Chapter Eighteen – An Awakening
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Aiora stood to her feet, pacing back and forth before stopping. “A magical system, Cateline, is like bread. We eat it everyday, and only those who suffer from misfortune do not get to partake.”

“I am not following,” Cateline mumbled.

The elven girl looked at Cateline with a surprised smirk. “Well, obviously little Tom down in Javunger will not have bread on the table come dinner, Cateline, if his father cannot afford it.”

Eyes widening, she nodded quickly and lowered her stare back to the book that was placed before her. It was still open on the page with the Lunarseve calendar.

Great, Cateline, you’ve made yourself appear out of touch. As a supposed farmer's daughter, surely she had experienced misfortune similar to 'Tom.'

Did Tom exist?

Who is Tom?

So many questions raced through her head.

Aiora snapped toward Cateline, signaling for her attention again. “Moving on. Tom will never get to partake in the same bread that we do. Our bread is special, you see? Magic is a gift. A gift given from our Firstborn. Tom will never get that specific loaf of bread.”

“Alright…”

Aiora smiled, basking in the reward of breaking through Cateline’s thick skull. She knew it, Cateline knew it—it was a difficult accomplishment to earn.

To nobody’s fault, either. Cateline’s upbringing was the entire reason behind her ignorance. And that lays in the hands of one man, and one man alone. King Airen.

“So, it is settled then. Tom will never get the same loaf we do. But, there is more. Let’s say I walk up to Tom, and out of the goodness of my heart, I gift him a piece of bread. What happens then?”

“He eats!" Cateline answered confidently.

Aiora cackled, only composing herself when she realized the dumbfounded look on Cateline’s face.

Was that not a serious question? she asked herself.

“No, Cateline—well, yes. But it’s the same type of eating that happens when you eat week old stew. He will throw it right back up.”

“Food… poisoning?”

Aiora was chuckling between breaths, trying her best to remain composed throughout the elaborate explanation. Cateline was following, but found herself struggling to relate to it on a serious level.

“Precisely! Food poisoning! Simply put: you are born with mana in your blood. It is a gift, one that you can bask in any day you please. One I can take advantage of with every breath I take. It is given, and it is good. You can use this mana on other people—may it be in the form of good or evil—but they will only reap the rewards temporarily. Sooner or later, they will endure the consequences.”

“What kind of consequences?”

“Usually, it involves a certain loss of reality, may it be permanent or temporary. Some lose their vision. Others grow ill. The fortunate forget it happened in the first place. Most faint.”

“Faint?”

Shit. Cateline was cursing inwardly, her heartrate increasing with each breath. She had experienced each of these things, multiple times, throughout the past few weeks. Was that not normal for a novice mage?

Aiora nodded. She sat down once more, pointing at the Lunarseve calendar. “Except on one specific day.”

Cateline looked at the familiar symbol. “The Altageist you mentioned earlier?”

“Yes, the ninth day of Lunarseve. The eve of the Firstborn's fall—also, the eve of her rise.”

“Her rise?” Cateline sighed, gripping onto the fabric of her skirt. She had to keep herself grounded, else she would pass out. Again.

“One day, she will rise again. As it was stated in the passage before, ‘With the resurrection of the Firstborn comes light and unrelenting power for the mages of Denzethea.’ That is why we, as a bloodline of mages and powerful creatures, celebrate Lunarseve. We celebrate the fall of our brethren, both near and far, as well as the ceremonial rise of our creationist. Our Firstborn.”

Cateline nodded. Unsurprisingly, this felt surreal to her. Like she was an outsider looking in.

And, by the sounds of it, I was one of those outsiders, she told herself. The fainting. The loss of reality. Amnesia. She had experienced each of these things multiple times during her time at Lighthelm, and nearly every time she tried to practice magic on her own, she failed.

Actually, every time I was alone, magic did not work… Cateline wondered if she should consider the Walk of Time a successful use of magic, but a large part of her suffocated under this heavy sense of dread. It weighed her shoulders down and created a trapping feeling at the core of her chest. Outsider.

“Aiora?” Cateline whispered.

She hummed in response, taking the book away from Cateline and began to flip through some of the pages.

“Has there ever been an outsider in Lighthelm?”

“Outsider? What do you mean by that?”

“As in, somebody who didn’t belong. Somebody who was not… a mage?”

Aiora snickered. “Ridiculous! The headmistress is so specific about who she allows in the academy walls. It’s a wonder why she is welcoming all those strangers to the Lunarseve Ball.”

Cateline smiled weakly, lowering her stare to the floor. “I feel as if I can trust you, Aiora.”

Although she did not lift her eyes, Cateline could feel Aiora’s stare boring into the profile of her face. “Why is that?”

Cateline hesitated before shrugging. “As I’ve stated before, there’s not much I know. Magic. People. Friends. It’s all new to me, and I have been walking around these halls acting like I was unphased. Like these people do not terrify me. But you, Varin, and the twins are the only people I’ve encountered here that make me feel even slightly welcome. Varin less, of course, but he is still welcoming enough to approach.”

When Cateline turned her face up to look at Aiora again, she caught the twitch of a pleased look. It left as soon as it arrived. “Varin is anything but welcoming, Cateline. Even now I find him intimidating.”

“Fair… but, I want to admit something to you. In confidence.”

“Are you sure?” Aiora said as she drew her bottom lip between her teeth. “I am not so sure if I’m to be trusted with your secrets.”

Cateline paused at this. Drawing her hands into her lap and pinching the meaty part of her palm, she nodded. “Understood. I trust you, though. I have to, else I won’t trust a single soul in this academy. You speak of the Firstborn, and about all of these delusions that can happen to people who are exposed to magic. But, what if I see somebody—or something—that I don’t believe to be a… delusion?”

“You’re seeing things?” Aiora asked, leaning back in her chair. “What type of things?”

“A person, I think… It was first in the bath house, then she vanished. Last time I saw her was at the ceremony announcing the Lunarseve Ball.”

“Well, did she say anything?”

“Not yesterday, no—but she did in the bath house. She said something about a silver dragon…”

Aiora’s eyes widened and she stood without warning, closing the book on top of the table. It was a sudden change in demeanor, but one she fixed quickly. She straightened her blouse and cleared her throat. “Right, well it sounds like a trick of the mind. Likely a scholar playing a trick on you, is all.”

“What?” Cateline whispered, watching as the elven girl collected all of the books. When she had them stacked in her arm, they fell right beneath her chin. “You cannot be serious!”

“Why would I not be serious?” Aiora stifled a chuckle and waddled toward the bookshelves. “Either that, or you’ve gone mad. Plain and simple.”

Cateline’s heart plummeted into her stomach. She stood to her feet, clenching her hands into fist as her eyes welled with tears.

Gone mad. Just like her father said she was—a mad, cursed witch.

She had gone about this entire kingdom acting as if everything was fine, not breaking once. Even when she washed up onto the Liverstone’s farm, she was calm. Faking your serenity was no easy feat, and Cateline could feel the weeks of agony twisting around her stomach and pulling at her heartstrings. So much buzzed around in her head, from the unanswered questions she buried deep below to the anxieties of not knowing who to trust.

Letting out one last shaky breath, Cateline mumbled a ‘fine’ and turned on her heel. If Aiora snubbed her like that, she would make it known she was nothing more to her than the dirt she stomped on. Just as she should have from the beginning.

This time, magic was practiced on her own agenda and nobody else's.

Afterall, Lunarseve was coming.


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