Chapter 47.1

Three months. That’s how long Isabella had been staring at the chalkboard in front of her. And she was sick of it. The sun was shining brightly through the window to her left, the wood grain of the desk shining brightly from the lacquer that was applied to it. Or it was a magic desk. Honestly, she couldn’t tell which one she’d rather it be. 

But it would not be a lie to say that she was not unhappy. Even her teacher in front of her could tell that. Isabella winced as she heard her teacher speaking concernedly. “You will have a test on this, Miss Isabella. It would behoove you to listen well to this lecture. Or if you really want to zone out, keep your head off the table and don’t drool.”

Isabella blinked and realized the chalkboard was sideways. She was wondering why the words looked funny. She blushed as the last part registered in her brain and quickly sat straight. Checking the desk, she realized it was drool-free. “Very funny, Miss Elena. I’ll try to drool less than I already am.” She quickly plopped her head back down onto the cool table.

She turned her head as she heard her teacher sigh. It wasn’t her teacher’s fault that she was stuck in this room, but  Isabella’s mood was infectious, or so she was told. Honestly, the only reason she even put up with staying in the school was because of the sunlight. The fog blocked out a good portion of the sky in the city, or so she thought. It was only here in the school that the sky was so…blue. But even the blue sky could only improve her mood slightly after three months of seeing the same scenery. Well, that and the fact that they would come and get her if she tried to skip class. “The Healer Hall and the Royal Family decided this together. The school had no part in this.”

“Your right. The school only decided I couldn’t be in a Party. Since I was an Apprentice Cleric.” Isabella mumbled quietly. Both she and her teacher had gone through this argument before. Even her mother and aunts couldn’t change this arrangement, to Isabella’s horror, although her Aunt Shavie said she would keep an eye on her so that she didn’t mysteriously disappear. She hadn’t believed her Aunt before now, but she could now tell that even though they hadn’t moved much, the so-called protectors of the classroom were keeping an eye on her at all times. They even shifted their positions in response to the movements she made, something that she had seen her mother and aunts and uncle only do when they were around strangers or the guards. 

“You just need to get through this lesson, and then we will be done for the day. I know it is boring but this is important for all Clerics to know. Back to the discussion of the gods…” Isabella groaned after the teacher said that. She already knew what she was going to say, as every lesson started the same way. “the gods are dead, and we know absolutely nothing about them, except that they matter for anything Clerics can do,” Isabella drolled on, completing the sentence for her teacher.

Teacher Elena frowned at her statement. “Not entirely true. The Healer Hall and the Imperial Family supposedly have some records of the gods, which is why they know how to create magic circles. Now, while I can’t teach you anything about the gods, I can tell you what I know about magic circles and magic in general. Only the Headmistress is allowed to see those records, and only at the Imperial Healer Hall. Now, remember that Clerics have no real battle skills, but we are an important factor for any battle. Barring poultices and alchemic potions, Clerical healing spells are the best way to heal someone back to their peak health. Isabella, please recite the main Clerical spells back to me.”

“[[Healing Touch]], [[Healing Light]], [[Holy Light]]… umm, [[Neutralization]] and finally [[Dispel]],” Isabella repeated boredly after watching a few clouds pass by the window.

“You mean [[Affliction Resistance]]. Only Alchemists and the like can remove poisons and other such afflictions at a moderately high rate.” 

Isabella nodded but inwardly she was doubtful. She knew she had heard of those skills from somewhere. By all accounts, they seemed to be a real Skill, and she had the faintest feeling that she could learn them whenever she wanted to. Were they Alchemy Skills instead? Maybe her mother told her about them when she was younger.

She stared blankly ahead as her teacher sighed and continued on with her lecture plan. At least today it involved actual practice, Isabella realized as Miss Elena pulled out her wand from a hidden pocket in her sleeve. That would make today a little more bearable, though not by much. “Now, get your wand from your bag and we will practice. You should strive to keep your wand within reach of all time. You never know when you will need it at a moment’s notice.

“Mmm.” Isabella reached over to her bag and felt around for her stick, or wand as her teacher liked to call it. Pulling it out, she still felt bitter about her wand after seeing it again. It was a short stick, not even polished or anything, and it still had most of its leaves at the end. You could even tell where it was just yanked off from the tree. Truthfully, she felt that they were just cheapskates who gave her a half-finished present just to say they tried. Her mother knew a lot of plants, and if she didn’t recognize what tree it was from, then it must not have been a very special tree.

“Can’t we leave this room, Miss Elena? It’s not like anyone else is using this floor, and all the classrooms are empty.” Isabella trailed off as she looked at the door. A faint circle could be seen etched in the frame if the sun shone just right. Apparently, even the doors were designed to keep Isabella contained in this single room. Someone was controlling it, Isabella realized early on, since it only opened once the class was done and not a moment before.

“No. This is a special classroom designed specifically for you. The whole corridor is littered with magic circles designed to keep people away. So for now, we will practice inside this classroom. Don’t worry, I and the other Guardians will ensure nothing goes wrong with your spellcasting.” Her teacher smiled back, a little forced. Isabella froze and sighed. So much for seeing people. She knew the school had a training ground for mages to practice at, as she passed it every day and could feel the mana moving toward that location. 

“Let’s practice healing once again. Now, the basis of healing…” How did Miss Elena make learning magic so boring? Even in her dreams, learning magic was always fun, mysterious, and a little scary. Reality was boring, Isabella realized sadly. Lecture, practice, lecture, practice. She watched as her teacher quietly chanted to herself, and a light appeared at the end of her wand. “So you can see, if you use your mana wisely, you can create an outward sign of healing. This is all based upon using the correct amount of mana at the correct time. Too early and your healing will be lackluster; too late or not enough and you will not heal at all. Thus, [[Heal-“

“Thus, [[Healing]] is all about intent, Isabella. Well, all magic is about intent, I suppose, but definitely more so for Healing.” A girl with green hair looked at her and flicked her on the forehead. Looking around, Isabella couldn’t see her classroom at all. In fact, she was sitting in a forest, complete with a campfire. Looking down, she could tell her outfit was meant for the outdoors. Even her cloak and boots were the color of the forest! Boots! She’d never actually worn boots before, not that you’d need it in the city.

The Apprentice Mage in front of her continued talking, flicking her forehead every once in a while, to make sure she was paying attention. “If you don’t even know what you want to do, how could expect to use your mana? To fix a wound, you have to see a wound. In the same vein, no pun intended, if you don’t know something is wrong, how can you heal it? That is why most people who can afford supplies will take antidotes and potions after each battle, just in case they were poisoned or hurt and they cannot feel it due to the battle high. Then they could at least check themselves after and make sure they are okay. Only truly wealthy or important people could afford using [[Healing]], [[Neutralize]] or [[Dispel]] on themselves after a battle, and that is assuming you were close enough to a Healer’s Hall and you weren’t about to die to begin with.” The girl in front of her looked to the sky proudly. Pulling a dagger from her robes, the Apprentice Mage in front of her lightly cut her own hand and showed it to her. “Not to brag, but being able to heal out in the field gave me a lot of opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have had. Anyways, we are focusing on healing right now, so go ahead and calm your mind and focus on what you want your mana to do. Then you can go ahead and hea-

“Isabella, pay attention! Practice is important so don’t stand there idly,” Miss Elena warned sternly.

Blinking, she realized that her teacher was waiting for her to demonstrate what she had just learned. She was still a little shaken from her dream. “Was it just a dream, or something else? Should I tell mother about them?” She took a deep breath and focused. No, her family already had a lot of things to deal with ever since she became an Apprentice Cleric. She didn’t want to burden them even more than she already had, especially with something as nonsensical as dreams.

Still, she hadn’t been led astray by her dreams yet. At least, not intentionally. And it seemed like her dreams were generally helpful too, though it was weird. “Calm my mind….focus. What do I want to do? Well, there is nothing to heal so I can’t practice that. So what does my teacher want to see? … well, she wants to see a light at the end of my stick.”

Opening her eyes, she focused at the end of her stick at the leaves still dangling on the stick. “A light… I want a light!” she thought loudly to herself. Releasing her mana, she could feel the mana slowly flowing to the branch, going from her stomach to her arms, to the tips of her hand. Then it hit resistance. Her wand. She looked at her stick wand with a frown. Was it supposed to do that? Meh. She cast the thought away and pushed more mana to her fingertips, wishing for a light to appear at the end. And there was. As Isabella watched, the leaves of her stick started glowing with a soft, white light; much like her teacher’s wand had. From where she was standing, Isabella knew that both lights looked similar. 

“Good, very good. Now, let’s practice a few more times,” her teacher said as she beamed proudly at her, even though Isabella knew that she couldn’t actually heal anyone or anything with this light. Isabella felt a little bad, knowing that she was just faking it. Her affinity towards Light was very helpful in this situation though. No wonder her mother always said to keep your status a secret.

Still, even practicing would more bearable if she could have some friends to pass the time with. Or party with. That was what she wanted most of all right now. She vowed deep in her heart that she would do almost anything for a Party. Heck, she’d even actually try to be a good Apprentice Cleric if she could have some friends in this place!

That thought had just passed through her mind when the door violently opened, something she had not seen since she had arrived here. More unusual was that her guardians weren’t even worried about it, as they were looking outside the window warily.

As she looked over to the door, an older girl appeared in the doorway; her leg stretched out as though she had kicked the door open. Her face was a mix of confusion and pride; like she hadn’t expected that to actually work but happy that it did. But the girl gave it no mind as she stepped forward into the room. The crystal at the end of her staff gleamed brightly, and the girl’s green hair shone vividly to Isabella and reminded her of the mage in her dream, though the girl in front of her was not the same as the dream girl. In fact, as the light on her own wand faded, Isabella realized that the girl was actually glowing slightly. She stiffened as the older girl looked directly at her and pointed. “I, Apprentice Mage Lily Thompson, hereby formally invite you to join my party! Say you accept, quick!”

‘You have been formally invited to the Party, ‘Cidala’s Heroes’ by Apprentice Mage Lily Thompson. Do you wish to join?’ A voice rang out in her mind, though the mana in the air trembled around her. Something about this was familiar, she realized. “Did I have a dream about this before?” she thought to herself. She could see her teacher and the surrounding adults saying something to her but the only thing on her mind was the invitation. Should she accept it? She looked at the girl, who was smiling brightly. Isabella didn’t have to be an adult to realize that the girl was going to be in a lot of trouble, no matter what she chose. She didn’t think her mother said anything about not joining a party, although they did say she should bring them over to visit beforehand, just to make sure they were a good fit for her. 

But she would only get one chance, Isabella realized quickly. She most certainly would be getting more protectors after this event. She didn’t know what she had to do to accept, but something deep in her heart told her what she had to say; ‘I, Isabella Freal Platz, of the Blessed Apprentice Class, hereby accept the invitation granted by Apprentice Mage Lily Thompson.’ A bright light shone around her as the glow of the mage flew outward and encircled her instead. She could feel something changing, but what? “I accept?” Isabella repeated out loud for the older girl’s benefit, much to the horror of her teacher and the surrounding protectors. 

“You are my new Party Member. Congratulations on joining Cidala’s Heroes, whoever you are!” The girl laughed proudly, though she stopped when she saw the faces of the adults around her.

“You should really put a note on the door or something then. How was I supposed to know not to enter? I mean, who wouldn’t try to open a door when a light is shining underneath mysteriously? That practically screams ‘Open me please!’. Isabella stared confusedly at the sight of the Apprentice Mage, Lily, talking back to her teacher and those grumpy old men. Something had happened that her teachers did not like. Not one bit, though no one would answer her why it was a bad thing.

Even Lily herself was a little perplexed at the situation. For her part, all she had done was ask a person to join her party. Was the girl sick or something? Being the ace student of her class thus far, she had known most of her classmates and the new children who joined, but this girl was a mystery. In fact, it was just a chance meeting. She hadn’t expected her school-issued hat to blow into the hallway and beyond, and she had not known there was even a hallway there to begin with! Only watching her hat float mysteriously down the darkened hallway had piqued her interest.

Lily soon stopped upon entering the hallway when she noticed what were on the walls and floors. Magic circles. Lots of them and all of them glowing. She was about to leave to get Tyler when she noticed that her hat was still floating; directly over the magic circles. She blinked at the sight. Edging close to the circles, Lily was stunned as she realized why her hat could go over it without the magic circles activating. They were all incomplete. Portions of the circles were missing their corresponding symbols. ‘.. the activation symbols are gone? Who would put this much effort into creating magic circles and then not even finish them?’ Lily frowned as she thought about her lessons on magic circles. With the last row of symbols missing, the magic circles wouldn’t activate, even if they were glowing hot with mana.

Well, her mentor always said to look at the beginning to figure out the end, and these circles seemed oddly familiar somehow. Still, with only twenty symbols on it, it would be hard to figure out, and she knew it would only be a matter of time to figure it out. The first symbol was faint, but she could see it if she squinted really hard, thus cluing her in on the symbol. ‘Bague, God of the Unseen. Wait, isn’t this the combination for [[Concealment]]?’ Lily tilted her head when she realized why it was familiar. Quickly eying the rest of the circles, she realized all of them were the same. It was the most useful adventuring magic circle, according to Miss Paige. ‘…Miss Paige said that it doesn’t have any other uses than hiding, so I should be fine?’, she thought to herself nervously.

Biting her lip, she knew that this chance was probably only going to come once. A magic hallway definitely ranked high up on Miss Paige’s top ten things to be “wary of but excited for”, in her own words. Lily stopped to think. “Rule One of Adventuring. Check the circumstances. A random gust of wind led me into a magic hallway in a school. Is it safe? …yes? Should I walk down alone? Probably not. Traps? None that can be seen. Do you have a reason to go that way? No… yes. My hat. I need my hat. Yeah. I’m just going to get my hat. And any other item that might be here.” 

Following the hallway and her hat, that was when she chanced upon the door and this subsequent issue. So why were these adults mad? She had done exactly what her teachers wanted her to do. “Hey. So, who are you anyway?” Turning away from the flustered adults, she turned to the girl who was just as shocked as she was. Wait. She had seen her before actually. “I’ve seen you in the town before. Your hair is really pretty.”

“Th, thank you,” the girl said quietly. 

“You are in so much trouble! You wait here until the Headmasters arrive. Watch them!” The teacher stormed out of the room, leaving the four men to watch them. Each of them gave Lily the creeps. Not in a good way either. It felt a little like how Miss Paige would watch them during a battle, but…hostile? Or maybe more serious and focused.

“So, umm my name is Lily. Lily Thompson. What’s yours?” She asked, looking carefully at the girl. She was a little weird looking, as none of her equipment matched. Her wand was a stick for goodness sake. But those leaves… wasn’t that the same type of tree she and Tyler were growing? Something to look into later, she supposed, but Miss Paige had said it would take a few years of patience.

“M, my name is Isabella. Isabella Freal Platz. Nice to meet you, Miss Lily.”

“Hm. Nice to meet you. You know, I really did think there was a super powerful artifact. Or you know, a wand of power or something. But you did help me with a problem I was having, so thank you.” Lily nodded gratefully.

“Hm?” The girl tilted her head, her silver hair falling to her side.

“My teachers were complaining that my party was too small and that I had to get at least one more person for my party. All of my classmates… well, they would not make for the best teammates. I really, really don’t want any of them to be in my party. So, thank you. You really saved me from having a few bad years in school.”

Lily laughed as the girl’s eyes went wide. “Well, anyway, welcome to my Party. I’m an Apprentice Wind Mage, and my partner is an Apprentice Vanguard. And you are…”

“…I, I’m an Apprentice Cleric.”

Lily blinked. “Eh?”

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