Chapter 9

“Did you find anything Aunt?” Isabella and the others had already started eating by the time Paige and Tyler arrived back at the camp.

“We found a few wolves, but those are not good eating. Luckily, it smells like you found something delicious though.”

“Deer! Guess what, Mister Nick is a really good cook.” Exclaimed Isabella, nibbling the meat on her plate. “He even found some wild herbs in the area too.” She got up and twirled, showing off her new outfit. “And Mister Nick even gave me a cape and badge.”

“Huh, that’s nice of you Nick. What happened?” Paige asked suspiciously.

“Nothing. We need to do something about her hair though.” Nick said as he easily deflected her question.

“Ah, I was thinking about that too. I have some tea leaves; we can drink some tea and then start to dye her hair.”

“Tea leaves? Can that actually dye hair?” Isabella wondered; looking at her platinum hair.

“Yup, it’s an easy fix. Coffee will work too, but neither will last long.”

“What about the mana in her hair?” Zenith asked. Isabella wondered why she looked so sad.

“We’ll color it each morning if it fades. It’s not like it costs us anything besides a bit more ingredients.”

“Aunt, Aunt! Guess what we are about to do!” she said mysteriously. It didn’t take long for Paige to figure out what was different with the camp.

“We were waiting for you to come back. I found a mana core, so we can test little Isabella’s affinities.” Zenith remarked.

“Have you tested the core out yet? How reliable is it?” Paige asked as she inspected the magic circle Zenith had drawn.

“The mana core will resonate to indicate how strong her mana is, and the magic circle I’ve drawn around it will help identify any affinities she has with.”

“Isabella, what are you hoping it will show?” Paige questioned her. “Has Zenith taught you about affinities yet?”

“She has a little, mainly about hair colors and how they relate to mana.”

Paige looked over toward Zenith. “Ah, well that is one part of mana.” Zenith blushed.

“I was going to go more in depth before I started. Go get something to eat and we can teach her about it together.”

As Paige and Tyler sat down to eat, Zenith brought Isabella to the circle. “So, this is a magic circle. The main thing you need to know is always be wary of magic circles, especially if you did not see how it was constructed.” She pointed at one of the many symbols she had drawn earlier. “For instance, look at the one that looks like a squiggle with a diamond around it.” Everyone stopped and stared at her; causing her to blush fiercely. “It’s what it looks like!”

“You mean the ancient symbol of Earth?” Isabella looked at Zenith weirdly. “You said you were a teacher, right?”

“How am I supposed to know what your old mentor taught you! You barely knew the differences between spells and skills, and yet you know how to interpret ancient symbols?”

“Of course. The palace is littered with magic circles, so my teacher taught me some of the basic symbols so that I would understand what would happen if I stepped on one.”

“You think magic circles are that common? They are not something anyone can just put together.” Zenith chided Isabella lightly. “Even the Mage Guild only has a few magic circle formations around the guild buildings.”

“But I’ve seen Paige set them up. She even taught me some for pranks.”

“Pranks? Who would waste a mana core on something as trivial as that? Besides, how could a Warrior like Paige set up a magic circle?”

“Aunt Paige, back me up! Tell them you can do it!” Isabella turned to her aunt, knowing full well she could indeed do the same as Zenith. Nick and Zenith turned in disbelief.

“Hey now, I may be a Warrior, but I do know how to set up magic circles. Even Tyler can do it.” Paige said dryly. “The Vanguard Class is like the Battle Mage Class, except with an emphasis on Warrior instead of Mage skills.”

“Really?” This was the first Zenith had heard about how to get the Vanguard Class. Usually, the prerequisites needed for any individual class was a national secret.

“Paige…” Tyler looked askance at Paige.

She hesitated. “You might have glossed over it during the party creation ceremony but do remember there was an [Oath of Silence] that was applied to our party. It is … a complicated skill. Basically, any secret said in our Party will stay in our Party. You may have noticed it in little ways.”

“My Ranger pendant for instance,” Nick responded. “That is one of the greatest secrets of the Ranger Organization.” He realized he had told Zenith and Isabella about how they worked.

“The oath is a form of trust for the party members. We can’t even use what we know once we leave the party. If you ever tried to share or use the knowledge outside of the party, you’ll subconsciously forget the conversation even happened.”

“Then can you share your history with us?” Nick asked succinctly.

“Perhaps another day,” Paige responded. “Now, back to magic circles. I can set them up, but only small ones. You might be thinking of the Interlocking magic circles. That is way outside of my expertise, but I do know some basic ones.” Isabella watched as Paige closed her eyes for a second. ‘I thought it was so magical how Aunt Paige did it; Zenith created her magic circle differently.’

A small circle of white mana appeared around Paige, and she slowly formed them to create a row of symbols. “Engrave”. Isabella watched as her aunt’s mana dispersed and left a copy of it burned in the ground. ‘Haha, Miss Zenith’s eyes look like they are about to fall out. Mister Tyler and Mister Nick’s eyes shared the same look. Is it that uncommon?’ She thought silently. ‘Maybe I do need to reevaluate my aunt’s skills.’

“That that that…” Zenith kept repeating to herself.

“Looks familiar? It’s [Mana Overload]. Typically, only a high-class Mage would know this skill,” Paige responded, filling in her sentence.

“Mana Overload? I thought you said Warriors couldn’t have Mage skills.” Isabella questioned to Zenith. She had stated pretty heavily that warrior and mage skills were quite different.

“She can’t! That’s impossible! The Warrior Class can’t take both physical and magical properties! Your body should be unable to tolerate high levels of mana.”

“Not impossible. Improbable. And you are right; I don’t keep a lot of mana in my core; mainly so I don’t get mana poisoning.” Paige shrugged. “A friend taught me this Skill.”

“Your friend can teach high-level Mage skills to non-mages?” Zenith’s head started to spin. “Is that even possible?”

“You really know a lot of different people, huh Aunt?” Isabella said, her eyes shining with joy. ‘Maybe Aunt Paige can stop the Imperial family from taking me!’

“A few here and there. Although using magic circles for pranks was kind of a waste of a mana core. I’m glad you had fun though.”

“Argh, back to the symbols Isabella.” Zenith decided it was a waste of time to evaluate Paige’s skill. “You must be wary of magic circles since the different symbols could interact weirdly. There is a whole school of thought dedicated to uncovering new combinations of symbols.” Zenith pointed at the circle she had drawn, “Memorize these combinations of symbols. This is an advanced affinity circle; usually, only specialty schools or guilds would have one of these and would hide them from view. Be wary of these, since they may uncover more than you would like others to know. But you should always know what a basic affinity circle looks like,” pointing at the smallest circle she had drawn, “as every school or large city will have one.”

“Now, hurry and step into the circle, and grasp the mana core.” Zenith pushed the girl into the circle. “Just be careful not to mess with the symbols! We’ll test your class affinity first. Go ahead and use a skill.”

“Any Skill? Should I use my main class skill or my subclass skill?” Isabella looked toward Paige, who answered her. “Either. Your mana won’t change affinities just because you are using a different skill.”

She thought of the only Princess Skill she had. She said quietly in her mind, ‘[Royal Bearing].’ She watched as the air around her grew stale, as the mana in the air and from her core rushed toward the symbols that had started to shine. Zenith and the others gathered to watch the symbols glow. Zenith commented about what was happening to the confused Isabella. “When you are standing in a magic circle, the symbols will activate instead of any skills or spells; once enough mana has been detected to activate the symbols. Otherwise, it will just stay inactive.”

“My guess is her class is leaning toward a magic based skill set. Physical oriented skills would be an odd choice for a Princess.” Paige said, waiting for the mana to stabilize in the symbols.

“Says the person who knows advanced mage skills as a Warrior,” Zenith remarked dryly.

Isabella focused on the symbols that her mana was gathering toward. They had bypassed the smaller circle and were heading toward the larger circle beyond. She darted a glance at Zenith, who quickly her what was happening. “The advanced magic circle will tell us which way your class characteristics are leaning. The basic circle will tell us which elements your mana is aligned to.” Her mana quickly separated into three different streams; one heading toward the mana core in her hand, and the others going toward the different circles. The core in her hand flashed with a brilliant light and the symbols on the ground started going out one by one.

“Okay, let’s see…It looks like your class is purifying your mana; meaning you will be able to hold more mana than a typical warrior could. This is a good indicator that you have a greater potential as a mage than a warrior.” Zenith said after studying the mana core in Isabella’s hand. ‘Cool, maybe I can learn lots of different spells like Miss Zenith then,’ Isabella thought to herself.

“And the other symbols?” Isabella asked. She knew a few of the symbols that were still glowing, but not all of them.

“Hmm…that one there is greater affinity toward healing…and that one is lower affinity to light…huh? A lower affinity toward darkness too? That’s strange.” Zenith mumbled. “Rare, but not too uncommon. Usually, you’d see something like fire and water affinities mix.”

“You can step out of the circle Isabella,” Zenith called out. Isabella quickly stepped out of the circle; the mana in the symbols abruptly fading away. “Is anyone else going to try?” Isabella asked, hoping to see what affinities everyone else had.

“The mana stone and circle won’t be able to handle our mana,” Paige responded, dashing Isabella’s hopes. “As you get older, the amount and density of your mana core change. I suspect that mana stone like that can only handle so much mana before it explodes.”

Paige looked toward Zenith for confirmation but still asked, “It’s your mana stone, do you want us to try it? I’m fairly certain it will shatter though.” Paige looked at the magic circle as well. “The circle will probably break as well since we didn’t really use any materials. The symbols would have to be engraved with mithril, or maybe gold before it would be able to handle our mana.”

“Nah, I mainly drew it to test Isabella’s affinities. It’s hard to teach someone if you don’t know what their strong points are.”

“Can you tell me what your specialties are at least?” Isabella asked, hoping someone here could teach her some spells that aligned with her own affinities.

“Mine are greater flame, lesser steel,” Tyler responded. ‘Steel?’ Isabella thought, but Tyler was still eating and didn’t say anything else.

“Mine are greater nature, lesser wind,” Nick responded. “This is partially why I can hide in a forest so well.”

“My affinities are lesser wind, lesser healing. So, I can teach you some spells,” Zenith remarked a little sadly.

“Not greater wind? I thought you were a Wind Magi?” Isabella said confusedly.

“I made up with hard work and diligence. Even geniuses can fall behind if they lack the proper work ethic.” Zenith said, her tone hard.

Nick answered Isabella’s question from the side, “Don’t judge someone by their affinities. Schools will usually place more emphasis on those with greater affinities. I’d be surprised if she had an easy time in school, especially if she went to a specialty school.”

Isabella looked Zenith in the eye; easy since they were about the same height. She noticed that she had a sad look in them. “Even my family looked down on me because of it.” Zenith said as she looked away from Isabella.

‘I’ll apologize later,’ Isabella said quietly to herself. “What about you, Aunt? What affinities do you have?”

“I’m not the best person to ask about affinities,” she responded. Isabella was skeptical; with all the secrets her aunt had so far, it would not surprise her if her aunt had a greater affinity toward all the elements.

“I don’t have any affinities.” She said lightly. Zenith turned toward Paige in shock.

“None at all?” Her voice matched her expression.

“Nope. My mana is completely empty of all the elements.” She turned toward Isabella to explain. “The reason Nick told you Zenith was most likely bullied in school is related to this.” She drew a few lines on the dirt in front of her. “A person with greater affinity can easily turn their mana into that affinity. Let’s say for each mana they use in a spell, they can create two or three wind mana out of it, but only one mana or less for any other type of element.”

Zenith walked over and picked up where Paige stopped. “The problem with lesser affinity is that the conversion is higher. For each mana I use, I can create one wind mana; even lesser for other types of elemental spells.” She held her hand in front of Isabella; her mana quickly changing from a misty white to a pale green color. “If I tried to create fire, it would take more mana to create, hold, or use. As a Mage, this means that I am basically limited to either wind or healing for my spells. This is the reason why my hair is pale green instead of bright green, because my affinity is mixed.”

She looked over at Paige. “Greater, lesser, adept, normal, none. Paige can’t use any elemental spells; even elemental skills might be out of her reach.” She looked inquisitively at Paige, remembering that her mana was a golden color, instead of the white it was now.

“I have a few elemental skills, but my class used to make up for my lack of affinities. Class skills seem to bypass the affinity restriction to some degree. It’s better than nothing at least.”

Isabella looked toward Zenith and pleaded with her. “Could you teach me some healing spells? Or, really anything? I’ll settle for some basic spells.”

Zenith hesitated. “Well, usually you need permission from your parents to take a teacher, but…” Zenith looked toward Paige, “Is it alright for me to be her magic teacher?”

“Sure, I’ll approve it since her mother isn’t here. Make sure you listen to Miss Zenith.” Paige warned Isabella, “Taking on a teacher is a big responsibility since you will be representing Miss Zenith to some degree.”

“I’ll listen!” Isabella went over and hugged Zenith and quietly said to her, “I’m sorry about asking about your affinities. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“It’s fine, I should have gotten over it by now,” she hugged the young girl back. She sighed but gave a tight hug, “Some things just hurt longer than others. Hopefully, you’ll learn that someday later, rather than sooner.”

Releasing her hug, Zenith decided to go ahead and start teaching Isabella and elected to take the first watch. “Isabella and I will take the first shift. It’s still pretty sunny out, but I can dye our hair during our shift; you guys get some rest.”

“You’re going to dye your hair too?” Isabella said. “Why?”

“To blend in. Plus I also want to see if it works better than the Alchemist’s brews I bought. I swear I’ll hunt them down for a refund if this works better than their stuff.”

“Have you asked Paige how you should use your Knight subclass?” Zenith suddenly asked Isabella. After they dyed their hair in the black tea, they had talked long into the night about the spells; and she had even shown her a few examples of healing type spells. They looked like siblings now, and even talked like siblings as well; during this time, they got to know more about each other, and Isabella started talking to her more comfortable; like she was her older sister instead of a mentor or a stranger.

“Not yet, I’ve tried my new skills though. I don’t notice anything different, so I must be doing something wrong.” She was slightly disheartened at her failure. Surely the skills had to do something remarkable or do something in general.

“Don’t feel too bad. Some skills present themselves in surprising ways. Maybe it’s just not the right situation yet Isabella.” Zenith wondered if this is what siblings were supposed to talk like. Barring the age difference, they had the same personalities; which made it easier for them to get along. ‘I don’t think I’ve had a civil conversation with my siblings since I’ve left for school. Or at least not since before my affinity was revealed to be lesser wind. Clearing her throat, Zenith continued on, “For now, I’m experimenting on my own too see what my new skills can do too. Hopefully, the knight subclass will do more than that.”

“What are subclasses supposed to do? Are they really that helpful? You were originally hoping for a party fusion instead.”

“Certainly. There are certain drawbacks when you decide whether you will be a mage or a warrior, especially for our bodies. As a Mage, my physical strength will be weak, but my mana capacity will be large. And vice versa for Warriors. Now, our stamina and overall health will be the same, since our classes will help our bodies stay in shape. If you were a Farmer or Merchant, it might be different; but for battle-classes, this is almost always the case. A party fusion would have been nice, but the benefits would disappear as soon as the party was disbanded.”

She adjusted her position so that she was back to back with Isabella. “A subclass circumvents this issue. Some of the best-known heroes had subclasses for instance. The increase in strength is probably less for Nick and Tyler since they are basically physical battle-classes; but for our classes, it is a good boon.” She smiled. “All things considering, this isn’t a bad party.”

“Have you been in a bad party before?” Isabella asked sleepily.

“I’ve been in a few. I’ve never been in a formal party like this though. It is a nice change though. Not having to be wary against your own party members. Hopefully, you won’t have to deal with this when you go to school.”

“If I go to school. I might not even get a chance; no one has really told me what happens to Princesses once they join the Imperial family.”

“…” Zenith had nothing to say about that.

“…what does happen Zenith? Will it be all right?” Isabella grabbed her hand tightly. She noticed it felt cold. “I really don’t want to leave my family.” She could feel her shaking slightly.

“…It will be alright Isabella. Paige promised, and I’ll promise too. It will be alright.” Zenith comforted her quietly.

“What does happen. Please tell me. Please.”

“…sigh. I haven’t seen anyone from the Imperial Family before, but their reputation precedes them. Most of the Princesses are passed between the Imperial Scions, in the hope that one will birth a hero. In other words, a concubine. If you can birth a hero, you can become an Imperial Consort for a Scion and maybe fall in love, but otherwise, it’s a loveless, hopeless life.”

She noticed that Isabella was shocked silent. “At least, that’s what I’ve heard anyways. The rumors could be wrong. But your parents did take a great risk in hiding you; I know the Imperial Family deals harsh punishments for those who break their rules. You can tell they really do love you, Isabella.”

“I know. I used to get mad my mom and dad because they never let me go outside the castle. Aunt Paige was one of the few people outside of the castle that I talked to. She told me it was for my own good as well, so I eventually got over it. She told me a secret though.” Zenith noted that Isabella hesitated for a long time. She finally whispered quietly. “I think she was a Princess as well. Or someone from the Imperial Family. She said she could relate to my situation and would try her best so it wouldn’t happen to me.”
Zenith responded quietly back “It wouldn’t surprise me, not with her main class. But why she’s out in the borderlands instead of the mainland is surprising. Just take comfort she is your Aunt, Isabella. That will have more bearing on what will happen than anything we can do.”

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