Restart Again

by

Adam Ladner

Volume 2, Chapter 2: Breakthrough

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A note from Adam Ladner

Just a quick reminder, this is the second chapter of my yet-to-be-released Volume 2! It might be a bit rougher in terms of grammar/spelling/other stuff, as it hasn't gone through editing yet. Hope you enjoy!

A bead of sweat dripped from Lia’s nose down to the wooden floor, jostled by the rumbling of our wagon. She sat cross legged with her hands folded in her lap and her eyes closed. Although the morning air was cold enough to make our breath visible, we were both hot and red faced from exertion. I studied Lia intently through my closed eyelids, watching her mana rush down her limbs and cascade back to her core in time with her breathing. The warm amber glow her energy radiated grew brighter every day we practiced together. She’s getting stronger. Quickly.

 

With a gentle push, I sent my mana skating off along the floor to cover the entirety of the cart. My mental world grew brighter as the details of the wagon appeared in sharp white lines, contrasting against the empty black void surrounding me. Before my mana reached the wheels I paused with a slight grin on my face. I’ve never tried detection magic while moving before. This may prove...interesting. With my scientific curiosity piqued I pushed forward, moving the energy down along the wooden wheels to the ground.

 

The increased draw on my mana reserves was immediate. As soon as the energy touched the ground it was quickly whisked away behind us, leaving a long streak of vision in my mind of the distance we had travelled back to the first point of contact I had made. I compensated somewhat effectively by attempting to match the speed of my mana spread along the ground with the speed of the wagon; my efforts created an odd zone of vision where the road ahead entered my mental map, rushed through to the edge of my mana behind us, and then vanished as quickly as it came. Unfortunately, the effect also wreaked havoc on my inner ear and churned my stomach violently.

 

I withdrew the mana after a few more seconds of observation. When the energy receded back into the wagon my gut lurched again; once I could see only the cart displayed in my mind, the movement I had grown accustomed to compensating for ceased immediately and confused my sense of balance and direction. I took a few seconds to breathe in an attempt to settle my motion sickness. That is an...interesting caveat to this ability. I guess I should have practiced with walking before I jumped straight into cart travel.

 

Once my head had stopped spinning, my attention shifted back to Lia. She was channeling mana in a circuit around her body, increasing and decreasing the flow in time with her breath. I watched as a wave of energy pulsed down one leg, bounced back up to her core, and then moved to her right arm. A wide smile spread across my face. She’s having fun with it now. My eyes opened as I recalled my mana and let out a contented sigh. I bet she could handle it now.

 

“Lia,” I called out softly to avoid startling her, “I have something new I’d like to teach you.”

Her eyes snapped open in response, and I could see the excitement play clearly across her face. “What is it? A new spell?”

 

“Sort of. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a spell, but it’s an ability using your mana.” I chuckled after hearing the words aloud. “I guess that sounds a bit silly. Semantics aside, yes, it’s a new spell. I’ve been calling it detection magic, or Detection for short.”

 

Lia leaned forward to rest her chin in her hands and looked up at me excitedly. “Detection magic...okay! What does it do? How do I do it?”

 

I laughed at her unbridled enthusiasm. “Alright. Place your hand flat against the bench beside you.” I moved my hand to demonstrate, and she mimicked the position. “We’re going to channel our mana down to the bench, but instead of trying to suffuse the whole thing like we do with our swords, we’re going to let it flow out along the surface in a thin layer. If you can maintain your focus, you should be able to see whatever the mana is touching displayed in your mind.” I paused for a moment, uncertain. “Does that make any sense? I’m not sure if I’m putting it to words correctly. It’s hard to describe stuff you can’t really...see, you know?”

 

Lia nodded. “No, I understand! We’re outlining the objects instead of suffusing them, because we aren’t trying to use the mana to activate a spell, right?” I tried to respond, but she continued with a new idea. “Oh! That means we don’t actually use the mana at all! We can pull it back without expending it.”

 

“That’s right!” The speed at which Lia picked up the idea was impressive. “You’re getting pretty good at this magic stuff, Lia. You must have had a good teacher.” I raised my eyebrows jokingly and laughed. She rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically as she settled into her meditative stance without a response. Mana flowed down from my legs to the floor and covered the interior of the wagon once again as I prepared to give Lia pointers. “Okay, give it a try. Even though you’re not losing the mana, it can still be a taxing-”

 

I stopped short and watched in awe as the glowing yellow energy flowed down Lia’s arm and spread out over the bench with effortless speed. The aura expanded in a circle from her hand, climbing up around the rest of her body and down to the floor below her. She paused for a moment to laugh and waved her hand in front of her face. “I can see it!” she exclaimed. “I can see my hand! And the bench, and the floor too!” The mana resumed its steady crawl forward and flowed towards me. When it reached my boot Lia squealed loudly, and the energy recoiled to a tight circle around her.

 

“So bright!” Lia called out, her voice full of wonder. “That was so bright! What was that?” Without waiting for a reply she probed out again with her mana until it reached my foot, then retreated away with a squeaking laugh.

 

You never cease to amaze me, Lia. “That’s me. More specifically, it’s my toes.”

“Your toes?!” She laughed incredulously. “Why was it so bright? It hurt my eyes! Well, I guess it didn’t actually do that...but it felt like it did for a second.” Lia opened her eyes and examined me. “It was like I was staring at a bolt of lightning, but it was bright blue instead of white. Why does your foot look like that?”

 

I shrugged. “Honestly, I’m not sure. My current theory is that everybody’s mana looks a little bit different. The color, the...feel of it, I guess? It’s still pretty new to me. The brightness, on the other hand, is something I’m pretty confident about. The more mana something has, the brighter it looks through your detection.”

 

Lia leaned back against the wall and took a breath. “Wow. You looked so bright, I could hardly see myself in comparison.”

 

“Well, I’ve been training for a lot longer than you have. The more you practice, the brighter you’ll get. I think.” I reached out and patted her knee. “Don’t forget, you’ve only been training for a few weeks! The progress you’re making is incredible, Lia.”

 

She blushed faintly. “Thanks, Lux. You are a pretty good teacher, after all.” Lia clapped her hands lightly and put on a serious expression. “I’m going to try it again.” She settled into her meditation stance and placed her hands down flat on the bench beside her. Almost immediately, I saw a puzzled look on her face. “Everything looks...different this time. It’s darker.”

 

“Oh, right.” I sent out a wave of detection magic and chuckled as Lia shivered in response to the rush of mana. “How about now?” She let out a small laugh.

 

“I see it! Because it was covering everything already on my first try, I didn’t realize it was actually your mana.” Lia reached out towards me once again, pausing for a moment when it met my foot. Slowly, the amber aura crept up my legs and surrounded my body, covering me in the warm familiar feeling of Lia’s energy. “This is...incredible,” she said, barely louder than a whisper.

 

We spent the next hour in meditation as we both experimented with detection magic. I tried to scan further along the ground with each successive attempt, and succeeded in reaching the nearest wagons to us in the caravan before I had finished. The queasy feeling in my stomach amplified every time I transitioned from the wagon to the ground, and I took frequent breaks to avoid getting overwhelmed.

 

While I worked on extending my range, Lia focused on examining objects out of her visual range. She picked up on the technique much quicker than anything we had practiced before; with a few minutes of practice, she was laughing with joy as she watched the horses pulling our cart in her mind. At my warning, she kept her mana confined to the wagon to avoid the disorienting effects I was experiencing, although I could tell she was tempted to try regardless.

Despite working on my own experiments, I kept a close eye on Lia throughout the training. I found her immediate progress fascinating, given how hard she had to work at other magic and combat techniques. Her sunny disposition was comforting to see after the incident in Atsal, and the ease with which she controlled her new ability only strengthened her resolve. By the time we had finished our session she was flushed and covered in sweat, but nonetheless had a shining smile on her face.

 

“At the rate you’re picking this up, you’ll be teaching me about it soon enough!” I laughed as I rested my head against the wall behind me. “I only figured this out while we were travelling, so I haven’t found all the nuances yet.”

 

“I wish it didn’t make me so tired! All I want to do is keep playing with it,” Lia sighed and leaned back on her hands dreamily, until a look of recognition flashed across her face. “This is how you knew the guards had found us back in Atsal, isn’t it? Did you use it to keep track of everyone during the fight, too?”

 

“Yes, and no. I was practicing with Detection when I found the guards waiting for us that morning, but I’ve never used it during a fight.” I cocked my head to the side in thought. “I’m not sure my brain could keep up with all of that information in combat. I’ve never tried it, though.” I’ve got to try using Detection during our next sparring match.

 

A few moments went by before Lia broke the silence. “So...are there any other new abilities you can teach me?”

 

I chuckled and clicked my tongue at her. “You certainly are the eager student today, aren’t you?” She scrunched up her face at me and pouted as I laughed. “Unfortunately, that’s all I can think of right now. At least in terms of magic; we aren’t in a position to do much physical training on this trip, but I have plenty more to teach you in that arena.”

 

“I promised I was going to train harder!” Lia said with a slightly defensive tone. “I was just hoping there were other new things you didn’t bring up yet.”

 

“Learning new techniques isn’t the only way to advance with magic, you know.” I counted out on my fingers as I continued. “You can increase your mana reserves through practice and meditation, you can grow your understanding of magic through studying, you can practice activating your mana through runes…” I trailed off as I tried to think of more avenues of study.

 

Lia considered the list for a while. “Now that I think about it, I don’t really know anything about what magic really is. I thought I did, but that was before I met you. With everything you’ve taught me…” There was concern in her eyes as she searched for the right words. “Lux, is it all a lie? The Unity Church, the Primes...everything?”

 

“No, it’s not a lie. How do I put this...” I sighed and rubbed my eyes. “In every world I’ve been to, there has always been a story to explain why things are the way they are. No matter where you are, people want to feel in control. If you can’t explain why the world exists and give yourself a reason for being, it’s hard to believe you can control anything. So we do what we do best: Tell stories.”

 

“In the world I was born in, we believed in one all-knowing God. Different people believed varying versions of the story, but they mostly stuck to the same core ideas. It’s these same tenets that show up everywhere; if you follow the rules, good things will happen to you, and if you break the rules, bad things happen.” The attempt to think back on my first life was difficult, like trying to look at something through a fog-covered window. “We didn’t have magic in my world, so we didn’t have to explain that.”

 

“The beliefs of the Unity Church seem very logical to me. If you believe that each basic element of the world is created and controlled by a powerful being of some kind, it’s easy to attribute magic to each of those beings as well.” I shrugged as I thought through the logic. “The first time somebody created fire from nothing, what would seem more reasonable to them? That they had an invisible energy inside of them which, through the perfect circumstances, could power the creation of fire? Or that the Primeval of Fire they’ve learned about their whole life saw fit to bless them with a fraction of its power?”

 

Lia sat quietly and mulled over the idea, her discomfort clear in her demeanor. I moved across the aisle and placed a comforting arm over her shoulders. “I’m not saying that the Primevals aren’t real. They might very well have created this world and everybody in it, and are watching us right now. But the one thing I know for sure is that no matter what world I’m in, the rules of magic and mana have been the same.”

 

I put on a didactic, over-the-top voice in an attempt to bring some levity to the situation. “Rule number one: Mana is created naturally inside of all living things. Until recently, I believed it was only humans and other intelligent species, but Detection magic has proven that to be false. You saw the mana flowing inside the horses pulling our wagon, right?” Lia’s face lit up with a small smile as she nodded.

 

“Rule number two: Mana is the sole energy source that powers magic. That one is pretty simple so far, but I still have some testing to do when it comes to magic items before I’m fully confident.” Although I had never been a teacher, I felt strangely comfortable in my impromptu lecture. “Based on everything I’ve taught you during our training, do you have ideas of what another rule would be?”

 

There was a pause as Lia chewed her lip in thought. “In all the stories I’ve heard about wizards, they used staves and orbs to cast spells, and we always use our swords. Is that a rule?”

I nodded excitedly. “That’s right! The reason you always tend to see gems in wizard implements is because of the atomic structure—” I cut off suddenly, scrambling for a better description. “Um, it’s because gems are made up of very reliable materials in specific, repeating patterns. Mana has a much easier time flowing through materials like that. Metal is made the same way, which is why we can use our swords to cast spells.” Satisfied with my explanation, I moved on. “The fourth rule—”

 

“I have a question.” Lia looked up at me innocently, her amber eyes glinting in the early afternoon sun.

 

“Of course. Ask away.”

 

“Why do you...need an implement, to cast magic?” she asked haltingly. “If magic comes from converting mana into energy, why can’t you do that inside your body?”

 

“That’s a great question,” I responded happily. “Technically, you don’t need an implement to cast magic. Just like, technically, you don’t have to say an invocation to cast magic. In extremely stressful or dangerous situations, your body can unconsciously activate all sorts of abilities. I’ve used magic abilities in combat that I still can’t reproduce now, even after lots of thought and practice.” The memories of Jack writhing in pain with black smoke billowing from his chest floated to the front of my mind, and I winced reflexively.

 

“I know a lot of the rules I have about magic aren’t entirely true, but I’ve never been able to break them on purpose, so I like to think that those situations are exceptions. I never met anybody in Alderea who could use combat enhancements without a weapon, so I’ll keep that rule until I know how to break it reliably.” I chuckled and smiled at Lia. “Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the one to figure it out.”

 

Lia’s face set into a mask of determination. “I can try,” she said as she settled into a meditative stance.

 

“I didn’t mean right this instant, Lia.” With a grin, I reached out with Detection to watch her experiment. “I’ve gone down a few routes trying to cast without an implement, but I think the...I, uh…” My words stopped as my mind became singularly focused on Lia.

 

“Lesser Agility...Lesser Agility...Lesser Agility,” she chanted under her breath. The spell didn’t take effect, but whenever she spoke the words her mana pulsed throughout her whole body and shone a bit brighter. It was an effect I had never seen before, even in myself. I quickly followed suit and intoned the words, but saw no pulse within my body as expected. “Lesser Agility...Lesser Agility…”

 

With every incantation Lia’s mana reacted differently. It pulsed in one location, then in multiple places at once, then bounced between her core and her shoulder blades in rapid succession. What IS this? HOW is this? I watched in stunned silence as the patterns slowly changed, as if the mana itself was testing every possible permutation inside her. I began to notice repeating sequences in the flow as her chant continued, and the energy grew brighter with every attempt.

 

With a final whisper Lia’s mana flashed a brilliant gold, and a dim green glow flicked into existence across her body. Her eyes snapped open as she looked at me in disbelief. “Did...did that work?” We sat together quietly as we tried to process what had happened.

 

My mind buzzed with too many thoughts at once; extreme pride in my student, stunned disbelief, and a burning curiosity to break down exactly what happened were chief among them. Lacking the wherewithal to respond appropriately, I let out a loud bout of unstoppable laughter and pulled Lia into a tight embrace. As I regained my senses enough to speak, I nodded into her shoulder. “Yeah...yeah, you did it, Lia.”

 

She giggled as she hugged me back, and we both soon devolved to a cackling mess in response to the unbelievable events that had transpired. “I said...I said maybe you,” I gasped as I rocked back between howls of laughter, “maybe you could figure it out. And you!...” My sentence broke down into a wheeze, and I slapped my knee for emphasis.

 

“And I just...did it!” Lia hooted, tears streaming down her face. “Just, first try! Did it right there!” She pulled me in and cackled into my chest as she shook her head back and forth. My cheeks hurt from smiling and my vision blurred with tears as I desperately tried to regain my composure.

 

After a long period of heavy panting and intermittent chuckles that threatened to throw us back into chaos, I held enough self control to speak clearly again. “Lia, that really was incredible. With all my time spent studying mana, I never once managed to do what you did here today.” I placed a firm hand on her shoulder. “You should feel extremely proud of yourself.”

 

Though we were both red faced from our fits of laughter, I could tell Lia blushed deeply. “Thanks, Lux. I’m not sure exactly what I did, it just sort of...felt right?” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, that’s not very helpful for you. I’m still so new to magic, I don’t know why it worked for me and not for you.”

 

I smiled. “If I had to guess, it’s precisely because you’re new to magic. Once I taught you the basics of controlling mana, you were ready to learn anything and everything I could teach you. It’s probably why you picked up Detection so quickly as well; you didn’t have any bad habits or preconceived notions of how things should work. ” I tapped my chest lightly. “I, on the other hand, spent years using only certain magics in very specific ways. I most likely developed a lot of bad habits and ideas that are holding me back.”

 

“If you’re feeling up to it, I’d love to watch you do it again and attempt to talk through the process,” I asked. “It’s far too valuable of a skill for me to pass up, now that I know it exists.”

 

Lia nodded vigorously. “Of course! I need to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.” We both settled down into comfortable positions and renewed our meditation. When I scanned out with my mana, I sensed immediately that something had changed inside of her. The usual warm glow of amber energy was underscored by a system of dark yellow pathways, all of which branched from her core outwards to her extremities. The new structures sparkled with an energy that looked entirely foriegn to me.

 

As she channeled her mana in the usual gentle waves, the newly formed pathways it followed lit up in response. It only took her a single incantation of “Lesser Agility” for the spell to take effect; As soon as the words left her lips the golden energy flared to life, and the enhancement traced its usual green glow around her figure. Once the activation was complete, the pathways faded back to their dull yellow resting state, and her mana depleted as it normally had before.

 

I shook my head, unable to grasp the new mechanisms I was witnessing. “Lia, do you feel any different now?” I scratched the back of my head in confusion. “Something about your energy looks...changed. In a way that I’ve never seen before.”

 

Lia shook her head. “No, not really. When I tried to use the mana, I felt a new tingling sensation rush down my arms and legs, but that was it. Everything felt normal before that.” She tilted her head to the side and frowned. “I guess...it’s hard to describe. It’s like I suffused my whole body with mana, like you would a sword. Except I wasn’t specifically trying to do that, and I don’t think I’m casting magic from my skin. Maybe it was my bones? It sort of...worked on it’s own, that first time.”

 

My thoughts began to drift as Lia continued to explain the new feeling as best she could. Is it...her mana channels? I’ve always known they existed as a concept, but I didn’t think they had a physical form. Wouldn’t literal channels for mana have been discovered in every autopsy ever performed, if that were the case? Did she physically manifest them? I scowled in disappointment at being stumped by a new ability for the first time since training with Brusch in Alderea.

 

I realized too late that Lia had asked me a question. “I’m sorry, what?” The words were overly harsh for the situation, but she didn’t seem to notice.

 

“Do you want to watch me again?” she repeated patiently. Gesturing to the wagon around us, she continued with a kind smile. “It’s not like we’re in a rush. I don’t mind repeating it as many times as you need.”

 

“Thank you, Lia,” I said, returning her smile apologetically. “Unfortunately, I don’t know if watching you is going to give me any more insight. I’m stuck in the aggravating position of needing to know how something feels to understand it, but I can’t feel it without understanding it first. You know what I mean, right?”

 

“Definitely! I know how frustrating that is.” Lia put a hand on my arm. “I’m sorry that I can’t explain it very well. I wish I could give you the feeling somehow, exactly as I feel it.”

 

“It’s alright. You’ve already been such a big help. And don’t forget, you just developed a new magic skill that I bet nobody in the world has ever seen!” I patted her hand. “I don’t want you to feel disappointed about anything. I’m sure that with some practice, and some more studying later, I’ll figure out what…” A memory rushed to the front of my mind. She CAN give me the feeling.

 

“Lia.” I turned to her with newfound purpose and took her hand between mine. “Do you remember the night when you first unlocked your mana? Do you remember how it happened?”

 

Lia reddened and looked away, either surprised by my abrupt tonal shift or uncomfortable from the physical closeness. “O-of course I do. I didn’t really understand what you did at the time, but thinking back on it now...you gave me some of your mana, right?”

 

“That’s right,” I said with an emphatic nod. “I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but I noticed an unintended side effect of my channeling mana through your body. I’m not sure why, but at that moment I felt like…like I was...” I let out a frustrated breath as I struggled for words. “It was like I could sense through you. The line where my body stopped and yours began was blurred, and I could feel your body like it was my own.” The blush of Lia’s face grew darker, and she nodded her acknowledgement quietly.

 

“Maybe, if we do that again, I could feel through you and figure out how to replicate it in myself.” I knew it was an absurd request, and felt a pang of guilt at putting Lia in a potentially awkward situation. Carefully, I dropped her hand and slid back on the bench. “I must sound like an insane person, getting all serious on you like that. I’m slowly coming to the realization that I know even less about magic than I thought. I know I’m asking a lot of you, so please don’t feel obligated-”

 

“No. No, I want to do it,” Lia affirmed. “I said I wanted to help you however I could, and I think this could help.” She gave me a sly grin. “You did sound a little intense, though.”

 

I laughed, relieved by her levity. “Sorry, I got a bit excited there.” I swung my legs up onto the bench and turned to face her. “So, this might feel a bit...weird. You have control over your own mana now, and I’m sure that will help, but this is mostly uncharted territory for me.” Once I was comfortable, I held my hands out to her with my palms facing upwards. “Are you ready?”

After a deep breath, Lia nodded and placed her hands in mine. “Ready.”

 

“Okay. I’m going to reach out with my mana now. I imagine it’s going to be a strange experience, and your body will most likely try to resist a foriegn force. Just do your best to relax,” I said calmly, in an attempt to set the mood appropriately. With careful restraint, I channeled energy down to the tips of my fingers. I could see her mana buzzing vibrantly in her hands in anticipation. “In three...two...one…”

 

I gave a gentle push as the energy suffused up through my skin and attempted to enter through hers. As I expected, I found a level of resistance far greater than anything I had encountered before. My mana stopped hard against her hands as Lia’s body flared with an angry burnished gold energy. Instead of increasing my force to try to overwhelm her defences, I held the pressure constant at a light push and observed her response. “Whenever you’re ready, Lia. Take your time.”

 

Lia replied with a soft grunt of effort. We sat quietly for a while, completely engrossed in our efforts, until she hissed in frustration. “I can’t make it stop,” Lia whispered. “No matter what I do, I can’t put down the barriers and let you in.”

 

“Let’s try a different approach. Why don’t you reach out too?” I could tell Lia was angry with herself, so I spoke with the most pleasant tone possible. “Maybe if you extend your mana outwards, it’ll leave a gap in your defenses that I could use.”

 

She raised an eyebrow at the statement. “I’m not really sure it works that way Lux, but I’ll do my—”

 

A small amber tendril of energy snaked its way out from her finger and pressed down into my palm, and I felt the consistent pressure I held on my mana break as a rush of blue lightning raced up and snuck past the newly exposed gap in her defenses. Whatever Lia was trying to say was immediately cut off as the world seemed to catch fire. My arms seized reflexively as a vibrant rush of yellow energy cascaded through my body. I watched in fascination and unbridled terror as it rapidly suffused my whole being, somehow able to coexist alongside my own mana.

 

As I experienced the new sensation, I had a dim awareness that Lia was in a similar situation. With my mind completely overloaded, my mana had charged forward with reckless abandon. In just a few moments it mapped out her entire body and began to circulate through it passively, as it often did within myself. The frantic pace of exploration eventually slowed, and I regained a small measure of control of the electric blue energy. As the initial sensory overload of Lia’s mana began to recede in kind, another feeling grew to take its place.

 

My initial theory proved to be correct; wherever my mana flowed, I gained a passive awareness of the sensations felt there. I could see Lia’s clothing in my mind with detection magic, but I could also feel it resting against her skin. I could feel her small, soft hands resting atop mine, but through her hands I felt my own calloused skin holding them up. The impossible duality of the situation consumed every ounce of processing power my brain could muster.

 

We sat frozen in place for what felt like hours, completely transfixed by our efforts. As I adapted to the new feeling my mental faculties began to return, and I realized that every muscle in my body was tensed and screaming in exertion. I let them relax and gave Lia’s hands a gentle squeeze. Immediately, I felt the gesture from her perspective and had to pause a moment to resist the urge to shudder. “Are you still with me, Lia?” I managed to pant.

 

There was a long pause before I felt the words leave her mouth. “I’m...okay.” Her words were heavy with strain. “This is...really...difficult...to keep up. I’m going to use...a little spell, and then...we can stop?”

 

“Only if you feel up to it,” I replied, concerned. “We can stop right now if you need to.”

 

Lia shook her head weakly in response. She began to breathe in deep, rhythmic breaths, and I felt a portion of her mana within me recede. It coursed back into her body and flashed as she whispered, “Lesser Agility.”

 

Everything crystallized for me in an instant. It’s so simple. I felt the muscles in Lia’s body relax all at once as she fell forwards into my arms, exhausted. Her mana withdrew all at once, and for a moment I felt terribly alone inside my own body. I’ve been so stuck in my ways thinking I had any idea of how the rules of magic worked. I would never have figured this out, no matter how many lifetimes I spent. I leaned back and gently guided Lia down to lay in my lap. I dropped one of her hands and scratched the top of her head; it felt surprisingly good even as it unnerved me to experience it from her perspective.

 

I watched her break my rules, plain and simple, and I still subconsciously believed she was following them. She wasn’t channeling mana into her skin and bones, and she wasn’t suffusing her mana channels into physical pathways. I laughed at the beautiful simplicity of the idea. It’s just her mana. Lia wanted to activate her mana, and her body figured out how. Without my false rules holding her back, she solved it so quickly.

 

I held my hand up in front of my face and turned it over in observation with a laugh. The soft pulse of mana within me was comforting and familiar, but there was a new depth to it that I could see for the first time. With a smile, I reached inward and replicated the feeling I had experienced within Lia. “Lesser Agility,” I whispered as I pulled on my mana. A green shimmer flicked to life across my body. Inside my hand, I saw the mana grow slightly darker as my body consumed it to power the spell.

 

“Huh?” Lia’s eyes lazily slid open. “Did I...fall asleep again?” She tried to sit up but abandoned the attempt in short order. “Oof.” A tired laugh escaped her lips as she laced her fingers into mine.

 

I ended the spell and pulled my mana back from Lia, and was once again filled with an overwhelming loneliness. The look that came to Lia’s face told me she felt the same, but the feeling quickly passed. “You passed out for a few seconds,” I said with a smile. “Sorry about that.”

 

“Did it work? Did you figure it out?” She looked up at me with sleep-filled eyes.

 

I nodded. “It worked.”

 

Lia let out a loud sigh of relief. “That’s good. I don’t think I want to do that again for a while.” We shared a laugh at the sentiment. “It wasn’t painful or anything, just...strange. And tiring.” She yawned, punctuating her point. “I think I need a real nap now.”

 

“Well, you’ve earned it.” I pushed a stray strand of black hair out of her face. “You did just discover the greatest advancement magic has ever seen. I think you deserve a rest.”

 

She pouted at me. “No teasing, please Lux. I’m too tired.”

 

“I’m serious.” I looked down into the deep amber pools of her eyes. “You’re really amazing, Lia.”

 

A smile spread wide across Lia’s face as small tears pooled in the corners of her eyes. She stared up at me for a few moments, then rolled onto her side and snuggled into my lap. “You are too, Lux,” She said softly.

 

For a brief moment, nothing else mattered apart from our small world together inside the wagon. I felt a warmth grow in my cheeks, and my heartbeat rose far above its normal rate. When I noticed the changes, a harsh mix of guilt and shame grew in my gut. No. No, I can’t do that. I can’t. I pushed away the feelings with a ragged breath and leaned my head back against the wall. Lia’s breath told me that she had already fallen asleep, and I intended to join her as soon as possible.

 

She deserves better.

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About the author

Adam Ladner

Bio: Hi there. I'm Adam, the author of the "Restart Again" series. I started this writing project in the spring of 2019 as a fun creative outlet, and much to my surprise, I actually stuck with it! Fast forward to a year later, and here I am with the first book completely finished, and the second well under way. It's been a great experience, and I'm glad I have a chance to share it now!

I'd never heard of this site until recently, when one of the Amazon reviews for this book suggested I share it here as well. I'm not entirely familiar with how the site works, and whether or not it's frowned upon to just come here to share fully finished products that exist on other sites. With that in mind, I plan to drop a chapter on here every Sunday and Wednesday until the entire book is posted. If you enjoy it, hop over to my website to find the latest news on the project, and a link to the Amazon page where you can buy the eBook/paperback. I hope you enjoy it!

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