“That’s it, maintain control!” Cedric ordered, intently watching while Lucy approached the final channeling step of the charm. He had to shield his eyes from the dust and grass that was violently thrown by the torrent of wind surrounding the girl. It wasn’t unexpected, though. Wind like this was a sign of an oversaturation of magic in the spell-cast. In other words, she was using too much magic, and the excess was being released as a manifest of wind whose direction changed with every step in the channeling process.

What’s more, because she was in the center, Lucy was taking the brunt of the gust’s impact. Most of the time it was only a strong breeze making it difficult to concentrate or maintain balance, but every now and then a surge came out strong enough to kick up a clod of dirt that would hit her in the face.

“Don’t give up, Lu’!” Rosseau encouraged.

It had been three hours since they picked up practice again after classes finished. It was evening now, and by Cedric’s count this was Lucy’s forty-seventh attempt to cast the complete charm they had been working towards. Rosseau had tapped out his entire magic reserve after twenty-nine attempts, unable to finish casting the charm. His number of tries compared to Lucy wasn’t unexpected, however. Girls naturally possessed around four times as much magic as boys, and it was the reason over ninety-five percent of Lead Sorcerers in the tournament were girls as Cedric had learned after some more research. Even so, Lucy was still wasting far more magic than Rosseau had, and if she didn’t have a breakthrough soon, she would have to stop without learning a single spell.

Lucy could feel her magic running out. And being this far in the channeling process it was as if her magic had a mind of its own. She had to be careful. Too little magic and her spell would fizzle out, but too much and she’d be hit with a rebound much more violent than any she had experienced—Cedric made sure to mention that to her. And to top it off, the understanding that she only had one more day after this to practice made it difficult to focus. The fact that she had to face Nora, who hadn’t lost a single match, was also becoming unnerving. Did she really stand a chance against her? Even with a protection charm?

The wind began to die down, and Lucy realized too late that she had distracted herself from providing an adequate amount of magic for the channeling. Defeated, she relaxed her arms—feeling a stinging soreness in her shoulders from holding her staff up for so long. She then took a deep breath and let it out. Another fruitless attempt.

Cedric gave a hard look. He had already taught Lucy everything he could for this spell. At this point, it was only a matter of her finding a way to follow it through. It didn’t feel good, but there just wasn’t anything else he could do to help her.

“Well…I can only try again, right?” Lucy said, turning to them with a weak smile that failed to hide her frustration.

The boys looked at her, both silent. It was painstakingly clear how much her attitude had regressed. In the beginning she gave an air of invincibility after each failure, showing no hesitation to try again. But after Rosseau had run out magic and couldn’t practice alongside her, her mood became more and more discouraged.

Lucy was too embarrassed to look at the boys for long. Their pitying expressions only made things worse, though she could never tell them that. Turning away, she took the proper stance again, and tried to channel her magic one more time.

“Wait!”  Lucy heard Rosseau yell. Her loss of focus caused the gentle breeze from her magic to die out. Cedric, too, was shook by the boy’s abrasive call, and turned his attention as well.

Rosseau stomped over to Lucy, who was a bit frightened as he promptly halted himself right in front of her. His expression was one she had seen before. It was the expression he made every time they lost a match. Disappointment. But as she had learned from spending time with him, it was never directed at her. No. It was the face he made when he was disappointed in himself. A face she hated seeing him make.

Without warning, Rosseau placed his hands onto hers—a move which caused Lucy’s brain to explode. He had never made a gesture like this before, she didn’t know if she should pull away or not. Cedric was caught off guard also and wondered if this was a moment that would demand more privacy. The question of if they were together had crossed his mind before. Was this evidence of that? Fortunately, before Lucy and Cedric could act on any assumptions, Rosseau spoke up.

“I shouldn’t just be on the sides watching,” Rosseau said, his face serious. “Is there anything in the rules that doesn’t allow us to be in contact while she casts the charm?” Rosseau turned to Cedric.

“Erm…no. Nothing that I read anyway,” Cedric said.

“Good,” Rosseau said, firming his grip onto Lucy’s hands. “Then, let’s try it like this.”

Lucy saw the adamant look in his eyes, but still couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. In the two months she’d known him, she learned that Rosseau tended to be straightforward, sometimes to the point where it made others uncomfortable.

“R-Rosseau, you don’t have to-“ Lucy began to say, but was cut off by the boy.

“I know that…something is going on,” Rosseau spoke, softly. His eyes fell onto the pair of hands he held in his own. “I’m not a fool. You’ve clearly been bothered ever since your meeting with the Headmaster.”

Lucy lowered her gaze onto Rosseau’s hands which gently gripped hers. It was disheartening. She hadn’t done a good job of keeping her anxiety a secret from him after all. Causing him worry was the last thing that she wanted.

“Listen…if it isn’t something you want to tell me then I’ll accept that. But I want you to know that you’re not alone in this—not at all.”

Rosseau showed a reliable smile, which Lucy had come to recognize as one of his best quirks. He was an unusual boy. Blunt. Straightforward. But in a uniquely considerate way. Lucy remembered how intimidating that aspect of his personality was when they first met. But, gradually, she had come to appreciate it. Especially now.

“Thanks,” Lucy smiled back. And just like that, the fatigue she felt from their non-stop practice seemed to disappear.

Cedric meanwhile remained silent on the side, his calculating eyes studying the two teammates, and processing what had just happened. Sure, he recognized that Lucy was approaching a dangerous level of demotivation, but he hadn’t the slightest clue of how to address it. And then in came Rosseau who, with a careful gesture and a few tender words, completely turned things around. It made Cedric feel uneasy.

“Alright. I’m going to try again,” Lucy said.

Rosseau nodded in agreement and kept his hand on top of hers while she raised the staff up for one more try. And then he felt an intense pressure surround them.

It was an incredible thing. And Cedric wondered if Lucy was aware of it herself…that in a few seconds she had managed to cast the first half of the charm. Lucy’s eyes were closed, but Rosseau could see the circle of light on the ground surrounding them.

The wind began to churn back and forth violently and Rosseau had no choice but to close his eyes from dust being tossed around—the occasional clump of dirt scratching uncomfortably across his face. It made him realize what Lucy had been enduring for the past three hours. Why hadn’t she said anything?

Lucy focused intently—on both the spell cast and the feeling of Rosseau’s hands cradling her own. If there was one thing she knew for certain, it was that she didn’t want to let him down anymore. Two months ago, they were simply strangers until a random lotto paired them up for both lacking a teammate, and ever since then he had been kind, encouraging, and supportive. He was the first friend she made at Greidwhen.

It was hard to tell, but the wind began to throw itself around much less violently. Its randomness of direction and speed now moved in a pattern which matched her influence in the spell cast. And though Lucy didn’t notice because she was focused on channeling her magic, Rosseau and Cedric realized that she wasn’t wasting as much magic now as she had before.

A mere forty seconds in, Cedric estimated that Lucy was now in the final phase of the channeling process. It wouldn’t be much longer now. Maybe another fifteen…twenty seconds tops if she could just follow it all the way through.

“C’mon,” Cedric muttered under his breath.

The wind picked up again, its strength much greater than it had at any point so far. Rosseau and Lucy both winced, the sound of rushing air completely enveloping their ears. Lucy felt as if she could lose control at any moment, but she continued to wrestle the seemingly unstable, nearly transformed magic inside her. She compressed it, churned it, twisted it, and finally guided it, and in a single electric movement it shot from her chest, through her arms, and into her staff.

The wind promptly died, and Lucy, with her eyes still closed, was left wondering if it was because she succeeded or failed in casting the spell.

“Open your eyes, Lu,” she heard Rosseau say, feeling his hands let go of her own. She was afraid to look, but the sound of a hollow hum coming from every direction intrigued her to take a look. When she opened her eyes, she was greeted with the sight of a circle of light surrounding them just as before.

“Did it work?” Lucy held her breath. It didn’t look any different from the earlier version that could only detect magic.

A loud chiming sound then surprised her from the left, accompanied by a short-lived flash of light from the corner of her eye. Immediately she looked over, and noticed a fading ripple of light, its edges rebounding off the invisible impression of a rectangular pane that stood as tall as her. It was then that she noticed Cedric a few yards directly past it rolling a smooth stone in between his thumb and finger. There was a rare smirk on his face, and without warning he threw the stone straight at her, causing her to flinch. The chime sounded again, and this time Lucy noticed the cause. It was a barrier. A barrier had appeared and stopped the stone before it could reach her. The charm had worked.

“Incredible,” Rosseau said. “You did it!”

Lucy reached out to where the barrier had been just moments ago. There was nothing there. It was just as Cedric had said…a barrier that only appears when an attack was passing through.

“I-I did it…? I did it!” Lucy finally realized her achievement, her eyes wide with excitement. “Quick! Throw something else at me!”

Rosseau laughed. “How about an actual magic attack?”

“Yeah!” Lucy happily said.

Putting some distance between them, Rosseau pulled out his wand. He didn’t have much magic left at the moment, just enough for one, basic burst of magic which only took him a second to cast from his wand. It may have been weak, but it traveled fast.

Lucy couldn’t help but brace herself for the attack’s impact, but just before it got close enough for her to consider dodging, it exploded against another barrier that appeared. The attack dissipated across the barrier’s face, and Lucy noticed parts of it creep past the barrier’s edge and waft into a puff of air that she could feel hit her. For a moment she was confused, thinking the charm was supposed to keep everything out. But then she remembered Cedric’s explanation. It only blocked high velocity attacks.

“This charm can’t protect me from everything, can it?” she said.

“That’s true,” Cedric answered. “A smart opponent would adapt and try using spells that don’t trigger the barrier to hit you. It’s also rendered completely useless in close combat. It can stop a charge, but if they can close the gap without prompting the barrier…”

“That’s the reason I’m here, though,” Rosseau interrupted. “I’ll be there to handle anyone who tries to get close.”

Lucy looked thankfully at Rosseau.

“And besides,” Rosseau continued. “With this charm we’ll be able to focus less on defense and more on attack. Nora won’t know what hit her.”

“That’s not entirely accurate,” Cedric said. “While the charm clearly helps with protection, you should still try to avoid having it triggered as much as possible.”

Lucy looked confusingly at him. “Why?”

Rosseau sighed. “That’s right, I forgot. Charms like this have a fixed pool of magic driving them, and each time it’s triggered it takes from that pool so it can perform the next step.”

“So, every new barrier makes the pool smaller?” Lucy asked.

“Yeah, until it’s all used up. The charm is still useful of course, but it’s a limitation we need to be aware of.”

“Oh! So, then it probably also uses up more magic the stronger the attack it’s blocking—just like a normal barrier, right?” Lucy excitedly added, remembering that fact from one of their classes.

Rosseau looked surprised. He hadn’t thought of that fact himself. “That’s…probably true. Isn’t it?” He looked to Cedric, who nodded.

“It is.” Cedric said, intrigued. His two students didn’t know it, but he was currently measuring the depth of their knowledge. As far as he knew, there were three things to consider when using this charm in a match: charm expiration, attacks that could bypass it, and a final, crucial consideration.

“Oh, that’s probably not a good idea,” Lucy muttered to herself, catching Cedric and Rosseau’s attention.

“What isn’t a good idea?” Rosseau asked.

“Hmm?” Lucy looked up, broken from her concentration. “I was just thinking that I could add a bunch of magic to the charm during the cast, and then we wouldn’t have to worry about the magic pool issue. But…”

“But…?” Rosseau said.

“Well, if we’re lucky enough to not get hit for a point, and the charm lasts through multiple rounds, it will still probably have a chance of running out of magic in the middle of round—leaving us wide open. And if we do get hit for a point, then the charm will automatically expire anyway, and all that magic goes to waste. So…”

“So, the best amount is the one that barely lasts us a round, and then you can just dispel it and recast it again in-between.” Rosseau finished her sentence.

“That’s what I was thinking. Cedric?”

Lucy looked over to her impromptu instructor, whose gaze was already fixed onto her. He was a bit astounded. Instead of knowing the last important principle of a charm like this, Lucy had casually deduced it herself.

“You’re correct. Imbuing the charm with just enough magic to last the round is crucial. Too little and your defense will be crippled. Too much and you risk wasting it if your opponent gets a good shot at you.”

“So how do we figure out the right amount?” Rosseau asked.

“Research,” Cedric said, adjusting his glasses. “Which is what I’ll be doing tonight. There’s plenty of records of matches where this charm is used. I’ll pull some out and see how the charm held up against certain attacks. Then I’ll study another recording of Nora’s match to see what her spell arsenal is like and compare. It’s impossible to give a perfect estimate, but I believe I can get close.”

Lucy and Rosseau were amazed at how callously Cedric laid out his complex itinerary for the night. Lucy especially felt a bit ashamed. She could barely stand three pages of written homework much less a night of research. She had known this for some time, but Cedric was in an academic league of his own.

“Sounds like a plan,” Rosseau said. “We’ll still practice the charm a few more times though, right?”

“Of course.”

“Ah, good. Can I ask you something about casting charms in general? Just a quick question.”

“Sure.”

As Cedric and Rosseau continued back and forth, Lucy stood by and took in the sight of them both. Two months ago she didn’t know Rosseau. Three days ago she didn’t know Cedric. Rosseau came from a noble family far in the north, She herself came from a small farming town in the west, and Cedric…well, who knows. And yet, somehow, all three of them had found each other, and both of the boys were doing their best to help her out. The feeling of support overwhelmed her, and she couldn’t help but let out a giggle.

“What was that, Lu’?” Rosseau asked, he and Cedric sharing a questioning look.

Lucy smiled. “Nothing. Now cut the chatter and let’s practice it again!”