Restart Again

by

Adam Ladner

Volume 3, Chapter 15: Peace, At Last

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I wiped the sweat from my brow and stepped back to admire my work. It had been an extremely productive start to the day; Elise had been more than true to her word, having the supplies delivered to the Corells’ house before Lia and I had woken up, which gave me ample time to ferry the materials back to our house while the morning sun was still low in the sky. Having already prepared the building site weeks prior, I was able to immediately get to work laying the foundation of my furnace. The building supplies were of the highest quality, with quick setting mortar and dense, solid bricks, and I wasted little time worrying about the components during my work.

 

Between my years of maintenance on Ashedown’s forge and my new magic abilities, I had finished the basin and air ducts of the furnace all before noon. The beginnings of a chimney were formed at the back of the structure, but the act of stacking the bricks would take an additional few hours, regardless of my magic. I grinned as I imagined showing my work to Amaya’s father; he would no doubt critique my use of magic “shortcuts” in the base work and grumble about a lack of respect for the process, while Amaya reassured me he was more than impressed. Although we were separated by more than a century’s worth of memories, I could hear them perfectly in my head.

 

We’re coming back for lunch, Lia’s voice chimed between my ears, adding to the imagined voices of my memories. Be forewarned; Marin is VERY cranky today.

 

Perfect timing, I chuckled in return. I’ll start getting things ready. I left my brick stacking behind me as I made my way into the house and retrieved our sparse lunch supplies. While I sliced our last loaf of bread up for sandwiches, my mind wandered out through the forest along my extended mana, passing Marin and Lia on their return trip. The site of our future training arena sat a half dozen miles to the north, beyond the marked boundaries of any logging companies or parceled land.

 

What was once a flat, densely packed corner of forest was now a sprawling field, littered with uprooted stumps, weeds, and broken branches. The center of the space was dominated by a massive pile of neatly trimmed logs, stacked six high and over a dozen across. After marking a few logs in my mind for use in my upcoming afternoon of work, I returned my attention to the task at hand, plating up the fresh greens and cured bihorn meat Hana had sent along with Marin earlier in the day.

 

I heard my companions coming long before they entered the house. “Lux!” Marin shouted as they entered the clearing. “Lux, where are you?”

 

“Inside, Marin,” I called out in answer.

 

She appeared through the door a moment later with her nose wrinkled and her mouth set in a frown. “Lux, I thought I was supposed to be training today!” she yelled, immediately flopping onto the couch in our living room.

 

I raised an eyebrow in her direction. “You...weren’t training?” I asked, suspicious. “What were you doing, then?”

 

“Moving trees!” she complained. “That’s all I’ve done all morning! Lia just knocked them down, and then expected me to move them without any help. Moving trees is not a one person job, Lux! Just look at my hands!” Her hands shot up into the air, suddenly appearing above the arm of the couch. The lighter skin of her palms was covered in a smattering of splinters, cuts and blisters, and she flexed her hands pitifully as I approached to examine them.

 

“Looks like you need to get a pair of gloves,” I laughed.

 

“Gloves aren’t the issue!” she shot back. “It’s the moving logs by myself that’s the issue!”

 

“Were they too heavy for you?”

 

She sat up and whirled on me, snorting in disgust. “Of course not.”

 

“Then what’s the problem?”

 

“That’s what I wanted to know,” Lia chimed in as she entered the house.

 

“The problem is that I want to do more training, not haul stuff around!” she moaned. “I could’ve just stayed with Marten if I knew that’s what we’d be doing.”

 

“Marin, this is training. You’ve done plenty of combat training, but you’re still lacking in strength,” Lia explained.

 

“I am not!” Marin countered, flexing both of her arms to show off her decently sculpted biceps. “And besides, why do I need to do strength training when I have the gauntlets? Those are plenty strong on their own.”

 

Lia shook her head. “You can’t just rely on tricks and magic gloves to keep you safe,” she chided. “What happens if you don’t have your special gauntlets, hmm?”

 

I turned away to hide my snickering and retreated to the kitchen to retrieve our lunch. “Alright you two,” I said as I returned, offering a plate to each of them, “it’s time to eat. Marin, you should listen to Lia: she knows what she’s doing. Besides, with the level of combat training we’ll be starting on soon, we’re going to need that space cleared for our arena. It won’t be safe to train at the house anymore.”

Marin’s ears perked up. “Well, you could’ve just said that earlier!”

 

“I did say that earlier,” Lia replied, narrowing her eyes.

 

“Hey now,” I said more sternly, holding up my lunch with emphasis. “Sandwiches now, arguing later.” With a final pair of grumbles and shifty looks, the three of us moved to the dining room and started in on our light lunch.

 

“Lux?” Marin asked between bites. “Why aren’t you helping us build the arena? I know it’s supposed to be my ‘training’ and all, but if we’re all going to use it, wouldn’t it be faster if you helped too?”

 

“It’d be faster, sure, but then I wouldn’t be able to finish my forge,” I answered. “Judging by my progress so far, I’ll probably wrap up sometime tomorrow morning, and then be able to help you two put the finishing touches on your project.”

 

“But why do you even need a forge in the first place?”

 

“I don’t need one, per se, but it’ll certainly be handy. I’ll be able to make any metal tools or fixtures we need around the house, and more importantly, I’ll be able to maintain our weapons and armor by myself.” I stared wistfully through her head in the direction of my passion project. “Also, I just really want it. I haven’t been able to work at a forge since I was in Alderea, and I miss it.”

 

Marin stopped chewing mid-bite and looked me over with a raised eyebrow. “Where’s Alderea? I’ve never heard of it before.”

 

I nearly choked from surprise as I swallowed a mouthful of lunch. That can’t be right. I’ve told her about that. My eyes scanned over to Lia, who sat quietly with an amused grin. I told her about all of that, right?

 

Her reply came with a devious laugh in the back of my head. Nope.

 

No, it definitely came up! I scanned back through my memories of the past month of training, searching for the conversation I knew was there. There’s no way it didn’t come up.

 

I promise you, it didn’t.

 

Marin waved her hand in front of my face. “Hello?” she asked expectantly. “Lux? Hello? You in there?”

 

“Sorry, Marin,” I answered, shaking my head. “Alderea isn’t a place you would know. It isn’t exactly...here. In this world.”

“In this world? What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“So…” I trailed off, rubbing my temples. “I’m not from Doram like I said before. I actually wasn’t born in this world at all; I showed up outside the gates at Yoria a few months ago. I can’t really explain how, or why, because I don’t know myself, but that’s the truth. I just sort of…” I paused and snapped my fingers for emphasis, “appeared. This is the fourth world I’ve lived in.”

 

Marin set down the remains of her sandwich and slowly looked between me and Lia for a few moments, then threw back her head and laughed. “Alright, fine!” she said, waving me off. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

 

“What?” I asked, shaking my head. “That’s the truth, Marin! I swear.” I looked to Lia and motioned helplessly with my hands. “Tell her!”

 

“It’s true, Marin,” Lia agreed. “I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. You can ask my parents; they know too.”

 

“Oh, suuure,” Marin replied, oozing sarcasm. She stood and poured herself a glass of water from the pitcher in the kitchen, then returned to the table and laughed again. “Just appeared,” she chuckled under her breath, snapping her fingers. “Okay. Sure.”

 

I sighed and leaned back in my chair, teetering it unsteadily on two legs. “You don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to, I guess. But it doesn’t change the fact that you still have a lot of trees to move, by yourself.” She rolled her eyes in my direction and aggressively finished the last bite of her lunch. “Unless, of course, you don’t think you have the strength to manage it. I guess I could put the forge on hold if you asked me nicely for—”

 

“Don’t you even start with that!” she snapped, wagging a finger in my face. “I’ll move more logs than you would have anyway, and it won’t even be hard.” Without waiting for a response, she spun and walked away into the living room, pausing at the far door. “C’mon, Lia! We’ve got some ‘training’ to do!” Clearly satisfied with herself, she walked out onto the deck and disappeared.

 

“I’m sure she probably believes you, at least a little bit,” Lia reassured me as she stood to follow her rambunctious student. “You’re pretty hard to explain otherwise.”

 

“Honestly, I should’ve expected that. Out of all of the possible responses to my story, hers is probably the most normal.” I stood alongside her and put a hand on her shoulder. “You and your parents are the weird ones here, being so accepting and all.”

 

“Guess you’re glad you met me then, huh?” she asked, grinning up at me.

 

I planted a kiss on her forehead. “I am indeed.” I motioned to the door with a tip of my head. “You better get going before she decides to knock the whole forest down herself.”

 

Lia giggled and gave me a small nod, then dashed off through the living room, leaving me alone to clean up our dishes. I smiled after her, watching her progress through my Detection as she sprinted through the forest to catch up with Marin. The grin stayed on my face as I stacked up our plates and stashed away the remainder of our bread and meat. Everything I have now is because I met her, I thought to myself. I would have burned away into the void by now if I were by myself. Although my sword was stashed away with my armor, my hand moved to where it would sit on my hip through instinct, and I could feel the gold banded pommel beneath my fingers. It’s time.

 

The remaining work on our construction projects progressed without interruption. My estimate for the completion of my forge proved to be spot on; after a particularly efficient afternoon of bricklaying on the chimney, it only took a few hours on the following day to construct the open air stall around the furnace using the marked logs from our new supply. I built a workbench with the emberwood scraps, complete with a pegboard with multiple spaces for tools that I had yet to buy. Marin and Lia returned soon after for lunch, and when we had finished, I joined them at the buildsite in the northern forest.

 

Even though I had seen the clearing grow throughout the work process via Detection, it was still an impressive sight to behold with my own eyes. What had once been a small grove surrounded by densely packed trees was now a massive field of upturned dirt with a towering stack of logs at one edge. Judging by the average height of the emberwood trees around the clearing’s edge, the space was at least one hundred yards across and nearly twice as long. While it was more than large enough to suit our needs, the ground was loose and uneven from the copious root systems that had been recently removed, which left it unsuited for any intense physical activity.

 

“Are you sure you don’t want any help?” Lia asked me as I took a meditative stance at the edge of the clearing. “You don’t have to do the entire thing in one go by yourself.”

 

“Thanks, Lia, but I’m fine. I can handle it.” In truth, I had my doubts about the task set before me; while the concept of leveling a foundation had been successfully proven when we built our house, the field was multiple orders of magnitude larger than anything I had attempted to suffuse with mana before. However, as Lia had said, there was no particular reason the entire arena had to be leveled at once apart from my own stubborn ambitions, and the lack of consequences for failing the task helped to bolster my confidence.

 

After a few minutes of quiet meditation, I reached out with a gentle wave of energy to cover the surface of the clearing before me. Once the space was entirely depicted within my head, I pulled the energy back a half-dozen yards from the treeline into a stadium shape, then began to suffuse the dirt below it. Mana crashed out from my core like a burst dam to fill every cubic inch of space before me, and I felt a significant flagging of my energy reserves for the first time since our incident at the Mountain Gate. I continued to push the mana deeper into the earth, increasing my Combat Acceleration enhancement in tandem with the immense amount of information flowing into my brain.

 

I felt my lungs straining to breathe as I fought to maintain my concentration on the vast sea of mana before me. My advancing wall of energy halted as it reached nearly ten feet down; our initial plans, drawn up in my sketchbook back on our living room table, had called for twelve feet, but the immense pressure I felt in my head told me that I would pass out from exertion long before I reached the mark. Too focused to find the Shatter rune on my ring, I spoke the command with a final gasp.

 

My mind immediately went black as the mana activated and disappeared, and I blinked in and out of consciousness multiple times in quick succession. I felt a powerful tremor beneath my legs, followed by my head connecting with the ground as I fell backwards. There was a heavy taste of dirt and iron in my mouth as I cracked open my eyes, only to close and shade them with my hand a moment later as the afternoon light set off a splitting headache behind my eyes.

 

A soft hand brushed along my jawline, and I felt Lia’s comforting presence beside me. “You know, that would’ve been easier if you had let me help.”

 

“No, don’t worry, I’m fine,” I coughed, curling into a ball beside her. “Thanks for asking.” I sent a wave of energy rushing out from my core, attempting to dampen the symptoms of the mana withdrawals that continued to grow throughout my body.

 

“I would be worried if we didn’t both know this was going to happen,” she quipped, poking me gently in the temple. The playful gesture sent a spiral of pain through my head, and I weakly rolled away from the attack. “You’ll have to deal with your mana hangover on your own while Marin and I roll out the arena.”

 

“Mana withdrawals,” I corrected her.

 

She laughed. “Seems more like a hangover to me.” I felt her kiss me on the forehead and brush a stray strand of hair from my face. “Get some rest. Marin and I can handle the next part, but we’ll need you for—”

 

“Lux!” Marin’s excited shout rang out across the clearing, followed by the approaching thump of heavy feet. “That was incredible, Lux! The whole field just—”

 

“Marin, please,” I interrupted, waving in the direction of her voice, “my...head. I’ma jus...Is a bit…” I paused as my speech began to slur, and I added a second burst of mana to my recuperation efforts. “I need to rest for a bit. Lia knows what to do next.”

“Oh!” she squeaked, skidding to a halt a few feet away. “Sorry Lux!” she whispered, still far too loud for my comfort. Lia led her away from my resting place in the dirt, leaving me in blissful silence. A minute later, I heard two heavy thumps from the pit in front of me, and while I didn’t dare to open my eyes and confirm, I knew from our planning that the process of packing down the arena floor had begun.

 

I half meditated, half dozed at the side of the pit for the following few hours as Lia and Marin steamrolled the arena floor with the largest of their downed emberwood trees. As I slowly fought past the aches and nausea of my mana withdrawals, I was able to spare a minute amount of energy to watch their progress through Detection. After the dirt had settled and been packed down by a few initial passes by the log rollers, the arena floor sat six feet below ground level, surrounded by a sheer wall of dirt and stone. While our original plans had estimated a near eight foot perimeter, I was still pleased with the results: the sunken battlefield would help dampen the noise of our training, as well as catch any errant spells or attacks that would otherwise endanger the surrounding forest.

 

Marin’s energy reserves depleted rapidly over the course of her arduous afternoon, despite earlier assertions to the contrary. Just as the sun began to disappear behind the trees, I stopped the pair as they passed by my resting place. “Marin, if you’d like to trade places, I think I can—”

 

“Please!” she shouted immediately, throwing her head back to let out a loud groan. “I don’t know how my arms haven’t fallen off at this point. They still might!” After a long stretch, she turned to look up at me and suddenly froze in place, scanning the edge of the arena. “I...uh, I don’t know how to get out.”

 

I slid to the edge of the pit and offered down an arm with a laugh. “I’ll help you out, just this once. You’ll have to find your own way out next time.”

 

She gladly accepted the offer and grabbed my hand with both of hers. Once she was safely raised from the arena and back on solid ground, she began to laugh to herself. “Thanks, Lux,” she said as she carefully lowered herself into a sitting position, then flopped backwards all at once, landing spread-eagle in the dirt.

 

“I thought you didn’t need strength training?” Lia yelled smugly from the pit.

 

“Stop,” Marin moaned. “I’m too tired to think of anything clever to say.”

 

I chuckled as I hopped down and took Marin’s spot beside Lia. My enhancements flared to life, further helping to push away the haze over my brain, and the two of us got to work. Without Marin’s depleted energy holding her back, Lia pushed ahead with renewed vigor, and the two of us raced back and forth across the field in a heated competition to cover the most ground. We finished our final pass around the arena as the sky faded from a vibrant orange to a light pink, and the forest had grown dark by the time we leapt out of the pit.

 

Marin was sound asleep in the same spot she had collapsed in earlier, snoring noisily in the otherwise quiet clearing. Lia managed to scoop her up without waking her, and we began our trip back home. So, what’s the plan now? Lia asked silently. Where do we go from here?

 

I was hoping to run through all the basic magic Marin hasn’t learned yet to see where her baseline is. Healing, Detection, Fire, that sort of stuff. I looked over at Marin’s sleeping face as we walked, still working through my plans. We need to do some combat training, too. I hope she never needs it, but she needs to learn how to fight those monsters.

 

How are we going to do that?

 

I shrugged. I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

 

Lia laughed, and the sudden noise roused Marin. “Oh...hi,” she said, looking up at Lia sleepily. “Are we done training now?”

 

“Just for today,” I answered. “Your real training starts tomorrow.”

 

“Real training?” she whined. “I don’t know if I can handle something more real than today.”

 

“You can handle it,” I reassured her.

 

“I could at least take one day off, right?” she insisted. “I’m going to have to sleep all day tomorrow to recover from today.”

 

“If you’re going to complain, I’m going to drop you in the middle of the forest and leave you there,” Lia teased, stopping to turn off of the main path.

 

Marin’s eyebrows shot up, and she quickly scrunched her eyes closed and pressed her head against Lia’s chest. “Nope. No complaints here. Just sleeping.” Lia and I shared a laugh as we fell back into a momentary silence. “Should I bring my weapons tomorrow?” Marin asked a second later, cracking one eye open to peer over at me.

 

“Yeah. Bring everything,” I answered.

 

“Even the gauntlets?”

 

“Especially the gauntlets,” I nodded. “It’s time to teach you how to use them.”

 

---

 

“You can’t do this!” Marin protested loudly, pointed an accusing finger at my chest. “You can’t keep tricking me like this!”

 

I rolled my eyes. “Marin, sit down,” I instructed, pointing to the dirt floor of the arena. “If you want to learn how to use magic, you’re going to learn it the way I want to teach you.” We stared at each other quietly for a long moment. “You don’t even have to learn what each of the symbols mean at this point.”

 

She squinted at me. “You’re not just saying that, right? This isn’t going to end up being some ‘training’ session where I end up writing each of those symbols a hundred times each?”

 

“No, but it can, if you’d rather do that than listen to me,” I shot back.

 

She stuck her tongue out at me as she plopped down into the dirt. “Alright. Teach me your symbols.”

 

“They’re runes,” I corrected as I sat down across from her, placing my sword across my lap.

 

“Same thing,” she muttered, waving me off.

 

I raised an eyebrow at her, and she sarcastically clapped a hand over her mouth. “So, these are Alderean runes,” I repeated, tilting the inscribed face of my blade towards her. “Each one of them represents a specific word.” My finger ran down the length of the sword along the column of large runes, pausing as I named each one. “These ones are the enhancements you’ve already learned how to use: Agility, Windstep, Sharpening, Combat Acceleration, and so on.” I shifted my finger to the shorter column of small runes. “These, on the other hand, are sort of...concepts. Lesser, Greater, Channeled, Self, Sustained.”

 

Marin’s brow furrowed. “Why do you need those? What do they do?”

 

“We don’t need them much anymore,” I admitted. “The system of magic I learned in Alderea was very static. If you wanted to increase your agility a small amount, you would use Lesser Agility. If you were fighting for your life, you’d want to use Greater Agility to boost it as much as possible. It’s a pretty easy system to understand, and it’s how I was originally taught to use magic. Naturally, when I started to experiment with new types of magic, I thought the same rules had to apply.”

 

“But wait,” Marin interrupted, “I’ve never used those extra words, and I still use magic just fine, right? Why would you even need—”

 

“Marin, I promise I’m almost there,” I said, holding up a hand. She sat back with a sigh and nodded for me to continue. “The first time I attempted to make fire with magic, I just wrote the rune for fire on my sword and activated it. It worked, but it also set my entire sword on fire, which partially set my hand on fire.” I paused to let the image sink in, which seemed effective; she sat up straighter and pursed her lips as she watched me with unblinking attention. “At the time, I thought the only solution was to add a modifying rune: Blade. When I tried it again, the magic did exactly what I wanted it to do; it created fire only on the blade of my sword.

 

“However, you know that’s not the only way to do magic,” I continued, nodding to Lia. “When she taught you how to use enhancements, she just taught you the spells without any modifying words. When you needed to increase your abilities further, you just focused harder, and the spell did what you wanted. You don’t need those modifying words at all.”

 

“So…” she trailed off, tapping her pointer fingers together hesitantly, “why are you teaching me about them?”

 

“I’m teaching you about them because I need you to understand why it’s so important to focus when you’re using magic,” I answered. “If you don’t know exactly what you’re trying to do, or you’re distracted in the middle of a fight, you should never try to use magic you aren’t comfortable with. You could hurt yourself, or someone else.”

 

“Okay, I understand,” she said quietly. “I’m sorry that I kept interrupting you.”

 

“That’s okay. I know magic seems exciting, but it’s also dangerous. We just want you to be safe,” I smiled.

 

Marin hopped to her feet with a sudden burst of energy. “So, now that I know that, can I try to use fire magic?”

 

I rolled my eyes as I dismissed my sword and stood up next to her. “There’s one more thing I need to show you.” Her excited bouncing stopped as she watched me pull the silver needle from my bandolier and hold it out towards her. “Those modifying words might not be useful for our combat magic, but they can still do amazing things.”

 

She plucked the needle from my outstretched hand and held it with cautious reverence. “I...don’t know what this is.”

 

“Look at the decoration on the metal,” I said, grinning. “Look closely.”

 

She closed one eye and held the implement up to the light for inspection. “What am I looking...wait…” she muttered, bringing the silver closer to her eye. “Are those...runes? Are those ALL runes?”

 

I nodded. “Hundreds of them. After a few decades of trial and error, I strung together enough runes to make it work without any concentration; you just stick it in one of these orbs, press the button, and it works automatically. If you have enough mana, anyways. It’s not nearly as efficient as using magic yourself, but it has its uses.”

 

Marin marveled over the needle, spinning it back and forth to inspect the tiny symbols carved along the stem. After a moment of quiet inspection, she handed it back to me. “So, now that you’ve taught me about that, can I learn how to use fire magic?” she asked again, leaning towards me with wide eyes. “Please? I promise I’ll be careful! Really careful!”

 

I let out a strange noise mixed somewhere between a groan and a laugh as I looked over to Lia. “What do you think?”

 

“I’m just surprised she sat through that whole explanation,” she grinned, watching Marin out of the corner of her eye.

 

“Hey!” Marin exclaimed. “That’s not nice! I pay attention to things I find interesting. Maybe I don’t pay as much attention to your lessons because they’re—”

 

“You know what, Lux? I’ve changed my mind,” Lia said with a huff. “I don’t think she’s ready.”

 

“You can’t do that!” Marin shouted. “She can’t do that, right, Lux?” She lunged towards me and tugged on my arm. “You’ll still teach me, right?”

 

After a comically overblown sigh, I gave her a pat on the shoulder. “Get your sword.”

 

She threw her arms into the air as she leapt off the ground in celebration. “Thank you! Thank you, Lux!” When her celebration was finished, she hurried to the small blanket she had spread out to hold her gauntlets and both training swords, returning a moment later with the sword I had bought for Lia during our brief stay in Atsal. “Okay, I’m ready!” she chirped, twirling the blade excitedly at her hip.

 

“You have to promise to stay focused, Marin,” Lia said, her voice slow and cautious. “You could get hurt if you—”

 

“I promise, I promise!” Marin complained, waving her off. “Let’s go!”

 

I eyed her suspiciously for a moment, then nodded. “Okay. Start by tapping into your mana reserves. Let the energy flow up through your body, down your arm, and out through your fingers into the sword. Let it circulate through the metal like it was an extension of your body.” I pulled my own sword from the ether and followed along with my own instructions. “At the same time, picture a fire in your mind: Feel the heat, listen to it crackle, watch the colors dance. You need to understand exactly what you want to make for the mana to activate correctly.”

 

A red gleam ran across the sky blue metal of my sword, and I held it out in front of me as bright flames danced along the blade, stopping at the crossguard. “The most important thing is to stay focused. You want to activate the mana in your blade, but not the grip. The first few times you do it, it’ll probably help to invoke ‘Fire, Blade’, just to make sure you—”

 

“Fire,” Marin murmured, watching the edge of her thin blade intently. A moment passed in stressful silence before the air began to shimmer around her weapon, and tiny orange flames flickered to life across the metal. She let out a relieved breath as the light danced in her wide eyes. “I did it,” she whispered. After a few seconds of admiring the flaming weapon, she pulled her arm back and flourished the blade, laughing in delight as the fire hissed against the passing air. “Lia, I did it!” she yelled, proudly turning to address her teacher. “I can even—”

 

The bright orange flames suddenly flared to life, rushing along the length of the sword to the handle as Marin attempted to spin the blade a second time. It fell from her hand as she yelped in pain and jumped away. I winced as a sympathetic ache stabbed at my own hand, remembering too well my first attempt at fire magic in the Yorian dungeon. Lia leapt forward immediately and reached out for Marin’s injured hand. “Let me see,” she said softly, patting her on the arm.

 

Marin fell forward against Lia’s shoulder and cried against her chest. “I-I’m sorry,” she sobbed, twitching away as Lia’s fingers brushed over her injuries. “I thought I could—ow! I-I thought I could do...better than that.”

 

“It’s okay,” Lia cooed, rubbing Marin’s shoulders. These burns are pretty bad, she said silently in my head. Can you heal them?

 

We’re here to train, right? Seems like a perfect opportunity for you to practice your healing magic.

 

I don’t think now is the time; I’ve never actually done it before.

 

You healed Miles that night on the road.

 

No, WE healed Miles. I just used your memories to figure out how to do it. I’m not sure I could do it on my own. She continued to whisper comforting words into Marin’s ear as she looked up at me with concern.

 

Lia, after all the incredible things you’ve done, you think healing magic is the thing that’s going to stump you. I gave her an encouraging smile. Take a deep breath, focus, and do it.

 

She bit her lip as she looked over Marin’s burned hand again, then took a deep breath and hardened her face. A moment later, the telltale green light of healing magic sparkled across Marin’s scorched palm, and the blisters began to fade away. The relief was plain to see on her face, and after a few moments of channeling, the skin of her palm had returned to its normal pale bronze. “Oohhh,” she sighed, rubbing the newly healed skin, “that’s...wow. Thank you.”

 

“Of course,” Lia smiled, clearly satisfied with herself.

 

“Now you know the consequences,” I said, stepping towards them. “It’s not a feeling you’ll forget anytime soon. Trust me, I know.” I held my gloved hand out towards her and flexed my fingers. “It’ll help you focus in the future.”

 

“I’m gonna try it again,” she answered, searching for her dropped sword. “I know I can do it.”

 

“Woah there,” I chuckled, catching her by the shoulder. “I appreciate the enthusiasm, but we have a lot more to do this morning than just fire magic. You’ll have plenty of time to practice later.”

 

“You’re going to teach me more magic?” she asked, perking up excitedly.

 

“Something like that. How much has Lia taught you about Detection?”

 

“Oh, I know all about that,” she replied confidently. Her eyes closed, and I felt a thin wave of energy wash over me. “I can tell you how many fingers you’re holding up behind your back. Go on, test me!”

 

“That’s certainly impressive, but it’s not exactly what I’m looking for.” I waited a few seconds as I watched her bright pink mana flow around the arena, creating a circle around her about ten feet in diameter. “How far away can you see? Can you see the edge of the arena, over there?”

 

She cracked open one eye to see where I was pointing. “What? No. That’s too far away.”

 

“Can you walk around while you’re using it.”

 

Her lips pursed. “I don’t know. I haven’t tried that before.”

 

“Can you use it while you’re fighting?”

 

“If I’ve never used it while I’m walking, what makes you think I could use it while I’m fighting?” she asked, clearly annoyed.

 

“Do you want to find out?” I grinned.

 

“If it’ll make you stop asking so many questions, yes, I do!” she yelled. She jogged over to her blanket and retrieved the heavy gauntlets, sliding each one on with reverence.

 

“Lia, can I borrow your sword?” I asked as Marin prepared herself. “This should only take a minute.”

 

She eyed me suspiciously. “Sure...I guess.” She drew the paired swords from her belt and effortlessly fused them together before holding out the greatsword in both hands. I placed a hand over the grip of the sword and channeled my mana through the blade, and after a moment’s meditation, pulled away a nearly exact copy of my bastard sword. I summoned my blade to my free hand and inspected the two side by side, then nodded happily.

 

“Alright, Marin, time to show me what you’ve got!” I crowed, flipping the weapons into a reverse grip. “Keep that Detection up for as long as you can.” I pressed the point of each sword into the ground in front of me and leaned forward into an awkward ready stance.

 

“What are you doing, Lux?” Marin laughed as she took her place opposite me. “You look ridiculous.” We stood in silence as she waited for an answer. When it was clear I didn’t plan to give one, she shrugged. “Fine, mess around if you want to. Just because I’m not great at Detection yet doesn’t mean you can just—”

 

I balled my legs up beneath me and sprang forward all at once, driving both swords down at her chest from above my head like two scythe-like appendages. The attack caught her entirely by surprise, and I pulled back on the blows at the last second to avoid doing her any serious harm. The blunted weapons caught her in the shoulders and knocked her backwards, and she skidded away with a hiss. “Ow!” she yelled as I hopped away. She growled under her breath and raised her fists to a ready position in front of her, then chanted out her basic suite of combat enhancements.

 

Her eyes bounced up and down rapidly as she examined my odd, hunched over stance, scanning for either some shred of familiarity with the style or a clear opening in my guard. After a few moments of analysis, she dashed forward with a raised fist, but spun around me at the last possible moment, putting as much distance between her and my blades. As soon as she left my line of sight, I leaned heavily against my swords and kicked back at her with both feet, catching her off guard for a second time. My kicks landed center mass and sent her spinning backwards with a gasp, and I used the momentum to flip over my swords like a pole vaulter, righting myself midair to land facing her in my crouched, bestial stance.

 

“Dammit, Lux!” she coughed as she picked herself up out of the dirt. “I don’t understand what you’re—” Her complaint was cut short as I launched into an unrelenting series of quick cuts that pushed her on the back foot. My assault was a mixture of rising slashes, wide horizontal sweeps, and downward stabs, each coming from an alternating blade as I used the other to propel myself forward. Her dodges and parries became slower and more unsure with each strike, culminating in one final mistake: a weak attempt to redirect my rising slash allowed my sword to catch her in the armpit, and I followed up with a sweeping blow to her opposite side. Despite my best efforts to pull my strikes, I could tell by the way she clutched her side that I had cracked at least one of her ribs.

 

I dropped my swords and immediately halted my advance as she staggered away from me. “Alright; no more,” I called out. “Lia, more healing practice for you.”

 

Marin glared at me the entire time Lia looked over her injuries, healing both the fractured rib and the multiple deep bruises forming across her chest. That was...disconcerting to watch, Lia told me quietly.

 

I can’t say it felt great, either, I replied, rolling the fresh ache out of my shoulders, but it’s necessary. Marin needs to experience...whatever that fighting style is, before it’s a life or death situation. Besides, our fight with that thing only lasted thirty seconds. I thought that maybe, if we trained like that for a bit, we could figure out more of the ways it could fight, and more importantly, ways to counter it.

 

I’m not fighting like that, she said flatly.

 

You don’t have to. Primes willing, Val will clean up whatever mess Virram made at Shadowmine, and we’ll never have to see one of those things again. I could feel the discomfort at the thought of the monster on the edge of her aura. I know it’s not pleasant to think about what happened, but we need to be prepared to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

 

You’re right. I guess, she replied with a heavy sigh. She brushed a patch of dirt from Marin’s coat and gave her a nod. “You’re all fixed up again.”

 

“Thank you Lia,” she answered. As soon as Lia had stepped away, Marin charged toward me. “What was that all about?” she yelled, startling me with her sudden wrath. “What was I supposed to do against that? How was that fair?”

 

I frowned. “Fair? What do you mean?”

 

“Neither of you have ever trained me to fight like that before!” she yelled back. “How was I supposed to know what to do?”

 

“Marin, there are thousands of fighting styles out there,” I answered calmly. “It’d be impossible to learn even the basics of all of them. You have to learn to be adaptable instead; learn the style while you’re fighting it, and find a way to win.”

 

She huffed. “You’re not going to win that easily again,” she barked, bouncing back and forth on her heels.

 

I shook my head. “Later. We’ve got more important things to worry about now.”

 

“What, there’s more?”

 

“Oh, no, I’m just hungry is all. It’s time for lunch,” I laughed. “When we’re finished, you can come back here and train with Lia on anything you want. You’ve got plenty of options to choose from after this morning, right?”

 

“And what are you going to be working on?” she asked as the three of us began our trip back home. “No, wait, let me guess; you’re working on your forge, aren’t you?”

 

“Indeed I am,” I grinned. “It’s finally time to put it through its paces and see if I remember what I’m doing.”

 

“Boy, you’re really obsessed with that thing, aren’t you?” she laughed, punching my shoulder.

 

Lia interceded before I could respond. “Don’t be mean, Marin. Personally, I think it’s kind of cute.”

 

I turned to glare at her. “Yes, thank you, ladies,” I glowered, feeling the heat rising in my cheeks. They both laughed at my embarrassment, and we continued the rest of our trip in relative silence. Once we arrived at the house, we indulged in a lunch of stewed bihorn that Hana had sent along with Marin. The break was brief, but largely fulfilling, and we soon found ourselves back on the deck under an early afternoon sun.

 

“Marin, you go on ahead of me to the practice ring; I need to talk to Lux about something,” Lia said as we stepped down into the grass. “I’ll just be a minute. Make sure you figure out what you want to work on before I get there.”

 

“I already told you, I want to work on fire magic again!” Marin called back over her shoulder as she walked into the woods. “Don’t take too long!”

 

We both stood quietly in the yard until Marin disappeared from sight behind the trees. “So,” I asked, peering down at her, “you need to talk to me about something?”

 

“Yeah,” she nodded, looking straight ahead. “But not right now. I was thinking, maybe Marin and I could finish our training early, and we could talk tonight.”

 

My stomach flipped and began to weave itself into a tight bed of knots as adrenaline began to course through my veins. “Is something wrong, Lia?”

 

“What? No!” she answered, waving her hands back and forth quickly. “It’s just something I was thinking about. Or, something I’ve been thinking about. That I wanted to talk to you...about.” She pursed her lips tightly and scrunched up her face. “Sorry, it’s really nothing. I didn’t mean to make such a big deal about it. There’s nothing wrong, I promise.”

 

Despite her reassurances, I could feel the anxiety tingling in the tips of my fingers. “Uh, okay. That sounds fine.”

 

Silence crept into the clearing as we stood together, avoiding each other’s eyes. “So, what are you going to make in the forge today?” she asked nonchalantly.

 

“Oh. I’m not sure,” I chuckled, scratching the back of my head. “I’ll just be testing things, mostly. I’ve probably forgotten a lot of the things I learned back in Alderea; if I can even get my stamp right, I’ll consider it a success.”

 

“Your stamp?

 

“My blacksmith’s stamp,” I nodded. “It’s like your signature. A quality blacksmith stamps everything that comes out of their forge, so people can identify their work.” I grabbed a stick from the lawn and began to sketch a circle in the dirt at our feet. “Ashedown made me practice his stamp a thousand times by hand before I was allowed to take on any of his real commissions,” I babbled, my mind caught somewhere between nostalgic and flustered. “He didn’t tell me until after the fact that he had a little engraved ring that he used to make his stamp; apparently, he hadn’t engraved it by hand for years.”

 

We both stared down at the picture I had drawn in the dust: three concentric circles, the smallest of which housed a drawing of a blacksmith’s hammer engraved with the letter A. “Huh. That’s...neat,” Lia said, fiddling with her hands behind her back. The oppressive silence returned all at once, and I shifted my weight awkwardly from one foot to the other back and forth. “I should probably go after Marin now,” she said eventually, taking a small step forward. “She might burn the forest down if I take too long.”

 

“Right,” I chuckled. “Well...good luck with that.”

 

“Thanks,” she nodded. “You too.” She made it three steps towards the forest before she paused, spun on her heels, and dashed back to plant a kiss on my cheek. “Thanks,” she said again, her face a dark shade of red. Before I had a chance to reply, she ran off into the woods, leaving me alone in the clearing. I stood and watched her go with my brow furrowed in confusion.

 

As the adrenaline began to filter out of my bloodstream, my anxiety was slowly replaced with excitement. With a clearer head, it was easy to see that Lia’s uncharacteristically awkward demeanor was due to nerves, and not because she was upset. I thought back to my conversation on the road with Layne about my Union offering, and the similarly secretive discussion Lia and Lyn had held beside us. Could that be it? The last words Lyn had whispered played out again in my ears: Primes know we could do with a bit of good news.

 

I walked to the forge with a dumb grin on my face and began the process of building a fire. My mind wandered as I stacked the wood autonomously, carrying out the process I had done a thousand times before. Maybe tonight’s the night. I summoned my sword and held it up to my eye, examining the golden band around the pommel. I’m ready. Fire sprung up from the furnace as I invoked the rune on my ring, and the emberwood began to crackle and char, filling the air with a pleasant, smoky aroma.

 

I sent a quick pulse of mana out around me to watch Lia and Marin train while I waited for the wood to burn down to coals. My Detection found the two in the center of our training field, sitting comfortably across from one another in meditation. Lia’s eyebrow twitched as Marin began to talk, and after a quick reprimand, the pair returned to their quiet introspection. I laughed as I watched the scenario unfold, impressed by both Lia’s resolve as a teacher and Marin’s persistent need to talk.

 

Just before I pulled the energy back, a second set of mana signatures appeared on the opposite edge of the field. A familiar carriage marked with the Three Barrels insignia was rumbling down the winding forest path towards the Corells’ residence at a dangerously fast pace. Elise and Bella sat side by side at the back of the wagon, clearly in the middle of a serious conversation judging by their dour expressions. While the scene alone was enough to alert me that something was wrong, Elise’s coat was the final detail that set off the alarm klaxons in my head; the usually flawless jacket was stained with two long streaks and a messy handprint across her chest.


Leaving the furnace burning behind me, I sprinted inside to find my armor. Lia, come home and get your kit ready, I messaged her urgently. Something’s wrong.

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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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