m already finished with mine,” Tanith commented from her place on the couch. “If the circumstances were different, I would hit Millennium City and enjoy the day for myself, but Zylphia will kill me if I even think about leaving campus.”  

“Didn’t she say you can go to the other schools?” Luce questioned.  

“Yes, but I don’t have a reason to go there. I can’t buy any books about legendary figures of Magian history from the other schools. Libraries are restricted to students only, so I can’t check anything out either. In a nutshell, I’m royally bored,” Tanith sighed.  

“Maybe you could help me with my homework instead,” Carys suggested with a small smirk.  

“Sorry, Carys,” Tanith said, shaking her head. “I don’t cheat.”  

Carys  huffed and rolled her eyes, understanding her persistence would get her nowhere now that Tanith had made up her mind on the subject.  

“It’s a shame we can’t just go into the city as a group. After we finish up our homework, it would be fun to head out there,” S.M. frowned.  

“Don’t let me hold you back from going out. I can stay here and find something to entertain myself,” Tanith sighed.  

“Aren’t you allowed to leave with a chaperone?” Helena asked next.  

“Yes, but everybody’s busy. All these attacks... They haven’t happened at such a high rate since the War of Starlight over twenty years ago. It has everybody in a panic. Some people are afraid another war is going to break out because of all this,” Tanith said with a frown. “Zylphia’s busy trying to keep things under control.”  

“Speaking of attacks, it’s odd that none happened this week,” Iris remarked. She had been silent up to this point, listening to music until she managed to catch a snippet of their conversation through her headphones. “The last time something did happen, it was before the year started.”  

“Maybe things are done for good,” Sophia said optimistically. She was pulling on a jacket and wrapping a scarf around her neck.  

“I doubt it,” S.M. sighed. “What are you up to, Sophia?”  

“I’m heading into Millennium City. I heard there’s a place that serves great coffee, and I want to check it out,” Sophia explained.  

“I can understand that. Millennium City has some killer restaurants,” Tanith smiled.   

“How long do you think you’re going to be out?” Iris asked.  

“Not long. I’d say half an hour at most. I just need something to help me push through all this homework,” Sophia explained. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. See you guys soon!”  

As Sophia left the room, Tanith let out a sigh. “I wish that were me,” she grumbled.  

“Have you ever been grounded before?” Luce questioned.   

“No... Never. I never act out, so  Zylphia  has no reason to ground me. Even this time, it isn’t like it was my fault we were attacked. I understand why she’s so worried, but I wish I could do something to calm her fears,” Tanith answered.  

“I’m sure things will be back to normal in no time,” Iris assured her with a smile.  

Tanith sighed. “I hope so,” she whispered with a shake of her head. “I hope so.”  

~~~~~  

Sophia was about five minutes from the coffee shop she was targeting when she  heard the sound of  cameras clicking. It sounded like a celebrity was nearby with all the flashing and screaming from nearby. Curious, she walked up the street a little faster.  

Sure enough, a group of reporters were crowded around a man, though Sophia couldn’t quite see him clearly. She cursed her lack of verticality as she got up on her toes in a desperate and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to see the person everyone was clamoring over.  

In the end, she managed to catch a brief glance, which was all she needed. Her stomach dropped before tying itself into knots what felt like a hundred times over. Sophia felt herself grow pale. She took a few steps back before retreating, leaving the reporters to bother the man.  

Unfortunately, he was somebody Sophia knew all too well. Colin  Shamara  had been an all too present figure in Sophia’s life from a young age. He had been set to marry her shortly after her birth, as was tradition with royals on her home realm. Marriages for royal children were arranged the day were born, oftentimes with other nobles who wanted power more than anything else.  

Colin was somebody Sophia wished she could forget. In fact, he had been the reason she traveled to  Alitia  to begin with. After her future marriage was announced publicly, Sophia needed a way out. She applied to Alitia in a haste and prayed to get in, and in the end, her wishes were granted. The last thing she needed was a painful reminder of the life she had left behind to forge her own path.  

“Sophia!”  

Hearing him call her name made Sophia’s heart skip a beat. She froze on the spot, unsure of what else to do. A voice in the back of her head screamed to run away, to not give him the satisfaction of speaking to her, but she knew that was much easier said than done. After all, Colin was persistent, much to Sophia’s chagrin, and he wouldn’t leave her alone until he got what he wanted.  

Sophia turned slowly to face him, a frown on her face. She painted on a false smile. “Hello, Colin,” she managed to say despite the pounding in her chest and dizziness in her head. The world seemed to be spinning.  

“I came to see you,” Colin said firmly, reaching out to grab her arm. Sophia felt tingles erupt on her skin where the contact was made. “I’ve heard about the attacks here on Millennia. I want to bring you home.”  

Sophia looked Colin up and down briefly. Something about him seemed wrong. This wasn’t the Colin she had been forced to get to know against her will. There was something different about him this time, though Sophia was struggling to quite put her finger on it.  

“Come on,” Colin told her, taking hold of her wrist with his other hand to drag her away. The reporters around him continued to scream and take pictures of the ‘sexiest noble of Fortunia’. “Let’s go home.”  

Sophia’s heart continued to pound faster and louder than ever before. Her voice seemed to fail her. She glanced around at the flashing cameras, throwing up her free hand to cover her face. “Stop it,” she said softly, struggling to pull herself away from Colin’s grasp.  

“What did you just say to me?” Colin asked, suddenly hostile. This was much more like Colin as far as Sophia was concerned, but something was still wrong. This wasn’t right. He wasn’t acting like himself no matter how Sophia looked at it.  

“Let me go,” Sophia told him, speaking a little louder this time. “I’m not going back to Fortunia with you.”  

“Are you crazy? There are attacks taking place here!” Colin roared. “We have to take you somewhere safe! What if you got hurt with all the villains running rampant on Millennia? I can’t take that chance, and neither can your realm. You’re a princess before you’re a student of Alitia, Sophia. Remember your people. How do you think they would feel if you died?”  

“Stop saying those things!” Sophia suddenly shouted, unsure of where she had found the energy to shout at him for the first time in her life. “You’re manipulating me, and I know it! I’m here to learn at  Alitia  of my own free will, and I won’t let you take me away from that life no matter what you try!”  

Colin suddenly stopped trying to pull her along. He dropped her wrist and began to growl, purple flashing over his regularly brown eyes. “Big mistake, Sophia,” he snarled. Purple flames formed and surrounded him, creating a column of light that spiraled into the sky. The reporters in the area began to scream, scattering to different directions as a way of avoiding his sudden rage.  

Sophia backed up for a few steps before the adrenaline fully kicked in. She was running before she knew what was happening, yanking her phone from her pocket as she sent a brief text to her friends.   

‘HELP’  was all she managed to spell out before Colin was on her tail again. She felt his hand on her hair, stopping her in place. Her phone tumbled from her hands in her shock. Colin reached one foot out to her phone as she stretched to grab it.   

Colin stepped on the phone roughly, his boot going straight through the material. “There’s no escape now, honey bunches,” he said simply, grabbing her hand once again. “We’re going back home whether you like it or not.”  

~~~~~  

Back at Alitia, Iris was the first to notice something was wrong. Her phone let out a short beeping sound, prompting her to reach for it. The sound had interrupted her song, something she never approved of.  

When she read the text from Sophia, she pulled her headphones away from her ears and pointed to her phone. “You should check our group chat,” she declared. “I think something happened to Sophia.”  

Luce reached for her phone next and did as Iris instructed. “Damn,” Luce murmured after reading the message. “What do we do? If something happened to her, she could be in danger.”  

Tanith, meanwhile, was outside the dorm room staring out the window overlooking the courtyard. She saw a column of purple light pierce the sky. “It looks like that’s what’s going on,” she said, peering in from the open door of the dorm. “She should still be in Millennium City. That light certainly looks like it’s coming from the city. I can’t say where specifically, but with enough searching, you should be able to find her.”  

“Do we have a way of tracking her phone?” S.M. asked, on her feet in an instant.  

“I do, but it would take too long,” Iris frowned. “If she’s in immediate danger, then there isn’t a moment to lose. We  have to  go save her as soon as we can. We can’t spare a moment.”  

“Is there a way to get us to the city faster than usual?” Luce asked hurriedly, feeling the adrenaline pump through her body.  

“I don’t think so. I’m not good enough with teleportation magic to get you there,” Tanith frowned. “You’ll have to go on your own. It’ll take longer, but we don’t have any other options.”  

Luce swore under her breath and dashed into her room, seizing her sword and strapping it onto her belt. Iris did the same with her rapier. S.M., Carys, and Helena all dashed for the door as well. Tanith watched them go, feeling sadness and helplessness pull at her core. She wanted nothing more than to follow them, to help Sophia out of whatever danger she was in, but she didn’t have the option to do so, leaving her stranded at Alita.  

Tanith dashed into Sylvia’s room, where she was still asleep. Since it was still morning, she wasn’t awake yet. Tanith halfway considered waking Sylvia, but she had faith the other five could handle it without her. Besides, she wouldn’t do anyone a lick of good if she was exhausted and couldn’t do anything to defend herself. Hell, it was probably a bad idea to send S.M., Carys, and Helena off since they couldn’t transform yet themselves, but there wasn’t anything Tanith could do about it now. All she could do was hope things went alright.   

~~~~~  

Sophia wasn’t sure how long she had been running when she found herself at a dead end. Colin was still glowing with purple fire. Despite the supposed crack down on security in the city  Zylphia  had mentioned, there wasn’t an officer in sight to help her. Sophia felt her heart skip a beat in her chest. This couldn’t be the end for her, right? At the same time, if Colin dragged her back home, she would never get to return to  Alitia . It had been a miracle that she  was allowed to  leave the kingdom the first time, and her father wouldn’t allow it a second time. Either she found a way out of this situation or she was doomed.  

Colin lunged for Sophia a few seconds later. She managed to jump to one side to narrowly avoid the attack. She breathed heavily as she took off in the opposite direction.   

However, she was too focused on her escape to notice Colin’s fingers clamping around her hair once more. Sophia let out a cry of pain and tried to pull herself away from Colin. She cursed her long hair for the first time, just to add to the list of firsts the day had brought her.  

“We’re going home whether you like it or not,” Colin snarled, pulling Sophia in closer. He was whispering in her ear now, sending a shiver up her spine.   

Sophia looked over her shoulder at him, causing her to see a mark on the side of her neck. It looked eerily familiar, and she soon realized why. It was an outline of the hooded man who had been plaguing the group up to that point.   

Colin was being possessed.  

Sophia raised one hand and slapped Colin, managing to catch his nose. He reeled back to nurse his injury, blood flowing freely from his face and into his hand. Colin cursed repeatedly before reaching out to grab Sophia once again. She ducked and unleashed a kick to his stomach, demonstrating the first thing she had learned in her physical defense class. She smiled to herself out of a mix of satisfaction and relief when he was sent sprawling.  

A sense of fear spread over her once again when he got to his feet. Realizing she didn’t have time to linger, Sophia turned and began running once again, but this time, something was different. Something deep in Sophia’s core felt different than before, like energy was coursing through her. It was an odd feeling, but at the same time, it wasn’t exactly unwelcome.  

Sophia stopped moving a few feet away from Colin despite every muscle in her body screaming at her to keep going. A light surrounded her, and when it faded, she looked different. Her regular black and white dress had been replaced by one that reached her knees. It was  pink  and had one short sleeve. Her skirt was lined with black and flowed loosely in the breeze. Wings of a pale purple shade sprouted from her back. She had tall black boots on with matching gloves that reached up her arms.   

Sophia realized her hair was pulled back different as well, now half up in a small ponytail.  Thin braids wrapped around her head to form the ponytail.  She recognized the reason for her odd feeling immediately after noticing her change of attire. Colin’s pursuit of her had caused desperation strong enough to invoke an Isolis transformation. It was  similar to  how Luce and Iris had changed for the first time, she realized.   

Colin stared at her new  outfit  in surprise before lunging once again. Sophia urged her wings to lift her upwards, and they obeyed her command. She rose up into the sky, fluttering a few feet above where Colin crashed into the ground. Sophia smiled to herself, happy she was getting the hang of things so quickly.   

Her smile faded when she realized the disadvantage she was at. Without Luce, there was no way of erasing the possession over Colin. She was the only one who could reverse the process, and since she wasn’t around, Sophia was forced to face Colin and fight him off while still getting the hang of her enhanced magic. Unless she could learn the ropes soon, she was going to get hurt.   

Sophia decided to float higher into the sky, her wings beating madly behind her. She glanced around, hoping for some sign of life to come peeking in through the concrete of the city. Her magic worked in a way  similar to  Iris, as she wasn’t the best at forming energy beams or anything of the sort. Instead, she manipulated the environment around her to her advantage. If she couldn’t find any plants, she had no way of fighting back against Colin, which would ultimately force her to fly around until help came to take her in its sweet embrace.  

Sophia’s eyes eventually locked on a small plant growing next to a dumpster. It was peeking in through a crack in the sidewalk. That was all Sophia needed to see. Triumph washed over her as she reached out one hand to increase the height and volume of the plant.  

It grew to be ten feet tall in a matter of seconds, quickly tossing the dumpster it had been hiding near aside. The dumpster slammed into a nearby building’s side, barely missing a window. The plant continued to grow, sprouting leaves as a large vine was forged. Sophia smiled as it the top of it disappeared.   

“What do you think you’re doing?!” Colin roared from down below. “You can’t stop me with a simple city plant!”  

Sophia smirked to herself and pointed towards her. A branch of the plant coiled around her arm, leaving her filled with more energy than ever before. “Don’t be so sure,” she murmured.  

Another branch of the vine pinned Colin down against the ground. He let out a roar of anger and struggled against his bonds, but ultimately, nothing he did was able to help his escape. Sophia smiled to herself at this victory before sending other branches of the plant after Colin.   

He was trapped in a cage shortly after. Sophia had to admit she was impressed with herself. She had practiced manipulation of plants in the past, but it had never been on such large scale. Her father had forbidden it from the moment her magic manifested itself. She had made small cages out of the plants potted in her bedroom, but anything larger was foreign to her, and yet, here she was.  

“You won’t get away with this!” came the scream of Colin as he struggled against the cage. He suddenly flashed with stronger fire, spreading throughout the vine. It sizzled out of existence quickly. The fire spread up the vine quickly.  

Sophia gasped in panic and reached out her arm covered in vines. The branches pinning him down were cut away from the rest of the plant in a matter of seconds. She sighed in relief that her means of attack had been spared, but at the same time, she felt bad for putting the poor plant through something so horrible.   

Colin jumped high into the air, using the ground as if it was a trampoline, to seize Sophia’s ankle He began to drag her down towards the ground, but Sophia managed to kick him off. He slammed into the concrete, creating a large dent where he made impact. Sophia continued to breathe heavily as he tried to get to his feet. She didn’t know how Iris and Luce had done it. She was already exhausted, and the battle seemed like it had barely begun.  

It took him about thirty seconds to recover from the attack, and in that  period of time , Sophia made her plant grow higher than before. She hoped it could be used to beckon her friends to her side. If they saw the plant, it would tell them where she was. Once Luce arrived, they could send Colin on his way.  

Colin got to his feet and sent a fireball towards Sophia, which she managed to block using the plant coiled around her arm. It faded away quickly, but Sophia got another branch of the plant to guard her arm seconds later.  

Suddenly, a sphere of light came out of nowhere to slam into Colin’s side. He grunted and was sent back onto the ground, creating yet another dent in the ground. Sophia gasped, recognizing that sort of blast.   

“Luce!” Sophia cried as the girl came into view. Beside her was Iris. They were both transformed, flying down the side of the large plant Sophia had created. Her plan had been successful. The plant had brought them to her side.  

“Hang on, Sophia!” Iris exclaimed above the rushing wind. She flew down to a streetlight, forging it into a belt that she wrapped around Colin’s waist to keep him from place.  

Luce  followed after  Iris and slammed her hand against Colin’s neck. He let out a roar of pain as the symbol on his skin was carved away. Luce and Colin both were burned badly, but Sophia couldn’t be more relieved. The battle was as good as done now that Colin could no longer do any damage.  

“I’m glad to see you’re safe,” Iris said with a small smile as Sophia landed at her side. “We were really worried about you after seeing your text.”  

“I’m just glad you managed to get here in time... I know something really bad could have happened if you were much later,” Sophia sighed with a shake of her head.   

“Everything is fine now. We’ve taken care of business,” Luce said, approaching the pair. “I don’t know who this guy is, but he’s unconscious. I don’t know what to do with him now.”  

Sophia frowned. “Do any of you know how to make a portal to another planet? I know where he’s from, and I want to send him back home.”  

“I don’t know how to, I’m afraid,” Iris told her. “Sorry about that... Maybe we could call Tanith. She knows her stuff, and with enough research, she should be able to find the information we need.”  

Sophia cringed when she thought of her phone. “It was destroyed in the fight,” she said. She didn’t know where it was, as she had run a considerable distance since it was stepped on by Colin, but she doubted it mattered. After all, it was as good as debris by now.  

“I can put it back together for you,” Iris offered.   

Sophia’s eyes lit up at this suggestion. She flew up into the air, hoping to get a view of it from a higher vantage point. Thankfully, she was able to catch sight of it. Sophia flew down to its side, Iris trailing after her.  

A brief touch to the device from Iris had it reforming. “Metal magic is helpful, huh?” Iris grinned.   

“Thank you, Iris,” Sophia said thankfully before putting in a number to call. “Hello, Tanith? We need your help with something...”  

~~~~~  

It wasn’t for another hour that Tanith was able to tell them how to get the teleportation spell up and running, and luckily, Colin didn’t wake up during any of it. They also met up with S.M., Carys, and Helena, who had arrived at the scene a few minutes after the fight ended. Afterwards, they headed back in the direction of Alitia for the night.  

Much of the day had passed, and now, it was close to two. Study time had been forgotten, now nothing more than a passing thought here and there. Instead, all attention was on Sophia now that she had reached Isolis.  

As the six arrived back in the dorm, Iris looked to Sophia with a wide smile. “So, how did it happen?” she asked.  

“I was just desperate to get out of a bad situation, and before I knew it, I was at the  Isolis  level,” Sophia shrugged. “I’m just glad that’s over and done with now... I’d be content to never go through something like that again, you know?”  

“I understand that... It’s never fun fighting off somebody who’s possessed,” Iris agreed. “I’m just glad we managed to get out of this fight with limited injuries. It certainly went better than the last battle.”  

Tanith approached the group with Sylvia at her side. “Are you guys okay?” Tanith asked nervously.  

“Nobody was hurt severely, so yes,” Luce shrugged. “Sophia was attacked by somebody who was possessed... But there’s more to it. The person she was up against... He was possessed, but he wasn’t wearing a hood like the previous attackers. In other words, we no longer have a single trait to identify those people by.”  

Tanith frowned. “That’s no good... If we can’t easily identify the people we’re up against, that’s going to make our jobs much harder... What are we going to do now?” she asked.  

“I don’t know,” Luce admitted. “I bet it’ll be hitting the news soon though...”  

“That man... He’s somebody I know. He said he was here to take me back home, but since he was possessed the whole time, I highly doubt he meant it. I think that was a ruse set up by the person who possessed him. He was going to take me somewhere else to fight me for being a thorn in the side of our enemy, if you ask me,” Sophia told the group.  

“Our jobs just got a lot harder then,” Helena said, sitting down on the couch. “My muscles are sore from all that chasing after you guys... I can’t wait to get Isolis. Flying will be much easier than running.”  

“I wouldn’t be so excited... My back hurts a ton,” Sophia sighed. “I can’t heal it without direct contact, but I can’t exactly touch my back easily. I guess I’ll have to go and see Headmistress Satim to ask her for help.”  

“I’ll come with you to make sure you get there alright,” Tanith said, taking Sophia’s shoulders in her hands. The two of them walked away from the dorm room, leaving the other six behind to do as they pleased.  

“Things have gotten a lot harder for all of us,” Luce remarked as they left. “I don’t know how we’re going to take care of things now. I mean, we’ve lost our main trait to identify the people we’re up against.”  

“I don’t know about that,” Iris said. “I mean, we saw that symbol on his neck. That must be another sign of it. Sophia said it was in the outline of the hooded man we’ve been fighting up to this point. That’s a key trait to identify them by, but I do see how that would be an issue.”  

“Why is it a problem? We have something to look for now, right?” Carys asked.  

“But a symbol like that can easily be hidden under clothing. It’ll be much harder to see if somebody is possessed. Plus, it isn’t like all people who Luce is burned by are possessed. It’s going to be difficult to identify who we’re fighting and who we aren’t. I don’t know how we’re going to take care of this. For all we know, any of us could be possessed, and the others would be none the wiser. How are we going to work around that?” S.M. questioned.  

“We’ll have to find a way,” Luce told the group firmly, sitting down on the couch. “We don’t have any other options. If we don’t find a way, we’re going to be in some serious trouble, and that’s the last thing we need. Don’t let this dampen your resolve. We can’t have that.”  

“I guess we’ll need a lot of luck in order to get through this,” Helena sighed. “Maybe we can do some research. Luce, you said you and Tanith were doing research into your magic, right? Once you figure it out, you can determine the types of magic you repel, which would make finding out what our enemy has much easier.”  

“And from there, we can get capsules? In other words, it all rides on what type of magic you have,” S.M. observed.   

“I hope our research concludes soon... We’ll work on it more tomorrow or later tonight. After I finish my homework, I’ll help her get started,” Luce nodded.   

“Until then, we should get back to homework. We want to be free tomorrow, so we need to finish today,” Helena pointed out.  

“She has a point. We can do more work on figuring out Luce’s magic tomorrow,” Iris agreed.  

Everybody murmured their agreement before moving to take care of their homework. Luce stretched her arms up before beginning her own studies. Today had changed everything she had come to know about the hooded figure and the people with him. It was something Luce hated, but she couldn’t do anything about it now. It all came down to the truth about her magic, which she was praying more than ever would come sooner rather than later. If it waited for much longer, the group would certainly find themselves in trouble deeper than anything they could have anticipated.  

Chapter Text

Sunday wound up being filled with homework. The attack on Sophia had taken up a lot more of Saturday than originally anticipated. Only Tanith was finished early, her memory bringing her free time much sooner than the others. She still hung out in the same room, talking and providing assistance where need be.  

When Monday came, Luce was more ready than ever before to see Alistair and Cessair. Hopefully one of them would have some time to talk to her. The day practically passed by in a blur. History continued a discussion on the founding of early planets started the week before, and Luce didn’t have much to contribute to the chat. Instead, she stared at her textbook. She knew what they were talking about, but she couldn’t register it for some reason.  

After Michaela’s class, Luce made a beeline for the library to see if Alistair was free. He was sitting at his desk, writing a few things in a notebook. Luce let out a small sigh of relief at seeing he was still there. “Professor Ogun?” she asked, clenching the shoulder strap of her bag tightly. “Can we talk?”  

Alistair’s face broke into a smile at seeing Luce. “Ah! Luce! I’m glad to see you. I apologize for not getting the chance to talk to you up to this point. Meetings have kept me occupied, I’m afraid... Today, I have about an hour to spend time with students, and if you’re available, I’d be glad to help you learn more about the power you have,” he said.  

“Thank you,” Luce smiled with a small nod. “I’ve been doing a little research on my own time to see what magic I might have at my disposal. My friend Tanith has been helping me. We found a book with a list of light magic and were using that to cross off possibilities. We've narrowed things down a little, but there are still a few things I want to check out.”  

Luce set down her bag and began rustling through it. She pulled out a small paper and smiled to herself. It had the list of magic she and Tanith had made.  A majority of  the names had been crossed off by this point, the few that remained being circled with a red pen. She handed it to Alistair after unfolding it.   

Alistair looked over the list with a small frown. “You’ve been doing quite a bit, I see,” he murmured. “Where did you start?”  

“We began by crossing off magic that doesn’t fit with color. Any magic that manipulates anything else also left pretty quickly. It seems that I can generate my own light rather than manipulate it,” Luce explained. “That brings us to where we are now.”  

Alistair continued to read. He smiled to himself when he saw one type of magic. “Starlight... You crossed it off pretty early, didn’t you?”   

Luce nodded. “Yeah. I remembered what you told me about it only having one Keeper. Since no body was found of the previous Keeper, she must be alive, and I don’t fit that bill.”  

“Plus, you have a father by birth. Keepers do not. They are created only from magic and, in most cases, have no genetic makeup and are impossible to track under normal means,” Alistair pointed out. “Starlight is an easy impossibility...”  

“I think my magic must have come from my mother, whoever she is. I don’t have a clue. She hasn’t been seen in ages. I’ve never met her, at least as far as I can remember,” Luce sighed with a shake of her head. “Do you know of any way to figure out who she is? She's probably the key to finding everything out behind this mess.”  

Alistair frowned and shook his head. “I’m afraid not. It’s a tragedy for sure... There are some places that keep track of who is related to who and such, but you were born and raised far from any major cities, yes?” he prompted.  

“To my knowledge, yes, that’s about right,” Luce answered.  

“Records like that are kept in hospitals. The parents give their names and have them double checked. Often, those who aren’t recorded this way get their names on the papers at some point  later on  in life, but I somehow doubt that applies to you at this moment. Without a name, it’s difficult to track anyone. All we know is that she has light magic. Anything more specific is beyond us. We can narrow it down somewhat by the type of magic you have, an exertion power rather than manipulation, but that’s still a wide spectrum. Anyone with light magic and a child from seventeen years ago could be a possibility, which doesn’t help us one bit,” Alistair frowned.  

Luce cast a brief thought back to what  Zylphia  had said to her the first time they met. She had asked about a woman named Dawn. Luce was positive these days that she had been asking about Dawn Shira, the previous Keeper of Starlight. Technically, she was likely the current Keeper, but with her location unknown, it was difficult to say. She doubted Dawn had anything to do with her past or her mother, but it was worth exploring every avenue, even if it was a dead end, right?  

Alistair noticed the change in expression and tilted his head to one side. “What is it? Do you have an idea?” he asked eagerly.  

Luce shrugged and nodded. “I might... When I first arrived at  Alitia , Headmistress  Satim  asked me if I knew something about a woman named Dawn. I don’t know why she would ask me something like that though... It isn’t a very common name. I’ve only heard it elsewhere when referring to the Keeper of Starlight, Dawn Shira. I somehow doubt the two are related though. Like you said last time we met, she can’t have children. It’s a physical impossibility for Keepers since they have no genetic makeup,” she told him.  

“That is true... However, even if it isn’t a common name, the two may not have a connection at all. It’s something strange,” Alistair frowned. “I think we should look into it the best we can. Anything we can use as a lead is helpful, even if it winds up being a dead end. That’s how investigation works, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.”  

“She would have gone missing about fourteen years ago now,” Luce said. “My first memory was from when I was three, and yet, I never saw her past that point. It would be either seventeen years ago or fourteen years ago. Somewhere in between is a possibility as well.”  

“Hm... I’ll  look into  it. There are records of missing people out there. If it was reported, then perhaps something can be done,” Alistair murmured. “Dawn... Do you think she would have your father’s surname?”  

“Maybe. It’s  Elenes , if you want to mark that down,” Luce shrugged. “I don’t know how well this is going to go. After all, there’s always the chance that I was wrong and misunderstood what Headmistress  Satim  was trying to ask me. I can’t say for sure yet. She was so vague in her wording... It was hard to get much of anything from her implications.”  

“She can be like that. If she wants to keep something a secret or be discreet, she’ll find a way to do it. It’s something I have learned and learned well in my time as a professor here,” Alistair assured Luce. “I’m sure we can find something out... I’ll even ask her myself. How does that sound?”  

“That would be great. When I asked for details, she avoided the subject. I don’t know if she’ll be much more open with you, but it might work. I appreciate all of this, Professor Ogun. You have no idea how much this means to me,” Luce told him with a small smile.   

“It’s my pleasure. I brought you to  Alitia  to help you discover the truth behind your magic. It’s clearly very powerful, more so than most other girls your age. I want to know why that is, and if it means we have to find out more about your mother, then that’s just what we’ll do,” Alistair smiled. “It may take some time for me to produce results though. If you have something else to do, then feel free to take care of it. I don’t think I’ll find much of anything today since I have a meeting soon.”  

“Thanks again,” Luce grinned, picking up her backpack. “Do you think I could have that list of magic back though? I want to do some research of my own if I can.”  

Alistair nodded and pressed his fingers up against the surface of the small sheet of paper. A few seconds later, it began to glow before doubling in volume and splitting into a pair of identical copies. “Here you are,” Alistair said, handing over one copy.  

Luce smiled and nodded her thanks before leaving the library. Now that she had spoken to Alistair, it was time to see what  Cessair  knew about her father. She wasn’t sure where it would take her, but she needed to say something. In six days of school, she hadn’t gotten a moment alone with  Cessair  to ask about what she knew. It was frustrating, to have the information only feet away with no way of accessing it.  

Luce slid into the history classroom, where she saw Severine sitting at her desk.  Cessair  was sitting on one of the student desks as she read a book. Luce knocked on the doorframe. “Hello?”  

“Ah. Luce,” Severine said, rising to her feet. “What brings you here?”  

Luce looked over to  Cessair . “I... I wanted to talk to  Cessair  about something,” she explained.  

Severine looked between the two girls before nodding. She gathered a small pile of supplies before leaving the room. Luce watched her leave before turning to face Cessair.  

Cessair  had set her book down and left it to be abandoned. She got to her feet and walked over to Luce. “What did you want to talk about?” she asked.  

“You know something about my father,” Luce told her bluntly. “And I want to hear details. They’re important.”  

“Getting right to the point, huh?”  Cessair  murmured. She returned to the desk she had been sitting on, moving to the side to allow Luce a chance to sit as well. “What is it you want to know?”  

“You recognized his name when I said it last week. Why is that? He’s a mercenary of some repute, but I find it odd that a teenager would know him by name. You seem a bit young to request work, and I don’t recognize you as one of our clients,” Luce frowned.  

“That’s an easy one. I don’t know anything about his mercenary work, but I do know about  Cryon   Elenes . Anybody who knows recent history knows about  Cryon  Elenes. For crying out loud, he led battle after battle in the War of Starlight twenty-five years ago,” Cessair smiled.  

“What?” Luce asked in shock. She hadn’t known  Cryon  was a graduate of the Millennium Six up until recently, but now she was hearing he was a soldier? It would explain why he was unnaturally good in battle, though that could easily be shrugged off due to his manifestation.   

“Yeah.  Cryon   Elenes  was part of the Starlight Camaraderie. It was a group of eight soldiers from the different Millennium Six school. They were leaders of the army in the battle against the Keeper of Moonlight,” Cessair told her.  

“Okay, slow down. Start from the beginning,” Luce pressed. It seemed like she was learning more about her father in the week she had been a student at Alitia than she had after living with him for seventeen years of her life.  

“Alright. Got it. A long time ago, a group of eight students attended different Millennium Six schools. Their names were  Cryon   Elenes , Dawn Shira,  Zylphia   Satim Jin  Maestro, Minerva  Claudere Altina   Latheia Fromir  Carpathia, and Caius Minato,”  Cessair  began. “I’m sure most of those names sound familiar.”  

“Yeah... The head teachers of the Millennium Six... My father... And the Keeper of Starlight,” Luce murmured.  

“Exactly. They attended the schools up through their senior year. Suddenly, hostilities were breaking out everywhere. Good friends of Dawn and Headmistress  Satim  were dying left and right. When they did some investigating, they found out the man behind it was  Ragnor  Malefician, the Keeper of Moonlight at the time. As the body count increased, war was declared on Ragnor, a student of Sierra at the time. The eight of them led armies into battle from all six schools despite their young age,” Cessair continued.  

“My father was a general...?” Luce whispered in shock.   

“He was. He was one of the best students at his school too. Everyone considered him a prodigy. He was a great help in winning the war against Ragnor, to say the least. You can’t exactly consider this to be fact, but rumor has it that he was in love with Dawn, the leader of their little group,” Cessair went on.  

“My father knew her...” Luce would have to keep this in mind when talking to Alistair in the future for sure.   

“The group fought in the war long and hard. It lasted an entire summer. At the end of it, Dawn and  Ragnor  dueled on Millennia. Their battle lasted for hours, and when it ended,  Ragnor  was declared dead. Dawn had been severely injured, but she managed to pull through and declare the war over,” Cessair said. “And after that... She disappeared.”  

Luce’s eyes widened in shock. “Just like that? After winning a war, she up and left?”  

“Yeah. She claimed the fighting was done, so there was no reason for her to remain. Your father disappeared at about the same time, and everybody thought they had died. It remained that way for many years. About twelve years later, your father resurfaced as a simple mercenary. He was always on the move on Amity to avoid something. I can’t say what. He gained a reputation by that point, though none of his old comrades were able to contact him. It was like he knew when they were trying to reach out and was ignoring them, if you can believe that,” Cessair frowned.  

“I had no idea... I mean, we did move around a lot when I was a kid, but we settled down eventually,” Luce muttered. Everything was happening so fast  all of a sudden . It was hard to wrap her head around.  

“I understand it’s probably hard to hear all this, but it’s true. Your father was a legend in the war twenty-five years ago. Seeing you here... It’s amazing. Everybody thought he had died for so long, and then he reappears with a daughter in tow. And on top of that, she has magic! You can imagine my surprise then, huh?”  Cessair  told her with a wide smile.  

Luce didn’t know what to say to that. Her head was spinning with her new knowledge regarding her father. Every revelation confused her further. She hadn’t heard about any of this in her years upon years of living with him. What else was he hiding? Why had he kept it secret to begin with? Why did he run from his friends? Did he have something to do with the Keeper of Starlight? What possible reason could he have for avoiding the people had fought and grown to care for over the course of years?  

“I understand why you would be confused about everything. It’s a lot to take in,”  Cessair  frowned. “But I’ll always be here if you want to talk about it. That’s about all I know about your father for the time being. I can do some extra research though. The War of Starlight has always interested me. It’s so strange to think that such an important figure from it has resurfaced with a daughter... I have a lot of research to do, that’s for sure.”  

Luce smiled to herself, hoping she wasn’t giving away how upset she was internally at her father for lying to her. “Thank you for all of this,  Cessair . I appreciate what you’ve been doing for me,” Luce said. “I don’t know how much help I’ll be in finding out more about him though. I mean, I didn’t know about any of what you just told me up until now.”  

“I’m always here to help,”  Cessair  grinned. She wrapped an arm around Luce’s shoulders, but when they touched, an electric pulse seemed to pass through their bodies.   

It was enough to make them cry out in shock and pull away immediately. Luce rubbed at her shoulder, wincing slightly at the pain. “Gods above... That stings,” she murmured.  

“I don’t know what that’s about... It’s happened on and off for most of my life, but I don’t know why it would happen now,”  Cessair  frowned.  

“What?” Luce asked. If  Cessair  had given Luce that strange sensation, she could have something to do with her magic. The feeling was like a brief burning, not unlike what she had experienced when touching those with magic opposed to hers. It was much shorter, which made it easier to endure, but it was strange regardless.  

“It’s weird... I mean, I have water magic, so I only really oppose fire magic. However, it isn’t supposed to cause static like that. However, when I touch the head teachers, I always get that feeling. Professor Apollo causes the same thing to happen. I don’t know why it happens, but it does,”  Cessair  explained. “I wish I could tell you something more about that, but I don’t know myself. That makes things much harder to discuss, huh?”  

“I don’t get it either... I’ve had issues with burning sensations, but up until this point it’s only been people with possession magic that I’ve had problems with. If somebody can possess others or is possessed, it burns me. My magic is based around light, so it might make sense if the possession is based around darkness. I don’t know what water would have to do with that though,” Luce said.  

“Hm... I wonder if you have a  submagic  category that would explain that,” Cessair murmured.  

Submagic ?” Luce repeated.  

Submagic  is when you have a primary power, but you have some other powerful magic lurking in your genetic makeup. Sometimes, even if it isn’t active and useable, it can have negative effects on other people and yourself,”  Cessair  told her. “I’d assume I have some  submagic  that would explain where it came from.”  

“Then... What submagic do you have?” Luce asked.  

“I can’t say for sure. I can’t exactly ask my parents about it... Severine wouldn’t know... There isn’t really a method of finding out the truth. I’m sorry I can’t help you out more,” Cessair frowned.  

“It’s alright... It was probably a long shot anyways. My magic seems to be hostile towards anything and everything when it’s in a bad mood. Who knew my abilities had the attitude of a sassy child?” Luce questioned with a small smile.   

“I can do the best I can to look into it though. I want to help you. Consider it a gift from a history buff to an important figure,”  Cessair  smiled.   

“I appreciate the offer, Cessair. I’ll leave it up to you. I know you have a lot to do with working as part of the school’s staff and stuff,” Luce said.  

“I’ll see what I can do,”  Cessair  told her. She reached out to put a hand on Luce’s shoulder, but she pulled away before they could make contact. “Ah, sorry. I’m still not used to thinking about that static thing.”  

“It’s alright. This means a lot to me, Cessair,” Luce smiled. “I know you have other things to do today, so I’ll leave you to them. I’ll see you around.”  

Cessair  waved as Luce moved for the door. “I’ll see you later!” she chirped.   

Luce shut the door behind her and started walking back to her dorm, silent as she moved quickly through the halls. She would need to ask Tanith about the topic of  submagic  next. It seemed that her main magic opposed the possession, but  submagic  was an avenue still important to explore if they were to find the truth.   

She thought of her touch with  Cessair  and of the static therein. Something was bothering her about that moment. The pain was  similar to  the burning, but it was nowhere near as intense. If  Cessair  had possession  submagic  in her blood, the possibility of others holding that  submagic  to cause the disruption was there as well. It was enough to make her head spin in circles at the speed of light. Why couldn’t the gods and the universe have pity on  her?  All she asked for were answers, but it seemed those were doomed not to come unless Luce forced them out of hiding.  

When Luce arrived back at her dorm, her friends could already sense that something was bothering her. She set her bag down and stretched before taking a seat on the couch at S.M.’s side. “How are you guys?” Luce asked with a sigh.  

“I could ask you the same thing,” S.M. frowned. “You’re pretty late in getting back.”  

“I had to talk to a few people. Professor Ogun and I are thinking about what magic I could have. Overall, that went pretty well. After that, I went to talk to Cessair, the history assistant about my father. She seemed to know something on the first day of school, and sure enough, she had more information than I ever could have anticipated,” Luce said.  

“Tell us about it then,” Helena told her. She had been stretched out on the floor, but she moved into a sitting position to turn her attention away from a history assignment and towards Luce.  

“She said my father not only attended a Millennium Six school but was a general leading the war effort in the War of Starlight twenty-five years ago. He fought alongside the head teachers and the Keeper of Starlight to defeat the Keeper of Moonlight. After the war ended, he and the Keeper of Starlight disappeared and avoided being found by their comrades for years after the fact. Even now, he refuses to contact any of them,” Luce explained. “In a nutshell,  Cessair  told me everything about his life that I didn’t know... I  have to  wonder why he would hide it though. I mean, I’m his daughter. He’s a famous general, as I’m now finding out. What reason would he possibly have to keep it secret?”  

“He must have gone to a lot of trouble,” Tanith murmured, typing away at her phone. “He’s famous for his work in the war apparently. Everybody alive at the time of the War of Starlight knows who he is. However, he gave all that up and decided to run off to Amity to start a new life. He would have had to find a place far from all civilization. I mean, even on another world, people would know who he is. It’s hard not to recognize a famous general from a recent war. I don’t know why he went to all that trouble, but he was determined to stay hidden.”  

“Has your mother been researching him at all in the past?” Iris questioned.  

“A little bit, but it hasn’t ever been something major. For the most part, she  looks into  things on the side and focuses on her job as the leader of Alitia. I’ve heard her talking about it with Jin. They’ve been looking for him for a while, since before I joined them four years ago,” Tanith replied. “Up until recently, they didn’t know if he was alive or dead, as far as I can tell. They heard word of a mercenary named Cryon, but they never went any deeper than that. It was like he was trying not to be found.”  

“I don’t know why he would try to hide all of this. The truth has a way of coming out no matter what, and yet, he still avoided it. I’ve had my father all my life. I just don’t understand why he would try to convince me he was somebody else entirely,” Luce sighed with a shake of her head.  

“It’s also curious as to why he never changed his name. I mean, if famous figures go into hiding, they sometimes change their names to keep anybody after them from tracking them down,” Tanith pointed out. “It’s possible to change genetic makeup to create something false as well. It’s a disguise, to put it simply.”  

“How can they change their genetic makeup though?”  Carys  questioned. “That’s impossible.”  

“The most powerful mages can do anything. Some mages of old gave life to desolate, wastelands of planets. Some can cure any illness. Some can change genetic makeup into something entirely new. It depends on the person behind the magic, but it is possible. It would likely have to be a world building mage from ancient times, but some of them can still live,” Tanith explained.  

“I don’t understand any of this. None of it makes any sense... I wish he would just come out and tell me the truth. I want to ask him why he’s been hiding all this, but I know I’ll need to confront him face to face, and we don’t have a break from school until the halfway point of the semester. Until then, there’s nothing I can do to get him to open up,” Luce frowned. “In other words, my research will have to wait. I can’t get the truth until I see him, and I can’t see him for two months yet.”  

“Can’t you just call him?”  Carys  asked, looking at Luce with a judging glare. “That would solve this issue much faster.”  

“I know how he works better than anybody. Trust me when I say that he doesn’t  open up  about something unless you’re right in front of him. It’s a talent, I guess. He knows when he wants to keep things quiet, and he will. If you want important information, you had better be standing right in front of him. If you don’t, you don’t stand a chance,” Luce responded. “There isn’t a thing I can do to go and see him until then.”  

Sylvia, who had previously been reading a textbook with sleepy eyes, looked up. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that... You can always skip,” she suggested.  

Tanith shook her head. “No way.  Zylphia  always knows if somebody is skipping class. Some have tried it in the past. It doesn’t work. Even if you say you’re sick, she’ll drop by to check on you. As a skilled healer, she can patch up most illnesses. It’s a road you should avoid if you know what’s good for you,” she told Sylvia.  

“So... That’s it? We can’t do anything until then?” S.M. frowned.  

“I never said that. We can still research Luce’s magic and see if we can get anything out of it. Did anything else happen at your meeting with Cessair?” Tanith asked.  

“When we went to touch, there was this weird static electricity feeling. It was like a miniature version of the burning sensation I get when I touch somebody under the influence of possession. It hurt, though not very much. I don’t know where it came from, and when I asked her, she couldn’t give an answer either. She said it probably had something to do with submagic,” Luce explained.  

Iris sighed. “Well, that just makes things harder for us.  Submagic  is hard to track. Unless you look directly at somebody’s genetic makeup and have other examples to compare it to, you can’t find out what type of submagic somebody has specifically.”  

“I don’t know how to track  submagic ... Apparently, it’s the sort of thing that requires a huge database only the government has access to. We can’t do anything about that. There’s nothing around here that can tell us how to track  submagic  or anything else, for that matter. We’re going to have to do this the old-fashioned way,” Sophia murmured with a shake of her head.  

“Gods, what other bad news is today planning on piling on top of us?” S.M. snarked. “If  submagic  could give a clue to finding Luce’s magic but we can’t track it, that’s a dead end. If Luce’s father could help us but we can’t talk to him, that’s a dead end. All that’s left is to cross things off the list Tanith and Luce already made, which isn’t exactly a good solution. It’s easy to make mistakes there.”  

“We’re nowhere near professionals, as I’m sure you’re all aware. We’re trying to do this in between schoolwork and free time. It’s going to be something different entirely to find something that fits with a random dark  submagic  that could have nothing to do with the possession for all we know,” Tanith muttered.  

“To put it simply, things have just gotten a lot harder for us. The chances of us finding out the truth is getting slimmer and slimmer. Why don’t we just give it up and surrender ourselves to our fates, huh?”  Carys  complained with a noisy sigh.   

“We can’t give up next, even if the world is trying to get in our way. We can power through this. I know it,” Sophia announced, determination shining in her eyes.  

Luce nodded her quiet agreement, though deep down, she couldn’t help her unsettled nerves. Things had just gotten harder with the revelation about  Cessair , and she knew the truth about her father would bother her for the two months she had until they could talk, perhaps longer.  Alitia  was quickly breaking away everything she had come to know, which was easily the worst part about moving to this new environment.  

Chapter Text

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.  

“Sylvia?”  

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.  

Chapter Text

It wouldn’t be for another week and a half that Luce got the chance to talk to Michaela. With roughly five weeks left until the first break of the year, the truth about her father seemed closer than ever, but at the same time, part of it was distant as well. It was just out of her grasp and would continue to be until she returned to Amity, and even then, true information was not guaranteed. It left her unsatisfied to think of, but until she went back home, there was nothing she could do about it. Luce’s eager anticipation would have to be put aside for the time being.  

After a long week of training in magical combat, Michaela decided to grant the class a break. “You’ve been doing so well up to this point. I understand sparring constantly can be exhausting, and we can’t have any of you getting sick. Feel free to relax for the remainder of the period,” she had declared before returning to her office tucked away behind a glass wall in the training area.  

Luce had glanced briefly to her companions. They were busy doing homework in Sophia’s case or playing around on a phone in Sylvia’s situation. Luce watched them sit still for a few moments before darting over to where Michaela was. She approached her teacher hesitantly before tapping her on the shoulder. “Professor Apollo?” she managed to say despite the nerves rising. Luce was rarely a particularly nervous person, but this felt weird to her in a few ways. She was asking one of her teachers, who she scarcely spoke to as it was, about light magic when she could very possibly know nothing.   

Michaela looked up and smiled upon seeing Luce. Her usual calming aura spread over Luce, settling her nerves slightly. “Hello, Luce. Is there something you wanted to ask me about?” she asked.  

Luce internally told her fear to pipe down before speaking. “I wanted to talk to you about my magic,” she frowned. “You said you have light powers, right?”  

“I do, as a matter of fact. Let me guess... You’re trying to figure out what type of magic you have at your disposal,” Michaela said.  

“How did you guess?” Luce questioned.   

Michaela gestured to a nearby chair and had Luce sit. “When she isn’t sparring, your friend Tanith is always scribbling in a notebook. I caught a glimpse of it once and saw names of light magic types,” Michaela answered. “I figured it had to do with you given the mysterious circumstances under which you came to Alitia.”  

“Mysterious is one way of putting it... I’ve been trying to find the truth for ages, but we can’t track anything down. It’s almost  like  my light magic just doesn’t exist. No matter what we do, nothing fits the description of my powers. It’s irritating, to say the least,” Luce sighed. “Since you have light magic, we figured you would know better than anyone what types people have.”  

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to provide you with an exact title, but I may be able to construct some ideas. I figured you were trying to find the truth, so I’ve been watching you closely in class. If you want the truth, your powers are seeming rather  similar to  mine,” Michaela told her.   

“Do you know the name of what you have then? I want to do some research about it on my own, if that’s okay,” Luce said eagerly. This was just the chance she had been waiting for. Michaela had an idea of what magic she had, which was the best news Luce had gotten in a while. Ever since talking to Tanith and hearing that her magic could be new, she had been on edge. Something inside of her leapt with joy at the mere prospect of finally having an idea on where to go next.  

Michaela frowned. “I’m afraid I don’t have much of anything for you. I’ve never found out the name of my magic. I’ve had access to it since I was a child and controlling it has never been much of an issue. I don’t think I ever learned the name, or if I did, I simply forgot. I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” she explained to Luce.  

Luce nodded slowly, her happiness soon fading and giving way to hopelessness once again. “Thanks anyways,” she said, hoping her voice didn’t give away how awful she felt at hearing that. She had thought they were finally going to get somewhere, but in the end, she was right back to where they had started.   

“I might not know the name of my magic, but I can still do my best to help you control it. If it is like mine, then I can teach you everything I know. Most other students here have an advantage over you in that their powers developed from a younger age. You’re an odd exception to have learned the truth of your heritage so late in life,” Michaela remarked.   

“Yeah. It wasn’t until I came here about a week before school started that anything happened. One person touched my ankle, and after that, everything started moving so fast... My magic developed and revealed itself, and I was brought here to figure out what was going on. Professor Ogun said he hadn’t ever seen anything like it,” Luce frowned.   

Now that she was saying that last sentence out loud, it made sense that Tanith didn’t seem to be able to find a match to her magic in the book. Alistair was a professional in investigation of magic. He was good enough to get into  Alitia  for his prowess in magical research. If he didn’t know what was going on, there was a strong chance the magic didn’t exist prior to Luce’s birth. It was an unsettling thought, but it made a lot more sense than Luce would care to admit.  

“It really is odd... But regardless, I want to try and help you to the best of my ability. I unfortunately can’t do much alone with you during class since I need to focus on all my students. After school is becoming increasingly difficult with all these attacks as well. I have to be in meetings to decide what our next action will be should another student be attacked or if the school is invaded,” Michaela murmured. “How about this? We can exchange phone numbers, and if you’re ever available at the same time I am, I’ll ask you to come and see me. We can go from there.”  

Luce nodded. “That’s a good idea. I’ll go and get my phone so we can do that,” she agreed.  

Michaela waited as Luce dashed out into the gymnasium to grab her phone. Her companions shot her confused glances. Sophia looked between Luce and the office curiously. Sylvia merely stared. Luce ignored both of them and returned to Michaela’s office, phone in hand. Luce told Michaela her phone number and tucked it away into her pocket. “Thanks again, Professor Apollo,” she smiled, bowing her head forward ever so slightly.  

“It’s my pleasure, Luce. I’m here to help you, and so I shall. I’ll be glad to help you control your magic. I hope that your search begins to look up from here on out,” Michaela smiled, giving Luce another wave of calm to settle her mostly-relaxed nerves.   

Luce began to fiddle with the edge of her hair, a typical nervous instinct she had developed over the course of the years. She had styled her hair this way many years ago, and it had simply stuck. She had been keeping her hair this way since she was about six, she realized.  

“Hm... Can I see your eyes for a moment?” Michaela suddenly asked.  

Luce found the question odd, but she saw no harm in it. “Alright,” she shrugged. She pushed her hair away from her eye and looked into Michaela’s gaze silently.  

Michaela met her eyes and stared for a few moments. Luce could tell something was bothering her merely by the look on her face, but she didn’t know how to approach the question. Michaela nodded a few seconds later. Luce returned her hair to normal, combing through her fingers through her blue strands at this cue.  

“I believe that’s all I have to say for the time being. You can stay in here if you like, but I don’t have any other ideas for what to talk about,” Michaela told her. Something serious was in her gaze, but Luce couldn’t put a finger on it. It was frustrating her, to say the least.  

“Alright,” Luce nodded. She didn’t want to stay in the office, as the area had grown heavy with tension since Michaela had looked into her eyes. A chill ran up her spine, so she turned on her heel and left the room behind, a frown appearing on her features.  

Luce walked back to where her two friends were sitting and took her place against the wall. She leaned her head back and stared at the ceiling. What in the world had Michaela found so interesting about her eyes? It made very little sense to her, but she didn’t know how to ask her about it. Something about the situation bothered her in a way she couldn’t explain.  

Sophia eyed Luce curiously when she sat down. “You’re acting strange,” she observed. “Is something on your mind?”  

Luce shrugged. “I guess you could say that... I talked to Professor Apollo. I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Bad news is that Professor Apollo has no idea what magic I have at my disposal. It appears Tanith and I will have to go back to square one with figuring out what I have. There’s no other option for us, it seems,” she frowned.  

“That’s not good,” Sylvia sighed. By some miracle, she was still conscious. It was surprising to Luce, seeing her awake and alert. She had been changed considerably since she was attacked in Millennium City a few weeks before. She was staying awake more often, but her shoulders were tense, her posture nearly perfect. It was unsettling after getting used to her old personality.  

“She said she has good news too. What’s the good news?” Sophia asked, turning to face Luce after briefly speaking with Sylvia.  

“Professor Apollo said she’d be glad to talk to me on the side and help me hone my magic. We can train together and talk about my magic when we both have a free moment between working on other things. Let me tell you, that’s a relief to hear. I was halfway worried I would have to deal with this on my own,” Luce admitted.  

Sophia shook her head. “You aren’t dealing with anything alone. We’ll all be right here and will gladly help you figure out what your magic is about. The seven of us will gladly stick by your side until we’ve found the truth,” she assured Luce.   

Luce smiled at her words. “Thank you, Sophia. It means a lot to me that you’d say that. Truly. I know a lot has been happening between school, homework, and the  attacks , so the fact that you’d even offer is greatly appreciated,” she told Sophia.  

Sophia shrugged, her cheeks going pink slightly. “It’s nothing... I’m just doing what anybody would do for their friends. I’m sure Sylvia feels the same way.”  

Sylvia nodded, though it seemed as if she had just entered the conversation after having been spacing out for a quite a while. She looked exhausted, even more than usual. Luce knew something must have happened to her while she was in Millennium City earlier in the year, as it had prompted these dramatic changes, but she didn’t know what it was. She wouldn’t be positive of what it was until Sylvia opened, which likely wouldn’t happen for a while yet.  

Sophia had picked up on the changes in Sylvia’s demeanor as well. “What’s going on? Are you feeling alright? You’ve been acting strangely recently,” she commented, a frown appearing on her face. “You know you can always talk to us. We’ll always be here for you if you need it.”  

Sylvia’s shoulders tensed. “I... Um...” she stammered, casting a brief glance at the clock on the wall. A few seconds later, the final bell of the day pierced the air. Sylvia threw herself to her feet. “Sorry. I need to get going.” She seized her bag from the floor and ran quickly from the classroom.  

Sophia turned to Luce and frowned. “Something is definitely wrong with her... What’s going on?” Sophia asked softly. “She’s been acting so oddly ever since she was ambushed in Millennium City... It almost seems like she’s a different person entirely, if you know what I mean.”  

“I’ve noticed it too. I don’t know what’s going on, but I have a bad feeling about it. Do you think she’s been feeling sick?” Luce questioned. She somehow doubted this was the case, but she wanted to propose it anyways. If they got rid of other possibilities, they could narrow in on what had happened and strike the issue down permanently.  

“I don’t think so... She acted  more sickly  before the attack than after it. Now, she’s on her guard all the time. She stays awake more often and takes ages to fall asleep... It’s an odd change, and I don’t know what happened,” Sophia frowned. “I’m positive it had something to do with the Millennium City attack. We’ve gone over what happened so many times now, but it always seems like there’s something about it she wants to hide. I can’t fathom why that would be. I like to believe she trusts us with any secrets she may hold, and yet, she’s still stayed quiet...”  

“We should talk to the others about it. If something really has gone wrong, we should talk to her about it and address it before it becomes a larger issue. I don’t want her to suffer in silence. I’m sure they’ve noticed it too,” Luce said. “When we get back to the room, we can talk to the others. I somehow doubt she’s going back to the dorm just yet. I bet she’s planning on avoiding us for a while until this whole thing blows over, but it isn’t going to work. I won’t let it work.”  

“Let’s head on back then. We have a lot to take care of tonight with homework and such, and I would rather help Sylvia sooner rather than later. It won’t do her any good to suffer for longer than she has to,” Sophia suggested. “Plus, we want to finish discussing it before she gets back from wherever she’s going off to.”  

Luce nodded her agreement and got to her feet. With that said, she and Sophia grabbed their bags and left the magical combat training area to head back to their dorm room.  

~~~~~  

A few hours later,  Zylphia  walked into the meeting room of Acadia. The other head teachers were inside waiting for her, frowns on their faces. Granted, it wasn’t like they were a particularly happy bunch to begin with, as they had important duties to carry out as the leaders of the Millennium Six. However, it was unsettling to see  Jin  looking so solemn. It had been quite a while since  Zylphia  had seen her  partner  looking so severe.  

“I guess the meeting can begin then,”  Fromir  sighed, propping his head up in one hand. “What  are  we supposed to do about all that's been happening?”  

“There isn’t a chance these attacks are over now, right?” Jin asked.  

“I highly doubt it. We’ve had lengthy breaks between these in the past, but they always come back. I somehow doubt our mysterious enemy is going to be willing to give up on his plans so easily,” Minerva murmured with a shake of her head. “We need a real plan to track them down.”  

“The most recent attack was of the mastermind, as far as I can tell,”  Altina  remarked. “He matches the description of the first culprit perfectly, and he bore no mark of possession. I’m positive he was the one behind everything taking place.”  

“So far, we think it’s a Sierra student... However, I don’t know who it could be. Nobody sticks out to me as a potential culprit at the moment. Perhaps I should look a bit closer, but the fact remains that I have no immediate ideas. I’m positive we’ll find something eventually,” Fromir told the group.  

“The problem is that we might have more issues, like other attacks, before we find something. Eight  Alitia  students have had a few issues with being attacked, and I don’t stand for it,” Jin declared. “We can’t let things escalate further.”  

“You don’t need to cover it up, Jin. We know you’re worried about Tanith,” Caius frowned.   

Jin  didn’t give a response, though he did open his mouth  in an attempt to  say something. Minerva spoke over him. “And then there’s the matter of that young Alitia girl.”  

“Luce?” Zylphia questioned.  

Altina  nodded. “I’ve heard she can reverse the possessions,” she said. “That’s incredibly helpful, but it doesn’t explain much.”  

“If I'm being honest, she shouldn’t exist,” Caius cut in bluntly. “We all know what happened. We just don’t know what happened. It’s something we need to look into, but I don’t know how.”  

“I’m taking her presence at  Alitia  as a blessing. She can help us out significantly by reversing the possessions. I have a feeling I know the truth about her magic, though she is unaware. I can’t be sure though. I haven’t seen any marking on her skin,”  Zylphia  frowned.   

“Just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it isn’t there,”  Altina  pointed out. “Markings can appear anywhere, even places regularly covered.”  

“I mean, just look at us. You’d never expect it,”  Jin  agreed with a small nod.  

“Is she aware of what is at her disposal?” Fromir questioned.  

Zylphia  shook her head. “She doesn’t have a clue. She’s been researching it, but as far as I’m aware, she doesn’t know what her powers are capable of. That’s probably for the best, at least for now. I’m sure the truth would be overwhelming, and that’s probably putting it lightly,” she answered.  

“You can’t keep stalling forever. The sooner she knows, the sooner we can fight back reliably. Plus, she might be able to spread it,” Jin said hopefully.  

“Somehow, I doubt that. We’ve never seen a situation like this one. I don’t know if it can be spread to begin with. If it can’t be, we’re going to have to use our powers to expose the corruption,” Altina declared.  

“I don’t even think that’s possible. Blessings wear down over time. We may be immune, but that doesn’t mean we can reverse the work of our unknown enemy. Furthermore, she has a purer type than we do. We’ve got something that’s indirect. Hers is direct, though it shouldn’t even be possible,”  Zylphia  frowned. “This is confusing, to say the least.”  

“Does she know at all where Dawn could be?” Minerva asked.  

“Nobody knows. She doesn’t have a clue who she even is,”  Zylphia  remarked. “She didn’t even know  Cryon  was involved with a woman named Dawn since she’s been gone for so long. That should be all you need to know on the matter... Speaking of  Cryon , he’s not helping at all.”  

“Have any of you had luck with getting in contact with him?” Caius questioned.  

“I’ve got nothing. I’ve been trying and trying to ask him for mercenary services, but he’s been ignoring my request. I guess he knows I’m just trying to get him here so we can pester him about Dawn,”  Fromir  sighed. “He has to know something. He was the last person who saw her before she disappeared twenty-five years ago. If he doesn’t know where she’s gone off to, we’re in a heaping hunk of trouble.”  

“I can’t be sure if he knows or not. They did leave together, but I’m starting to think they went their separate ways. Luce doesn’t know who her mother is. Dawn hasn’t been seen in ages... It does make you wonder... How did this even happen?” Zylphia questioned.  

“It shouldn’t be possible. By all logic, it can’t be true, and yet, here we are. I feel like we’re missing a crucial piece of the puzzle here,” Jin murmured.  

“There isn’t much we can do to complete this puzzle until after we can finally talk to Cryon. He won’t get into contact with any of us, so we’ll have to rely on an outside source to talk to him or get him over here. Perhaps his daughter would be able to drag him out of that rock he’s been hiding under for the past two and a half decades,” Altina snorted.  

“I don’t know. The point is, we can’t do much of anything about it now. We're getting sidetracked. Let’s focus on what really matters here. We need to find a way to stop these attacks by figuring out who’s under the hood. Whoever they are, they’re repelled by Luce, and that can mean only one thing...” Minerva said, her voice trailing off.  

Nobody said anything after that. They all knew what she was implying. It was a startling thought to Zylphia, who spoke up to break the silence. “And here I thought the priests said they’d keep something like this from happening again... Gods above are we unlucky,” she grumbled.  

“By this point, they’d be about twenty-five or so. I can’t imagine they’d be at Sierra under regular circumstances... So maybe we aren’t dealing with a student here. Perhaps it’s somebody else, someone even more dangerous,” Caius suggested.  

“I don’t think that’s the case. Blessings still repel the opposite power. He only had to give our Sierra cantor some power for the repelling to work and serve its purpose. The burning is much less severe on our culprit in comparison to Luce, so the ratio of magic is in her favor. She has more to backfire against her when contact is made,” Zylphia pointed out.  

“We either need to take this cantor down or figure out who’s giving him power. Either way, it’ll cause a change in these attacks, lowering them drastically. Finding Dawn should be our next priority... Do you think she’s on Amity? She’d be a massive help to taking him out,” Fromir said.  

“I don’t know. Amity is her home, but there’s no saying if she stayed there. Most Starlight Keepers return to Amity at some point in their lives, but Dawn was never normal. Some Keepers were violent warmongers who wanted all they deemed beneath them to perish. She was a pacifist. She’s a unique girl, and there’s no predicting her actions despite how long we’ve known her for,” Minerva answered.  

“This is a mess. Why can’t we just drag  Cryon  out of Amity and get him to tell us everything? That will lead us to the place Dawn was last, which may be enough to find her,”  Jin  suggested impatiently.  

“She’s been gone for sixteen years. That’s  a majority of  the time the two have been away from us. That’s longer than we’ve been head teachers. The chances of us tracking her down are slim at best if we follow that path. We’re better off continuing our research on our own and hoping we can find something to track her location,” Caius told him.  

“I wish Keepers had DNA,” Altina complained. “That would make things so much easier.”  

Zylphia  nodded her agreement. Keepers had never been created with genetic material since they technically had no parents. They were beings of pure magic with nothing inside to code for their existences. It was for the same reason that Keepers were infertile and lacked any reproductive abilities.   

Fromir  hesitated before speaking up again. “What if we’re going about this all wrong? What if we assumed incorrectly that Luce has a connection to Dawn? For all we know, there could be no link,” he pointed out.  

“I suppose that’s true... Luce is the spitting image of her father. Maybe there’s no link at all and  Cryon’s  Blessing was passed on to her when she was born,” Minerva agreed.  

“I don’t think that’s the case. Blessings can be passed down to  leaths , but a  leath  can’t pass down a Blessing. They don’t have the genetic makeup to pass it down to the next generation. These light abilities would have to be from the mother, and unless Dawn went behind our backs, it wouldn’t work,” Altina frowned.  

“On top of that, if her mother had other magic, it would override the Blessing. It would be there, but it wouldn’t be useable,”  Zylphia  nodded. “There’s only one possibility, and it can’t be real. It goes against all the laws of the universe. I don’t want to think about what this could lead to in the future if this impossibility is taking place.”  

“It isn’t possible... But if it is happening... Then it could again,” Caius said sternly.  

The room was covered with a blanket of tension and nerves at his words. The implications were heavy and meant potentially negative things depending on the Keeper of Moonlight.  

“You can’t mean that the Sierra cantor causing all this is one of the scientific impossibilities. That isn’t possible,”  Zylphia  murmured, shaking her head. “It simply can’t be...”  

Zylphia  is right. The current Keeper would be twenty-five, and I highly doubt a twenty-five-year-old has a child that’s seventeen or sixteen at the absolute youngest,”  Fromir  pointed out. “Besides, I’m sure I would have noticed getting shocked by electricity when I touched somebody from the school.”  

“It’s all so confusing... I don’t like it. We need to do more investigating to figure out what’s happening. I don’t know where in the Magian Dimension we’re going to find those answers, but there  has to  be something out there. There’s a lot out there on a lot of different planets and realms. Surely something in a book somewhere will have the information we need,”  Altina  declared, though Zylphia could sense her lack of confidence. It seemed like she was trying to convince herself as well as the people around her.  

“I’m sure we’ll come across the answer one day, but until then, we’ll just have to wait and pray we get something fed to us on a silver platter. I don’t know if it’ll happen sooner or later, if ever, but what other options do we have? It all comes down to Dawn, but we can’t find her.  Cryon  probably doesn’t know where she is. If he doesn’t know, we can’t find out the truth easily either. He’s our ticket to Dawn, but if he doesn’t have the information we need, we’re as good as screwed here,”  Jin  sighed, frustration seeping into his voice.   

“It’s not going in our favor, that’s for sure. I think it would be nice if the universe decided to be merciful, but at the moment, the chances of that are slim... The attacks all come back to the Keeper of Moonlight, and if we can’t figure out who they are, we’ve got nothing,” Caius said calmly to get Jin to back off slightly.  

“We should visit the Church of Moonlight on Enmity soon. Maybe we can ask about the Keeper after Ragnor. If all goes according to plan, they’ll be able to tell us who the next Keeper is, and from there, we can expose their plans against the Millennium Six and stop the attacks. If we can find the leader of the criminal group, we’ll find their lackeys too,” Minerva suggested.  

“She makes a good point... At the same time, I think we would have figured out if another Keeper had been born. It would have made news somewhere or been recorded in a place one of us could access. We’re the head teachers of the most influential schools in  all of  Magia. If we don’t have the information, then I’ve got a bad feeling about it. Maybe the Church of Moonlight will have it, but there’s no way to tell,” Zylphia said.  

“I don’t know what the future holds for us, but it probably isn’t good. It’s a matter of time before another attack takes place, potentially in Millennium City or at one of our schools. It’s been almost two weeks since the previous assault on an  Alitia  student named Sylvia. With the recent times we’ve been given, there are a few weeks between attacks. Here’s to hoping the enemy isn’t in the shadows planning our downfall or his next actions,” Altina muttered with a shake of her head.  

Nobody  spoke  for another few minutes.  Zylphia  got to her feet. “I’m going to head back to the school. I want to see Tanith before she goes to sleep for the night. Call another meeting if any of you need anything. I’ll always be available to come and help you. See you later,” she told them before heading for the door.  

A chorus of quiet and unhappy farewells rose up from the group.  Zylphia  shut the door behind her and started the walk back to Alitia, a frown on her face. This situation seemed to raise more questions than it ever answered, a problem for everybody involved. She was tempted to grab the culprit the next time he appeared and unmask him herself, but if he really did have a Blessing, that would be a bad idea. His was likely of the variety that would degenerate Zylphia herself in a way.  

Zylphia  walked to  Alitia  in silence, thinking over the conversation once again. She was desperate for answers at this point, something she hadn’t been in a long time. This was easily her worst year as the head teacher of Alitia, but she had no clue what she was supposed to do about it.  

Chapter Text

After Michaela and Luce spoke, not much happened for the rest of the week. Classes  continued on  as normal despite the impending attack. Homework was just as boring as ever before, irritating students at all six of the schools. The weekend came soon after, offering brief respite from the weeks of tough study at Alitia.  

S.M. enjoyed the following weekend with her sister on the campus of Sacred Heart. Since her older sister had a project to do with some students of the school for witches, the two decided to head to the school and talk for a brief period before the project and work on it officially began.   

Mina Maestre sat beside her sister on the campus’ courtyard stairs. Other students were milling about. Many from Acadia and Sierra were scattered about as well to visit the witches for a variety of purposes. S.M. would have worried about feeling out of place, but nobody seemed to care that she was present, so she didn’t give it any second thoughts.  

“I’ve barely gotten time to talk to you with all that’s been happening,” Mina remarked, leaning back slightly. Her hair was the same dark color as S.M.’s. She was wearing an orange dress with a gray cardigan on top. She had gray tights on with black flats as well.  

“It has been moving a little fast... Alright. I’ll get you up to speed,” S.M. said with a frown and a nod. “Long story short, there’s a hooded man running around and attacking people for seemingly no reason. I can’t say what his motive is, but it’s like he’s got a grudge against the people in my dorm.”  

“Great. The school year has practically just started, and you’re already in trouble. What could be coming next for you? A lifetime of suffering?” Mina joked with a roll of her eyes. “I suppose it’s sort of normal for some students to have beef with each other. They'll form a rivalry and hate each other for the duration of their time here at the school, but it rarely goes much further than that.”  

“This has already gone too far. Before even coming to the school, my friend Luce was attacked by this guy. He retreated at the end of the fight, but the issue has persisted ever since. You remember what happened at Acadia, right? With the start of the year dance and all?” S.M. prompted.  

Mina nodded. “Yeah, I do, as a matter of fact. Didn’t somebody show up and start attacking?” she asked.  

“Yeah. It was the DJ set to give us music for the dance. He was late, which came off as suspicious to most people, but it didn’t end there. When he did finally show up, he was being possessed by some other power. He attacked the students and gave us all a real scare. It wasn’t until Luce fought against him and hit him with some of her magic that he finally calmed down and revealed what had happened. Apparently, he had been cornered by a mysterious man, who then took control of his mind. Creepy, right?” S.M. questioned.  

“I don’t understand what in the world he could possibly want... It sounds like you’re in trouble, obviously, but I don’t know what anybody would have against a group of  Alitia  freshmen. I mean, older years make a bit more sense. They go out and take on missions to help other people from different realms as practical exams or battles. Any villains defeated in those fights tends to have a bit of a grudge against the students who took them down... But you’re still kids. Whether you like to admit it or not, you’re not technically adults until after this school year ends. There is no reason for anybody to be after your head. Something has happened here, and I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t good,” Mina frowned.  

“Yeah, I could have figured that out. I just don’t know what we’re going to do about it. I guess it’s been good for giving us  Isolis  up to this point. I mean, Luce got hers because of it in the fight with the DJ. Three other friends of mine have also reached  Isolis  by fighting this mysterious enemy. I still don’t know what they have against us, but they’ve been sending a few possessed people out or merely taking us on themselves. When the latter happens, we’re as good as screwed. We can usually try and pull out a win if it isn’t the mastermind, but if it is... We’re in trouble,” S.M. sighed.   

“I guess you guys are going to need some help getting out of this mess then, huh?” Mina asked. “Maybe my roommates and I could lend you a hand. We haven’t gone out on any missions yet this year, so perhaps we’d be available to help defend you guys.”  

“Shouldn’t you be focusing on the project you came here to work on in the first place?” S.M. questioned.  

“Perhaps. It’s part of an exchange program or something. Half of a given dorm group is sent to train with half of a dorm group from its opposite, so for  Alitia , that would be Sacred Heart. The other half of both dorms is paired up too. We aren’t supposed to start training for a few more hours, about two or so. I know I should concentrate on the project, but at the same time, you can’t blame me for wanting to help you. You’re my little sister.  Of course  I’m going to worry if I think you’re in danger. That’s how family works, right?” Mina smiled.  

S.M. didn’t give much of a response. She looked down at her feet, but without even communicating, Mina understood what she was thinking of. She wrapped her sister in a hug and pulled her close. “I know it’s not easy, but you get used to it after a while. I mean, you’d never imagine I missed them still... It’s hard, but it gets easier over time. The longer you’re apart, the better you feel,” Mina told her optimistically.  

“I don’t want to get used to it though. For crying out loud, they’re my parents. They’re our parents. What kind of parents simply cut off their kids and act like nothing is wrong? It’s ridiculous and monstrous. Hell, we weren’t even of age when they ditched us. Normally, it’s supposed to wait a year, but since both of us were accepted into Alitia... I didn’t think I would care as much as I do, but here we are. I can’t stop thinking about it,” S.M. sighed.  

“I understand... I mean, everybody else is so excited for breaks when they can go back home and talk to their parents again for the first time in what feels like forever, and we’re stuck here since they don’t want to see us or, as a matter of fact, have anything to do with us. I know it’s part of the culture, but that doesn’t make it any easier on us,” Mina admitted.  

“To hell with culture. If culture means that we can’t see our parents over eighteen to ‘increase independence’, then I’d much rather toss that culture in the garbage and make something new.  Igni  is ready for change. There’s enough negativity taking place as it is. We don’t need to make it worse with all these ridiculous traditions that hinder more than help,” S.M. complained bitterly.  

“Calm down, little sis. I know you want to scream and punch whoever came up with this idea in the face, but that isn’t an option now. You can go back home and talk to Grandfather about it one day,” Mina offered.  

“That’s the main thing that bothers me. It’s starting to seem like it’s not a culture thing at all. I mean, our mother didn’t have to cut off Grandfather. She’s still living under his roof now with Father. What, are we too ‘common’ for him to give a crap about us?” S.M. questioned angrily.  

“I understand. I was thinking the same things when I first came here. Why does everybody else get a choice but us? We’re out here on our own when others still have a place to go with their parents... It does get better with time, but the wound doesn’t ever heal completely. I mean, I haven’t seen them in over two years, and it still twists my gut to think about them knowing how they left us here without so much as a goodbye,” Mina murmured.  

“We should be able to see our parents, for crying out loud! I’m still a kid, and even if you’re an adult, taking that choice away when they’re still alive and well is terrible!” S.M. shouted. She gained the attention of many people in the courtyard, prompting her to look down and away from the wandering gazes of the witches spread about.  

“Do you want to talk for a little longer about it?” Mina asked, pulling S.M. into a loose yet comforting hug.  

S.M. shook her head, feeling tears enter her eyes. They fell down her face regardless of her free will. Mina got to her feet and pulled her sister up with her. “Come on. Let’s go and clean you up,” Mina whispered.  

S.M. nodded slowly and let Mina lead her towards the bathroom. They avoided any witches they passed by, who in turn didn’t have much to say to them. On weekends, it was much more common to see students from other campuses mingling for activities between the schools or to visit friends and partners. Most were used to it and didn’t give it a second though.  

When they finally got to the bathroom, Mina approached the sink and wet a small towel before dabbing at her sister’s eyes with it. “Do you want to talk a little bit more about the attacks you’ve been enduring?” Mina questioned gently.  

Before S.M. could give much of a response, the lights went out. The change was sudden, and it took a moment or two for S.M.’s eyes to adjust to the new darkness. She found the outline that was her sister and pointed for the door. “Let’s see if anybody outside knows what’s going on,” she suggested.  

Mina nodded through the darkness and took S.M.’s hand before dragging her towards the exit. Mina pushed it open and glanced around once they were in the hallway. “Darkness as far as the eye can see... My guess is that it’s for the whole school... But something is wrong,” Mina frowned.  

“What do you mean?” S.M. asked, rubbing at her eyes to get rid of the last remaining tears.   

“All of the schools have a magical system in place to keep power outages from being total. Relying on a blend of magic and technology normally keeps this from happening, but since it’s dark in spite of that, somebody must have found a way to turn the backup off as well,” Mina explained.  

“Should we try and get outside?” S.M. questioned. “We can just go back to Alitia, right?”  

“I’m afraid that isn’t going to work.”  

S.M. turned upon hearing the voice, which she soon realized belonged to none other than Minerva. She was holding a small flare in one hand to keep things lit. “The doors to the outside are locked as well. A barrier has appeared around the courtyard to keep all students stuck inside as well. Communications are dead. Somebody wanted to effectively trap us inside,” Minerva explained.   

“Why would they want to do that? Most of these students have never been out on a mission before,” Mina frowned.  

“I can’t say yet, but it’s imperative to stick together. Don’t be caught alone in case you’re ambushed by whoever caused this incident. I’m going to go see what I can do,” Minerva said. She turned on her heel and started running down the hallway, taking the light she brought with her.  

S.M. focused all her energy into a small area on the palm of her hand. A rock appeared surrounded by lava. Control of fire and earth magic was common on  Igni , but she had been born with a blend much like her sister. The flaming stones had no impact on her skin thanks to this, though they did bring with them a comforting warmth she needed in that moment of uncertainty.  

Mina listened to the air around them for a moment before pointing down the hallway in the direction opposite where Minerva had gone. “There are people down there. Maybe we can help them break the wall down,” Mina suggested before taking off in a sprint. S.M. followed her, being careful not to drop the lava rock in her fingers.  

When they came to a halt in front of the people Mina had mentioned, S.M. realized that it wasn’t really people. Instead, it was a single person, a girl about S.M.’s age. She didn’t seem to have gotten it that they were stuck inside, so she continued to pull aggressively against the door handle in an attempt to get it open.  

“Do you need some help?” Mina asked.   

The girl turned upon hearing Mina’s voice. It was then that S.M. got a better look at her. Her hair was long and brown with several streaks of pink. Her eyes were brown as well. She had a white jacket with a pink interior. A brown corset was beneath the jacket, showing off her hips. She had brown trousers and black gloves on. Several necklaces adorned her neck. An umbrella sat at her feet beside her white boots with heals tall enough to stab someone.   

“Who are you two? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you around campus,” the girl remarked, picking up her umbrella. She held it gently and tilted her head to one side.  

“We’re from Alitia. I’m Mina, and this is S.M.,” Mina replied. “What’s your name?”  

“Nebula,” the girl answered. “I’m Nebula Denholm. It’s nice to meet you.”  

“There’s no point in trying to get out of here. The door’s locked... The headmistress said so herself,” S.M. told Nebula. “Unless we use some magic ourselves, there’s not much we can do.”  

“She’s normally against using magic unsupervised, but I feel as if this is an exception,” Nebula murmured.  

“I hope she’s willing to forgive me for this,” Mina whispered. She pressed one hand to the door, causing heat to pass through her fingers. It spread throughout the door before stopping at the edge where the door and wall met. Suddenly, the door began to melt, turning to a pile of ash on the floor in front of the burned hole. Mina leaned down and blew on the ash to calm its crackling before gesturing to the hole. “After you, my fair ladies,” she said with a small smile.  

S.M. grinned and nodded before walking through the hole. Nebula followed her with Mina taking up the rear.  

~~~~~  

“Does Sacred Heart have a dome normally?”   

Luce had been finishing up a history paper about the founding of the land of  Etruna , where  Carys  and Helena were from, when she heard Iris ask the question. She leaned back, setting her laptop on the couch beside her before thinking. She hadn’t been to Sacred Heart before, but she was sure she would have remembered if a dome was over it normally.  

“I don’t think so,” Helena frowned, taking her headphones off her ears. She looked up to Iris, who had poked her head in through the main door to their apartment. “What are you talking about? Did something happen?”  

Iris opened the door wider to allow them a view of the courtyard of Alitia. In the distance, a large metal dome could be seen over the top of the tall Sacred Heart school. It was dark in color and let not even a slim stream of light inside.  

“Wasn’t S.M. going to see her sister at Sacred Heart?” Luce questioned.  

“She was,” Iris nodded. “We should go and see what’s going on. For all we know, she could be in trouble. I can’t just sit by if she’s in trouble.”  

Luce looked around their dorm. Only she, Iris, and Helena were in  at the moment . Tanith was off spending the day with  Zylphia  and  Jin Carys  was out in Millennium City, and the same applied to Sylvia and Sophia, who were together. There was no guarantee any of them would see the dome, so it was up to her, Iris, and Helena to take care of the other three.   

“Let’s go and take care of this. I agree in thinking that S.M. could be in danger. I don’t want to leave her there when something can easily go horribly wrong,” Luce said firmly. “Let’s get away from the campus and then transform into Isolis to get there faster.”  

“I can make a metal platform for Helena too,” Iris cut in.   

“Perfect. There isn’t a moment to lose. Let’s go save our friend,” Luce declared before dashing out the door.   

~~~~~  

When the trio arrived outside, they saw the full extent of what it meant to be trapped inside Sacred Heart. A large metal dome had appeared over the school and its courtyard, keeping anyone from escaping. Countless students were transformed and firing off energy blasts at it to hopefully eliminate its looming presence, but nothing was working. All energy bounced off and was sent flying in another direction. Most of the time it hit the ground, but the occasional rogue blast hit an unsuspecting student.  

One blast  in particular came  dangerously close to where S.M., Mina, and Nebula were standing. Mina tackled the other two to the ground at the last possible second to keep them from being struck by a thin line of electricity. It hit the grass instead, where it sizzled out and faded in a matter of seconds.  

S.M.’s heart was pounding faster than it had in a long time. “That was way too close for comfort,” she said, adrenaline starting to work its way through her body. “I’m sure there’s a way to break through this barrier...”  

“What we need right now is a rift spell of some sort. There are teleportation spells, but I don’t know if we all have the power to get out of here. A mage who specializes in such a thing would be great, but I’m afraid I don’t know of anybody who has that sort of power,” Nebula remarked with a frown.  

“Great. If we’re going to be stuck in here forever, I hope I can find a boyfriend or girlfriend somewhere around here soon. I don’t want to die alone, you know?” Mina asked.  

S.M. didn’t think it was the time for jokes, but she ignored her sister’s remark instead of snapping at her. She knew it was the concept of being stuck that was getting to her as opposed to her sister’s unique sense of humor.   

“Hello there, students of Sacred Heart.”  

A voice came from above, startling S.M. out of her thoughts. She could see a pair of figures at the top of the dome. She couldn’t see much more than that, but they were both wearing hoods. At the very least, that was what she thought. It was difficult to tell with how dark it was.   

“I understand that you’ve come to be trapped within this dome... It’s a combination of metal and magic created by some powerful mages of our time. One of them has lived for a hundred years,” came the voice of one of the two figures. This voice sounded relatively masculine, unlike the one that had spoken before.  

“You all surely want to escape this dome we’ve set up. It’s impossible to escape, and even now, it’s slowly killing you all. Without enough air, you’re doomed. It’s just a matter of time,” the first person, a young woman as far as S.M. could tell, remarked.   

“You are going to be trapped here until a certain group of people arrives. I’m sure they’re going to notice sooner or later, and when they arrive, you will be set free in exchange for their lives. It’s your standard hostage situation,” the young man explained.  

“Who could they be talking about?” Nebula murmured, her eyes wide.  

The two figures crashed towards the ground roughly. A few screams echoed from the area near where they landed. S.M. herself covered her eyes to keep from being hit with a few flying rocks. Their sudden impact had kicked up more debris than they had anticipated, it seems.  

“A group of  Alitia  students has been causing us more grief than we need. We’ll set you free, assuming they come soon,” the young woman said, her gaze drifting over to Nebula.   

S.M. extinguished her flaming rock and stared through the darkness at the two figures. She had to bite her lip to keep from gasping. These two were familiar to her. They were the reinforcements from their first fight in Millennium City. When the hooded man, the initial enemy, was starting to lose, he had called upon their help to take care of the rest of her dorm room.   

S.M. swore under her breath but made no move to step forwards. She would have to wait for the others to arrive. Hopefully, they would notice the dome sooner rather than later and try to break through it.  

“This magic is incredibly strong... If nobody has yet been able to break through it, something must be fueling it, and that something is powerful magic. I have a bad feeling about all of this,” Mina murmured. She didn’t notice the recognition on S.M.’s face.  

“Surely Headmistress  Claudere  will be ready to fight them off soon. She’s one of the most powerful mages alive right now,” Nebula said, though S.M. could hear her voice shaking. “She isn’t going to let this happen on her home turf, right?”  

“She’s still inside the school at the moment. Hopefully, she’ll be out here soon, but until then, there’s not much of anything we can do,” Mina frowned. “We’ll have to wait until another path proposes itself. Until then, all we can do is wait. If we’re lucky, they won’t make any moves to lash out against us once again. Things will get messy if they start killing students.”  

“Don’t they need to keep us alive if they’re going to use us as hostages?” Nebula asked.  

“Not exactly. They have an entire school’s worth. If a few die, it’ll only show they mean business, and I doubt it will stop their plans in their tracks... It’s a risky move on their part... Plus, if we’re all trapped in here, there’s no way of making sure outside if we’re alive or not. The people they’re trying to lure in will believe them if they say we’re still alive since they have no way of proving otherwise. They’re at a serious advantage here, and if I’m being perfectly honest here, I have no idea on how we’re supposed to catch them off guard,” Mina told her.   

“If the dome is made of metal, maybe we could try and manipulate it. I know somebody with metal magic allowing her to bend metal to her every whim. Maybe she would be able to change the dome into something else and let us out,” S.M. offered, though she knew she was more trying to convince herself things would be alright than come up with a serious escape plan.  

“I don’t think that would be possible. This dome is much too big for any normal mage to cast. They must have something else at their disposal allowing them to pull off such a large display. Most  Inlustris  mages struggle to make something on this scale, and yet, here they are... It raises a lot of questions about how they’re doing it. I can’t say much else on the subject, but I have a  really bad  feeling about everything. We can’t do much about it now. We just need to wait,” Mina said.   

She took a seat on the grass and gestured for S.M. and Nebula to do the same. Nebula shook her head. “You can’t be serious... This is a dangerous situation. We could be in some serious trouble if we’re caught off guard. We could die, for crying out loud,” Nebula said quickly, her voice hastened in her panic.  

“If we’re going to be here for a while, I’m going to get comfy. If you choose not to, that’s your choice, but don’t drag me along with it,” Mina shrugged, laying back into the grass.   

S.M. hesitantly sat down, going with her sister’s laidback way of approaching the situation. It was certainly refreshing when compared to the panic she was feeling at that moment, even if it felt out of place.   

“Please get here soon, girls,” she murmured, even if she knew they wouldn’t be able to hear her pleas.   

~~~~~  

“Here we are. Sacred Heart.”  

Luce and Iris were flying outside Sacred Heart silently, Helena sitting on a metal platform made from a streetlight nearby. Luce explored the outside with a frown. “I don’t see any holes... Do you think we’d be able to dig underneath it?” she asked.  

“That would be possible... Makes me wish we had S.M. or Sophia with us. Their earth and nature powers could do us a lot of help here,” Iris sighed.  

“Can you try and bend the dome to help somebody get through?” Helena asked.  

“Good idea,” Iris nodded. She headed towards the dome and placed one hand on it, ready to bend a hole in the material.   

A shock of energy traveled through her body, making her scream in pain and shock. She nearly fell to the ground, breathing heavily from the sudden agony. “There’s something in that dome... It’s powerful dark energy. I haven’t felt something that strong in a long time. I don’t know what’s causing it, but it hurts a ton...” Iris sighed.  

“Dark energy... I mean, not all dark magic is inherently bad, just as not all practitioners of it are evil. What makes this so awful?” Helena questioned.  

“There’s negativity behind it... Whoever is powering it has a lot of negative energy, and it’s reinforcing this dome to be stronger than most other magic in existence. It’s incredibly inconvenient, to say the least... We’ll have to go underneath the dome if we want to get people out. There’s no way to go through it or over it, so we’ll have to go underneath,” Iris explained.  

“In that case, we had better start digging,” Luce sighed, heading for the ground. “I don’t think we’ll be able to get much done quickly. It’ll take forever to go underneath this thing with how thick it is, and we don’t have any magic at our disposal to speed up the process.”  

“I’m afraid that isn’t going to work. The dome goes underneath the school as well, so digging beneath the ground to get people out is impossible.”  

The three girls turned to see another figure standing behind them. It was a young man with short, dark green hair. He was wearing a dark red mask covering much of his face. There were small slits for his eyes and mouth. He had a blue scarf on with  a red tunic and navy tights . He had tall red boots on. He wore dark blue gloves as well. Finally, armor was scattered about the ensemble to cover vital organs. A sword was in his hand.  

“How do you know the dome goes underneath the school?” Helena questioned of the newcomer.  

“I’ve been trying to get inside. I first attempted to go underneath, but I just found more of the dome under the ground,” the young man replied. “I’m willing to help you out if you desire.”  

“That would be great,” Luce said, rising to her feet. “Who are you though?”  

“You may call me Rune,” the young man answered. “I’m your ally in this situation. I’m willing to help you get into Sacred Heart to take care of whatever business you have inside. I’ll also help you defeat the one powering the magical barrier.”  

“Defeating them will make it go away, right?” Luce questioned. “I would assume that to be the case anyways.”  

“It will, yes. All we need to do is drain enough of their energy to force them to drop the barrier. Everyone inside will be freed, and if all goes well, they won’t want to come back and attempt such a stunt ever again,” Rune said.  

“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s get in there!” Iris exclaimed. “How are you going to get us inside?”  

Rune began to conjure a small portal between his fingers. He spread it wider, creating a rift wide enough for the four of them to step inside. “Dimension magic is incredibly helpful in this situation, let me tell you,” he remarked. It sounded to Luce like he was smiling, though it was impossible to tell for sure with his face covered that way.  

“You’re sure this is the right way to go in?” Iris asked unsurely. “This isn’t a trap?”  

“Of course not. I would never lead you into a trap,” Rune assured her.  

“We don’t have any time to ensure if he’s lying or not. We’ll just have to trust him for the time being. If something goes wrong, we can fight our way out. I’m sure we’ll be okay. I just want to get in  there  and make sure S.M. is okay,” Helena said quickly.  

“Then come on in,” Rune told her, gesturing to the portal. “There’s not a moment to lose when your friends are in danger. We must do all we can to save them as soon as possible.”  

The other three shared a brief nod before walking towards the rift. They were obviously concerned about following through with it, but there was no hesitation in their actions. Within seconds, they had disappeared inside.   

Chapter Text

Rune’s portal spat the group out inside the dome near the back of the school. They were far from where the attackers were lurking, waiting for the arrival of their targets. “I guess we were wrong to doubt you,” Helena remarked, glancing around the dome. “It sure is dark in here... Luce, can you give us a little light?”  

Luce nodded. She had to concentrate a majority, if not all, of her energy on keeping her small sphere of light contained. She didn’t know how others could keep their magic from exploding so effortlessly. To her, it seemed like a gamble no matter how hard she was trying. In this case, it wasn’t as if she had much of an option other than to try and create the light though, as it was better than stumbling around in the dark.  

“Somewhere around here, we have to find the person powering the dome... I don’t know where they’ll be, but we have to try and find them,” Iris whispered. “There are a lot of students here. How are we going to know when we’ve found the right one?”  

“All we can do for now is start to search. If we find the person, I think we’ll know,” Helena said. “Let’s start going around the perimeter of the school. Sooner or later, we should find S.M., and from there, we can do whatever we have to in order to get her and everyone else out of here.”  

Nobody objected to her suggestion. They followed Helena around the outside of the school, being careful to avoid coming near anyone who seemed suspicious. Rune stayed behind them, watching for anyone who could have been following their light source.   

By the time they got into the main area of the courtyard, the group was ready to take on whoever was causing this incident. Nobody had been following them, or if they had been, Rune had taken care of them easily and swiftly.   

Helena gasped and pointed across the courtyard. “There’s S.M.!” she hissed.  

Sure enough, when Luce followed Helena’s finger, she saw S.M. sitting in the grass alongside two other people. One was an older girl who looked quite a bit like S.M., the other someone Luce had never seen before. She exchanged brief glances with her companions before starting in S.M.’s direction slowly and softly.  

S.M. saw them before they could fully reach her. She tapped the two unfamiliar people and gestured for them to follow her over to where Luce, Iris, Helena, and Rune were standing. Luce held up a hand to get the others to stop walking forward.  

“I’m glad to see you guys,” S.M. whispered. She glanced around before leading the group to the back of Sacred Heart once again. She pressed one hand to the wall, burning a hole through it easily. She entered the building and gestured for the others to do the same.  

Once they were all safely inside, S.M. sat down. “I should probably explain what happened,” she said.  

“Why did you want us to be so sneaky?” Helena asked.  

“The people keeping us here are from the attack in Millennium City back before the school year started. Remember when the hooded man called in reinforcements? These are those reinforcements, but now they’re holding everyone hostage. They want to lure out our little group of fighters with intentions of killing us for being a thorn in their side,” S.M. explained quickly.  

“Who are these two?” Luce questioned, gesturing to the two unfamiliar characters.  

“Mina, my older sister, and Nebula, a Sacred Heart student. We’ve been sticking together ever since those invaders arrived. I don’t know what we should do next. That barrier deflects magic. Any attempts made to attack it only backfire and hurt the person who casted the spell to begin with. It’s dangerous. I don’t want to take any chances and get people hurt,” S.M. frowned. “I don’t know what our next action should be, but it wouldn’t hurt to find Headmistress  Claudere  and ask her for ideas.”  

“That wouldn’t hurt,” Luce nodded in agreement. “Not only does she know this place better than anyone, but she’s also a powerful mage. If anyone can lead an uprising to take the school back, it’s her.”  

“Who are you guys?” Nebula suddenly questioned, looking over the group in confusion.  

“Ah, these are some of my roommates. Nebula, meet Luce, Iris, and Helena. I don’t know who the last person is, I’m afraid,” S.M. said, raising an eyebrow in Rune’s direction.  

“You may call me Rune. I’ve been cooperating with your friends,” Rune explained.  

“We don’t have much time for questions, I’m afraid. We need to take those two punks down,” Mina said with a frown.  

“I have one more question, if that’s alright,” Nebula cut in. “How did you even get in here? The barrier keeps everyone out.”  

“There’s one problem with it, I’m afraid. It doesn’t block out rift magic, meaning that any powerful enough portals can let you travel freely between the outside and inside. Rune opened a portal to let us inside to help S.M. get out. Since you’ve gained her trust, we’ll help you out too,” Iris explained.   

“Well, let’s get to work then. We won’t get anything done just standing around here. Plus, I’m sure the other students here are starting to freak out. We need to find Headmistress  Claudere  and get her on our side before fighting back,” Luce said, her voice full of determination.  

“What do you need of me?”  

As if on cue, Minerva approached the group. She was standing alone, a frown on her face. A small flare was still burning in one hand.   

“We’re glad to see you,” Luce smiled.  

“You’re  Alitia  students, aren’t you?” Minerva questioned, looking them over. Her eyes landed on Luce for a brief period before returning to the group as a whole.  

“Yes. We need your help to defeat those two hooded figures. We were planning on taking them by surprise. Maybe the barrier they’re creating will drop then,” Iris said.  

“I don’t think the barrier is being sustained from inside. I believe an outside force is powering it. If you’ll be alright without me, I’m going to go and see what’s going on out there. If the barrier drops, you’ll know I was successful,” Rune told the group.  

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? We shouldn’t be alone in times like these,” Luce frowned.  

“I can assure you that I know what I’m doing. I’m fully capable of defending myself. Focus on defeating the two inside the barrier. I’ll take care of things outside,” Rune instructed. He created another sphere of energy before stretching it out into a portal and departing through it.  

“I guess there was no changing his mind,” Nebula frowned.   

“We should follow his advice though. Headmistress Claudere, do you know what we should do next to defeat the hooded people?” Luce questioned, turning to Minerva.  

Minerva paused for a moment, thinking over the possibilities. She nodded to herself. “I know what to do. I’m going to charge them head on once we get out there. Focus on draining their energy. We’ll figure out what to do from there. If those two are weakened, the one powering the barrier may rush to their aid. They’ll have lost their advantage and will want to back them up. From there, we can take them down and release the barrier. We have the element of surprise, so we need to use it,” she said.  

“We’ll all happily follow your example, Headmistress Claudere,” Helena told her with a firm nod. Despite not having a transformation at her disposal, she was prepared to do whatever was necessary to fend off the invaders.  

“In that case, get ready. They aren’t going to be holding back, and neither are we,” Minerva declared firmly before walking outside of the school building.  

~~~~~  

About ten minutes later, the first attack came rushing towards the hooded attackers. A stream of flame from what seemed to be the middle of nowhere slammed into the young woman, knocking her into the young man. The two were left in a tangled mess of limbs, though they were otherwise unharmed.  

Twin shots of fire reappeared after briefly taking a break. One was much larger, coming from Minerva’s palms. The other was smaller and came from Helena’s hands. Both hit the hooded figures to disorient them further.  

S.M. was watching this attack take place from around the corner of the school. Since she didn’t have any  Isolis  to use, she wasn’t able to do much. Helena didn’t have access to a transformation either, but since she and Minerva had similar magic, the latter was able to coach her on how to unleash a powerful attack.  

Iris came up next, a large metallic fist on one hand. It appeared to have been pulled together from many metal sources, no two colors ever being shared throughout the oversized gauntlet. She slammed it into the ground near the hooded figures, creating a large shockwave to keep them from rising to their feet.  

“Students of Sacred Heart!” Minerva cried out into the darkness. “It’s time to fight for your home and your freedom!”  

Bursts of light shot into the air as students transformed into  Isolis  and Illunae, the second transformation. Mina, who had previously been standing beside S.M., grew wings and flew skyward in her Illunae form. “Stay safe down there!” she exclaimed to her younger sister before joining the fray.  

Helena dashed over to join S.M. not long after. She looked exhausted from exerting so much energy without a transformation, but a smile was on her face regardless. “That was pretty satisfying,” Helena admitted before looking out at the battle. Countless energy beams were bombarding the two hooded figures. It was beautiful, in its own way, S.M. had to admit.  

“I wish I could get out there and do something... Without a transformation, my magic isn’t in the proper form to be useful though... This sucks,” S.M. muttered bitterly.  

An explosion suddenly rocked the area where S.M. and Helena had been hiding. Debris went flying everywhere after a wall of the school was hit by a rogue blast. Helena let out a scream and fell to the ground, covering her head to block the bricks cascading down.  

S.M. held out one hand to control the earth element of the walls. She slowed its descent and sent the debris into an unoccupied area. That simple action had taken a lot of her energy, leaving her panting and breathless.   

“Thank you for that, S.M.,” Helena said with a small smile, her voice trembling.  

“It’s no problem,” S.M. managed to choke out despite her sudden exhaustion. “I don’t think I could do that again if it came down to that though...”  

The universe seemed desperate to prove something to S.M., as shortly after those words left her lips, another impact came to the wall above them. An entire tower was ready to crumble now, and it was bound to bury them beneath it.  

S.M. reached out her hands once again to stop the rocks from coming down, but she was surprised by a flare of light appearing around her. When it vanished, she was in a new outfit with winds protruding from her spine. Her wings were an orange shade. She had on an oxblood cropped top with one long sleeve that covered her whole arm as a glove. She had matching shorts. A black ring hung from one side of her shirt (the one without the long sleeve), which connected to an orange piece of fabric that then attached to a matching ring on her shorts. A black bracelet was on her other arm. To complete the look, S.M. had orange boots on with black rings at the top edge.  

S.M. didn’t have time to enjoy her new transformation. She stretched an arm out to send the collapsing tower off in another direction. Helena was safe, though a bit rattled, beside her.   

Helena looked up and smiled loosely, though S.M. could see she was shaking. “Thanks for that... I’m happy to see you got Isolis,” she said, reaching out a hand to take S.M.’s. “You aren’t going to let me get crushed by a rogue tower or anything, right?”  

“Of course not. I don’t think I’m going to go on the offensive for the time being anyways. I feel like everybody else has that covered. At this point, if all goes according to the plan, the person creating this barrier will come running to reinforce their backup,” S.M. told her.  

“I hope that Rune is doing alright out there... Even if I don’t know him very well, I'm kind of worried. Whoever set up this barrier must be really strong. If he’s alone against them, something could easily go wrong,” Helena frowned.  

“There isn’t anything we can do about it now. Rune should be fine. If he isn’t, then we’ll figure something out. We can’t get outside the barrier without his dimensional magic anyways. There’s nothing we can do to escape unless we dig underneath or something,” S.M. pointed out. “With my earth magic, I might be able to make a hole beneath the barrier for us to get out through.”  

“We can’t even do that. Rune already checked under the school, and there’s a barrier down there too. It goes down through the floor and has us trapped in an elongated circle of sorts,” Helena told her. “We heard about that before coming into the school to begin with. We’re trapped without a way out below the ground, so we can’t help him from where we are right now.”  

“That’s unfortunate then... I hope he’s doing okay out there. It’s starting to get crowded and hot with all the people and magic floating around. Those two hooded figures are taking quite a beating, it seems, which means it won’t be long now,” S.M. assured her. She glanced around the dome, where she briefly caught sight of Nebula fighting up in the sky among countless of other students from Sacred Heart. There were a few from Alitia and Sierra around as well, but S.M. kept her attention focused on Nebula.  

Nebula had wings as black as midnight keeping her afloat in the air. She was wearing a frilly purple dress with a few black hints lining the hem. She had tall black gloves reaching her elbows. Her arms were outstretched forward, firing out a steady stream of dark blue and indigo energy to hit the hooded figures, who were now up in the sky. She had tall black gloves on her legs to complete the look. Nebula’s parasol had disappeared, S.M. noticed.   

“Please be okay, Rune,” Helena whispered, shutting her eyes against the battle’s intensity. Her voice was enough to snap S.M. out of her daze of staring up at Nebula. “We’re as good as dead if he’s taken out, so here’s to hoping to Starlight and Moonlight themselves that doesn’t happen...”  

~~~~~  

Rune was on the prowl outside the school. He was glancing around for any signs of his foe. Rune knew already who it was going to be. It was surely the hooded man who had been attacking Millennia many times as of late. He couldn’t think of anyone else who worked with hooded figures and would use dark magic of this sort. He didn’t know where he’d find such a man, but he had to look. Rune wanted to find the truth for the sake of Iris if nothing else.   

A black shadow darted in between a few trees. Rune held his sword tighter and glanced around. “Come out. I know you’re there. You can’t hide from me. I’m going to find you eventually,” he declared into the air. Rune internally cursed the layout of the area around Sacred Heart for being so heavily wooded. There were far too many places to hide, making this search much more difficult for Rune than it needed to be.  

Nobody answered Rune’s prompt. He swung his sword through the empty air, hoping to threaten the culprit of the mysterious happenings into coming out. This attempt failed, and nobody appeared from the shadows.  

Rune saw a flash of darkness nearby. With a quick stab, he hit the hooded figure before they could escape. The hooded figure cried out in pain and stumbled backwards, holding their abdomen where the sword had struck.  

“Tell me what you want here,” Rune demanded, moving in closer. He gripped his sword tighter, ready to take  the  hooded figure down the second they made a move out of line.  

The hooded figure didn’t make any moves, but Rune could feel their glare on him. “You ruined the plan. It was supposed to be simple. We hold the hostages and we get the pesky enchantresses. Why did you have to butt in when you don’t belong here to begin with?” the hooded figure asked, their voice overflowing with quiet rage.  

“I know what I have to do in order to keep people safe. I’m only doing what I must, and if you’re a threat to that safety, I’ll have to defeat you,” Rune told them. “Tell me now. What do you want with those girls? Why do you keep attacking them? It isn’t doing you any good. You must have an ulterior motive. It makes no sense to attack a group of freshmen.”  

The hooded figure didn’t give an immediate response. “They know what they did,” the figure said bluntly instead. “I don’t owe an explanation to a person like you who appears out of nowhere to screw everything up. I hope for you to perish. As long as I have any control over things going on here, you will, as a matter of fact.”  

The hooded figure created a blast of energy and fired it towards Rune. He forged a small portal and let the energy enter it. He reopened the rift shortly after and fired the attack back towards the hooded figure.   

The hooded figure was sent sprawling as Rune drew nearer. “What was that?” Rune asked. He got the feeling this person had a short temper and would easily be angered, so all he had to do was taunt them for a while before getting the better of their angry side.  

“You can’t get cocky,” the hooded figure snarled, slowly getting to their feet. Suddenly, they were jumping for Rune, seizing his leg in a matter of seconds.  

Rune cried out in surprise and let out a mighty kick to displace the hooded figure. They bit at Rune’s leg despite this, not tearing through his armor but still causing a large inconvenience. He kicked again, which  actually succeeded  in sending the hooded figure sprawling across the grass. The hooded figure hit a nearby tree and slumped over, not moving after the impact.  

Rune walked closer, a small smirk hiding behind his mask. “I don’t know what you’re planning to do when all of this is over, but I won’t let it succeed,” he told the hooded figure, placing his sword at their throat. “Consider that a promise for your future attempts.”  

“You aren’t going to win no matter what you do,” the hooded figure snarled under their breath. “I have plans that not even you can foresee. No matter how pesky you are, I’ll put you down like the annoying little pest you are. Consider that a promise for your future attempts!”  

An energy blast was let loose from the hooded figure’s hands. It  flew through the air  before hitting Rune head on. They were sent backwards into a nearby tree, but instead of slumping to the grass, he kicked off against the tree’s stump to land on ground with perfectly maintained balance.  

“Impressive,” whispered the hooded figure. “It appears I’ve underestimated you. You’re still an annoying gnat, but there might be more to your endeavors than I originally anticipated.”  

“I’m not going to let you harm anybody in that dome. I know you’re powering it. You have a reason for attacking Millennia, and I’m going to find it out and defeat you once and for all,” Rune threatened.  

The hooded figure let out a chuckle. “That’s quite cute of you to say. You think you can stop me? I am on par with the gods. Starlight and Moonlight mean nothing to me. I am higher than all of the powers that created this world combined,” they announced grandly.  

Rune scoffed. “God complex much?” he asked before rushing forward, blade extended, once again.  

The hooded figure jumped to the side and kicked Rune in the stomach. He reeled backwards, one hand nursing the injury. Rune was breathing heavily from having the wind knocked from his lungs. Still, he didn’t let his guard drop much to keep the hooded figure from gaining the upper hand.  

“I’m merely stating the truth. I’m more than the gods, and nothing you say or do can change that fact,” the hooded man declared.  

Rune took this moment while they were bragging to lash out once again. He stabbed his sword forward into their abdomen once again, creating a second stab wound. The hooded figure let out a hiss of pain and began to double over, breathing heavily. “You... You...” the hooded figure repeated, looking ready to pass out. Beneath the hood, they were growing paler from the blood loss.  

Rune pointed his sword at the hooded figure and frowned behind his mask. “I refuse to let you continue your assault. This isn’t the place for you. It’s time for things to draw to a close for the day,” he said sternly.  

The hooded figure glared angrily at Rune once again. They slowly got to their feet and snapped. Rune turned his head over his shoulder to see what this had caused. True to his suspicions, the barrier had been taken away and was now nothing more than a memory.  

“Thank you,” Rune smirked. “I don’t think I should be letting you get away yet though. That just seems like a bad idea. With all the trouble you’ve been getting up to, you could hurt a lot of people if you’re let loose for too long.”  

The hooded figure glared more and tried to let out a kick to hit Rune’s ankles. Rune easily stepped to the side and avoided the impact. “You’re going to have to die today, I’m afraid. I refuse to let it continue any longer,” Rune told them.  

The hooded figure slowly got to their feet, ready to run. Rune kicked their stomach as a way of enraging the wounds he had already made. The hooded figure let out a scream and went to lunge for Rune, and for once, their attempts were successful.  

The two fell to the ground in a tumble of limbs. Rune glared and began trying to claw out the hooded figure’s eyes. Hopefully, that pressure would get them to let up.   

It seemed to have its intended effects, as the hooded figure screamed. They attempted to slap at Rune’s face, but the blow didn’t do much damage to Rune’s advance. Rune unleashed an elbow slam, catching the hooded figure straight in the chest.  

They managed to stumble backwards, breathing heavily. “This... This isn’t over...” they panted before clapping their hands together and disappearing in a puff of black smoke.   

Rune glanced around the immediate area, praying to find some trace of the hooded figure. When nothing came, he let out a sigh. “They’re gone,” he grumbled angrily. “I should get back to Sacred Heart. The others will want to hear about the failure.”  

Rune gave the area one last search before starting back to Sacred Heart, limping due to his injuries from the fight. He hoped things hadn’t gone too far downhill in his absence, though he couldn’t say so for sure. It was only a two or so minute walk from the school, which meant he’d know soon.  

~~~~~  

After the battle, the barrier had dropped, and the two hooded attackers had disappeared into thin air. It seemed clear they knew some sort of teleportation magic to get away from the battle before things could get much worse. The retreat was a victory though, which was all Luce really needed from it.  

Minerva was ordering Sacred Heart students around, sending them every which way to help reconstruct the broken walls hit by stray magic during the fight. All visitors had scattered by now to head back to their normal schools and explain what had happened. Luce’s group had only remained because they were waiting to see what Rune had to say.  

He limped up to the school a few minutes after the attackers had gone missing. He practically collapsed onto the front stairs, prompting Helena to run to his side. “Are you alright?” she asked hurriedly.  

Rune nodded slowly. “I’ll be alright,” he assured her, though it seemed obvious he was lying on the matter. “Don’t worry about me.”  

“Did you manage to find whoever was keeping the barrier up?” Iris questioned.  

“I did. I gave him a few stabs before he teleported off. I guess he had better things to do than stick around for any longer than he really had to,” Rune explained. “I should probably be on my way as well. I have other places to be and other people to save. Now that the battle has ended, I see no other reason to remain any longer.”  

“We really do appreciate your help today,” Luce said with a small smile. “May we meet again.”  

Rune glanced over the group, his eyes briefly lingering on Iris. “I’m sure we will,” he told them simply before rising to his feet and starting to limp away again. He didn’t say anything again until he had disappeared from sight.   

S.M., who had previously been standing alone with Mina, approached next. “We should probably get back to  Alitia  soon. I imagine the others will be worried sick when they hear about this,” she said, crossing her arms. She and the others had transformed back after the battle had ended, unable to maintain their Isolis forms for any longer.  

“I think we should stick around for a little bit and try to build this place back up again. I’m sure Headmistress  Claudere  would appreciate it, regardless of if she’s technically our teacher or not,” Mina advised her.  

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt... Maybe we can find out a little more about everything that happened here by sticking around too,” Luce agreed with a firm nod.  

“Where did Nebula get off to? Regardless of if we’re staying or not, I want to say bye to her. I’d feel strange if I got to know her, albeit in an unorthodox way, only to ditch her,” S.M. said.  

“I’m positive she’s being instructed by Headmistress  Claudere  on how to rebuild the school. The wall we were hiding around in particular took a real beating from the stray magic that hit the barrier. It’s going to take a lot of elbow grease and magic to fix,” Helena told her. “You’ve probably heard her loosely going around campus and ordering her students on how to restore the school.”  

“I think we should at least try to help out. The more information we can get about today’s attack, the better,” Mina frowned.  

“I agree... I think I’m going to go for a quick walk though. I want to see if Rune is still here and thank him again for all he’s done. Is that alright?” Helena asked.   

“Of course,” Luce assured her. “This isn’t a required task anyways. Take as much time as you need, alright?”  

Helena nodded her thanks before turning away from the group and starting for the trees beyond the campus. She still seemed rattled by the fight, even if she was hesitant to admit it. Closer examination revealed she was shaking ever so slightly as she departed from the school’s courtyard.  

“Well, I guess we should be getting started now,” Luce said once Helena was gone. “I don’t think we’ll have to stay the entire time, but a little bit of work goes a long way when you’re cleaning up a school.”  

“At least this place is cleaner than Acadia was. I imagine it took Headmistress  Latheia  ages to clean up all the glass that was left behind by that possessed attacker,” Iris pointed out optimistically. “It’s a small positive, but it’s a positive nonetheless.”  

“We can explain to the others why we’re so late in getting back once we see them again. If all goes well, they won’t know until after we’ve told them,” S.M. told the girls. “Granted, if they could see the dome over Sacred Heart, we might not be so lucky. For all we know, they could be on their way here to see what happened right now.”  

“Then again, they probably would have come running if they could see it...” Luce said with a small shrug. “It’s not the sort of thing you’d regularly just leave there, you  know?  It was a pretty ominous dome, and it’s not something you’d expect to see at Sacred Heart of all places.”  

“There isn’t much point thinking on it now. We have work to take care of,” Iris sighed. “I know sticking around to help is the best thing to do, but it’s going to take ages to finish our homework after this. At the very least, break is coming up soon. That will make this a little more bearable, I suppose.”  

“I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Luce assured her. “For the time being though, let’s jump right into things. There’s no point in standing around here any longer than we have to. That will only make things drag on more than is necessary.”  

“Well,” Iris began, “I’m hoping this doesn’t take as long as it looks like it’ll take. We  have to  start somewhere though, so let’s get this over with.”  

Chapter Text

Helena had been walking alone for about fifteen minutes now. She glanced around through the greenery, praying to catch a glimpse of Rune. He couldn't have gotten too far... Then again, hadn't he shown earlier he had the power to teleport using those dimensional rifts of his? Maybe he was long gone. Her search could have very easily been pointless.

She sighed and shook her head. "Rune?" she called out. Helena's voice echoed through the air, sending a shiver down her spine. She had wanted some time to think to herself after the attack, but she still didn't feel like this was as good an idea as she initially thought. After all, the one behind this incident could still return, and if she was alone, it wasn't good to face him now.

Helena paused her walk and began to look around. Suddenly, fear was settling in the pit of her stomach. Her bad feeling was only worsening. She didn't want to be here anymore. She wished she had Isolis to fly away and return to Sacred Heart. Or Alitia. Or anywhere. Her intuition hadn't failed her yet, so she was going to trust it and leave as soon as she possibly could.

She started running towards the enormous tower that was Sacred Heart. She knew the way perfectly well since her route hadn't been too complicated. All plans of seeing Rune went forgotten as she began her desperate dash to return to familiarity.

Something flashed in front of her eyes. Helena slid to a screeching halt, a gasp leaving her lips in between heavy breaths. She looked up and saw the outline of a person standing before her. She didn't need to think twice to know exactly who it was.

The hooded man had returned. 

~~~~~

"I wonder about Rune," Iris admitted aloud as she picked up a rock from a large pile of debris. 

"Is there any reason in particular? Do you just think he's weird, or is something else going on?" Luce asked. She had a broom in hand and was sweeping away the smaller chunks of wall that had fallen onto the grass.

"Rune is a figure of legend where I'm from. Loduke is based around the monarchy and the knights who serve the royalty," Iris began. "You see, a few generations ago, a princess of Loduke was kidnapped. She was the great-grandmother to the current princess, Anneliese. Lena Tiabeanie was taken and held hostage by a dark sorcerer by the name of Claudius. Her knight, Rune, tracked her down and managed to distract Claudius long enough to rescue his love. They married soon after and conceived a child within a year."

"It's a legend about love then, huh?" S.M. questioned.

"Yes. Rune was known for having green hair and wielding a sword. He could ride a horse or go on foot when fighting. Some call him the White Knight, others the Legendary Paladin. He's known everywhere on Loduke... Our Rune didn't ride a horse, but he sure did use a sword and fight on foot. Plus, he had green hair," Iris frowned. "I'm starting to wonder if something is afoot here..."

"Afoot? What is that supposed to mean?" Luce picked up a particularly large rock. She had seen others make the stones levitate and fly off to the garbage bin Minerva had set up, so she attempted to do the same. As was expected, the rock exploded, leaving her to sigh in frustration and try not to slam her head into the nearest flat surface (the brick walls of Sacred Heart). 

"What if Rune came back from the dead?" Iris wondered. "I mean, it's possible. There are many variations of magic on Loduke, and some of them involve spiritual manipulation. I'm sure somebody could pull such a thing off..."

"Rune looked a bit too real to be a spirit back from the dead. Maybe that's just how I feel though," S.M. shrugged. "Then again, there's no such magic where I come from."

"I guess we'll just have to see later on," Iris sighed with a shake of her head. "It bothers me is all. I don't know of anybody who would have that same skill with a sword and the green hair. It's not exactly common on Loduke. It's something that's been passed down through the Tiabeanie line ever since Rune came into the family, but before then, it was rare at best. Even now, there aren't many, commoners or otherwise, who have that green hair color."

"Looks like we've got a mystery on our hands, gang," Luce scoffed with a joking smile. 

~~~~~

Helena took a small step back when she saw the hooded man. "You..." she managed to choke out despite her shock. She wanted to run, and every ounce of her being was screaming at her to get away, to try and escape. With him, she was at risk. She could get hurt. She had to get out--

His hand lashed out and grabbed her wrist. Helena yelped in surprise and yanked her arm away, though it took much of her strength to do so. She hadn't realized how exhausted she was. Perhaps helping Minerva with that shot of fire magic had taken more out of her than she originally anticipated...

"I remember you," he snarled. "You're a threat."

"Why are you here?" Helena asked, hoping he couldn't tell her voice was shaking.

She realized he was clutching at his stomach with one arm. He had been injured, perhaps by Rune. She took in a small breath in hopes it would calm her at least slightly, and that was when she caught a whiff of the blood. It was certain now. He was hurt somehow.

"I refuse to let the day end without taking care of business," the man told her simply. He created a sphere of energy before sending it forwards at Helena.

She barely dodged the attack, ducking down and to the left to avoid the flare. Adrenaline began to course through her more desperately than before. She had to get away. Even if Rune was likely gone, she wanted him to come back and help her get out of this. She needed his help. If it wasn't him, she needed her friends. It was important to her survival.

The dark blast exploded against a tree behind her. Splinters rained down on Helena's arms and torso, leaving a few particularly cruel slices on her skin. Helena hissed in pain and plucked a chunk of wood out of her arm. She would definitely need to get that checked out by Sophia if she somehow managed to get out of this alive.

"What do you even want?" Helena asked, slowly rising to her feet. Her legs were trembling.

"I want for you to leave once and for all. You have no reason to be here," the man told her, walking closer to her. 

"I don't understand," Helena murmured, backing away. She tripped over a few of the remains of the tree and was sent sprawling backwards. "I-I didn't do anything to get in your way! You attacked me first! My friends and I did nothing to you!"

"Is that really true?" the man questioned of her. He raised one foot before lashing out at Helena's chest, snatching the air from her lungs.

Helena coughed wildly, rolling over onto her feet before the hooded man could hurt her once again. She had to get away. She had to defend herself. She couldn't die here.

A memory flashed through her head of her battle alongside Minerva against the hooded figures from before. She had followed the head teacher's example and unleashed a powerful blast of fire. It was stronger than anything else she had ever let loose before. All it took was confidence, desperation, and a little bit of that raging fire. It had been stirring in her core all her life. All it took was letting it fly free.

Helena shut her eyes and let the flame burn brighter than ever before. It was normal to feel it flare, but she hadn't taken advantage of it on her own ever. It was a new experience, but she was willing to embrace it.

An out of control fire came loose from her hands. The flame spread to the nearby trees, making Helena gasp. It was going to harm her enemy, sure, but it was going to do a lot more than that. Magic without Isolis after the decision to take on light or dark magic was unstable. She knew that. However, she didn't realize it went to this extent. 

The hooded man barked a laugh. "You can't even control your magic. You're not going to be a difficult target, even if you set off a forest fire," he taunted. "What do you think you can do to defeat me?"

The hooded man suddenly charged for her, and Helena let out a cry of shock and threw up her arms in a last-ditch effort at self-defense. She waited for the blow to come, knew it was going to come, but... 

~~~~~~

"There you three are."

Luce, Iris, and S.M. paused in their efforts when they saw Nebula walking their way. She was standing alongside a man. He had long black hair reaching the middle of his back. His eyes were brown, though his left one was covered by his bangs. He had long dark green and black robes lined with gold. His boots were black and seemed to be made of fine material. 

"Hey, Nebula," S.M. remarked, looking to the man at her side. "Who's this guy?"

"Ah, this is my father. Father, meet Luce, Iris, and S.M.," Nebula smiled, gesturing between the girls and the man.

The man smiled and extended his hand out to Luce, who gladly shook it. Luce smiled at first, but a violent shocking sensation forced her to yank her hand away. It was stronger than anything she had ever undergone before. She almost felt her bones rattling in her body. It was like she had been struck by lightning.

Luce stumbled backwards, where Iris and S.M. both grabbed her arms. Luce breathed heavily and tried to steady herself to no avail. Nebula watched on in confusion, a frown on her face. 

"Are you alright, young lady?" Nebula's father asked, taking a small step forwards. There was genuine confusion in his eyes. He didn't seem to realize what was happening, which was something to be expected. Despite this, his hand appeared to have been burned by the brief contact.

Luce stood in silence for a moment before letting out a deep sigh. "I... I'm fine. I apologize. That happens sometimes," she said, unsure of how else to explain it. She didn't want to get into any details with him. They didn't know each other at all. She didn't owe it to him to say anything, especially after he gave her such a sudden shock, accidental or otherwise.

"My name is Karver Denholm. It's a pleasure to meet you," the man told her, nodding respectfully to Luce and then her companions. "Nebula has already told me much about you."

"He's a teacher here at Sacred Heart. He was off at a meeting when the attack began, so he wasn't around, but he's here now," Nebula smiled.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Luce murmured. Her heart was still pounding from the sudden shockwaves. Perhaps her magic was more volatile than she initially thought...

"I'm glad to see you're okay, Nebula. I was wondering where you had run off to," Iris said, looking in the direction of their new friend.

"As to y--" Nebula began.

S.M. cut her off with a sudden raising of her hand. "Stop. Do you smell that?" she asked.

Luce wasn't even sure if she'd be able to smell something after that violent shock. However, when she tried, her senses didn't fail her. She nodded slowly. "I... I think I do smell something, actually," she muttered. "It smells almost like smoke."

Iris gasped and turned around to face the exit of Sacred Heart. She pointed into the sky. "That's because it is smoke!" she cried out. Her finger indicated the large mass of blackness in the air. Flames seemed to be rising from the tops of trees.

"In the name of Moonlight..." Karver whispered. "We need to see what is happening!"

"What about Headmistress Claudere? She's not going to like that we're leaving so soon," Nebula frowned. 

"I think she'll understand if we say we had to go and put out a fire started by some unknown source," S.M. assured her. "Let's go and take care of things before it turns into a much larger disaster than it already is!"

Nobody objected to this suggestion. They were off running before Luce could fully comprehend what was happening. She wound up being the straggler lagging behind them. It would take a while for her to fully recover from that sudden contact. She hadn't felt something so painful in quite some time.

It would surely take her a while to arrive at the scene, but she'd get there eventually. It wasn't like she'd be much help anyways. Light magic likely wouldn't do much to stop the fire from spreading any further. S.M. would surely have much more to do.

"Damn it... Please stay safe until I can get there," Luce whispered as she began hobbling off after her companions. Unless she could get it together, Isolis wasn't going to be coming easily. If something had gone wrong, it would be harder to defend herself. In other words, she was as good as dead if she couldn't fix whatever issues that shock had caused.

~~~~~

...But the blow never came.

Helena felt her appearance changing. The light around her told her what was happening instantly. This was Isolis. This was the line of defense she needed to get out of this mess alive.

Helena looked at herself once the transformation had ended. The light had held off the man long enough for her to do such. She had red wings sprouting from her shoulders. Helena was now wearing a red dress reaching her knees. The bottom of the dress faded into a bright purple flame pattern. She had black tights and red ankle boots. Red fingerless gloves completed the look. Her hair was tied into a low ponytail over one shoulder now as well. 

"You..." the hooded man growled. He tried to rush forwards at her once again, but Helena flew into the air to avoid the attack. Her wings felt natural on her shoulder blades despite being a new and foreign sensation. 

Helena glanced around her at the flaming trees. She took a deep breath and moved her hands down closer to her hips. The fires calmed themselves before disappearing. Isolis was already doing a wonder on her control. Who knew it was just what she needed?

The smoke around her remained, and Helena was glad for her fire magic. It allowed her to breathe despite the typical intrusion of her air. She let out a small sigh and let the heat bring her a strange sort of comfort. She needed to calm down before defeating him. He had experience, so it would take her all to win. 

Helena let her hands come together in a clapping motion. When they separated, a small flame had appeared in her palms. With a determined glint in her eyes, she thrust it towards the hooded man, striking him in the chest. The flames died out on his robes, and Helena swore under her breath. He had an anti-flame spell on, it seemed. It was a common charm, but one she hadn't initially anticipated. That certainly made things harder for her.

The hooded man was still forced backwards by the attack. He grunted quietly and held up his arms in front of his head. "You're going to pay for this," he growled. He conjured an orb of dark energy and fired it at Helena, who barely dodged it.

At least, she thought she dodged it.

The attack clipped her wing, throwing off her balance radically. She cried out in shock and was sent falling towards the ground. She was about ten feet in the air, but it was still enough to do some serious harm. It was only because she managed to right herself inches from the ground that she saved herself from grave injury. The sudden exertion on her new wings left her panting. Her back throbbed. Sophia would certainly need to help her out once this was over.

"Keep your hands away from her!"

Helena let out a gasp as another figure appeared from a rift of blue, indigo, and purple. Rune launched himself from the dimensional portal, sword outstretched towards the hooded man.

Helena stared as Rune stabbed forward at the hooded man. "I refuse to let your evil continue any longer," he said firmly. "I thought you would have retreated due to those wounds, but I suppose you know a few healing spells. I wouldn't expect that of a cantor. Most dark mages can't use healing magic."

"The strongest can find a way," the hooded man explained simply. "I refused to let the day end without taking care of business."

"I know not what your goals are, but I refuse to let you continue as you have been doing. The risk to these innocent people is too great for me to turn away from," Rune continued, stabbing forward with his sword. He managed to clip the shoulder of the hooded figure, drawing blood. The red liquid poured freely. It was fast enough to give Helena a headache. She hadn't ever liked blood.

"My goals matter not to you," the hooded man said bluntly. "Leave this place or be destroyed. You have interfered too many times, Rune."

Rune seemed surprised the man knew his name, but he didn't linger on it for much longer. He sliced through the air, striking the hooded man's other shoulder in the process. Once again, more blood flowed. 

"Leave this place," Rune instructed, grabbing the hooded man by the collar. "If you remain, I cannot guarantee your survival. In fact, I have half a mind to kill you right now."

"You will never do such a thing," the hooded man told him with a glare. "I cannot be killed by the likes of you. Nothing you do will ever harm me that badly."

Rune scoffed and raised his blade, ready to test that theory. He swung, making to cut off the hooded man's head, but the blow never came.

Instead, purple smoke rose up from where he had been. He had disappeared in the blink of an eye. Helena was sure she had missed it given how quickly it had taken place.

"Damn," Rune grumbled. He sheathed his sword and turned to where Helena was on the ground, still reeling from the clip to her wings. "Are you alright?"

Rune reached out his hand to Helena, who accepted it and got to her feet. Helena looked back at her wing and demanded it flap. Sure enough, it did so. Within a few seconds, Helena was above the ground and flying. She landed once again and nodded at Rune. "I am. Thank you for your help, Rune," she said gratefully.

"I'm just doing my job," Rune assured her. "I couldn't let him continue to do his evil. It would harm us all in the long run."

"Still, I feel I should do something to pay it back to you," Helena frowned. "You saved my life, for Starlight's sake. That isn't something I can let go of so easily."

"I'm sure we'll come across a time where we can communicate about it more," Rune told her. "Worry no more."

Despite Rune's words, Helena rushed towards him. Her arms were around his shoulders in the blink of an eye. Her wings fluttered ever so slightly. "Thank you," she whispered into his ear before backing away. "I'll be sure to pay you back one day."

"Until next time, do try to stay out of trouble. He's gone for now, but that doesn't mean he won't return. Go to one of the schools. Learn to control your magic. Until you can use it to its full potential, you're at risk," Rune instructed. "I refuse to put you in danger for any longer. The sooner you can defend yourself, the better. He will return. I know what the people of his type are like."

Helena didn't get the chance to ask Rune what he meant before he created a rift in the air. He stepped through it with a curt wave in Helena's direction. The portal shut shortly after, leaving Helena alone among the splinters, smoke, and scarred trees.

As the adrenaline faded, she fell to her knees. Even after the attack on Sacred Heart, the hooded man had returned. He was certainly a force to be reckoned with. Rune had a point. If she was going to stay safe, she would need to learn to utilize her magic the best she possibly could. It was her only shot at defeating him once and for all. Even with the others, he was too large a threat.

"Helena!"

She turned her head slightly as she heard someone calling her name over her shoulder. Helena realized it was Iris. She was running closer alongside S.M., Nebula, and a man Helena didn't recognize.

"Hey, Iris," Helena murmured. She was suddenly exhausted again. The battle had given her enough energy to power through until the hooded man retreated, but now she felt even worse than she had before he showed up. All she wanted was for a bed to appear and beg for her to rest after this hellish day.

"You look awful," S.M. told her bluntly, looking over her wounds with a frown. "What happened to you?"

Helena sighed and shook her head. "It was the hooded man again. He attacked me while I was looking for Rune. If he hadn't shown up again..." Her voice trailed off. She didn't know how to explain her encounter with Rune. It had ended on such abrupt terms with a heavy question lingering in the air. Loathe as she was to admit it, Helena was worried about what he could have possibly meant by saying such things. 

"What happened?" Nebula questioned, helping Helena to her feet. Concern was written clearly in her eyes. 

"Perhaps we should take you back to Sacred Heart and have your wounds looked at," the man suggested, gesturing to Helena's arm. She had completely forgotten about the stray wood that had torn it up so badly.

"Where did all this smoke come from?" Iris asked next, looking at the trees. "I feel like I can barely breathe in it..."

Helena shook her head and let Nebula drag her away to Sacred Heart. S.M. stood on her other side for stabilization. "Well... Rune showed up again," she muttered. "He saved my life when the hooded man ambushed me."

"I want to know more about Rune. Please, tell me everything you've learned here today," Iris said firmly. Her newfound determination regarding Rune was something Helena hadn't expected. Iris hadn't been acting particularly odd around Rune beforehand, but now, it seemed like she couldn't hear enough about the mysterious knight.

Helena nodded. "Alright. Well, it went a little like this..."

~~~~~

Luce didn't run into Iris, Nebula, S.M., Helena, and Karver again until they were essentially back at the gates of Sacred Heart. She had been going a lot slower than she thought. She wasn't sure what could have caused such a violent shock from Karver. Whatever it was, she wanted answers as soon as was physically possible.

Luce looked up from her place leaning up against a tree less than ten yards away from Sacred Heart's gates. The other five were coming into view. Helena was in Isolis form, but she didn't look to be in the best condition. "You look like you got run over by a truck," Luce remarked. Even if she was injured, her snarky attitude remained, something to be expected where she was concerned.

"You too," Helena said with a small and forced smile. "What happened?"

Luce looked over at Karver and shook her head. "Long story. I'll go over it later," she answered. 

Helena seemed to understand, as she didn't ask about it further. Instead, she allowed Nebula to lead her into Sacred Heart and towards the medical area. S.M. trailed after them, leaving Luce alone with Karver and Iris.

"What could have caused such a violent outburst when we touched one another?" Karver questioned.

"Well... My magic is volatile. I'm still trying to get it under control. It has that reaction to people sometimes. At first, I thought it was merely a reaction to people who were possessed, but it seems to have branched out. Now, it's like my magic has stopped discriminating and just wants to make me suffer," Luce explained. "It's a lot more complicated than that, but those are the rough details."

"That's rather interesting... I hope you can figure out the truth behind your magic soon. I understand it can be difficult to work with your power when it refuses to act the same way in return," Karver told her with a small smile. He reached out a hand to place on her shoulder, but he seemed to realize that was a bad idea halfway through and backed it away with an awkward grin.

"We should get back to the school as soon as possible. I think you need to get healed," Iris told Luce.

"I'm fine. I may be rattled, but I'm still okay. No worries at all," Luce assured her.

Despite this, she stumbled the very next step she took. Iris shook her head. "You never know when to quit, do you?" she asked. "Come on. Let's get you back there."

Iris eyed a pile of debris nearby from the crumpled wall. A prominent piece of metal stuck out, which she began to bend to her whims. It flew over to form a platform for her and Luce to stand on, though Luce was doing more sitting than standing. "Thank you for everything, Professor Denholm," Iris called to Karver.

"It was my pleasure," Karver said. "What should I tell your friends?"

"Ask them to head back to Alitia as soon as they can. Say I went back early with Luce. Thanks!" Iris cried before getting the platform to start flying skywards. It disappeared into the smoke before Karver could say anything to respond. 

~~~~~

Everyone was only back in the dorm three hours later. Helena's healing had taken much longer than anticipated. The large gash created by a destroyed tree had required surgery, postponing her arrival at S.M.'s side that much more. In the end though, they were able to bid Nebula and Karver farewell before coming back alongside Mina, who had aided greatly in the restoration effort.

Helena and S.M. hadn't even been inside the dorm for ten minutes when a knock came at the door. Sophia, Sylvia, Carys, and Tanith, who had been listening to the story of the Sacred Heart incident up to that point, fell silent upon hearing the sound. Tanith wound up rising to her feet to open it.

Zylphia appeared on the other side, a tight frown on her face. "Hello, girls," she greeted with a small bow. 

"What brings you here, Zylphia?" Tanith asked, opening the door wider for her mother to enter the room.

"I heard from Minerva today that an incident took place at Sacred Heart. I believe you girls were involved in it, so I came to check up on you and ensure nothing bad happened to you," Zylphia explained. 

"It's a long story," Luce said. She still wasn't the most reliable with standing after the shock. Even now, she wasn't sure what had caused such a sudden flash of pain, but there wasn't much she could do about it. Not even Sophia had been able to find a remedy for it.

Zylphia glanced over the room before appearing next to Helena. She placed her hands on the girl's back, making her sigh in relief. The post-wing pain had finally settled in now that she was back to normal after hours of being in her Isolis while her arm was examined. "Thank you," Helena said with a small smile.

"It's my pleasure," Zylphia assured her before approaching Luce. She did the same thing to the blue-haired mercenary as she had to Helena, placing the palms of her hands onto the girl's spine. 

Warmth instantly flooded Luce's body. The pain in her nerves dulled slowly before disappearing altogether. She, like Helena, let out a sigh of relief. "Thank you so much," she murmured. "That pain was wicked... But how did you know?"

"Never doubt her intuition," Tanith smiled. "Thank you for checking on us, Zylphia. It means a lot."

"It's my pleasure, Tanith," Zylphia replied before turning to the rest of the girls. "Until classes begin again, you are to stay on campus and recover for those of you involved. As for those not wrapped in the Sacred Heart incident, do your best to avoid trouble. I believe we've had enough of that."

Zylphia made her way towards the door, speaking over her shoulder. "Please notify me if you need anything else, alright, girls?" she asked.

There was a general murmur of agreement that rose up from the group of eight as Zylphia left the room. The door closed with a soft tap, leaving them in the silence once again.

"Sounds like you girls had quite a day," Sophia murmured. "Is there anything else we should know about?"

Luce shook her head. "I can't think of anything," she answered.

"Zylphia has a point about resting," Tanith pointed out. "I vote we all get to bed as soon as possible and talk about this further in the morning. I don't want to exhaust you four by having you stay up for much later than you need to."

"Sleep sounds like a great idea to me," Helena sighed dreamily, rising to her feet. "I'll see you all tomorrow."

The other seven girls let out similar phrases before heading to their separate rooms. They were all asleep within the following hour, leaving the dorm in silence.

 

Chapter Text

"The next planet for us to talk about in our discussion of realm founding is Aerania. I trust everyone has read the chapter in the textbook regarding Aerania and its goddess?"

Luce doodled mindlessly onto a piece of paper in her notebook. There was only a week left before she could go home and talk to her father. One week was all that stood between herself and finally getting a grip on what happened to her mother and where her powers came from.

Still, a cough from Cessair, who had taken to sitting beside her in recent days, got Luce reaching for her textbook as Severine continued her lecture. Luce flipped to the page starting the chapter on Aeranian history before continuing her note.

She still hadn't been able to stop thinking about Rune and how mysterious their new incarnation of the ancient Loduke swordsman Iris had mentioned. An idea formed in Luce's head, so she tore out a new sheet of paper and wrote a brief message to Cessair.

'Do you know anything about Rune? He's a figure from Loduke history.'

Luce slid the note over to Cessair discreetly. The ginger girl stared at it for a moment before beginning to write furiously. Luce got the feeling she would be a minute, so she focused back on Severine's tales.

"Aerania was one of the planets created by Starlight when the universe was born. No life was able to inhabit the planet for many years. Starlight and Moonlight, the two world-building powers, are required to give a world life. The founder of Aerania, an enchantress named Selene, sought out the power left behind by Starlight and earned it," Severine continued.

Cessair gave the note back to Luce. The blue-haired girl accepted it and began to read:

'Rune was the husband of Lena Tiabeanie, the next heir to the Tiabeanie family that has ruled over Loduke for generations. He's the great-grandfather of the current princess, Anneliese.'

"Selene traveled to Aerania, which didn't have any sustainability for living creatures at the time, and granted it life. Her great magical power combined with Starlight granted her nearly eternal life, something never seen before. She was nominated as the empress of Aerania nearly unanimously by the people who flocked to the planet."

'It is said Lena was kidnapped by an evil cantor named Claudius. Rumor has it he dug into arcane dark magic. She was held hostage by him and his son, Iago, for many months. Rune tried to rescue Lena sixteen times and failed.'

"Selene ruled over Aerania for over two hundred years. She was loved by her subjects and gladly listened to all of their concerns... Though this state of peace was not meant to last. As I'm sure you've learned over your time in my class, things always go wrong at some point or another."

'On the seventeenth attempt, Rune finally defeated Claudius and forced him and his son to retreat. Rune rescued Lena and they were wed. Within a year, they had conceived another daughter of the Tiabeanie Dynasty. Ever since Rune was added to the family, green hair has been common among the royal family despite being rare elsewhere.'

"An uprising began, and when Selene went to speak with the revolutionaries claiming she was abusing her power, a battle began. A shot was fired by one of the soldiers with Selene, killing a revolutionary. At the end of the day, blood was shed, and everyone save the enchantress died."

'Why do you ask?'

Luce pulled out her pen and wrote as quickly as she could, still making sure to listen to what Severine was saying. She knew it would be on an upcoming test.

'In the Sacred Heart attack, a swordsman named Rune appeared. I got loose details about the story from Iris.'

"The revolution grew larger, and soon enough, troops stormed the capital. Selene surrendered, unwilling to draw a blade against her own people. Despite her surrender, she was not killed. Her magic had grown too immense for her to die. Some suspect she was a Blend with a leaning towards light magic."

It took Luce a moment to remember what Blend meant as she gave the paper back to Cessair. Blends were mages that walked a fine line between light and dark magic and could master their powers in a way that resembled both. They were only .01% of the population and sometimes had multiple types of magic, something unheard of under regular magical conventions. Luce hadn't known about them until she enrolled in Alitia, and even so, it was a recent revelation.

Of course, just because Blends could walk the fine line didn't mean they didn't pick sometimes. Some Blends chose to live at the center while others chose a side between light and dark magic. Their magic was still naturally more powerful than others born from similar circumstances regardless of the leaning they chose to fall under. Luce herself didn't know any Blends, so she would just have to trust what Alitia was teaching her about this small and specific category of mages. She didn't have any other options at her disposal.

"Selene, under the people's accusations, would not be allowed to live despite her inability to die. She was sealed away in a crystal now being kept in the hands of the royal family. Selene is the one planetary creator often hated due to her alleged actions in the murder of hundreds of people at the revolutionary battle. In fact, praising her on Aerania is a crime punishable by death."

Cessair gave Luce the page back. Luce smiled in Cessair's direction before beginning to read:

'I don't know much about the dead coming back to life, but the chances of the real Rune coming back are slim. I don't know what he would have to gain from involving himself in the recent affairs of Millennia.'

"This picture was unfortunately left out of recent textbook iterations, but I'm still glad to share it."

Severine cupped her hands together. When they separated, an image was being projected into the air by light. It showed a woman who Luce presumed was the goddess Selene they had been discussing.

In a way, Selene sort of looked like Tanith. Granted, it was mostly the hair that gave Luce that impression. Selene had the same lengthy light brown curly hair Tanith did. Aside from that, they were pretty different in appearance. Selene was tall with bright violet eyes while Tanith was the shortest in their friend group aside from Carys with grayish blue irises.

Luce internally slapped herself as she realized it was obvious Selene and Tanith would look similar. Light brown and blonde hair were common on Aerania, and even if Tanith didn't know where she was from, her affinity for aerokinesis indicated she was from the same land Selene had once ruled.

A girl Luce didn't know the name of raised her hand. "Um... Professor? What about the rumors about Selene's theft?" she asked.

Severine glanced over at the girl and shook her head, dissipating the image of light. "As of now, these are just rumors. The king of Aerania has not confirmed or denied these rumors. History can only accept this as conjecture without proper evidence," she explained.

The bell rang, and Severine sat down behind her desk. "Class dismissed," she announced.

Luce put her textbook and notebook away, including the note she had been exchanging with Cessair in the pages of her textbook. She looked up to Cessair with a small frown. "What was she talking about?" Luce questioned.

"What do you mean?" Cessair wondered, getting to her feet.

"The theft of Selene. I never heard about anything like that," Luce replied. She slung her backpack over one shoulder.

Cessair looked over at Severine before returning her gaze to Luce. "Like Severine said, this is all just a rumor at the moment, but some people think Selene was stolen about five years ago. A young girl about twelve years of age broke into the palace late one night. Alarms went off saying the crystal with Selene inside had been removed from its holder. The next day, the king left his palace for the first time in years," Cessair explained.

"Not a sociable guy, huh?" Luce scoffed with a small yet joking roll of her eyes.

"Not at all. He rarely left the castle. Anyways, he left the comfort of his home to search for a girl with red hair. Someone like that sticks out like a sore thumb since nearly everyone on Aerania is blonde or some variation of blonde. He walked into the castle town's primary school and said he was on the search for a tall redheaded girl. Everyone realized pretty early on he was searching for Cordelia Willis. She apparently had blood from the planet I'm from, which is known for cranking out redheads with scales and fins. Despite being able to breathe underwater and having fish-like ears, she was a leath," Cessair continued.

"That's not someone I would regularly expect to be a leath. I would anticipate a leath to look more like me. You know, more human and less fish," Luce joked.

"Regardless, she was a leath. Despite this, when the king cornered her, she seemed to have developed magic. She teleported away and went off the grid. Some people think she stole Selene, hence why she was being tracked by the king. He wouldn't just leave his castle for anything... Granted, this could just be a rumor started by someone who wanted some thrill in their lives. No matter what the reason was though, Cordelia Willis vanished off the face of Aerania and all other worlds too. Some think she died. Some think she's still out there, waiting for a chance to return," Cessair finished. "Weird, right?"

"It's amazing how much you miss while you're isolated on Amity," Luce remarked, heading for the door. "I have to get going for now, but I'll see you later, Cessair. Have a nice day."

Cessair waved. Severine watched Luce go, murmuring a brief farewell before returning to her work.

~~~~~

Luce dodged one of Sophia's vine whips by ducking low before creating a small sphere of light between her hands. She let the ball fly free. It hit Sophia in the chest, making her slide backwards against the floor of the magical training area of Alitia. Sophia looked up, something in her eyes asking for revenge. Luce hadn't ever seen Sophia look this serious, but at the same time, she knew it was only for the training exercise Michaela was putting them through. Regularly, Sophia wouldn't hurt a fly. 

Luce was ready to go in for the final blow, ready to end the training match for the day, but she was stopped when her magic once again backfired on her. The light column she tried to conjure blew up in her face, sending her flying away from her target. Luce was sure the impact of the concrete wall was coming, so she closed her eyes in preparation.

"Luce!"

A shout from Michaela was the last thing Luce heard before the softness and warmth. She opened her eyes and looked around. A hand made of Michaela's light magic was keeping her from hitting the wall, leaving her to sigh in relief. She was lucky Michaela had been watching them so intently.

Michaela let Luce fall to the ground as the latter's Isolis faded away. It was typical for them to transform for these training matches, but they rarely went in Luce's favor. Due to her hostile powers, she hadn't won a matchup yet while everyone in her class was sporting at least one victory. In the physical combat class, her strength was paralleled by perhaps only Iris, but here, she was at her weakest, and it pissed her the hell off.

"Thanks," Luce said, slowly rising to her feet. She was shaking from the surprise of not having hit the wall. She brushed some dirt from Sophia's vine whips off her knee before fully standing. "I don't know where I'd be without you."

"I'm proud of you for that, Luce," Michaela told her, placing a hand on Luce's shoulder. She gave the mercenary one of her radiant and calming smiles, the ones that gave Miles's magic a run for its money. "You didn't immediately struggle with your powers. You held out for most of that fight. I would even say you had the upper hand for it."

"I still have a long way to go though," Luce sighed, shaking her head. "It'll be a while before I'm ready to handle anyone on my own."

Sophia rushed up to Luce, her Isolis fading away as well. "Are you okay?" she asked hurriedly.

"I'm fine. I guess I'm a little rattled from nearly having slammed into a concrete wall, but aside from that, I'm peachy," Luce assured her with a playful grin. "Good job in that fight."

"You too," Sophia replied, bowing her head slightly. "Are you sure you're alright? You don't need any healing?"

"I'm okay, Sophia. I appreciate the concern, but there's no need to freak out," Luce answered.

"You look out of breath, Sophia. Why don't you go and take a break?" Michaela suggested.

Sophia nodded, bowing to Michaela, before dashing away in the opposite direction. Despite clearly having used up much of her energy in the fight, she was as quick and nimble as ever.

"What can I do to make this easier on myself?" Luce questioned once Sophia was out of earshot. "I mean, I'm getting better. I know I am, but there's still so much I need to learn. I can't become complacent yet."

"Hm... You don't know the origin of your powers yet, do you?" Michaela asked. "That's where most people start."

"No. I still don't have a clue. There was a little setback when I went through everything and came up short," Luce explained. "Tanith is going over everything again, but I still don't know how well it's going for us. I mean, what if one little mistake completely messes everything up for us in the future? It's kind of hard to double check work when it's like this."

"I understand that would make it difficult... I don't think that we'll be able to look to your magic's origins to help with control. Instead, why don't we look to something else for a focus? Why don't you think about the previous battles you've been in? You've managed to pull off proper control when you're in situations like that, right? Perhaps all we need to do is emulate that," Michaela advised.

"I don't know if that's such a good idea... When I'm fighting against people that are being possessed, or the ones that are doing the possessing in some cases, I'm running off pure adrenaline. It's like my body is moving all on its own to keep me from dying in any horrible or gruesome ways. I can't really think of another way to describe it," Luce sighed.

"Hm... This isn't making things easy... Experience may be the best way for you to learn. That's how some people get into the rhythm of things. They need to experience it a few times to finally get it down. If that's the way that you absorb knowledge, then perhaps you'll be a professional in no time," Michaela said.

"I'll figure something out... I mean, break is at the end of the week, and after that, I can go back home. There's someone I live with who has light magic too. I'm sure she'll be able to do something to help me out, no matter how small it is. She's a miracle worker with how easily she can figure things out," Luce told Michaela.

"Who is this?" Michaela asked. "Pardon me if I'm intruding, but..."

"Oh, not at all. Her name is Lianna. She once came through Alitia, if I recall correctly. Maybe you've met her," Luce answered.

"Oh, Lianna Morgana? I remember her! I taught her as well when she came through these very halls! She was a talented one, you know. She had water magic though... I wonder why she would have light manipulation to you," Michaela frowned.

"I know she has light and water manipulation, but I never really thought on it. I mean, it's her business and not mine. If she wants to keep talk about her magic on the down low, then I'll go along with it. It isn't much of my business," Luce shrugged. "If she wants to tell me one day, then I'm sure she will."

"Do you think she's a Blend with multiple elements?" Michaela questioned.

"I don't know. Like I said, I don't think I should get into it if it isn't my business. She isn't endangering me by not telling me the full details behind her magic. It's not like I would really understand it all anyways. I mean, I get confused pretty easily by all of this stuff, in case you couldn't already tell that much," Luce laughed.

"You're so laidback. I think it's admirable," Michaela smiled. "I'm proud of you for not going into it too much since it doesn't involve you."

"So, what you were saying a second ago was just a test or something?" Luce asked.

"I guess you could call it that. I mean, it's just my way of going about things," Michaela assured her. "I like being subtle with things."

"I've noticed," Luce admitted. "It seems rather clear the longer someone is around you."

Michaela smiled for a moment longer before glancing up at the clock. "Ah, we should probably continue today's sparring matches. I'm sure others have already finished their matches. I'll see if I can put you against someone you may have an advantage over," she said.

"Isn't that like showing favoritism? I don't think that's exactly encouraged in this sort of environment," Luce frowned.

"I think it's alright since you need to grow somehow. Losing gives you a lot of knowledge about the future, but I think a victory is what you need right now. Victories are often longer battles for people like you. The longer you're at it, the better. That means you can learn even more. Do you follow me?" Michaela asked.

"I think my head hurts just thinking about it all," Luce grumbled, shaking her head. "I only understood about half of that."

Michaela laughed. "I suppose I tend to get carried away sometimes. I'll go find you someone. Try not to blow anyone up until I get back, alright?" she joked before walking away to speak with another member of the class.

Luce watched the people around her before settling her gaze on Sylvia, who was sparring with someone using water magic across the room. She seemed exhausted, which was to be expected given her personality, but something else was bothering Luce about her friend today. 

Something in Sylvia was different. It was like she was lost in thought about some subject or another. Sylvia had been getting like this a lot lately, especially since the Sacred Heart incident. Despite her attempts to probe the situation, Luce simply couldn't pull any information from her lips, which was simultaneously irritating and worrying. If Sylvia was hiding something all of a sudden, which she scarcely seemed to do, there must have been a serious reason behind it. Regardless of what it was, the mere thought bothered Luce a lot more than she would have cared to admit aloud.

Maybe she was thinking about how the first quarter of the year was almost over. At first, it had dragged on due to Luce's wishes to go home and see her father, but now, it was as if it had passed in the blink of an eye. Time was funny in that respect. She wasn't sure how to feel about it, but it was something else for sure.

Sylvia was usually open when it came to how she felt about things, though she had always been prone to hiding things when the hooded man came up. Perhaps the hooded man alongside the impending break was intruding on her thoughts and leaving her feeling less than great about everything that was happening.

Luce shrugged it off as Sylvia's opponent finally got the upper hand in their training match and defeated her. Sylvia, who was left sprawled on the ground from the final hit of her rival, breathed heavily. She stared up at the ceiling silently, not moving or saying anything for what felt like an eternity. When she finally got to her feet, she didn't give Luce a glance, not seeming to sense her gaze. Sylvia leaned up against the wall silently after approaching it.

Something was definitely wrong, and if Sylvia wasn't going to come out and say it on her own, Luce would have to pester it out of her. She did keep out of the affairs of others when they didn't worry or affect her, but Sylvia was different from the matter of Lianna's magic. Her sudden change in personality meant that the issue was most certainly Luce's business to investigate, and she was going to do so. If all went well, she'd have it figured out before they split up for the break too.

~~~~~

When the week ended, buzz was in the air regarding the break. With Friday completed, it was time for everyone to go home and enjoy their breaks. The halfway point of the semester had finally arrived. Granted, not many were going to be leaving until Sunday since Saturday was often when students finally got the chance to pack, but the anticipation was hanging heavy, and it was easily enough to get anyone hyped for the vacation.

It was past midnight on Friday, and Tanith was taking this chance to get some time away from the madness of the school. She needed some time to think. After all, it was Saturday now, and Saturday was an important day for her.

Well, October eighteenth was an important day for her. Now that midnight had passed, it was the fifth anniversary of her meeting Zylphia. It was the fifth anniversary of her memory loss, and as it usually did, this time of the year brought with it thoughts of worry regarding who she had been before coming to Millennia.

No strict curfew was being imposed since the first quarter of the year was over now, so she could be up this late and still follow the rules. She was the only one up at this hour since even if curfew was suspended, many wanted to rest in preparation for returning home in the next two days. 

Tanith was bundled up tight in the bitter autumnal air. She took a seat on a bench in the courtyard. A cool breeze was blowing through the area, but she didn't mind it. Her thoughts cared not for cold or hot. All that mattered was that she got to think.

Five years ago, the school year had still been going on. It was almost time for the break at the middle of the semester, but classes were still in session. Tanith had been in the field near Alitia, the one on the opposite side of the school in comparison to Millennium City. Everything had been fuzzy, and that was when Zylphia found her. 

Tanith had been sick and suffering. That year had been particularly chilly, leaving a young girl like her at risk of getting a cold. Sure enough, she wound up with hypothermia after being outside for so long, and it took over a month for Zylphia to restore her to full health. 

The anniversary of her discovery left many questions in Tanith's head. She still didn't know who she had once been or where she came from. The general assumption was that she originated from Aerania, the land of air magic, but she couldn't be sure. She looked like she was Aeranian with hair in the blonde region and blue eyes. Her magic seemed to indicate such as well, but she couldn't be sure. There was nothing for her to use as a reference for her past.

Part of her wanted to know where she had come from, but a stronger half demanded it remain quiet. She didn't have a clue who she had once been before losing her memories, but it gave her a bad feeling to think about. She would have only been eleven or twelve at the time. It was hard to believe someone so young could have been a horrible criminal, but it still frightened her regardless of if she admitted it or not.

Zylphia had been trying to unearth where Tanith had come from or who she had once been, but there had been no luck. It made Tanith sick to her stomach. She was unable to be tracked. Was there anyone for her to go back to aside from Zylphia? Was anyone out there searching for her?

Magic made it possible to trace someone's genetic makeup to where it had once come from, but there was nothing there for her. It was as if she had just appeared one day with next to no notice. Tanith hadn't ever heard about someone randomly starting to exist without going through the regular cycle of birth, but she didn't want to be the first. The past scared her much more than the future.

In a way, it was ironic. She was known for her amazing memory, but at the same time, she couldn't remember anything from before she met Zylphia. Hell, she wasn't even aware of what had caused her memory loss. It was all a blank before her eyes opened to show Zylphia in the Alitia infirmary. She hadn't even had a name until Zylphia gave her one. 

On top of her memory loss, there were the voices. Well, the singular voice. It always seemed to nag at her regardless of the situation. It was like there was someone else in her head telling her everything to do. The voice felt familiar, like she knew it but didn't at the same time. Tanith was positive it had something to do with the person she had once been, but she didn't know how the intrusive vocals fit into the puzzle. For crying out loud, she didn't even know how Tanith Satim, a potentially false identity, fit into the puzzle, and that's who she was... At least, that's who she thought she was.

Tanith shook her head and got to her feet. She was starting to get tired. Exhaustion tugged at her eyes. She started for a door back into the school. She could talk to Zylphia about it like she had every year since they first met. Maybe some new revelation had come into play that she wasn't aware of.

Tanith was nearly back at her dorm room when she heard the voice again. It sounded older than her. It was refined yet defensive. It was hard to explain otherwise.

You're being followed.

Tanith stopped, her hand just above the handle to her room. Sure enough, footsteps echoed throughout the hallways. Nobody was awake at this hour. Bathrooms were within dorms. Why would someone sneak out? When she had left, all the lights had been off in all the rooms.

Wind.

Before Tanith really knew what she was doing, she was letting her right arm fly free. The air molecules around her followed her demands despite her general lack of power. Despite this, it seemed to do the job.

She heard someone hit the wall opposite the room. Something fell onto the ground. Tanith's eyes, still not adjusted to the darkness, couldn't tell what it was. She saw the person reach down and pick up the object before placing it on their face. It must have been a mask of some sort.

"Who are you?" Tanith asked. Despite the thicker clothing, she was shaking. The sudden burst of magic had taken a lot out of her. Without Isolis, there wasn't much else she could do but push them against the wall with her limited magic.

"You don't need to be afraid," the person said, walking closer slowly. Their voice sounded masculine, and their hands were up in surrender. "My name is Rune. I didn't mean to frighten you."

Tanith gasped despite herself. She had heard about Rune from her companions. He had helped them out during the battle at Sacred Heart. She still couldn't fathom what he was doing at the school at this hour. Rune wasn't a student at the Millennium Six as far as they were concerned. Even if he was, he wouldn't be able to sneak into Alitia so easily.

"I'm here to give this to you. I can't stay for long, but I need you to deliver this note to your companions," Rune told Tanith quickly, pressing a sealed envelope into her fingers. "It's a warning I pray they'll choose to heed. Until we meet again."

Tanith couldn't think of anything to say as Rune opened a portal out of thin air. He descended into it, vanishing from sight, seconds later. The breath Tanith had been holding released itself, leaving her panting. Her heart pounded. The Rune she had heard about was noble and a powerful warrior, not a midnight stalker dead set on delivering a piece of paper.

Part of Tanith wanted to open the envelope and see what was inside, but she wanted to wait for her friends to wake up first. The message was for them. Rune and Tanith didn't know each other at all. At the very least, Tanith didn't know Rune. He probably knew something about her whether she was aware of it or not. That knight gave her a bad feeling. She couldn't open the note until morning came and her friends were awake. Sure, she would lose sleep in the meantime, but she wasn't about to betray her morals over a damn envelope.

Chapter Text

When Luce woke up the next morning, she was being shaken gently by Helena. "Luce?" Helena asked softly.

Luce rubbed at her eyes and slowly sat up. "What's going on?" she grumbled, still breaking through the remnants of sleep clouding her senses. "Why are you waking me up so early? Isn't it a weekend?"

Helena nodded slowly. "It is... Everyone's leaving for break tomorrow, but we need to talk before then. A letter was slipped under our door this morning," she explained.

Luce managed to push herself from the comfort of her mattress despite her body pleading with her to go back to sleep. She was generally an early riser, which meant the others were up prematurely to beat out her schedule that normally had her awake an hour before them at least.

When they got out to the main room, Luce saw S.M. holding a piece of paper while everyone in the group except Tanith gathered around her to look at it. "What's going on?" Luce asked with a frown, taking a seat on the edge of the couch.

"We got this letter this morning," Carys said. "It's a note from the Possession Master."

"Possession Master?" Luce echoed.

"That's what we're calling the hooded figure from now on," Iris told her. "I mean, when I got my Isolis, and when S.M. got hers, for that matter, there were two hooded men, so we gave the boss, or at least who we think is the boss, that nickname."

"He wants to meet with us to finish business before the break," Sylvia continued. Luce had to admit, she was surprised to see her awake so early given her typical routine. Now she knew something was serious.

"Are we sure this is a good idea?" Sophia asked. "I mean, this could very easily be a trap... And we haven't done anything to strike back successfully yet. We can't handle him on our own. The one time we tried as a group, he beat us so easily..."

"We didn't have six Isolis at our disposal at the time. That changes everything. We can handle him now," Carys announced in determination. "If it's just him against us, we can take him on. Plus, we've had a quarter year of practice in physical and magical combat that will help us to take him on."

"I don't think this is such a good idea," Iris admitted. "I mean, we might have more experience now, but that doesn't mean we're ready for this yet. Luce still can't control her magic properly. Luce and I are the only ones who can use a physical weapon. Carys doesn't have Isolis, and neither does Tanith. Granted, Tanith having it wouldn't do us much good given that she's still stuck here at Alitia."

"Speaking of Tanith, does anybody know where she is?" Luce questioned.

"I have no idea. I woke up first, and she was already gone by then. I guess she wanted to take care of a few things before the day officially began. Headmistress Satim is still here, so I doubt she's run off to start her break yet," S.M. replied.

"We need to act now. We can't wait around for her just because she decided to run off at the last minute," Carys declared, crossing her arms. "This is a chance to get them off our backs once and for all."

"This is going to be difficult if we decide to do it... I have a bad feeling about it," Iris murmured with a shake of her head. "All in favor?"

"I'm in," Carys said firmly before anyone could speak up.

"I-I just want this to be over," Sylvia whispered, nodding her head.

"We've been through enough as it is. I say we take him on and save any worries for later," S.M. agreed.

"All who oppose?" Iris questioned.

"I don't think it's a good idea. This is a dangerous criminal we're talking about. We can't put ourselves in danger more than we already have. I don't want to get hurt today. Break is about to start. I don't want to go home in bits and pieces," Sophia frowned.

"It sounds like a bad idea to me too," Helena nodded.

All eyes were on Luce waiting for her response. She shrugged. "I don't know..." she sighed, trying to think over the options they had. On one hand, this was incredibly dangerous as Sophia had pointed out. They were all at risk if they followed through with it. On the other hand, the possessions would follow them throughout break if they couldn't take care of them now. If they knocked out the Possession Master then, he couldn't strike while they were isolated to take them out more easily.

In the end, the thought of potential future risk being their downfall won out in Luce's mind. "I say we go for it," she announced.

"It looks like we've made our choice then," Iris nodded, rising to her feet. "Anyone who doesn't want to come along doesn't have to. I won't force anyone to do anything."

Sophia and Helena shared a brief look before nodding as a display of their resolve. With the support of everyone else, they were in as well.

"What should we do about Tanith?" S.M. asked, tucking the note into her pocket. "This gives us a location to where we should meet him, but she can't come. Headmistress Satim won't let her."

"Maybe we could get their support. The teachers, I mean. If we can get them with us, then we'll have a greater chance at success," Sophia pointed out.

"If we bring them, our enemy might run away though. Then, he could plan how to target us over break when we're alone and vulnerable. It's too risky to bring them along," S.M. told her. "It's not something we can take a chance on. We'll have to go and do it ourselves."

"Carys, maybe you should stay here," Helena frowned, turning to her sister. "You don't have Isolis yet, and this could get dangerous. I don't want to put you in the line of fire when you can't properly defend yourself."

Carys scoffed. "Are you saying I can't handle myself?" she challenged. "I'll be fine. Let's get this over with."

"Well... If we know what we're doing, let's take care of business," Iris sighed. "Let's head for the exit and transform out there so as not to draw suspicion."

"I'll text Tanith once we're on our way out so she knows what we're doing," Sophia offered. "We might as well take care of it sooner rather than later."

With that, the seven girls started for the door of their dorm to head for the entrance. They didn't say anything until they were away from campus. Once they were out of sight, they transformed (with the exception of Carys, who was carried by Helena and Iris) and were off to the location on the note.

~~~~~

When Tanith felt her phone rumble, she was on her way back to her dorm room. She had woken up earlier than usual due to an inability to sleep. After seeing Rune, she miraculously managed to catch a few hours of slumber, though they were ultimately disrupted when memories of what she had lost infiltrated her mind once again. She couldn't ever sleep this time of the year. She was too busy stressing over what could have happened before her crash landing in the meadow near Alitia.

Tanith reached into her pocket to pull out her phone. She saw a text from Sophia and read over it. Her eyes widened in shock as she dashed to her room. She ran to the door and opened it as quickly as she could. Sure enough, the room was completely empty.

Tanith slowly entered the room she shared with Sophia and reached for the note from Rune. She had left to go on a walk earlier thinking she'd be back before they woke up. This was anywhere from an hour (Luce) to three hours (Carys) before they usually got up. Besides, the note didn't mean much as far as she was aware. It didn't make much sense since no letter had been sent to them that day as far as she was aware.

Suddenly, it hit her. Chances were they had gone off to fight the Possession Master (Sophia's words, not hers) at the suggestion of it from a letter. Rune's note had been meant to combat that, but Tanith had failed to deliver it.

A million and one swears passed through her head in her panic. She had to go warn them not to do it. Rune seemed to think it was a trap, which was the last thing they needed.

Tanith grabbed the note and shoved it into her hoodie pocket and started for the door. Sophia had told her where they were going in the text, which meant all Tanith had to do was arrive at the same time or before them to say what Rune had told her. That was much easier said than done, of course, since she was on foot and chances were her friends were flying. Perfect.

Tanith had barely gotten out of her dorm when she came sliding to a halt to stare out the window that overlooked the courtyard and woods beyond Alitia. She narrowed her eyes and tried to see what was off in the distance. It seemed like a large purple mass was coming closer to the school.

Shadows.

Tanith's mind scrambled to remember what Shadows were supposed to be. Despite the adrenaline rush, she remembered they were creatures of the dark carved from Moonlight. The dark power only had one keeper at any given time, which meant the chances of them being Shadows were slim, but--

They're Shadows. You have to tell someone. Get help.

The ever-persistent voice in Tanith's mind was enough to spur her on. She had to find Zylphia. Michaela. Anyone. If they really were Shadows, they were in trouble. Being dark creatures created purely from Moonlight, they were strong. They weren't quite as powerful as the average human, but they could still be a hassle to deal with due to their ability to regenerate. They weren't alive, so they couldn't be hurt.

Tanith continued to think as she began running to find someone, anyone, who would heed her advice. Shadows were only able to live when a Keeper of Moonlight was manipulating them. Did this mean the Keeper had finally come out of hiding to reveal their existence to the world? This didn't bode well. The previous Keeper was known for his violent tendencies. Who knew how this would turn out?

If only they had the Enlightens, the opposite to Shadows. Only the Keeper of Starlight could cast them, but they were just as powerful as the Shadows. Neither was stronger than the other, but it would help to even the playing field. However, Dawn Shira hadn't been seen in over twenty years, and that fact wasn't going to change just because Tanith wished it could. Alitia would have to deal with the Shadows on their own.

Tanith nearly collided with Michaela's back when she finally found someone. She slid to a halt, shoes screaming against the hardwood floor beneath them. "Professor!" Tanith cried out, her voice cracking from stress and panic.

Michaela slowly turned around, her calming aura doing little to relax Tanith for the first time ever. "What is wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost," she frowned.

"There are Shadows in the woods outside Alitia! I could see them from my window!" Tanith exclaimed, not caring about her volume in the slightest. "They're coming towards us too!"

Michaela's calm demeanor cracked, but only for a moment. She took a deep breath and wrapped an arm around Tanith's shoulders. "I need you to go to the highest room in Alitia and stay there. I know your mother would kill me if something happened to you," she instructed. Her calm was more urgent than Tanith had ever seen it, and it scared her whether she would admit it or not.

"The flying classroom..." Tanith murmured. She nodded and headed for the nearest staircase. "Thank you, Professor!" Tanith dashed up the stairs as quickly as possible, disappearing up the floors as her heart continued to pound.

~~~~~

Alitia was prepared for battle within half an hour. The third-year students still at the school were standing firmly in defensive positions, ready for the Shadows coming closer. The second-years were behind them with the first-years taking up the rear. Countless Inlustris, Illunae, and Isolis forms could be seen from the tower where Tanith was watching.

At the front of the courtyard, set soon to be a battlefield, were the teachers. They were all prepared as could be for the fight. Tanith glanced over Severine and saw her alone. A brief search allowed her to spot Cessair's bright red hair near the back of the battlefield in Isolis form.

Finally, Tanith saw Zylphia. She gulped nervously. She hadn't seen her mother fight full-scale before. The closest she had ever come had been during the fight against the possessed DJ at the start of the year, and even then, she was more healing for Altina than actually fighting on the field. Luce wound up doing more offensive damage than her at the end of the day.

Tanith stared past the gates of Alitia and saw the Shadows were close. They would be upon the school in less than ten minutes. When that time came, the students were going to fight for their lives. Shadows could very easily be deadly, and since they could regenerate, the battle was going to be rough.

She took a deep breath and continued to watch. She focused all her energy and cast a charm to allow her to zoom in on the battlefield. She used her magic to look at the army of Shadows coming closer. Standing at the forefront on the opponent's side was an oddly familiar figure, now that she looked closer.

The charm vanished soon after due to Tanith's low energy levels. She hadn't properly eaten in over twelve hours, which meant her magic was as good as useless. Her inability to utilize Isolis wasn't helping. If she tried anything, it would either be a pathetic breeze or out of control tempest. Neither would help her defend herself, so she had to hope no one came close to her hiding spot.

Tanith took yet another deep breath and focused again. She cast the charm despite the sweat beading on her forehead. She zoomed in on the enemy's side of the battlefield a second time, a gasp escaping her lips as the charm disappeared a second time. She had seen the commander on the other side, and it was enough to frighten her witless. Her breaths grew heavy and panicked in the blink of an eye.

Her mind was cast back to the message from Sophia. She had said they were off to fight the Possession Master, who was supposedly the hooded man that kept on harassing them. However, he wasn't at whatever meeting place had been set up. He was leading the enemy forces currently marching towards Alitia. But if that was the case, who in the world were the other seven going to be fighting?

~~~~~

The other girls finally touched down outside an abandoned warehouse. Carys was set onto the ground, and they looked to the empty building. The time had come. The fight was about to end. The hooded figure would be taken down, and from there, peace would return to their lives.

Luce glanced at her friends before staring at the door. She headed towards the entrance and slowly pushed it open. She gestured for the others to enter first. They did so after brief hesitation, allowing Luce herself to go into the room as well.

The building was just the entrance, Luce realized. It seemed less like a warehouse (what the letter had called it) and more like a storeroom. It was basically a box big enough for people to live inside, which was not a compliment she would have normally paid, likely because this place was so damn unpleasant with the dismal lighting and squeaking of rats.

The doors were sent flying shut behind them, making Carys cry out in surprise. She held tight to Iris' arm as Luce created a sphere of light. It took all her concentration to keep the orb from exploding and hurting them all. Curse her magic for not working right when she really needed it to.

"Hello there."

Luce managed to increase the intensity of the light as Helena lit a flare of her own. Two figures stepped out of the shadows, revealing themselves to be the hooded man and woman from the attack on Sacred Heart.

S.M. realized such immediately. "You two...!" she managed to choke out before being interrupted.

"I can't believe you really came here," the hooded man admitted, taking a small step forwards. "It should have been obvious this was a trap."

"We aren't going to be taken down today," Iris declared firmly. "I don't know where your master is, but we won't let you two get away."

"He's currently marching on Alitia with an army of dark creatures with intents of destroying the place," the hooded woman said with a small laugh. "Is that enough for you?"

It hit Luce instantly. Their plan seemed so obvious now, and it felt like a punch to the gut. "You wanted to separate us while he claimed Alitia since we'd lose our advantage of a safe place," she murmured.

The hooded man shrugged. "Sort of. We wanted your group to split up so it could be taken care of by the two groups," he corrected her. "You seven are going to have to deal with us."

Tanith's face suddenly flashed through Luce's mind. She was back at Alitia without the protection of the others while dark creatures were attacking it. Why hadn't they gone to find her? Why hadn't they tried to bring her along?

"That isn't going to happen," Helena said firmly. She enlarged her fireball and suddenly sent it flying through the air towards the two possessed figures.

The fireball was dodged by the man, but the woman was hit head on by it. She flew backwards through the room, her head slamming into the wall. A switch was flicked on for a moment, showing the overall layout of the dark room. She had hit the light, it seemed.

Luce extinguished her flare for a moment and looked around. The room was empty with the exception of four pillars scattered about the room to keep the building up. Soon, however, the light from overhead sputtered out of existence when the lightbulb shattered with a sickening cracking sound. Luce recreated her sphere of light and held it up high enough to be of use for her companions.

The hooded man created a column of magic and fired it at Iris. The nimble girl ducked beneath the beam before pressing one hand to the ground. She focused on the metal buried within the dirt and brought it to the surface. Filaments from underground came to her hands through the holes in the floor. Pipes from the storeroom flew towards her as well.

Sophia, on the other hand, hummed quietly as the plants from outside the building came to her command. Windows were shattered as vines appeared from seemingly nowhere to pin down her attacker. The hooded woman was wrapped in vines after a few seconds. She let out a cry of anger before focusing her magic. She began to glow gently before shrinking down to a lizard and scrambling in between the vines.

Sylvia watched this happen and tried to zap at the small creature with her magic, but her powers ultimately failed her. She couldn't bring herself to end the woman so simply, so she stood with her arm outstretched. The woman grew back into her regular shape and grabbed Sylvia's arm before spinning her through the air in a circle and dropping her to the ground. Sylvia gasped as breath was stolen from her lungs.

Luce brandished her sword and dashed towards the hooded man. He let out a blast of magic made up of brown diamonds towards her. She blocked the shot with her blade, sending the rogue column skywards.

The magic slammed into the ceiling, creating a noticeable hole in the roof. Debris rained down around Iris. The rest of the overhead ceiling began to crumble as well, falling down in such a way that trapped Iris in place. A particularly brutal shard made a cruel slash along her lower leg, sending her buckling to the ground. She cried out in pain and moved the concrete piece out of her calf, blood flowing freely onto the ground all the while. Light streamed in from the hole overhead.

The hooded man saw this moment of weakness from Iris and swiftly put his hand on Luce's chest. Energy exploded from his hand to send her flying backwards against the nearby pillar. Luce's head cracked against the pillar, stunning her for a moment. She rubbed at her temple as the room spun around her.

The man then darted towards Iris. He created a sphere of energy and held it out towards her, pale brown lightning crackling in between his slender fingers. "I hope you're ready for oblivion," he told her, preparing to let the attack fly loose.

However, he never got the chance to let it out.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Carys appeared. She lunged towards him, sending them both crashing to the ground. She was on top of him, pinning him onto the ground. Her breath heated his face in her rage. "You don't attack her on my watch," Carys snarled.

A glow appeared around Carys' body as the words left her lips. Luce, who was slowly opening her eyes after the hit against the pillar, recognized it immediately. Carys was finally reaching Isolis.

When the light faded, Carys looked different. Her hair was now tied into a high ponytail on the side of her head by a snowflake clip. Light blue wings sprouted from her shoulder blades. She was now wearing a white crop top with light blue lining. She had a white scarf wrapped tightly around her neck. Carys' thin pencil skirt was replaced by one with excessive blue frills. She had tall white gloves and matching knee-high boots to complete her new look.

"Go, Carys!" Sophia exclaimed, sending a vine whip after the hooded woman. It hit her in the side, causing her to smash into the ground. A dent was created where she hit the floor. A strangled cry left the woman's lips.

Carys' hand clasped the hooded man's throat as soon as she realized what was going on. New power flowed through her, and it extended to her surroundings. The room, previously warm in the tight quarters, began to cool down quickly. Carys' ice magic was making itself known externally rather quickly.

Ice formed at the tips of Carys' fingers. It spread around the hooded man's throat, making him cry out in surprise. Carys lifted him into the air, letting the ice aid her in the movement. She threw him upwards, and his back went through the roof. The blast from before had weakened the ceiling enough for him to fly straight through it. Another hole formed, which spread into a larger circle when it combined with the other attack's damage.

The hooded man didn't come back down immediately, so Carys ran over to Iris and pressed her hands against the injury of her calf. Magic passed from her fingers into the wound. It began to close up, leaving nothing but a faint trace of a scar behind.

"Thanks," Iris murmured, rubbing the back of her hand against her forehead. Her fingers were stained with her own blood from attempting to stem the flow while the injury was still present. "We have to get back into it... I owe you a lot, Carys. Don't let me forget about that after this, alright?"

Carys nodded, only really comprehending about half of what Iris had said. She stared up at the ceiling, waiting for the hooded man to come falling back down. With the hole in the roof, they would be able to get out and return to Alitia, but at the same time, it wasn't a good idea to bring the hooded man and woman back to their master. They fought best together, which meant they would have to take down the two before them before returning to Alitia for the sake of the people struggling back at the school.

Luce slowly got to her feet and rubbed at her temple again. She was still seeing stars, but her vision was starting to sort itself out. The hooded man came crashing back into the ground, making her jump. The sudden intrusion on her vision made her stumble. She fell against the pillar.

A sudden punch hit the pillar from the other side, causing it to crumble. The building began to groan under the sudden pressure. Luce moved away from the sudden debris and tripped over a piece of concrete from the roof. She fell backwards, hitting her head once again. This time, she didn't get up. Consciousness was holding her by a thread as her head throbbed. A concussion was likely as far as she was concerned.

Sylvia walked over to Luce as quickly as she could while avoiding the concrete from above. She began to cradle her companion, whispering prayers to Starlight that Luce was alright. "Are you okay?" Sylvia murmured. Another piece of the ceiling fell down to strike Sylvia in the back of the neck. She yelped and began to rub at the injury. That was going to leave a mark.

Luce murmured in response but didn't do much else. She was focusing too much on staying awake to do such a thing.

The hooded woman, revealing herself to be the one responsible for the collapse of the pillar, let out a harsh laugh. She made a sphere of energy and sent it flying at the unsuspecting Helena. She flew backwards and hit the wall. At first, only a crack formed on the wall, but after a few seconds, the whole side gave out, sending bits of debris everywhere. Helena slumped against the rocks, a few scratches forming on her skin.

Sophia let out a vine whip once again. It hit the hooded woman in the stomach. She flew into the same wall that Helena had hit, making the hole even larger. The building groaned its complaints from the excessive damage. The concrete was growing weaker as the battle crawled on. The once incredibly sturdy building was on the verge of collapse from years of deterioration.

Iris raised her sword as she got to her feet. She moved towards the fallen woman and held the sword at her throat. "Surrender," she demanded firmly. "You've lost."

The hooded man tackled Iris from behind, sending her sword sliding across the ground. The woman scrambled to grab the rapier before placing her foot on Iris' chest and pointing the sword at her throat in return. "What was that?" she teased.

Carys created a large column of ice to hit them both. It spread enough to hold both the man and woman in place. "What was that?" Carys repeated, her tone mocking. "You should give up."

However, the building didn't seem to agree that surrender was nigh. It grumbled more, the ice further destabilizing what little remained of the storeroom to begin with. Rumbling echoed throughout the storeroom, and it was enough to make the fight stop in its tracks. Carys' ice was knocked in half by a piece of debris falling from the sky. Her gut twisted as she came to a horrible realization.

The storeroom's remains were collapsing around them.

That was the last thing she thought before the rest of the building came crashing down, leaving Carys in a world of darkness with the smell of rocks and concrete her only companion.

~~~~~

At Alitia, the Shadow army had arrived.

Zylphia was still standing at the forefront of the battle. She had transformed into her Inlustris form, large bright blue wings fluttering gently behind her. A blue halter-top dress had replaced her regular business attire with flats to complete the look. Zylphia's fingers were electric with lightning ready to fly free at any moment. She was ready to complete the battle the second the enemy showed signs of moving towards her and through the gates that separated them.

The Possession Master came into view, standing on top of a wave made up of dark energy. Tanith realized soon after that this wave was not merely dark energy, but rather, the bodies of many different Shadows. It made her feel sick. What sort of horrible human being would do such a thing with other people, regardless of if they were real or not? Her stomach twisted into a knot a dozen times over as the Possession Master grew nearer.

Zylphia watched as the man came closer from her place down on the battlefield. She gave a brief glance over the people at her sides. The teachers of Alitia seemed to be as ready as ever to take on the oncoming danger. She took a deep breath and created a blade from the lightning magic dancing around her fingers. Her hand clasped the hilt for a moment as the enemy came closer.

The Possession Master pointed towards the gate of Alitia, and the Shadows surged forwards to the entrance. It was destroyed in a matter of seconds, and the school was open and ready to be attacked. Tanith's heart skipped a beat in sheer terror.

Zylphia raised her sword sky-high and let out a fierce battle cry. "For Alitia, we fight! Charge!!"

Chapter Text

Carys managed to pry herself out of the rubble slowly despite the energy slowly leaving her body. She grunted as she hoisted a rock away from her torso to fully allow her to escape. The sudden collapse had taken a lot out of her, and wiggling her way under the splinters of the storeroom was sapping whatever power she had left. She groaned once she had fully pulled herself out before stretching out her heavily bruised legs.

At the same time, the hooded man pulled himself from the debris. Carys reached out with one arm and created ice to trap him in place. It worked enough to keep him from moving. Carys let out a sigh as he stopped moving. She began yanking the rocks away from the stack of concrete underneath her. There were seven other people trapped in there, six of them her allies, that she had to save. She couldn't be distracted so soon.

Sylvia was the next one to surface all on her own. She was holding tight to a limp arm Carys couldn't see the owner of. She managed to travel over the rubble to help Sylvia escape. The latter was panicking immensely as she tried to yank the person she was holding onto out of the concrete.

Carys managed to blast away some of the rubble with her ice magic, allowing Sylvia to drag the torso of her companion out of the debris. Carys gasped upon realizing who the person was. The blue hair was unmistakeable. 

Sylvia began to dab gently at the back of Luce's head. A large cut had formed, and blood was gushing from it wildly. Carys gasped in shock and began trying to throw the rocks around a bit more. Luce hadn't been looking too good before the collapse, and she didn't know how the others had fared.

The hooded woman appeared after transforming into a small bug to make her way through the debris. She transformed back to normal and let an energy sphere fly at Carys.

The ice mage held up one arm and created a shield of icicles to block the blow. The magic sputtered out of existence, giving the woman a chance to press energy up against the ice where the man was trapped. The ice exploded, sending shards of it every which way. A few pieces hit Carys' raised arm as the man gasped for breath in the suddenly warm air.

The woman grabbed the man's wrist before looking to Sylvia with an intense glare. "This isn't over! We'll be back for you, little sister! You will submit to your one true master!!" the woman cried out. She kicked off the concrete and flew upwards before disappearing from view a few moments later. 

Carys looked over to Sylvia, frowning to herself. "You..." she managed to whisper.

Sylvia ignored Carys' inquisitive stare and focused once again on Luce. "I-I need your help!" she exclaimed instead. "You're a good healer, right?!"

Carys recognized this was a more pressing matter and sighed. "I know how to, yes. Who do you take me for?" she asked.

"Then stop the bleeding!" Sylvia instructed.

Carys was about to snap at her for her rudeness against the one and only Etrunan prodigy, but she ignored it for a moment and began to concentrate on Luce. She let energy flow from her fingers into Luce's injury, and a few moments later, the cut had healed itself up. There was still an outline of a scar present, but blood wasn't gushing from the wound as it had before. It was a positive, albeit a small one.

The rocks on the far edge began to stir as Helena broke through the debris. Her Isolis outfit was covered in pieces of concrete while her arms and legs were littered with cuts. Her wings were droopy but altogether fine. She fluttered them a few times before letting out a sigh. "Where did they go?" she asked, noticing the hooded figures had vanished.

"They ran off like a couple of little chickens," Carys scoffed. "Luce is hurt and our friends are still buried under the building's remains. We've got a lot of work to do even if they're gone."

Helena's Isolis disappeared around her, leaving her looking as she regularly did. She began to pick up the concrete to throw it away. Carys did the same. Sylvia, on the other hand, was too busy holding Luce. The mercenary's face was paler than Carys had ever seen it, and it worried her. 

"I thought I told you not to come here."

Carys realized someone had appeared behind her. She turned around to see Rune standing near the rubble. "What are you doing here?" Carys sighed. She hadn't met Rune before now, but she knew who the swordsman was given the description from the incident at Sacred Heart, and this masked wonder fit it perfectly.

"I'm here to make sure you aren't doing anything ridiculous like fighting off the ones behind all this, but it seems you disobeyed my advice," Rune frowned, his voice overwhelmed with bitterness.

"What advice? We never got any advice," Carys said angrily. "We got the letter saying to come here, and so we did. Nothing else ever showed up at our door."

Rune swore under his breath. "I see... Well, stay here. I have other business to take care of," he told her simply.

"What kind of business could be more important than helping us?!" Carys yelled. "We still have three people trapped under the remains of this storeroom!"

"I need to see why my note never reached you," Rune explained. "On top of that... Alitia is under attack from an army of Shadows. You're obviously exhausted. Stay here for the next few hours or until you hear it's safe to return."

"You can't seriously mean to leave us alone!!" Carys shouted, rising from the concrete to speak with Rune more directly. Countless exclamations of unhappiness formed in her mind, but none of them got the chance to be spoken. 

Rune opened a portal and jumped through, leaving Carys to stand where he had once been with a heavy sigh before kicking a nearby piece of concrete ruthlessly.

~~~~~

When the Shadows swarmed Alitia, lightning crackled mercilessly through the sky. Zylphia stabbed a nearby humanoid figure in the chest with her sword, causing it to dissipate into dark purple energy that fell to the ground in a pile of sludge.

Severine followed up on the electric hit with one of her own. Another nearby figure collapsed. Her lightning was yellow as opposed to Zylphia's crystal blue, but the hits were just as strong as the head teacher's were.

A tidal wave formed from seemingly thin air to slam into a group of Shadows. They disintegrated into purple as Cessair came into view, breathing heavily. A Shadow came up behind her and scratched her back, making her cry out in pain.

An explosion of sound rang out, making Tanith cover her ears. It was a high note, enough to shatter another group of Shadows. The one who had attacked Cessair dissipated as Adrianna came into view, her Inlustris form having replaced her regular teaching ensemble.

"Thanks," Cessair said in between heavy breaths.

Adrianna didn't give a verbal response, instead just winking before returning to the battle at hand. She kicked a few Shadows before letting out another high note. A few other Shadows vanished.

Miles was standing near the back of the battlefield, having moved there once the fight properly began. His arms were behind his back as he watched everything take place with a pleasant smile.

A Shadow managed to slip through the regular defenses to run towards him. Miles didn't move much to fight back, instead letting the Shadow grow nearer. He smiled pleasantly as a fireball came out of seemingly nowhere to slam into the Shadow and force it to explode.

Alistair walked up to Miles, blasting another few Shadows with his magic as well. Miles' magic made it easy for them to team up. Any Shadows who came near Miles would lose their will to fight. His emotion-manipulating magic was still just as effective on the inhuman beasts. Alistair, on the other hand, was a master sage experienced in setting just about anything up into flames. It was a simple yet effective strategy.

"Where is your daughter?" Alistair asked, snapping his fingers to create yet another flare. He tossed it over Vitellary's head. Vitellary had ducked low to sweep the Shadows' feet from under them, giving Alistair the perfect opportunity to strike once more.

"I cast a teleportation spell and sent her to Sacred Heart. Headmistress Claudere was glad to take her for the time being," Miles replied. He pointed behind Alistair at a Shadow approaching them.

The Shadow slowed down, a move proven to be fatal when Alistair's foot set itself ablaze and he kicked the dark beast in the chest. The Shadow let out a choked wail before sinking down into the courtyard's grass, staining it with an ugly shade of purple.

"That was probably for the best," Alistair nodded. "If we had time to evacuate, that likely would have been our best option for this battle, but the Shadows were not going to allow us such time."

"At least she's safe. I trust the Sacred Heart staff to keep her safe," Miles told him.

Vitellary, who had been fighting nearby, jumped slightly into the air before making his magic into a funnel around him. He launched himself horizontally through the battlefield, sawing through Shadows and sending pieces of them flying. When he landed after the attack, he cracked his pale knuckles and laughed. "Take that, nasties," he smirked.

Zylphia stabbed her electric sword through the chest of a Shadow before yanking it backwards. A creature that tried to catch her by surprise was hit by lightning from her sword. She thrust the blade skyward, sending bright blue energy flying every which way. Shadows were struck down where they stood with strangled cries.

Gensai managed to worm his way into the middle of a large pack of Shadows. He stomped his foot against the ground, creating a large shockwave of energy that traveled throughout the entire courtyard. Shadows were toppled. A few first year students fell over onto one another, creating a heap of limbs amidst the battle.

Michaela, who happened to be standing nearby, muttered something under her breath in an ancient tongue. She raised one arm, creating a sphere of light. Shards of bright white scattered, hitting the Shadows that dared to get too close to the toppled students. 

She didn't linger for too long on the people who had fallen down. Her white hair rippled around her as she cast another sphere, this one light blue instead of white. A few other words left her lips before she closed her eyes. The magic fanned out around her, hitting all of her allies in the area.

Wounds from the Shadows healed themselves over, making it appear that nothing had happened to begin with. Once the healing spell had been completed, Michaela spun around to strike a Shadow with a column of pristine white light. The nearby monsters were cleaved through easily by the blow. The strangled cries intensified as they collapsed into the ground.

An outline of a paw print came flying down from overhead to pin a few Shadows in place. Tanith followed the energy and saw it had come from none other than Erika, who was flying high above the battlefield. She was the only witch in the area, something Tanith had never thought about before. She watched with wide eyes as all the Shadows Erika had pinned down exploded into purple sludge before seeping back into the grass as if they had never existed in the first place.

Gensai stamped his foot against the ground again to clear out the remaining Shadows in his area. Their numbers were thinning out, and the Possession Master was nowhere to be seen. For a moment, it seemed as if Alitia had won this fight, that everything was about to end. 

That was when it all went horribly, horribly wrong.

The sludge that had sunk into the ground began to rise back up again. The Shadows were forming a second time, and they seemed to be even bigger than before. There were fewer of them, but they were bigger and seemed to be much stronger.

Tanith swore under her breath. How could she have forgotten? When she read about Shadows, she learned that they couldn't be killed easily. Light magic had the best luck against them. Either that or their creator had to be disposed of. Knocking him unconscious was sure to do the trick.

Thoughts of the Possession Master swarmed through her head. The Keeper of Moonlight was unknown. Nobody knew who they were. After the death of Ragnor Malefician, the next Keeper of Moonlight was left anonymous. It was the Church of Moonlight's way of apologizing for letting their next leader start a war that nearly destroyed Millennia and the Keeper of Starlight. Was it possible the mysterious person who had been attacking them was the one who had inherited Moonlight? Was the Possession Master the Keeper? It would explain why he was so strong for one.

With a powerful slash, Zylphia beheaded one of the larger Shadows. Tanith watched, but she wasn't fully registering anything. If this was the Keeper of Moonlight and he was waging war again, then who knew how things would turn out in the future? The Keepers weren't supposed to be fighting. They were meant to keep the peace. It wasn't until the previous generation, the one with Dawn Shira and Ragnor, that things had changed, and it was because the Keeper of Moonlight had grown too power hungry. 

Tanith let out a small sigh, her breath shaky. This couldn't be real. The Keeper of Moonlight couldn't be doing such a thing. It was against everything that had been established since the War of Starlight Cessair had told her so much about. It couldn't be happening, right?

Tanith began to glance over the courtyard again. Where the hell was the Possession Master? He should have been leading his troops of Shadows, and yet, that wasn't happening. He had gone missing out of nowhere. If he was in the middle of the fight, chances were he was combatting Zylphia, the leader of Alitia, and yet, he wasn't. Tanith's stomach tied itself into a knot.l

She gave one more sweep of the courtyard before she heard the door behind her open. She prayed it was just her imagination playing tricks on her, but the voice that followed disproved that theory.

"So, this is where you've been hiding."

Tanith slowly turned around, trying not too move too much so as not to provoke him. Her heart pounded in her chest as she met the eyes of the Possession Master.

Damn, was all the voice in her head could say before he lunged forwards to attack.

~~~~~

When everyone was dragged out of the debris, Carys examined the damages. Luce was still out like a light, though the blood flowing from her head had stopped thanks to the healing. Sylvia's ankle was swollen and badly bruised to the point that she cried out when she tried to walk on it.

S.M.'s neck was badly scratched up thanks to a stray rock. A severe cut was on the back of her neck where it connected to the base of her head. If not for Sophia's help, she would have lost a lot of blood. Speaking of Sophia, she was cradling one of her wrists with her other arm. It was tilted at an unnatural angle and littered with bruises.

Iris was holding her stomach. It had been cut open by a piece of concrete. Luckily, it wasn't a very deep scratch, so Carys had been able to fix it easily. Finally, Helena was still limping from the building's collapse but was otherwise relatively unharmed.

"Should we get back to Alitia?" S.M. asked. She was wavering on her feet as she walked over to a tree nearby. She leaned up against the bark, a relieved sigh escaping her lips. Even if she had gotten the cut patched up early on, it was still enough to make her nauseous from what blood she had lost.

"Rune told me to stay here," Carys said, crossing her arms. "It's a matter of how much you trust him if we go back or not."

"We can't go much of anywhere as it is anyways," Sylvia murmured with a shake of her head. "Luce is out like a light, and we've all exhausted our Isolis forms. Unless we can get our energy high enough to fly back there, we're stuck here."

"What about walking?" Helena suggested.

"It's too far away," Iris told her. "We would waste even more of our limited energy if we tried to do that, especially if we had to drag Luce along with us. She's not exactly going to be up and walking around any time soon."

"In other words, we're stuck here," Sophia whispered, sitting down. She kept holding to her wrist, unsure of how to heal it. While Sophia was strong when it came to healing others, patching up her own injuries was an entirely different story. Carys had done what she could, but it wasn't enough to fully realign the bone once it had been bent out of place.

"Rune said Alitia was under attack. If we went back in this state, we'd only be a burden," Carys declared. "I like this about as much as you do, but it's probably best if we get comfortable."

"I didn't expect you to think about this so logically," Helena admitted.

Carys scoffed. "I just don't want to die, alright? Now let's enjoy what time we'll be spending out here in the middle of nowhere and try to have a good time. At least we're not fighting for our lives now, right?" she asked.

~~~~~

Zylphia, on the other hand, was.

Adrianna let out a high-pitched note from nearby, shattering a few of the larger Shadows into sludge. A shockwave from Gensai had the same effect. Alistair set beasts aflame from where he stood near the composed form of Miles. Severine let loose electricity through a tidal wave cast by Cessair. Shadows fell to the ground alight with static amidst the lingering water.

"If we take them down as it is, they're just going to keep coming back," Alistair murmured, smashing a creature with a kick of fire energy. "We need to take out the source."

"Shadows are caused by someone who bears Moonlight. We need to find whoever here summoned them and knock them unconscious," Zylphia announced. "Find the hooded figure who was leading the battle!"

"If we keep on as we have been, then they'll eventually come together to make one large creature," Michaela pointed out. "It'll take some time, but we can do it with some perseverance."

"Our students are already running low on energy. We're not at our full strength since this is a surprise attack. We need to take out the source of this madness," Zylphia replied.

"I understand," Michaela nodded. She cast another healing charm and let the magic settle over the people of Alitia. "Has anyone seen him anywhere?"

Nobody gave an answer to her question. Severine blasted another Shadow as Gensai kicked one. Zylphia sighed in frustration and stabbed a Shadow before slicing through another one. "Well, start looking around! We can't let this keep going!" she yelled out. 

Nobody said a word in objection to her. After all, anyone who dared speak against the powerful Zylphia Satim was bound to soon regret it.

Cessair and Severine teamed up with another electric water attack. Shadows collapsed before them in a matter of seconds. Zylphia stabbed her sword into the ground. Lightning traveled outwards from where her sword landed in the grass to electrocute the Shadows. The screeches pierced the air before more of the Shadows sunk into the ground.

The first year students were starting to tire out from the battle. They weren't yet being sent on missions, and since they were only a quarter of the way into the year, it would take a while for them to gain enough experience to take on fully-fledged criminals in combat. This battle was premature, and that was putting it lightly.

The students in the two years above them were faring slightly better, but things still weren't going well. Exhaustion was starting to creep into the courtyard slowly but surely, a sure sign of exhaustion.

And then the portal appeared.

Space stretched around the rift before it opened fully. It turned a few heads before the person who had created it fully showed their face.

Rune jumped into existence, his sword slashing wildly. He cut down three Shadows in the span of a few seconds before approaching Zylphia. "I heard you needed help with fighting these things off," he said simply before stabbing the blade into another Shadow and removing it. "I'm at your service, Lady Satim."

~~~~~

Tanith ducked low to avoid the pounce from the Possession Master. He hit the wall behind Tanith. She cried out in shock and rolled away, her heart thrumming in her ears. This was why he had disappeared. He was coming to corner her.

It's because you're with the others. If he goes after them, you're a target too.

The voice in her head was right on that one. It made sense that she would be a person he'd target given that she was around the one who he wanted to go after (Sylvia) and the one who initially defeated him (Luce). By associating with them, Tanith would be deemed a threat.

Granted, she didn't really think of herself as a threat. Tanith's magic wasn't stable. She didn't bring it up much due to it being a significant insecurity of hers. Her powers were about as stable as Luce's and that was on a good day. It was like she was starting from the beginning when she lost her memories. All previous development seemed to have been thrown out the window. Magic wasn't her strong suit, but neither was physical fighting. Her low stamina prevented her from using physical weapons effectively. If not for her blessed memory, she never would have gotten into Alitia to begin with.

The Possession Master created a sphere of dark energy and threw it at Tanith. She let out a small gasp before being thrown backwards and into the wall. Her instincts weren't enough to help her get out of the way in time. All breath abandoned her lungs as she coughed and choked in the corner.

He came closer and seized her arm. Tanith cried out and tried to pull herself away, but he was a lot stronger than she had expected. The Possession Master created dark energy under his feet and rose into the air. The high ceiling of the flying classroom allowed him to go as high as he wanted with few limits. Tanith remained dangled by her wrist all the way.

"I would have thought you'd split up more," the Possession Master whispered to her. His breath sent a shiver down her spine. He dropped her suddenly, making a cry of shock leave her.

Tanith hit the ground with mostly limited damage. Her left arm, the one she had landed on, let out a sickening crack though. Pain filled her body, making her scream. That had definitely broken a bone in her arm, but that was better than ruining every rib on that half of her body. It was the small blessings.

She didn't give him much of a response as the Possession Master descended once again. He kicked at Tanith's stomach, making her hiss in agony. "Not going to talk, are you?" he asked mockingly. "If that's the case, perhaps I'll just have to go all out."

Tanith raised her good arm to block the next kick he attempted to dish out. A shield made of air formed from seemingly nowhere. The voice in her head grunted under sudden exertion, and she realized who had been responsible for the defensive maneuver.

For the first time in a while, she thanked that voice for existing.

~~~~~

"Who are you?" Zylphia asked as she cleaved another Shadow through. "I will need answers before I am willing to let you fight on this property."

"You may call me Rune," the swordsman replied before stabbing another beast. "I am on your side."

Zylphia briefly thought, her mind flashing back to what she had heard from Tanith about the tales of the mysterious fighter from the attack on Sacred Heart a few weeks prior. She hesitated before nodding. "I understand," she said. "After this battle ends, I demand that you give me and my comrades an answer behind who you truly are."

Rune didn't answer this statement, instead dashing off into the fray once again. The number of Shadows was going down now, but they were getting larger and more powerful with each defeat. When the rose up, they had combined and were lumbering around as if they hadn't been felled to begin with.

Michaela saw Rune from the corner of her eye as she let loose a column of white light. It impaled multiple Shadows through. A heavy sigh left her lips. She was starting to get tired, and she had a bad feeling about what was going on. She felt sick, like she was going to lose the lunch she hadn't been given the chance to eat yet. Her head was spinning madly, so she closed her eyes and attempted to ground herself.

When Michaela opened her eyes, she turned to look back towards the tower where she had sent Tanith to hide. She hadn't seen the young girl since before the fight began, so she was presumably still up there. That was what Michaela, hoped at least. It would be a disaster if something went down involving Tanith. Zylphia would abandon the battle to ensure her daughter was safe due to her dedication to the family she had started five years ago. The Shadows would have a much higher chance of destroying Alitia if she left the field to do other things.

Michaela turned away from the fight and defeated another Shadow. Zylphia didn't seem to have any thoughts regarding the location of Tanith up in the tower, which was for the best. If she was thinking of her daughter, she was doing a damn good job of hiding it as far as Michaela was concerned.

The largest Shadow yet rose from the ground, and Michaela took a deep breath. She summoned a bow and arrow from light magic before firing the arrow right through the creature. It screamed in agony before vanishing. Her light-based powers were certainly coming in handy given the element of the monsters swarming Alitia.

She created a few more arrows to shoot through the monsters before letting the bow vanish. Her gaze once again went up to the tower. She hoped with every fiber of her being that Tanith was safe, both for her sake and Zylphia's.

~~~~~

Tanith watched as the Possession Man created a hand made out of dark energy. The hand picked up Tanith from her place on the ground to pin her to the wall high above the ground of the classroom. He laughed loudly, the sound echoing through the large room. "You don't stand a chance!" he barked.

"I-If you kill me... You'll have the anger of Zylphia Satim to contend with...!" Tanith choked out, grabbing at the hand with her good arm. She needed a way out. She had to find a way out. It would help if her Isolis would finally decide to wake the hell up. All the others had earned theirs in a moment of pure desperation, and this seemed pretty damn desperate to her!

You're going to be fine. Take a deep breath.

The hand disappeared, and Tanith was falling. She felt the air around her buffer, and a splitting pain rushed through her head. The voice in her head, whatever its physical form was, had somehow helped to ease her fall.

Still, the manipulation didn't do much to help her, and Tanith still heard her ribs crack upon impact with the hard ground. She screamed once again, slowly pushing herself to her feet using her good arm. Tanith was shaking wildly, her body barely able to carry her weight. She felt so sick. Everything was spinning. Unconsciousness seemed so close.

Don't fall asleep. Keep your eyes open. If you can just unlock your Isolis, I'll take things from here.

The voice did little to comfort Tanith in her panic. Her head continued to swim. The ground rushed up to meet her cheek as pain shot through her skull once again. She was convinced blood was pooling around her temple just above her ear. It wasn't healthy for her to be beaten around this much. She had to get out of this. That was her only option.

Her magic churned fitfully in her stomach, waiting for a chance to be let free but struggling to do so. Tanith begged her body to cooperate and let Isolis come out. It was her last chance. If it didn't happen soon, the Possession Master was going to kill her. He would inevitably be tracked down and murdered brutally by Zylphia, but she didn't want him to die only because she had.

The Possession Master walked towards her and continued to laugh. He picked her up by the collar of her shirt. She felt her hair fall around her, the hair tie that had previously been keeping her tresses up now gone somewhere (she couldn't tell the exact location in her dizziness). "You're as good as finished," he murmured. "Why don't you make this easier for both of us and just die now?"

Don't count me out of the fight yet.

Purple covered Tanith's grayish blue irises, and light suddenly burst free from her skin to cover her body. Magic flooded into her, and relief washed over her body.

The battle is just beginning, and I'm going to be the one who comes out on top today. Just you wait.

 

Chapter Text

Zylphia wasn't able to show it, but she was growing exhausted.

The fight was growing more intense as time traveled on. The third year students were losing their energy by now. The Shadows had come together to create about ten large titans about the height of the school. They were thin and spindly, but ultimately, taking them down was still difficult. Her lightning blade was degenerating, making it harder to cleave through the Shadows.

Michaela pierced a Shadow monster with her light magic, creating a gap in the creature's stomach. It fell to the ground before disappearing. The enchantress was growing exhausted from her excessive healing earlier in the battle.

"We have to take care of the one causing all these things to fight on to begin with," Zylphia murmured. 

"I never saw him leave the campus!" Alistair called over to her. He created two streams of fire and used them to send himself flying high into the sky to another Shadow's neck. He clung tight to the monster's neck before pulling a knight from a holder around his waist. He brutally slashed at the creature, making it scream before collapsing. Alistair backflipped away and used some more fire magic to buffer his landing. Sweat was beading on his forehead, Zylphia noticed.

"In that case, search the school!" Zylphia yelled out. "He can't be far! To maintain these Shadows, he has to be nearby!"

"I'll search the school!" Michaela exclaimed. She cast a final healing charm over the people in the courtyard before disappearing from sight and entering the school building.

Michaela's heart was pounding as she began walking throughout the school. There weren't any signs of severe damage on the path she was taking, but that didn't mean signs weren't elsewhere. All she could do was hope the Possession Master hadn't gotten to Tanith.

A slamming sound was heard from a few floors above.

Damn it.

~~~~~

The light around Tanith faded to show her in a turquoise dress reaching her knees. It had no sleeves but instead clung tight to her neck. She had white fingerless gloves on that reached up her arms with matching high boots. Her hair remained mostly down, but a black comb kept the top layer away from her face. Her eyes were still purple in color.

The Possession Master let out a small laugh before walking closer to her. "Aren't you looking nice now?" he asked with a small whistle. "If I had known you'd look that hot, I would have done this sooner."

Tanith glared at him intensely. "You have no idea what you're getting into," she growled. Her voice was significantly lower than it had been before.

"I think you'd be a nice mistress, just like the rest of them," The Possession Master remarked.

"I belong to no man, especially not one like you," Tanith snarled. "And I'll prove it to you no matter what it takes."

Tanith swiped her uninjured arm through the air, creating a large current that knocked the Possession Master off his feet. He hit the wall behind him hard, making Tanith laugh. "Now, you're definitely looking nice, aren't you? I definitely like you better curled over in agony," she remarked.

The Possession Master laughed as he got to his feet. "You're being feisty, aren't you?" he asked.

"No more than usual," Tanith said simply. She stomped her foot against the ground, creating a large twister of wind magic around her. It swept her into the air and threw the Possession Master all over the place. Erika's desk was caught into the chaos and was ultimately smashed by the strong tempest.

A shard of the desk flew towards the Possession Master, and due to the wind, he was unable to dodge it. It fit his face and scratched his cheek horribly. The air settled as Tanith landed back on the ground. Blood spewed from the injury as the Possession Master roared.

"You would do well not to underestimate me. I've heard about you. I know more than you'd expect," Tanith told him, walking closer slowly. Her cracked ribs weren't doing much to keep her from fighting due to the adrenaline coursing through her body. The second the fight ended, she'd be back in a state of disarray.

"Oh, you've heard of me?" the man asked, slowly getting to his feet. He held at his face with one hand, telling Tanith that wound sure as hell was going to scar.

"You get used to hearing things after many years of doing just that," Tanith shrugged. "Now, why don't we take care of this? You can surrender or perish. Those are your options."

The Possession Master barked out a laugh once again. "You think you can order me around?! I've got more life under my belt than you ever will live to see!" he cried out.

"You'd be surprised," Tanith deadpanned. She focused her magic to create a spear made of wind energy that vibrated and thrashed in her fingers. She jumped towards the hooded man and made a stab for him.

The spear struck the Possession Master in the shoulder, making him screech in pain. He yanked the weapon from his body and threw it away, making it disappear into nothingness. "You... You aren't human!!" he screamed.

Tanith didn't dignify that with an answer. She instead walked towards him and placed one hand under his chin, forcing him to look up at her. "You have two options. Surrender or die. We've been over this," she hissed, pure anger in her eyes.

"I abide by no rules," the Possession Master told her evenly. He kicked a leg out, striking Tanith in the stomach. She bit her lip to stifle her yell of pain as she was sent stumbling backwards. The pain from her injured ribs was coming back to bite her hard.

Tanith tripped over a piece of wood and fell backwards into a heap on the ground. Her body complained as she tried to push herself back up with her one unharmed arm. In the end, she wasn't able to carry her own weight on a single limb, and she collapsed.

The Possession Master walked closer and placed one hand, the one not curled around his shoulder, on Tanith's weakened form. "I was right about you being hot, you know. You lack a few assets I prefer, but I think we can work that," he murmured, his hand stroking her hip gently. "Plus, you've got a nice ass, if I am allowed to say so."

Tanith's eyes narrowed in anger. She used the air around her to get back up despite the pain hitting her like a train. She reached out one hand, creating the outline of an arm ten times the size of her body. The falsified limb grabbed the Possession Master and pinned him up against the wall, the same thing he had done to her just a few minutes before.

"Don't you dare touch her. And, no, you're not allowed to say so," Tanith told him, watching as he writhed in pain from his shoulder and temple injuries. "I told you there were two options, but you clearly aren't going to take me up on surrender. Make peace with whatever dead god you pray to and die!"

The Possession Master didn't say anything, but he continued to struggle under the grasp of the large arm. Tanith scoffed and moved her actual arm in a throwing motion. The windy variant followed her movements and threw the Possession Master out of the window.

Glass shattered upon impact, and he was seen flying through the air. He didn't even get the chance to scream before he disappeared from view. Tanith saw him travel outside the gates of Alitia to the wooded area around the school. He landed somewhere among the trees, but she couldn't tell exactly where.

Tanith's eyes lost the purple tint. Her energy seemed to leave her instantly. The adrenaline keeping her disfigured body upright abandoned her, and it took less than fifteen seconds for her legs to give out. As her Isolis faded, her cheek slammed into the floor and the world went black.

~~~~~

The Shadows fell instantly.

The beasts had combined to create five behemoths after the countless defeats of the smaller versions. With one last set of screams, the figures all disappeared into the ground. This time, no purple sludge remained, and they vanished completely.

No one spoke for a few moments afterwards. A cry of excitement rose up eventually, and everyone else seemed to take this as an invitation to begin celebrating. Students embraced each other. Teachers smiled at one another. Zylphia closed her eyes and let her blade of lightning vanish. An expression of pure relief spread across her features. The battle was done.

However, this didn't change all the damage the Shadows had caused. Countless students had been badly injured during the fight. Michaela's mass healing spells could only do so much to keep them conscious. Now that the battle had ended, it would be easier to address individual wounds, but it would take Starlight only knew how long. The break definitely seemed like it was going to be starting late due to the sudden invasion.

"It appears our work here is done."

Zylphia looked up to see Rune standing nearby. He sheathed his sword and walked towards the headmistress solemnly. "I'm afraid I cannot stay and talk though. I have other business to take care of," he said.

"You aren't getting away that easily," Zylphia frowned, grabbing his wrist. "I can't let you leave like this. I've heard about a figure from Loduke's past returning, and I want answers now."

"I would like you to ask yourself... Where has that particularly troublesome group of students usually targeted by that hooded man gone off to? Did you happen to see them at all during the fight?" Rune asked, easily dodging the question.

Zylphia's shoulders went tense as she realized he was right. Luce, Iris, Sophia, and everyone else who usually hung out with them hadn't been in the fight at all. The only one from that dorm she knew was still at the school was Tanith, and she was upstairs in the flying classroom at Michaela's suggestion to stay safe. Had they snuck out under her nose?

"I'm going to pick them up. I can't let them stay in an abandoned storeroom all night, especially given that it collapsed in the middle of their recent scuffle with a few other people in hoods," Rune told her. "I'll return shortly."

Rune pulled away from Zylphia's grasp and created a rift in the air before walking through it. Zylphia watched with narrowed eyes, a mix of confusion and unhappiness rising in her core. Rune was such a mystery to her. She didn't know what to do about the odd swordsman, and it bothered every fiber of her being to say such a thing.

She cast her gaze upwards towards the tower where Tanith had been hiding. If all went well, nothing had happened to her, but there was no way of checking until she was finished with Rune.

~~~~~

When Rune returned to the abandoned storeroom, Luce was still unconscious. The other girls weren't looking much better, still being rather beaten and battered. They at least hadn't passed out, which was a small blessing they could give to the mercenary. The head injuries she had received amidst the collapse of the building simply weren't enough for her to handle then, it seemed.

"The fight at Alitia," Rune declared, turning the heads of all six girls. "It's time for you to return to the school."

"We're in so much trouble," Sophia whispered, rising to her feet. She stumbled towards the portal and vanished through the rift Rune had come through.

Iris and S.M. worked together to lift Luce off the grass and take her towards the portal as well. For a fleeting moment, Iris and Rune met eyes. A familiar and odd feeling rose in Iris' stomach, but she didn't have time to linger on it, instead focusing back on the portal. She and S.M. were the next to leave, taking Luce along with them.

Sylvia scurried through next with the twins taking up the rear. Carys continued staring at Sylvia as they did so, hoping the energy mage would find this a proper moment to explain her relationship with the hooded figures. Carys wasn't going to be able to forget about one of the figures calling her sister so easily. She needed an explanation as soon as possible.

Rune gave the area one last glance before closing the portal. He wasn't going to be able to linger at Alitia, as it was time for him to return home. He let out a small sigh before creating another rift and stepping through, leaving the remains of the storeroom behind.

~~~~~

Tanith felt warmth when her eyes next opened.

There were arms around her, but she couldn't tell whose they were at first. A small look upwards revealed it was Michaela. She had waved one hand over Tanith's head to wake her up via magic. Tanith wasn't able to do much aside from stare at her surroundings.

Suddenly, memories of the fight came at her. She remembered throwing the Possession Master out the window of Alitia. She recalled pinning him against the wall and what he had done before. The way he had touched her limp body, the unsettling feeling his touch gave her, the sensation that made her want to throw up--

Tanith's breathing quickened. Michaela began to rock her back and forth gently. "You're alright now, little one," she whispered. "I know who you are, and I'm here for you... Sh..."

Tanith wasn't able to stop the tears that flowed emotionlessly from her eyes. She wanted to go back to sleep. Even if she was concussed and broken, it was better than being awakening and remembering how invasive his touch had been.

A warm feeling spread throughout her arm. Michaela pressed her hand to it, and the broken bone began to mend itself. "It's alright," the teacher continued to say. "I'm right here... You're safe now... Take a deep breath and try to relax..."

The words did little to calm Tanith's mind, which was running at a million miles an hour. She felt warmth spread through her torso as she realized there was still blood in her hair. Michaela obviously hadn't gotten to that injury yet. Even if she had, it likely wouldn't have done much to soothe her.

The warmth came to her head next, and as she had suspected, it didn't do much. Tanith closed her eyes against the tears of panic still falling down her cheeks. "You're safe now... I know who you are, and I'll protect you..." Michaela murmured.

The professor seemed to sense that her words of comfort weren't helping Tanith relax. She bit her lip in guilt before waving her hand over Tanith's head once more. Magic moved from Michaela's fingers to Tanith's forehead. The unconsciousness crept in once again, and Tanith accepted the darkness with open arms. She let sleep take her as Michaela continued to rock her gently.

~~~~~

When the other seven girls arrived back at Alitia, Zylphia had her arms crossed as she looked them over. "What the hell were you thinking?" she asked, her voice soft. In a way, her sudden quietness was more frightening than how she would have been had she chosen to yell.

"We... We got a letter asking us to go to an abandoned storeroom to finish business with the Possession Master..." Sophia whispered, her voice barely hearable.

"Why didn't you come to me, or to any other teacher, for that matter? Going alone posed incredible risks. If you really had run into him, what were you going to do? Fight him off? He's a master mage with years of experience, and you're brand new to fighting," Zylphia told them. "It's vital that you don't run off and try something like that. I'm the one who has to keep you safe, and I don't want my head on the line because you decided to go out and do something stupid."

"I'm really sorry, Headmistress Satim... We really... We didn't think it would be a good idea for us to bring you or someone else along. For all we knew, if the hooded figure saw us with someone from Alitia, he'd run away," Iris explained.

"We only wanted to eliminate him before he tried to come after us while we were isolated over the break," Helena continued. "But you have every right to be mad at us. We disobeyed your trust, and we sincerely apologize."

Zylphia sighed and shook her head. "Obviously, you didn't run into the Possession Master while you were out. He came here instead, and Alitia is not in a good state because of it. We're lucky the place didn't fall apart under the Shadows he summoned to destroy us all," she murmured. "I'm happy that you're safe, but you have to promise me to never do something like that ever again. If you get a mysterious note like that, you need to come to me or another professor at the school to talk about it."

"We understand," S.M. assured her with a firm nod. "We really are sorry about all of this. We thought we could take care of things now."

"Obviously, that didn't wind up being the case," Sophia whispered. "Are you going to punish us?"

Zylphia hesitated before shaking her head. "You're smart kids. You won't do something like that again... Plus, you technically left after the break started. Just because you haven't left yet doesn't mean it hasn't officially begun. I can't exactly lecture you for that, though I really do want to... Just know that if I ever catch you doing something that ridiculous ever again, I won't be holding back in doling out the punishment. Do I make myself clear?" Zylphia questioned, her voice still as low and threatening as before. 

Nobody gave her a verbal response, instead all choosing to nod silently. Zylphia softened at the gesture. "I'm glad we understand one another. Come on. Let's get you to the infirmary. It looks like you could use some help patching up those injuries. And I'd like the full story of who you actually fought, if you don't mind my asking," she said. Zylphia took Luce from Iris and S.M. before starting to go inside, the students trailing after her wordlessly.

~~~~~

It wasn't until about two hours later that Luce woke up. She realized she was in the infirmary by the smell before she saw it. When her sight finally did fully return, she blinked a few times before sitting up. She could feel something at the back of her neck, and when she reached backwards, she found the sensation of cotton and tape to keep it in place. She remembered the fight a few seconds later, the building crash included, and sighed before settling back down into bed.

"You're awake, I see."

Luce looked to her side to see Zylphia reading from a book. The head teacher finished her page before marking her place and walking over to the teen. "I already went over this with your friends, but I need you to avoid sneaking out of Alitia to fight a dangerous criminal in the future, alright?" she asked.

Luce nodded. "I'm sorry," she murmured, guilt pulling at her core.

"We don't need to talk about that now though. I want to make sure you're alright. Does anything hurt?" Zylphia questioned.

Luce shook her head. "No... Nothing hurts," she confirmed.

"I'm glad to hear it. You should be free to go whenever you're ready. I believe most of your friends are already waiting for you back there," Zylphia told her.

"Most?" Luce echoed.

Zylphia gestured to the bed next to Luce's. Tanith was curled up and sound asleep. Jin was standing beside her. He waved politely to Luce but said nothing when he realized he had been noticed.

"What happened while I was gone?" Luce asked as she looked Tanith over. She was paler than usual (which was saying a lot given how ghostly the air mage regularly looked).

"Alitia was invaded by an army of creatures made from Moonlight magic. They did quite a number on our students, to say the least," Zylphia said.

Luce waited for her to go further but soon realized Zylphia had no intentions of doing so. She swung her legs off the bed and got to her feet. "I... I should probably be on my way. The other girls will be wondering where I got off to... Thanks again," Luce told her before heading to the door. She disappeared through the exit a few seconds later, the gentle click of the door shutting being the only sound in the infirmary. After that, there was nothing but silence as mother and father looked down at their sleeping daughter. 

"We should go on and wake her up," Zylphia said, sitting on the bed beside Tanith. "Michaela said it was safe to do so. She's been healed now."

"I'm glad she managed to find her in time... What did Michaela say she did again?" Jin asked.

"She can't be entirely sure, but she thinks Tanith was responsible for disposing of the so-called Possession Master who attacked Alitia to begin with. Some people saw him flying through the sky into the woods outside of the school. If he came from an upper floor of the school, chances were she did it," Zylphia explained.

"In order to pull off a feat like that, wouldn't she need to have Isolis?" Jin questioned.

"As a matter of fact, yes. Michaela thinks she might have earned it during the scuffle. By the time Michaela arrived though, she was out like a light. She's healed now, just a little tired," Zylphia went on.

"I want to talk to her," Jin said firmly.

"So do I," Zylphia murmured, placing her hands on Tanith's shoulders. "Tanith? Are you awake, sweetheart?"

The small air mage rubbed at her eyes when she felt Zylphia touch her. She slowly sat up, a yawn escaping her lips. "Hm...? Oh, hi, Zylphia..." she said softly.

"I'm here too," Jin cut in, moving a bit closer to her. He sat down on the other side of the bed, leaving Tanith in between himself and Zylphia. "Did you really think I would miss this when it's so important?"

"Miss what?" Tanith asked, still obviously drowsy.

"Michaela believes you got your Isolis," Zylphia smiled.

Tanith's face broke out into a grin. "I... I actually did," she told them shyly. "It was crazy... I was watching the fight from the flying classroom when the Possession Master came in. He threw me around for a little while before I started glowing. After that, I got my Isolis."

"I'm so proud of you!" Jin cried out, wrapping his arms around his daughter in excitement. "I knew this day would come! I'm just sad I wasn't there to see how you look... Did you look badass?!"

"Jin!" Zylphia gasped, lightly hitting his arm with the back of her hand. "What have I said about swearing around the child?"

"Zylphia, I'm sixteen. I don't think it's a concern anymore," Tanith giggled. "And I think I looked cool... I don't really remember it though. The second I got my Isolis, everything kind of went fuzzy. After that, I only remember feeling super weak and passing out... I guess whatever I did while I was blacked out was pretty impressive."

"You threw the Possession Master out a window. I'd call that impressive," Zylphia smiled, placing a hand on her shoulder. "I'm so proud of you, sweetheart."

"Thank you, Zylphia..." Tanith murmured, her cheeks pink in embarrassment. "I... I just have one more thing to ask you about... I hope you'll say yes, but I'm still kind of freaked out about it... Please say yes."

"I can't say yes if I don't know what you're talking about," Zylphia told her, ruffling her hair lightly.

"I want my restriction on staying in Alitia to be lifted," Tanith blurted out. "I mean, this entire first quarter of the year, I've been stuck here with no other place to go unless I was with one of you. I just want the freedom to go out and have a nice time with my friends. I know that you're worried about me, but I feel like I proved today that I can handle myself on my own. I understand that it's a lot to ask, and that your concern comes from a good place, but I think I'm ready to finally be let go and given freedom to go about as I please throughout Millennium City and the schools around it."

Zylphia and Jin watched her speak before turning to one another silently. Jin searched Zylphia's eyes for a response to Tanith's question, and when he found one, he smiled to himself before turning back to Tanith. "Of course you can leave Alitia," he told her.

Tanith's eyes welled with tears. She hugged Jin as tightly as she could. "Thank you so much!" she cried out. When she pulled away from the embrace, she did the same to Zylphia. "I... I'm really thankful to both of you for taking me in five years ago... It's funny. Today is the anniversary, as a matter of fact."

"Yes, it is... Break hadn't come that year, and so we were in the middle of the week when I found you unconscious on the grounds outside Alitia," Zylphia murmured.

"Honestly, we weren't entirely sure if you were going to make it... You were pretty sick at the time," Jin admitted.

"But I'm a fighter, so I couldn't give in then," Tanith grinned. "I'm glad you decided to take me in... Words can't describe how happy I am to have you both in my life. You're the best parents anyone could ever ask for, and you're just right for me."

"And it's because we're the best parents that we're letting you out now," Zylphia told her. "We know that you're responsible for yourself, even if you're the youngest in the current class of Alitia. You know what you're doing in Millennium City, and you can stay safe on your own now."

"You have to know that we didn't keep you at Alitia because we didn't trust you. We did it because we didn't trust other people," Jin said.

"I understand. I appreciate your concern for me. Truly, it is touching, and it lets me know that I'm really loved in this environment," Tanith replied. "However... I'm also glad that you're willing to let me leave the school's grounds now too. I think I've had enough of being trapped here to last a lifetime. Even if it was because I didn't have the power to defend myself, so it was for a good reason, it felt pretty restricting."

"Even if you weren't planning on going anywhere, knowing that you couldn't just made you feel bad, right?" Jin asked.

Tanith nodded. "You hit the nail right on the head," she agreed.

"Well, there's no need to worry about that now," Zylphia assured her. "We're all okay as things are."

"Yeah... And school break has started, which means we can be together more!" Tanith exclaimed. "It's been king of sad not having Jin around the house as much as over summer, you know?"

"Oh, rest assured, I've been feeling that too," Jin told her. "It's sad that I can't come and see my two favorite girls whenever I want."

"You have to dodge the news reporters who would say something about this," Tanith murmured. "Because we all know how much of a stir it would cause among the press if they learned that two of the esteemed head teachers of the Millennium Six were getting together."

"They practically lost it back when Minerva and Altina got together seven years ago. I don't even want to imagine how they'd react to this," Zylphia whispered with a shake of her head. "But now isn't the time to worry about that. We can have a nice two weeks together as a family, which is absolutely perfect. If you ask me, it's what we deserve after all this time."

"I hope we don't have any other issues with the Possession Master," Tanith admitted.

"None can say if he survived or not. It was hard to see where he landed, and by the time we had fended off the Shadows, nobody had the energy to go searching for a body," Zylphia frowned. "It isn't convenient, but given the state of our fighting force, it was our only option to stay here and keep going on as we were before."

"Now, we can forget all about that and have a nice break together!" Jin cried out in excitement.

"Um... If it's alright with you two, I think I want to go back to my dorm and talk to my friends a little bit before we leave for break. I won't be seeing them for the next two weeks and all, so I need to get in my time with them while I still can," Tanith told them.

"That's fine. We'll have all the time in the world tomorrow," Jin smiled. He ruffled Tanith's hair as she got up and left the room, grinning all the way.

Once she was gone, Jin and Zylphia looked to one another. "Do you think we should try and find out more about who she really is?" Jin asked. "I mean, it's been five years now, and we still know just as much as we did before."

"I... I don't know," Zylphia whispered. "Let's save this talk for another time. I'm too tired to think about a life-changing decision like learning about our daughter's past life."

Jin chuckled and nodded. "I understand. Let's get to bed, princess. We've got a lot of fun times ahead of us, and we want to be prepared."

 

Chapter Text

When everyone was back in the main room of the dorm, Carys pointed accusingly at Sylvia. "Alright, Sylvia! I want answers!" she exclaimed.

"Answers?" Luce echoed. "What are you talking about?"

"The two people who attacked us in that storeroom seemed to know her. For crying out loud, one of them called her their little sister!" Carys cried out. "I want to know what that's about!"

Helena looked to Sylvia, pain and betrayal in her eyes. "Sylvia... There has to be an explanation for this, right? Tell us what's going on," she begged.

"Come to think of it, our enemy has been targeting her this whole time, haven't they?" S.M. murmured. "Even before we all got together, Luce and her father were called in because someone was after Sylvia."

"Yeah. Professor Ogun was friends with Lianna and wanted her help with taking care of whoever was causing such a stir," Luce confirmed. "I knew from the start Sylvia had something to do with it all, but I never expected this."

"Can you tell us what's happening?" Tanith asked softly.

Sylvia looked around at everyone else before her eyes settled on her shoes guiltily. "I... I don't know if it's such a good idea... Do you really want to hear about it all...?" she questioned.

"Of course we do. This involves us too. We can't just let you suffer like this. It's not right. Plus, he's after us on top of going after you. There's no reason for you to keep it in any longer," S.M. told her. "Open up to us. We're here to listen."

Sylvia glanced at her friends one more time before taking in a deep breath. She let it out slowly. "Alright... Where am I supposed to start here?" she murmured.

"What about you take it from the very beginning?" Sophia suggested. She put one hand on Sylvia's from her place beside the energy mage. "We're listening."

Sylvia nodded. "Alright... To start this story, we go back about five hundred years to the royal family of my planet. Hiloft was a flourishing land, and the royal family was loved by the people. Everyone was happy... Well, we thought everyone was happy. There was a particular mage who wasn't quite so happy... His name was Samuel Thanatos. He hated the way things were being run, so he gathered a resistance force and marched on the capital."

"What was he even trying to accomplish?" Sophia questioned.

"He wanted to rule over the world in the place of the royals... After a long and bitter battle, Samuel lost. He continued to try and take over Hiloft many times over his lifetime, but he failed each time. His anger with my ancestors only grew, and in the end... He cast a curse on them that persists to this very day," Sylvia went on.

"A curse..." Helena repeated, looking down at her feet. "Wait. I thought curses couldn't sustain themselves very easily without a powerful source behind them."

"They lose strength over time to keep people from suffering under them eternally unless they are renewed or powered by a an immense magical force," Tanith explained. "The only powers that are really able to keep a curse going for a long time would be Moonlight and Starlight. I'd say they last around five hundred years or so."

"Samuel had been given power by the Keeper of Moonlight from that time period. I didn't even realize it was possible, but that's how the story goes," Sylvia shrugged. "The curse stated that everyone with the blood of the royals who had been cursed was doomed to practice dark magic."

"But you don't practice dark magic. You're an enchantress," S.M. frowned.

"That's the second part... If we don't follow up in learning dark magic, we have very little energy consistently. It's hard to explain, but it doesn't work out well for us either way. If we work on dark magic, then we slowly lose ourselves to the curse and are doomed to be slaves to the ones who cast it. If we follow light magic instead, we slowly lose our energy and will eventually die prematurely," Sylvia said, staring at her feet. "I... I chose the latter."

"So, you're doomed to a lifetime of emotionless servitude or an early death? That's horrifying," Sophia whispered, wrapping her arms around Sylvia's shoulders.

Sylvia let herself be pulled into the embrace. She rubbed at her eyes. "It's why I'm so tired all the time... I want to get out there and see the world, but it's just too much for me... If I get too weak, I fear something bad will happen... I need to keep my energy up by resting. I refuse to succumb so soon," she continued, her hands clenching into fists.

"I don't know what to say... Sylvia, I'm so sorry about all of this," Tanith told her, placing a hand on the girl's shoulder.

"But how does this have to do with where we are now? It sounds like that was five hundred years ago," Carys frowned.

"The Moonlight magic that powered the curse is finally about to go away. Because of that, the heir needs to renew the curse. If it expires, all those currently impacted by it will be freed. Since I'm one of the people impacted, I guess he was hoping to renew it through me..." Sylvia explained, her voice trailing off.

"We're dealing with someone who wants to curse you for the battles of the past? Sounds like we have a seriously petty villain on our hands," S.M. scoffed. 

"It's a lot to focus on... The whole thing is exhausting. It's done a lot of damage to my family... My father and mother gladly got together years ago. My father was the bearer of the curse. It passed on from him to me and my older siblings, Chester and Myra," Sylvia told them.

Luce gasped in understanding. "Then the people we've been fighting... The lackeys of the Possession Master..." 

"They're my siblings... They chose dark magic since they wanted to live longer... As soon as they came to the Millennium Six, they changed though. It's like they grew darker faster. They lost their minds before anyone else had," Sylvia said.

"Do you think there's a reason for why that would happen?" Helena asked.

"I think it's because they're close to the Possession Master. There's magic that's been passed down since Samuel Thanatos. Said magic allows the user to temporarily possess another person and make them do the user's bidding. I think that the Possession Master is the descendant of Samuel Thanatos. It would make sense... Plus, the Possession Master could have already renewed the curse on my siblings," Sylvia explained.

"There's a theory that any magic passed onto another user can be passed down genetically. However, the more people who use it, the weaker it gets... I imagine Samuel Thanatos did have the power of Moonlight at some point, but it's grown weaker as his family grows larger. Now, the Possession Master probably lacks the power to officially renew the curse on everyone, so he has to do it individually. The other two have already had the curse renewed, hence why they slipped into madness so quickly. Now, he just needs to do it to you, hence why he's targeted you up to this point," Tanith declared.

"You've really done your research," Iris remarked.

"I think I've caught onto most of the story, but there is still one thing that bothers me," Tanith frowned. "Is it really possible to pass on Starlight and Moonlight magic to others? If so, how is it possible?"

"I'm pretty sure it can happen," Luce murmured. "I remember when I was in history class, Professor Maness said that only Starlight and Moonlight have the power to build worlds. Since other people, most of them mortal, created the planets in this dimension, Starlight and Moonlight must be inheritable. I know of at least a few planets that weren't created by  Keepers, meaning it has to be transferrable in some way."

"In that case, we'll need to do some research on that... I'll do some digging over the break," Tanith said firmly.

"Continue your story, Sylvia," Sophia urged.

"The curse has been traveling through our blood ever since the incident with Samuel Thanatos. I don't know who the current heir is, but if I had to guess, that's the Possession Master," Sylvia continued. "But... There's something odd about the current heir..."

"What is it?" Iris asked.

"You see, most of the time, when a new heir is born to the Thanatos line, we can sense it. We're linked to them, and we can tell when the curse is being passed on from father to son... But nothing like that has been felt for a long time," Sylvia went on. "It's been over a hundred years since anything was last felt involving an heir. No power has been passed on..."

"If the power hasn't been passed on... What does that mean? It's still with the same person?" Iris questioned.

"If you ask me, yes. I don't think any normal person could live for so long though... There is magic out there that can slow down aging. I think that's the most probable conclusion here. I mean, the Possession Master could not possibly have the regular body of a man who's been living for over a hundred years," Sylvia frowned.

"So... The curse is passed down from father to son, right? Is there any way to break it and save you?" Sophia asked.

"There is one way... We need to find the current bearer keeping the curse sustained, the most recent cantor born with this dark magic, and kill them," Sylvia replied. "If someone dies without passing on the power to sustain the curse, it will fade out the second they die. Our family will be saved. Those who lost their minds will return to normal. Those who are losing energy and slowly dying will return to proper state. It will be like nothing ever happened."

"We need to kill the Possession Master then. He's caused enough harm in attacking all these people. The next chance we get, we need to defeat him once and for all," Luce announced.

"You're sure about this? You're willing to just jump on this train because it might help me out?" Sylvia asked.

"Of course we are... This man has tied us into his feud with your family and tried to kill Starlight only knows how many people. We can't just sit back and let this happen," Iris agreed. "He's hurt so many people. That can't continue for any longer."

"Thank you... Thank you all so much. I was scared you'd all turn away once you heard the truth. It's so dangerous to be around me given that I'm the target of a man like that," Sylvia whispered, shaking her head. "It means a lot more to me than any of you realize."

"What else do you want to tell us about him?" S.M. questioned.

"Well... After I was born, my mother went missing. She seemed to vanish off the face of every planet... I didn't see her again until after she died. Her body was shipped back to us in a box. She had been murdered by the current unnamed heir to the Thanatos line. He had kidnapped her two years earlier and supposedly violated her... Pregnancies on Hiloft take two years in total. My guess is that he was trying to produce a suitable heir but turned up short. When the child wasn't able to sustain the power... He killed them both," Sylvia explained, her voice soft. "That was a long time ago, but I still remember it clear as day... It was the day my father began to grow distant from us."

"What about your siblings? Are there any other details about them we should know?" Helena asked.

"Hm... Well, you already know their names are Myra and Chester. They're two years older than us. They're seniors in Sacred Heart and Sierra respectively. I haven't been able to contact them since they left to come to school here on Millennia. They completely cut off me and my father. I've been trying to get into contact with them since starting the school year, but I haven't had any luck. They're ignoring me on purpose. They've just been hurt by the curse, hence why they're like this... I want to save them if possible. Try to keep from killing them," Sylvia told the group next.

"This is all so tragic to hear about... I can't believe you've been grappling with all of this since before you started attending school here... But I'm glad you're finally opening up to us. We're all going to help you out the best we can to alleviate the burden," Sophia said next.

"Is there anything else we should hear about?" Tanith inquired.

"There is one thing... The Thanatos family has been hard to track, but they have garnered something of a reputation. Instead of settling down and starting a family in a regular sense, they tend to have many mistresses. Thanatos sons are raised on a foundation of sexism and overall harm to others. They believe they have control over women, no matter who they are. Thanatos sons tend to sleep with many women in desperate attempts to have a child. If the consort doesn't have the child of the father's desire, she is thrown aside," Sylvia explained.

"That's horrible," Luce gasped.

"There are many children out there who have been raised by their mothers only because of this. I bet they inherited some of the power of Moonlight. Any daughters were immediately thrown away. Those who inherited the magic of the mother were also cast aside," Sylvia went on. "They care only for their heir, and even after they have one, they continue their habits of infidelity. Countless women have been forced into relations with them, whether they were held hostage or attacked by the Thanatos man. I've grown to hate them over the years..."

"I bet the kids despise their bloodline as well. With that being said, maybe we could recruit a few of them to our side. After all, they would have a reason to fight back against the Possession Master as well. For some, he could be their father. I mean, he's been around for over a hundred years trying to find a suitable heir but ultimately failing. I bet he has quite a few children out there, and if we happen to run into any, they should be willing to side with us," Tanith pointed out.

"It would be hard to track them down, but we never know what the future holds," Sylvia shrugged. "I... I'm starting to get tired, and we all have places to be tomorrow. Perhaps we should get to sleep for now."

There were no objections to such. Luce could feel her eyes growing droopy as well. She watched as all the girls told each other goodnight before going back to their rooms. She could sense the determination that had risen in them all. They were more prepared than ever to defeat the Possession Master, and they were sure it would happen next time he crossed their paths.

~~~~~

It wasn't until after everyone else had gone to sleep that Tanith snuck out of her room. She crept away from the dorm and towards Zylphia's office. With some luck, she was still inside. The head teacher didn't usually go home until a little bit later, which gave Tanith the chance to ask her a few questions.

Luckily, Zylphia was walking out of her office just as Tanith arrived. The air mage smiled and dashed up to her mother. "I'm glad you're still here," she said, slowing to a stop.

"What do you need, Tanith?" Zylphia asked.

"I have a few questions about the inheritance of Starlight and Moonlight. I can't exactly go to the library, but I want to know as much as I can as soon as possible. I figured you would know about it," Tanith replied.

"Well... I suppose it wouldn't hurt to talk to you about it," Zylphia shrugged. She opened the door to her office once again and gestured for Tanith to come inside. They both entered the room.

Zylphia took her place behind the desk while Tanith sat down on the chair in front of the wooden structure. "I want to know if there are any ways of passing on magic to other people. For now, let's keep it somewhat general," Tanith began.

Zylphia nodded. "Well, a few experiments have been done at various points of time to see if it's possible to pass on magic. However, all tests have come up short and seem to point to the idea that it's overall impossible to pass on magic to a successor. If there's a way to work around it, then it hasn't been found. Then again, all the tests have been on mages trying to pass down their magic to someone else. There haven't been any experiments regarding if a leath tried to take the magic," she said.

"What do you think would happen if a leath did happen to try and inherit magic?" Tanith questioned.

"I have no idea. Traditionally, the bodies of leaths cannot sustain magic. They have a manifestation instead. If they're a female, they can gain wings, but that's the full extent of their power. If a leath tried to inherit the magic of a mage, it likely wouldn't go very well since their bodies can't really sustain the power. The magic would either vanish completely, kill the leath involved, or drain the leath's energy immensely. It would cause irreparable harm, and that's the best outcome," Zylphia explained.

"That sounds rather odd... And if mages can't pass down their magic, it means magic is stuck to its bearer in the traditional sense," Tanith nodded. "Hm... I think I understand... But what about Keepers of Moonlight and Starlight? They can pass on magic. It's the only way a planet can be created since Starlight and Moonlight are the world building powers, and not every world was originally created by a Keeper of one of the two magics."

"Starlight and Moonlight can be passed on, but it hasn't happened in many years. In fact, most people from your generation aren't even aware of it until they do some research. It's been kept relatively secret for the reason that Starlight and Moonlight are so strong," Zylphia replied.

"How are Starlight and Moonlight different from other powers? What makes them able to be passed down?" Tanith asked.

"Starlight and Moonlight have always had some odd properties other magics don't possess. It's hard to say exactly why they can be passed down to others, but it happens, and we have to deal with it," Zylphia told her. "These times when Starlight and Moonlight are passed down have become known as Blessings. The people who receive them gain minor manipulation over Starlight and Moonlight. Their descendants will also have this power for the next five hundred years or so, though the power weakens over time if a Keeper does not bless the next person in line themselves. It also weakens over time."

"Hm... Can you tell me anything else about Blessings? I think they might have something to do with the current case involving the Possession Master," Tanith said next.

"I'll take your explanation on how it involves him later, but for now, I'll tell you. Blessings are passed down with minor magic of Starlight or Moonlight by the Keepers. When they deem someone worthy, they can grant another a fraction of their power. It hasn't been done since the War of Starlight since the Keepers haven't been seen since then," Zylphia continued.

"That means that the person we fought against today... While he could manipulate the Shadows, that doesn't mean he's the Keeper of Moonlight. He could have just as easily been blessed by the Keeper and granted the ability to control them that way. For all we know, this person wasn't the Keeper... In fact, he couldn't possibly be, given what I've learned tonight," Tanith murmured.

"Again, I expect an explanation on that. As for Blessings, they do have a few rules. No one person can be blessed with both Starlight and Moonlight. If they have one in their blood and are blessed with the other, they can have both though. It's likely that one will far outshine the other though. Whichever one someone is blessed with will override the one in their blood, but the lesser power will still be usable. Does that make sense?" Zylphia questioned.

Tanith nodded. "People can have both, but they can't both be Blessings. One has to come from genetics and someone else in their bloodline having received a Blessing before them. What about someone who happens to have both powers in their blood?" 

"Then both are usable, but they aren't as powerful as a full-on Blessing. Also, if a leath is blessed, they can't use the full power of the magic they have been given. Since they can't use magic, they cannot use the Blessing. Instead, the Blessing will augment their manifestation and make it much stronger. For example, if a person has a manifestation based around increased tactical thinking, they will gain the ability to think even further ahead with the Blessing at their disposal," Zylphia went on.

"Wow... It sounds like there's a lot to know about regarding these Blessing things. I almost feel like I should be taking notes," Tanith joked. "But I have to wonder... If Blessings are so powerful and coveted, why are they kept secret? All the people who created planets would have to have been blessed, which means it would realistically be taught about in history classes, and yet, it isn't. Do you have an explanation for that?"

"As a matter of fact, I do... In the Millennium Six in particular, Blessings are kept out of the curriculum. I was the one who requested such, and my colleagues agreed with my thinking. While most students of the Millennium Six know they are going to be pursuing the path of good as defenders of the Magia dimension, others don't follow that route. Those people are incredibly dangerous, and if we told them how to gain a Blessing, they could try and manipulate a Keeper into giving it to them," Zylphia explained. "There have been many corrupt figures in the past known for gaining Blessings and using the power for dark purposes. I refuse to aid in any others discovering the power of the Blessings and using them for evil."

"You're talking about people like Samuel Thanatos," Tanith realized. "He used a Blessing for evil purposes."

"Yes... But how did you hear about him?" Zylphia asked.

"Sylvia told me. That's where I got all of these questions to begin with. I wanted to know more. We've figured out the general outline of the Possession Master's identity, but we don't know his name or how to track him down officially. I'll tell you all about it in a minute, but first, I want to hear about all you know relating to Samuel Thanatos," Tanith pressed.

"Alright. I'll tell you. Samuel Thanatos... He's had many descendants spread the Blessings of Moonlight into the thousands. He has had many children in an attempt to find the perfect heir to his magic, and his descendants have done the same. The Brand of Moonlight is on all who have that power," Zylphia said.

"The Brand of Moonlight?" Tanith echoed.

"Yes. All Keepers have a Brand, whether it be for Moonlight or Starlight. Those who are blessed also gain a Brand. It's a marking somewhere on their body that shows what sort of magic they have. After time and reproduction, the marks grow dimmer. If someone had a Blessing from Samuel Thanatos, their Brand would be incredibly pale by this point. In fact, you would barely be able to tell it apart from regular skin," Zylphia explained.

"Wow... I didn't know about any of this, but I feel like it's going to be vital knowledge in the future," Tanith said with a nod.

"Now, I want answers about what you know regarding the Possession Master," Zylphia told her.

Tanith nodded before launching into a retelling of what Sylvia had explained to her not long before. Zylphia listened silently, a frown on her face. She waited for Tanith to finish before speaking.

"We're looking for someone who spends time with Myra and Chester Loveknot and doesn't have an alibi for any of the incidents that have taken place across the Millennium Six and Millennium City... I'll be sure to relay this to the other head teachers. Perhaps Fromir will be able to do some investigation. I don't know how much he'll be able to figure out over the break, but it sounds to me like he'd have the best chances of finding our culprit," Zylphia concluded.

"What are we going to do once we finally find the perpetrator? We can't just let him roam free. For crying out loud, he's hurting people. Countless innocent people have fallen victim to him and the people he's associated with. I can't let that continue in good conscience," Tanith frowned.

"Which is why we aren't going to let it continue. If we find him, execution is our only option. Not only is he the one behind the Loveknot Curse, but he has endangered countless lives in his attempt to pass on the dark magic to one of our students. He nearly destroyed Alitia with his Shadow army today. Every student in our school was at risk. On top of all of that, he has attacked you and your friends with possessed minions or on his own many times. Someone who has done that much cannot be allowed to roam free for any longer," Zylphia said firmly. "We're going to have to eliminate him by any means necessary."

"How are we going to do that when we don't even know who he is?" Tanith asked.

"I'll find a way," Zylphia assured her. "Perhaps it's time for you to go back to bed. It's rather late."

Tanith nodded and headed for the door. Her hand was almost on the handle before she stopped and turned to Zylphia. "I... I can't go yet... You know what today is, right?" she questioned.

Zylphia nodded slowly. "I do know... Today is the anniversary of the day I found you. What about it?" Zylphia inquired.

"I... I don't know. I haven't gotten the chance to talk to you all day between the Shadow attack and my falling unconscious... I guess I just wanted to say that it means a lot to me that you took me in. I didn't mean to run off earlier to talk with my friends. I just... I was desperate to know what had happened to them. I should have stayed with you for a little while. I can't just leave my mother on the day she found me, right?" Tanith walked towards her mother, rubbing at her eyes.

Zylphia smiled lightly. "You don't need to worry a bit about that... I knew you had good intentions. You're a sweet girl, Tanith. Don't you worry about me misinterpreting things. I knew you weren't trying to leave me alone maliciously," she assured Tanith.

"I wanted to thank you again for what you did five years ago. All that you did for me... It's important to me. I mean, I was sick and in terrible condition, but you still stayed by my side and made sure I was alright. You gave up your break to make sure I was okay when you could have walked away or left me in the hands of others. I don't think you know how important to me it was... I halfway expected to be alone because of my condition, but you were always there. Thank you for it, Zylphia. You're the best mother anyone could ask for," Tanith smiled, pulling Zylphia into a hug.

The head teacher gently stroked her daughter's hair. "I'm glad I was there to see you grow up... You're a strong and independent young woman now, so different from the fragile little thing I found unconscious outside Alitia. I'm happy I chose to adopt you... Though we still have a few months to go until then, don't we?" Zylphia asked with a small laugh.

"I suppose so... That's not for another two months," Tanith nodded. "Still, I felt like I owed you a moment alone. I doubt it's really the best anniversary in the world, but... It's important to me. It changed my life for the better, and I can't thank you enough for that. I know our special day was interrupted by a monster attack, but if you want to do something else to celebrate later in the break, I'm there. You don't even have to ask."

"I'm sure Jin would be glad to come with us to a restaurant in Millennium City. Plus, we both need to hear the full story of how you got your Isolis. That's an important time in anyone's life. You're stronger than you were before, and your magic is more freely available to you now. That's a great thing to go through. I wish I had been there to see it, but now, all I can do is ask for the details," Zylphia said. "How does tomorrow sound?"

"It's a date!" Tanith exclaimed. She pulled away from the embrace with a yawn. "I guess it's time for me to go to bed... I'll see you tomorrow, Zylphia. I can't wait for our day of excitement. Until then, sweet dreams."

"Sweet dreams," Zylphia replied, smiling to herself. She watched as her daughter left the office before walking out herself. She couldn't imagine herself luckier in any other timeline. Even if the day hadn't been great overall, it had been worth it to her to have one moment of happiness and bliss with the daughter she loved so dearly.

Chapter Text

The next morning, students rose early to bid farewell to the school and return home. Luce was up with the sunrise, packing a few miscellaneous objects into her bag to go back home. The mercenaries would no doubt be waiting for her, and she wanted to be ready to show off a few things from her school life.

When Luce left her room after saying goodbye to her companions, the teachers were already out on the main lawn. Each one was using minor portal magic to create rifts in the air. While the dimensional openings were not nearly as large or or impressive as Rune's, they got the job done. 

There were lines of freshman students being each of the staff members. When they got to the front, they told the teacher where they were going before a rift was opened for them to step through. The older students were able to do this on their own, allowing them to leave the schoolyard much sooner.

Luce decided to enter the line behind Michaela. The light mage didn't have many streamed behind her, making it a perfect destination for Luce. She was silent as the line ambled forward. Barely any sunshine lit the courtyard, making it almost hard for Luce to stay awake after the nightmare of the day before.

"Where will you be going, Luce?"

Luce was shocked out of her thoughts by the sudden question from Michaela. She jumped slightly before turning to her professor. "Hello," Luce finally said once she had her composure.

"I take it you'll be going back to Amity, yes?" Michaela asked as she closed the previous student's rift.

Luce nodded. "Yes... Can you send me somewhere even if it's away from a city?" she questioned hesitantly. It wasn't like she lived near a residential area, and it was impossible to guess where the other mercenaries would be on their mission of the day.

"Of course. I know what I'm doing. Just name the location, and I'll take care of things," Michaela assured her. "It can be anywhere in the dimension, but as long as you have a name for the place, everything will be alright."

"That's good..." Luce murmured. She was glad Michaela knew about portals, because Luce herself was as good as clueless. Rune hadn't explained much of anything, not that Luce expected him to. "Cryon's Landing, please."

Michaela opened another rift before Luce and gestured for her to step through. "Your destination awaits," the teacher said with an easy smile.

"Thank you, Professor," Luce grinned. "I'll see you when break ends."

Michaela nodded and opened her arms for a hug. Luce stepped into the embrace. Michaela's presence was only making her more drowsy. Curse that calming effect of hers.

When Luce backed away a few seconds later, there was a yawn on her lips. "Thanks again," Luce told her.

"It's no problem. Have a nice time," Michaela said, waving to Luce.

The mercenary smiled and began walking slowly towards the rift. She gave Alitia one final glance in the dim sunlight before stepping through the portal to Amity.

~~~~~

When the light around her faded, she was in front of the fort where she had grown up. She looked at the bricks with a small smile before approaching the door. She hit the doorbell with one finger before waiting for someone to come and greet her.

The person to appear on the other side of the door was Lewith Cain. Their once-wild purple hair had been cut into a neat bob similar to Luce's regular style. They wore silver armor plates atop a black shirt with matching trousers. Their boots were black and worn-out. Their pale violet eyes met Luce's, and they gasped. "Is that Luce Elenes?!" they exclaimed.

Luce grinned widely. "Hey, Lewith!" she cried.

The two embraced in a large and messy hug that ended when Lewith's hand found Luce's electric blue hair. They ruffled through it before speaking. "Damn, it's been way too long since I last saw you. How have you been? I didn't even get to say bye to you before you were whisked off to Alitia all that time ago," Lewith commented.

Guilt pulled at Luce's stomach. She had forgotten about the mercenaries who had been left behind when the decision to send her to Alitia with Alistair had been made. It had been such a sudden decision that no farewells had been given between Luce and the group she had spent her whole life growing up around.

"It was a random decision," Luce said with a nervous smile. "Trust me, it was not my idea. You can blame Lianna and her friend for it."

"I think we should get everybody else up and talk about what we've missed in our little girl's life," Lewith suggested. "I wasn't planning on waking up so soon, but I guess it was fate that dragged me out of bed this morning."

"Fate or not, it's fine with me," Luce laughed. "Come on. I want to see how the others are doing."

Lewith nodded and started into the main area of the fort. Luce followed them, shutting the door once they were both inside. Luce glanced around, taking in all the little details of her childhood home. It had been far too long since she'd been given the chance to visit. Alitia had really sucked all of her free time dry between studying and trying to come up with strategies to take out the Possession Master. That didn't even factor in trying to learn about her unknown magic.

Lianna was sitting on the couch in the living room of sorts watching TV. She turned her head upon hearing the door open before practically jumping to her feet. "Luce!"

The two mages of light embraced one another with a smile. When they pulled away, Lianna began to look over the younger girl. "You've grown so much! I can sense a bit more of your magic now. Have you been practicing? Did you get your Isolis?!" Lianna asked, her voice progressively getting faster.

"Um, I don't think I've grown. I have been practicing my magic, not that it's really done much for me, and yes, I did get my Isolis," Luce answered considerably slower. "It's quite the long story. To say the least, a lot has happened since I was last here. I can full everyone in if we can get them all out here."

"I'll go and wake up the twins. I know how they like their sleep, but I think they'll be okay with getting dragged out of bed if it means they can see you sooner," Lewith said, walking out of the room. "You probably want to relax, don't you? Make yourself at home. This is your place, after all."

"I'll grab Sinin and O'Rourke," Lianna declared. "Sit down. Take a few minutes to yourself and enjoy your own company. We'll be back soon enough."

Luce nodded as she sat down. Lianna and Lewith both left the room, leaving Luce to herself. She tucked her arms behind her head and leaned back. "It feels good to be back," she murmured.

She would have to explain the full story of everything that had happened since she first left for Alitia all that time ago. Between the Possession Master and magical training, a lot had been going on. It would take an hour at least for her to go over before it would be finished. She hadn't realized how much could happen in the span of a few months until she went to Alitia. The school had truly changed her perspective.

Lewith reappeared a few minutes later with a pair of halfway dressed girls with pink hair. The taller of the two had darker hair tied into a loose braid that reached her hips. The shorter one had paler hair in curls down her back. Both of their eyes shared a teal color. Luce instantly recognized them as Rie and Reye Iracen, a pair of witches who had been with the company from the start.

"Why did you wake us up so early?" Reye complained, rubbing at her eyes. "You know how much we need our beauty sleep."

"I know you like to sleep and all, but I have a surprise for you!" Lewith chirped, gesturing to Luce. "Luce is back!"

Rie and Reye both dashed towards Luce, pulling her into a huge bear hug. "I can't believe you're back already!" Reye exclaimed. "I thought you would be another few months!"

"I assumed you'd be back when the semester ended," Rie murmured. "We've really missed you, Luce. I'm glad to see you're back."

"I'm glad to be back. It's been far too long since I've been able to hang out with you and everyone else," Luce grinned. "How have you two been holding up? Have you been able to handle your missions without me around to help you out?"

"Very funny," Rie deadpanned with a joking roll of her eyes. "We've been fine. My earth magic is getting better. So is Reye's wind power."

"I'm glad to hear that. We can always use more of your help while on missions," Luce smiled. "How have the others been doing?"

"Pretty much normal, if I'm being perfectly honest. I think the boss kind of misses you though. He keeps on freaking out when he thinks you might be in trouble," Reye frowned. "Does he know you're back here for the break now?"

"Um... I don't really know. I was going to tell him yesterday that I was on my way back for the next two weeks, but a lot happened, and the short version of it is that I wasn't able to tell him. It's going to be a surprise visit, to say the least," Luce explained.

"You're going to tell us the stories of all your adventures at the school, right?" Rie asked. "I hope you do anyways. We haven't had any big missions since you left, which means we're kind of short on stories at the moment."

"Must... Hear... Stories..." Reye said between fake gasps before dramatically collapsing to the ground. Rie snorted while Lewith burst into full on laughter. Luce couldn't help but grin as well. Reye's over-the-top behavior was a comfort to see after all this time. She had been scared everything had changed while she was out at Alitia, but things seemed to be just the same as they always had been.

"I'm back," Lianna cut in, walking back into the room. There were two men at her sides, one on either side. Both of them seemed wide awake, and it was clear to Luce Sinin Rousten and O'Rourke Howar had already been up by the time Lianna had arrived as opposed to Lewith's encounter with Rie and Reye.

Sinin was as pale as always with his light honey blonde hair tied into a ponytail behind his head. He wore his regular maroon and dark purple clothing with his white cravat. As the most distinguished wizard Luce knew, Sinin was somewhat over the top in a unique way. Reye was talkative and bubbly (if not a little sassy) while Sinin was much more serious but strange in his spell casting using energy magic.

O'Rourke, on the other hand, was tall and beefy like Cryon was. Despite being a cantor, he knew weapons just as well as a hero or heroine. His muscles were barely contained by his armor made of black and blue plates. He had gray clothing beneath the plates with dark boots. His arms were crossed, and his sword was in its sheath at his waist. O'Rourke's black hair was streaked with gray, a typical trait from his planet.

"You're back!" Sinin gasped. "Starlight foretold our meeting once more!"

Luce opened her arms to let the lanky wizard and muscular cantor hug her. They accepted such, though they were much more tame than the twins and Lewith had been. O'Rourke clapped his hand against Luce's back. While it had once hurt her due to her frailty as a child, it was a comfort now that she had been without it for so long.

"I'm glad to see you've been maintaining your strength," O'Rourke remarked, looking at Luce's muscles. "You've certainly grown stronger since we last met a few months ago."

"There's a class for training in physical combat, and I'm the best in the grade because of my time working here as a mercenary. Everyone is left in my dust. Well, everyone but two of my friends, Iris and S.M. I can tell you all about them when we get my father in here. I don't want to explain everything more than I have to. It's a lot to take in," Luce replied, looking up at O'Rourke. While Luce was tall among her friends at Alitia (with only Helena standing above her), she was in the middle where the mercenaries were concerned. O'Rourke and Cryon were tall and seemed like walls while Sinin and Lianna were slender and lean. Lewith was Luce's equal while only the twins were smaller. It was a jarring shift, to say the least.

"What's this about fathers?"

Luce turned upon hearing her father's voice. Cryon stood in the doorway, a small smile on his face. Luce grinned widely and dashed towards the older man. The two embraced each other immediately. Luce felt a few tears come to her eyes. Of everyone in the company, she had definitely missed her father the most. After living her whole life with him at her side, it was odd to be without him for so long.

"I missed you," Cryon whispered, rubbing his fingers through her hair.

"I missed you too," Luce said in return, a smile on her face. She pulled away from the hug and rubbed the tears from her eyes. "I have so much to tell you all. You would not believe all that I've been through since going to Alitia."

"How about we discuss this over breakfast? Since we're all up, it wouldn't hurt for us to have some food, right?" Lianna suggested.

Rie nodded. "Sounds good to me. Plus, Reye and I need to get out of our nightgowns. I don't think it's proper to greet an old friend when you're only halfway dressed for the day," she smiled.

"In that case, let's split up for now and get together in about half an hour," Sinin advised.

Nobody objected. Luce watched as everyone walked off in their separate directions. She had missed this place a lot more than anticipated. Alitia was great and all, a wonderful learning environment, but it wasn't home. There was a lot more for her here, and she was glad to be back. 

Luce followed Lianna off to the kitchen to help with preparing breakfast. She couldn't wait to recount her adventures to her friends. They would no doubt be excited to hear. She could only hope Cryon wouldn't get too protective when he heard about all the danger she had been placed in thanks to the Possession Master's relation to Sylvia.

~~~~~

After everyone had finally sat down to eat Lianna's specialty pancakes, Luce began to explain everything that had happened since she began to attend Alitia. The other mercenaries listened with rapt intensity, offering their input on the recalled situation every once in a while. It took them nearly the entire meal to get through the full story about Luce's time at Alitia thus far. 

"Wow," Reye said when the story was finished. "Who would have guessed that we had another light mage living under our noses all along? I thought you were a leath just like your father and Lewith."

"I thought the same thing, but I guess we were wrong in assuming such a thing. Now, it's rather clear that there was a lot hiding inside little Luce all along," Lianna smiled, using one hand to rustle Luce's hair. 

"I just wonder where this power could have come from... So, Boss, who did you happen to fall in love with?" Reye asked, looking over to Cryon with teasing eyes.

"It's none of your business, Reye. Besides, you wouldn't know Luce's mother anyways. I haven't seen her in over fifteen years," Cryon frowned, taking a swig of coffee. "Once again, I must reiterate that it's none of your business. Are we clear?"

"Understood," Reye sighed with a shake of her head. 

"If you ask me, I think it's time for us to help Luce get settled in with her new powers. She won't be able to do much of anything if she can't control her magic. Alitia has done a lot to help her out, but I think I can finish things off," Lianna declared. "Since our light magic is so similar, perhaps I can help you out."

"Sounds good to me," Luce nodded. "Should we get started after breakfast?"

"If you go for it as soon as you're done eating, you're going to get yourself sick. Don't do that," Cryon told them with a heavy frown. "Instead, why don't you enjoy your time here? We have a lot to do in this short period while you're back on Amity. After this, we're going to be without you all the way up until the semester ends."

"You're right," Luce agreed. "But... Father, do you think we'd be able to talk for a little while? I have a few questions for you, if you don't mind my asking."

Cryon looked at Luce for a moment, evaluating her face slowly. Eventually, he shrugged. "Alright. Come and see me when you next get the chance. For now, you should get settled in. You're going to be here for two weeks, which means you probably have some unpacking to do," he said.

"I'll help you out," Lewith announced, rising to their feet. They stretched out. "Food was great as always, Lianna."

"I'm glad you liked it," Lianna beamed, getting out of her own chair. She began to stack up the finished plates to be washed. "Now, you two go off and get settled. I'll come and get you soon, Luce."

"Thanks again, Lianna," Luce smiled. She pushed herself away from the table before heading out to the main area to seize her bag from Alitia. Afterwards, Lewith dragged her away to her room, leaving the other mercenaries in the kitchen.

"So, what kind of cool stuff do you have in that bag of yours?" Lewith asked as Luce set the container onto the bed.

"It's nothing too exciting. Just necessities for the trip back here, like a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a few other things. And while it's not in the bag, I brought my sword too," Luce replied, tapping one hand against the sheath at her hip. After gesturing to it, she took the blade off her belt to set it on the bed. "I figured I would need it to spar with anyone who wanted to do so."

"Got it," Lewith nodded, unzipping the bag. "What do you want to talk to your dad about, by the way? If you don't want to answer, you don't have to, but I'm a little curious."

"Well... You see... I want to get him to tell me about where my magic comes from. He was less than forthcoming when Reye asked, but I'm hoping that if I get him alone he'll be more willing to open up to me. I had no idea I even had magic all these years, but he must know where it originates from. He knows my mother. I know we're related since we look so similar, but..." Luce's voice trailed off. She shook her head. "The point is, he's my father, and he has to know who my mother is, which means he knows where my magic comes from."

"I see why you'd be curious," Lewith remarked. "It must suck not fully knowing where you come from."

"Oh, that's putting it lightly. At Alitia, everyone else has always had their powers and knows what they're doing now that they're at a school revolving around training their magic. As for me, I didn't find out until less than three months ago, and I'm mostly at the school since one of the teachers knows Lianna and wants to know where my magic is from," Luce sighed.

"Has that friend of Lianna's made any progress?" Lewith asked.

Luce shook her head. "Not really. We've been trying to meet up since the school year began, but the incidents involving the Possession Master have kept us from talking as much as we probably should. It's much harder for us to get together since he's always in damage control meetings with the rest of the Millennium Six teachers," she explained.

"I'm sure you'll get there soon enough," Lewith said, placing one hand on Luce's shoulder. "No need to worry a bit."

"I hope you're right," Luce murmured. "Anyways, let's get to unpacking. Lianna is going to want to start training soon, and I want to be ready the second she is."

~~~~~

Lianna didn't come to get Luce until after the latter and Lewith had finished putting everything back where it belonged. Lewith bid the two farewell before heading to their own room while Lianna and Luce headed outside to begin their training.

"So, where should we start?" Luce asked, starting to stretch out her arms.

"Well, we should begin with casting a small sphere of light. It's one of the basics. From there, I'll hopefully be able to see what you need to be able to do next in order to fully master your powers," Lianna replied. "Does that sound good?"

Luce nodded before creating a small orb of light magic. It was glowing dully and struggling to survive, but when Luce poured her energy into it, the sphere began to flourish. She allowed her guard down long enough for a smile to surface, which then caused the magic to explode. Luce stumbled backwards, foul words on her lips.

"Are you alright?" Lianna questioned, taking a step forward to stabilize Luce.

Luce nodded. "I'll be fine. I'm used to it at this point," she answered.

"Hm... Your magic sure is hostile... It's like it doesn't want to be controlled by you," Lianna murmured. "It's odd. Magic doesn't really have sentience, but it can still be difficult at times depending on a variety of different factors."

"Good to know it's not consciously telling me to go die in a hole," Luce scoffed, shaking her head. "What should I try now?"

"Let's attempt to make another sphere of light. I'll give you instructions on how to cast it properly. Hopefully, you'll be able to handle things on your own in no time," Lianna told her. "Go on. Let's get started."

Luce nodded and began to focus once more, praying that Lianna would be able to help her out. It wouldn't do for her to continue to suffer in battle due to her lack of magical projectiles.

~~~~~

After Luce and Lianna finished their training, Luce was already feeling much better about her control. There had only been three explosions. Lianna's guidance was already doing a lot, and that had only been the first day. There were still thirteen more sessions left before Luce had to return to Alitia. If they kept that pace up for the rest of the break, Luce would have her magic mastered in no time. After that, it would be much easier to stop the Possession Master and his cronies.

Luce found herself standing outside of Cryon's door, her fingers gently brushing up against the wood. She pulled her courage together before letting her hand tap gently against the barrier. After waiting for so long, she could finally ask him about her magic. He had to tell her now that she was right there in front of him, in the flesh and asking for answers. Her mother had to be involved, and before she went back to Alitia, Luce was going to hear the truth. She wasn't going to be without it for another two or three months.

"Father?" Luce managed to ask once she had pulled her courage together. She slowly opened the door, praying she wasn't interrupting anything.

Cryon was standing inside, though he didn't appear to be doing much. He was holding a small picture in one hand as he faced the window. He didn't seem to have noticed Luce, so the young mercenary cleared her throat before speaking once more. "Father?" she repeated.

Cryon jumped slightly, turning around to face Luce and dropping the picture frame in the process. "Luce... You scared me there," he frowned.

"Sorry," Luce apologized, dashing forward to grab the dropped frame.

"Don't look at that!" Cryon cried, though he was too late.

Luce had already begun to stare at the picture, a frown forming on her face. It was a photo of Cryon and a woman with the palest blonde hair Luce had ever seen. Her eyes were a bright blue color, similar to Luce's in an odd way. She was holding a small bundle of blankets in one arm while holding Cryon's hand.

Luce didn't even have to ask the question to know the answer. "Is this my mother?" she whispered.

Cryon tried to take the picture away from Luce, but she stepped away and held the frame to her chest. "Luce, I..." Cryon began.

"I want answers. Now," Luce said sharply. "That's what I came here to talk to you about, as a matter of fact. I want to know where my powers came from. You're a leath. They couldn't be from you. That means they must be from my mother... From the woman in this picture."

"I was going to tell you when I thought you were ready to hear it," Cryon explained.

"Well, I'm ready now. Tell me," Luce demanded.

Cryon evaluated Luce for a moment before sitting down on his bed. "Alright, alright... You don't need to keep looking at me like that. I'll tell you everything," he assured her. "Have a seat. We're going to be here for a while."

Luce nodded before sitting down. "Alright. Now, explain everything. I won't be in the dark for any longer," she told him.

Cryon nodded. "I understand... You see, the woman in this picture... She is your mother, but I wouldn't know where to look to find her. I haven't seen her in fifteen years. That much was always true," he began.

"That means that some of the things you've been telling me all these years have been lies," Luce realized, a frown on her face. "I want answers."

"And I'll give them to you. The person in this picture is your mother. That much is true still. She's also the one who gave you the magic you've recently realized you had... The magic I always knew was hiding inside of you," Cryon continued.

"You always knew I was a mage?" Luce asked, her eyes wide. When the truth came back on the Millennia mission, Cryon had seemed just as shocked as everyone else present. Luce had initially assumed that he thought she was leath only to be suddenly surprised by the revelation. This went back on all of that.

"Yeah. I had a feeling. You didn't ever use your magic as a kid, but I could tell... Well, to be more accurate, your mother could tell. She could sense you were like her. You have her power," Cryon murmured. "You were never a leath, but I chose to raise you as such after your mother went missing."

"But why would you do that?" Luce questioned. "Wouldn't it be for the best if I grew up learning how to use my magic? Now, I have no clue what to do with it. If you ask me, it seems more like my magic controls me as opposed to me controlling it."

"I had my reasons, Luce. Your mother disappeared because of her magic. I know she's still out there somewhere, but... Starlight probably knows better than I do," Cryon sighed. "I didn't want anything to happen to you because of your magic. I figured it was best to keep it hidden until you started showing signs of it."

"Were you going to explain the truth to me then?" Luce inquired.

"I was going to, but then you were dragged off to Alitia, and... It all happened so fast. I couldn't do anything to talk to you about your past. It would have been too rushed," Cryon explained.

"Did you think you were going to tell me about it when I came back for the break?" Luce wondered.

"That was my original plan, yes. I wasn't expecting you to approach me about it so soon though. I figured I would be able to talk to you on my own terms, but I mucked that up by having that picture in here," Cryon told her. "I'm sorry about all of this, Luce."

"The baby in this picture is me... I never realized I was so small as a child," Luce muttered, brushing her finger over the depiction of her younger self. "You would never guess it given how large and muscular I am nowadays. I've come quite a long way since I was that small..."

Cryon looked at the picture for a moment before shaking his head. "I... I should just start from the beginning. I don't want to confuse you," he said. "This is a lot to take in... Well, that's putting it lightly. I have to tell you the whole story of your origins, and vague statements aren't going to do either one of us any good."

"Does this happen to have anything to do with the time you spent in the Millennium Six? I heard you were part of Ridgeview when you were my age," Luce frowned. "People mentioned it whenever I was asking around about where my magic could have possibly come from."

"I'll start from when my school days ended. How does that sound?" Cryon asked. "That's the very beginning, and I think it's our best starting point."

Luce nodded. "Alright. I'm waiting."

Chapter Text

"Like you and Lianna, I attended the Millennium Six when I was your age. Of course, I didn't go to Alitia. Instead, I attending Ridgeview, the school for heroes. I went there in the years leading up the the War of Starlight. That's where I met all of the current head teachers and Dawn Shira, the Keeper of Starlight. We were going to different schools for the most part, but we were able to bond rather quickly," Cryon started. "Despite our differences, we became close friends thanks to the start of the year celebration and various missions involving the mingling of the six schools."

"Missions and mingling?" Luce echoed. "I wish we had something like that. All we get is boring time in the classroom. I would do just about anything for some time to stretch out and train in a controlled battle situation."

"To be fair, your time at Alitia has been much more dangerous than what I had to endure at the time. I never would have imagined that the schools could become so dangerous. Back when I was there, they were known as safe havens. Nobody was harmed in those walls. We were the future, which meant we had to be treated as such," Cryon explained. "It especially sounds like heaven in comparison to what you've endured."

"I guess it's hard to be overly protective like that when everyone keeps getting attacked for what seems like no reason," Luce sighed with a shake of her head. "It's much easier to maintain the peace when it seems like war isn't on your doorstep. That makes things much harder for everyone involved, to say the least."

"I agree. Anyways, I was going to the school when the War of Starlight broke out. Long story short, I fought in the war, and after it was over, once Ragnor Malefician had been defeated, the Keeper of Starlight herself approached me. She said she wanted to leave Millennia behind to live her life in peace. Even as Keeper, she had always assumed she would live as a pacifist, and that didn't change until the later stages of the war. The fighting was too much for her, and she wanted me to come with her to create that paradise... That Dawn was something else, I tell you," Cryon continued.

"Did you two have any other connections aside from your time in the war?" Luce asked. "It seems odd that she'd ask someone she barely knew to accompany her as she rode off into the sunset towards her own little paradise."

"Like I said, we had been friends since first enrolling at Alitia. She and the head teachers had become my close companions ever since we first arrived. I guess she saw something in me she didn't see in the others, because I was the only one she wanted to come with her to the paradise away from war she had dreamed of," Cryon said. "She told me not to tell anybody that we were disappearing, and so I didn't. I didn't want to go against her wishes. We never told a soul, and we vanished off the face of Millennia."

"That was after you two had graduated, I would assume," Luce murmured. "What happened next? Did you two decide to remain together in the years that followed?"

"Well... Not exactly. Dawn left randomly. I don't know where she is. I know she's alive since the next Keeper hasn't been reincarnated, but I have no idea where she could have gone off to. I was thinking of going back to Millennia, but I was ultimately stopped when I met someone else. That... That is the woman in the picture there. Your mother," Cryon told her, looking fondly at the picture as a small smile tugged at his lips.

"My mother... You met her after you left Millennia to run away with Dawn... Was she native to Amity?" Luce questioned.

"Yeah. She had blonde hair, a typical appearance for any Amitite like the two of us. Around here, it's either blonde hair or blue hair, and she had light magic too. She was something of a prodigy in her field with immense power. She had heard of the War of Starlight but never fully got involved. She was a pacifist like Dawn and didn't want to jump into the fighting. Instead, she used her light and healing magic to help others as she traveled Amity. She was a priestess in service to Starlight making her way around to assist anyone in need," Cryon explained.

"You... You said she was targeted for her magic," Luce frowned.

"She was. Your mother's healing magic was immense. While she never used it against another human, her offensive magic wasn't halfway bad either. She was strong, to say the least. It made her an easy target for anyone who needed magical power immediately. It was a lot for her, and after one particularly brutal person came for her blood... She disappeared. She left a note in the middle of the night and went missing... Of course, that was after you were born. You were only about two years old at the time. She said she couldn't be a danger to her child any longer, so she had to go. If I had known she was planning to leave, I would have tried to stop her, but I had no clue I was going to wake up one morning without her," Cryon sighed. 

"And it's that light magic that flows through my veins... It was enough to make her a target, and it's inside of me..." Luce murmured, staring down at one hand before looking at the picture again. Her mother seemed to be happier than a kid at a birthday party. Luce wished she could have seen such a smile in person.

"Yes... I didn't want you to wind up like her, so I decided to keep it secret. Your mother could sense your power, but it didn't physically show itself. You never outwardly displayed your magic like most kids did. You were always odd that way. In the end, it was easy to hide your true magical origins. I told everyone you were a leath with an aptitude for the sword. Since you were so good with it to begin with, the lie came easily. It was the least I could do to keep you safe," Cryon told her.

"So... You lied in order to make sure nobody found out about me and attempted to attack because of my mother's blood?" Luce asked.

Cryon nodded. "Yes... I'm sorry for all of this, Luce. I didn't mean for you to find out this way. I was hoping we could have a chance to talk where I could explain everything on my own terms. I guess fate had other plans. I just thank Starlight that you didn't need to go digging on your own. It could have gotten you in some dangerous territory," he said.

"I... I'm not mad at you, if you're at all worried about that," Luce told him quietly. "I was thinking I would have a reason to freak out if you told me something bad regarding the truth, but I see now that you had your reasons. I respect all that you have done for me, and I won't go back on it anytime soon. I'm happy I can call you my father. Thank you for everything."

Luce set the picture down nearby and went in for a hug. Cryon smiled and opened his arms to the embrace. They held each other for a few minutes of silence. Cryon was the one to pull away, and he spoke first. "Luce... Do you have any other questions? I think I'm ready to answer them," he whispered.

It took a moment for Luce to recover from the shock of this offer to give an answer. "I... I want to hear more about the War of Starlight," she finally replied. "Any details you can give me, I'll take them. This is the least you can do for not telling me the truth of your heritage for years on end, you know."

"I understand... It all started the summer after my time at Ridgeview ended. We were waiting for graduation to arrive. Classes had concluded, and it was a week until we would be leaving the campus once and for all. That was when the attack happened. A letter was sent to the six young women in the same dorm room as Zylphia and Dawn. They went missing, and a few days later, their bodies were sent back to Alitia. They were horribly mutilated and had been murdered. With their corpses was a declaration of war against all who would side with the Keeper of Starlight," Cryon began.

"I... I had no idea that's how it all got started. The most I really knew was that there was a war," Luce murmured.

"Well, that's how it began. The head teacher of Alitia at the time was ready to fight whoever had done such a horrible thing to her students. The other head teachers gathered behind her. The Church of Starlight here on Amity offered support as well, saying none who would oppose the Keeper and demand her death would be tolerated. The Church of Moonlight followed the one who had declared the war, the Keeper of Moonlight, Ragnor Malefician," Cryon continued.

"So, the Keepers went to war after the brutal murders of innocent Alitia students... Do you know why he did it?" Luce asked. "I heard he wanted power, but it seems like you wouldn't go that far if you only wanted more power."

"I can't say for sure. Dawn was the one who faced off against him in the end, not me. I stayed behind that day. She told me later on that he had become thirsty for magical strength, and he thought that getting rid of Starlight's Keeper would grant him the power he required. She was rather vague about it, so I can't be sure if that was the true reason. I was never able to pull the courage together to ask her about it again. It would bother her far too much, and I could never do that to her after all she had been through," Cryon answered.

"Anyone would be traumatized after seeing the bodies of their friends destroyed by an enemy... Going to war just after that would only make things worse, you know?" Luce muttered with a shake of her head. "I imagine she was tired of all the fighting involving the Keeper of Moonlight."

"After the final battle, nobody saw Ragnor again. His body was never recovered, though many assume that's because Dawn eliminated him using her power. Her manipulation of light magic allowed her to eviscerate things from time to time if she truly focused, which means it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility," Cryon shrugged. "These days, the Keeper of Moonlight, who would have to be around twenty-five years old, is kept isolated from the rest of the world by the Church of Moonlight. They want to atone for the sins of the past. They let Ragnor get out of hand, so they're making it up to the world by keeping him cordoned off from most other life."

"I feel bad that the current Keeper has to suffer because of what happened before... But at the same time, there was always the risk that the next Keeper would fall to the same horrible whims as the previous one. It was dangerous to let that happen. I guess it's sort of hard to find a right side in this sort of conflict," Luce sighed.

"In a way, that applies to most wars. It's hard to find someone who is perfectly good or perfectly bad. We're all different. We're all human, and that means all of us are susceptible to making mistakes. Nobody is pure. Hell, it's downright impossible to find someone who sways one way or the other. It's not easy to decide the morality of others. Who are we to judge them? We're not part of some higher power. The gods and demigods from beyond have to do that, and I don't envy them. It's a job I most certainly would not want, even if it came with magic and endless power," Cryon told her.

"Well... Thank you for talking to me, Father. It means a lot that you'd take time out of your day to sit down with me and explain all this. I'm glad that you weren't just lying to me all these years for no reason. Besides, now that I know, I can start searching for the one we both deserve to see again," Luce said.

"What are you talking about?" Cryon asked.

"My mother. I don't know her name, but she has strong light magic. You could help me with other details. I want to bring her back. If she was really the woman that you loved so much, you deserve the chance to see her once again. It's only fair. You helped to keep me safe all these years. Now, it's time for me to help you out," Luce explained.

"You really don't need to do that. I've been trying to find her for years, and I've come up short with each investigation. I don't know where she is, but she obviously doesn't want to be found," Cryon frowned.

"I know that, but perhaps she would change her mind if she learned that we can both take care of ourselves now. I wasn't able to do that when I was a child, but things have changed. We don't need to suffer anymore because of all that's happened. We can bring her back and live as a family like we should have been doing all along," Luce pressed. "Don't you want that?"

Cryon hesitated. "I... I don't know. I don't want to put you at risk. Besides, she doesn't want to be found. Just saying that you're going to find her isn't enough. It involves a lot of hard work. Are you sure you really want to go this far? We're doing fine on our own, aren't we?" he questioned.

"Maybe so, but it would still be great if I could meet her. Even if you don't want to see her again, though I'm sure you do want to reunite with the woman you love, I need to speak with her. I couldn't do that when she was last around, and I want that chance now. I hope that my mother is able to see the young woman that I've become. I've changed a lot from the helpless child she once knew me as. I want her to see this version of me, the true version of me," Luce went on.

"Luce... If I can't sway you from this, I guess you can do all the searching you want. I don't want to give you a name yet, but..." Cryon's voice trailed off. He looked into his daughter's eyes, seeing the pleading stare within, and sighed. "Alright. Tris Glath is her name. You can do all the searching you want."

"Thank you, Father," Luce smiled, reaching out to hug him.

Cryon accepted the embrace. He shook his head upon pulling away. "You should probably get back to your training with Lianna. I'm sure she'll be waiting for you," he told her.

Luce nodded. "I'll go and see her then. Farewell, Father," she grinned before getting to her feet and dashing out the door.

Cryon watched Luce go for a moment before turning his focus back to the picture on the bed nearby. He picked it up and looked at it for a moment, turning the object over to examine every angle. He stayed like that for a while, just staring longingly at the picture, before holding the frame to his chest. "Luce, I... I'm sorry."

~~~~~

The rest of the break seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye. Luce trained with Lianna daily, increasing her minimal control over her magic each time. By the time the break was over, she had already learned how to fire lasers and keep from blowing herself up. Lianna had worked wonders for her. Now, Luce actually stood a fighting chance when sparring at Alitia under Michaela's tutelage. 

Luce felt sad when she was forced to pack up her back of necessities once again to go back to Alitia. She looked at nearly everything in her room with sadness, gathering a few extra trinkets to take with her to Alitia. Before, Lianna had put together what she would need to go to her new academy, but the choice of what to bring and what to leave was in Luce's hands now. It was a bit exciting in a bittersweet way.

Luce's backpack was bulging at the seams now. When she had come, everything fit comfortably inside, but that simply wasn't the case anymore. Luce had to push her hands against the contents of the bag to ensure that everything would fit. Even then, it took quite a bit of rearranging for Luce to keep everything inside.

Luce let out a heavy sigh once she was finished. She sat down on her bed. She was leaving in an hour to go back to Alitia. She was going to miss the mercenaries. That had been one of her biggest reservations when she initially left for Alitia, and that hadn't changed now that the break was over. She knew it was time to return and continue her mage training, but she was still nervous about leaving them. 

In her time back at the fort, Luce had gone on all sorts of missions she had missed in the past few months. She almost longed for the routine of waking up and going to the request board set up by magic in the main hall to see who needed help next. It was something she had been living by for years, and leaving that system behind wasn't something she was looking forward to.

However, it was time for her to return to Alitia. All of Luce's friends would be there and waiting for her. Besides, the rest of the semester was hopefully going to be calmer. With the Possession Master having been thrown out a window, it was questionable to believe he had survived. Even if no body was found, it seemed damn near impossible for anyone to live through that fall. Not even the Possession Master could go against fact like that.

Peace was waiting for her back at Alitia. She was going to be able to live out the rest of the school year without having to fight for her life, an odd comfort given all that she had gone through up to this point. She was ready for it to be over. The fighting had always fueled her when she was a mercenary, but it hadn't been to the death back then. That small factor changed her opinion drastically.

Luce managed to peel herself away from her bed with some internal encouragement. The other mercenaries were going to be in the main area to say goodbye to her. They wouldn't be seeing her again until the end of December, leaving Luce at Alitia for the next two months or so. It was upsetting, but Luce knew she couldn't bring herself to stay. There was too much waiting for her at the school.

She briefly cast a thought back to the picture Cryon had shown her of her mother. It was old, but it had a lot of meaning to her now that she had heard the story of her parents and their union. Before, Luce couldn't have really cared less if she ever saw her mother again, but things had changed with Cryon's words, and she was happy with it. 

Luce wanted a copy of that picture. She hadn't gotten far enough in her basic charms class at Alitia to learn how to clone things. It was a complicated process, and a precious family photo wasn't something she wanted to experiment on. After all, there was always the possibility that the object she was attempting to clone would be destroyed when she stepped out of her comfort zone. Her magic wasn't fully under her control yet, even if it was getting better. Light-based energy was fine, but going further posed risks. 

Luce found herself pulling her phone out of the pocket of the hooding she was wearing and dashing over to Cryon's room. She knocked slowly and listened for any sounds inside. When she didn't hear anything, she creaked the door open and went inside. She felt bad for sneaking into her father's room, but she had to get a picture of her mother. She was going to need all the evidence she could get if she was going to track her mother down.

She glanced around furiously for the picture Cryon had shown her two weeks prior. Eventually, her eyes settled on it. The picture was hiding sloppily behind a stack of books Cryon obviously had no intention of reading. Luce smiled to herself and grabbed the picture. She set it down on top of the books before turning on her phone's camera. When it was lined up properly, she snapped a picture of her own. She got a few more for good measure before putting the photo and its frame back where it belonged.

"Hey, Luce. Are you heading back now?"

Luce turned slowly upon hearing a voice behind her in the doorway. She saw Lianna standing there, her arms crossed over her chest. "I didn't expect to find you in here of all places," Lianna remarked, walking a little closer.

"I had to get something before I left. Don't worry about it," Luce said, stuffing her phone back into her pocket and walking towards Lianna. "Is everyone ready for me to go?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact. I was sent to come and get you if need be. Obviously, it was necessary. Anyways, let's go and get you out of here. After all, it's time for you to head back to Alitia," Lianna smiled.

Luce nodded and walked away from the room with Lianna. She looked up at the older mercenary. "Hey... Lianna, I have to wonder... Why did you come out here to become a mercenary for my father?" Luce asked. "I mean, you graduated from Alitia. People who graduate from the Millennium Six are set for life. They're the best of the best where fighters are concerned. Why would you use that talent as a mercenary in the middle of nowhere?"

Lianna paused for a moment, studying Luce's face. Once she was finished, she spoke once more. "I guess I had my own aims. I had something to protect on Amity, so I decided to come back here. It was a task from someone who means a lot to me. I couldn't refuse them, so I returned to Amity despite my original plans to do as they wished," Lianna explained vaguely. "Maybe I can tell you the story one day in the future. I bet you'd like it."

"I'd like that," Luce smiled. If it was anything like the story that Cryon had told her, it was bound to be great. Lianna's flair for storytelling was different, much more whimsical, than her father's, but it was going to be great just the same.

The two of them found themselves outside the building where the other mercenaries were waiting. They were all standing in a clump, watching as Lianna brought Luce out to the front of the fort. "Well, I guess it's time to say goodbye for now," Lianna said with a small and forced smile.

"We're going to miss you, kid," Lewith told Luce, taking a step forward to ruffle her hair again. Luce accepted the gesture with a wide grin, not even caring that her hair would wind up messy.

"I'm going to miss you all too," Luce said in return, rubbing at her eyes. She had never been one for tears, but this was a heartfelt moment despite her regular reservations. She was going to miss the mercenaries just as she had when she had originally left. Now that she had an official goodbye to give, it seemed harder than it had been before though. She couldn't bury her emotions when they were standing right in front of her.

"Have a good time at Alitia," Rie smiled, waving from nearby.

"Tell us all about the juicy details next time you come back! I want to hear about them!" Reye pressed, grinning madly.

"I'm sure Luce will be happy to explain all she goes through to us when she next returns," Sinin said with a small shrug. Despite himself, he appeared to be slightly sad to see Luce go so soon. The two weeks of her break had passed by too quickly.

"She had better," O'Rourke murmured with a shake of his head.

"We can't just let her go like this. Regardless of personal reservations, it's time for you all to come on in and give our girl a big hug!" Lianna chirped. She started off by wrapping her arms around Luce in a tight embrace.

Lewith was next to join in followed shortly after by the twins. Sinin and O'Rourke looked to one another before joining the fray as well. Cryon watched his mercenaries from afar for a few moments before finally allowing himself to enter the group hug.

Luce felt loved in the middle of it all, a smile on her face and tears in her eyes. She hadn't realized how much she had missed the mercenaries at Alitia until she was forced to leave them again. It was bittersweet, but she knew Alitia was what would take her to the future she desired. Staying with the mercenaries for another seventeen years would only do so much.

Everyone pulled back, allowing Luce to regain her breathing room at the cost of the happiness of the physical contact. Luce glanced over all of the mercenaries slowly. "I promise to tell you all about what the rest of the year holds once I get back. As for now, I can't tell a story I haven't experienced yet. You have to live through it to make it a tale for the future, and I don't think we're quite around to that step yet," she said softly.

Finally, Luce's gaze fell on Cryon. He had been staring silently up to this point. He walked forwards and pulled Luce into his arms. Luce returned the gesture. She was glad she had come back to learn about her mother. The option of staying at Alitia was there, but the idea of hearing about her mother and her past was too tempting. It was made even better by the reunion of the mercenary company. Overall, this break had been the most productive two weeks of her life.

When the father and daughter finally pulled away from one another, both had tears slipping down their cheeks. Luce rubbed at her eyes furiously while Cryon merely let them flow. He turned to Lianna, ignoring the salty liquid completely. "I guess it's time for you to open a portal and send her back through," Cryon sighed. 

Lianna nodded and closed her eyes. She focused her energy into creating a portal before drawing a line in the sky with her finger. A rift opened up as a tear in the air. "Alright. It's ready for you," Lianna said, looking to Luce. "You can go through anytime now. I'm sure your friends back at Alitia are already waiting for you."

Luce looked around at the mercenaries one last time, sadness continuing to pull at her heart. She knew this goodbye wasn't forever, but two months still seemed like it would take an eternity to pass by. Even if two had passed while she was at Alitia, she hadn't been forced into a bittersweet farewell back then. This was different because of that simple factor.

"We'll see you around, kid," Lewith told her to break the silence. "If you want to come back anytime, we're going to be here. If you need work done on Millennia, we can take care of that too. No worries at all. We may be mercenaries, but I think we're allowed to have bias when the one asking for our help is one of our own, you know?"

"I'll be sure to keep that in mind," Luce nodded. "I'm really going to miss you guys... Make sure to stay out of trouble while I'm gone. It wouldn't do for me to come back again in two months and be forced to clean up whatever messes you've made around here. That would not be something to look forward to."

"I'll be sure to keep the twins out of trouble," Sinin announced evenly, earning him a playful glare from the two pink-haired girls nearby.

Luce let out a laugh before rubbing at her eyes one last time. "I appreciate that, Sinin... Well, it's time for me to go. Goodbye, everyone."

The mercenaries all waved at her. Luce did the same. She gave them one final look before facing Lianna's portal. It was beautiful in its own strange way. The light that danced off the edges was practically hypnotizing. Luce watched it for a moment as something of an excuse to stay, not sure if she was ready to go yet.

Luce took a deep breath before stepping towards the portal. She gave the mercenaries a brief glance and wave before sticking her hand into the rift. She felt magic overcome her arm, pulling her body with a silent and unknown force towards the portal. Luce stepped forward one last time before the rift swallowed her and disappeared into thin air, as if she had never been there to begin with.

Chapter Text

Luce got back to her dorm room at the end of the evening on the final day of the break. She knocked on the door before walking inside.

S.M. and Sophia were the only ones there at the time. Luce couldn't see Sylvia, but the light to her room was on, giving Luce all the information she needed. Luce set her bag down on the couch and sat down next to Sophia. "So? How were your breaks?" she asked.

"Not much happened. The two of us and Sylvia just decided to hang out around here. We didn't have any reason to go back home, so we just lounged around here in between trips to Millennium City," S.M. responded. "What about you? You look kind of sad, if you don't mind my saying so."

"Well, I guess I am. I just had to say goodbye to the mercenaries, and it sort of reminded me how much I miss them. But I did learn a lot of good stuff while I was out. In fact, I now have a name for my mother and more information on my past. It's going to be much easier to find her now that we have that at our disposal," Luce replied. "I can tell you guys all about it when the others arrive. I don't want to go on and start the story if I'll just have to keep telling it over and over again."

"You have a name? That's great!" Sophia exclaimed. "You don't have to go into detail yet, but do you have anything else?"

"I have a picture," Luce grinned. "A picture and a name... It's a fine start, if you ask me. I'm determined to find her. She's the one I got my light magic from. I need to see her one more time, even if it's just to show her how far I've come. She didn't leave because she hated me or my father. It was something else. I'm sure she'd be glad to see me again after all these years."

"That's great news," S.M. said. "The others should be back soon. Tanith is out at dinner with Headmistress Satim and Headmaster Maestro. She'll be here before you know it. As for the other three... It beats me. I've got no clue."

"There's one thing we need to do this week before we go back to our regular routine," Sophia told the others next.

"What is it?" Luce asked.

"We need to do something to celebrate S.M.'s birthday! She turned eighteen over the break. We didn't get the chance to have a nice time together to celebrate before the break, so we'll just have to do it when the others come back," Sophia explained.

"You really don't need to do that," S.M. frowned.

"I insist. Turning eighteen is a big deal. It means you're officially considered an adult. I don't want it to pass you by without doing anything special. That just doesn't feel right to me," Sophia pressed. "Even if you don't want to, I insist. I'll even pay for your food if we decide to go out somewhere."

S.M. felt heat rushing to her face. "I... I appreciate that, Sophia. I know we had a little dinner of our own with Sylvia and Tanith, but I was hoping we'd get the chance to bring the others in on the action at some point too."

"Well, all is well now. I'm sure the others will want to come along with us. Even Carys can't really complain when there's something in it for her, such as food or a good time otherwise. You get to have a fun celebration with your friends, and we don't have to listen to her constant complaining. If you ask me, that's the biggest win there could possibly be," Luce joked with a small chuckle.

"Amen to that. Not even the power of Starlight could get that girl to quiet down when she gets on a rant," S.M. agreed with a laugh of her own.

"Oh, yeah, I meant to ask. Have you had any troubles with attacks by the Possession Master over the break?" Luce questioned.

"No, not at all. It's like he disappeared off the face of the planet. Granted, I'm okay with that. The less we have to deal with him, the better," S.M. responded.

"Sylvia's been a bit more open with her feelings since explaining her connection to him. She doesn't hide away in her room quite as often. We got her to go out to social events nearly every chance we had, and she never objected once. I think she really needed to get all that stuff about her past off her chest, and now that she's told us, she isn't worried about holding anything back," Sophia told Luce. "You should see her now."

"I'll have to drop by and give her my greetings. Has she been taking as many naps?" Luce asked.

"Usually, after we went out and did something big, she'd come back and crash hard. I guess it's still a lot of work for her to do things. The curse seems intent on making her miserable," Sophia sighed. "Even so, she seems a lot happier, even if her energy levels aren't as high as mine or S.M.'s. It's refreshing to see her that way."

"Who knew all she needed was some time away from classes to come out of her shell? I'm glad she's doing better. I can't lie, I was a little worried about leaving her in such a vulnerable state after our big conversation. It made me feel bad to ditch her and go back to my happy planet when she couldn't. However, if she's feeling alright, I guess it's fine," Luce said. "Is there anything else that happened while I was out?"

"Not much. Tanith has been spending a lot more time with her parents. She's finally allowed to leave the school again, and she's been taking full advantage of it. It's sweet to see her interacting with them seemingly without a care in the world given how anxious she regularly is in most other circumstances," S.M. told Luce.

"It sounds like everyone has been having a good time over the break then. I'm glad to hear it. It's always good to know that nothing went horribly wrong while you were off having fun," Luce remarked.

"I do have to wonder if we're going to be alright from here on out though... The Possession Master may have been thrown out a window, but we can't be sure that he's gone. He's a tricky one, as I'm sure you two have noticed. He's performed seemingly impossible feats to conquer us before. What if he found a way to survive that fall?" Sophia asked.

"I think we should be cautious but not too overly concerned. There's the chance that he survived, yes, but at the same time, no regular human could get out of something like that. The chances of living are incredibly slim. We should be careful in case he is still out there, but I highly doubt it," S.M. frowned.

"But a body was never found. There's still a chance he's out there, waiting for us to be lulled into a false sense of security. Regardless, it gives me a bad feeling. He's clearly an experienced mage... Though I do have to wonder one thing," Sophia said next.

"What is it?" Luce questioned.

"Sylvia told us that the person behind all of this was the heir to the Thanatos line. That means whoever is trying to find an heir is the one we're after. However, at the same time... It makes me wonder... How in the world could someone that old be a student at Sierra? She mentioned he had to be over a hundred years old. It's been nagging at me ever since we split up for break, but I haven't been able to find an answer," Sophia explained.

"It's been sort of bugging me too. I can't really figure out how that would be possible... You know, unless we're dealing with someone who knows how to use a spell to change their appearance... Even so, anybody was born over a hundred years ago has to be dead or very weak. How is he still up and kicking like nobody's business? It makes no sense. There's definitely something deeper than we realize going on behind the scenes... I don't know how we'll uncover it, but we have to try," S.M. continued.

"Wait... I just remembered something. Sylvia mentioned that the curse on her family would be broken if the person currently holding that power was killed. We haven't seen anything of Myra or Chester, which means he has to still be out there. If they had snapped out of it, I'm sure they would have come running back to Sylvia as soon as they got the chance to," Luce pointed out. "They have been possessed for many years, but I feel like they'd still find a way to get in contact with her at the soonest opportunity."

"Then again, we did hurt them pretty badly in the fight before the break. Let's assume for the moment that the Possession Master is dead. They wouldn't have any overpowered mage to heal their wounds. They're both dark mages. Unless someone is at their maximum power, which neither of them is, dark mages can't heal. They were probably forced to wait for their bodies to do that on their own without the help of the Possession Master. For all we know, they haven't tried to contact Sylvia because they've been recovering from the fight we had with them two weeks ago," S.M. told them.

"In other words, there isn't a way of determining if they're alive or not right now. It's all going to have to wait until he shows his face to us in battle again or if Myra and Chester come crawling out of the shadows to talk to Sylvia again after all these years," Luce sighed. "I hate this waiting already. It leaves you with a knot in your stomach that's almost impossible to get rid of. I know there isn't anything we can do about it, but it still bothers me."

"I know what you mean, but we'll just have to be patient. Unless we can find a way to find him ourselves, there really isn't anything that we can do. For now, I guess that we can get back into the swing of things. Classes will be starting back up again soon. We'll have to get ready. I know we didn't have any assignments over the break, but we will be getting homework like we were before soon. I guess that can keep us occupied until we can figure out the truth behind our mysterious villain," S.M. shrugged.

Sophia sighed and shook her head. "I know that you're right, but it still makes me nervous. We're supposed to just sit around and act like nothing is wrong when he could come back at any moment to try and hurt us again. We're just lucky he didn't try to target us while we were isolated over the past two weeks. If he had, we certainly would have been in a bad situation. Even united, we barely stand a chance against him. If we were apart, he surely would have killed at least one of us... From there, it would only be easier for him to pick us off," she said quietly.

"We can't think like that. He didn't attack the five of us, which hopefully means the others got out unscathed as well. Besides, Carys and Helena live in a palace surrounded by guards. I'm sure they're safe. On top of that, Iris is a relative to a knight working for the royal family of Loduke. I bet she's in a castle as well because of that, which means there are a bunch of people around to keep her safe. We're going to be fine. No need to worry," Luce assured her.

"You're right... Yeah. You have a point. They're going to be okay. Before the night ends, they'll come walking in those doors ready to tell us that everything was fine while we were split up. There's no need to worry," Sophia murmured, obviously panicking. 

S.M. placed one hand on Sophia's back. "Don't get yourself too worked up. Take a few deep breaths," she instructed firmly.

Sophia nodded before following her friend's instructions. About thirty seconds later, she looked back to normal. "Sorry about that. I guess I lost my composure... I've been panicking a lot about what we've been forced to go through since arriving here. This isn't normal. I was looking forward to an experience away from danger, but I guess the Possession Master had other ideas," she sighed.

"I understand that. I mean, I knew I was bound to wind up in some trouble when I came here. It tends to follow you when you're a mercenary. However, I didn't anticipate things going this horribly wrong. I guess we're all lucky to still be relatively intact. We've had a few broken bones here and there, but I guess that's just part of getting used to a new life. We wouldn't have passed preschool if not for that, right?" Luce asked.

"Preschool... Oh. Yeah. I never had that. I was tutored throughout my childhood. I think they wanted to get rid of me," S.M. remarked.

"I wasn't made to go either... I had tutors as well since I'm royalty. That's tradition where I'm from," Sophia said.

Luce let out a small laugh. "I was hoping one of you two had gone. I was trained by the other mercenaries in my company regarding basic school things. I assume Carys and Helena also had tutors since they're royalty. Sylvia too. That means... Tanith and Iris had the possibility to go to preschool, and Tanith doesn't even remember it. I guess a one out of eight record is pretty good?" she joked.

S.M. snickered. "Preschool or not, I'm glad you're back. It feels good to talk with you again. I can't wait to see Helena and Iris again... Carys is debatable, but if she's miraculously learned how to be nice over the break, maybe I'll change my mind," she told the girls.

"We won't know until she comes, I suppose," Luce shrugged.

"You shouldn't talk so meanly about our friend. I'm sure she has a reason for being like that," Sophia frowned.

"Maybe we can ask her about it in a reunion discussion. I have a lot of questions about why she is the way she is, so maybe this would be the perfect excuse to force it out of her," S.M. smirked. "I have to get an explanation some way or another."

Luce got to her feet and looked at Sylvia's room. "I think I'm going to go check on Syl. You know, tell her that I'm back and all that. Is that cool with you two?" she asked, stretching her arms upwards.

"No problem," S.M. nodded. "We'll send Tanith your way if she comes back while you're in there."

"Have a nice time," Sophia smiled, waving gently.

Luce opened the door to Sylvia's room after approaching it. She knocked against the doorframe and saw Sylvia was sitting on the bed, facing away from the door. She didn't seem to have heard Luce come in.

Luce walked closer slowly, hoping she wouldn't startle the young woman. She could see Sylvia was holding something. A few more steps showed this 'something' was a picture frame. It looked familiar to Luce. This recognition only grew in size until she let out a gasp.

Sylvia practically jumped off her bed before landing on the floor, the picture frame sliding across the ground. "Luce...!" Sylvia whispered, getting back to her feet. She rubbed at her eyes, which Luce realized were red and puffy. "I didn't know you were going to be back so soon!"

"Here I am," Luce said, crouching down to grab the picture frame. "I didn't mean to startle you."

"It's okay... Don't worry about it," Sylvia assured her. She shyly reached out one hand to take the picture frame back.

Luce looked at the picture for a moment. "This is the photo we saw in the window of that frame shop... The one you got your Isolis in. Remember?" she asked.

Sylvia hesitated before nodding. "I... I wanted this picture, alright? I needed to keep it with me. That was why I went into the store to begin with," she said softly.

"I thought it would stir up bad memories of the Possession Master attacking you," Luce frowned.

"I mean... It sort of does that, but I mostly have it because it reminds me of what once was... It no longer is, but... I guess it makes me happy to think about sometimes," Sylvia explained.

"You're thinking about your family," Luce realized.

Sylvia nodded. "Yes... My mother went missing a long time ago, and... She's dead now. As for my brother and sister, they're off at Sierra right now being manipulated by the heir to the Thanatos line. They're trapped against their wills because of this stupid curse... Meanwhile, my father is distant, and I'm here, slowly dying as the curse takes its effect... It's awful," she muttered.

"Sylvia, this isn't going to continue. I won't let it. We will stop the Possession Master and return your life to you. All this time, you've been in the shadows of this curse. You deserve better than that. All of you do. The second that man shows any weakness, we'll strike at him," Luce told her firmly.

Sylvia hesitated. "I heard what you were talking about out there... How the Possession Master might be dead. He can't be. If he was, I wouldn't be cursed anymore. I would have energy to do things. I'm just as exhausted as always. He's still out there. I can feel it. I want him to die," she murmured, looking at the frame before taking it from Luce's hands.

"And he will. After all he's done, all the people he's hurt, he deserves it. I know we shouldn't be speaking of murder, but there's truly no other way in this situation. Before he can pass on his power or renew that dreaded curse of his, we need to end his life. Besides, if he keeps up his full-scale attacks on freshman students of Alitia, he's going to see it soon enough anyways. Locking down Sacred Heart and invading Alitia are also heavy crimes to pay for. If he does anything more, I doubt anyone will want to let him live for any longer, even if the death penalty is heavily frowned upon here on Millennia," Luce said firmly, taking one of Sylvia's hands in her own. "I'll be here with you every step of the way."

"You know... I can't help but think about the whole 'I'm your employer, you're my mercenary' deal. It really does make you wonder... Are we still going to be friends after this is over? You won't have a contract binding you to my side. You'll be free to do as you wish. You aren't planning on taking this opportunity to abandon me, are you?" Sylvia asked nervously.

Luce shook her head. "Of course not. You, me, and the six others... We're friends. It's been that way ever since we arrived at Alitia, even if some people, and by that I mean Carys, are hesitant to admit it. I'm not going to leave you just because I'm not obligated to be around anymore. Besides, even if I didn't consider you my friend from the start, we've come rather close in the past few months. I'm not just going to give that up. I can finally hang out with some people my age as opposed to all the older people from my mercenary company. There is no way I'm letting that go," she assured Sylvia.

"That's good... I was a bit worried about that, if I'm being perfectly honest. These days, I'm thinking all about how many people leave. They're never here forever. Most families are forever, but mine wasn't, and it makes me scared others will abandon me at some point or another like they did. I know it's out of my control, but I can't help it. I don't want to be alone again. I refuse to wander the halls of my palace wishing for someone to be with me. I can't go back to that. I... I don't know if I'd be able to take it," Sylvia admitted.

"Well, you don't need to worry about that so long as I'm around. I'm here for you. I won't be leaving you behind for quite some time, if at all. Friends stick by each other, and that's what I'm here to do. I know the friendship speech from TV and movies is usually really cheesy, but it has some truth to it," Luce joked.

Sylvia let out a laugh and shook her head. "I... Thank you, Luce. I know you aren't the best with emotions, but just the attempt really does mean a lot to me. Besides, you're not halfway bad at giving a sappy friendship speech," she teased.

"I know how to do emotions," Luce insisted.

"Really? Then why do you look deadpan all the time?" Sylvia asked. "I'm sure that most people in our grade would beg to differ in saying you understand feelings. I mean, I've known you for months now, and you always seem to have a poker face up."

"I guess that's just how I am. No worries," Luce shrugged. "But I did mean everything I said. Sappy or no, I'm standing by you until after we've seen this through and even beyond that. You deserve appreciation no matter what."

"Thank you, Luce. Your words truly do mean a lot. I'm not used to this open affection thing. Even if it's just platonic. My whole family hasn't been together since I was a toddler, and after that, the hugs and kisses kind of stopped. Even now, I can't even get my father to look at me. Being around the you and the rest of the girls has been a breath of fresh air after all I've been through regarding my lack of family relations. I'm glad I have you guys. You have no idea how much I mean that. I don't think I can say it enough," Sylvia told Luce.

"The picture... I didn't think of it at the time, mostly since I didn't know yet, but that picture... You were so attached to it since the structure matches your family. There's your father, mother, older brother and sister, and you. You were drawn to it because it's what your family should have been," Luce realized softly.

"Yeah... I couldn't just leave it there. The Possession Master had likely hijacked the store and done something to the owner. I figured a stolen frame would be the least of his worries. Besides, it could have just gone missing in the chaos... I know it was wrong to take it, but I just couldn't stay away. If the family inside had been any different, then I wouldn't have bothered, but... My subconscious wouldn't let me leave it there. I wanted it to be loved and cherished by someone, and that someone just happened to be me," Sylvia murmured with a shake of her head. "I know it's kind of pointless to be this sentimental, but..."

"Don't worry about that. You've been through a lot. You have a right to be this way. I won't tease you, if that's what you're worried about. I'll let you come to me with any concerns in the future. I know you were worried about that before since we didn't know each other as well at first, but I hope that's not something to panic about in the future," Luce said. "I'll gladly be here for you, Syl."

Sylvia found herself leaning over and putting her head on Luce's shoulder. She practically dragged the mercenary over to her bed before sitting down. Sylvia kept her head perched on Luce's shoulder for a while, just letting their fingers mingle while her other hand held tight to the picture frame. The energy mage shut her eyes and drank in the quiet of the moment. It had been a while since she had been given the chance to enjoy this, and she intended to take full advantage of it.

The two were sitting on Sylvia's bed for about five minutes before Sylvia finally stood up. She took the picture frame and set it down on the table beside her mattress. "I'm not going to be all mopey like this forever. I can't let myself be down like this forever. I have to do something for the sake of my mother and everybody else who's suffered at the hands of this man. My brother and sister deserve better. I deserve better. A petty fight from years ago will not keep me down now. The future needs action, and I will not be known as the person who sat back and did nothing. I'm going to be the one that changes things for everybody else in my bloodline. If it means resorting to death... Then so be it," Sylvia declared firmly.

"You know, I'm proud of you. After all you've been through, you're still standing here, tall and proud as ever. If I were in your shoes, I would not be as determined as you are. That's a promise. With all that's happening... I'm proud of you, Syl. I know that we'll see this through to the end. You can consider that a promise from me," Luce told her, standing and wrapping an arm around Sylvia's shoulders. "And after everything is said and done, then we'll finally get some peace and quiet all to ourselves. When that day finally comes, you can pick something fun for us to do as a group. Well, if you want to do it as a group. If you'd rather do something one-on-one with any member of the group, then that's okay too. It's really up to you."

Sylvia sniffled and rubbed at her eyes. "You know... Maybe I was wrong about you being bad with emotions. You might not be great with them in a traditional sense, but it's enough for me. I appreciate all you've done for me up to this point, Luce. One of these days, let's go out for ourselves in Millennium City. We never got to have a good time together the day I got my Isolis. Maybe once this is all over, we'll finally have that chance," she smiled.

"I'd be happy to take you out the second this is over and done with. Like I said, after all you've been through up to this point, you deserve it," Luce said, pulling Sylvia into a hug.

Sylvia accepted the embrace gladly. She hugged Luce in return. They didn't say anything in the minutes that followed, instead enjoying the silence once more as they had a few moments prior. Sylvia hadn't ever been a big fan of the quiet. It made her think about all she had lost. However, with someone else there to brave the silence with her, it was a bit better. It was something she could get used to after all of this was over. Until then, her anxiety would still be a mountainous hurdle to climb over, but it was a start.

When Sylvia finally pulled away, she let out a sigh. "If I'm ever feeling sad about all of this, you'll be there to listen to me ramble, right?" she asked.

Luce nodded. "Of course. That's what I'm here for. In the meantime, perhaps I'll leave you back to what you were doing before. I didn't mean to interrupt. I only intended to tell you I was back home after the break," she said with a nervous laugh. "I guess that plan kind of got messed up the second I walked in here and started digging into your deep and tragic backstory."

"Oh, no need to worry about that. I'm happy we got this chance to talk. It's been too long. Mostly because, you know, you've been gone. Now that you're back though, we can chat a bit more. Perhaps we could head out to the main area and hang out with the others. I'm sure they're wondering what's taking us so long," Sylvia giggled. "Besides, with how long we've been in here, the others are probably back by now. I don't even know how long it's been, but all that quiet must have done something to what little time we have left of our break. I bet the clock is screaming at us by now in its own clocky way."

Luce chuckled in response. "In that case, let's get to it," she suggested. She reached out for Sylvia's hand. The energy mage accepted it gladly and let Luce walk her to the door and out into the main area of their dorm.

The other four had not arrived back, something they realized immediately upon leaving Sylvia's room. However, they did enjoy the evening watching whatever was on the TV with Sophia and S.M. until the others got back. Even after Tanith, Carys, Helena, and Iris returned, the marathon continued. No more tears were shed that night, though Sylvia did feel much safer after her talk with Luce.

The promise the eight had made before the break was unspoken of but still as firm as ever before. As soon as the chance came, the Possession Master would be stopped. In between laughs and snarky remarks, gazes were exchanged to show that the words once said still held truth. Even in the quiet, millions of phrases were being spoken, and it was enough to take Sylvia's once low spirits and put them as high as the heavens themselves.

Chapter Text

On the first day back from the break, Nebula Denholm stood in the courtyard of Sierra and wondered why the hell she had to suffer like this.

Minerva and Fromir had thought it would be a great idea to get their witches and cantors together for a group training session. It was a way of shaking off the rust after being away from training for two weeks. Plus, it gave their students another chance to bond when most hadn't seen the people of the other school since the party at the start of the year. In theory, it was a good idea.

However, in practice things were much different. Nebula found herself crossing her arms as she stared at a young man with pitch black hair. He was wearing a navy blue hoodie that seemed a bit too large for his small frame. His jeans were torn and looked ready to fall apart. His hands were shoved in his pockets as he looked at her and sneered.

"Alright, everyone. Today's training session is meant to give everyone the chance to spar and fight with new people. We've paired students up by looking at their magical skill. You may not be with someone from your own year, and that's alright. Go on and introduce yourselves," Fromir declared. He looked over at Nebula for a moment, and the young witch stared at the ground to avoid his gaze. She really didn't want to deal with him getting protective today. Things were going to suck enough as it was, and Fromir's behavior would only make things worse.

"My name is Nebula," Nebula managed to say, somehow focusing on the young man before her. He must have been a talented mage to wind up paired at her side. Nebula was at the top of her class and one of the most capable freshmen currently passing through the halls of Sacred Heart. If this young man was from Sierra, then he must have known what he was doing when it came to spell casting. "I'm a freshman. What's your name?"

The young man sneered at her for a moment longer before wrapping an arm around her shoulders. His fingers seemed intent on digging a little too deep into her skin. Nebula's heart rate increased. If he got any closer, she'd be ready to go into fight or flight mode. "My name is Iago," he remarked. "Aren't you a cutie pie?"

Nebula practically threw him off of her shoulders, already wanting to take a shower. The training hadn't even begun yet, but she felt dirty after having felt his touch for less than fifteen seconds. "What year are you?" Nebula asked, appalled at his behavior. Who the hell met a girl and instantly treated her like this? Maybe he was a freshman, still immature and unsure of how the world worked. Nebula was known for being mature for her age, but not all students at the Millennium Six schools fell into that category. He certainly didn't as far as she was concerned.

"I'm a senior," the young man responded. "But nobody has to know if you really want to get with me... I know I'm a treat to be with, and you'd be lucky to have somebody like me. Anyone would. However, I'm willing to give you the first choice to see if you're interested. He winked seductively at Nebula, and she gained the urge to smack him in the face with her magic. Thank Moonlight she was going to get to beat him up without consequences during the training session. Even if it hadn't been allowed, she probably would have been inclined to do it anyways.

"If you give me that look one more time, I swear to Moonlight, I will end you," Nebula growled under her breath. Hell, even if he didn't do it, she still wanted to see him get thrown off a cliff or slingshotted around the planet.

"Is that a threat? If I'm not wrong, you could get into some serious trouble for saying such a thing," Iago frowned. "You can't kill me. I'm your future husband, and I'm far too charming to die now anyways. We can have a lovely child together one day, you know... All it takes is a little cooperation on your end... I know I'm ready to start a family with you."

He reached out to take Nebula's hand, and she smacked it away with a firm glare. She was going to enjoy this more the longer his lips kept flapping.

"First, begin with a simple sparring match. This is going to happen quite a bit today, but get the feel for your opponent first. Learn what they do and don't do in a fight. Find their strengths and weaknesses. Try to communicate these things to them. It'll allow both of you to improve your fighting. This is the first step of today's training exercise. If you have any questions about it, feel free to ask. For now, begin," Minerva declared. She had a loud enough voice to be heard on the other side of the training grounds where Nebula was standing. 

Nebula took a few steps away from Iago. They faced each other and took deep breaths before officially beginning the sparring match. Nebula started out by creating a whip made of shadows. She swiped it down low, hoping to catch his feet in its grasp. The sooner he went down, the sooner she could kick the crap out of him for creeping on her.

Iago jumped up into the air with surprising speed. He created a long trail of shadows that caught Nebula off guard. They struck with a surprising amount of force, leaving her breathless as she fell backwards into the grass. Her head hit the ground hard, creating a ringing sound in her head. Everything spun before her eyes. She could hear footsteps, but identifying which direction they were from seemed damn near impossible in her dizzied state. She hadn't ever felt this bad before. Part of her wanted to pass out while the other part wanted to throw up.

Iago walked closer and crouched down beside her. She took it as a sign that the sparring match was over with that single hit. He had taken her down so easily. Was she really as skilled as she'd been told? Perhaps that had all been a lie. Someone with as much talent as she was told she had wouldn't go down so easily. It didn't make sense. 

"Aw... You look so adorable like this," Iago purred, placing one hand on her stomach. If Nebula had the orientation to do so, she would have kicked him in the nose, punched him in the gut, or thrusted her forehead into his chin. "If I had known that, I would have done this sooner..."

"What did you do...?" Nebula managed to slur despite the haze over her mind. This didn't feel like a normal injury. Something in her stomach told her there was much more behind the scenes here, though she couldn't put a finger on what it was exactly.

"Oh, just a simple spell that causes nausea and dizziness. It'll pass soon enough, so long as you don't move. In the meantime, while you're recovering from that awful hit, why don't we agree on a time to go out on a date, sweetheart?" Iago asked, his tone sickening to Nebula's ears. She wanted to maim him more than ever before, even if she knew doing so wasn't exactly realistic.

"What about I kick you in the face and call it good?" Nebula growled. She tried to sit up, but her attempts failed. She collapsed back onto the ground, her head pounding wildly. She had heard about spells that caused this effect before. It was meant to keep the enemy from moving to avoid further combat. However, this felt like something completely different. Nebula knew this couldn't be healthy. There had to be something else going on here as well.

"Oh, so you're playing hard to get? You know, that's one thing I've always found incredibly attractive in a woman... You can deny me all you want, but it isn't going to work. I always find a way to get my way. Struggle as much as you please. It's going to end in my favor no matter what you attempt," Iago hissed. He was edging towards the threatening side now. If Nebula had half her orientation, she would have sent him flying.

"Nebula! Are you alright?"

Nebula internally groaned at the sound of Fromir's voice. He was getting into his worrying mode again. Great. Fromir and Nebula were only half-siblings, but he still panicked like no other. They had the same mother, though they had never known each other well due to the wide age gap between them. Nebula's coming to the Millennium Six was likely what Fromir saw to be a perfect chance to get to know her better. Nebula was fine with that, just so long as it didn't come with his obsessive panicking over her.

But, unfortunately, it did.

Fromir crouched down next to Nebula and began to cradle her head in his arms. "Are you feeling okay? What happened? Does anything hurt? I can go and grab a healer really quick if you need me to," he told her, speaking a million miles an hour.

Nebula shook her head, or at least, she hoped that's what she was doing. It was hard to tell with how much everything was spinning. "I'll be alright. It's just a nausea spell. I'm sure I'll be over it and back up in no time," she assured him, though that really wasn't how she felt. She was sure she was going to pass out if she didn't get any immediate medical attention, but she didn't think it was a great idea to let Fromir know that. He'd only panic more, and he'd probably already made enough of a scene as it was.

"Are you sure?" Fromir asked, obviously still unsure. She could see the creases of worry on his face despite the haze that had overcome her.

"I'm positive. Now, if you don't mind, I need to kick someone's ass before the day is done," Nebula said firmly before attempting to sit up. She found that much of the dizziness had gone away now. Thank Moonlight for that. She didn't know how much more she would have been able to take in that odd state between being awake and passing out.

"Language," Fromir muttered, helping her rise to her feet. Technically, swearing was frowned upon at the Millennium Six. The students were meant to be on their best behavior since they had the privilege of attending the best academies in the dimension. However, despite the attempts of the teachers, it never quite worked out like this. Students still swore like sailors if that was what they preferred, and most teachers had given up on trying to stop them after all this time. It felt like there wasn't a point anymore.

Nebula turned her focus back towards Iago as Fromir began walking away hesitantly. She walked towards the young man, who seemed to have backed off when Fromir approached his younger sister. "What was that for? Why the hell did you do that? You could have gotten into so much trouble," she snarled. While she did want to ripe his face off, she wanted an answer first, as she knew she wouldn't be able to get it once they started fighting again.

"I do what I must to get what I want. It's that simple," Iago told her, seemingly unbothered by her attitude. "If you weren't going to go along with me when I asked nicely, I would have to ask another way that wasn't quite as kind. It really is a shame you rejected me. I'm a real treasure to be with, not that you'd know that given how inconsiderate you are of other people's feelings. That's just how females like you are."

"And you thought that hitting me with a spell that would make me dizzy would make me fall in love with you? If anything, that'll just make me hate you more than I already did, and here I thought that wasn't even possible," Nebula scoffed. "You obviously aren't thinking straight."

"I know exactly what I'm thinking in this situation, I'll have you know. I think it's time for you to understand what your place is. I'm the one in charge here today. Why don't you accept that and do what you were meant to do as a woman? Your job is to please the cultured men who run this world. If you don't like it, you can take a hike," Iago said with a loose shrug and a shake of his head.

Nebula felt her magic crackling beneath her fingertips. "In that case, I think I will 'take a hike' as you so eloquently put it," she murmured before thrusting one arm forwards. Energy flew loose from her hand before slamming into Iago's chest. 

He was sent backwards through the air before he slid along the ground. He grumbled a few swear words before getting to his feet, a frown on his face. "You really shouldn't have done that. I said you could leave, not attack me. You're being a bad little girl right now, you know that?" he murmured. "You know what happens to girls like you. They get punished for their crimes. It's only natural."

"I don't care what you said or what you think happens to people like me," Nebula growled angrily. "You behaved inappropriately, so I responded in a way perfectly suitable for defending myself. I don't think that's a crime, but if you really think so, why don't we take it up with your head teacher? You know, my older brother? I'm sure my father, a teacher of Sacred Heart, would be inclined to agree with me as well. Since she's got close friends who know me incredibly well. If you ask me, you're signing up to get in some serious trouble."

"Who cares about what trouble I'll get in? The universe will ultimately make its decision in my favor. It's always done that, and I doubt that will be changing anytime soon. In the meantime, if you think that you have a chance with succeeding in getting me in trouble, go on, do what you think you must. I always get what I want, Nebula, and right now, all I want is you," Iago said softly. 

The underlying threat behind his words was clear, but Nebula didn't comment on it. Instead, she threw out a sphere of energy to nail Iago in the torso. He slid backwards once again. That was good. The further away he was, the better Nebula felt. Her heart was pounding a million miles an hour in her chest. She wanted him to get away. He wanted to hurt her, as in really hurt her, and not just for the training exercise. Stress pulled at her core. She had to get rid of him, to get away, to find an escape method--

"Alright, everyone! That's enough for right now. We'll come back together now for a brief lecture before continuing our training. Gather round."

Minerva's voice was enough to shock Nebula out of her panicked and violent trance. She felt her whole body relax. That was what she needed to hear. She didn't need to interact with Iago anymore for now. Hopefully, Minerva and Fromir would give a speech about what to cover next that would take a while. The longer it was, the better, for it meant less time she would have to spend with her pain in the ass training partner. After that, maybe she'd get somebody else to fight.

Nebula approached Minerva and Fromir with the rest of the Sacred Heart and Sierra students. She heard the teachers talking, but none of their words were fully registering in her brain. Everything felt like a buzz around her. She wanted to get as far away as soon as possible. It wasn't realistic, she knew, but she hated being here. 

Under any other circumstances, she would have been fine with a training session to test her strength and improvement, but Iago was souring the experience greatly. Nebula wasn't generally a violent person (at least, she assumed she wasn't), but Iago made her want to lash out and break her peaceful streak just for the satisfaction of hearing him suffer. It was perhaps going a bit too far, but Nebula didn't give a damn.

She didn't even realize Minerva had finished talking until everyone started walking past her to head back to their training areas. She felt people's shoulders run into her before she snapped out of her trance. She gasped to herself and shook her head. It wasn't like her to get so distracted, and it was for so long as well. 

Sacred Heart had been Nebula's home for quite some time. It had been a quarter of the school year now, but she felt just as alone as she had the day she first arrived. All of the other witches tended to have other interests than her, and when she tried to reach out, she was always denied. It was frustrating, to say the least. She hadn't been given the chance to talk to anyone for extensive periods of time since they already had their groups, and she wasn't part of them, which meant she was doomed to be alone as far as she was concerned. 

Nebula's thoughts were cast back to that odd group she had met in the invasion of Sacred Heart about a month prior. Luce, Helena, Iris, and S.M. were a strange quartet, but they seemed so close. On top of that, they were so willing to reach out to Nebula, who was either ignored or disliked in most circles. It wasn't something she was used to, but she liked it more than she would have expected. 

She hadn't been given the chance to ask any of them for a phone number in the panic surrounding the attack. Everything went dark, and then they were too busy fighting off their assailants to bother attempting to become closer friends. After that day, they hadn't seen each other. It was unfortunate, but it was mostly because Nebula didn't know how to contact them or how to reach out without it seeming creepy. 'Hey, we met when my school was being attacked, want to form a lifelong bond of friendship since I'm lonely as can be?'

After this crappy day she was having, all Nebula wanted to do was sit down and talk to somebody about all that had happened. She didn't think her father would fully understand, and she wasn't going to start off a conversation with her roommates, who already found her to be weird and hard to talk to, by saying that she had been harassed by the biggest creeper in Sierra during the day's training session. Maybe reaching out to S.M. and the others would be worth it in the long run if she could get her ranting off her chest...

Nebula was paying so little attention that she didn't realize Iago was sending an attack her way until it made impact with her skin. She had wandered back to her place on the training grounds thoughtlessly, and according to him, that meant she was ready to be injured. What a pile of--

Iago had his foot on her chest before she could properly formulate a response. "I win again, my lady," he smirked. He removed his foot before leaning down over her. "Look at you, being all submissive. Such is the job of a future wife like you." Nebula could feel his hot breath on her cheek, and it disgusted her.

"This is not how a student of the Millennium Six should be acting. In a fight, harassing the enemy will not do you any good. Why bother practicing it here? After all, this is meant to simulate official combat, and this doesn't feel all that official to me," Nebula scoffed. She wanted to get up, to force him off her, but her body was too tired and wasn't going to allow for that. All she could do was sit there and wait for energy take her over once again.

"You must use any means necessary to claim victory. Whether it's right or not is completely subjective. You get to choose what you think should or should not be done. I say that the ends justify the means. If you want something to get done, you must try and claim it no matter what it takes. If you think differently, perhaps you aren't meant to be a fighter. There are other fates for a female like you. You could be a perfect housewife to a powerful man if you managed to find someone who would be willing to put up with that attitude of yours," Iago told her with a shrug.

"I don't think this is what anyone would deem ethical during a fight," Nebula snarled angrily. "Listen, you have approximately ten seconds to get off me and let me leave before I tell my father and brother, and I can guarantee that they will kick you out of the school if you even think about laying a finger on me. Are we clear?"

Iago seemed to take this as a sign that it was time to back off. He stood up and let Nebula rise to her feet. She was still feeling incredibly drained from all that had happened up to this point, but she would have to deal with it. Nebula was determined to power through this, even if thinking about doing so was borderline frustrating. Executing such a task was bound to be much worse, making her even more disgruntled.

The rest of the day seemed to happen around Nebula. She wasn't focusing on anything. Iago's odd remarks only got worse, but she blocked them out for her own sanity. When the Sierra students finally left, she darted back to her dorm room at maximum speed to get some alone time before her roommates returned. They'd be buzzing happily about how the training session had gone (and potentially sparring with some 'cute Sierra boys') while she was left alone, and she could do without their consistent chatter for a little while to mull over what had happened.

Nebula flopped down onto her bed after locking the door. She closed her eyes and thought back to those four girls from before. They were already so close. She didn't want to infiltrate their group and cause a disturbance since she wasn't there originally. They were already happy as it was. She wasn't going to worm her way in when it wasn't necessary. She could just be alone. That would be fine. She could go through the rest of her time at the Millennium Six alone, right?

Nebula sighed and shook her head. She wouldn't be able to do that. She'd been struggling enough through the first quarter of her first year. There were still eleven more segments like that to go through. Her options were to make friends with her roommates who already hated her, attempt to talk to other people at the school who probably didn't like her either, or find out how to contact those girls from Alitia. She didn't like her options, but the last one was probably the best.

Nebula grabbed her phone and began to scroll through her contacts. The list was short, to say the least. She had her father and brother on the list, but not many other people of note were on there. There were a few friends from her time on Enmity, her home planet that she couldn't talk to anymore. They had either drifted apart or been split apart by some time of argument earlier on in Nebula's life. In a way, it was somewhat upsetting, though Nebula didn't choose to dwell on it like that. There wasn't a point in getting sad about this, right?

Somebody out there would have to get close to her at some point. She would just have to wait until that happened. Until then, Nebula would be able to survive alone. She was strong. She was a powerful warrior, and fighters had to be able to live in any conditions, even if it meant they were alone for extended periods of time. She would survive through this. It would all be fine when she graduated and made a name for herself, right?

Nebula found herself moving away from her phone contacts and towards a social media application. She didn't even know why she was bothering with this. She was looking for them on whatever social media she had, and there wasn't even a guarantee that was going to happen. For all she knew, they didn't have any other way of being contacted. Why bother? Did this even have a point? 

Despite this, Nebula found herself typing in one of their names on social media. S.M. wouldn't be easy to track down since her name was just initials, but perhaps Helena would be easier to find...

Sure enough, she found something rather quickly. Helena did come up on the search bar when she looked up for the name. There was a picture of her on a page as well, and it was one of the first ones to appear. Perfect.

Helena looked pretty happy in that picture. She was standing next to a girl who Nebula assumed was her sister. They didn't look much alike, but it was the only explanation that made sense as far as she was concerned. Well, it could have been a friend, but...

Nebula shook her head. That probably didn't matter. It wasn't important who was in her pictures. All that was important was that Nebula had the ability to reach out to her and talk if she wanted to. This was a means of talking to her, and that was all that mattered to her. All she had to do was click on the direct message icon in the corner, and then she'd be able to talk to someone who would actually be willing to be her friend.

Nebula's finger waved over the direct message button. Was this really what she wanted to do? What if someone thought she was weird? She could have been overstepping her boundaries. She had met these girls once. What made her think it was a good idea for her to think this was a cue they wanted to become friends? They had helped each other out of a bad situation. Wasn't that what most human beings did? This was going too far. There wasn't any evidence this was a good idea. She had to stop before she did something stupid. This was a horrible idea. She had to get off social media and stop what she was doing--

Nebula tapped on the button and began typing. Part of her brain screamed at her to stop, but before she knew it, she had already finished a message and pressed send. She had gone on autopilot at what she considered to be one of the worst possible times.

Nebula: Hello, Helena. It's me, Nebula. You remember me from the attack on Sacred Heart, right? Anyways, I just wanted to reach out and see how you were doing since we haven't gotten the chance to talk since then. I hope you're having a nice day.

Nebula stared at the message for a solid minute, wondering what she had just done. This had been a horrible idea. Helena was surely going to hate her for reading too much into doing what any decent human being had done. Nebula was so lonely that she was starting to romanticize basic human decency. That couldn't be healthy. She had to get that message unsent. All she had to do was hold her finger over the words and tap on a simple icon to make them disappear. Sure, she'd be lonely, but that was better than dying of embarrassment, right?

But that was when the response came in.

Helena: Hey, Nebula! I'm sorry we haven't had the chance to talk since the raid a few weeks ago. I hope you're still doing okay. How have you been? I take it nothing bad has happened to you since the attack on Sacred Heart?

Nebula breathed a sigh of relief. Helena seemed to be friendly enough. She didn't seem to mind the random approach after months of not talking. She didn't know what she expected, but it wasn't this. Part of her feared that Helena was just doing this to mess with her, but she pushed this away and concentrated on giving a reply.

Nebula: Not much has happened. I just figured I'd reach out since we didn't have the chance to talk after what happened. Maybe we can meet on more casual terms now that we aren't fighting for our lives.

Nebula waited with held breath for a response. When it finally came, she found herself smiling.

Helena: That sounds great! Maybe we could meet up again this weekend.

Nebula: I'd love that.

Helena: Great! I'll talk to the other girls about it and get back to you a bit later with the details. Have a nice evening!

Nebula could have sworn she saw tears when she blinked. Finally, she had a chance at making friends. She had been so sure she would be alone here at the Millennium Six after she was made an outcast by her roommates, but she had actually managed to get someone ask her to hang out. It didn't even feel real after spending so much time alone and without any companionship to speak of.

Nebula would be resting easy that night even after her horrible day. After all, she finally had something to look forward to, and that was enough for her.

Chapter Text

The first week back at school came and went without much going on. Luce spent much of the week spacing out and thinking about the photo she had taken of the picture her father had told her about. Luckily, not much was happening for her to worry about after her senses came back from being dulled. She let the week pass around her without fighting back.   

When Friday came along, everyone else in her dorm room was exhausted. Even Tanith was feeling worn down by the mere idea of being back to school, even if her memory made it hard to struggle with anything academic. Luce found herself stretching out on her bed just after getting back from class. Her mind hadn’t left her mother ever since coming back. The idea of being closer than ever to finding her just excited her too much. It was a distraction to her other work, but she wasn’t really in the mood to care. Instead, she let herself fantasize, a wide grin on her face as she did so.  

“We’re going to hang out with Nebula tomorrow,” Helena declared after arriving back in the main part of their dorm. Since all the doors to the smaller rooms were opened, everyone heard her. “She reached out to me earlier this week and said she wanted to get together again.”  

“Nebula... That’s the girl you all  helped out  during the attack on Sacred Heart, right?” Sophia asked.   

Helena nodded. “That’s right... Sometimes I forget only four of us met her. When Sacred Heart was attacked by the hooded figures before the break, S.M. and Nebula met up and stuck together. When Iris, Luce, and I arrived on the scene, we met her, and she’s a pretty sweet girl. I get the feeling she’s pretty lonely, which means this is a good chance to reach out, make a new friend, and help her to feel better,” she explained.  

“I hope she has a good fashion sense. I need to have someone else to talk to about this stuff,”  Carys  remarked, crossing her arms as she flopped onto the couch. “I mean, I love you seven, but I really do want to make friends with someone who knows what they’re doing where fashion is concerned.”  

“I’m sure you’ll find a way to get close to her. Her fashion sense is pretty strong, if I can even judge something like that, but I don’t think she’s as into it as you are. I feel like that’s just a Carys thing,” Helena told her sister, a small laugh on her lips.  

“I’m the one and only,” Carys smirked.   

“For better or for worse,” S.M. murmured, shaking her head. This earned her a frown from Carys, but S.M. only chuckled in response.  

“You know, I wonder what happened to Rune while we were on the break. Since there haven’t been any attacks, he hasn’t had a reason to show up. I know realistically that he’s probably fine, but I’m still worried,” Iris frowned.   

“I wonder if there’s any way of luring Rune out to get him to talk to us... I mean, he’s helped us out quite a bit, which means we should try and do something for him. I think we should see if we can do something for him, assuming we can ever find him,” Helena agreed. “It’s the least we could do...”  

“Rune is truly a mystery... We should add Rune to the list of things we don’t understand alongside Luce’s magic, the Possession Master, and where the hell Luce’s powers came from. Our list just keeps on getting longer,” Sylvia groaned.  

“But that’s only four things. We can do that by the time the school year ends. If we push hard enough, maybe we’ll even have it down by the halfway point when the semester ends,” Sophia said optimistically.  

“Haven’t we been pushing hard enough already? I mean, we’ve been trying to find out the truth behind  all of  those things, but nothing has happened. We haven’t seen any results. It’s so frustrating,”  Carys  groaned. “I really wish the world would throw us a bone. It’s like the universe is trying to make us suffer, like it’s going out of its way to make us feel like crap.”  

“I guess we just happen to have the worst luck in the world,” Luce called, her voice barely making its way out of her room to where the others were in the main section of their dorm. She managed to push herself up before wandering into the main area. Luce proceeded to lie back down on the ground, closing her eyes. “This is a lot to take on, so if any of you guys want to pull out of it to focus on other things, I understand. I won’t take offense to it.”  

“We can’t exactly leave you out to dry in this situation, Luce. I appreciate the sentiment, but you need to realize that it’s not an option. Your magic can repel the Possession Master. We need to figure it out as soon as possible. Your powers are the weak point of that monster’s ability to take control of others, and the sooner we can figure out what it is, the sooner we can find other sources of that magic to turn against him. We can buy magical capsules and spread the word of what he’s weak to,” S.M. pointed out.  

Luce sighed and shook her head. “Sorry. I know that’s realistically not something we want to do, but I can’t help my worry. I know you didn’t ask to be dragged into this mess, and I just wanted to offer you the choice to back out if you so wished to. I didn’t exactly offer you that before, so I figured now would be an appropriate time since we’re getting back into the thick of things with our investigations. We had some time off, and if you guys wanted to back off after having some time away from it...”  

“No worries at all. We signed up for this. We knew this was coming, and we still came into it willingly. The Possession Master isn’t going to wait for you to figure things out, you know. The more of us working on it, the better. If we can find more information, we can take him down sooner. Nobody has died to his magic yet, but it’s only a matter of time before things get worse. I can’t even count how many times we’ve been beaten down by him and his flunkies,” Iris said.  

“If we didn’t have Rune on our side, things would certainly be a lot worse, and they’re already going to hell. It’s a mess... We need to figure out the truth as quickly as possible. I don’t want to have to deal with this the rest of our time at Alitia. It’s miserable enough already, and the longer it goes on, the worse it gets,” Helena murmured.  

“I’ll do some more digging,” Tanith announced. “I learned something new after talking to you all before the break. There’s a way to confer Starlight and Moonlight to other people.  Zylphia  explained it to me. It’s called a Blessing. It was hidden from most history books to keep people from taking advantage of it. If people pursued the Keepers to get a fraction of their power, we wouldn’t be able to rely on them since they’d be in hiding. I consider myself knowledgeable about history, and I didn’t know anything about it, which really tells you how well-kept this secret is.”  

“I wonder... Would it be possible for Luce to have Starlight?” Iris asked. “You two crossed off that possibility from the list of light magic, but if Starlight and Moonlight can be conferred to other people, maybe it’s what she has. No other magic filled the description, and if we started to think about that... Well, it might solve our equation.”  

“I don’t know about that... I’ve been studying magic for quite some time, and I did some digging on Blessings over break too. It was hard to find much of anything in the library without  Zylphia’s  clearance, but I learned that Blessings weaken over time. They’re weaker years after the conferring of magic. It can be passed down genetically, but the chances of it being useable are slim to none. I don’t know if Luce could have it given how strong her powers are,” Tanith explained.  

“What makes you so sure?” Helena questioned.  

“Well, no  leath  can use any Blessings they have in their bloodline since their bodies aren’t made for carrying magic. Blessings only enhance their manifestations. No  leath  is known to have been gifted magic, and if it has happened, history is unaware of it. Many tests have been done, and if it is even possible, it would be incredibly dangerous to the leath. Since their bodies can’t carry magic in a useable form, it would nearly kill them if not end their lives outright,” Tanith began.  

“What does being a leath have to do with my magic?” Luce inquired.  

“You only have light magic, which makes you wonder... Most mages,  with the exception of  the incredibly rare Blend, can only use one element. Perhaps Luce is a Blend with two different types of light magic. It is possible, but I don’t know if it’s realistic. Most Blends have two radically different elements. The chances of a Blend being given two types of magic that are incredibly similar are very slim, and that’s putting it lightly. There’s no set number of how many different magical practices are out there. That should tell you how rare this would have to be, and I don’t even know if it’s ever happened before,” Tanith continued.  

“Maybe her light magic allows her to use Starlight. If someone in her family had it, maybe it was passed down to her. Perhaps her light magic is similar enough to Starlight to allow it to be used,” Sylvia proposed with a yawn.  

“I can’t say for sure if that’s the case. Not much is known about Blessings since knowing about them is pretty rare. Most scholars aren’t aware they exist, which means research is limited at best. Tests aren’t being done on people who have them as a result. It’s clear that we’re going into unexplored territory, and it means we’ll have to make it up as we go along. If I figure anything else out, then you seven will be the first ones to know,” Tanith responded.  

“As rare as it is, I feel like Luce might have both Starlight and another type of light magic. I mean, it would explain why we couldn’t pin down what type she had. We were seeing two different types and assuming they were one, and it could have very easily muddled our results,” Helena said.  

“For now, we know that Luce was born with magic. If she was born a leath, she wouldn’t be able to use Starlight, assuming she has it. She must have been born a mage with magic at her fingertips. She had one element at birth before something happened to change that. It’s still a lot of theoretical stuff, but we don’t have much else to go off of right now. It’s frustrating, to say the least,” Tanith frowned.  

“I’m so happy that we have a friendly neighborhood magic expert. You must have been doing a lot of digging and research while we were on break,” S.M. remarked.  

Tanith laughed. “I guess you could say that. I couldn’t help but want to know more.  Zylphia  telling me about Blessings pushed me forward. It told me that there was finally something like an explanation in reach behind all this. It seems impossible, but... There is a chance that we’re about to figure this out, even if it seems unreal, such as Luce being born with a different type of light magic and later manifesting Starlight due to a previous relative getting a Blessing. It would probably be useable if the two types of light magic were similar enough. Of course, there is one other explanation, but I don’t think it’s possible...”  

“At this point, I’m willing to hear any explanation regardless of how impossible it sounds,” Luce assured her. “Go on and tell us. We won’t judge you.”  

“Alright... Well... You’ll have to hear me out, but I’m wondering if Luce is the child of a Keeper,” Tanith said.  

“That’s not possible. You already told us that Keepers are infertile, which means that they can’t reproduce. Having children would be impossible for them,”  Carys  pointed out.  

“This is all theoretical, of course, but I think that there’s a chance this is possible. Think about it like this. When a person is born, they have DNA. They have genes. This applies to all people no matter what. However, there are people whose DNA changes at some point or another either due to magic or natural means. If a person is exposed to excessive amounts of unhealthy light, their genes will change over time. What if a Keeper’s DNA mutated during their lifetime and changed their infertility to allow them to have children? It would have to be a significant change caused by a drastic event, but it could be possible. It hasn’t ever been heard of in regular mages, but Keepers have stronger magic than others, meaning their magic could impact their bodies in some ways we haven’t explored,” Tanith explained.  

“I... I can’t believe this. You think Keepers might be able to have children? Nobody has ever reported it. It couldn’t be possible. You’d expect something like this to be huge news as soon as the media found out. It’s a basic fact we all accepted as true and without fault being turned on its head. That would cause a stir,” Iris frowned.  

“That would be the case... You know, unless a Keeper disappeared off the face of the known world and hasn’t been seen in years. Think about if a Keeper vanished and hasn’t been seen since a significant event that would have changed their biology. Or maybe the event happened after they left. It’s all theoretical, something I feel like I’ve said a thousand times now, but it could be possible if something drastic enough happened,” Tanith told the group.  

“You’re thinking about Dawn... I’m afraid that can’t be the case. I already know who my mother is, and it’s not Dawn Shira. I heard from my father that she went missing after the final battle of the War of Starlight. My mother is another woman. This isn’t possible. I’m sorry to shatter your theory, but...” Luce’s words trailed off.  

Tanith shook her head. “Don’t feel bad. It was just an idea. However, I think we should try and find out as much about your mother as we can. Perhaps she’s the descendant of a Keeper whose genetics mutated. I suggest going to  Cessair  at some point,” she told Luce.  

“I’ll be sure to do that then,” Luce nodded. “Thank you again for telling me all this. I can’t believe it took me this long to ask you after we got back to Alitia. You clearly did more than enough research to fill up my clueless head.”  

Tanith shook her head. “I just wanted to help everyone understand what I found out. I guess I was too distracted to say anything up to this point. Sorry about that,” she apologized. “I’m going to keep looking around. If I do a little more fishing, we should be able to find what we need to determine the truth behind your magic.”  

“Thank you so much, Tanith. Thanks to all of you, as a matter of fact. I know there’s a lot to be done regarding finding the truth about my magic, and I appreciate that you’re all standing at my side. It’s going to take some time and be difficult, but I’m glad to have you all with me,” Luce smiled.  

“No problem at all. Now, what do you all say to getting something to eat? This week may not have had much for us to do, but it’s still been a lot, and I am ready to take a break,” Iris remarked.   

“Let’s do it,” Helena agreed, practically jumping to her feet. Everyone else followed her lead, and they walked from the room and off to Millennium City to enjoy their Friday night. Even Luce found herself moving despite her exhaustion. The idea of having a fun night with her friends at long last was too exciting to pass up on.   

~~~~~  

That night, Iris stood away from her companions just outside the restaurant they were eating in that evening. She leaned up against the window, a glass of water in her hand. The restaurant was expensive, and she wasn’t used to using glass over plastic, but it would have to do. She needed some time to herself to clear her head. The restaurant was too cramped for her, and she needed a second to breathe away from the hubbub.  

Iris took a drink of her water and closed her eyes as her head bobbed backwards against the window. The breeze blustered around her, but Iris remained silent. This was the peace she needed after being in that crowded, stuffy restaurant. It was nice, yes, but it wasn’t quite what Iris was about as a free-spirited young woman.  

“I didn’t expect to see you here so late.”  

Iris jumped slightly and opened her eyes. Her gaze fell upon a person standing before her. Fear coursed through her for half a second until she realized the figure was...  

“Rune!” Iris gasped. “What are you doing here? Where have you been? We haven’t seen you in ages. I’ve been so worried thinking that something may have happened to you that we wouldn’t know about. You had better have a good explanation for your sudden disappearance. If you don’t, I swear to all things Starlight’s name—”   

“Relax. I’m fine,” Rune assured her, taking a step towards Iris. “What are you doing here?”  

“I asked you first,” Iris frowned, her tone biting. “Answer me first.”  

Rune hesitated before sighing. “I was away since the Possession Master wasn’t acting. However, I believe something bad is set to happen soon. I came here to ensure that you and your friends were safe. It appears that my fears were unfounded, as here you are, safe as can be... Though I think it would be best if you returned to  Alitia  soon. You could easily be attacked while you’re away from the academy,” he said.  

Alitia  isn’t exactly safe either. I’m sure you remember what happened last time the Possession Master attacked. The school was overrun by Shadows and nearly destroyed. I don’t believe we can call any place completely safe given the situation we’re in,” Iris pointed out.  

Rune sighed. “However, the risks there are minimal... You know what? Let’s move on. What are you doing here?” he asked.  

“We’re just having a night out to enjoy each other’s company after the break. You can’t call us criminal for something like that, even if you think we should go somewhere safer,” Iris replied.  

“I’m not trying to antagonize you. I’m just pointing out that this is risky. You can’t be out here alone, even if Millennium City is busy at night. There are countless people, Possession Master or otherwise, who would want to harm you. You should go back inside with your friends. They can help to protect you,” Rune pressed.  

“You don’t trust me to defend myself?” Iris questioned, a bitter frown on her face. “This really isn’t very kind of you to say.”  

“I’m just trying to keep you safe,” Rune told her, his voice slowly rising in intensity. “Come on. Let’s get you back in there.”  

Rune reached out to take  Iris’  hand. Iris yanked her hand away. “I can handle myself. Why are you acting like this? I can handle myself, and you’re hovering over me when we barely know each other. What is with that?” Iris asked.  

“I’m not trying to upset you. I want to make sure that you’re safe. Please, listen to me. I still feel like something bad is going to happen, and I don’t want you to get hurt because I neglected to tell you the full story behind my instincts,” Rune said, practically begging. “Please, I just want you to behave safely.”  

“Rune, I want to know why you’re doing this! Please, tell me who you are and why you’ve been helping us this much! It’s clear you’re connected to us in a deeper way than you’re letting on. Why won’t you just explain the truth? We can’t come to trust you unless you explain the full reasons behind why you’re going this far. I think we’re entitled to know after we’ve been around each other for so long, but you’ve said nothing,” Iris declared.  

“I can promise you that everything I have ever done is to ensure that you and your friends are safe. I wouldn’t even think about putting you at risk, and I feel that saying this... It would be too much. I know trust is hard in a situation like this, but I need you to believe that I know what I’m doing. Please, hold on for a little while longer until I can properly explain everything. The instant I feel it is time, I will do so. That is a promise,” Rune assured her, reaching his arms out to pull her into a hug.  

“How can I be sure you’ll even do this? You haven’t said anything up to this point. For all I know, you’re going to just run off at the first sign of danger when we could find out the truth. Rune, we just want to know who you are. You’re based off the legend of my home planet. Can you explain who you are or where you come from? You can’t be the spirit of that legendary hero, right? If you are, why are you trying to hide so much from us? We won’t tell anyone if you don’t want us to. Can’t you just trust us? We’ve been putting our faith in you up to this point, but you refuse to do the same in return,” Iris shouted, pushing Rune away from her. “I want an explanation, and I want it right now! Why can’t you just do that much?!”  

“I trust you so much more than you realize. However, I know that if I told you something now, it would only put you in danger. Please, breathe for a moment. I am not trying to hurt you. I would never do anything to harm you. All I have ever wanted is for you to be safe. You are the one I care about, and I will not allow anything to happen because of this petty argument. I understand that it’s hard to trust anyone as secretive as me, but I need you to try. It’s for the sake of your safety,” Rune pleaded. Iris could have sworn she saw a few tears stream down his face, appearing from behind the shadow of his mask.  

Iris paused a few moments, noticing the salty water on his face. She looked into his eyes and sighed. “I’m sorry, but... I really do want to know the truth. You want me to be safe? Why is that? Have we ever even met before? It worries me... You... Who are you really? Why can’t you tell me? What is it that’s keeping you from doing so? I’m sure that my friends and I can take care of it if it means you’ll be safe. For the love of all things holy, let us help you. You won’t be able to get out of whatever sticky situation you’re in if you keep hiding in the corner and avoiding anyone who wants to reach out, you know,” Iris said.  

“It’s not that I don’t want to reach out... Truly, I do. However, life is a bit more complicated than that most of the time. Just trust me on this. The instant I can tell you anything, believe me when I say that I will. I don’t want to hide anything from you, especially not a secret as large as this one. However, I’m afraid I don’t have any choice. If you find yourself in even deeper trouble because of me, I would never be able to forgive myself. Hell, I find it hard to even stand before you now. It’s too great of a risk to appear now. Every chance to see you is a danger to both of us, and I refuse to make that danger even worse for you,” Rune told her.  

“Why is it so dangerous for me? I can defend myself. You make it sound like there’s something even greater than the Possession Master that could come after me if you say anything about who you are or where you come from... Is that truly the case?” Iris asked.  

“I’m afraid I can’t explain the full story to you yet. It’s far too dangerous as it is now. However, if things change... You’ll be the first person I come to you. I trust you more than you will ever know, and if it means we must fight... Then so be it. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to ensure you are safe,” Rune whispered. He reached out and cupped his hand around Iris’s cheek.  

Iris stood in silence, too stunned to move, at first. She looked at Rune, her gaze meeting the place she assumed his eyes were behind the mask. She stayed there for a few moments before managing to choke out a sentence. “Have... Have we met before...?” she questioned slowly.  

Rune hesitantly pulled away, looking down at his hand before shaking his head. “I... I believe that’s something only you can find out for yourself. In the meantime, I pray that you have a good night. I didn’t mean to yell at you the way I did. At least you know now that I am still alive. I can’t answer your other questions yet, but when I can... I’ll be right there by your side to explain everything. In the meantime, go back to your friends. You deserve to enjoy the rest of your evening. I am sure that we will meet again soon,” Rune replied.  

Rune turned on his heel and created a line with his finger in the air. A dimensional rift appeared, and he stepped through it, stopping just before he vanished to turn his head over one shoulder and give Iris his final words. “Until the next time we meet... I pray that you remain safe. I would not know what to do myself if you got hurt. You have seen enough harm, and I don’t want you to suffer any further.”   

As Rune disappeared, Iris reached out for the portal. She turned away from it, walking back into the restaurant. She didn’t even bother watching it close. Her friends were waiting for her, and they were surely getting worried since she had been out for so long. Iris shuffled back into the building, shutting the door slowly, Rune’s words echoing in her mind.   

~~~~~  

As soon as Rune arrived through the portal, everything went to hell.  

The dimensional rift didn’t close as soon as it should have. He approached Jesper, who was waiting as always on the other side of the portal. He reached out his hands, ready to accept the mask from Rune once he removed it. “How did it go?” Jesper asked.   

A hand reached forward and grabbed Rune’s shoulder, and for a sickening moment, the world seemed to freeze.  

“What’s going on?!” Jesper exclaimed in surprise, pulling a knife from a sheath at his hip. He reached his arm forward, ready to stab into whoever had grabbed Rune so suddenly. He pushed Rune to the side and made to attack their assailant. Rune fell to the ground in a confused heap, unconscious nearly instantly. Jesper kicked low, his leg sweeping their attacker off their feet.  

The figure in black  fell down  shortly after, and when Jesper went to put his knife at their throat, a hand clapped around his ankle. He yelled out in shock before falling silent, the dagger falling from his hand. It clattered to the floor, the only sound to be heard in the otherwise eerily quiet room.  

“Well, now,” the Possession Master smiled, rising to his feet. He stretched out, staring down at the two collapsed figures. He watched them, waiting for them to move, before issuing another command. “Get up.”  

The portal closed as Rune and Jesper rose, standing perfectly still a few feet away from the Possession Master. The hooded figure hummed to himself. “I’m glad to see you’re behaving well, my pets. We have other business to take care of tomorrow... You’ll be excited to hear that you’ll be able to show off your fighting skills when we go to Millennia tomorrow. Those pesky brats won’t be able to bother me for much longer, and you two are going to take them out.”  

Rune and Jesper nodded wordlessly. The Possession Master chuckled to himself. They were going to be fun to play with. “However, we can’t go and take care of things yet... For now, we have something else to take care of... I know exactly who you are, Rune, and I intend to show you who I am. Regardless of if you remember it or not, I know I will, and I will enjoy it... We’ll ju