“You need to decide soon. The situation here is…not ideal, in light of recent developments.”
Isabella sat still and bowed her head, not daring to look at the Protector in front of her. She sat in the classroom, Lily and Tyler noticeably absent for this discussion.
“I’ve already outlined the options for you. Go and seek counsel from your family, but do let them know they will be watched. I don’t quite know what your family were planning to do with all those supplies, but know that you will not be staying here for much longer, even if your family wishes it.”
She didn’t need to look to see that the old man was mad. Very mad. In fact, it’s the maddest she’d ever seen him since he had arrived.
They still hadn’t found out his name, but he had to be important. Or not, judging by how much free time he had. Personally, Isabella thought that he’d been rather content at watching their Party go on adventures for the last year and a half. Sure, there were a few…minor setbacks and mistakes, but overall Isabella thought they were doing a fantastic job!
Isabella knew enough by now to know how special an Apprentice Cleric was, especially for a Party. And why there were so many Protectors around to guard each Cleric.
She could still see Lily’s scowl in her mind when they had first left to go on their class assignment. Every other Party had a one or two teachers shadowing the class to make sure they stayed safe, yet had enough autonomy to learn the ropes by themselves.
No, they had a full squadron shadowing them, along with four Protectors within a few steps of Isabella at all times. It was not how Lily had expected the assignment to go. Even with Lily and Tyler’s supurb skills at evading the squadron’s notice, they had failed to hide from the Protectors.
But that was all irrelevant now that the war had come back to the country.
War. Isabella shuddered when she thought about that. The stories of the blood sacrifices had already started spreading, and she had overheard her aunt talking about it actually happening around the country.
The Protector noticed her shudder and mistook the reason. “Now, you’ll be safe. The Imperial Healer Hall can guarantee that. Your family too. But the question is where do you want to go. Alduit Academy is a good choice, and I know the mage wanted to go there; but, the Imperial Healer Hall has everything and more for a Cleric to hone their trade.”
Isabella bit her lip. A Cleric. But not a Mage, and certainly not a Vanguard. Sure, Tyler was learning how to defend better, and they did give practical lessons to Lily. But there was a limit on what they could teach, and they were rapidly getting close to that point.
“I, I’ll think about it. But I want to be with Lily and Tyler. I want to follow them,” Isabella said. Her mother had told her it was important to lay down a line and stick to it. And that was her minimum requirement.
“If they want to go to Alduit Academy, they’ll need to find another member. Do they have one in mind? Someone that is just as monstrous as they are?”
That was the most praise Isabella had ever heard from the old man’s mouth. He really did have high expectations for their future.
“Mhmm. Their mentors had another person they were teaching, it’s just that he was younger than them. They went back home to see if they could get him in their party since he should be getting ready to go to school as well.”
“A he? And he’s your age?” The man frowned in thought.
“Mhmm. A childhood friend, apparently. Lily and Tyler don’t really talk much about him though.”
“And the boy is being taught by their mentors? For the past several years, no less?”
“…is that important?” Isabella frowned in thought. Usually he didn’t talk much if it had no relevance to Isabella herself. But it was clear that he was really interested in the boy now.”
The old man looked out the window, some unknown emotion flickering from his eyes “…I’ll go ahead and contact the Healer Hall there. Looks like you’ll be headed that way.”
“Ah!” Isabella stood up. “You mean it!”
“Shoo, shoo. Go and tell your family the news.”
Isabella stood up and practically ran to the door, though she did stop and bowed heavily toward her stalwart protector.
“Thank you, for everything.”
Watching the young girl leave, Glenn looked toward the southwest, where he had felt that magic burst a few days prior. The mana wave had shocked him when he had felt it, but now that the war had started, he had very little time to investigate personally. Better to wait for the news from the Queen Rebecca or the Scion, though he knew that the mysterious party there would soon have to act personally.
Training a child. That was enough verification by itself that they were aiming for Alduit Academy. Now he had a bigger question to answer.
Who was the boy, and why was he so important?
“Aunt! Aunt! I have something great to tell you!”
Isabella ran out the gates of the school to the Library, barely waiting for her Aunt Luna to deactivate the wards. The words could hardly stay in her mouth, she was so excited!
“The old man said that we were going to Alduit Academy! Isn’t that great news! I don’t have to split up my party any more!”
Isabella joyfully laughed, her laughter echoing endlessly against the library’s wall. Staying with her Party was the only thing she wanted now. The last few years were happy because she was in a Party. She had friends, companions, adventures because of Lily’s relentless attitude toward the matter.
In short, it was her dream come true. A dream which almost shattered because of the war.
“That’s great news, Isabella. I’m sure your mom will be happy to hear that,” her aunt grumbled.
Isabella laughter stopped short. “You still haven’t gotten a replacement?”
“No, not yet. The queen is still looking. I don’t think she’s keen on us leaving the country.”
“But Alduit Academy is barely a mile outside of Alcudia! We wouldn’t be too far away at that point!”
“Yes, but also out of her sole control. Alduit Academy was created as a trial ground for all of the western border countries. Even though she funded a quarter of it, Leit and Appealte contributions means that her control is limited.” Her aunt frowned and looked at Isabella. “It’ll be fine. Eventually. Even Trent’s armies can’t penetrate all the way here within a year. It just means that I’ll have to come at a later date instead.”
Isabella fidgeted. Her mother would not be happy to hear that. Still, there might be something that she could do instead.
“Aunt Luna, what if I go talk to the queen? She likes me, I think?”
“Out of the question. You know we don’t like you around her all by yourself.”
“She’s really nice though! Lily says she’s as nice as her mentor, and you know Lily is really…opinionated.”
“Tch, she’s probably still holding a grudge against us. Silly girl, she has to grow up eventually.” Luna grumbled.
“Aunt, you used a really bad Skill on her and Tyler! Of course she’s going to hold a grudge. I’m lucky that they don’t hold it against me!”
Isabella frowned as she remembered the description Lily had used. Happiness and contentment. Nothing was wrong in the moment, just happy to be around the other person and be noticed.
A Good Friend.
Luckily, Isabella never had to worry about her parents using it on her, nor did she have any desire to learn that particular Skill from her parents even if they were willing to teach it. It just seemed the wrong way to go about it, making friends for just a moment. And her family wasn’t very open about why they would even have a Skill like that.
“Umm, is mother at home?” Isabella asked quickly before her aunt could say something mean about her friends.
“She’s at her shop. Get Stella to take you over there. Or Uncle Bishner. Though, no one should bother you on the way there.”
“Yes, Aunt Luna. I’ll head over to them. I’ll tell them you said hi!”
Waving happily goodbye, Isabella’s smile faded fast as soon as the doors closed. She kicked a pebble lying close by, watching as it bounced across the paved cobblestones. Her aunt was stuck in the town still. Until she could get a replacement from the Queen.
“… She wouldn’t say no. Right?”
“I’m sorry, but she isn’t quite free at the moment. She has some very important things to discuss right now.” The queen’s personal guard, a woman fitted entirely in dark clothing, stopped Isabella from entering the temporary courthouse.
“But, but she said that I could come at any time! And Lily said that I had to tell the Queen something important.” Isabella fidgeted nervously.
There was a fine line to dealing with the Queen’s guard and her family’s wariness to anyone in power, Isabella realized early on. Or rather, Lily noticed early on. Since Isabella’s family didn’t want her to meet the queen by herself, Lily would drag Isabella and Tyler, along instead. Isabella wasn’t keen on exploiting her relationship with the Queen, but Lily insisted that they meet up at least every month or so, if not for herself than for Lily’s family. Lily’s father pushed everything to Lily to deal with, in anticipation of her taking control of the family business after her adventuring days were over. And that meant updating the Royal Family on the state of the nation’s crops, any surpluses, news, – basically, anything that could jeopardize the crops had to be relayed.
The guard frowned as she watched Isabella fidget. “You usually don’t lie. What’s wrong, little girl?”
“Miss Haille, I really want to talk to the Queen. Will she have time soon?” Isabella asked quietly, trying hard to look pathetic. Lily said she had a good act if she tried really hard.
Unfortunately, the guard knew that too. “Stop giving me that face. Give me one god reason why.”
“My aunt will be here soon otherwise, and then it’ll be too late.”
“Shi-, ugh, I hate dealing with her. Too slippery trying to follow her.” Guardswoman Haille coughed but smiled.
Isabella knew how she really felt about her Aunt Shavie. For all her quirks, Haille really liked having a good challenge, and Shavie was one of the few things she looked forward to whenever Isabella visited.
“Please, I should only have about thirty more seconds before she arrives!” Isabella said anxiously.
Somehow, Shavie had a knack at finding her wherever she was not supposed to be. And she was not supposed to be talking to the queen alone. Luckily, Isabella timed her so that she knew how much time she had before she got caught.
“You should time her again then. She’s already behind you.”
“Wher-” Isabella turned nervously and meekly faced her Aunt Shavie, who was watching her with a frown.
Haille chuckled under her breath. “Quite mean of you to intentionally slow down. What kind of lesson are you trying to teach her by doing that?”
“The lesson where she gets her butt handed to her.”
Isabella shuddered. As much as her aunt loved her, her idea of punishment was a lot more physical than her mother’s.
Luckily the guardswoman interceded for her. “The Queen would like to talk, actually. To both of you. She was waiting for you to come along as well.”
Shavie blinked, though her mouth turned into a small pout. “Hmm, pray tell, why would she want to meet me of all people?”
“You don’t have a weird Skill. And you’re more reasonable of the three.”
That got a chuckle out of Shavie. Isabella started to dawn her pitiful face but got nowhere as Shavie’s glare stopped her cold.
“…Please, Aunt? The Queen is really nice, and I won’t be alone if you’re there as well.” Isabella panicked. But knowing full well she was going to get punished anyway, she tried a different tact. “It has to do with Aunt Luna. Please~?”
Shavie sighed. “Fine. Let’s go and meet the queen.”
Isabella beamed happily, though less happily once Shavie put her arms around her. “You’ve gotten good at your pity face. I’ll have a word with Lily about that, you know.”
Eyeing the guard, Shavie and Isabella walked into the building, her aunt’s tight grip betraying how at ease she was feeling.
The keep turned dormitory turned courthouse was a very large building, in no part because the Queen had renovated it as her permanent residence for the time being.
“You okay, Aunt Shavie?” Isabella asked.
“Fine. I’m fine,” she said, though her aunt’s eyes darted to the windows and closed doors as they walked deeper into the building.
“She’s a nice person. The Queen, I mean. She just looks really strict. Sort of like you, Aunt Shavie.”
“Oh? And how am I like the Queen?”
“Well, okay, you’re really not anything alike, but you both care about me, so that makes her like you in some way,” Isabella nervously replied.
Her first impression of the Queen was rather bad, but since they had been meeting regularly the last couple of years, Isabella’s impression had changed for the better. The Queen looked happier these last few years, and more driven as well. Something had changed after the trial, and though no one mentioned anything, it was apparent that Lily’s mentor had helped the Queen somehow. Her reputation was on the rise, that much was obvious to Isabella. Though she was isolated from her courts for reasons unknown to Isabella, she was making great strides in passing new laws. Her parents were particularly surprised at one law, that gave much citizenship to half-bloods and Demons, which was surprising in of itself she gathered. But more importantly, even the Healer Hall had even started backing the Queen’s stance as well.