Two more days until three years. She couldn't really believe it herself. It hadn't felt three years, more like two weeks. And yet at the same time…
Megan Lifedreamer fingered the pendant hanging from her neck as she stopped behind the contemplative mind of her Life Professor, Moolinda Wu. It was cool, the pendant. She gazed down at it, cranking her neck slightly. It glowed like a tiny blue star that twinkles in the sky.
He had explained it a ton of times to her before, but she could never really grasp the idea.
"So it's like a glow-in-the-dark necklace?"
"No," his laugh resonated throughout her memory. "It's more than that. The crystal is soulbound to the one who put his or her magic into it… it glows to show you that I'm always here for you. Always."
That made her smile. She kept her eyes on it, watching, seeing the intricate glowing object grow bright, then dim down, as if it was unsure of making a decision. I still don't understand how a soul is able to resonate from someone putting their magic into it. He had said something about the crystal itself and its magical properties, but she didn't care about the technicality. It was a very sweet gesture, and one of the nicest presents she ever got.
"Megan, this way… I think we're close!" Wu said painfully, holding her side. They had just made it to the top of the hill, and from afar one could see the faint city lights of the Mooshian Empire gleam in a jade hue. Trees mottled the area in between through a valley that seemed to jut out in a J shape.
"The target isn't MooShu," Moolinda reminded herself, under her breath. She started down the knoll. "Come, Megan!"
The young theurgist quickly hid her necklace and stumbled after her professor. Her gear was heavy, and the day's travel was long, but the thought of Lail kept her heart pumping vivaciously.
Megan Lifedreamer always wore her average gear, no matter how hot it was outside. She was most thankful for her hat, which shielded her face from the cringing summer sun. The rest of her clothing consisted of a suit of white and purple leather with gold linings on the trims of her shoulder and waist, with small wings that protruded from the back of her shoulders. Her white leather boots were stained green from the endless walk through the forests, but she didn't mind it. It just took a little washing and they'd go back to looking brand new.
Keeping a close enough distance to her professor, she let her eyes wander about the dormant forest grounds. She made faces at the plants that she never realized even existed, and smiled familiarly at the ones she remembered reading from her textbook. Crandies, Redleaves, Polished Lakebush… the list went on and on. She brushed her fingers up against the plants that she knew couldn't harm her. Feeling the textures under her fingers made her feel connected with Life magic.
With a sudden halt, her wheezing professor turned around. "You can feel it too, can't you?"
Megan replied with a blank face. "What?"
"The Life energy here… it's so strong. Isn't it beautiful, Megan?"
"Oh, yes!" Megan smiled at her professor giddily. "Look, professor! These… remember when you taught the Gardening class about these? Wineroot!"
"Yes, I do remember sweet child."
"And here! Look!" Megan held out a tree branch to point at a tiny mushroom that glinted in the fair moonlight. "Shadowshrooms!"
"Someone seems to be enjoying themselves way too much." Her teacher always had a light voice when she spoke, as if it were a flower petal floating down to gently land delicately onto the surface of a pond. She was Megan's favorite teacher; not as energetic as Haleston Balestrom, the storm professor, but not as strict as Cyrus Drake, the myth professor. She was the perfect medium in Megan's eyes.
"MooShu is a beautiful landscape, filled with life magic everywhere. Possibly the most in the spiral," Wu said. She tiredly smiled, pointing ahead. "I don't think we're too far from what I need... Only a bit further."
"Right," Megan brushed the black hair from her eyes as she headed into the thicker part of the forest with her professor. The canopy was a bit more tightly compacted, making it harder to see the night sky, and the further they went in, the darker it became.
Megan unsheathed her wand from its holster at her waist. It was wooden, with different runes carved into it that glowed a dim green color. "Silva creaturae!" she whispered along the darkness.
A small ball of green light ejected from the tip of her wand, and it took one to look closer at it to figure out it was a small sprite.
"Good idea, young theurgist!" Wu said, replicating her spell. "Using sprites for light… very clever."
Soon sprites in all different shades and hues danced around the black of the forest, fluttering about like tiny little Christmas lights. The blue ones reminded Megan of Lail. Again she unearthed the necklace from under her leather garments, gazing at it.
"It's very pretty," her teacher said. She looked to be smiling, but it wasn't totally discernable from this distance. All the meandering lights distracted her attention. "Who gave it to you?"
"Oh…" Megan could feel herself blush, but it wasn't like her professor could see it. "My boyfriend, Lail..."
"Ah, the one in the Ice school? What was his last name… "
"Winterbreeze," she beamed. "Wait, how do you know him?"
"Well, he is the Ice School's team Towager's Warden, right?"
To think that Moolinda Wu actually paid attention to the sport of Towager went beyond the comprehension of Megan Lifedreamer. Yet she did hear those words come out of her mouth… right?
"Yeah! He is actually," she couldn't help but giggle a little. "I didn't know you were into Towager, professor."
"Oh, everybody is into Towager, youngling. In fact, my hopes for this year is to get the Life school to the championship game in the Pudger's cup."
Everybody knew that the Life School was the worst team in Ravenwood when it came to Towager. "How?"
"This year you will actually get to have a coach."
A coach? "What do you mean, Professor? Don't the team captains coach the teams?"
"No, actually. They only help regulate the practices and take attendance. At least for every other school team in Ravenwood. Life is special because we are the only team in Ravenwood that assigns the team captain as a coach." Wu surfaced a pair of scissors from her knapsack tied at her waist, bending down in front of a bush. The scissor's jaws snapped down on the bush, and Megan saw the Life professor gather something into her robes. "The other teams are coached separately." The life professor giggled. "I had the thought of having Justin as the coach, but that just seemed silly. He's already got so many tasks assigned to him as my assistant. Coaching towager would probably be the nail in the coffin."
Megan remembered now; a while back Merle Ambrose had gathered the Spiral's previous best seven wizards that graduated from Ravenwood to study under the teachers and act as Teaching Assistants. Their purpose was to know the subject material with the Professor, aid him or her in anything school-related, and teach in absence of said teacher.
Megan looked sheepishly at her feet. Justin was not here. That could only mean that what they were doing right now could only be some menial task that Professor Wu had spare time for. This probably fares pretty low at the list of important things she has to do.
Her mood perked up a little more slightly at the Life School's teaching assistant's name itself. Justin Lifeleaf. He was the motivation for every aspiring young theurgist. As a matter of fact, he was one of the seven students who partook in taking down Malistaire at the peak of The Crown of Fire. He was also the only known Theurgist to actually bring back someone from death - the right way. Even though the spell on Roslyn Roseheart's life lasted only a few seconds, Justin had accomplished what no other theurgist in the history of the spiral ever could do: sing the lifeforce of somebody back into their body.
Rumor had it that the reason why Ambrose assigned them as Teaching Assistants was because he believed The Supreme Seven were the only ones fit for replacing the staff at Ravenwood if a horrible thing were to ever happen to them.
"Ah! It is so nice to escape from the gripping fingers of civilization and free oneself in nature," Wu exclaimed, waving her miniscule arms about her. She gave Megan a cordial look as she tried to figure out what she was chewing around in her mind. "Is there something wrong, child?"
"No… I just can't remember the names of the other assistants… I now know for Life it's Justin, but what about the others?"
Megan always loved comparing people's thoughts to faeries. If one was thinking a lot, then a bunch of the little faeries were fluttering around in their head, working together to try and settle the thoughts. She saw the faeries swarm in Wu's head.
After a minute, she saw the Life Professor ready her belongings. "Come, let us head back. I'll tell you all the names while we travel back."
"Wait… we're done?"
"Yes, I believe so. I have gathered all the herbs I needed for the fall semester. I don't think I left anything behind…" she scratched her head lightly, frowning.
Megan's heart seemed to be on steroids, the way it jumped. Heading back meant seeing her friends. Eric and Erin … and even more so Lail.
Lail. She could feel the pendant match the pace of her heart, and she wasn't sure if it was just her imagination. All the happy memories of their relationship seemed to flash before her eyes. She only missed him even more while she reviewed them over and over in her head.
The night was deeply breathing when the two emerged from the deep forest thick. Wu led the way back up the knoll as she recited the names to Megan.
"For Ice there's Digby Strongheart. He's quite the unique type of boy. Very stubborn. His times spent in my class were sleeping for the first half of the unit and then diligently studying the next half to ace the midterm exams." Megan remembered him. His black hair was tied back in a short ponytail every time she saw him in the streets of Ravenwood. He was constantly referred to as the boy who couldn't die. People talked about him, about how he survived the Death Curse Mors-Mortem Malistaire had invented. Megan shivered. It was the only spell that could automatically kill life on the spot.
Some say it was because Digby jumped in front of a friend, willingly sacrificing his life for them, which counterspelled the curse. Other realists said that the spell was just a simple fizzle, caused by the extreme exhaustion of Malistaire's mana from battling seven other wizards at once. The rest were in the ballpark of believing that his heart did actually stop, and yet he still fought for hours after. There was not much else she knew about him.
"For Myth there's Alex Jaderider. He was a studious fellow… would always finish my assignments early in class and would be wanting to go outside, to smell the flowers, to have the sun in his hair and kissing his skin." Professor Wu giggled lightly. "He could have very well been a Life Wizard, given his aptitude for theurgy.
Moolinda Wu shifted uncomfortably for a second. A beast of silence stalked the air about her, and Megan almost thought that she didn't want to continue. "For Fire" she started, eyes lowered, "there's Jonathan Shadowwalker. He is a curious fellow… keeps to himself most often... it's a shame what happened to his fiancé and soon-to-be wife . All the years of experience I have had as a witch and I never have seen anything as heartbreaking as that. To see your lover die right in front of you - only to come back for a couple of seconds and die in your arms a second time." the Mooshian hung her head solemnly.
Megan grimaced slightly. Her thoughts immediately trailed to that of Lail. How would she cope if he had died? And right in front of her too? She tried to shake the sudden knot of anxiety tying itself into twists deep in her stomach. "He must be devastated," she barely managed to say.
The Life Professor nodded sadly. "The day his wife died was the day his fire lost its luster."
Moolinda Wu quickly moved on to save the conversation from going too far downhill. "For Storm and Balance there was Destiny Dreampetal and Jonathan Legendsword. The two married and had three children, two of which go to this school. Even though they're considered 'Teaching assistants' for their respective schools, they act more like envoys for Merle Ambrose when he needs things to be done." Megan knew about their kid, Jenna Rosepetal, and how she was sorted into the Life school, despite her parents being two totally different schools.
"And for death there is Malorn Ashthorn. He was always a nice boy, never gets into things he can't finish, and is a good face for the new generation of death students. He will take the school far along with the teachings of the interim professor, Dworgyn." The endless devotion Malorn had for his school was unmatched. Megan knew that much. Students gossiped about him not moving from the spot near the gaping hole where the death school disappeared, even after Malistaire abandoned them all. He made sure every death student was on track, even if it meant knocking himself off track to get there.
Silence compounded on itself in the encroaching darkness. Cricket chirps were the only things that could be heard this late in the hour. Megan squinted through the forest to see where they were going. "Professor," she said, scratching her head.
"Yes, child?" Wu was preoccupied with the map to pull her head up.
"What kind of things does Justin Lifeleaf do nowadays?"
"Why do you ask, child?"
"I was just wondering." After passing her Novice and Apprentice exams last year, Megan Lifedreamer was looking at her second prospective year at Ravenwood, going into her Journeyman Theurgy studies. But all last year her attendance at Ravenwood was without the Teaching Assistant around. In fact, she did not even remember if she ever saw him last year, now that she thought about it.
"He… has been very busy with a lot of the Headmaster's needs as of late. The poor soul works his heart out. I doubt he gets more than two hours of sleep each night."
This was finally getting to the heart of what Megan had wanted to ask. As much as frivolity and mirth was a great distraction, there was a stone that burdened Megan Lifedreamer more than most wizards her age. Inhaling deeply, she fingered the pendant at her neck and gathered up enough courage to spew her question out in little mutters that made her sound as if she were choking. "Does it have to do something with J'gaird?"
The look on her professor's face betrayed that she seemed to be anticipating the question. "I'm sorry, child," Wu looked sad, almost as if she were going to cry. "I heard about your family, and how they were burned by him."
Megan cast her eyes down. Suddenly, the ground looked so much more interesting than everything around her. "Yeah."
"I am sorry to say it has nothing to do with the Pyromancer, my sweet. If it did, I would tell you."
"Thanks," she managed to mutter, though she did not particularly believe her. In no way, shape, or form would a Professor ever confide in a second year student in a matter as dire as the Firemancer's whereabouts.
A frog was lodged smack dab in the middle of Megan's throat, and she was surprised she managed to say anything at this point. Every single time she thought of her family an anchor seemed to tie itself to her heart.
She was told she had a brother, a dozen or more aunts and uncles, tons of cousins, and a mother and father that loved her very much. But they all died, burned alive by that maniac.
The twigs under them snapped and twisted. As they made their way up through the trees, Megan wondered what a family even felt like.
"Do you hear that, child?"
Megan picked her head up, wiping away the small tear gathered in her eye. "What?"
"It's a bird!" Wu exclaimed, looking around for it. "Birds are seldom awake this late at night."
A bird? She could hear it, but it didn't sound anything close to a bird. It sounded like someone was whistling…
The two wandered further, heads cast upward, searching for the noise. The trees swayed in the wind; gigantic statues of wood dancing among each other in a nightly tango. The face of the sky was speckled with stars, winking down to dapple meandering pools of their light across the forest floor. Megan smiled at the scene, subtly, and kept trying to tell herself everything was going to get better. Soon I'll be with Lail-
The two emerald lights froze her in her tracks. Were they lights? She couldn't tell. But they were looming on her. She tried to squint to get a better look. Her heart burst into rapid beats as she gasped, closing her mouth with her hands.
"Is everything alright child?" Wu asked concernedly. Megan was panting heavily. Her legs felt locked in place as she stood, staring off into the space where she swore she saw something. Pure darkness replaced what she once saw, and she was not sure whether to trust her eyes or her mind.
After a few moments, she managed to finally breathe normally and say something. "Yeah. I'm okay." She smiled meekly at the professor before giving a double take back into the depths of the forest. Let's go home."
The professor eyed her cautiously, making sure to see if she was really okay. Megan brightened her smile to give her professor reassurance.
"All right then, if you really are okay…" Moolinda Wu turned around to lead the way again.
Megan followed eagerly, trying her hardest to keep her trembling legs from buckling again. She looked back once more at the spot where she originally had seen the lights. They were gone.
As much as she didn't want to admit it, she had a feeling those were not green lights at all. No, she was certain, the more she thought about it. She had looked straight into a pair of bright, owlish green eyes.
Those eyes had been watching.