The practice went about how you would expect, I couldn't summon light nor lightning, my hands got warm though so there's that. We spent rest of the day goofing around in the dormitory hall, Lili showed me a board game a bit similar to chess or go but not exactly the same.
After getting smashed for the fiftieth time, I threw the towel and we went to the library. It was located in a separate square building, and I really mean it when I say square, it was basically just a cube with some protrusions. Curiously, the bricks were gray instead of blue so it really stood out.
The rules for borrowing books were pretty simple; a week at most, if there was a queue you had to leave your name and if you didn't pick it up during your turn, you would go to the end of the queue. The tuition covered the costs with the exception of someone destroying the book, they would have to pay for the damage out of their own pocket.
I picked a history book, world history to be specific. I only knew of three countries so far; the Kingdom of Espain, Imperium of Larn and Aural Empire. It was time to fill in the holes in my knowledge. I spent the rest of the day reading through it, being historically impaired made it a very heavy read.
"I am going to sleep, what about you?" Lili asked me.
Closing the book, I replied, "Yep, it's getting late."
We met Eina on the way to our room, her eyes were spewing out venom but she didn't bother us, and even went out of her way to dodge us. Lili gave me a mischievous side eye but didn't drill the topic, she looked to be in a good mood. In our room, we quickly changed into pajamas and jumped into the beds.
"Good night, Lili," I yawned and burrowed myself in the softness of my sheets.
A thin red path was weaving through the darkness, buzzing lightning danced around it and the closer it got to me the more it changed. It was cold and white while far away but it started to shift into pale gold color, getting warmer as it approached me.
Afraid, I took a step back but I walked forward instead. Panicking, I kept walking backward but getting closer until I crashed into the red path. The gold lightning wove around me, crackling in excitement, I didn't want it.
"Stealing?" A booming and distorted voice asked me.
I screamed and woke up, it was storming outside, the rain was tattering against the windows with incredible intensity. My drowsy mind couldn't understand why it was so loud or why I could see so much in the darkness. The whistling in my ears was splitting my head, it was louder than ever.
"Marie?" Lili whispered to me but it sounded like she did it straight into my ear.
Hyperventilating, I struggled to sit on the bed's side, it was too hot under the sheets.
My body shuddered when my feet made contact with the carpet, something was wrong. I've already felt that before, it was as if my senses were out of control. Shaking, I tried to focus but another thunderclap jolted my body and I squeaked.
"Marie, are you afraid of the storm?" Lili asked me, worriedly.
"Yes, sorry for waking you up," I whispered back in a shaky voice.
Lili's bed creaked and she jumped off it, taking the blanket with her. Before I could protest, she plopped next to me, wrapped me in the blanket and snuggled up. Her body was really warm, she smelled so nice as well.
"W-what are you doing?" I stammered, trying to break free.
She hugged me tightly and whispered, "It helped my sister, that's the least I can do for you,"
I wanted to reply but another thunderclap rocked my body, shaking, I tried to take a deep breath.
"Lie down, I will cover your ears," Lili whispered to me and pulled my head down.
Before I realized what was happening, I was lying in her lap, whimpering. It was embarrassing but I couldn't stop myself, she covered my ears and hummed to drown out the sound's coming in from outside. I couldn't stop shaking, partially from fear and partially from emotions welling up inside me.
Never in my life did I experience something like that, a caring touch without any other meaning. This was what a true friend was for, at least that's what I thought at the moment. Lili caressed my head and I lost all my reservations, weeping in her lap.
"You will get my pajamas wet," Lili jokingly muttered.
"S-sorry," I tried to get up but she held me there.
I don't know when I fell asleep, not even the thunder could bother me anymore. When I woke up Lili was already back in her bed, breathing slowly. It was sunny outside, the storm had passed.
Suddenly, the realization that everything was off hit me.
My sight was better, my fingers were more sensitive; something has changed last night. My heart whistled an excited note when I recalled the dream, I stole something from Thunder. At first, I thought it was lighting but that wasn't the case, at least not completely.
Five, my stats were at five, all of them.
Stunned, I sat in silence for a moment before taking in a deep breath. This wasn't the first dream where I saw the red path, I now understood what it was.
"Soulbind," I muttered, pinching the bridge of my nose.
This was enough to jolt me awake, everything was sharp and clear. I took another deep breath and analyzed what was happening. There was no way to be sure but I believed that my connection with CoM and Thunder was leaking. Whether it was one-sided or not, I wasn't sure.
The lightning must have come from Thunder, carrying some stats along the way. If that was the case, did Thunder receive anything from my side? I couldn't help but grimace at this thought, it was something that I had to keep in mind. In my dream, it looked as if the path was a one-way connection to me, CoM belonged to me after all.
My focus was broken by a knock on the doors.
"Wassat?" Lili asked, jolted awake.
"I'll check it, rest," I said to her and got up.
My step was a bit shaky, I had to get used to the changes in my stats all over again but I was excited that some of my strength returned. After opening the doors I was greeted by the same girl who delivered my clothes, I gave her another golden Leo and received the brown package.
"What is it?" Lili asked with a yawn as she stretched.
"Your clothes," I replied with a smile and handed her the package.
She happily unpacked it, like a child during Christmas. There was a neat leather bag inside but nothing else. Confused, Lili opened it and her face erupted into a wide smile. She reached in and took out all of the clothes we ordered yesterday.
Sitting down on the edge of her bed, I picked up a pair of underwear and said, "Nice panties."
"Oh, give that back!" Lili laughed and yanked it out of my hand but her smile faded and she muttered, "I don't think I will ever be able to pay back for all that."
"Lili," I grabbed her by the shoulders, "You already paid me back, even if you don't want to accept it." My voice was thick with genuine emotion.
Her face burned but she leaned in for a hug, I returned the gesture and we stayed like that for a moment, in silence. Finally, we separated still holding hands, our cheeks rosy.
"You are the nicest person I've met, Marie," Lili said to me, choking on tears.
Wiping my eyes, I stood up and said, "I am pretty sure that's you. Anyway, got a lesson with General soon."
"Okay, see you later." Lili squeezed out and hugged her new bag.
I smiled at her and hurriedly got a hold of myself, clothes and all. On my way out I threw Lili a few coins for a meal and ran out before she could protest. Lessons with Orion happened deep into the island and there weren't many signs so I had to ask for directions multiple times.
A student with two stripes and stars, named Tydic, was actually going to the same class so I tagged along. His build was very robust, on top of that, he was even taller than Aren who already towered over me. He wasn't exactly ugly, more like average with his shaven head and big nose.
"We are almost there," Tydic said to me, pointing at a large sandpit. "I must say, you won't have an easy time, Marie."
"What do you mean?" I asked him with a raised eyebrow.
"Have you looked into a mirror?" Tydic chuckled. "You tiny, it will be really hard for you to throw anyone."
Pouting I said, "I am strong."
"I didn't say you are weak, just that you are small." Tydic shrugged.
We walked into the sandpit, there were a dozen or so students there, virtually all of them well-built jocks, I was sure that Lili would enjoy the sight. There were only three other girls there, all of them at least head taller than me and built like Olympic swimmers.
I licked my lips when checking out a certain redhead, death by snu snu didn't sound too bad at the moment. Tydic went to a group of his friends, they glanced at me curiously, everyone did.
The redhead girl approached me and said, "Uwah, you are so small!"
Two stripes and three stars glimmered on her, wide for a girl's, shoulders. She wasn't exactly a beauty but her body was out of this world, even the uniform could not protect it from my lecherous gaze.
Grinning I replied, "Heard that one already."
She wanted to say something but a booming voice cut in, "Gather!"
The girl, and everyone else for that matter, instantly gathered into even rows, not wanting to be the odd one; I stood next to a random student. There was one row in front of me and with everyone being taller, I had to crane from the side to see what was going on.
Orion was standing in front of the gathered students, his angry face and straight back unchanged from the last time I've seen him. His stern eyes accounted for every student, Orion's lips slightly twitched when he saw me, I wasn't sure if he tried to smile or just got angrier.
"It appears that have a new student joining our ranks, take good care of her," Orion bellowed.
"Yes, sir!" The students all shouted.
All except me, I just jumped up, spooked by the sudden noise.
"Zorik, take Penn to the side and test her. Rest, follow me, 10 rounds around the island!" Orion bellowed and dashed off.
The students once again saluted and ran after him, all except the redhead from before.
She approached me and said, "Hey, name's Karla."
"Marie. What kind of test are we talking about?" I asked.
"I am just going to throw you around, see how strong you are at the moment," Karla said and took off her jacket, throwing it to the side.
"Alright, I can't fight though," I said and stuffed my jacket into the bag of holding.
"Don't worry, grab me by the shoulders and try to stay up. I won't sweep your legs, no fancy techniques," Karla said and grabbed my shoulders.
I grappled hers, it was a bit awkward due to height difference but we grappled for a while. If it was yesterday, I would probably be sent flying but today was different. Huffing, I managed to stay on my feet even when Karla tried twisting her entire body. Finally, she gave up and shook her head in disbelief.
"You trained before? Your core strength is crazy!" She asked, gasping for breath.
I rolled up my sleeve and showed her my guns, "Only strength."
Wide-eyed, she felt my bicep up and whistled. "Damn, what kind of training do you do?"
"Basic every morning, not much else though," I replied, smugly.
Of course, I had to omit the fact that my body was literally designed to be muscular. Actually, I wasn't even sure if it would change over time, it was impossible to tell for now.
"Alright, keep your secrets then," Karla said, pouting.
Yep, I expected that kind of answer.
Changing topic, I asked, "What now?"
"Now, I will throw you around for real," She said, smirking.
Rest of the testing consisted of me being thrown around by Karla, she used some grappling techniques and throws, I couldn't defend myself at all. At some point, other students returned and under Orion's watchful eyes I was taught some basic moves.
Throws over the hip, armbars, chokes and other things, most were simple enough as long as I didn't need to use them in practice. During the entire lesson, I only managed to get Karla into one hold, mostly because I was stronger and because she lost her footing in the sand.
I would be lying if I said that it wasn't fun, on top of that, Orion made sure that no male students got a chance to spar with me. He made it clear that I was off limits, and for that, I was really grateful.
What wasn't fun, however, were the drills after sparring.
I've never been in the military but it probably wasn't far off from what we did. With Orion shouting at us, we crawled through the sandpit, exercised or just ran in circles. My entire body was sore after we were done, not to mention how sweaty I was.
"Class dismissed!" Orion bellowed and everyone saluted. When I was walking away, he said. "Penn, stay."
"Yes, sir!" I replied and turned around.
He approached me and waited until the other students were no longer in earshot.
"Are you interested in weapon training?" Orion asked me, his angry face softening a little.
"Yes, sir. Shortsword and shield specifically!" I replied.
"Good! There are only three other students that do this practice so it's held in the evenings, two hours every day." Orion said.
"I'll be sure to attend then, sir," I said.
"Good! You are dismissed," Orion said, "Make sure to rest well!"
"Yes, sir!" I saluted and left the sandpit, heading to the dormitory.
Taking a thorough bath and resting was my first priority, dinner could wait. The weapon practice was an exciting thing to me but the memory of my previous teachers was still fresh in my mind. Clenching my fists, I promised myself one thing; To not hold back in a life and death situation ever again.