“What? She learned that advanced of a protection charm? We’re talking about the same Lucy, right?” Nora paused from brushing her hair, looking incredulous at the reflection of her two subordinates in the mirror.
“We saw it!”
“One moment there’s nothing there, then a barrier appears!”
“Not to mention we also saw her use some kind of fire spell! That one looked pretty powerful!”
“What are you going to do, Nora?”
Nora looked back at herself in the mirror. She had been ordering her lackeys to do reconnaissance such as this since her first match, but this was the first time their findings surprised her. By the description, it sounded like Straughsen’s Triggering Barrier charm. It was a spell that would give anyone an edge in the tournament. She herself had practiced it before, but to no avail. It was just too complex, and she instead opted for an easier, less impressive barrier charm for her matches. But if she couldn’t learn it, how could that pink-haired peasant who couldn’t cast a proper hand-drying spell do it? It had to be a mistake.
“Are you sure it wasn’t Rosseau who cast it?” Nora asked, setting the brush down to flick her hair back until she was satisfied with how it sat.
“I saw it with my own eyes,” one of the girl’s replied while Nora stole a quick glance at her short, unkempt hair and fought a smirk.
“Well then. It sounds like our little darling, Lucy, has been doing well with her latest practice sessions. Too bad it will all amount to nothing. Hmph,” Nora finished with a cocky breath.
“Th-that’s right! You’re undefeated so far in the tournament! There’s no way she’ll be able to beat you!”
“Oh, I have no intention of letting her have the honor of facing me,” the beautiful Elefrian girl smiled deviously, her two lackeys both confused and fearful at her words. “Also, it turns out our lovely little farm-girl has been hiding something surrounding the consequences of our match. Something I plan to take advantage of that will put that peasant in her place for good.”
Nora smiled. “It’s a secret. But let’s just say that our own little luckless mage won’t be at Greidwhen for very much longer…”
Lucy and Rosseau yawned and walked down the cobblestone path from the dorms to the campus. The crisp morning air nipped at their cheeks. The day’s classes wouldn’t start for two hours, but last night they had all agreed to meet up in the morning to strategize in the library—an agreement that came with regrets for the two groggy looking kids as they moseyed along with eyes half open.
“Cedric probably has it a lot worse, with doing his research and all,” Rosseau mumbled as they walked up the library’s steps.
Lucy grunted in agreement while she rubbed her cheeks, looking forward to escaping the cold, outside air. As Rosseau opened the door for her, she promptly dashed in and made a pleasant face as the warm air enveloped her. “That’s so much better!” she exclaimed.
At first glance the library was empty, but Lucy knew exactly where to look at this point to find Cedric. Sure enough, in the back-right corner table of the library, there he was surrounded by stacks of books, currently slumped over and digging through one of them.
“Morning!” she said, jarring Cedric out of his deep concentration.
“Oh, it’s just you,” Cedric said. “Did you watch those recordings of Nora’s matches?”
“You bet,” Rosseau replied, catching up to the two of them. “I can’t believe we didn’t think to do that for our other matches! Now that we know what to expect from her, we can start forming a strategy!”
As she and Rosseau set their bags down to settle in at the table, Lucy took a more careful look at Cedric’s research station. It was an inarguable mess. Stacks of books and parchments were strewn about—not just on the table’s surface, but also on the seats and even the floor beside him. There were also a number of worn-down, graphene pencils and even an abacus, beside which lay another sizeable stack of parchment with collections of calculations and notes scrawled onto them. Then there was Cedric himself, who glanced back at her with heavy eyelids and a drained expression, and immediately Lucy could tell that he had been here all night.
“Here,” Cedric said, pulling a few sheets of parchment from under his current book, presenting them to Lucy. “I’ve detailed the process for optimizing the charm’s lifespan based on Nora’s spells.”
Lucy took the sheets in her hand, orienting them to get a proper look at their content. The writing on it was much cleaner than on the one’s with the notes and calculations. The instructions on this one were numbered and pleasantly spaced out, making it easy to read. There were even some rough illustrations of how Lucy and Rosseau were supposed to space themselves out. One drawing in particular made her stifle a smile as it clearly had erase-marks around the head that showed an abandoned effort to draw the hair buns that rested on the sides of her face. It was a cute detail which made her happy, but she was more overwhelmed with happiness from how far he was going to help her.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Inner Warmth. Fire shot. Draw water. Wind Blast. Inanimport—that’s an interesting one,” Cedric read from the list he had asked Lucy to prepare last night. Though their goal for the day was to have Lucy get more consistent with casting the barrier charm for herself and Rosseau, Cedric’s plan for the morning was to perform a complete review of everyspell she currently knew.
Running through the list, Cedric found that many of these spells weren’t useful for combat. He expected as much, though. It was normal for someone to know more spells that helped with everyday tasks rather than than one’s meant for combat. Ideally, Lucy could learn a couple more combat spells—he even had some ideas of which one’s—but there wasn’t enough time to guarantee she could learn even one before the day was over. No. He had to find a way to strategize with the one’s she knew now. That combined with a consistent protection charm would at least grant her a fighting chance against Nora.
Flipping the sheet around to make sure everything was accounted for, Cedric did a double take at the huge list of spells on the other side. “You know all these?” He asked.
“Oh no! I don’t know the one’s on that side. They’re just one’s I’ve tried practicing but never got the hang of. Sorry, I thought it would be a good idea to include those, but…”
“No. This is good information,” Cedric said, surprised he hadn’t thought of asking her to do this himself. The second list had a good balance of everyday-use and combat spells, though none of them were particularly outstanding. However, one spell at the bottom stood out from the others.
“Telepathy?” He asked. “I imagine that was a short-lived attempt.”
“Yeah,” Lucy signed. “I just couldn’t understand how to maintain the link. It would immediately break every time we connected.”
Cedric suddenly tore his attention away from the sheet to look at Lucy.
“Well it is a graduate level spell,” Rosseau said. “Probably wasn’t realistic of us to expect to cast it correctly. You did a lot better than me, though,” he laughed.
Lucy giggled in reply, but Cedric remained silent where he stood. Rosseau was correct. It was a graduate level spell. But the spell’s difficulty didn’t come from having to maintain the telepathic link. The real hurdle…the reason it was classified as a graduate level spell…was the incredible difficulty it took to even establish the link in the first place.
“Is everything okay?” Cedric heard Lucy call to him, breaking his train of thought.
“Y-yeah,” he replied, distracted by the countless questions flooding his mind. He had never had the opportunity to work with Telepathy before, and he never expected to any time soon. It was a spell that delved into the arduous subject of Mind Magic—a branch of magic that found little exposure at a preliminary Magic Academy such as Greidwhen. His scholarly instincts were pushing him to inquire more about Lucy’s experience with the spell, but he knew it wasn’t what they needed right now. Calming down, he reminded himself of the reason they were all there. “Right, now let’s get to work.”
Strategizing magic for use in combat was an unfamiliar territory for Cedric. Lucy and Rosseau had attempted it themselves for every one of their matches, but a dismal spell arsenal, slow casting times, and a lack of information on the opponent didn’t bring any tangible results.
“I can’t believe I didn’t see it before,” Rosseau said. “The protection charm doesn’t just help you with defense, it also gives you more time to cast your own spells!”
“Really?” Lucy thought for a second before the reasoning clicked in her mind. “That’s amazing! Nora’s own charm can’t do that if I remember correctly? From the recording?”
“That’s correct,” Cedric answered, pleased that Lucy had observed such an important detail from the recordings he gave them. “Her charm is a crude downgrade compared to the one we’ve been practicing. It lets her put unchanneled magic into it to activate, but she can’t cast anything while the barrier is up. You’ll probably see her dodging more spells than she blocks with her charm.”
A nervous excitement rose in Lucy’s chest. It was hard to believe that she would actually be going in with a protection charm stronger than Nora’s. It really began to feel like she could win this match after all.
The rest of their morning session focused solely on analyzing Nora’s tactics from the recording. Looking for ways to exploit the ones that had openings. Discussing ways to defend against the ones that didn’t.
Nora didn’t use any complicated spells, but she still had a balance of close, mid, and long-range attack spells. What stood out the most was how gracefully she fought—her movements in close-quarters combat especially dazzled Lucy. Thankfully, she shouldn’t have to worry about facing her that close—that’s what Rosseau was for.
Nora’s knight wasn’t anything special either according to Rosseau.
“His movements are sloppy. He has training, but he uses a lot of wasteful movements.”
“If Lucy can perfect extending the barrier charm onto you, I say you’d have no problem annihilating this guy in two seconds—there’d be nothing he or Nora could do to stop you.”
“We should probably start practicing right away, then.” Lucy said, nervous.
“I know you’re anxious, but it’s important to do this first. The more we know, the better chance we have of winning,” Cedric said, catching himself afterwards. We, he had said. When had he begun framing it that way?
Lucy and Rosseau had caught it as well—the former, smiling embarrassedly and the latter smirking. Neither made a deal of it, though. They were grateful to Cedric for the help he was providing, and hearing him include himself in the stakes made them happy.
The morning eventually passed, and the time came to end the strategy session and attend classes. Their strategizing had been fruitful, though, and Lucy purposed herself to review everything they had gone over rather than paying attention in class—after all, there wouldn’t be a point to learning the information if she lost tomorrow.
She also found herself dealing with a nervous sensation that slowly grew throughout the day. Today was their last chance to practice—and her last chance to find a way to stay at Greidwhen. Her anxiety wasn’t as unbearable as it was in the beginning, though. Thanks to Cedric, she had learned a spell that promised to give her an incredible edge against Nora. She also had Rosseau, who was already fantastic in battle, and had been graciously patient with her shortcomings. She wouldn’t let him down anymore.
Thankfully for the trio’s training agenda, classes ended at twelve o’clock on Fridays, and the final bell signaled a return to the training fields for all of them. Lucy and Rosseau walked over together as usual, and Cedric—as usual for him—showed up from wherever he spent his time while class was in session. Lucy knew it wasn’t the time nor the place to inquire about his enrollment at Greidwhen, but if she was fortunate enough to still be here tomorrow it was at the top of the list of things she wanted to poke her nose into.
The time had come to resume practicing the barrier charm. As a warmup, Cedric had Lucy focus on casting it for herself only. The first couple of tries failed with a fizzle, but on the third try she got it.
“About eight seconds within the timeframe,” Cedric said, referencing the short window of time Lucy would have in between rounds to cast the charm. Ideally, she would cast it fast enough to allow for more strategy discussion after a round, but for their purposes right now any progress was good progress.
Half an hour later they moved on to extending the charm to Rosseau. Lucy had already done it successfully a couple times last night—out of a dozen tries—but failures here were more critical than ever. Extending the charm to Rosseau required twice the amount of magic to be put into the spell cast, so a failed cast wasted twice as much magic as before.
Again, there was nothing more for Cedric to teach her at this point. She had managed two successful casts already, which showed that she knew the process, but as he already told them—knowing a spell’s process is only the first step in casting it consistently.
Rosseau’s presence seemed to help again, though. For whatever reason the young, blond noble was not bashful at all when it came to placing his hands on top of Lucy’s while she cast the spell. She was shy about it, though. After all, Rosseau was a handsome boy—she had always thought that—and he had been a constant pillar of support for her all this time. She felt lucky to have him, but she didn’t appreciate the distracting thoughts that flooded her head whenever their hands touched. She only wanted to focus on how much she appreciated that he was there. And—unbeknownst to herself—it was thoughts such as that which made these complicated spells seem trivial to complete.
A familiar chime resounded around them and Lucy smiled, having no doubt as she opened her eyes to see her work. The charm was active.
“You did it!” Rosseau cheered, looking down at the two, overlapping rings of light on the ground. One centered around Lucy, and the other around himself.
Cedric sneaked a short sigh of relief. There was still plenty of work to be done today, but a start like this in only an hour should bode well for day’s end results.
The hours passed one by one, and after Lucy showed an acceptable consistency with casting the charm onto herself and Rosseau, Cedric moved them on to optimizing the amount of magic to put into it. As always, he began with a short lecture that covered the underlying concepts behind the topic—this time concerning magic measurement.
“I’m sure you’ve seen this in class before, but the first thing we need to understand is that magic is incredibly difficult to measure. Whether it’s measuring the amount of raw magic an individual holds, or how much magic a charm needs to sustain itself for a period, there are too many factors that keep us from getting a perfect value.”
Lucy shot her hand up from where she sat, “Like the varying lengths of people’s arms!”
“Err, yes that is one example,” Cedric said, nearly rolling his eyes as he watched Lucy smugly cross her arms with a self-satisfied smirk. “Because of this, no single-instance method has been found to measure magic. However, we canuse carefully planned processes that will approximate whatever measurement we are looking for.”
Rosseau raised his hand. “So, this is kind of like the Inner-Warmth-Index? How caravan traders used Inner-Warmth so regularly that it became a way to size up each other’s magic-reserve?”
Lucy smiled and gave Cedric an acknowledging glance. It was exact same story he had introduced her to the first day they met up in library.
“Yes, that’s probably the most well known measuring process for magic. However, an entirely different one is required for our needs—a process that you have an important role in,” he said to Rosseau.
“Here comes another one, Lu’!” Rosseau shouted from the other end of the field.
“Right!” Lucy answered back. Her protection charm was active, and there were noticeable scorch marks on the grass around its perimeter.
Taking a deep breath, Rosseau channeled his magic and shot out a burst of fire from his wand. The violent, curling flame sped across the field towards Lucy, closing the distance in a few seconds. On cue, a few barriers appeared at the last second to protect her, and the flaming mass exploded against them, dissipating to reveal an unharmed Lucy.
“That’s ten, so far,” Cedric mumbled to himself, looking back at his notes for the measuring process. The plan was simple, but lengthy, as he had explained to them earlier.
“The process to figure out how much magic you should put into a charm like this is to decide how many attacks we want it to last through, see how many attacks it currently survives, and adjust the amount of magic you cast it with accordingly.”
Eleven. That was the number of attacks Cedric had decided on after his extensive research last night. But not just anyattack—not all attack spells were equal of course. Lucy’s charm had to block eleven hits from Nora’s favorite spell, which he ascertained from the recordings to be a combination of Make-Icicle and Throw.
The combination was also supported by Nora’s second charm that she used for matches—Levitate—which helped her stylishly keep an arsenal of icicles beside her, ready for throwing.
Cedric held his breath as he watched Rosseau fire an eleventh instance of Fire-Shot towards Lucy. While Rosseau didn’t know how to cast an icicle and throw it, Cedric had calculated that Fire-Shot hit just as hard. Their near-equal destructiveness did raise concerns, though. Nora’s combination should require more magic to use. Did she not know this? Did she use ice because she liked it? The lapse in optimization bothered him. Hopefully it would just be another mark for the small tally of advantages they had against her.
Rosseau’s spell clashed with Lucy’s charm for the eleventh time. It would be a miracle if the charm broke here and Lucy happened to cast the charm with the exact amount of magic they needed. If that was the case, they could spend the remaining time perfecting other spells. But as the smoke and dust cleared, the charm’s perimeter of light could be seen, and its barriers faded then disappeared as usual—ready to intercept the next attack.
Lucy let out an irritated breath, looking at the perimeter of light that continued to surround her. That was the attack Cedric wanted the charm to break with. Hopefully, it wouldn’t take too many more attacks to break it. If it was even one or two more over, Cedric said that would be acceptable. But any more than that and they would have to bring that number down.
The process of hitting the barrier with Fire-Shot continued, and finally the charm broke after the nineteenth attack.
“Not bad. I was worried it would get into the high twenties,” Cedric said as they gathered together.
“So, now I have to try to cast it with less magic?” Lucy asked.
“Yes, and this is where it gets difficult. There’s no real way to define how much less magic you’ll need to cast the charm with. We’ll just have to keep adjusting and see how many attacks it can handle each time.”
“And then we move on to doubling it, so it can be extended to me,” Rosseau confirmed.
“Double?” Lucy interrupted. There was a puzzled look on her face.
“Err…yeah. Because we have to extend the charm onto me.”
Lucy began to fidget, hesitant. There was something there, an observation putting itself together in her mind. It felt obvious, but if Cedric and Rosseau weren’t speaking up—perhaps it wasn’t anything after all?
“Isn’t—umm…isn’t nineteen already pretty close to twenty-two? That’s almost enough to cover me and Rosseau for eleven attacks,” she finally said.
Cedric looked at Lucy, a look of unbelief taking over his expression as he began flipping through his notes. Rosseau himself looked intrigued, reading along over Cedric’s shoulder, eager to see if Lucy was onto something.
“Y-you’re right,” Cedric said, his tone astounded. Lucy had cast a charm that blocked nearly twice the amount of attacks he specified. If she used just a bit more magic for the version that covered both herself and Rosseau, the result should be a charm that protected them from the exact amount of attacks they needed. It was so simple, but it was an outcome he hadn’t considered, and he realized why. During his research, he wrote off having them start with the extended charm because of all the magic it could potentially waste. So, when he laid out the measuring process, he became fixated on not doing the extended charm until they had perfected the normal version. The possibility that Lucy would cast the extended charm with nearly the exact amount they needed completely escaped him.
Cedric fought a smirk. “We’re moving onto the extended charm. Lucy, I think you already know what to do?”
“Right!” Lucy said with a jubilant nod, standing herself beside Rosseau for the charm.
“Pretty good catch,” Rosseau commended.
“Oh, it was nothing!” Lucy smiled brightly, closing her eyes and beginning the the cast before Rosseau even had a chance to get ready.
In no time at all, the charm was cast onto them both, and the two teammates spaced themselves out to see how many attacks it would survive this time. A few short minutes and some violent fireballs later, the results were in. Both charms blocked eleven attacks exactly.
Cedric was astonished, though he hid it better this time. If Lucy hadn’t realized what she did about the charm, right now he would be taking them through the long, arduous method he laid out in his notes. With this new development, though, they would be done with this part in maybe another thirty minutes.
Cedric looked carefully at Lucy, watching as she frolicked towards him with a delighted smile on her face. It took him awhile to admit it, but he was enjoying teaching her. When was the last time he had felt that way?
Still, there was something in the back of his mind whispering to him that it wouldn’t stay like this—that it would end the same way it always did.
After perfecting the charm for another hour, Cedric allowed Lucy and Rosseau to train whatever they wanted. He recommended a few attack spells which Lucy attempted, but—as he figured— they were just too new and different from what she was familiar with. She would need more than a day to get a successful cast, so, instead, she and Rosseau sought to polish the spells she already knew.
The afternoon came and went, and as dusk came to an end, Rosseau began to gather his things.
“My family requires that I check in every week—give them a review of how my academics have been going, listen to inter-family politics, those sorts of things,” he told Cedric, who had inquired about his premature departure. “It’ll be a few quick hops through the Gates for me to get there, but I won’t be back until early morning.”
“Don’t be late for our match tomorrow,” Lucy joked, handing him a handkerchief. “And clean your face, you look like a mess.”
Rosseau laughed, wiping his face with it. “Thanks, Lu’. And you as well, Cedric. Thanks to you, I feel that we have morethan a good chance of beating Nora tomorrow.”
“I…hope it was enough,” Cedric replied, still not used to receiving gratitude.
Rosseau smiled. “I’ll see you both tomorrow,” he finished and left the training field. Lucy and Cedric watched his figure pace down the cobblestone path until he rounded a building’s corner out of sight.
The night was quiet, save for the faint sounds of a few other students practicing in the other fields beyond their’s. Cedric glanced over to Lucy, whose gaze was still fixated on the corner where Rosseau had disappeared from.
“There’s still a couple of hours left in the day. Was there anything else you wanted to practice?” Cedric asked.
Lucy continued to stare out to where Rosseau had been, a hint of concern in her eyes. “Do you think I should have told him?” She asked, softly.
“How would I know the answer to that?”
Lucy broke into a fit laughter, caught off guard by Cedric’s bluntness. “What kind of answer is that?” She laughed even more.
Cedric felt relieved seeing her reaction. The last thing he wanted was for her to feel anxious about the stakes she was facing in tomorrow’s match. It would be up to him to keep her distracted though. At least until curfew.
Lucy finished her giggling, letting out a long, relaxed sigh at the end. “I don’t know, we’ve done so much today. I’m nearly out of magic, too. And I’m starving.”
“Oh, yeah it would be a good idea to eat. The dining hall is still open, did you want to head over there?” The thought tugged at Cedric’s stomach, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten for the past seven hours either. The food in the dining hall was always a treat, and Fridays especially because the bakery-
“Nope! I actually brought something for us to eat!” Lucy said, excited as she stooped down to rummage through her schoolbag. A moment later she procured a handkerchief-wrapped bundle, untying it to reveal a steel container, which she pried open to reveal the assortment of goodies inside it. There was a large parcel of steak jerky, three wooden bowls each with a mixture of pre-steamed rice, carrots, and peas, half a loaf of sourdough bread, and a handful of sweet-corn muffin bits.
“I completely forgot to tell you both before it was time for Rosseau to leave, so it looks like we’ll have to take care of this meal ourselves,” Lucy laughed, taking out a thin, cork-sealed vessel which she opened and poured its contents into two spare cups. “Tea?” she asked, holding the drink out to Cedric.
“Oh, wait!” Lucy drew the cup back, almost spilling it. “Sorry, just one moment,” she said, closing her eyes and bringing the cup close to her. By the pace of her breathing, Cedric could tell she was channeling magic. A second later, Lucy released a deep breath, and steam began to rise from the cup’s mouth.
“Here, now it’s ready,” she said, letting him take the cup from her.
“A cup that can be used as a totem for magic, I wasn’t expecting that.”
“They sell them in the town below, I thought they were neat, so I bought a few.”
Cedric took a sip of the warm tea. Its temperature was perfect, though he wasn’t familiar with the flavor. It was refreshing, he thought.
Delighted that Cedric seemed to enjoy it, Lucy warmed her own cup up, and then did the same for the bowls of rice and vegetables, putting torn bits of jerky on top after it was done. She only realized it now, but it was the first time she was using more than one of the bowls and cups at a time.
“You can probably tell, but this is the only part that I made myself,” she said as she handed him the warmed bowl.
“I’m sure it’s good.”
Taking the spoon, Cedric scooped a moist chunk from the rice, jerky, and vegetable mixture and stuffed it in his mouth. He was caught by surprise. It was good—a point he made clear by making a positive grunt.
Lucy showed a pleased smile, digging into her own bowl. The bread was a nice complement to the main dish, even if it was a day old. They just made sure to leave the hard crust alone and take only the firm bits in the center.
After finishing his share of the main course along with half of Rosseau’s, Cedric took a couple of the sweet-corn muffins, recognizing them from the dining hall’s bakery from a couple nights ago. They were well kept, moist, and just as delicious as they had been a couple nights ago.
The two kids didn’t speak much throughout their meal, and they each realized that the resulting awkwardness had risen to an impalpable level, though both did have something they wanted to ask the other. More than the telepathy spell, there was something else that Cedric had remembered from last night’s research session—an intriguing revelation that he happened upon which concerned the girl in front of him.
Lucy too, was teeming with questions regarding Cedric being a magicless. She no longer believed that he had killed anyone with his magic—but then why was it taken away? And even more, why was he so incredible at teaching it? She couldn’t muster the courage to ask him these things, though—but Cedric wasn’t so shy.
“Why enter the tournament in your first-year?” Cedric asked.
“Most first-years know- I mean…assume they can’t make it far in the tournament. In fact, only about five percent of first years even try,” Cedric said, sharing one of the many statistics he had collected from this week’s research. He wouldn’t share the other statistic that weighed on his mind, though—that less than one percent of all tournament winners had been first-years.
“Oh…well…” Lucy fell quiet, staring at the near-empty cup she held in her hands. Of course she had a reason, but it was one that she wasn’t too eager to share with others. She had only told Rosseau a couple weeks ago, and though she was grateful to Cedric for all of his help, it didn’t feel like the right time to tell him. She didn’t want to completely lie to him either, though; so instead she would only tell him a part of it.
“Well, you know what happens after you win the tournament, right?” Lucy asked, preparing her half-truth.
“…you get the honor of facing the Celestial Mages. ‘A single match to earn eternal glory’,” Cedric answered, taking a quote from one of the books he read concerning it.
“E-exactly! And I’ve always wanted to face them ever since I was little!” Lucy let herself get excited. “It’s such a rare opportunity, only a handful of people ever get to do it. And this group hasn’t been defeated yet, so-!” Lucy caught herself almost slipping up and tried to calm down. “And…I’m sure you know that after they’re defeated, they don’t come back for another few years, so this year really is my best chance to face them. Even if I lose I’d like the chance at least.”
Cedric didn’t respond. This group. His mind dwelled on those words. It was exactly as he had suspected.
“You know, it’s been twenty years since the Celestial Mages were last defeated,” Cedric said, seemingly innocent. “Apparently, many have come close—though it’s hard to know how close when the matches are private—but we’re currently in the longest losing streak ever had against the Celestials.”
“Y-yes. Professor Farland says we’re living in a historic period of the tournament.”
“He’s certainly correct about that. Especially given who the last team was to actually defeat them.”
Lucy’s chest tensed, but she didn’t let it show on her face as Cedric continued.
“…the heroes who last defeated the Celestial Mages, and five years later sacrificed themselves to save us from a cult of Dark Mages. The famous Bleu-Cambre Mages led by Champion Sorcerer, Lorena Blanchette.”
Lucy remained quiet with a tense look on her face that cause Cedric to rethink what he was doing. Perhaps it would be best to leave it for another time and allow her to focus on tomorrow’s match. Yes, that’s what he would do.
Cedric took in a deep breath and let it it out in a huff, trying to break the tension he had caused between them. “Anyways, it certainly is a historic period-“
“I’m not stupid, you know.” Lucy interrupted, surprising Cedric. Though her tone may have been abrasive, her expression was delicate—as if she could break down at any moment. “You know already, don’t you?” she said, her voice unsteady.
Cedric ran a hand through his hair, annoyed that he had not handled this as delicately as he should have. He looked back at her with intent, realizing his position. If he didn’t answer her now, it would be a disrespect to her.
“Historically, the Celestial Mages are known to be the spirits of past mages who did incredible things to influence the world,” he continued, noticing Lucy’s expression tighten ever so slightly. He moved his gaze away from her, deciding it best to continue this way. “It’s taboo to talk about their identities, but after Lorena and the others…saved us, it was certain that they would assume the mantle and become the next Celestial Mages. And…well.”
“…If there was even a whisper of a chance that it was true…nobody would think it strange that you of all people would want to use that opportunity to meet them. Because…”
Cedric took a last, careful look at the girl in front of him and realized what a selfish fool he had been. Her shoulders were trembling, and her eyes were glossed with tears, ready to spill over. However, he had no choice but to continue, and he took a deep, quiet breath to prepare himself for what he was about to say.
“Lorena…was your mother. And you simply want to see her again.”
Hearing those words, Lucy buried her face into her hand and let out the crying whimper she had been fighting to hold in. It was no use, though, and quickly her whimpering grew into muffled cry.
“I’m sorry. I…overstepped my bounds,” Cedric said.
Lucy lifted her head, sniffling and rubbing her eyes. “No,” she choked. “If you knew, then I’m glad you didn’t hide it.”
Lucy took a moment to compose herself as best she could. Sniffling and wiping the rest of her tears away. One minute and a wet handkerchief later, she was mostly back to her normal self, taking a deep, relaxed breath.
“How did you find out?”
“Last night when I was reviewing previous tournament winners, I came across an old news-piece written after Lorena’s victory. Somewhere in it, the surname Hardtvelt appeared, belonging to a man named Grisham.”
Lucy looked faintly surprised. It was her father’s name, but as far as she knew he had never been a student at Greidwhen.
“The article described him as being a close friend of Lorena’s team, and it talked about a rumor that he was romantically involved with one of the members.”
Lucy almost gave an endearing chuckle. She knew very little of her parents’ younger days. It was warming to hear about something like this. “So, you figured it out just from that?” she asked.
“Just that your mother was on the team, not that she was Lorena herself. That part took another hour of digging through other articles that were released…well…that were released after what happened five years later.”
“Oh,” Lucy said, pensive. “Of course.”
“Sorry. Eventually one of them talked about her family, and that’s where Grisham’s—err, your father’s name appeared again.”
“Mmm,” Lucy murmured, processing all of this. Cedric had found out her secret all on his own. Should she be mad? It wasn’t as if he did it by invading her privacy. He simply happened across a small hint, deduced the truth, then verified it with some investigating. It was how he approached everything as she had come to learn. He was smart, practical and calculating. So, no, she wasn’t upset in the slightest. In fact, she found herself wishing she could be as smart as him.
“Say,” Lucy finally spoke up. “Do you think you could show me that article you came across? The one after Lorena won?”
“Now? I mean, the library is still open. So, yeah we can go and pull it out if you want.”
Lucy smiled. “Let’s go.”
Packing up everything, Lucy and Cedric headed to the library. While there, Cedric showed her the article he spoke of, as well as several others from the year Lorena Blanchette—a second-year of no special origin—took the Sorcerer’s Tournament by storm. For two hours, Lucy read through all the articles about her mother—some of them multiple times.
Cedric meanwhile found himself dealing with more than he bargained for with Lucy. Sometimes an article would leave her cheery. Other times she would get quiet or even teary eyed. She was unpredictable, though he understood the reason why. At the very least, he was pleased he had found something practical for her to spend the rest of the night with, rather than worrying about the match tomorrow.
Eventually, night had settled in completely, and it was time for them to end the long day
“Do you think someone like me can win the tournament?” Lucy asked, walking beside Cedric as they headed towards the dorms together.
“Perhaps, with enough practice and effort.”
“Is that your way of avoiding a statistical answer?” Lucy jeered.
Cedric didn’t answer. She was right on the money.
“Hmm, then let me ask this. Do you think I have a chance to win tomorrow?”
Lucy came to a halt in-front of Cedric. She was higher up than him now, and he realized she was partway up the stairs leading to the side-entrance of the Girl’s Dormitory. She was looking at him intently, and he traced the glistening reflection of the lamp’s firelight in her gentle, rose-colored eyes.
“With you and Rosseau together…I know you do,” he answered.
For reasons unknown to him, Lucy didn’t respond, but continued to gaze at him for a short moment.
“Well, I should get to bed,” she finally said, heading up the last few steps and creaking open the thin, wooden door. “You’ll…be there tomorrow, right?” she gave one last look to Cedric, who looked faintly surprised.
“I’ll be there. Have a goodnight.”
The corners of Lucy’s lips curled ever so slightly at his answer. “Goodnight,” she responded, prompting Cedric to give a final nod and leave towards his own dorm.
Satisfied, Lucy headed into the dorm and paced down its dimly lit hall to reach the stairs. The muffled voices and girlish squeals from the other rooms were a reminder that curfew had arrived. All the noise fell on deaf ears however. Lucy’s mind was elsewhere, but she didn’t quite know where. Her heart was beating fast, and she wondered if it was from a lingering anxiousness about tomorrow’s match.
“Where is he?” Lucy muttered to herself for the dozenth time. She paced back and forth at her end of the gymnasium arena, the ends of her lavender combat robe fluttering as erratically as her mind. The match was in ten minutes, and both Rosseau and Cedric had yet to arrive.
The only consolation to her sanity was the fact that Nora hadn’t arrived yet either. It was still nerve-wracking, though. Right now, it was just her and the two arena refs in the enormous room. The refs wore tattered black cloaks with drawn hoods to conceal their faces. They also wore decorated, ceramic half-masks which covered the upper half of their face. It was an accessory that always made her uneasy.
The bolstering echo of a door opening perked Lucy’s attention. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the door behind her that opened, which would signal the arrival of Rosseau, but it was still the next best thing.
“Cedric!” Lucy shouted, seeing him come through one of the observer’s entrances.
“Hey,” Cedric said, meeting Lucy on the other side of the arena’s short fence. “Where’s Rosseau?”
“I don’t know! He’s never been this late before!” Lucy said.
Cedric looked at the flustered girl in front of him. This is exactly what he wanted to avoid. Anxiety like this would only hurt her performance in the match, even if Rosseau did show up now. Where was he?
Another, loud bash of a door being pushed open filled the room. Cedric and Lucy both turned their gaze towards the source—which unfortunately came from the other side of the arena this time.
“Nora,” Lucy whispered. Her voice quaking.
Surely enough, Nora entered through her team’s designated entrance on the opposite side of the arena. Her smile was proud—prouder that it had ever looked. Her strides were elegant and her posture grand—everything about the way she carried herself showed the marks of her upbringing as an Elefrian noble.
Nora’s eyes were fixed on Lucy from the moment she entered, sending a chill down Lucy’s back. Nora smirked, then took a glance at Cedric. The sight of the magicless boy made her want to laugh.
“Rosseau, where are you?” Lucy whispered desperately. Then her eyes went wide as she saw someone following Nora.
Lucy didn’t believe it at first, shaking her head and closing her eyes before taking a second look. But her eyes weren’t deceiving her, and her mind, heart, gut—everything dropped at once.
It was Rosseau following behind Nora, and there was an incredible sadness in his face.
“What!?” Lucy heard Cedric chide through gritted teeth.
Lucy’s knees began to shake. She didn’t quite understand, but she had an idea of what it all meant.
Cedric, meanwhile, understood the implication at once. Rosseau had come through the same entrance as Nora. He belonged to Nora’s team now.
“Now then, I’ve been soooo~ much looking forward to our match, Lucy.” Nora smiled grossly. “I hope you’ve prepared as well as I have.”