The portal from Igni opened a small hole in the sky, and it spat out Carys and River forcefully. River stumbled upon touching down, and they hit the grass hard. Their breath was forced from their lungs, but they tried to keep from lingering in that place for too long. Instead, River pried themselves from the ground, and visible shock appeared on their face when they realized that the spot they had fallen into the grass was not burned by their magic. It was so normal for them to turn whatever they touched into a melted monstrosity that barely resembled what it had been before. Seeing that not be the case was strange to them, and they continued to stare at the still-intact grass for a few seconds out of surprise.
However, Carys was not willing to linger any longer than they already had. Her icy grasp on River's arm only grew tighter, and she dragged the Alight Five general along behind her. The Alitia building was nearby, only a few minutes' walk, and it towered over them. Carys looked up at the campus and let out a sigh before taking a few more steps forward. After what had felt like ages, she was finally back.
The campus' courtyard was filled with many young students who were buzzing around in different clusters. At first, none of them seemed to notice that Carys had arrived, too focused on what they had been doing before she showed up, but then the temperature began to drop. Unlike what she had done on Igni, Carys wasn't freezing the ground and school. Instead, the air just got bitterly cold, threatening to swallow anyone who wasn't properly protected from the weather.
A few students began to shiver, and many whispers rose up from the crowd. Breath grew foggy, and gazes adjusted to focus on Carys. When she was noticed, Carys let out a small sigh of relief, though she didn't let her intense facial expression fade in the slightest. Just because she was home didn't mean that she could let her guard down. After all, she still had to make sure that River wasn't going to head off and cause problems as soon as she released them, and that was a daunting task for an Isolis mage regardless of if she had been Sealed or not.
Inside Alitia, Helena was near the dorm room she shared with the other girls. She was fidgeting nervously, and she looked out the window across the hall from her dorm when she felt something strange calling for her. None of the other girls had noticed her odd behavior. They were far too busy enjoying the silence that had embraced them as soon as they arrived back from Igni the night before.
"Carys," Helena whispered, rising to her feet. She had been sitting on the ground up to that point, but she seemed to believe that this was an important enough event that she had to go and investigate herself. She didn't even bother calling for the others through the door's threshold. The entrance to their room was wide open so that everyone could keep an eye on her, but they didn't seem to notice that she was on the move.
Helena took off running down the hallway, wondering where this energy had somehow come from out of nowhere. After what had happened on Igni against Eros and Faerner, she had no right to be this energetic, and yet, her body was moving faster than it had in a long time despite this.
Her dash down the stairs was surprisingly dignified, and much to the shock of even Helena herself, she didn't trip over her feet on the way down. Instead, she kept herself upright until she was on the bottom floor and able to walk out of the building and out into the courtyard.
As soon as the blast of cold air hit her, Helena let out a gasp. She continued to run, dashing towards the figure she knew as Carys. She couldn't help the tears that welled up in her eyes and threatened to spill over, and she slid to a stop about a foot away from her sister. Had Carys not been so averse to physical contact, Helena would have thrown her arms around her twin sister.
Then again, there was something else with wrong that idea as well. River was standing off to the side, still held tightly in place by Carys' iron-like grip on their lower arm. It was strange to see two figures who were so different right beside one another, and Helena's eyes went wide as tears streaked down her cheeks at the sight.
"Excuse me! I need to see her!"
Helena hadn't even realized that a small crowd had formed around Carys until someone was trying to push through it. Helena had been at the center of the circle alongside her sister and River, but they were soon joined by a familiar face.
"Professor Apollo!" Helena exclaimed, her voice wavering much more than she expected it to. She clamped her hands over her mouth as a way of stifling the sound, her cheeks turning violently pink in the process.
Michaela, however, didn't seem to mind in the slightest. Instead of looking to Helena, she went closer to Carys and River. The glow on Carys' chest reflected back on Michaela's face, and Helena realized that she hadn't even paying attention to the light that was coming from her sister's skin beneath her Isolis top. The outline of a symbol became clearer in Helena's mind once she noticed it, and a gasp left her lips.
"No way..." Helena whispered, unable to tear her gaze away from the marking now that she had observed it. She looked up to Michaela for a moment, swallowing nervously as she remembered the express directions of Zylphia. If Carys really had become a Sealed One, then Michaela couldn't be allowed to see what was happening. It could cause the secret to get out.
Oddly enough, Michaela didn't seem bothered by that in the slightest. Instead, she merely gestured for Carys and River to follow her. Helena trailed behind the trio, and the crowd of students that had surrounded them parted to give them space to move. Soon enough, they had left behind the courtyard entirely and were making their way towards Zylphia's office.
Much to Helena's surprise, the rest of the girls were already there when they arrived. Luce's features were flooded with relief when she set her gaze upon Helena. "You really worried us there," she murmured, not saying much more despite it being clear that there were a thousand other words that she wished to dump out onto Helena and Carys in that instant.
Zylphia was sitting in the chair behind her desk, her hands propped up on the wood as she looked at River with a frown. It was clear that she was trying to remain passive in the face of a potential enemy. After fighting in a war, Zylphia had to know how to hide her emotions when the situation called for it. She was already pretty damn good at showing off those practices in regular conversation, after all.
"What happened for you to come back here?" Sophia questioned, looking to Carys in surprise. Her eyes were as wide as could be, and when she noticed the symbol peering out from between the threads of Carys' top, she let out a gasp, though she attempted to stifle it when she remembered River was right there along with Michaela.
Carys closed her eyes, and Helena realized that the temperature in the room had dropped drastically in a few seconds. A handful of moments later, light kicked up around Carys' feet, and when it calmed down, the warmth of the office returned. Helena let out a sigh of relief, and she looked over to Carys.
There was a symbol peering out from over the neckline of her shirt. It was unmistakable to Helena. That was most certainly a sign that she had become a Sealed One while on Igni. She didn't understand how that was possible, but she got the feeling that she would be hearing the story soon enough.
"I have brought a member of the Alight Five," Carys said, speaking up for the first time since her arrival back at Alitia. Even if she was speaking the obvious, she didn't seem to mind.
"What happened to you?" Sylvia questioned. Her tone was a strange mix of relief and distress, and when Helena glanced over at her, she noticed that Sylvia was halfway hiding behind Luce to keep from needing to look at River fully.
"It's a long story," Carys replied simply. "The point is that I have someone with me who could most certainly be useful to our cause."
Carys pushed River forwards, and the Alight Five general stumbled. While they were able to recover, they didn't seem too happy about being moved away from Carys, and Helena couldn't figure out for the life of her why. She figured that she would get the answers to that soon enough though, so she nodded slowly, biting back her worries to focus on what mattered for the time being.
Michaela wound up being the one to catch River, keeping them from falling forward after Carys' somewhat brutal shove. She frowned down at the Alight Five member, sighing to herself. "I have to say... I didn't expect this to happen. How did you manage to bring River back through the portal with you?" she questioned of Carys.
Carys looked down. "I forced them to open a gate that would bring me back here. I wasn't going to let myself just be stuck over there," she replied. "They haven't acted out at all. They barely even tried to grab me after I finished making my escape."
"Did anyone help you to come back here?" Zylphia questioned, looking to River darkly. "Were there any other allies who appeared to provide you assistance?"
Carys shook her head. "No. I acted all on my own. I found the power to break out without the aid of others. River was grabbed along the way, but I did this myself," she said, her voice still just as firm and confident as it had been when she first arrived back.
"I see... I'll have to contact Minerva to tell her to have Leviathan pull back. He has no further reasons to remain on Igni," Zylphia murmured with a gentle nod. "Originally, we sent him in to ensure that you were brought back here safely, but his interference will no longer be required."
"So much has happened so quickly," Iris commented, taking a step towards Carys. "You have to tell us all about it. Please."
"Before you say anything... I ask that you listen to me," River piped in, looking up at Michaela before addressing the rest of the group. "I have one request, and I would appreciate it if you would hear me out."
"You're our enemy. Why would we bother?" S.M. questioned with a huff. She had her arms crossed as she stared at River. "We have no reason to listen to anything that you have to say."
"Give them a chance," Zylphia told S.M., keeping her voice even and passive as ever. She turned back to River a moment later. It was easy to see that she was hiding how wary she was behind a gaze that displayed a strange mix of relaxation and scrutiny.
River waited until everyone was looking at them, and they swallowed nervously once they had captured the attention of all the people in the area. "I... I would like to fight alongside you against Igni," they declared. "I no longer wish to fight as a member of the Alight Five. Consider this my official resignation. I'm going turncoat."
Minerva knocked her hand gently against the entrance to the dorm room shared by Nebula and Anneliese. The rest of the girls who lived in their apartment had already set out for the day. As usual, Nebula and Anneliese spent their time apart from the rest of their roommates, and Minerva was thankful for such as she drew closer to the door.
Nobody went to open it, but she knew that they were inside. With a cautious push, Minerva made her way inside. She saw Nebula and Anneliese's room had the light on while the rest of the apartment was dark. Minerva sighed, realizing that they likely hadn't heard Minerva coming. She had made a deliberate attempt to be quieter than usual, so perhaps she shouldn't have been surprised.
Minerva walked to their door specifically next, knocking against the wood. This time, she was louder to ensure that she captured their attention fully. She heard footsteps from inside, and she was greeted by none other than Anneliese.
"Headmistress Claudere!" Anneliese cried, her eyes going wide in surprise. It was rare for someone like Minerva to visit a student at their dorm. In fact, such a thing hadn't ever happened in Anneliese's time at Sacred Heart. She opened the door further to allow Minerva inside, and the headmistress gave her a nod of thanks before pressing inside.
Nebula was sitting on her bed, but she got to her feet when she realized who their guest was. "Headmistress Claudere..." she echoed, her voice barely above a whisper. She did her best to shake off her surprise, approaching Minerva cautiously. "What brings you here? Has something happened?" Knotted tension rose in her shoulders, a byproduct of the fear that had quickly seeped into her face in the few seconds since Minerva's arrival.
Minerva shook her head. "I simply wish to apologize for what happened," she explained. "I shouldn't have gotten quite so snappy with you. I behaved like that in my own caring way, I suppose. I didn't intend to frighten you or any such thing, and I'm sorry for that."
Nebula and Anneliese looked to each other, shock written clear as day on their features. "I... Thank you," Anneliese eventually managed to spit out, bowing her head to the fire mage after a few seconds. "We accept your apology, and you are forgiven."
Minerva turned towards the door, unsure of what else she was supposed to say, but she wound up pausing. She looked back at the girls after a few seconds and let out a sigh. "If you require anything, all you need to do is come to me," she said softly. With that said, she left the room behind.
Minerva couldn't help but kick herself internally as soon as she arrived out into the hallway. It wasn't surprising that she was still just as bad with emotions as she had been the first day she arrived at Sacred Heart as a student. Altina and the rest of the Starlight Camaraderie were used to it, but that certainly made communicating with others in an apologetic manner a lot harder. Maybe she could ask Leviathan for help on how to get better at it. He was emotional enough to probably know exactly what to do.
The room was silent after River's declaration, and Luce couldn't help but stare with her mouth agape. She blinked at first, wondering if she had heard that right. Did River really want to fight alongside them? After all that time they had spent on Igni, it didn't settle properly in her stomach that this was the case, but River sure as hell wasn't making any moves to take those words back.
"Excuse me?" Zylphia eventually asked, narrowing her eyes in River's direction. "You'll have to provide more of an explanation that just that, I'm afraid."
River swallowed again before nodding. "I'm tired of fighting for Igni... Use whatever truth spells you need to in order to get the answers you need. I'm telling the truth here, and I have no will to go back to the place I was in before all of this. Why would I want to? I only ever fought for them out of bloodline obligation, and now... I can finally get away!" they cried out.
"What made you want to switch sides now? You had plenty of chances to back away before now," S.M. pointed out, her gaze like fire as it fell upon River.
"That girl... She was able to freeze me," River murmured. "I haven't felt cold in so long... My magic is out of control, and I can barely get it to listen to me most of the time. But... She was able to keep it from spiraling out of control. I was never able to get it to stay that way. It felt amazing. How could I just walk away from someone who was able to do something so amazing for me? I simply can't do that."
Carys looked at River in surprise before her shock melted away a few seconds later. "My ice magic was doing what it wanted... I suppose it would catch someone like you by surprise. You use heat magic, and it's far from being stable. We've seen that firsthand many different times," Carys remarked. She looked up to Michaela, still frowning heavily. "We have to figure out if they're telling the truth. Is there a spell that we can use to hear it for sure?"
Michaela nodded slowly, creating a small orb of light that she held up to River. The general watched it intently, swallowing nervously when it came too close for comfort. Eventually, the light vanished, flying into their chest where it dissipated entirely. River stumbled at the hit, only kept steady by Michaela's arm being wrapped around their shoulders.
The room was heavy with silence for a few seconds afterwards, and Luce watched River intently. Everyone's eyes seemed to be on the general, waiting for them to say something as the truth spell from Michaela settled in. For those moments, time seemed to crawl on at the pace of a snail, and Luce bit her lip in nervousness simply to give herself something to do.
When River did speak up again, there was something different about them. Luce figured that it was the spell at work. "I want to side with you in fighting against Igni. I've had enough of that place," they reaffirmed, their voice stronger than Luce had ever heard it before. "I'm tired of being treated like garbage. The king only ever used me for my magic, and my lack of control was always a tool to further his power. If nobody could control me, then I could be used for the greater glory of Igni. I don't want to be used like that anymore. I'm not going back there ever again."
The room fell silent once again, and Luce glanced around, waiting for someone to say something. The quiet was already starting to bother her, and Luce was practically begging someone to say something, anything, about what had just happened. The truth spell had shown that River wasn't lying, so what did that mean for their future? Were they simply supposed to stay on Millennia until this whole situation blew over? If that was the case, then who knew how long that would be?
Zylphia eventually let out a sigh, and she nodded. "I see... If that's the case, then we'll come up with a plan for accommodations sooner or later," she declared. "We'll find a solution to all that has happened. You don't need to worry."
"You can't be serious," S.M. murmured, her eyes going wide. "Maybe I'm biased because they attacked me on multiple occasions, but I don't know if I feel right trusting them right off the bat. There's something fishy going on here."
"It's not suspicious at all," River whispered. "I'm tired of being manipulated by your grandfather. He's done nothing but use me ever since I was born. My magic was a tool for him to expand his power, and I don't want to be treated that way anymore."
Michaela nodded to Zylphia. "I'll take care of this for now... We can discuss our next step later today," she announced before walking out of the office. She pulled River along beside her, and the room was deadly quiet until the door gently tapped shut behind the pair.
Sylvia looked up to Luce before flashing her gaze over to Zylphia. "This is crazy... I don't know how you can be so calm about all of this, Headmistress Satim," she said softly. "I guess that the truth spell shows that they're being honest, but..."
"I'll figure this out," Zylphia assured her. "Don't worry about River. I believe that we have another story to hear about now. Carys, why don't you tell us about how you escaped from Igni? I imagine that it's quite an intriguing tale."
Carys nodded, looking down at her chest and touching the small amount of her Gemini mark that peered out over the top of her shirt. "Alright. I'll get right into it," she began.
Leviathan didn't bother knocking when he walked into Minerva's office. His sister was inside alone after making her visit to Anneliese and Nebula's dorm. Minerva looked up when she heard that someone was coming, and a small frown appeared on her face. "What is it you need, Leviathan?" she questioned.
"I'm back from Igni since you told me to pull out," Leviathan replied, walking into the office fully before taking a seat in a chair that was propped up to face Minerva's desk. "You said that she had been found, yes?"
Minerva nodded. "Michaela Apollo of Alitia sent a message here that I was to ask you to retreat back here. Carys managed to escape on her own. I don't know how in the hell she pulled that off, but I'm sure not complaining," she explained.
Leviathan paused before replying. "Well, I might have an answer for you there... It's called freezing the palace of Igni and then running during the chaos," he answered. "When I arrived at the castle, it was covered in ice, and I followed the crystals to the source. It happened to originate from the dungeon beneath the palace. If you ask me, it seems oddly suspicious that someone with ice magic would be captured and held down there before the palace was frozen and she went missing."
Minerva's eyes went wide. "You can't be serious... Freezing the palace? That shouldn't be possible for any ice mages. Igni's temperature is too high for ice to sustain itself," she murmured. Suddenly, she gasped, and the realization of Carys' Sealing hit her head-on. "Damn it."
Leviathan studied his older sister for a moment before tilting his head to one side, sending his ponytail off kilter. "I don't know what you're muttering about, but would you mind explaining it to me?" he questioned. "Of course, I'm not trying to be invasive or anything... Oh, who am I kidding? I want to hear all about it."
Minerva hesitated at first before a sigh left her lips. "You're good at keeping secrets," she muttered. It was more of a statement than a question. "Fine. I'll tell you, but you had best not tell anyone about this aside from the head teachers. This is a secret that the general public cannot find out about, understood?"
Leviathan nodded. "When have I ever let you down, Min?" he questioned, flashing a playful grin despite the grim situation. "Why don't you start from the beginning?"
"It's a process called Sealing. The Sealed Ones are said to fight alongside the Keepers of Starlight and Moonlight to restore the balance of the world. They are chosen by the gods after proving themselves to be loyal to the cause," Minerva explained. "However, this is a bit of a special situation... The Keepers are not the ones this Sealing is based around. Instead, it's centralized on the daughter of the missing Keeper of Starlight. All of this has to remain secret, alright? I don't even want to imagine how much trouble the Church of Starlight would kick up if they heard about this."
Leviathan stared at her for a moment before nodding. "Alright... I understand," he told her. "You think that Carys became a Sealed One while she was trying to escape... It's not too farfetched, I have to say. You would have to be pretty determined and have a strong resolve if you were going to get out of Igni like that."
"Becoming a Sealed One magnifies your power. The instant that someone is Sealed, their power skyrockets," Minerva continued. "I guess that her magic went wild and froze the palace. That would certainly provide a distraction for her to use to escape the palace and then the planet."
"It was a rather impressive sight, I have to say. I never would have guessed that a teenager was responsible for it," Leviathan commented. "But that's beside the point. Is there anything else that you need to tell me about it?"
Minerva nodded slowly. "Yes... I'm one of the Sealed Ones who worked with the Keeper of Starlight years ago. Then again, I'm sure you already put that together. You have ways of figuring things out before anybody says a word on the subject. It's part of your charm," she replied, finishing her statement with a light snort.
Leviathan let another smile appear on his face. "You know me too well, Min," he said playfully. "If you wind up needing anything else from me in the future, all you need to do is ask. I'd be happy to help you out."
"Thank you," Minerva told him. "I can't think of anything at the moment, so just... Stay out of trouble, alright?"
"It's a deal," Leviathan assured her. He rose to his feet and started towards the door. "By the way... We really need to talk about our relationship soon. I'm tired of dancing around the subject, and I'm sure that you are too."
Leviathan shut the door behind himself, and Minerva let out a sigh. She shook her head to no one in particular even if nobody was around to see it. She was certainly going to need to arrange a moment for her to talk things out with Leviathan. They couldn't keep the strictly business mask up forever when they were brother and sister, after all, and they definitely had a lot more to talk about than they were willing to acknowledge openly.
After Carys finished her explanation of the events from Igni, Zylphia's office fell silent once again. The headmistress herself nodded slowly and let out a light hum. "I understand," she murmured. She raised one hand, and a small glow surrounded her fingers. When she swiped her hand through the air, he mark on Carys' chest disappeared, fading back into the skin from where it came.
"That makes for two of us becoming Sealed Ones," S.M. remarked, crossing her arms. "It seems that the Alight Five are making us stronger. I never would have guessed something like that would wind up happening in this way. I mean, we were going to have to get more powerful if we wanted to defeat them, but this is something else entirely."
"I guess we'll just have to turn our power back against them when they come to fight us in the future," Sophia commented with a light smile. "They were the ones who brought this power out of us, so we'll just show them what we're capable of when they next cross us. How does that sound?"
"For now, you will not be doing any fighting, remember?" Zylphia questioned, raising an eyebrow to the students. "You should return to your room for the time being. Carys most certainly needs some rest after everything she went through back on Igni, and I get the feeling that you are all just as exhausted as her from an emotional perspective."
Nobody had objections to raise to Zylphia's words. Slowly but surely, the eight girls filed out of the office and started moving back towards their shared dorm room. They were quiet the whole way there, knowing without needing to say a word that this was something they could only discuss behind closed doors.
It wasn't until after Sylvia had shut the doors behind them that anyone dared to speak up. Sylvia herself was the first to talk. "Well... It seems that a lot has happened," she murmured.
"I'm so glad you're back home, Carys," Helena said, a wide grin appearing on her face as she turned to her sister once again. She looked ready to throw her arms around her sister, but she held back for the sake of Carys' comfort.
"It must have been awesome being able to freeze the palace like that," Iris remarked. "I think that you did a great job, getting out on your own. We might not have been able to see it, but... You're amazing, Carys."
Carys smiled at Iris. "Thank you for the compliment... I'm certainly getting better with my power," she replied.
The room was heavy for a moment as everyone waited for Carys to continue. When she didn't, the ice enchantress sighed. "What? Why are you looking at me like that?"
"No bragging?" S.M. questioned, raising an eyebrow to Carys. "That's oddly out of character for you."
Carys hesitated before speaking up again. "Let's just say that I enjoyed a moment of self-reflection," she eventually said. "That's all you really need to know about it. I would prefer not to dump everything out on you, thank you very much."
Tanith was the one to break the next veil of silence that fell upon the room. "Either way, we're happy to have you back... If you need anything, all you need to do is say so," she told Carys.
Carys yawned, raising one hand to cover her mouth. "For now, I'm just tired. I think I'm going to take a nap. I'll see you all soon," she declared before shuffling off to her room. She shut the door behind her, and the main area of the dorm was left quiet as the girls all watched her, enjoying the fact that she was back to them once again.
Wow this update sure is out early huh,