Walking into the main dormitory hall, the realization of how much I missed it struck me hard. It really felt like my first actual home in this world. The fireplaces with cozy seats arranged around them, the long table and the smaller ones to the side we used to play games. I felt a sense of belonging. It was a bizarre, but pleasant feeling.
At least until I felt an acidic gaze land on me. It was a pair of icy blue eyes were boring into me, the person they belonged to didn't seem to happy to see me. Glancing at her shoulders, I saw that she now had three stripes and three stars.
Approaching her, I said, "Congratulations on your third star, Isah."
Setting her jaw, she stiflly asked, "What do you want?"
"I was impressed by your academic achievements. That's all," I replied, squinting my eyes.
She snorted and said, "I've wasted a year. Are you having fun being an attention whore?"
"Year of beating your sick brother. And what are you talking about?" I asked with a frown.
She pursed her lips and venomously replied, "First you heal him, then you show off your amazing elements. Something bad happens in the academy? Somehow you're involved again. I bet your father set it up to make you look good."
I couldn't control myself. My hand darted forward, I had Isah by the collar. I easily lifted her off the ground. Ignoring her shocked face, I hissed out, "A student was murdered, bitch. Your brother suffered grievous wounds to defend me." I threw her back and she landed on her butt, looking up at me in fear. Finally, I added, "Also, say one more bad thing about my dad, and I'll let you test if potions can regrow tongues."
Without waiting for a reply, I spun on my heel and stormed towards the stairs. Only then did I notice how many girls were looking at us. Being escorted by drama-hungry gazes, I dashed up the stairs and headed straight towards my room. My mood definitely took a hit after this encounter, but it made me wonder what people in the academy were really thinking.
Stopping of the doors, I took a deep breath and slammed them open. "Good afternoon!" There was only startled Lili inside, reading some book.
Getting a hold of herself, Lili jumped to her feet and dashed to me, "Marie!" She gave me a quick hug and worriedly jumped away, "Your rib?"
"Detox. I used a potion," I replied with a wink. Looking around, I asked, "Eina's not here?"
"She has lessons," Lili said to me, looking troubled.
Masking my slight disappointment, I asked, "Everything's okay?"
She hesitated and looked to the side before replying, "I believe so."
Frowning I started, "Lili..."
"Sit down, and close the doors," She suddenly said, biting her lip. She looked very distressed about something so I didn't waste time.
After doing as she said, I sat next to her and asked, "Something troubling you?"
"What? No. I mean, yes. It's about Eina," She revealed, looking at me fearfully.
I took a deep breath and asked, "What happened?"
"So you didn't know..." She muttered, looking down.
Clenching her teeth, she leaned in and said, "I walked in on her crying." Seeing my stern expression, she continued, "She asked me to not tell you. I already broke a promise." Sighing, she squeaked, "And we were just starting to get along really well."
Grabbing her hand, I seriously said, "Thank you for telling me. Do you know why she was crying?"
"She mentioned something about Ms. Sado and her students," Lili said, squeezing my fingers as if I were to dash away at any moment.
"This bitch," I hissed, jumping to my feet. Ms. Sado knew well what was up ever since we ordered the dresses. Being an extremely conservative person, she surely didn't approve of our relationship. This was overstepping her boundaries. Not to mention; no one bothers Eina.
Looking scared, Lili strengthened her grip and exclaimed, "She's a teacher!"
"Let's go for a walk," I suddenly said, trying to relax my face. Seeing Lili's hesitation, I added, "Not to Ms. Sado. Let's take a walk so I can cool off."
"Oh. Okay then," Lili replied, standing up. I could tell that she wasn't exactly on board, but I didn't plan on doing anything stupid like confronting Ms. Sado. Yet.
Isah was nowhere to be seen when we were walking out. Good riddance I say. We didn't meet any of our friends or acquaintances either so it was a rather uneventful stroll. We walked at a leisure pace, enjoying the weather. It was pretty hot so I rolled up my shirt's sleeves and tied the white jacket around my waist.
"I've never seen anyone do that," Lili commented, genuinely surprised.
"Oh, it's normal where I come from," I laughed. As amusing as it was, even such a mundane action was out of place in this world. Seeing her face, I added, "Try it yourself, it's too hot to wear it normally and carrying it is a chore."
"Why not," Lili laughed, copying me. Grinning she said, "It's almost like a skirt."
"Are you going to weapon's practice today?" I asked her, crossing my fingers behind my neck and looking at the blue skies.
"Only if you or Eina come. I don't want to be stuck with the guys because they always goof around with me," Lili complained, puffing out her cheeks.
"Eh? I thought you had Aren under your heel. Why don't you just tell him to act normal?" I asked with a laugh.
"I don't know. He's weird," Lili said with a sigh. "He's either really quiet or obnoxious. I don't really like him."
"Who do you like then?" I asked with a smirk, wondering what was going on in her little cute head.
"I like you and Eina," She said with a pout.
"That's not what I meant," I said, my smirk turning into a teasing grin.
"There are too many nobles, they don't even notice me," She said in a small voice.
"Their loss," I commented.
Rolling her eyes, Lili asked me, "What about you?"
"I like Eina," I replied with a raised eyebrow.
"Yeah, but I meant like not like," she said.
"Lili, take the hint," I said, squinting my eyes.
Looking around if no one was in the earshot, she said, "It's still weird to me. Sorry."
There was no way around it. Shaking my head, I refused to continue this conversation and changed the topic instead. "Did you eat dinner yet?" I asked her.
She didn't so we went to the canteen, drawing some curious gazes from the other students. After eating, we were going to practice some spell weaving, but mother nature had a different idea. A loud rumble startled me, so I looked up. Thick clouds were gathering on the horizon, speeding towards the island.
Groaning and taking a deep breath to calm down, I said to Lili, "This sucks. We'll have to practice indoors."
"We can just use got the unused part of the castle," Lili said, grabbing my hand and dragging me along. "We found a really nice place when you were in the infirmary," She explained.
The nice place she was talking about turned out to be a rather large arbor made of sturdy wood. It definitely wasn't used for a long time considering how chipped the paint was. While it didn't have any walls, it still provided protection from the rain and the surrounding castle walls provided enough protection from the wind.
"Why is so much of the castle unused?" I wondered out loud, taking in my surroundings.
"You should ask your dad, but from what I know it's just because there are not enough students to use them," Lili said with a shrug. "Okay, look at this!" She said with a smug grin, taking a few steps back and raising her hands. Droplet after a droplet, a streak of water formed between her fingers. It soon grew in size, dancing around her until she allowed it to evaporate. "I'm almost good enough for my first star!" She said excitedly.
"Beginner Spell Weaving?" I asked, raising my finger.
"Yep. What about you?" She asked, staring at me expectantly.
I willed my Essence towards it and a little dandelion of pure, gold light sprouted from it. Leaning in, I blew on it and it exploded into minute particles that were carried away by the wind. The stalk, I threw aside and it deconstructed itself.
Wide-eyed, Lili asked me, "You practiced in the infirmary? That's so much better than these old flowers you could make!"
"Partially. Dad's been coaching me and I've got some ideas," I said, feeling unsatisfied with that little trick. Grimacing, I tried to ignore the rain tattering against the arbor's roof and tried another spell, wincing at the crackle that came with it. It took all of my willpower to keep the little streak of lightning in check.
No matter what I did, I could not freely form it like my light element. Whether it was the wild nature of electricity or some kind of mental block, I wasn't sure. Growing frustrated and stressed out, I forced myself to recall the lightning into my body.
"It's your secondary element so it shouldn't matter, right?" Lili asked, trying to comfort me.
"It matters to me," I said, plopping down and resting my back against one of the support pillars. The rain itself didn't do much to me, but combining it with lightning was not the best idea. Luckily, there were no walls to choke me this time, but I still started to hyperventilate and sweat profusely.
Hopping up to me, Lili squatted and worriedly asked, "Panic attack again? Can I help you somehow?"
"Give me some breathing room," I rasped, egging her to continue with her practice. She hesitated before taking a few steps back and returning to her routine. My Essence was shaky and unstable, but this gave me a lot to think about.
The theories of magic didn't really focus on Essence itself, treating it as just the key to perform magic. But why was this key linked to caster's state of mind? Did it come from the mind, or from some other source? In the case of the latter option, it would mean that the state of mind was directly responsible for how good the connection was.
Standing up after a short period of meditation, I walked forward and stopped just at the arbor's edge. Sticking my hand outside, I let the cold rain collide with it as my mind wandered. An amusing idea popped in my head and I soon followed up with it. Gathering Essence, I let out more than usual and a large flower soon blossomed on my palm.
"What are you doing this time?" Lili curiously asked, approaching me from behind.
"An umbrella," I said. Well, it was more of an umbrella-shaped flower, but it was much easier than just trying to create an actual umbrella. Nec said it had something to do with the Life transformation in my light, making it easier for it to take natural forms.
Looking at the oversized flower with four droopy petals, Lili asked me, "Are you going to test it?"
"Ah, yes," I said with a laugh, taking a step outside. It took me two steps to realize that it wasn't the best idea. Soaked, I ran back under the arbor's roof and threw the useless umbrella aside, letting it dissipate. Cursing under my breath, I muttered: "It's light. It can't work like this."
Trying to contain her laughter, Lili asked me, "Why don't you make it thicker?"
Shaking my head and sending droplets of water everywhere, I replied, "It can't work like this unless I break physics. I don't know what I was thinking."
She shot me a quizzical glance and refrained from asking. She probably wasn't sure what I was talking about, not that I blamed her. Sighing, I asked, "Can you feel the light from the candle?"
"Well, it's warm, right?" She asked, tapping her chin like I often did.
"That's the flame, Lili. Light can't do much, but I wonder if a proper Spell Model could change it," I replied, thinking out loud. Spell weaving was different from casting a proper spell, it was just playing around with Essence. I reached into my jacket's pocket and pulled the slumbering crow, waking it up in the process.
Looking at me begrudgingly, Chopsticks asked, "What is it? I thought you wanted me to hide to not be as conspicuous."
"Sorry, Choppy. Go fetch dad, would you? I need his help," I said.
Clicking his beak at me and at Lili, he turned into a scarlet streak and disappeared into the hazy rain.
"What do you need your dad for?" Lili curiously asked me, she looked excited about having a chance to see him again.
Clearing my throat, I replied, "I need his help with a spell model. I've got a crazy idea." Raising my hand, I made a simple disc of light and just let it hover there. I passed my hand through it to make a point and said, "Imagine if it was solid."
"Marie, I'm not following you," Lili said with a grimace.
"It's suspended in the air. If it was solid, I could use it to walk in the air," I said with a grin.
Lili looked excited for a moment before a grimace of confusion crept up on her face. She asked, "But you said that it doesn't work like this?"
"How do mages fly, Lili?" I asked, tapping my chin and racking my brains.
"Teacher Terroso uses his wind element to create lift..." She replied, giving me a weird look.
"Then how does my dad levitate? He doesn't have an element," I replied, having an inkling about the truth behind all of this.
"Wait, really?!" Lili asked, wide-eyed. "But he's known as one of the greatest spellcasters!"
"I know. That's why I need his help for this," I replied. My knowledge was far too limited to create a proper spell myself. Instinctually weaving Essence was the best I could do, but I was limited by my lowered stats. Heaving a sigh, I smiled at Lili and said, "I will ask him to give you some pointers too while I work on it."
She looked taken aback, but an expression of wild joy flooded her face moments later. Almost jumping, she exclaimed, "Okay!"
Lili was my first and best friend. It was the least I could do for her. As for that umbrella...