“It’s time to test out that Cure of yours,” Malik announced one day.
He didn’t really elaborate much more than that, but after all this time I was used to Malik’s tendency to withhold information. After I had spent the last few weeks trying my best to master Cure, he was leading me off through the castle grounds.
What he neglected to mention was he planned on doing this test at the infirmary on castle grounds near the guard station. This is where they would take the injured people after fights with the Heartless. It did occur to me the only way I would be able to see if my Cure was working was to use it on someone that was already hurt. I guess I just hadn’t anticipated visiting the people who had gotten hurt trying to keep the rest of us safe from the Heartless.
Trying to keep people safe from the Heartless that were really after me.
I was a little hesitant going in there. Whether or not Malik was aware of this, he went inside like it was nothing and I was forced to follow. I had been practicing Cure for weeks now and I agreed it was time to see if it was working. I couldn’t hold myself back just because I was feeling guilty.
I had more or less figured out why Malik had been so reluctant to teach me Cure. Aside from the other reasons he had already mentioned, Cure just slowed the whole process down. I could get a grasp of using a spell from a book or having it described to me, but until I actually used it and felt the magic in action, I couldn’t really say I knew much about it. Magic did take study, but it also took action and practice.
Because Cure threw me into MP Charge so quickly, that meant not only could I not cast it, but I couldn’t really cast anything else until my MP came back. After a week or so of only casting Cure, I figured out that I could cast the other spells first, and when my MP was almost gone after all those attacks, I could then cast Cure with basically the same result. I’m pretty sure Malik was aware of this and was waiting for me to discover it on my own. When I shared this discovery with him, he more or less agreed it was a good idea but didn’t seem surprised at it all.
This helped give me more time with other spells. It just didn’t give me any more time to work with Cure itself.
I hadn’t been sure what to expect once inside. We went into a room that probably took up a good portion of the whole building. It was lined inside with cots and beds for the injured to rest on while receiving treatment. Many beds were not being used, but there were about twenty or so guards in there wearing bandages and splints.
There were a few other guards there not in beds. They didn’t seem to be there for treatment so I wasn’t sure what their purpose was. It may have been just as simple as guarding or transporting the wounded. Risa was among them. Since she was often found practicing on the grounds just like I was, we had run into each other periodically. We had graduated from awkward small talk to regular small talk during that time. The conversations were normally kept short since we had things to do. That was probably just as well since both of us were hardly conversationalists.
She noticed me when I entered the room with Malik but we weren’t given an opportunity to greet each other. Malik just went about checking which guards were ready to be healed.
After the first patient had been selected, Malik stood aside to let me heal him. He was probably one of the better looking ones there. He had no bandages and only looked like he had taken a blow to the face. The left side of it was red and swollen like it would bruise if left alone.
“Um, this is my first test,” I told him cautiously. “Sorry if it doesn’t work…”
“That’s okay, Princess,” the guard said. “Thanks for taking some time to do this.”
If I wasn’t there practicing, I would just be somewhere else practicing so I wasn’t sure what kind of time I was actually sacrificing for him, but I smiled best I could.
I held up my staff. “Heal,” I attempted the spell.
The green glowing leaves appeared like normal. The man glowed a little and then the light faded away.
The redness on his face started to fade. He let out a relieved sigh.
“That feels better,” he reported.
I felt just as relieved it seemed to be working properly. Malik seemed about as satisfied with the results as he normally was when a test went off well.
Since we were inside, I couldn’t really do the other spells before Cure so this meant we basically had to wait around for my MP to come back in between each healing. That left us with nothing else to do but talk to the guards there while they waited.
“I didn’t see the big one show up and it knocked me right into the wall,” one guard explained, motioning to his injuries.
I glanced around the room. “Was this all from the same fight?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Most of these are from the fights at the western wall.”
I looked back at him. “Western wall?” I inquired.
Risa had been part of the conversation. She shrugged.
“Heartless tend to gather there,” she said. “It’s the weirdest thing. Swarms of them. They appear there more anywhere else. Especially in the evening and early morning.”
I gripped my staff more tightly.
My room was on the western side of the castle.
“No one has been taken for a long time,” the guard mentioned casually. “But there’s so many that we usually see some injuries.”
I suppose I could have been grateful no one had lost their heart, but I just looked around the room again knowing that these guards were hurt fighting Heartless that had been wanting to come after me and not them.
Malik glanced at me, for once purposely taking note of my discomfort. He tried to disarm it by hitting me on the back of the shoulder.
“Soon you’ll be going on patrols out there,” he said. “Don’t take it lightly.”
“I will?” I asked.
“You’ve learned the spells and when and how to use them,” he commented. “What you need now are levels. Your skill level far exceeds your strength level. Best way to get the experience you need is to have real some real battles. I’m trying to get it set up.”
“Is that really okay?” I inquired.
“Oh?” He asked. “I thought this is what you wanted.”
“It is,” I acknowledged. “I want to help fight. It’s just been so long since that other fight, I didn’t think my parents were going to let you put me in a fight.”
Malik winced lightly. He fiddled with some of his hair briefly. He was clearly uncomfortable.
“Well… that’s…” he started. He coughed and tried to regain his composure. “You proved you can really fight. That’s what’s important. I’ll take care of the rest.”
“Is this what you’ve been arguing about?” I asked next.
Malik ignored the question like he always did. He motioned to the guard.
“You going to heal him or what?” He asked. “Your MP is back.”
With Malik still avoiding the subject, I wasn’t going to get any more information from him. We went back to the Cure practice.
We spent about two hours there. Some of them had more serious injuries that needed more specific or skilled treatment than I would be able to give. But I was glad to do what I could to help them. We owed them so much for protecting the city that I could never hope to fully repay them. This was just a small thing I was able to offer.
“That’s enough,” Malik decided. “We’re out of test subjects anyway.”
Some of the guards with minor injuries had left after getting treated. There were still several of them there though. They either needed more rounds of Cure or something else I couldn’t provide.
Malik ignored the remaining patients and turned back to me. “I have some things to take care of,” he said. “I’m done for the day.”
“Oh, all right,” I acknowledged.
Malik put a hand on the top of my head playfully. “You should keep working though,” he teased. “Why don’t you go to the library and get more studying in?”
“Whatever,” he said, as if that helped at all. He turned and waved a bit. “I have to get going.”
I wasn’t sure if he actually had something to do or if he was off to take one of his naps. He started walking away but it seemed our conversation had been overheard.
“Don’t you need a guard with you, Princess Vye?” One of the guards asked.
Malik came to a stop and glanced over at me. I groaned. The rule of having a bodyguard if Malik wasn’t around was still in effect. Sometimes I could get away with it if I wasn’t leaving the grounds. But with the guards around us in earshot, we apparently weren’t getting away with it this time.
“If your teacher is too busy,” the guard added, “we can find someone else to escort you.”
He was one of the guards there that hadn’t been there to get treatment. It’d be unlikely Malik could leave without someone knowing I had been left unsupervised.
“Oh, right,” Malik attempted. “I can take her to find someone…”
It was probably more likely he was just going to take me far enough that we could get away with it, but the guard shook his head.
“We won’t trouble you,” he said. “You go on ahead.”
In fairness, he was just trying to help. Malik and I couldn’t really blame him but we had the same concealed frustration.
The guard glanced at Risa. “Risa, we have it in control here,” he told her. “Why don’t you go with her?”
“Me?” she asked. “Are you sure?”
I was asking myself the same question. As nice as Risa was, suddenly I was faced with being guarded by the sister of someone who had already been taken by the Heartless while protecting me. I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with that idea.
Malik seemed to immediately grasp this as well and went back up to my side. “It’s fine, I can take her,” he tried again.
“No, no,” the guard reiterated. “It’s really okay. We have one too many here. Might as well save you all the time of finding someone else who is free. Go on.”
Risa gave me a questioning look. She probably was wondering if I was okay with this too.
“O-okay,” I heard myself say suddenly. “That’s fine.”
I don’t know how or why I said it. I was probably trying to just end the conversation. Then I realized what I was doing and started questioning myself all over again.
Malik and Risa seemed hesitant. To avoid any more awkwardness, I started for the door without them. Somehow it seemed I could escape the situation if I got outside the fastest. But without anything else they could do, Risa and Malik followed after me.
I stepped outside stiffly. I took a few deep breaths to try and regain my composure. Risa and Malik followed me out. For the time being, we were alone.
“Are you really okay with this?” Risa asked me, clearly seeing my nervousness.
“I can help get someone else,” Malik offered again.
“I…” I began. I paused. “I don’t know. I just…”
I didn’t know how to really explain myself. There was nothing wrong with Risa. I hated having anyone act as my body guard as I hated putting them in danger.
But somehow the thought of something happening to Risa was worse than if it were someone else.
“I know you feel… conflicted about my brother,” Risa observed slowly. “On my part I have no issues acting as your body guard. It’s my job to help protect you and everyone else in the city. The only difference now being we’d be close by each other. I don’t mind doing this, but if you do, I don’t want to trouble you further.”
I winced. “I know… I know this is silly of me,” I clarified. “I just… if something happened then I’d…”
They waited for me. I tried to stand up straight and clear my thoughts of doubt.
“But I don’t want to be any trouble,” I went on. “This was bound to happen sooner or later. I can’t let it bother me. I’ve been training to fight too. So if something does happen, I’ll help protect you too.”
Risa looked unsure of my resolve. “You protect me?” she asked. “I’m pretty sure that’s not how it’s supposed to work.”
Malik calmly studied me before nodding in agreement. “Okay, you can do this,” he said. He went up to me, putting a hand firmly on my shoulder. “You can’t always choose who you fight with. You sometimes might end up partied with someone you don’t like or you aren’t comfortable with. You have to learn to keep your head on straight and fight as a team. Take this opportunity to improve yourself.”
Somehow his sudden faith in me was reassuring. I nodded back at him.
Malik released me, and glanced between the two of us. “That said,” He added, “you’re only going to the library. So it’d probably be better if nothing happened.”
Risa and I both smiled nervously. “Yeah, probably,” we agreed in unison.
Malik turned to walk off again. “Keep out of trouble,” he repeated as he started walking away.
Malik headed off through the castle grounds in another direction from where we would go. Risa and I faced each other. I shrugged at her.
“So… I guess we’re going to the library…” I smiled bashfully.
“All right,” she acknowledged. “Let’s get going.”
We turned to head off to enter the castle again. The first minute or so we walked in silence. This wouldn’t have been that unusual as I normally had no idea of what to say to my body guard. I think the feeling was mutual so we hardly speak to each other if we didn’t need to.
This time though it seemed to just make things tense. If not for both of us, it was for me. Silence wasn’t going to help.
“So…” I stammered clumsily, “do you… like it here?”
“It’s uh… good, I guess?” Risa returned with the same amount of nervousness. “Always tough starting work in a new place but I’ve… adjusted.”
“Oh, oh… good…” I nodded.
I didn’t know what else to say. It went quiet again but then she found something to say.
“So you were… born here… right?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah, yeah,” I confirmed. “Right here in the castle.”
“Never… lived anywhere else?” she tried.
“Um…” I thought back. “Not really. We have… I don’t know what to call it… a second castle on the edge of the kingdom where we spend time now and then. It’s… It’s easier for Father to work from here though so that’s why we stay.”
“I-I see,” she noted.
Silence again. Somehow we had both taken a step back in our communication. Was her being assigned my body guard making things that different for us?
We headed inside. Not that either of us wanted a Heartless to attack, but somehow that would have probably made things less awkward.
“I…” Risa mentioned. “I heard a rumor you fought a big Heartless a while back.”
“Y-yeah,” I noted. “That happened.”
“You did it on your own,” she added.
“I had to,” I shrugged. “We got separated.”
“Still, you got out in one piece,” she offered. “Something to be proud of.”
“Maybe…” I sighed. “It was pretty rough. I need to do better next time. I need to be stronger.”
Risa glanced at me briefly. “Well, that’s what you’re training for, right?” She justified.
“Malik is always telling me strength takes time and patience,” I commented. “I just hope my patience isn’t running out.”
She didn’t seem to have much else to say. I’m not sure what I would have said either.
We reached the library in silence. It was one of the larger rooms of the castle. It even opened up into the second story. The bookshelves were tall and filled with books. There were already people there scattered around the room hard at work studying.
Risa and I hesitated as we entered the library. We both looked around the room blankly.
“Where do you want to start?” She asked me.
“Uh… I don’t know…” I admitted. “He does this a lot. He wants me to work on stuff but doesn’t tell me what.”
“He trusts you to make your own decisions,” she pointed out.
I considered that. I had always considered Malik lazy. Whenever I made a decision on my own, he often times disagreed with it, so I never thought of him as being cooperative. But at the same time, it dawned on me he had never actually done anything to punish those decisions or stop me from making future decisions.
It was weird whenever I managed to get inside that man’s head.
“Well…” I managed. “I guess we should start by heading to the magic section.”
This didn’t narrow down my choices by much, but it kept us moving. Once we got there, I still wasn’t really sure what to look for. If Malik hadn’t specified, there probably wasn’t anything in particular that I needed. I just had to make up my mind.
The two of use stood there. I just kept looking around as I tried to think. Risa stood calmly but would glance at me now and then. We might be on the same level as far as communication skills, but Risa was always more composed and calm than I was.
“Maybe we should ask someone here for ideas,” Risa suggested.
“Like… talk to another person?” I asked.
“Between the two of us,” she sighed, “I think we can manage. C’mon, I know this guy.”
Risa started walking towards one of the shelves. She had her sight on someone I hadn’t noticed in my indecisiveness. I hurried to follow her.
“Hey, Benji,” she called to him as we approached. “You have a sec?”
This Benji person she was talking to was up on a ladder against one of the shelves. He was holding a couple books in his hand and had one arm around the ladder to steady himself. He was roughly our age with swept back sandy blond hair and blue eyes behind a pair of rectangular glasses. I had seen him in passing at the library before and he was wearing a staff uniform, so he worked there. As I normally tried to stay out of the staff’s way, I hadn’t ever spoken to him before.
“Oh, hi, Risa,” he greeted her. Then he saw me and was slightly more surprised. “And Princess Vye! Oh. H-hello.”
I gave an awkward wave. “H-hey,” I struggled. “S-sorry to bother you.”
“No bother,” he assured me calmly. Most of the staff around the castle tended not to try and make a fuss over us and fortunately he seemed to stay composed as well. His voice stayed steady and smooth. “What can I help you with?”
Risa pointed at me. “Her teacher wants her to study magic,” she explained. “We don’t have anything in mind though. So I was wondering if you had anything new or any suggestions?”
Benji glanced back at the shelf next to him. “Um,” he said thoughtfully, “well, we did get some new books last week. Unfortunately Mr. Malik has them checked out.”
“Of course he does,” I sighed, rolling my eyes.
Benji put the books carefully onto the shelf and then started climbing down to the floor.
“If you don’t have anything in particular you have to study,” he observed, “you can study whatever you want. Is there a kind of magic you like or tend to use?”
I paused, thinking it over briefly. “Thunder magic, mostly,” I said. “It’s the one I’m best at.”
Benji glanced around for a moment. “So offensive magic,” he commented. “Thunder element. Okay… Let’s see…” Benji started to walk past us. We turned to watch him. “I think over here, we might have something you’ll like. Let’s get-”
Benji had intended to continue, I’m sure. Before he could though, there was a loud crashing sound from another section of the library. We all jumped, startled. The three of us looked in that direction as a scream rung through the air.
“Heartless!! Heartless in the castle!”
We twitched. It was from inside the library. They were in the same room as us. The shelves blocked them from our view but they weren’t far away. It was unclear how they had gotten inside but it didn’t matter. More screams of panic followed.
Risa started to run forward. I stuck by her side. She suddenly came to a stop and looked at me.
She stared at me seriously for a short moment. I somehow interpreted this as her wondering if she should go after the Heartless or stick with me.
Malik’s plan of us not running into trouble hadn’t worked out.
Risa was part of the guard. She had to protect the castle. She couldn’t just leave the people there just so she could get me out of there. At least that wouldn’t be my preference. If she needed to into the fight, I needed to go with her.
And I was just fine with that.
What happened to Roperto would not happen with her.
In spite of the suddenness of this, I was actually pretty calm. I wasn’t sure where that came from.
“I want to help,” I told Risa firmly. “I can help.”
Risa was refreshingly resolute as she nodded in agreement. “We’ll watch each other’s backs,” she told me.
Benji stepped forward. He waved a hand, summoning a book which he clutched in his hand.
“I can help too,” he told us. “What do you want me to do?”
I pointed to the library entrance. “Make sure anyone who can’t fight gets out,” I ordered.
“And that the guard is notified,” Risa added. “We’ll do what we can until they get here.”
Benji nodded. He ran off towards the entrance of the library. Risa and I turned the other way to go further into the library where the commotion was coming from.
Earlier that day I had been testing out my ability to heal. Now suddenly it was time to once again test how well I could fight.