Lucy awoke with a yawn—rubbing her eyes to get rid of the morning blurriness that always came with waking up. Sitting up in her bed, she looked beside her to the other bed across the room. It was empty, and its sheets were in a messy bunch at its foot—a sign that her roommate had hastily left early yet again.

Lucy sighed. What was her roommate’s name again? It was difficult to learn when they actively avoided you. Though she didn’t blame her. She was well aware of her own status among the other students, and every morning her roommate’s absence only served as a reminder.

But things were looking up, if only a little. She had finally found the one person besides Rosseau that didn’t avoid her like the plague. Cedric, she intently remembered his name. Sure, he still seemed agitated with her—probably due to her dropping ten feet on top of him—but it was a far cry from how her other classmates treated her. Was he a classmate? Lucy sorted through all her memories of her classes…there was no recollection of a scowling boy with mustard-rimmed glasses. Maybe he was in a different year and just wasn’t familiar with her reputation? That seemed unlikely. But then again…with that Wiggs boy’s mysterious reaction to him…it seemed like Cedric had his own reputation that she wasn’t aware of. She’d have to remember to keep an ear open for more information on the reason behind that, but for now it was time to get ready for homeroom.

If there was one thing great about attending an accredited magic academy, it was learning all kinds of spells that made trivial things easier with the proper amount of practice of course. Grabbing the spare wand she always kept at her bedside, Lucy pointed it towards the open closet where her academy robes draped from their hanger. A magical pressure rose in her chest—a standard part of any spell-casting—which she channeled and transformed through her body in the necessary way for this spell. What followed was an invisible burst from the wand; only discernible from the recoil that nudged her backwards. In a blink, the robe disappeared from its closet, appearing overhead where it fell into her outstretched arms.  

Inanim-port was the shorthand name for this particular spell. Teleport any inanimate object from one place to another. It was one of the most useful and basic spells any person could learn, though it took her an admittedly long time to finally get the hang of it. One particular attempt involved teleporting the whole closet outside the window behind them where her clothes fell into a pile of dirty snow. It was also the same day she decided to learn the spell for drawing water out from clothes to dry them out.

Neither of these spells were useful for combat, however. Inanimate objects weren’t abundant in a Sorcerer’s match, and relieving herself from the sweat that soaked her clothes didn’t provide any meaningful advantage over her opponent. No. Winning a match required experience with combat spells, which were an entirely different class of spellcasting. Lucy thought it was incredible what some of her previous opponents could do. Spells that travel so fast, they hit you before you can blink. Ones that explode when you dodge and still hit if your escape was too narrow. And then course there were combination-spells which took you out in the most creative, unlikely ways possible by applying two different spell types into the same casting.  

Rosseau tried to help her learn these spells as best he could during their practices, but he himself wasn’t too great at them either. Sure, with enough time, she could concentrate hard enough to manipulate her magic correctly to cast one…but in the heat of battle, and facing a strong opponent, it seemed that there was never enough time to cast a proper spell. It was one of the larger differences she knew separated her from the winners. She just wasn’t fast enough. It was the main reason her fire spell went out of control yesterday too. She had tried to cast it too quickly and she lost control. Ugh…and now she’d have to show up to homeroom today after causing that mess. It wasn’t something she looked forward to.

For the first half of the school day Lucy did her best to stay under the radar, but unfortunately that was impossible. Upon Professor Farland’s arrival into their temporary homeroom, he called on her to stand before the entire class and apologize for the trouble she caused yesterday; and despite wishing to avoid Nora and her friends, every now and then her gaze would find them all stifling their laughter at her. It was times like that which made Lucy appreciate Rosseau’s friendship. He wasn’t afraid of Nora, and when things like this happened, he either heckled them back or helped her disregard their presence. Rosseau was her best friend at Greidwhen…and she knew that if she ended up getting expelled from her deal with the Headmaster…having to say goodbye to Rosseau would be the hardest part of it all.

“Something on your mind?” Rosseau tore the girl from her thoughts while they were headed to their next classroom. Secretly he was hoping she would open up about whatever she was hiding from him.

“Hmm? Uh, yeah…just that…I think I’ll be skipping Borden’s class again today.” She avoided Rosseau’s eyes and instead studied the red rug under her footsteps—an unfortunate quirk which confirmed to Rosseau that she was withholding things again.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? Our first test is coming up in two weeks.”

“You said it’s only questions about handheld totems, right? If it’s nothing more complicated, then I think I can skip it a few times.”

“A few times? What’s going on that you have to skip so much?”

“Oh…just going to the library. I’m hoping I can find some better spells for our upcoming match with Nora.”

“Ugh, I almost forgot about that.” Rosseau made an unpleasant face. “ I can’t stand her, but she is incredibly strong. Maybe I should go with you.”

Lucy threw a glance to Rosseau, contemplating bringing him along to the library to meet Cedric. For some reason it didn’t feel like the right choice to make. There was something peculiar about Cedric, and she didn’t want to risk her best chance to connect with him by brining one of her own friends, unannounced.

“Yeah, I think I’ll come along with you if that’s okay-”

“Sorry.” Lucy interrupted, pausing her trek to Professor Borden’s classroom. Determinedly, she looked ahead to her teammate whose own steps down the hall trailed to a standstill as he turned to face her.  

“I…I can’t explain why, right now. But I need to go by myself…”

Rosseau looked at her, noticing the unfaltering gaze she directed at him. She was being honest…even though she was admitting to keeping something from him, she was finally being honest about it…and that was enough for Rosseau, who smirked with an amused breath.

“Alright then. I trust you. Make sure you learn something we can use to shut Nora up once and for all.”

Lucy smiled, Rosseau’s confidence rubbing off on her. “You bet I will.”

With that, the two went their separate ways. Rosseau down the hall towards Borden’s classroom, and Lucy outside towards the library. There wasn’t any reason to hide on the way there this time. Classes hadn’t started yet so it wasn’t strange for a student to be outside right now; people would simply assume she was on her way to class like everyone else. She couldn’t use the library’s entrance this time, however, considering students were supposed to be leaving it. So she went around to the smaller, side entrance that Wigg’s and his antagonists entered through yesterday. Peeking through its door, Lucy waited as the last of the stragglers left through the main entrance until there was nothing but silence inside.  

Hesitating to enter, she looked across the library to the corner table she had seen Cedric sitting at yesterday. He was there again, reading another book taken from the trolley beside him. When exactly did he arrive? He was a first-year student—he said so himself yesterday. Didn’t he have his own classes to attend? Not to mention he should have been present in their homeroom this morning—but she didn’t see him at all. And now that she thought about it, he remained in the library yesterday even after she left. Could it be that he spends the whole day in here? It was a mystery that didn’t add up…but she decided to follow through with their meeting anyway—after all…he did help Wiggs cast that incredible wind spell.

“Hey!” Lucy shouted, making her entrance.

Cedric looked up from his book, where an exhausted look formed on his face before turning back to it. “Hey,” he barely mustered.

“What’cha readin’?”

“Just some old dissertations on spellcasting variance based on the caster’s physique.” Cedric said without taking his eyes off the text.

“Uhh…what does that mean?”

“Well, as we know, magic inside a person is like a spring. If you take some out of the body it will eventually fill back up, but it will always cap at the same level. And after we learned that everyone is essentially born with a different cap, mages began counting how many times they could cast certain spells to try and get an estimate of their magic capacity to compare to others’.”

Lucy took a seat across from Cedric, a bit amazed that he seemed to be talking about something quite complicated, but in a way that she could sort of understand.

“So…did it work?”

“At first it was believed so, but then inexplicable differences began to emerge. For instance, one mage could cast Inward-warmth more times than another, but then cast Outward-warmth less times than the same opponent.”

“Oh! I know this one. Some mages weren’t as experienced with certain spells so their consumption of magic wasn’t optimized, right?”

“Unfortunately, no. Though that is something taken into account when comparing spellcastings, in this particular account the two mages were both masters and the difference in their techniques was so small it practically didn’t exist at all.”

“But then how was it possible to cast the second spell less times? Shouldn’t the mage with the greater capacity be able to cast every spell more times?”

“It was the length of their arms.” Cedric punctuated by locking eyes with Lucy.

“What!? How!?”

“Well, Inward-warmth is a spell that begins and ends in the chest of the caster, helping to keep them warm, obviously.”

“Uh huh.”

“But Outward-warmth is a spell that—after beginning in the chest like every other spell—gets channeled through your body and towards whatever object you’re using as the catalyst. And because one mage had shorter arms, channeling the spell from his chest to the staff in his hand demanded less magic consumption than his opponent doing the same thing.”

“Really? I can’t believe spellcasting depends on something like that.” Lucy said, sliding out a textbook from her bag to get comfortable. “How long ago was that…account?”

“Eight-hundred years ago…”

“WHAT!? You’re reading a book that’s eight-hundred years old!?”

“Well, this book isn’t that old…just its content. And it’s not any different from what you learn in that book. The foundations for spellcasting that first-years learn are even older than this.”

“Uh…yeah I guess that’s true.” Lucy reprimanded herself. “So how significant were these findings for the mages?”

“Oh…they were negligible.”

Lucy was nearly at a loss for words. “Um…but you made it sound like it was a big deal…”

“The principle of it is a big deal. Any discovery that furthers our understanding of magic is...”

“But…a normal person doesn’t really have to worry about it…!” Lucy’s expression turned shocked, realizing too late the rudeness of her statement which was compounded by the briefest twitch in Cedric’s eye. “No! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it rudely!” She waved her hands across the table in defense.

Cedric looked at the clumsy girl. His jaded expression was unbothered. Still, Lucy sensed his apparent annoyance after he silently went back to reading his book.

Feeling pitiful, she slumped herself onto the table. It was going so well too…

 

The class period was coming to an end soon, and Lucy hadn’t managed to muster another word to Cedric. He, of course, remained silent too—the periodic flip of the page being the only sound he made. It made her feel so awkward that she could barely concentrate on reading the textbook in front of her.

Beginner’s Combat was the section she had randomly opened it up to. And even further coincidentally, it opened up to the exact page detailing the spell she messed up yesterday—the one she accidentally blew up the lecture hall’s ceiling with.

“Urgggg…” Lucy groaned, reviewing the details of the spell’s casting once again. It seemed to make sense reading it, but she felt the same way last time and look what happened.

Fire-shot?” A voice broke her concentration.

It was Cedric talking to her, of course. But Lucy still couldn’t help but look up at him in slight disbelief. “Uh…yeah,” she collected herself. “I was dumb enough to try casting it in class yesterday…and…let’s just say it didn’t end well…”

Cedric looked pointedly at her. “That was you?” He asked with abnormal volume.

Lucy wanted to die of embarrassment in that moment. But hiding her face in the desk and groaning loudly felt like a good enough compromise to deal with the anxiety it brought. “Yes…it was me…” Her muffled voice sounded from under her crossed arms.

“I thought it was just a joke started by the other first-years. It’s pretty stupid to try casting a combat-spell during lecture. And a fire-based one no less.”

“I didn’t mean for it to go all the way! But it came together so fast that by the time I realized what was happening it was too late and I had to release it!”

“I’m surprised you didn’t get expelled for that.”

Lucy didn’t rebuttal, Cedric’s words only reminded her of what she had been distracting herself from all morning—that she was in danger of being expelled from Greidwhen unless she managed to defeat Nora in their match together.  

Lucy reclined quietly into her chair, averting her eyes from Cedric. If only she hadn’t tried to cast that spell yesterday. If only she hadn’t been so bad at magic that she felt compelled to practice it in class then she wouldn’t be in this horrible situation right now.

“You still casted it correctly though, didn’t you?” Cedric asked.

“Huh?” Lucy looked at him, a mix of sadness and confusion on her face.

“That spell. With the damage I heard was caused, it must have been cast very well.” Cedric said, turning his attention back to his book.

Lucy looked bewildered towards Cedric, the meaning of his near-cryptic statements steadily becoming clear.

‘DING~ DING~ DING~’

The Academy’s bell tower rang loud. A sign that the current period of classes was over.

“I think I’ll head out for the day,” Cedric said, gathering his things. “I’ll be here tomorrow morning…you’re welcome to come.”

Receiving no response—not that he expected one—Cedric left towards the library’s main entrance. Its doors bustled opened as groups of students began to enter to enjoy the first break of the day. In a seemingly instinctive move, Cedric removed his glasses and pocketed them into his robe. His expression remained unchanged still as he weaved past the crowd until finally he was gone.

Lucy remained in her seat, however, completely unmoved since Cedric’s comment a minute ago.

She didn’t know when it started, but her eyes were hot, and her cheeks, wet. But rather than sadness finding her face…it was a quivering smile which her tears trailed over.