The next day after class, Caspar ran to the arena ahead of Edelgard, looking for the nearest fitting era so he could try on a suit of armor. The heaviest armor available to him was a set of plate mail that offered protection for everything but his head. He was able to put on most of the armor by himself, but he had to ask for help from Alois to make sure the leather straps on the greaves were tight enough to protect his shins – not that he expected Edelgard to take any swings at his legs, but he did expect her to scold him if he didn’t come fully prepared for their training session.
Caspar spent a few minutes getting used to moving around with the extra weight of his new equipment before going outside to meet Edelgard. Although she lacked the armor she usually wore while training, Edelgard stood confidently with her practice axe in both hands.
“I hope you’re ready, Caspar,” she said. “Even though this is only practice, I don’t intend to go easy on you.”
“Just a moment, Edelgard,” said Alois. “Let me take another good look at Caspar’s armor before you two get started. I wouldn’t want him to have an acci-dent now!” He laughed to himself as he inspected the suit of armor to make sure there weren’t any severe cracks and dents in it. When he noticed that neither Caspar nor Edelgard was laughing with him, he stopped and went to look for a large shield for Caspar to carry. “Looks like you’re good to go.”
“All right!” said Caspar, clenching his right hand into a fist and pretending he was holding an axe. “Give me everything you’ve got! I can take it!”
Preparing to assess how well Caspar could back up his boast, Edelgard took a training axe from the weapon rack and charged at him, swinging it at full force until it collided against Caspar’s shield. Caspar dug his heels in and held his ground to brace himself for the blow.
“Ha! Is that all you got?” he said as he tapped the shield with one of his gauntlets.
Edelgard kept quiet, pulling her axe back and winding up for a series of follow-up strikes, forcing Caspar to raise his arm to position his shield to defend each one. A crack formed at the top of the shield that split further down the middle as Edelgard focused her attacks on it. Caspar noticed his shield breaking down and twisted his arm to draw her weapon away from that weak spot, but all that did was create a new weakness as the shield tried to withstand the force of Edelgard’s strikes. He considered it a small victory that he hadn’t budged an inch despite it all.
Though Caspar’s resolve remained strong, there was only so much punishment his shield could take before Edelgard’s axe ripped a wedge-shaped section from it. The broken piece fell to the floor, and Alois’ and Caspar’s jaws dropped almost as quickly. “Such strength!” Alois gasped. “I’m used to seeing the students go all-out in practice before, but this is something else!”
“I can’t take all of the credit,” said Edelgard. “If Caspar had wavered even an inch in the face of my attack, that shield wouldn’t have been the only thing to fall apart just now.”
Caspar scratched his head with one of his gauntlets. “Uh…thanks?”
He knelt to pick up the pieces of his practice shield when he saw Annette, Mercedes, and Hilda approaching, each of them holding cupcakes topped with strawberry frosting.
“Oh, hey there, Caspar!” said Annette as she looked at Caspar’s armor. “I didn’t know you and Edelgard were trading places today. I gotta say…that armor’s a good look for you.”
“You really think so?”
Annette nodded, biting into her cupcake as she watched Caspar take off his gauntlets for a moment to make sure he could still feel his hands.
“I don’t think I’d be able to pull that off the way you and Edelgard can. When Mercie and I went to the School of Sorcery, almost everyone wore loose-fitting robes and capes and stuff. All the teachers say wearing less restrictive clothing is better for casting spells.”
“Yeah, that makes sense,” said Caspar.
“They also say it’s because one time, a student came to a duel in heavy plate armor and almost electrocuted themselves because they forgot to take their gloves off before using thunder magic! Can you believe that?”
Caspar shook his head. “It’s a good thing my professor isn’t making me learn magic this month then, huh?”
“Professor Manuela’s kinda got the same idea for some of the Blue Lions, too. She wanted me to keep working on my axe skills…just in case we get into a situation where we’re in cramped corners and I can’t just beat the bad guys by ‘sneezing on them too hard’. That’s how Felix puts it, anyway.”
“What about Mercedes? What’s she up to?”
Annette pointed toward the archery range, where Claude and a blue-haired Knight of Seiros watched Mercedes draw a bow, offering her tips on adjusting her shooting stance for better accuracy.
“She’s taking archery lessons from Shamir? I hear she’s one of the best archers the Knights have! At least you’ll know she’ll be in good hands.”
“Yup! Mercie said she wanted to try a weapon she didn’t have to swing around a lot,” said Annette, “so she brought the idea up with Dimitri, and he passed it on to Professor Manuela, and that’s pretty much that.”
Annette said goodbye to Caspar and took a practice axe from the weapon rack, swinging at the air to establish a decent rhythm. A minute after Caspar rechecked his armor, Edelgard and Hilda approached him to take Annette’s place.
“You did well out there, Caspar,” said Edelgard. “Your shield didn’t hold up as well as I expected, but you managed to stand your ground without much trouble.”
“See? I told you I could take it!” Caspar replied, pounding his chest a few times and grinning when it made a satisfying “clank” sound.
“Oh, don’t worry about the shield,” said Alois. “Those can easily be replaced, but the rest of you can’t!”
“Whatcha got for me next, Edelgard? Do I get to try to break your shield this time?”
Edelgard frowned at Caspar, who sounded a bit too excited at the prospect for her liking. “Nothing of the sort, I assure you. Now that we’ve seen that you can defend yourself, you’ll also need to be comfortable with moving around in that suit. We’ll do a few laps of walking around the arena, followed by a few more laps of jogging, and finally, if you can handle it, one sprint back and forth from one end of the archery range to the other.”
“Well, you know me…I’m always looking for ways to stay active. You’d better hurry up, or I might leave you behind!”
As Caspar walked over to the northwest corner of the arena to begin his laps, Edelgard looked for a suit of armor in her size that was the same weight as the one he was wearing.
“Don’t you think you’re pushing him too far, Edelgard?” asked Hilda.
“Are you worried that Caspar won’t be able to keep up?” Edelgard asked back. “I’m not giving him any more difficult training than what I usually take when I put on this armor.”
“That’s not what I mean. I’m saying that you’ve got way more experience with armor than he does, so you can’t be certain that he’ll be able to do the same things you can do with it. Why not give him a break?”
Edelgard finished putting on her armor just as Caspar rounded the northeast corner to complete his first lap. “He’s not one to slack off on a whim,” she said, and Hilda pouted, sensing Edelgard was taking a subtle dig at her work ethic. The two girls got up to follow Caspar once he passed the armor fitting area. “If he tells me he’s tired, we’ll stop for the day. Anyway, I can tell that’s not the real reason why you came here with Annette and Mercedes. Am I correct?”
Hilda slowed down, forcing Edelgard to look behind her as she talked. “Come on, Edelgard…we’re neighbors, and this is the first time we’ve had a face-to-face conversation,” she said. “You and Hubert talk to each other all the time. You could at least knock on my door and say ‘hi’ to me every once in a while.”
“I—” Edelgard raised her voice to speak over the clamor of two suits of rattling armor. “I’m sorry, Hilda. It’s just that Hubert and I have known each other for many years, and he always has interesting stories to tell me.”
“And you think I don’t?”
“That isn’t what I—”
Edelgard stopped herself from finishing that sentence, remembering that she was there to train with Caspar, not argue with Hilda. She found it easier to move around the arena in her armor than pivot onto a topic that would break the tension between them. “Wait…I have an idea what we can talk about,” she said as they started their third walking lap. “Have you made any plans for the Garreg Mach Ball?”
Hilda stopped pouting when she heard Edelgard mention a topic that sparked her interest. “I’m not really that great of a dancer, but I love the idea of dressing up for it! I’m thinking of going into town with Marianne and a few other girls to visit this tailor that I hear makes some great outfits. I want to find out where she gets her fabric so I can learn to make one in pink for myself.”
“Has anyone asked you to go with them to the ball as their escort? Anyone other than Sylvain, that is?”
“Are you kidding? I’ve received so many invitations that I can barely keep track of them all,” said Hilda. “Even Lorenz made an offer to me this morning. I saw him practicing his moves in a mirror in preparation for the White Heron Cup.”
Edelgard smiled and tried to suppress a laugh. “I’ll bet Dorothea will be interested to learn this tidbit about her competition.”
Hilda backed off when Edelgard and Caspar began the second part of their workout. Although their armor inhibited their movement, neither of them appeared to be too tired after completing their jogging rounds. When they were ready to begin the final phase of their training, they lined up behind Mercedes and Shamir near the archery range and waited for Mercedes to shoot before dashing back and forth between the shooting line and the targets. Edelgard nodded to Caspar, who darted to the other end of the arena with as much speed as possible. Edelgard still caught up to Caspar halfway through their return trip to the starting line, even with the two-second head start.
“Is this what they mean by that old saying, ‘walk a mile in another person’s shoes’?” he asked, slapping his hands against his thighs and panting heavily.
“Not literally, no,” said Edelgard, “but for someone who is using heavy armor for the first time, I’m impressed by your perseverance.” She looked down at Caspar and then glanced over at Hilda, who had rejoined Annette to watch her continue with her axe forms. “I think we’ll hold off on the sprint drills until you’ve had more time to walk around in that suit.”
“You’ll get no argument from me about that.”
Caspar propped himself up against a pillar to help him stand upright. Mercedes smiled cheerfully as she handed her practice bow to Shamir to put away. “That was a thrilling race you two had!” she said as she walked over to Caspar and Edelgard. “You should be careful not to overexert yourselves, though. I baked some cupcakes to celebrate Annie being selected to represent our house for the White Heron Cup. Would you each like one? They should help you regain some energy.”
Neither Caspar nor Edelgard felt that they could refuse Mercedes’ offer. Edelgard fought the urge to tell Caspar not to stuff the whole cupcake in his mouth after receiving it.
“Why didn’t you volunteer for your class, Mercedes?” Edelgard asked after finishing her cupcake.
“Oh, I don’t know if I’d win,” said Mercedes, suddenly looking sad but still sounding upbeat. “I love to watch people dance, but when it comes to doing it myself, I’m afraid I have two left feet. Besides, Annie was very enthusiastic about wanting to get out there and show off. I couldn’t very well deny her that opportunity.”
“Regardless of the outcome of this competition, I’m looking forward to seeing spirited and inspired performances from everyone.” Especially Dorothea, she almost added before changing her mind.
Later that afternoon, Ferdinand, Lorenz, and Marianne took three of the horses from the stables for a trot around an obstacle course east of the monastery. Bernadetta followed them on foot, head slumped downward.
“Can’t we do this somewhere a little cleaner?” she said after stepping into a large puddle of mud, splashing her boots and skirt.
“I am afraid I must agree with you, Bernadetta,” said Lorenz, glancing down at his own boots before returning his eyes to the field ahead of him. “Alas, the monastery lacks an indoor training facility, so we must make good use of what resources we have.”
“At least the horses will appreciate the fresh air and favorable weather,” said Marianne. “Isn’t that right, Dorte?”
Marianne gently eased up on the reins of her armored horse as the group reached the large, wooden outer fence of the obstacle course. Dorte whinnied happily as she dismounted to feed him a treat and pet him on the nose.
Within the fenced-in area, wooden sticks and logs were arranged into smaller irregular fences, forming paths for the horses to follow and obstacles for them to jump over. The field was less muddy than the area outside the fence, which brought smiles to Bernadetta and Lorenz’s faces.
“U-um…sorry that we couldn’t borrow another horse for you,” said Marianne, closing her eyes and turning away from Bernadetta and the others. “You could take a walk with Dorte for a little while if you want….”
“He’s not going to kick or bite me, is he?” asked Bernadetta.
“I don’t think so…”
Ferdinand strode next to Dorte and dismounted from his own horse to try to comfort Bernadetta and cheer her up. “There is no need to worry,” he said, pouring as much confidence as possible into his voice. “I guarantee that these horses mean you no harm. Here…just give Isaac a rub right around here, between the eyes.”
Bernadetta waited for Isaac to lower his head before reaching out to pet him. The horse’s mane was soft and slightly prickly, not unlike the teddy bear she had sewn for Linhardt. She quietly squealed when Isaac lifted his head, worried that he hated her. Finding Dorte’s sweet spot was harder due to the thick armor protecting his face, so she settled for following Marianne’s lead and gently petting him on the nose.
“Nice horsey…” she cooed.
To Bernadetta’s surprise, Dorte didn’t snort, sneeze, or shake his head when she rubbed his nose. It was wet to the touch, but oddly soothing.
Marianne helped Bernadetta climb onto Dorte’s saddle, with Ferdinand standing on the opposite side to catch her when it looked like she was about to fall over. Once she was confident enough that she had both feet in place, she sat upright and held tightly onto the reins, trying as best she could to keep her balance until Ferdinand got back on his horse.
“Have you ever ridden a horse before, Bernadetta?” asked Lorenz.
Bernadetta shook her head.
“Then this will be the perfect opportunity for Ferdinand and I to guide you in your journey. Once you have gotten used to riding horses for as long as we have, you will wonder how you spent the rest of your life walking.”
Bernadetta took several quick, shallow breaths and mumbled to herself, “You can do this, Bernie… You don’t want to do this, but you can do this.”
Ferdinand pointed ahead and traced a path around the perimeter of the obstacle course. “Now, Bernadetta,” he said, “we will start by guiding your horse to a slow walk. Try to stick as close to the fence as possible, but do not cross over it or bump into any of the displays here.”
“H-how do I get him to move? And turn?”
“Just squeeze lightly with your thighs, like so. And whenever you need to steer, just pull to the left or right as necessary. Gently, of course. You do not want to pull too hard when you turn.”
“That doesn’t sound so hard,” said Bernadetta as she watched Ferdinand and Isaac walk ahead of her. It took a few tries for her to get Dorte to follow them, and she chuckled triumphantly once she figured out the right amount of pressure to apply. Bernadetta lost herself in the comfort of riding atop Dorte and barely noticed Lorenz pulling up behind her, with him and Ferdinand establishing a steady walking pace that she had little trouble following.
Together, the three riders and their horses completed two laps around the edge of the course before coming to a stop in front of the entrance gate. Marianne gasped when the sparrows she was talking to flew away, and then looked up at everyone as they approached. “So…how was it, Bernadetta?” she asked.
“It was…kinda fun, actually,” Bernadetta replied, looking down at the ground beneath her and wondering why Dorte wasn’t bothered by all the mud.
“Good… He likes going for walks every once in a while…and he seems happier with other horses around.”
Lorenz pulled up to Bernadetta’s left side, looking ready to take another lap around the course. “I believe you carried yourself quite well for a first-timer,” he said.
“Indeed,” said Ferdinand, sliding in on her right side. “After we have given our steeds some time to rest, we will work on increasing your mobility and maneuverability.”
“What?! Already?” Bernadetta yelped. Her wide-eyed and slack-jawed stare was a familiar sight to Ferdinand, but not to Lorenz or Marianne, the former of whom had to cover his face to hide his displeasure. “I-I was doing fine just walking around with Dorte! Can’t we just keep doing that for a while longer?”
“But Bernadetta…how can you be certain of your ability to ride if you do not push yourself past your normal limits? In the heat of battle, mobility is paramount. It is necessary to know how to quickly get out of danger on foot and on horseback.”
Bernadetta’s eyes darted back and forth in search of hazards only she believed to exist. “Danger? Are you telling me there are snipers hiding in the trees to ambush poor Bernie? I knew I should have stayed in my room!”
“There is nothing to fear, Bernadetta,” said Lorenz, pulling away from Bernadetta to avoid being hit as he anticipated her flailing around and falling off Dorte. Luckily for both of them, she maintained her grip, but gave Dorte a bit of a fright as she jerked the reins upward. “No one will come after us all the way out here. Try to take your mind off these nonexistent hazards and watch as Mathilda and I show you how a horse should be ridden.”
Lorenz took his horse onto the field, trotting clockwise for a lap around the perimeter and then slowing down to weave through a series of irregularly placed posts on the southwest side. Bernadetta had only watched him closely enough to see how he got his horse to break from a walk into a trot, but not long enough to feel confident about being able to do it herself. Getting Dorte to move faster than he did before was easy. Trying to steer him while bouncing up and down on the saddle proved more difficult. In her attempt to imitate Lorenz, Bernadetta almost ran into the outer fence four times and knocked over one of the posts he had no trouble walking around. Ferdinand rushed to Bernadetta’s side when she and Dorte had calmed down enough to come to a complete stop.
“Are you feeling all right, Bernadetta?” he asked, reaching out and patting the frazzled girl on the shoulder after she dismounted.
“Well, I was until Dorte suddenly took off on me,” she complained. “You and Lorenz make it look so easy! How am I going to do this well enough to impress the Professor in less than a month?”
“I do not think the Professor expects you to master the art of riding right away. I believe she sees some potential in you in that area, as I do. It may take longer than that for it to be fully realized, but that is something we will refine in the weeks to come.”
Bernadetta waited for Marianne to check her for injuries, fighting the urge to flinch when the familiar tingle of a healing spell washed over her. “M-maybe you should ride Dorte back, Marianne,” she said as she looked for a way to avoid walking to the monastery on the muddy ground again. “I think he likes you better than me.”
“Dorte doesn’t hate you,” Marianne replied. “He just needs some time getting used to other people riding him.”
After realizing that there was only a tiny amount of room on any of the horses, she went with the most familiar face and hopped onto Isaac’s back, holding tightly onto Ferdinand and hoping that he would keep her from falling. The party quickened its pace once they passed the muddy area, with Lorenz pulling ahead of the pack and holding his head up high. “The next time we do this,” he said while trying to keep his eyes on the road ahead of him, “the knights will hopefully leave enough horses in the stables for all of us to have our own. Perhaps spending more time with one will help lessen your anxiety while riding.”
“I doubt it,” Bernadetta groaned. She briefly lifted her head as Ferdinand trotted up to Lorenz and Mathilda, leaving Marianne to bring up the rear with Dorte.
“Lorenz, Bernadetta, Marianne… What do you say to the four of us having some tea when we return?” asked Ferdinand.
“I don’t know,” said Marianne. “Is the tea pavilion big enough for four people? Even if it was, I doubt I’d make good company…”
“I disagree. We would be delighted to have you with us.”
Lorenz slowed down and briefly looked behind him to give Marianne a chance to catch up. While she watched Bernadetta curl up closer to Ferdinand, she reconsidered his invitation as Lorenz gave her a knowing nod. “Well…if you don’t think I’ll be any trouble…”
“Nonsense!” Lorenz said with a laugh. “Like good food, good tea is always better when enjoyed in the company of others. What better way to express my gratitude for helping us arrange this outing than with a small feast?”
“Come to think of it, Bernie is getting hungry from all this riding,” said Bernadetta, more to herself than to the others. She slowly lifted her head from Ferdinand’s back when they reached the eastern monastery gate that led them back to the stables. As much as she wanted to get back in her room and stay there until her next class, Bernadetta didn’t deny that getting to ride Dorte was a pleasant change of pace from her usual routine. She hoped there would be enough cookies left over from Ferdinand and Lorenz’s planned four-person tea party to have as a late-night snack.
After eating dinner, Monica rushed to her room, hoping to avoid the worst of a cold wind blowing in from the east. She came to gather two things: the instructions for the Fire spell Constance had given her, and a jacket. Dorothea, who knocked on her door a few moments after she found what she needed, apparently had the same idea, for her jacket covered up the neckline her school uniform usually revealed.
“Almost ready, Monica?” asked Dorothea. “I just talked with Professor Hanneman, and he says he found a good spot for us.”
“I think so,” said Monica. “I’d love to go back to the training grounds for this, but I don’t want to be responsible for setting the training weapons on fire.”
Dorothea giggled. “Come on, now. I don’t think anyone’s that clumsy. Anyway, Professor Hanneman asked us to meet him by the cathedral’s west gate. We should hurry before it gets even colder.”
The two girls braced themselves against the cold as they walked to the meeting spot. As they expected, Hanneman was waiting for them, along with Lysithea, one of his students. Monica remembered the name from the students who fought at the Battle of the Eagle and Lion, but couldn’t pick her out in the crowd from her vantage point on the cliff.
“Do you need something?”
Lysithea saw Monica staring at her and responded in kind. Not wanting to appear rude, Monica shifted her attention to the unmarked black book Lysithea was carrying. She assumed it was a book on magic and was tempted to commend the girl for coming prepared for Hanneman’s lesson. “Uh…sorry! I didn’t mean anything by that,” she said. “Let me introduce myself before we get started. I’m Monica von Ochs, from the Black Eagles.”
“And I’m Lysithea von Ordelia, from the Golden Deer.”
Monica shook Lysithea’s free hand and almost lost herself in thought again. Lysithea’s serious demeanor and snow-white hair reminded Monica of Edelgard. When Monica started to ask whether the two knew each other, Dorothea looked at Hanneman and asked, “Where does this gate lead, Professor?”
“There is an abandoned chapel not far from here that was built many centuries before the site of the current cathedral,” said Hanneman. “Alas, no one knows if the floor plans to that chapel still exist, so it is difficult to judge whether or not it would be worthwhile in the long run to restore it. Fortunately, we can still make use of its open-air field. It is much larger than that of the monastery’s training grounds, making it more suitable for magical experiments.”
“Are you sure it’s safe?” asked Monica. “I know the knights can only patrol so many places at once.”
“I made sure to check and double-check with Seteth and Lady Rhea to secure a location for my live magical lessons when the arena was in use. Getting both of them to agree to open the site up for this purpose was harder than I anticipated.”
“As long as there’s a place where I can practice my craft in relative peace and quiet,” said Lysithea, “I’ll be satisfied.”
The guards opened the gate out of the monastery, and Hanneman was ready to lead the students to the old chapel when they heard frantic footsteps coming up from behind them, along with a familiar voice.
“Hey, ladies! You weren’t thinking of leaving me behind, were you?”
Sylvain ran his hand through his hair and winked, taking notice of Dorothea and Lysithea frowning at him for showing up late.
“Out trawling again, Sylvain?” Dorothea asked with a playful tone that contrasted with her irritated expression. “Did you manage to catch any this time?”
“Come on, Dorothea,” he replied. “You know trick questions aren’t my strong suit. I’ve just been preparing myself for the greatest day on the Officers Academy calendar. Naturally, it’d be even greater if I had someone to accompany me.”
“Not interested,” said Lysithea as she turned away from him to follow Hanneman down the road.
Sylvain turned to Monica, and while she didn’t respond as quickly and flatly as Lysithea, the way she shook her head told him all he needed to know. He thought twice about repeating his request to Dorothea, expecting the same result. “Well, it was worth a shot,” he said with a shrug.
A few minutes after walking down a dirt road lined with torches and dried-up bushes, they arrived at what remained of an old chapel belonging to the Church of Seiros. The northwestern and northeastern corners of the outer wall were tall enough to hide everyone from frontal attacks from those directions, but nothing more. Only a handful of shards of stained glass sticking out of the walls differentiated it from any other ruin. Three marble pillars, believed to have once been statues depicting Saint Seiros herself, had been broken down to stumps that went up to Dorothea’s knees.
Before Hanneman could begin overseeing his lesson, he ordered everyone to gather as many sticks and stones as possible from the surrounding area to create targets. They used what they had left over to prepare a bonfire in the center of their setup.
“Monica,” said the professor, “since you and Sylvain are new to this school of magic, I’d like for one of you to start by using some basic fire magic to light this bonfire here. Be sure to stand several feet away from your target to avoid burning yourself.”
Monica read her magic scroll one last time before handing it over to Dorothea. She had practiced using Heal and Nosferatu so many times that the motions came to her almost instinctively, and she was eager for someone to teach her something new. Something as simple as Fire looked easy enough to handle.
“Like this?” she asked, cupping her hands and pointing them at the bonfire, gradually channeling energy until a small fireball materialized in front of her. Against all common sense, she pushed her hands forward and shot the fireball at the pile of sticks, watching them flare up briefly until they formed a sustained and more controlled flame. Monica quickly pulled her hands away from the bonfire and examined them, surprised by the lack of burn marks.
“Yes, exactly!” said Hanneman. “When dealing with magic that draws upon the power of natural elements, or ‘black magic’ as it is often called, it is important to position your hands in such a way that any energy released does not go out of control in order to avoid unwanted injury to yourself or others.”
The other three students huddled around the fire for warmth. Sylvain smiled at each of the girls as he tossed a few more sticks into the pile to keep it ablaze. “Not bad, not bad,” he said. “I feel like I could learn quite a bit from this.”
“In that case, Sylvain, I would like you to focus on one of the targets I asked you to place against the wall. Focus your magical energy into a ball and unleash it, just as you watched Monica do just now.”
Sylvain turned toward the closest wall target and launched a fireball at it, setting it alight. “That felt pretty awkward,” he said after blowing into his hands to cool them down. “What do you think would happen if I just used one hand?”
Hanneman quickly moved to snuff out the flaming dummy with wind magic so it could be reused later. “Your fireball would be smaller, given the reduced volume used to contain it. Do not mistake this to mean that such a fireball would be less harmful or deadly.”
Sylvain put Hanneman’s theory to the test by raising his right hand and casting another fireball at the target. As he expected, his one-handed fireball was smaller, but faster than the two-handed one he shot earlier. “Still burns the same,” he observed, and he resolved to cast that spell with one hand from that point on.
Hanneman ordered everyone to line up a short distance from the targets and attack them with magic until they could cast their spells consistently and instinctively. Monica stood between Dorothea and Lysithea and tried to mimic Sylvain’s one-handed Fire spell. She found it easier to do after Dorothea showed her how to prime her fireball by pointing her palm upward before throwing. “Having your arm at rest like this will help you conserve stamina,” she said. “You’ll only want to hold your palms out when you’re casting bigger spells, like this one.”
Dorothea channeled a large ball of electricity and shot it forward, with the resulting beam of lightning tearing a hole through the shoulder of her dummy and leaving a scorch mark in the stone wall behind it. The spell, which Monica learned was called Thoron, left her in awe, both by how easily Dorothea could cast it and how easily it could rip a human body apart.
“Maybe I’ll work my way up to that one,” said Monica, chuckling nervously.
Turning to her left, she watched Lysithea attack her target with spells that were more similar to Hubert’s dark magic than anything she, Dorothea, or Sylvain were using. The young Golden Deer mage had gone into a trance-like state of concentration as she prepared to unleash her next spell – a ball of light that hovered above the target and shined as bright as the moon.
“Watch closely,” Lysithea ordered. With a snap of her fingers, the small moon transformed into a ball of dark energy that ripped a hole in the ground, reducing the target dummy beneath it to splinters. “That’s the power of Luna. Isn’t it amazing?”
“No kidding!” said Monica. “Where did you learn that? How did you learn that?”
“It’s not the kind of spell just anyone can learn. It took me many days of practice to get it just right.”
Lysithea sat down on one of the pillar stumps, looking disappointed that she couldn’t provide another demonstration of Luna after her last casting destroyed her target. While watching the others wear down their targets even further, she jumped out of her seat and looked around frantically when one of Dorothea’s lightning bolts found its mark. “What was that?” she asked, quickly straightening up to hide any indication that something had startled her.
Everyone stopped what they were doing when they saw Lysithea looking uneasy. Sylvain took a spare torch from Hanneman and used the bonfire to light it to better see where he was going as the sun began to set. “I’m pretty sure I swept the area when we were setting up,” he said. “There shouldn’t be anyone else out here but us.”
A tense silence hung over the old cathedral as Hanneman and the students adopted battle stances, worried that someone was spying on them. The cold wind that blew around them all evening had died down, but a few of the bushes behind them were still moving.
“Over there!” Sylvain called out, holding his torch up toward the offending bushes.
Hanneman stepped in front of his trainees, holding his arms out to protect them from whatever had intruded on their makeshift training grounds. “Whoever you are,” he said, “I should warn you that you are trespassing on the property of the Church of Seiros. If you mean to do me or my students any harm, you should know that we are fully prepared to defend ourselves. I suggest you make this easy for yourself and surrender quietly.”
A minute passed without any answer. Monica didn’t want to take the chance of it being another fake-out, so she kept her right hand tightly gripped to her sword and scanned the surrounding area for any more intruders. When Sylvain’s torch revealed a shadow behind the bush everyone was focused on, Hanneman blasted it with a strong gust of wind magic.
“All right! All right! I’ll come out! Please don’t kill me!” shouted a young man’s voice between grunts of pain. He was slow to rise to his feet and dust himself off after being flushed out of his hiding spot, and when he looked up, he saw Hanneman, Sylvain, and Lysithea staring angrily at him. On the other hand, Dorothea and Monica were more surprised than upset when they thought they recognized him.
“Hey!” said Dorothea. “Aren’t you one of the kids who went missing from Remire Village a few weeks ago?”