Two days passed since Mana showed the first signs of being able to use magic and the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Cobal spent all morning setting up the screens that would be their only protection from the elements. Luckily the houses were built to last through these storms, but he couldn’t help but worry it would blow the whole thing down. The temperature had dropped significantly as well and although it wasn’t freezing, it was longer comfortably warm. He’d made them some tea as they watched the lightning strike in the distance. Mana had barely taken a break from her studies and practiced here and there, but it was taking a lot out of her. She’d decided to take today off. She called it a mental health break, although Cobal wasn’t quite sure what that meant exactly.
He himself had spent the morning training outside with his sword. The wind added some difficulty to his routine which was appreciated, but after about an hour it got more severe and it became difficult to keep training. Satisfied, he went back inside to wash up before beginning to prepare some lunch. On the recommendation of one of the vendors in town he’d procured enough food ahead of time. Apparently these kinds of storms come by every so often and they tend to not last much more than a day or two at most. Cobal didn’t like these kinds of days, he was very much an outside person. When he grew up in and around the palace he was allowed a little bit more freedom than his older brother, and he would often go with his other brother to explore the palace and the surrounding forest. Cryan, the middle child, had a penchant for getting into trouble and dragging Cobal along with him. Those were the good old days, but eventually Cryan started taking lessons and getting ready to be their brother’s right-hand man, and back-up in case the unthinkable happened. They also had a younger sister, but Cobal never got along with her well. In a sense, Mana reminded him of his sister. Quiet, bookish and not quite adjusted to the bustling lifestyle of a royal palace. She would have been the better person to go with Mana, he thought to himself. But she also probably wouldn’t have liked having to follow someone around like this. His older brother was kind but stern. Cobal didn’t dislike him by any means, but being taught to lead from a very young age had left his eldest brother distant. As if he didn’t want to get too close to his other siblings. It seems Cryan got closer to him eventually though and Cobal ended up making friends outside of his family. His sister didn’t leave her room much even nowadays. Cobal had often wondered what she was reading about all day and sometimes heard strange sounds coming from her room, but he’d never actually asked. His sister got along really well with their father, while the king was much more stern to his sons.
Cobal let out a deep sigh. Mana was in her room and after he knocked and brought her the lunch he’d just prepared he himself went to take a nap as well.
It was early evening when lightning struck nearby and Cobal woke up from his nap. The rain had picked up in intensity a lot but the wind had died down a little bit. The weather was still bad, but the screens weren’t rattling half as much as they were during the early afternoon. From his room he could smell fish being prepared. He stood up and shuffled his way out of his bedroom to find Mana preparing dinner.|
She looked at him. “You were taking so long, I figured I could make dinner for a change. That and I was hungry.” She smiled.
He smiled back at her and sat down on some of the pillows. He could see a trail of wet footsteps leading from one of the screens to the kitchen. She must have gone outside at some point, he thought to himself. Without having to wait long, freshly prepared fish was put in front of him.
“I’ve never been much of a cook, but I could fortunately manage to prepare something like this,” Mana said sheepishly. She sat down on another pile of pillows opposite of Cobal. They ate in silence for a while before Cobal spoke up.
“I know we’ve known each other for a little bit now, but you’ve not really talked about your life before you came here. I don’t mean to pry, but would you mind?”
She seemed to almost look him over, as if she was looking for something that wasn’t quite there before she let out a sigh. “I suppose I can tell you a little bit.” She put her plate to the side and reached for a comb. As she started fixing her hair up that had gotten wet from the rain earlier she said. “I know I’ve not talked much to people since I’ve got here, but you’re the first person to ask me about my life before coming here. It’s something I suppose those court wizards of yours never considered.”
“I’m not sure I follow?”
“Did anyone ever consider if I wanted to be summoned here? I was living a perfectly acceptable life before I suddenly appeared in front of a bunch of strange wizards and got told to be a hero.”
Cobal could read the frustration off of her face and was a little bit taken aback by the voracity in her tone of voice. “I suppose I didn’t.” He felt like he almost had to be a little bit defensive. “I didn’t summon you here, I was just sent to take care of your every need. It’s not like I had a choice in the matter.”
Mana’s expression softened a bit and Cobal could see that she heard whatever he was trying to say. He honestly felt a little bit bad. “I’m sorry, our situations aren’t comparable.”
She smiled. “They’re not, but I shouldn’t blame you for my misfortunes.” She grabbed some of the books from the pile next to her and put them in front of her. “You know, I was a teacher back in my normal world.”
“Oh? So you worked with all sorts of scholars.”
Mana started laughing.
“Did I say something weird?”
“No, I just forgot that your world doesn’t have schools in the way we do. You see, when kids grow up in my world, they go to school for quite a lot of years to learn about the world they live in. They study their language and sometimes the language of neighboring countries. They study math and geography and economics and arts, and they learn about the history of their country and other countries. And when they’re done learning they start working after that.”
“So you’re telling me everyone goes to lectures in your world?” Cobal said, struggling to believe the claims this woman was making. “Are you trying to fool me or something?”
“No, it’s absolutely true. In my world we value the importance of knowledge very much, and the more that everyone has access to it, the more collective knowledge we have as a civilization.” She paused for a second. “Of course, that’s the optimistic way of looking at it. In reality this is still true, but things tend to be more complicated. Not every country agrees about the importance of school, or if women should be allowed to attend the schools. Some countries think it should be completely free, others think it’s a luxury. It’s a complicated world I live in, but I suppose your world has its complications too.”
“Free school sounds like something out of a fairy tale, that’s absolutely unheard of!”
“Then what if the most genius mind of a generation is born to a family that’s living in poverty?” Mana asked him. “Wouldn’t that be an enormous waste?”
Cobal hadn’t considered that. “Over here, only those with the funds and time to attend a private university are able to study. It’s a privilege for those who’ve earned it.”
“It’s fascinating how your world is so different from mine, yet so similar in other ways.”
She stood up and carefully opened up one of the screens to look outside. “It looks like the weather is actually going to clear up rather quickly.”
“How do you know?” Cobal asked. He didn’t disagree with her assessment, but he’d been speaking to the villagers and she’d been cooped up inside.
“I can feel it in the wind.” She moved her hands above each other and a small whirlwind formed. “It’s strange, I hadn’t even heard of magic before until I came here and yet it took me so little time to learn something so amazing.”
“There was no magic at all in your world?”
Mana shook her head. “We had stories that had magic in them, but those were just stories. Magic didn’t exist as far as we were aware. Those were always my favorite stories though.”
“Maybe no one bothered to learn how it worked, or no one knew where to start?” Cobal asked.
“That’s possible, but I feel like we’d have figured it out if it existed. Besides, I reckon some of the authors of those magical stories had the creativity to figure out anything, so they would have figured out how to use magic for sure.”
Slightly changing the subject, Cobal asked “what can you do with magic now then?”
“I can move around the air a little bit. I’ve been focusing on air magic since it seems the most useful right now.”
“Why? Do you have something in mind?”
Mana fell silent, seemingly grasping for an appropriate answer. “I just think it’s the least dangerous thing to start with.” And that seemed to be the end of that conversation. This wasn’t the first time Mana cut a conversation short. Cobal mostly worried about that side of her. The previous hero was always described as a charismatic, loveable and friendly person.
Yet the woman who was to be the next hero seemed to be a lot closer to a nervous breakdown than a role model. Maybe that was just a result of being in a strange environment, but Cobal couldn’t help but feel her discomfort radiate from her. She did seem to be trying her best in her own way though, so he would just have to wait and see what would come of it.
After one night and one full day of terrible weather, the wind was already starting to slow and for a moment Cobal considered going for an evening run. He decided against it and just went for a short walk instead. “I’m heading out for a short walk, want to join me?”
Mana shook her head. “I’ll pass.”
“Alright, I will be back later then.”