There was a muted atmosphere in the class, what little of it was left. The students around me could tell something had happened. My parents had wanted me to stay home, but I knew my limits. A week of rest was enough. I wanted to come here.
Others hadn’t had that chance.
The seats where Alexis and his friends sat were empty. Alexis was still in his coma and his friends weren’t much better off. They were drifting in and out of consciousness. Some were being healed by the church and others at the city’s hospital.
“You didn’t have to come in today.” A voice floated into my ear.
William sat down beside me, giving a quick scratch on the neck to Gold. The seat on my other side was empty.
Amanda hadn’t come into school today, and I hadn’t seen her since we’d spoken.
“You heard?” I asked him.
A couple of our classmates looked at the empty seats curiously.
Not everyone had been told about the incident. Those that knew, hadn’t spread the news.
The authorities didn’t want the city panicking after the threat had been dealt with. The church didn’t want others asking questions about me, although some knew of my involvement in stopping the monster.
I’d spoken with the church and the authorities to help with the investigation being conducted.
A good portion of the first few days was spent remembering everything I could and relaying it to them for reviewing. I'd recalled the illusions I'd faced in the mansion, including the illusion of Roxxy, and I'd tried to figure out how my thoughts had been influenced.
That part had been harder.
Pulling apart one decision from another was tough, especially when I'd been in the heat of battle.
Had it been my decision to grab the beads the first time? No, but the second time was more contentious.
I couldn't be sure when Alexis had influenced those thoughts. They all felt like my decisions. It troubled me to be influenced so deeply, to the point where I couldn't where my autonomy started and ended.
I wasn't the one one concerned.
The city was worried that the noble heirs had been influenced as well. Most of the businesses in the city were run by the noble households, and their heirs had some say in their running.
Alexis had been alone with all of them at least once.
The households that had been affected didn’t want anyone to know that their base of power had been cut off at the knees. If their heirs were seen as crippled, or compromised by a third party, then they would lose more than just their reputation. Their businesses and power were at risk.
That would be a messy situation for all involved.
“Everyone that matters knows.” William narrowed his eyes. “It's supposed to be our job to prevent this.”
He was referring to Zodiac, and the other companies.
Each one of them had dedicated their existence to slaying monsters. They had all failed. Some would argue that they had failed every day that the monster had been allowed to grow within the city borders.
Oubliez’s symbol lay in my inventory, too precious to leave at our workplace in Zodiac. My dad was visiting the observatory while I was at school, our etchings of the symbol already complete.
School wasn’t compulsory this week. They were still giving us time to recover. Even if some of the students didn’t know what others were recovering from, they also got time off.
Tomorrow I’d take the day off to visit my grandma, and I wondered what she would feel about the symbol.
I wouldn’t be able to tell her, but it was an interesting thought.
Slaying a monster was no minor feat. If it wasn’t for the questions that would arise from the general population learning that I had beaten it, I would be swamped by gratitude.
People in the know had already shown it, in their own ways.
I brought out a golden letter and tapped it against the table in front of me. William’s eyes strayed towards it.
“Congratulations.” His hand hovered over the letter, and I handed it to him. “The terms aren’t bad. Have they sent a contract yet?”
“The moment I say I’ll join them officially, they will. They don’t want me using their offer to hike up the competition.” A light smile crossed my lips.
Zodiac had been the first company to offer me full time employment as a scriber.
The moniker of monster hunter wasn’t just for show. It was a rite of passage for those companies that dedicated their lives towards the endeavour. A trial of fire that not many encountered, let alone survived.
The upper echelons knew what had happened at the Mitra estate.
They had cleaned up the mess.
The offer basically meant that they would pay me and give me a tin mask if I passed their test. Their reputation was the main reason to accept.
My mood sombered as the seat beside me stayed empty throughout the day.
William and I chatted and worked, but even the students that hadn’t been part of the fiasco were quickly realising something bad had happened.
The week of school had tipped them off.
“Why so glum, chum.” A voice broke out beside me during symbols class. “May I take this seat?”
Waves of blonde hair and a cheerful smile entered my vision. Gold squawked in greeting, and I made room for Roxxy to sit down beside me.
I felt strange looking at her as she laid down her textbook and symbol papers.
The last version of Roxxy I’d seen had been an illusion designed to get information from me and hold out until Alexis arrived.
She seemed happy, but I could see bags under her eyes.
I knew that her dad and brother were still in the hospital.
“You are staring.” Roxxy leaned back and stretched, a yawn crossing her features. “Does Amanda put up with this, or is it just my job?”
I raised my head and gave her a small apologetic smile.
“Sorry, I got lost in my thoughts.”
Roxxy looked at the table and then at the empty seats around us.
“I don’t mind. I’m an attention hog.” She grinned. “What does a girl have to do to raise everyone’s spirits around here?”
“Her symbol homework.” A voice interrupted us.
Roxxy froze as professor Pernacles walked through the door of the classroom. He had a gentle expression on his face despite his words.
“Tell me Miss Shermaine, have you done yours?”
Roxxy bit her lip and lowered her eyes, her hair falling about her. Then she shook her head sheepishly.
I let out a chuckle at her expression.
She had definitely helped to lighten the mood.
The rest of the day passed quickly, and I spent the evening resting. I didn’t train my new spear skill, or any skill.
I would wait another couple of days for that.
The next morning, I woke up and started meditating to calm my mind and thoughts. Gold had been let in early and sat beside me.
My chest moved up and down as I breathed.
Amanda was still safe from rumours. I had kept my ear out for them.
Nobody knew about her involvement, even if word had quickly spread that a large number of students had been hospitalized. Everything was being kept under tight wrap, but that didn’t matter to me at the moment.
A week had passed. I wanted to know how she felt about me.
It was selfish of me to want to hear Amanda’s opinions when she was going through so much, but there was a nagging feeling that gnawed at my mind.
What if she couldn’t accept me?
I’d seen how she’d reacted to Gerial. If she decided to act the same way around me, I don’t know what I’d do.
She was my best friend, alongside Gold.
My thoughts were brushed to the side as I delved deeper into my meditative state. I wasn’t training my skills, but this one did wonders for my tension.
Gold was beside me and I could hear his steady breathing guiding me into a rhythm. He hadn’t taken a break from his regents. He was scratching symbols into twigs that lay across my room.
He was coping in his own way.
He’d be knocked out until the end of the battle. When Amanda had forced Oubliez to remove the illusion, Gold had awoken.
He felt guilty.
His belly moved in and out with each breath. I wondered what he was thinking about.
Probably a new regent. I’d learnt a lot about his powers, and the abilities they provided. He could create regents and activate them. I had always known that, but his regent had protected me against Oubliez’ mind control magic.
Could all shielding regents do that? Or was it just Gold’s?
I couldn’t know the answer to that. The monster’s magic was one of a kind. Even the symbol I had might never be able to replicate the effect completely.
My eyes opened and I looked at him.
I hadn’t spoken to him about the battle yet.
Sometimes it was hard to remember that he was just as much a member of my friend group as anyone else. Closer than most, and my longest lasting friend.
“I never thank you for saving my life. And Amanda’s.” I spoke.
There was no doubt in my mind that Oubliez would have gone after me the moment she had struck down Amanda. Even if she hadn’t, the loss would still have been too much.
Gold looked at me and ruffled his feathers.
The message was clear, ‘no problem’.
It was the humblest he had been all week. He looked into my eyes, and I saw a familiar cockiness within them. Then he preened his chest and flapped his wings.
“Okay, okay.” I laughed. “Here. You deserve it.”
I brought a treat out of my inventory and Gold gobbled it up.
The regent had changed, specks of rock and stone embedded into it without changing the functions.
Oubliez had crippled my offensive abilities by stealing my inventory away from me. I had asked my dad to make two changes to it, the first was to make it only accessible to me.
The second was to add materials I could manipulate so that I could control it when it was far away and bring it back into my hands.
It worked similar to my mask, where only I could manipulate it. Although a strong enough earth magician could overpower my manipulation if they knew what they were looking for.
However, the protections on the regent made that unlikely.
The sound of a knock on my door made me and Gold look up. I could see my dad’s shadow underneath the door frame and called for him to come in.
I was surprised to see him wearing a shirt and tie. His usual work attire was a lot more casual.
“Hey champ.” My dad strode in confidently.
The dirt floor had stopped bothering him years ago.
“Are you ready to go to your grandma’s?”
I placed a palm on the ground and raised myself into the air. Gold flapped his wings and hopped onto my shoulder.
Both of us had someone to visit today.
“Are you coming with us?” I tilted my head at him, curious. “I know, I know you’re too bus-”
“Actually, I think I will.” My dad’s words cut through mine.
I looked at him in surprise and then smiled. I have been trying to convince him to visit Grandma for weeks.
I was glad he had finally come around.
“I hope it wasn’t just the recent events that changed your mind.” I walked up to him and gave him a half hug.
“It was.” He confirmed. “But not the ones you’re thinking of.”
He brushed down his shirt and played with his collar, his fingers digging underneath it and adjusting the tie around his throat.
He looked funny in his extra fancy clothing.
“You finally unlocked a scriber skill, and you even have a job offer. It’s time to start taking your scribing career to the next level.” His voice was low.
“The next step? What’s above a job?” I followed him through the house.
We made our way towards the outside and I said a long goodbye to my mum. We waited patiently for the portal, my dad’s shoe tapping against the ground nervously.
“The job is your livelihood. What we’re going for is reputation and stability.” My dad tapped his chest.
He was wearing his silver pin, symbols flickering in and out of it as the metal inside shimmered and flowed like liquid.
My heartbeat quickened as I heard his words.
“It’ll take time, but we’re going to try and get you ranked as a scriber.” My dad said proudly, his back straightening. “An official scriber, hopefully with a tin pin.”
There was a chime in the air and purple mist began to sweep across my vision into the grass, drops of liquid pooling into the dirt.
“Of course, you need a referral first.” My dad looked towards the portal.
“I thought you would do that part.” I frowned.
There was no rule against family members referring each other to the scriber association. That was my understanding of the situation, although I was far from knowledgeable about these things.
My dad looked down, tucking his shirt into his pants. He was changing his look every few seconds as his nerves overtook him.
“Your grandma wanted to do it. She mentioned it in a letter.”
I stared at him, and my lips pulled apart into a smile.
He had finally read one of her letters.
As I stepped into the portal, I saw my dad freeze. I looked at the corridor in front of me and then back at his body.
How did non-magicians move through the nexus?
My question was soon answered as the walls around me rippled. Tiles and marble congealed around my dad as the nexus itself transformed to move him across its floor.
I followed him closely, wondering if it was possible for him to trip and smack his face while frozen.
Gold was curious as well, poking his long leg against the nexus walls. They jiggled in response to his movements, and he squawked at them.
There was a lot for me to prepare for in the upcoming days, but it was moments like these that gave my heart comfort. My grandma had been putting off our visits, things coming up to block us naturally at every corner.
It would be good to see her again.
I made my way towards the light at the end of the purple corridor.
I stepped outside and my dad was moved next to me, blinking as he continued walking normally.
To him, the teleportation was instantaneous.
I looked in front of me and saw a large gate, two red lion statues staring down at me. My grandma had redecorated slightly, different symbols shimmering on the wall.
I looked to my side and raised an eyebrow at my dad.
He was sweating bullets.
I looked for the gate’s button to enter, but the door opened before I could reach it.
I looked up and walking swiftly across the garden path was an elderly lady with a smile on her face and her arms raised out wide, ready to sweep us into a hug.
“My baby, and my grandbaby.” Her voice cried out. “Come- come- come.”
She waved her hands towards us, and a figure passed by me.
It was my dad.
His first step was hesitant, and then each step grew quicker and quicker until he was in front of my grandma.
Her arms wrapped around him in a wide hug, and I saw her close her eyes, a smile on her face. Her lips parted and her voice caressed our ears.