Chapter 47.2

“Mother! My new friends are coming over! My Party Members! This is so exciting! I’ve never had friends over before!” Isabella practically glowed with excitement. No, she was actually glowing, Stella realized after a moment. She had known that feelings could invoke a mana response but she’d never seen a person with light affinity do that before; not that many Demons even had an affinity towards light mana. Still, that would definitely not be good for combat situations.

“Now, now Isabella. Relax. Breath. They are not your party members yet. A lot of people have to approve of it before it is official.” Stella chuckled as Isabella ran around the house cleaning things up. She was even cleaning up her bedroom in her haste to make things presentable.

Isabella stopped mid-stride, staring at her mother fearfully. “But you said they would be! I don’t want to lose my new friends and party!”

“They will be your party members. Luna is already taking care of that situation for you and she’s already petitioning the Queen and the Headmistress to allow it. Even they have no way of changing it, not unless they want to kill that girl outright. Honestly, why did that mage even say the word formally? Has she never been taught about party creation before? That is basically the only rule most people remember.”

“They, they won’t kill her, right? Will it be my fault if th-“

“No, Isabella. Let I and Luna worry about that. It was an accident on that girl’s part. It seems like her mentor had no intentions of actually having the girl have other party members. Otherwise, who would forget to mention the rules behind party creation.” Looking out the window, Stella calculated the time based upon the courtyard tree’s shadow. “You should probably go outside and wait for our guests. Remember to -“

“Stay inside the formation. Yes, mother. I promise I won’t get taken away.”

“You won’t if you listen. Remember to deactivate the wards before they walk in, and discreetly too. No need to inform the spies that we have the means to protect ourselves.” Her eyes narrowed as looked outside, knowing full well that someone had the gall to plant Watchers around their house. In a different time, Stella would have made sure they all disappeared before the sun rose, but not now. She had no real recourse to do so, and she knew any discrepancies would only make things worse. ‘I’ll give them some space. But the moment they start snooping over the courtyard walls is the moment they die,’ she promised herself quietly. They had far too many secrets hidden about the house.

Watching as Isabella went outside, Stella quietly lamented to herself that Isabella was growing up. “Stella, come on. I need help hiding the weapons.” Shavie came out of the shadow, whispering quietly. “We have far too many things around here that are dangerous for kids. Should I change the wards in the safe room?”

“No, Shavie. You’re almost as bad as Isabella. Honestly, it’s just her new party members coming over for dinner! What can go wrong?”

“But they are kids, Stella. Assassins fear only a few things, Stella, especially when we can’t kill them without serious repercussions. Kids almost always have protectors in the shadows, or are doted on by some monster or is a great, great, great apprentice of someone who has laid low for a few hundred years and has finally accepted an apprentice for the first time. More Assassins and Organizations have been decimated solely from killing a child at the wrong time, and I for one do not want to be next. Then add in the fact that kids are usually fearless, adventurous, meddlesome, problematic, curious, little people mean that things can go wrong. Fast. “

Stella thought about that for a minute and had to give Shavie some leeway, that did sound like a problem for an Assassin. But she still had to fix something Shavie had said. “Isabella wasn’t a problem when she was young though. In fact, I remember her being the perfect baby and toddler.”

“Exception, not a rule. could get her to calm down with a bottle and a bit of rocking. Do you think that is typical?” Shavie said dubiously, her brows rising in disbelief. “And a perfect toddler? She nearly activated the wards almost sixty times when she was learning to walk. Almost tripped the failsafe around our equipment eight times; used an attack amulet as a teething ring, used Luna’s Nightwalker clothes to play dress-up, my curse mannequin as a makeshift doll; dest-“

“And it all was an accident, Shavie. Although, I didn’t realize you and Luna hid that much from me when the two of you watched her.” Shavie sputtered nervously as Stella stared hard at her. The air around Stella was quickly distorting as the mana reacted to her emotions. Even Stella’s braided hair was starting to unravel as the mana started moving rapidly.

“It was Luna’s idea! I swear!” Shavie said resolutely. ‘I’ll make it up to you, Luna! You deal with your twin!’

“Hmph. Both of you will get it. Deep breath, deep breath,” Stella glared menacingly. Sighing heavily, she looked at Shavie irately. “Change the safe room wards. Hide anything even remotely dangerous.”

Before Shavie left, Stella just had to ask. “Are multiple kids really that hard to handle?”

“Oh, Stella. Just wait and see. I can practically guarantee something will happen today.”

“Where are they? They should be here by now!? Did something bad happen to them?” Isabella paced the courtyard front steps nervously. So many things could go wrong, she thought to herself. What if her Aunt couldn’t stop the Queen and that head Cleric? Would they really kill her new party members?

That thought alone terrified her to no end. Things were finally starting to look up, and now everyone besides her family was trying to put an end to it. Her mind was so caught up in her thoughts that she almost missed her new party members walking up to her. “Isabella! Why are you pacing about so much? Are you okay?”

“Ah! Miss Lily! You’re alive!” Isabella cried happily as she turned to greet them. Nothing terrible had happened yet! 

A boy and a girl were standing in front of the courtyard gate as she turned. The girl’s bright green hair was tied in a simple braid, her head cocked slightly to the side as she looked at something. Her outfit was a little weird, Isabella realized. It was almost like a mix between a shopkeepers apron and a Farmer’s overall. Her white undershirt and weirdly cut blue overalls struck a striking contrast. Isabella blinked. ‘Is that what people wear in the countryside?’ Turning to the boy, Isabella realized that she had seen him before. “Ah!, I’ve seen you before!” His brown hair and grey eyes were very noticeable, and he was almost always at the training fields practicing. In fact, he was still dressed in the school’s practice garments. The brown shirt and pants hid the stains well enough, but as she looked, Isabella could spot a few places where he had not brushed off the dirt from his clothes. The wooden shield on his back was a little strange though. It was smaller than the one he usually was using at the practice grounds. 

“Silly girl, are you trying to jinx me or something?” Lily asked with a slight frown. “I mean, I don’t think I’ve done anything dangerous lately?”

“Going down a random corridor is not your idea of dangerous? You should’ve gotten me, Lily. I wanted to have an adventure too, you know.”

“Yes, yes, Tyler. Next adventure, I promise to come and grab you. Happy? Isabella, this gate is weird. It feels kinda dangerous?” Lily dropped to a whisper, and Isabella had to lean forward to hear what she was saying.

“Ack! Sorry. The wards are still activated. One second.” Isabella remembered the wards were still active and quickly moved forward to deactivate them. Opening the gate, Isabella couldn’t help but ask. “Umm? How did you know there were wards?”

Isabella focused on restarting the wards discreetly as Lily started talking behind her. “It feels kinda like the entrance to the library. You might not know, but the Library has some impressive wards surrounding them. If you spend enough time in them, you’ll start to notice when they are active and when they are not. The surrounding mana feels funny when a magic formation is active.” As Isabella glanced backward, she realized that both Lily and Tyler weren’t even looking at her, rather they were inspecting the courtyard instead. Flushing with shame, she coughed lightly to indicate she was done. They had more tact and self-control than she ever had, Isabella realized as they turned to face her. 

“You’re not gonna ask about the magic circle?”

“Hm? Nope. My mother says it’s rude to pry into other people’s secrets,” Lily shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. Tyler coughed politely and added, “our mentors would work us to death if they heard we were playing around with magic circles without supervision.”

“Good mentors you have. They obviously know what they are supposed to teach,” a voice sounded out behind them. 

“Auntie!” Isabella cried in surprise as Lily and Tyler jumped forward and shielded Isabella. She was amazed at how fast Tyler was able to pull the shield off his back and solidly plant himself in a stance. Lily held her hand out and pulled out a well-polished stick from her clothes, pointing her wand behind her as she shielded Isabella between Tyler and herself.

Her Aunt Luna stepped out of the shadow of the tree, her eyes hard. Isabella blinked at the sight. Was something wrong? She usually didn’t have that kind of look on her face. Her expressions must have alerted her Aunt though, seeing as her face softened after a slight moment. “Good teamwork there. Although, why did you point your wand backward?”

Lily hesitated as she looked between Isabella and the stranger in front of her. “My mentor says I should watch our rear and trust my party to stop anything coming from the front. There is a good chance that any surprise in the field could be a distraction.” Isabella saw Lily stare at the shadows of the courtyard wall and realized what her aunt had probably done. [Shadow Steps]. But, how did Lily know where her aunt probably was before she appeared? Was she missing something? Isabella noticed that her aunt was watching Lily suspiciously as well. Though she only nodded her head after a moment.

“…good. You even had the mind to push Isabella behind the defender. Solid teamwork you have there.”

“Aunt Luna, these are my new party members!” Isabella cried happily, running around Tyler to give her aunt a hug. Looking up with a hopeful look, she hoped that her aunt would get the message and stop testing her new friends. She wanted to make a good impression, and her aunt’s behavior was definitely not helping make a good impression! Her Aunt Luna gave her a helpless look and patted her head forcefully. “Aunt, how are they? Good right? You always said that my party had to be really good!”

“They are exceptional, Little Isabella. I can see why the Queen and the Head School Teacher are hesitant to kill her.”

“Hahaha, you shouldn’t joke like that, Auntie! She’s just joking,” Isabella laughed nervously. not looking anyone in the eyes. Shaking her head, she quickly flicked her platinum hair to her back before dragging Lily and Tyler forward to the house and away from the courtyard. “Welcome to my house! My mother and my other aunt are inside. Come on, I’ll show you around!”

Luna sighed as she watched the children leave, her long black hair floating gently with the passing breeze. “…I wasn’t joking Isabella.”

“I’m so sorry about my aunt! I promise she is really nice. Usually.” Isabella said after closing the door.

Lily could tell that Isabella was flustered. Honestly speaking, even Lily herself was starting to feel flustered. “Your family is weird. But that’s okay. I’ve known weirder people before,” Lily laughed nervously. ‘Did I actually do something wrong?’ she thought to herself. Even Tyler was frowning at what Isabella and her aunt had said before. What was so special about a Cleric? Granted, she’d never seen an Apprentice Cleric before, but everyone had to start as an Apprentice. Right? Playing absentmindedly with her bangs, Lily caught herself and shook the thoughts out of her head. Whatever. Her Mentor always said if the sky was falling, they could protect them from danger. If they could tame an Elder Boar, then surely they could do something about her situation right now.

As Tyler and Lily took off their shoes and placed their equipment down by the entrance, Lily noticed that the interior of the house was…very nice. The furniture and decorations were obviously of a higher quality than she’d thought possible if she was judging by the state of the courtyard. Rosewood entrance chairs, ironbark door wood panels, glass panels with textured paper inserts. Even the floor was hard, polished wood instead of typical floor carpets and smooth, stone floors. In contrast, the courtyard only had a single crabapple tree, and from the looks of it had definitely passed its fruit-bearing period. Still, she supposed it would produce a modest amount of shade for the courtyard, but little else. Most families lined the entrance of the courtyard with at least six plum trees, mainly for aesthetics and to increase the ambiance of the home. Even Miss Paige had planted a few different varieties of trees in their little settlement in the woods. “Your mother has good taste in furniture, Isabella.” Lily nodded in approval of the decor. Her mother would most certainly be impressed as well. “I didn’t know you could get rosewood chairs. That seems expensive.”

“Eh? I suppose? I like it since it smells nice. I could ask my Aunt Shavie if she could get you a pair?” 

“No, no. I can’t afford chairs like that. I’ll stick to my regular, padded chair. Your house is really cozy, Isabella.”

“Thank you! Mother, my new friends are here!” Isabella beamed happily, running into the interior of the home.

Watching as she ran off, Lily turned to Tyler, who was already frowning at everything that had happened so far. “We need to contact our Mentors, Lily. I think you are in a whole lot of trouble.”

Lily scoffed. “You think? All I did was invite her to my party!? I don’t know why are they making such a big deal out of it. It’s not like she can’t leave whenever she wants to. I’m sure that Mentor said she had left a few parties before when she was in school.” She raised her foot to stomp on the ground but thought better of it after seeing the nice, polished wood.

“Did you notice those people on the other side of the road? They were watching us from the corner of their eyes, Lily. That, and a magic circle guarding the courtyard doesn’t paint a pretty picture. We should probably start wearing our full adventurer gear from now on, even inside the school.” She hadn’t been paying attention to the surroundings, but if Tyler said so, then it must be true.

“She seemed so lonely though. She was the only one inside that classroom, Tyler. If I didn’t know better, I would almost say they were keeping her as a prisoner instead of a student. But, for a school to do that…” Lily bit her lip lightly. She knew deep down that something had led her down that hallway. Could it have been the girl’s aunt? Although she appeared in front of them, she could swear she felt something behind her initially. It hadn’t felt quite the same as when Miss Paige appeared out of thin air, but she knew it had to be some type of Skill. Maybe a Spell could do the same thing? Though, why would the girl’s family have done that?

She startled as Tyler reached over and held her hand tightly. “Lily. Isabella’s aunt specifically said ‘Queen and Headteacher’. That means Mister Kenton knows about this. We could try asking him about what is going on. Don’t worry, I’ll protect you, Lily.”

“…Mm.” She held his hand for a moment before letting and called out to the house, “Isabella? Where are you?” 

“It’s quite rude to leave your guests, Isabella. Miss Lily, Mister Tyler, Welcome to our humble abode. Come along, make yourselves comfortable. This is the first time we had guests here, so just let me know if you need anything, snacks or otherwise. Isabella, why not take them to the secondary living room and relax there?” Her mother said lightly to her new friends. Isabella was starting to feel sick with worry at how her family was acting. She had gone straight to her mother and aunt and specifically warned them not to be so weird. Nothing was going well so far! She didn’t want her new friends to hate her right from the start! “This is my mom. She is the Alchemist over at her shop, Stellar Works, at the south end of town. And you met my other aunt, Aunt Luna. She’s the Head Librarian of Nespe’s Library. And this is my other, other aunt; Aunt Shavie. She’s a professional bodyguard.”

“Wow! Besides your hair color, Isabella, I can see where you got your talent and looks from.” Lily and Tyler had wide eyes as she introduced her family. “Your whole family seems really gifted!” Isabella beamed at the compliment. Truly, her mother knew how to handle guests best.

Her mother laughed. “Such a flatterer you are, young miss. We have a lot to talk about later over dinner, but go on and have fun for now. Isabella, you and the mage can help me make dinner later, and the warrior can churn the butter for us.”

“Mkay, mommy. I’ll come to the kitchen when it’s about dinner time. Come this way! I’ll show you around the house!” Dragging Lily away, she failed to notice how Lily’s eyes tracked her mother, nor how Tyler was standing between her Aunt Shavie and Lily.

“Not the entire house, Isabella. Don’t go into the back storage rooms. I put all my alchemy supplies back there, so it’s still quite dangerous to play around.”

“Yes, mother!”

“And that is my house!” Isabella beamed happily as Lily and Tyler sat down exhausted. 

Lily looked up wearily. “Isabella, no offense, but your house is…”

“Amazing? Cool? Wonderful? Small? Boring? -” Isabella listed out adjectives helpfully.

Lily stopped to make sure Isabella wasn’t playing any tricks on her. The house itself was wonderful, and her mother and family were okay but deeper in the house, the mana… it felt off somehow. Even the shadows felt weird to Lily. And even Tyler looked uncomfortable and he could hardly sense ambient mana! Still, the hopeful gleam in Isabella’s eyes made it hard to tell the truth. “It’s umm, it’s wonderful overall. But it is a little stuffy. Say, Isabella, you wouldn’t happen to have [Mana Sense], would you?”

Isabella looked around and whispered. “Umm, are we supposed to share what skills and spells we have in a party? My mother said never to tell anyone what my status has on it.”

“Well, I suppose you don’t have to. Anyway, the surrounding mana in the house is really, really dark and uncomfortable. Don’t you feel it?” Lily asked with some concern.

Isabella stopped and closed her eyes. “It feels normal, I think?”

“Then what about that shadow. It’s way darker than it should be,” Tyler asked as he pointed to the table right under the window. Lily saw that Isabella didn’t think anything was abnormal about that.

“It, it looks normal?” Isabella said uncertainly.

Lily closed her mouth and stopped to think. If she didn’t see anything normal, then… “Do you have an affinity toward darkness, Isabella? Does your whole family? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. But mana is naturally attracted to places of power. If your whole family has an affinity toward darkness, then it could explain why it feels so uncomfortable to Tyler and me,” Lily added after seeing Isabella squirm uncomfortably.

Isabella’s eyes widened as Lily explained. “I, I do. Is there something I can do to help?”

“Would your mother mind if I used wind magic? If I can replace some of the dark mana with wind mana, it would help us acclimate better. I don’t feel very good when there is no moving air around me, for instance.”

“I am okay with that, little miss. Although, next time just let me know and I can gather the ambient mana before you arrive. I was wondering why you two seemed so ill at ease after walking in.” Her mother said as she walked in with a plate of food and refreshments. Waving her hand, they watched as the shadows quickly lightened around the room, the air of oppression slowly fading away. “There. That should do for a while. Here is something for the three of you to munch on. Isabella, they are your new party members, so you should get to know them better. Our rules don’t normally apply to a Formal Party such as this.”

“Formal Party? What’s that?” Lily asked, her eyes focused on the food. But that term had stuck out to her. Most of her teachers had complained about something similar as well. 

Isabella’s mother stilled noticeably. “Ah, it’s a special type of Party. You really don’t know what that is?” Seeing both kids shake their heads, Stella realized why they didn’t know how much trouble they were in. “That explains some things. Well, I’ll explain over dinner tonight. Go have fun!”

Waving goodbye, Lily could hardly wait until Miss Stella had left before she started laughing excitedly! “Tyler! Did you see that! Her mother grabbed the ambient mana! She grabbed it! I have to learn that from her! How much control do I need before I can do that!?”

“Lily, how about we survive whatever we got into first?” Tyler sighed as Lily already started to imagine being stronger than she seemed.

“Umm, is Miss Lily okay?” Isabella asked with concern as Lily started mimicking her mother’s motions.

“Just Lily. And you can call me just Tyler. She’s fine. Lily has always daydreamed about being a powerful Mage.”

Seeing Lily playing pretend and Isabella staring, Tyler couldn’t help but ask, “…do you have a deck of cards?”

 ——–

So Isabella’s mother wasn’t as scary as Lily first thought. It must have been the dark mana influencing her, as she had originally felt really, really nice, but also very dangerous. Like, angry-mentor level dangerous. But now that she had helped cook and was spending time eating dinner with Isabella’s family, it kinda felt like when her grandparents came over and spoiled her. Like, a mix of friendly and happy. Like they were all really good friends. Isabella’s mother especially.

“So wait, you’re telling me that I am in trouble because I said ‘formally invite’ when I asked Isabella to join our Party? That is so stupid!” Lily exclaimed. Truth be told, she thought it had something to do with Isabella being a Cleric more than the wording of her invitation. “I mean, that’s how I was taught!”

Miss Stella shook her head, a mix of disbelief and uncertainty in her eyes. “And shame to your Mentor for teaching you wrong. A formal invitation is very, very stringent in terms of sacrifice. Usually, only High-Class Adventurers will issue formal invitations to Apprentices since the downsides to them are very minimal. But for the whole party to be Apprentices, what did it cost the three of you for the invitation? You especially, Lily.”

Heart warmed by the worry, it took her a second before she realized she had been asked a question. “Cost? And why me?” Lily asked bewildered. Miss Paige had definitely not said anything about this when she taught her how to create a Party. The only part that she could remember was that Party Leaders get more benefits than Party Members, which is why she insisted on being the Leader. That, and not adding anyone to the Party she wasn’t sure about. 

“Did your mana decrease? Did your affinity mutate? Were your Skills or Spells locked? Surely something happened to you? You are only an Apprentice and a Mage Class, after all.” Miss Stella pushed insistently.

Lily thought hard about it. What had happened during that time? “…It got harder for me to sense mana, but only a bit. And my mana did decrease a bit as well. But I was assured that it was all temporary. It got better after a few weeks.”

“Your mana decreased because part of it was going to Tyler instead. His core has a lot more mana than I would expect. But if you are the Party Leader, that makes sense that one benefit of your Party is increased mana capacity. It took a few weeks for your mana to stabilize and reach equilibrium again. If you were a High-Class, it wouldn’t have taken so long for your mana core to equalize.”

“Okay, so my party members get benefits. What do I get?” Lily was miffed that her teacher had neglected to tell her this. Would it have been so hard, or was there another reason?

Miss Stella answered this time. “Hmmm. It really varies based upon the class and your own power level. Most formal parties are usually formed to either maximize a team’s natural advantage or to boost the Party Leader. Since all of you are Apprentices, my best guess is you can use a few spells that Isabella knows. Skills too, maybe? But now that you have another Mage Class in the Party, you should notice something different. Is your Status any different?”

“I don’t know. My mentor says I shouldn’t look at my status so often since you never know who may be looking,” Lily said.

“You can show us. We’ll help you understand the changes.” Isabella’s mother smiled gently at her.

Lily blinked. Something felt wrong, Lily realized. But what was wrong? Miss Stella blinked at her in bewilderment. “Is something wrong, Lily?”

Lily looked around the room. No, nothing felt wrong. Tyler was eating his food while talking with Miss Luna and Isabella was talking with her Aunt Shavie. But still, something felt…off. Something that Lily couldn’t quite place, “Umm, no. I think I must have a headache. What were you saying, Miss Stella?”

“Can you show us your status? I may not be an expert, but I can tell you if anything looks off.”

“No, I -, I, I guess I could.” Lily stammered slightly. “I, Lily Thompson, reveal my spells and skills. [[Status]].” A slight tug on her mana was the only thing she felt beside her headache.

Lily Thompson
[Mana Sense], [Mana Sensitivity], [Airflow Control: Low]
[[Gust]], [[Air Hammer]], [[Summer Breeze]], [[Downdraft]], [[Wind Chain]], [[Whispering Wind]]

“You know a lot for being just an Apprentice. Your mentor must really be good. Tell me, what is your mentor’s name? Do you know of her past?”

“It’s Miss Zenith Brent. She graduated from a rather prestigious academy in Appe-,” Lily shut her mouth with an audible click. Something was wrong! Lily could tell now that Isabella’s mom wasn’t looking at her. She could feel sweat forming on her head, and her mana core was emptier than usual. ‘Is it a spell or a skill? Mentor said something about mana depletion when resisting mental attacks. Is it intentional?’ No one else was paying attention to their conversation though, she realized. 

“Zenith huh? How many girls named Zenith can there be in Appealte?” Miss Stella frowned for reasons unknown.

“It’s the fifth most common name in Appealte. Just like how Tyler is the fourth most common name in Alcudia. Tyler was named after the Royal Vanguard, right?” Lily said with not a moment of thought.

“Hm? Oh, I was. My mother was a big fan of his work ethic among other things. Are you alright, Lily?” Tyler broke off of his conversation with Miss Luna when he noticed Lily was sweating.

“Lily used her mana to show us her Status. So she’s feeling a little off, right now.” Isabella’s mom smiled warmly.

“Thank you for the meal, but we really have to go now Tyler,” Lily said in a rush. It had to be a Skill! Why was she explaining things to Isabella’s mother otherwise? She knew herself well enough to know that she wasn’t normally this helpful to people she’d just met.

“Hmm? Okay, le-“

“Stay awhile, Mister Tyler. It would be quite rude not to, after all.” Miss Luna said quietly.

“We can stay a bit longer, Lily. We only met them today, after all.”

Lily knew immediately that Miss Luna and Miss Stella had some type of mental skill, and was using it on them. She looked around fearfully at the adults. She didn’t have to be an adult to know this was a bad situation for her and Tyler to be in, especially without any help. But something in the room snapped as Isabella spoke up. Lily could feel that the mana in the room dispersing away. “…mommy, Lily said she wanted to go back to her dorm.” Turning, Lily was stunned to see Isabella’s eyes watering up. Did she notice something was happening as well? Isabella’s mother and aunt looked over to her, frowning.

“…Auntie Shavie will let you out of the courtyard. Sorry, Lily. I, I’ll…I’ll see you guys at school. Tomorrow?”

“…yeah. We’ll see you at school. Tomorrow. Let’s go, Tyler.” Lily backed away slowly, holding onto Tyler and keeping her eyes on Isabella. She hadn’t known what her parents were doing. Right?

Silence. Deathly silence. That was what the dining room developed into as Isabella sat there. She might be a child, but even she knew what fear looked like. Lily had been staring at her family in fear. Her new friends, and more importantly now, her new Party, was looking at her family like they were some kind of monsters.

“It’s not all bad, Isabella. Your mom and aunt are just worried about you. The Skills they used don’t harm a person, it just makes them a little more friendly and approachable. Honestly, that girl overreacted. Merchants do things like that all the time,” her Aunt Shavie said nonchalantly as she tried to make the mood in the room better.

“But they are my new friends. Wh, what will happen if they don’t want me in their party anymore?” She could already feel tears falling down her face as she thought about the potential consequences of their first visit to her house. How was she going to survive school when she had no friends and the friends she just made no longer want to be near her.

“I’m sorry, daughter, but I needed to make sure of who they are. I mean, what are the chances they really found your classroom naturally? For all we know, the Imperial Family could have planted them here. That’s why I needed to see who their mentor is. Luna, what did you get out of Tyler?” Stella sighed sorrowfully and shook her head, turning to talk to her sister.

“He has a few mentors who taught him. Both of them were part of the Alcudian Army. One officer, one conscript. Each taught separate disciplines. It makes sense that a conscript would teach only defensive techniques since all they want to do is survive.”

“Her hat floated away,” Isabella mumbled quietly to the room.

“Hm?”

“Lily said her hat stayed in the shadows and floated. I know one person who can do that, and who watches over me constantly. Hic. I, I thought you all wanted to help me! Instead, you made my new Party hate me!” Isabella shouted, dashing away from the dining room table. 

Stella blinked and turned to the side, only to find Shavie missing. “SHAVIE!”

“You don’t have to yell at me, Stella. Before we start pointing fingers, let me remind you that you and Luna used your Skills, not me. And let’s be perfectly clear, you would have done the same to any party that she joined.” Shavie spoke quietly she laid prone on the living room couch. Shavie turned and looked over wryly.

“No, I wouldn’t have blatantly used [Good Friend] on h-“

“You used it on the Queen herself, Stella. Honestly, the only reason you stopped was because that accursed fog started penetrating through the walls.”

Stella and Shavie stared hard at each other, but without any real tension. Stella sighed resignedly. Shavie was right, of course; she would have done it regardless had she known or not. “At least tell me why you chose them.”

Shavie turned over to Luna, who was uncharacteristically saying nothing. “I talked it over with your sister, Stella. It’s been three months, and none of us liked the situation Isabella was in. I wasn’t about to let Isabella be a prisoner for her entire childhood, not like how I was. So while you and Luna dealt with Isabella and the Healer’s Hall, I decided to add some variables into the mix.” 

“Sister…” 

“It was the best way to change things up. And I think Shavie chose quite well. It was a risk choosing someone talented enough that the school and the country would protect. Now some things didn’t go as planned. I didn’t think the girl would know how to formally invite someone, even by accident. And I underestimated the resolve of the Healer’s Hall. It’ll be close, you two. They are calling that girl’s mentor in for questioning.”

Standing up, Luna patted Stella before going to sit by Shavie. “Go and comfort your daughter, Stella. I’ll brainstorm with Shavie on how we can fix this mess.”

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