“Footing, Senevia. Your footing is off.”
With his command, her right foot slid into place and her left straightened out. In an instant, Senevia went from a waddling penguin to a steady warrior. Sure, this warrior could be pushed over by a strong gust of wind, but it was a warrior nonetheless.
“It is always the footing,” a voice chimed from behind. “Perhaps we should put her over a pit of hot rocks and see how the heat helps her stance.”
Varin turned his head, an idle smirk crossing his features as Aiora took a seat next to them. Senevia screeched in response and threw a few childlike insults toward her, but Aiora was unphased. She nodded in response and reached out her hand. In it was an envelope tied with a lavender ribbon.
“Senevia, the headmistress wanted me to give this to you.”
Senevia set her wooden sword down and gulped, her cheeks still flushed from her tantrum just seconds earlier. Varin furrowed his brow and took a step toward Aiora, only stopping when she shook her head.
“No, Varin. This note is for Senevia, not you. Do you have no sense?”
“Yeah, Varin!” Senevia said with a grin, snatching the letter right from Aiora’s hands. “This note is only for the most important people.”
“And am I not important?” Varin sighed and took a seat next to Aiora, watching as the girl untied the paper.
“Clearly not important enough for a classified letter tied with a silk ribbon,” Aiora said and patted him on the shoulder. Varin gave her the side eye before returning his attention to Senevia, leaning forward to try and catch a glimpse of the paper. Surely enough, he could see the elegant and free flowing signature at the bottom of that page—the type that screamed Elven Prestige. Leolina was, simply put, the definition of class. It was obnoxious, almost.
Senevia’s eyes lit up brighter than the sun, her little grin growing wider by the second. She slammed the paper in front of Varin, tapping her finger on the handwriting aggressively. “An invitation, Varin! My very own invitation.”
“To what?” Varin asked, sliding the paper close so he could read it over. This piqued Aiora’s interest, too, because she leaned in and snatched the paper so it was within reading distance for her. Varin rolled his eyes and moved closer so they both could read.
“Selfish elf,” he mumbled under his breath. She stomped on his shoe playfully and made a sound of annoyance. Varin, however, did not flinch from her stomp and instead focused on the paper itself.
Lady Senevia Liverstone, of Traburg,
I understand you have taken mentorship under Varin. Your growth has been noted, and as such, it is my pleasure as Headmistress of Lighthelm School of Alchemy and Magic to formally request your presence to our first public Lunarseve Banquet.
The mage’s of Lighthelm hope to see you at the break of dusk on the Eighth Day of Lunarseve.
“Public?” Varin raised a brow. Lunarseve was a weeklong eclipse, rumored to be the same week the firstborn mage rooted their powers throughout Denzethea upon her death, but more importantly it was the week where mage’s had the least amount of control over the magnitude of their power. It was a tradition to have a celebration of our powers, but why the headmistress would make it public was beyond Varin’s understanding.
“How intriguing,” Aiora whispered, “what does she have up her sleeve?”
“Nothing good, surely.” Varin looked at Senevia, who stared at them with that same giddy grin before reaching out her hand to retrieve the invitation. With a careful sigh, he handed it back to her and shook his head. “Senevia, I am not so sure you’d want to go.”
“Why not?” Senevia frowned. “It’s a party!”
“A boring one, at that. Have trust in me, Senevia! It’s nothing more than a bunch of elders walking around, sticking their noses up at us mages.”
Aiora nodded, using her pointer finger to pull the tip of her nose upward. “That is right, just like big, fat and ugly pigs!”
Senevia giggled and folded the invitation up slowly. Varin could see the hesitation in her movement, and the curious twinkle in her stare, but if he knew anything about the headmistress is that she never did anything unintentionally. This party had a purpose, and he wished he knew what it was.
“Tell you what,” Varin said and stood, grabbing hold of her wooden sword that was already splintering at the tip, “if you can fix that form of yours, I’ll accompany you to the banquet and make sure you have the most royal time. If you do not, you’ll be on dish duty.”
“Dish duty!” Senevia whined. “But I was invited!”
“Think of it as a competition. You won’t get any better by just standing there, will you?” Varin smiled down at his dearest friend, handing her the sword by the handle. She took it with a pout, turning on her heel and approached the sparring dummy. “You have a week, Senevia. Fair enough?”
Aiora stood, too, placing her hand on Varin’s shoulder to capture his attention. He turned and looked at her, folding his arms across his chest.
“I suppose I shall try to find some information about this banquet, no?”
Varin grinned and nodded. Without another word, Aiora hurried into the academy and waved goodbye to Senevia on the way. Pinching the skin on his arm, he returned his focus to the little girl and watched as she clumsily striked the dummy. “Wrong, again. Watch your footing.”
Cateline sat in the library, watching the leaves on the great vines sway with the wind. She was supposed to have a meeting with Aiora today, but she was terribly late. Cateline was about to give up and storm out. She hated having her time wasted like this. To top it all off, the vision of that lady prevented her from focusing on her studies.
Was it a vision, though? Cateline asked herself. She stood so tall, with those golden eyes staring right through her. It had to be real…
Just when Cateline let out her final sigh, Aiora walked through the french doors with a stack of books that were piled taller than her head. After taking a few wobbly steps she dropped the books on the table and wiped the dust off the top one.
“You’re late,” Cateline said simply and crossed her arm.
“And you’re not.” Aiora responded and started splitting the stack in half, sitting down across from her afterwards. “I was busy hunting these books down.”
“They look like they are older than this academy.” Cateline said with a weary gaze. While she loved reading, this was far too overwhelming of a chore.
“They are, and they’re just as boring!”
Cateline’s eyebrows raised, she wouldn’t exactly call this academy boring. Then again, the world of magic seemed to be quite daunting—she wondered when she would find a place that made the halls of Lighthelm boring in comparison.
Aiora opened up one of the books and flipped through a few pages. “Out of curiosity, Cateline, but have you had any more Walks of Time?”
“What? Oh… you mean the dream?”
“No,” Cateline said quietly. “Fortunately, I have not. It was quite terrifying.”
“I can imagine,” Aiora said and tucked her lips between her teeth. “I am still quite confused how you got to that realm without the help of another experienced mage. It’s not something that just falls into your lap, you know.”
Cateline stifled a laugh—quite frankly, it did fall into her lap. Or, rather, off the shelf of that bookcase over there and onto her head. At least that is how she’d like to describe it, given the chance.
“Not so sure, Aiora. You seem rather worried about it.”
Aiora looked at Cateline through her eyelashes, her lips pursing into a thin line before returning her attention to the book. She turned it over and slid it in front of Cateline, placing her finger on a paragraph. Leaning forward, Cateline read the following:
During the wake of twilight, just as the sun begins its descent, the woman of Denzethea fell. With her came a call so powerful that it would wake the men and women across the lands. Shaking the earth and planting her seed of power for all who were worthy to take solace in, the world was blessed with the birth and cursed with the fall of the firstborn.
The mana of the firstborn resonates in all who share in the Elven bloodline, spreading the seed of Magic until the prophecy has been fulfilled and the world can be at peace. Without this, all Magic is weakened until the 10 days of Lunarseve.
With the resurrection of the Firstborn comes light and unrelenting power for the mages of Denzethea, but until then, the dividing nations shall be cursed and the mages be undermined.
Cateline looked at Aiora and nodded her head slowly. “The Firstborn Mage I was told about when I first arrived here?”
Aiora nodded. “Precisely. This paragraph states the rise and fall of our powers—now, our mana is the least potent it ever will be. In a week, however, Lunarseve will arrive.”
Aiora grinned and closed the book, replacing it with a much smaller one. When she opened it, she flipped through a few pages until landing on a calendar. It was round, people of different races at each axis point. One appeared to be a lizard-like human, another a satyr, and the others unknown to her. At the center of the circle was a crimson moon with two golden leaves surrounding it. There were various other symbols, too, scattered inside the circle that resonated with her. But, as of now, they were meaningless symbols.
Aiora placed her finger on the symbol that was directly beneath a creature with dark skin and golden eyes. Her finger traced 9 symbols until landing at the crimson moon.
“This creature, the Altageist, is a nearly extinct race that was said to encompass almost as much power as the Firstborn. They lived in the deserts surrounding the Kingdom of Yulia. It was rumored that the humans sought their extermination following an attack from an Altageist cult leader. The wake of the Altageist is sacred, and as we follow these symbols down we come to the opening of the golden leaf. Simply put, the wake of the Altageist is the ninth day of the Lunarseve Eclipse—the tenth being the final and most important day.”
Aiora nodded. “On the tenth day, the eclipse turns red. We call this the Firstborn's Blood, or commonly the Blood Moon, which represents the day she was murdered and buried by the villager who found her. The previous nine days represent the turmoil and chaos that surrounded our firstborn mage—including war, death and dark magic.”
Cateline nibbled on her bottom lip and leaned back into her chair. “The firstborn mage, she was young when she passed?”
“Not entirely. She was nineteen, according to a few academic encyclopedia’s that date her death. It is all one large guess to me, though.” Aiora said.
Nodding, she lowered her stare to the calendar once more. “Lunarseve is next week? What does that mean for you?”
Aiora leaned back in her seat to mimic Cateline’s posture, to which the princess sat upright to fix her poor pose. I am getting far too comfortable here, she told herself.
“What it means for us, Cateline, is that we must be very careful with our mana. It will be more powerful than ever, and if we were to be irresponsible, the damage could be irreversible. For you, Cateline, that means you will be under our watch the entire ten days.”
“Why me?” Cateline huffed.
“Arguably, you are the most ill prepared and underdeveloped mage I have ever seen. That said, you are competent enough to embark on a Walk of Time without guidance and return from it alive. I want to make sure you can do the same throughout those ten days.”
Cateline let out a dramatic sigh and bit the corner of her cheek. This idea reminded her of Axulran and how she would be surveillanced by guards at all hours of the night. She understood what Aiora was saying, but the idea alone made her skin crawl.
“Before we move on, Cateline, I have a rather personal question for you.”
Cateline cleared her throat and nodded for her to continue.
“You arrived at Traburg in a chaotic way, as I understand, and you entered Lighthelm with little to no knowledge of this academy, it’s origins, or magic. I’d argue to say you hardly know of your own origins, but that is a topic for another day. My question to you, Cateline, is where did you come from?”
Cateline gulped. Had Varin told Aiora about their disagreement where she revealed her respect for the Bennett Royal Family? Calm down, Cateline, it could be genuine curiosity.
“Axulran, have you heard of it?”
Aiora’s lips curved into a disgusting smirk, her eyes flashing hatred for a split second. She nodded, clenching her hands into fists before resting them on her lap. “Of course I have, Cateline. Every Elf that walks along Denzethea knows of Axulran. Regrettably, every Elf that has fallen knows, too.”
Cateline held her breath and nodded. For some reason, arguing about the reputation of Axulran was far less daunting with Varin than it was with Aiora. There was fire that resided behind those gray eyes of hers.
Aiora tucked a loose piece of hair behind her pointed ear, turning her head away as she composed herself. “So, that means you know of the royal family, yes?”
Her heart skipped a beat, and her breath caught in her throat. She had been caught. “Yes, I do.”
Aiora hummed solemnly. “Queen Emmeline Bennett… she is beautiful, is she not?”
Cateline blinked, remaining perfectly still. It took her a moment to find her voice. “I suppose.”
The elf looked at her and smiled, eyes tracing over Cateline’s features carefully. “I’ve only seen portraits of that queen, but you resemble her.”
Her eyes got wide, her heart beating against her chest bone harder with each passing second. She repeated herself. “I suppose.”
Aiora furrowed her brow, shaking her head before commenting on Cateline’s nervousness. She picked at the pages of the book in front of her and shrugged. “The Bennett family is responsible for so much bloodshed, I can only imagine what it was like living in that kingdom. Anyways, what I wanted to ask was whether you had ever seen elves? Perhaps in the market square, or even as servants around the political district?”
Cateline didn’t know how to respond, and the silence said that loud and clear. Despite this awkward tension, Aiora sat still and awaited the answer. She had this desperate look in her eyes, as if she was saddened by the rather mundane and typical question she had just asked. She folded her hands on top of the table.
“I cannot speak for the servants that ran around the castle, Aiora, because I did not frolic around those parts of the Kingdom, but I saw a handful of elves. Given the circumstances, though, it was few and far between—and mostly in my early years.”
Aiora nodded. “I understand. I suppose it was a silly question. What do you mean you weren’t frolicing around those parts of the kingdom, though?”
Cateline’s face flushed, her gaze flickering away from the elf as she tried her best to remain composed. “I simply mean that my parents were… farmers. We were far from the market square, and my father never took me to the commerce district when he sold his goods.”
Aiora narrowed her eyes at Cateline before nodding, opening up the third book to go through some pages. “Back to magic, I suppose. I wanted to start preparing you to wield magic in a more secure way. Think simple enchantments and spells. For that, I need to explain the systems at work.”
Cateline nodded, lowering her stare to the book she was reading from. As much as she tried to listen to her lecture, she found the thoughts in her head far too loud. Carrying her status was something she was not used to concealing, given it was her birthright, but it was too dangerous for people to know.
Clearly, somebody in this academy agreed. The fact that the twins were placed into temporary comatose and had their memory wiped by one of Leolina’s trusted fellows—most likely Jaspar, if she had to guess—made her skin crawl.
The more she unraveled about where she was and the magic that had been concealed from her for so long, the more she wished she was hidden away and ignored. Magic allured her, but living a safe life where she didn’t have to lie about her family and their reputation allured her more.