The day following my battle with the Heartless and the memorial was my seventeenth birthday. Seeing how I wasn’t conscious for my last birthday, my family seemed determined to help me enjoy it.
My father had two sisters, and my mother had a sister and two brothers. These aunts and uncles brought their families to the castle that day to help us celebrate. We just got together in the evening and had a meal together. It was about as fancy as I let them get. I didn’t really care for anything more.
I had tried to talk them out of gifts, but of course they all brought some anyway. It seemed they were trying to show their support in my magic studies as many of them brought me different spell books, charms, and other equipment that could be helpful. I appreciated their thoughtfulness and acceptance of my studies.
My mother was less pleased.
I think my mother had it in her mind that I would learn this magic to help me fight but then never actually use it. She had just been supportive of me having something to learn and do with myself. Maybe she was hoping it was just going to be a phase and I’d grow out of it. After I had been in that battle all by myself, and even worse hadn’t been deterred from fighting again in the future, she had not been able to control how upset she became.
My relatives didn’t know about all this though as they had selected these gifts well before my fight. I often saw my mother pouting as the night went on and she did nothing to hide her dislike of what I had been given.
Them getting me gifts at all wasn’t really that much of a surprise. I accepted them thankfully. They would actually be quite useful. What was a surprise though was when the party started wrapping up, Malik came up to me with a box.
He was obviously trying to downplay any significance I might interpret. The box was only just bigger than his hand and it wasn’t even wrapped. He just moseyed over to me and casually lifted it up to me.
“Don’t say anything,” he ordered. “Just take it.”
I looked over the box before eying him. I wanted to say something but I’m sure he was trying to protect his ego. It wouldn’t do to have his student know how nice he could be, after all.
I took the box and lifted the lid. Inside was a crystal. It was shaped somewhat like a star with several sharp points shooting out of it’s center. It was a light greenish blue color and the center of it was glowing softly.
My jaw dropped a little. I recognized it from my studies with the owner of the accessory shop.
“An Orichalcum?” I gaped at it.
“Good,” Malik noted. “So I don’t have to explain it.”
Malik turned to walk off as if there was nothing else to be said. I looked at him.
“But this is so rare!” I asked. “You shouldn’t give it to me like this!”
Malik turned back to me and shrugged. “Since you can fight Heartless now,” he explained, “you’re going to be gaining a lot more experience and getting a lot more levels. You’re good at using that staff of yours and you should hold onto it.” He pointed at the Orichalcum. “I figured you might be able to use this to upgrade your staff when you need to.”
I looked back at the crystal. I doubted I had the skill to use it properly, but if I gave it to someone more experienced, they probably could make my staff more powerful with it.
It was surprising enough that he gave me a gift at all, but it was also surprising how much thought he had put into it.
“Thank you,” I smiled up at him. “I’ll be sure to use it when I’m ready.”
“Good,” he nodded. “Don’t want it to go to waste.”
I was touched by the gift. Behind Malik though, I could see my mother who had been watching us. I could see her glaring daggers into the back of Malik’s head. I think he was aware of this too but did nothing to acknowledge her. He just gave me a quick smile and nod and turned away. He walked right past her without any sign of shame or hesitation. She kept her gaze burning into him as he went past.
I wasn’t sure why she had decided it was his fault I had battled that Heartless. It had been what I wanted to do since long before Malik had even come here. Vander had been with us when the Heartless appeared. He had been separated just like Malik was. But for some reason it was still all Malik’s doing in her mind.
I hoped I did a passable job being the guest of honor at my birthday part. I was extremely sore after all that extra running during the Heartless fight. I would have preferred to stay in bed the whole day but had to be on my feet to greet my family who had come from other cities to visit me.
Malik seemed more than happy to give me a few more days off to fully recover. I’m sure he wanted to relax on his own and that was fine. I read some of the books I had been given but mostly just took things easy for a few days.
I had the impression that the argument concerning what had happened was ongoing. Malik didn’t eat any meals with us over the next few days. One time I entered a room where my parents were with Vander and Malik and they suddenly fell completely silent when they saw me. Malik then immediately left. Any time I asked what was going on, they avoided the subject.
My mother had made her position obvious in spite of not being up front about it. She began a habit of trying to bring up new hobbies to me as if she expected to find something I would rather be doing than learning how to fight. After practicing for close to a year though, I found magic so interesting and fun on its own that I wanted to keep studying it regardless. Using it to fight, while had been my original intention, had just become a bonus.
I wasn’t sure what my father’s stance on the issue was. He was harder to read. He seemed to be a part of the arguments but I wasn’t sure what side he was on.
Part of me found this annoying. I had been working towards this fight for months and they should have known it was coming. If they didn’t like it, they should have said so sooner.
I wasn’t sure if any kind of consensus had been reached but a week later I returned to my studies with Malik. We met outside the castle out on the grounds like normal, but Vander had come along with us. He was scheduled soon to leave home soon to go back to his studies in other kingdoms, so I found it unusual he was spending his time with us instead of getting ready to leave. Then Malik’s lesson started and his first order of business wasn’t something I was expecting.
“Today you’re going to start learning Cure,” he announced.
Malik had been so dead set against me learning Cure until I knew how to defend myself in a fight. He wanted me to get a handle on my offensive and defensive techniques and their purpose before looking at regenerative measures.
Vander was standing with his arms folded a short distance behind Malik. As I stared at my teacher, I saw Vander give a light nod. Suddenly the reason for his presence there became clear. I glanced at him before looking back at Malik with a smirk.
“Really?” I teased. “You sure there aren’t a couple dozen more spells I should learn first?”
“No, now’s the time,” he insisted plainly.
“I did just fine without it,” I continued playfully. “I probably don’t need it.”
Malik was clearly in no mood to play along. “Don’t push your luck,” he grumbled. “Do you want to learn the spell or not?”
I smiled innocently. “Well, if you really think it’s best…” I said.
Malik summoned his staff. “Honestly,” he complained. “Not sure where you picked up this sass.”
Vander and I had the same answer. “From you,” we both pointed out firmly.
Malik started to answer, but then stopped. “…Huh,” he uttered, the thought occurring to him we were probably right.
He didn’t dwell on the issue. He just started the lesson on the cure spell. Vander stayed there with us as an observer for a couple hours before he had other things he had to see to.
Cure itself wasn’t that hard to grasp. The process was still slow, however. The issue was that it took so much power that it usually threw me right into MP Charge and so I couldn’t cast it again quickly. I was even just trying to only do a light healing but it happened each time. This seemed to be normal as Malik wasn’t surprised. It was very different from other spells I had used in that sense. Usually I could control how much strength and focus to put into it, but Cure just simply demanded all of it.
It was also hard to tell if it was really working. All we could tell was what the magic looked like but since neither of us were injured, or looking to get injured for that matter, it was hard to see if I was actually getting any results from it.
I would cast the spell and Malik would watch it closely for anything that seemed unusual, but then we’d have to wait a while before I could try again. We repeated this process for another couple hours before taking a break for lunch.
“We’ll meet back here later,” Malik mentioned. “Take as much time as you need.”
Malik then started walking away. I watched him as he went a short distance.
“You’re not eating here again?” I asked him. “Are you afraid of running into my parents?”
“I’ll see you later, Vye,” Malik said sternly, sounding mildly agitated.
I sighed. I didn’t like the fact that they seemed to be arguing and avoiding each other like this. Especially because it wasn’t Malik’s fault for any of this. They shouldn’t be directing their problems at him. They should just come to me but instead they wouldn’t talk to me about it at all.
I was also a little worried they might push Malik away because of this. He had only come here as a favor to my brother. He said he enjoyed living in the castle and all, but if my parents decided they didn’t want him teaching me anymore, there would be little either of us could do about it. Even if they didn’t kick him out, I was fairly certain he was getting some sort of payment. If they cut that off, would Malik decide to leave on his own?
There wasn’t much I could do about any of this if they were trying so hard to keep me out of the loop. I sighed to myself as I turned and headed in another direction from Malik.
I walked off through the grounds. With the work I had done so far, I was feeling more than ready to eat again. Malik and I weren’t the only ones who would use that area for practice as usually the guards and mages would practice there as well. Seemed most of them had had the same idea though as the grounds were mostly abandoned apart from the guards circling it for their assigned patrols.
I did see one person still practicing though. From my distance from them, I couldn’t exactly make out who it was but suddenly had the impression I knew who it was. They seemed familiar somehow.
I studied her as I got closer. She was about my age. Maybe a little older. She had long, silky black hair she currently had clipped into a pony tail. She had bright green eyes. Her clothing was normal training attire for the guard. She was still practicing with a target by firing fire balls at them. I noticed that she wasn’t using a staff, wand, or a book to focus her spells though. It was actually a silver rapier. She held it proudly and each movement had spell was done elegantly and effortlessly.
As I tried remembering how I knew her, I suddenly froze. It was Roperto’s sister I had met at the memorial. Her mother had run off in a huff but she had taken a moment to introduce herself to me and my father.
Then I felt a chill down my spine as I realized that I had been told her name, but could not remember what it was in the slightest.
I started to panic. I was only a short distance from her at this point. She hadn’t seen me. Maybe I could get past without having to interact with her.
I hadn’t forgotten on purpose. Meeting with the families of Nathan and Roperto were actually on my mind a lot as I felt so bad about the situation and how poorly I had handled it. I had been so torn up about the situation that any new information, names included, given to me that night just hadn’t registered.
But I didn’t want her to know that! How thoughtless would I look for not even bothering to remember the names of people that should have been so important?
I don’t know what she’d think. I hated myself for not remembering, I didn’t want her to do it too. I attempted to continue on towards the entrance to the castle.
After casting another spell though, Roperto’s sister turned and looked at me. I panicked and froze all over again. I’m sure this didn’t help me in any way as it would have been a pretty suspicious thing to do.
“Oh, hello, Princess Vye,” she greeted, sounding surprised.
My throat went dry. I coughed sheepishly.
“Um… hello… there,” I returned.
I’m sure my fear showed in my stare as I just blinked at her awkwardly. She just stood there blankly.
I couldn’t read her reaction. I don’t know if she suspected I didn’t know her name or if it bothered her. She didn’t express much emotion.
Whatever she was thinking, she turned turned back to her targets and held up her rapier again.
The utter guilt ate away at me. I couldn’t bring myself to move. She started to prepare another attack, aiming her sword at the target.
“I’m really bad with people!” I suddenly blurted loudly, not actually intending to say it out loud.
She looked back over at me, showing a brief glimpse of surprise again. I groaned and put a hand to my head. I winced at how I was only making my situation worse.
I stepped up to her, getting closer. “I’m sorry,” I started to quickly explain. “I forgot your name. I know you’re Roperto’s sister and so you shouldn’t be someone I forget and I didn’t mean to. There was just a lot going on that night and I felt so bad about what happened and with your mom and Nathan’s parents and I know so much was expected of me that I couldn’t live up to. I upset your mom already and I don’t want to upset you too even though you probably already hate me and you are totally justified in doing so since I’m only making things worse!” I bowed my head in defeat. “Please forgive me! I am not a total jerk, I am just a total idiot!”
She blinked at me again. The two of us stood there quietly for about a minute.
“Risa,” she spoke up finally. “My name is Risa.” I looked back up at her worriedly. “It’s fine if you don’t remember it.”
“Not it isn’t,” I argued.
“It really is,” she defended. “I understand.”
“I can’t even promise I won’t forget again,” I grumbled. “I’m just no good at this people thing. I don’t mean to offend you or anyone else. I’m just horribly under-practiced.”
“No, see, that’s why I understand,” Risa admitted. “I…” She sighed as she turned to faced her target again. “I’m not good with people either. Probably the only reason I know who you are is because I’d lose my job if I didn’t.”
I briefly wondered if she was serious but her tone seemed serious enough. She stood there with her rapier upheld. She seemed to be focusing. On the spell, I thought but then she spoke up again.
“It’s a usual name anyway, isn’t it?” She asked.
I peered at her. “Risa?” I asked. “It’s not that weird, I don’t think.”
She looked back at me. “No, Vye,” she corrected, sounding a little embarrassed suddenly.
“O-oh,” I recovered. “Uh… well, I guess?” I scratched my head. “I had some great, great, great grandmother named Violet and apparently I’m sorta named after her.”
There was another brief silence again.
“…It means ‘laughing one,’ I’ve heard,” she mentioned.
I was lost again. “I thought it was a color,” I muttered. "Or a flower..."
Risa grunted, annoyed. “Sorry!” She struggled. “I meant my name again! I’m not being very clear!”
The two of us stared at each other. Then we both burst out laughing at the same time.
“Wow, you really are as bad as me!” I commented.
“Told you!” She agreed.
Risa regained her composure and focused back on her target again. Just like before, she effortlessly fired an attack. She cast a Blizzard spell this time. It hurled chunks of ice towards her target. They were larger and moved much faster than any Blizzard I had used.
“Blizzara?” I asked her.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “Just started learning it so I need more practice. I want to get all the second level spells figured out.”
“I need to do that too,” I added. “I got the hang of Thundara quite a while ago but nothing else.”
“I’ve gotten Aera, Thundara, and Fira,” she went on. “Been trying out Cura too but that hasn’t been as successful.”
“I only started to learn Cure today,” I sighed.
Risa looked back over at me, surprised yet again. “You know Thundara but not Cure?” She asked.
I chuckled nervously. “It’s a long story,” I uttered.
Risa looked back at her target and sent another Blizzara out. I studied her rapier again.
“I’ve never seen any one use magic with a sword before,” I commented.
Risa glanced at me before looking down at her weapon. “It’s not as common,” she acknowledged. “It doesn’t give much boost to magic at all and casting times are slow.” She shrugged. “But it works much better as a regular weapon if I need it and when it comes down to it, you can focus magic through anything you want to.”
I glanced down at my staff. After it got me out of the Heartless fight alive, I had gotten strangely attached to it. The idea of using something else seemed foreign to me at that point, but still the way other people used different things was interesting. Risa had found something I hadn’t seen before.
Magic was versatile that way. I had a lot to learn.
“But still, since it is slow,” Risa continued, “it may take me more time to get where I want to be. I’ve been using magic for close to six months now and I’m not as far along as I’d like.”
I was shocked. “Like… six months total?” I asked.
She nodded. I groaned.
“I’ve been practicing for close to a year now!” I whined. “You’re either a genius or I’m really bad at this!”
Risa shrugged lightly. “I’ve been told I’m a genius,” she justified, “but I just always expect the best from myself. I don’t really care what label I’m given.”
That didn’t exactly help me feel better. I was trying hard and Malik was putting all this time into me. I didn’t stop to wonder how well I was progressing. Risa even had a handicap with a weaker weapon but was casting more advanced spells than I was.
Risa sent out more ice. She soon returned to her original position and started focusing again.
“…Don’t worry about my mother,” she said suddenly.
She had changed the subject without context again so I just waited for her. She faced me again.
“She’s… had it rough,” she explained. “My father passed away five years ago and she hasn’t been the same since. When Roperto… well… she hasn’t handled it the best either. I don’t think she really blames you. It just makes it easier to blame someone.”
She didn’t elaborate more than that. I took a moment to consider her story.
“Then it’s fine,” I decided. “If that helps her… If that’s really easier for her and helps keep her together, then I’m okay with it. It might as well be my fault anyway.”
Risa studied me silently for another moment.
“What happened was…” she began. She hesitated. “I miss him of course. What happened was so horrible for everyone. Our family isn’t the only one to lose someone. But as terrible as it was, after it happened, what I saw was everyone come together to try and make our homes safe again. I saw your family doing everything they could. They are good people. Roperto thought so too. He was so proud when he was accepted into the castle guard. I was proud of him too. Now that he isn’t here… I want to do my best in his place. For this kingdom. For your family.” She tilted her head a little at me. “For you too.”
I clutched my staff. “Thank you for saying that,” I told her. “I want to be deserving of this position I hold and the people like you and Roperto who protect us.” I held my staff up a little higher. “And I want to help protect you too. I want to use my power to make sure that no one else has to be taken like Roperto. It’s my goal to make it so your mother won’t suffer like that again.”
Risa smiled slightly. “You’re not supposed to do our job for us,” she debated.
“I don’t think I can do it for you,” I surrendered. “But maybe I can help make that job easier.”
Risa smiled to give her approval. Before either of us could say anything else, I heard and felt my stomach growl. It was clearly loud enough for her to hear as she chuckled at it.
“Maybe you should get some lunch,” she suggested.
“Yeah,” I noted. I glanced at her again. “Do you want to come? Have you eaten yet?”
“No,” she said, “but I’m fine right now. I want to get more work done first. But thank you.”
“All right,” I nodded. I turned while waving a hand at her. “I’ll see you around, Risa.”
“Yes, see you, Princess Vye,” she offered.
I stopped, facing her again. “You don’t need to call me that,” I said. “Just Vye’s okay.”
“…Am I allowed to do that?” She asked, sounding unsure.
I shrugged. “I think as long as I say so,” I justified.
“…We’ll see,” she decided. She waved. “Later.”
I nodded to her. I turned again and headed off into the castle while she went back to her practice.
As rocky start as that was, that may have been the most normal conversation I had ever had with someone I was only just meeting. Another small success to be grateful for.