I dragged myself back to the inn, utterly exhausted. I felt my magic burning within me, raging against the sudden overexertion after years of using it sparingly. As it turned out, Ruth’s idea of training was highly similar to Elysium’s. In other words, her idea of training me to use my magic was to get me to try and attack her with it. Her reasoning was something along the lines of how learning to hone my light into an attacking form was the most efficient way of teaching me to shape it to my will. I guess it made sense. To create a magical weapon like Ruth’s spears required me to exert a fine degree of control over the shape of the magic, as well as forcing me to condense it enough that it could be counted as an attack. If the shape of the attack was hazy, it would be insubstantial and fail to connect. If the mana wasn’t condensed heavily enough, it would dissipate on impact. All magic is, at some level, the shaping and compression of mana. In that sense, Ruth’s training was ideal for learning to use magic in a short period of time. Objectively speaking, it was the best regimen I could ask for.
And it fucking hurt.
Just drawing the mana out of my body so many times, in such quantities, at such short notice, was enough to cause my body to ache all over. Each time I cast the magic, I felt like fire – or I guess light, in my case – was coursing through my veins, threatening to erupt through my skin. It didn’t help that Ruth was rougher than Elysium – against Elysium, if I messed up an attack, I got thrown. Against Ruth, on the other hand, if I messed up an attack, I got counterattacked by a blast of elemental magic. It was never strong enough to do any actual damage to me, but the frustration of attempting an attack only to be met by a blast of cold wind knocking me back cannot be understated.
So it was that when I knocked on the door to Rosalind’s room, I was lamenting the fact that I would have to train with Elysium in the morning and Ruth in the afternoon – two hellish training sessions per day, every day for maybe a month, possibly two – that was how long Elysium had said she would be staying in the city. I contemplated the very real possibility of my body breaking under the strain, and involuntarily released a large groan just as Rosalind opened the door. She glanced at me quizically.
“Glint. Welcome back. What was with that groan; is something the matter?”
I reddened, slightly embarrassed, and shook my head frantically.
“No, nothing’s the matter. I’m just a bit tired from the training, is all.”
“O-Oh, was it that taxing? Hmmm… maybe this was a bad idea…”
She glanced to the side, as if trying to avoid my gaze. I tilted my head quizically, but before I could ask anything, my stomach loudly interrupted me. My hunger having been brought to my attention, it was only then that I realised exactly how hungry I was. Seeing that Rosalind didn’t seem to be making any move to let me in, I cleared my throat.
“Uh, sorry, but could I get a little dinner? I’m getting a little hungry.”
Rosalind reddened and stepped aside, ushering me in. I sat myself down by the table, where there were several plates of food laid out, along with two empty plates – one for Elysium, and probably one for myself. I glanced at Rosalind with an unspoken question, at which she nodded.
“Go ahead. I’ve already had my dinner.”
Having thus attained her approval, I dived into the meal, frantically devouring the food. As I ate, I felt the strength returning to my body, and I also felt the magic within me begin to calm down. It was as Ruth had said – magical energy was replenished in the same manner as regular energy. That is to say, it was replenished by food and rest. I had always assumed that everyone had some sort of finite store of magic, and that after using up magical energy, it just disappeared forever. That belief was one reason why I had avoided relying on my magic, all these years. Discovering that I had been wrong all along was a shock, as well as a relief. Prior to that day, I’d never had to use so much magic in one day that it would cause me actual exhaustion, so the knowledge that I could replenish it was extremely welcome.
As I ate, I glanced around the room, and noticed that a writing desk with paper and ink was placed in the middle of the room. The paper was blank, and the whole thing was arranged very neatly. I turned to her.
“Were you writing something, Rosalind?”
She let out a small squeak, surprised by my question, then turned to look at me with a guilty gaze.
“…no, this writing desk is for you.”
“Me? But I can’t write.”
“Yeah, I know that. That’s why I was planning to teach you how to write at night. I figured, train your body in the morning, train your magic in the afternoon, and train your mind at night. It sounded like a perfect plan in my head, but then I saw how tired you were. I’m sorry, I should have been more considerate… Ely’s training in the morning was rough – I’ve been through it too – and whoever’s your magic tutor was approved by Ely so I’m sure they’re rough, too. After two sessions of intense training, of course you wouldn’t have the mood or energy to study…”
She slumped onto the ground, clearly feeling terrible about herself. For a moment I was tempted to take the out I had been offered. It was a fact that I was tired. If I had a bed before me right then I might have immediately collapsed on it and fallen asleep. But at the same time, I knew that Rosalind was trying to look after me as well, to teach me and make me stronger, in her own way. It was the same as Elysium and Ruth. All of them wanted to strengthen me. All of them wanted to help me. The price I was being asked to pay for food and lodging was to improve myself and learn new things – this was a deal that wholly benefitted me alone. It would be remiss to not take advantage of it. But most importantly, I couldn’t bear to see Rosalind’s beautiful face marred by disappointment, as it was at that moment.
“Please teach me. I want to learn.”
“Eh? But you were so tired. There’s no need to push yourself for my sake. We can’t have you falling sick, Glint. Forget about this whole idea, it was selfish of me; I guess I just wanted a way to kill time.”
“No, Rosalind, please. Teach me to read and write. I want to be useful to you and Elysium. I can be more useful if I can achieve basic literacy. I’m not pushing myself, I promise. Please teach me.”
Silence ensued as Rosalind looked me up and down, probably assessing my physical condition. Then she sighed and nodded with a smile.
“Alright, then. If you’re sure you’re okay. But the moment you feel unwell, you tell me, okay?”
I nodded and got up, leaving the food behind and approaching the writing desk. Rosalind sat down next to me and began to teach me the basic letters of the alphabet, teaching me how to read them. She worked slowly and methodically, providing each letter with a context in which it was used and various examples, to get me accustomed to seeing how letters joined together to find words. We slowly worked on learning to spell my name, with myself writing it over and over to remember how it went. Rosalind, like Elysium and Ruth, was a very patient teacher; but unlike them, she was also very forgiving when it came to mistakes. If I made a mistake, she would laugh and point it out, then apologise for laughing. It was a very different type of learning from what I had done for the rest of the day, and frankly speaking, I found it less efficient than the training with Elysium and Ruth. But I also found it far more enjoyable.
When Elysium walked in through the door later that night, I gave her a cursory glance and a quick wave, then went back to focusing on my letters. Sneaking a few glances in her direction as she ate, I noticed her watching me learn with a serene smile on her face – reminiscent of an older sister looking at a younger sibling. Her eyes were unfocused, as if she was watching a scene that was taking place somewhere else. I briefly wondered, once again, about her history and her background, but then put that aside and focused on writing my name once more.