Ashley suddenly woke up while hearing strange noises coming from somewhere close by. She left out a lazy yawning sound and tried to look for the source of disturbance. After spinning her head she noticed Evlin standing in front of the lake screaming 'Why won't you work you stupid thing??'at it as if the lake was picking a fight with her. She stretched her neck and came closer to figure out what was going on.
"Good morning Evie... What did the bad lake do to you this time?"
"... Morning... Why are you talking like the lake and me are some kind of mortal enemies...? Also... 'Evie'...?"
"Well, you did say you wanted to be my sister right? Sisters give nicknames to each other!"
"I said i could be your sister... Don't make it sound like you are granting me a favor or something..."
"Come on Evie... No need to be shy!"
"Oh good... Now you're starting to sound like my actual sister..."
"Well anyway, what are you doing?"
"I'm... Trying to learn water magic..."
"I see... And the reason you are screaming at the lake is..."
"I'm not screaming at the lake, I'm screaming at... Myself i guess...? For some reason i can't seem to get a grasp of it..."
"Why do you want to learn water magic...?"
"I just wanna learn any magic to be honest... Ever since i became a mage i was never able to develop more than three types of magic... And... Well..."
"I saw your brother in my dreams last night..."
"Oh... Ah! I see... So that's why you want to learn water magic... I see... I guess you are at that age after all... You don't need to be embarrassed thought... This is a very normal physical reaction, but if you just need help to wash your clothes you could just have told me."
"What...? No... No!!! Not that!! He literally appeared in my dreams using his stupid tracking spell last night!!"
"Oh... Ohhh... Sorry, sorry! My bad..."
"Ugh... He said he's going to fight me for real next time... If i want to beat him i will need more than my usual three kinds of magic..."
"I always wondered about that... Why did you never tried to learn more kinds of magic...? Is this one of those 'I hate magic' things you were talking about earlier?"
"I wish... for some reason earth, healing and modeling were really easy to get... But whenever i tried to get something new it never worked out... It was never a huge trouble in the past but i don't think i can keep up with this for long..."
"I wish i could help... I don't know a thing about magic..."
"Same here... Dalla tried to get me some books to study but i was focused on doing jobs for the guild that i never found time to read any of them... And when i did find time i would usually be so tired that i would have no energy left to read anything..."
"Mmmm... That's a problem... Say... How did you learn earth, healing and modeling to begin with? Did Dalla teach you?"
"Kinda... She told me that to make magic you needed to get a good grasp of the shape you wanted to create... So every time i tried to use magic energy i would picture it in my head what i wanted it to look like..."
"So how did you picture healing magic?"
"I pretended i was a vase that was broken into a bunch of pieces and tried to put myself together..."
"I... See... And for earth?"
"I would imagine a small grain of sand that would join with other grains of sand until it formed a mountain..."
"So you just have to imagine the thing and you can do the thing?"
"Not exactly... I also need to have some kind of understanding of it. With healing, i was trying to fix myself after falling from the castle's window, and with earth i was going through a phase where every time i left the ground something would happen making me join with it against my will..."
"Huh... So... If you want to learn water magic you should try to jump on the lake...? While thinking about the rain or something...?"
"I tried that... Many times... I tried swimming on the lake, i jumped from a house, i was even stupid enough and tried to burn myself with a candle once... But i never got another element for some reason... I don't know why everything else just felt like..."
"Like it wasn't part of me..."
"Maybe... Maye mages just have some kind of strong points and weak points..."
"Maybe the reason my brother keeps using thunder, water and wind isn't because he likes it... Maybe it's because they are his natural elements..."
"Yeah! Maybe... Maybe there are some elements that work with you better than others."
"... Maybe? But... There must be a billion types of magic... How will i know which ones work best with me?"
"Mmmm... Try one by one?"
"Are you serious??"
"You have a better idea? Miss 'i don't like magic but now i need to learn magic'?"
"Ugh... Please don't bully me... I've been having a rough week..."
"He he, sorry..."
Evlin kept wondering about Ashley's last remark for a second. Could it be that their talk yesterday had upset her? Maybe talking about not liking magic while being regarded as one of the most promising mages of her time was a little insulting to someone who could never get the hang of it, like a basketball player going 'Man... it sure is tough being so tall...' to someone who was half its size. That made Evlin feel a little bad.
"Sorry about whining so much yesterday... I think i got a bit frustrated and left it out on you without realizing..."
"... That's ok... That's what sisters are for after all..."
"You know... I was kinda relieved a bit to be honest..."
"... How so?"
"I always felt like magic was this amazing thing that could solve all your problems and grant you instant happiness and all... I always dreaded the fact that i was one of the unfortunate people that could never get good at it... I would sometimes look at my brother and think 'Why couldn't that be me?' every now and then..."
"But then you said all these things... And in my eyes you are a much more amazing mage than my brother ever was... You were everything i always wanted to be... And yet you still kept saying how much you hated being a mage and all that... It made me think... That maybe the thing i was missing wasn't such a huge loss after all..."
"I still wish i could use it thought... But... I just feel like i can be a little bit more happy with who i am now..."
"Well... I don't know if it means anything... But I'm sure you would have been a great mage..."
"You think so?"
"Of course! All the other mages i met were rude, selfish people... And you are one of the nicest friends i have! There is no way you would become a corrupted mage like them!"
While the two were sharing this 'family bonding' moment both of their stomachs started to make huge noises that could probably scare any wild beast close by. Evlin gave another look at the lake and decided to give a break to her water magic attempts.
"Could you start a fire? I will try to get some fish..."
"Alright... Would be nice if you could learn some food magic by the way..."
A few minutes after finishing breakfast the two were back on the road towards the city of Emerald Dawn. Ashley was assuming her usual backpack position behind Evlin who was carrying her. They had decided to make a few detours along the way in an attempt to avoid encountering Xadi by accident. With his wind magic he would probably end up catching up to them if they took the same route.
Things were going well up until that point, but as they kept moving Ashley started to lose track of which direction to go. Turns out they had made so many detours that they ended up going in circles after entering a forest.
"I think we passed this same tree five times already..."
"Sorry! I never went this way before... Maye we should go back and return to the normal path... If we are lucky Xadi might have already passed us by now..."
"Fine... ... ... Which way was the road again...?"
"Oh we are doomed..."
"He-Hey don't lose hope yet! We just need to find a way out!"
"yeah... Yeah you're right..."
"... Hey Evie...?"
"You said you needed to feel connected to the essence of the magic to be able to use it right?"
"Something like that yeah... And then you said something about having affinity or whatever right?"
"Yeah... You have been close to wood for a long time now right...? You think you might have affinity with wood magic?"
"... Wood magic...? That's a thing?"
"I think anything can be a kind of magic honestly..."
"I... I can try... But how would that help us?"
"Maybe... If you can connect yourself with the trees you can find an exit to the forest..."
"... By that logic wouldn't it make more sense to use my earth magic to connect with the ground?"
"Can you do that?"
"Maybe it might work on trees since they are also alive..."
"Well... Might as well try... Come down for a second."
Evlin came closer to the nearest tree and put her hand on it and started to concentrate.
"Ok... The shape of wood... Where does wood come from...? The trees... The earth... The plants... The nature... The forests... The jungles... "
"... Feel anything...?"
"Maybe try hugging the tree?"
"... Are you making fun of me?"
"You said you felt closer to the earth after being smacked against right? Maybe if you press yourself against a tree you could feel it better?"
"Ugh... This is so dumb!!! Fine..."
Evlins tried hugging the tree and closed her eyes in another attempt to grasp the shape of wood magic. But as she kept trying bugs started to fall from the leafs into her hair making her jump up and down in panic.
"Aaaagh!! Get it off!! Get it off!!!"
"Calm down stop moving!!"
It took a few minutes to remove all of the bugs from Evlin's hair. After calming down and taking a few deep breaths the two tried to re-organize their plans.
"Ashley i don't think this is working..."
"Sorry... I just wanted to help..."
"It's fine... Just help me think of another plan... We need to get out of here soon..."
"Maybe we could climb the trees and try to see where we are...?"
"... That's actually a good idea, why didn't we do that sooner...?"
"We've been running around for a while now... I don't think either of us is able to think straight right now..."
Evlin used earth magic to raise her above the trees and try to find an exit on this deep forest. She kept circling around but every direction only had more and more trees.
"I don't see the exit anywhere... Oh god! I'm back at the second exam!!!"
"Evie? Did you say anything?"
Evlin straightened her eyes and finally saw the place where the forest ended. She made a victory sound and rushed back to the ground to reunite with Ashley.
"I know where to go! Hop on!"
Before they could return to their regular transportation pose a huge sound started to come out from inside the forest. Ashley tried to recognize the sound by trying to remember the animals and creatures she had met.
"I think that's the sound of- Aaagh!!"
"I don't care! We don't have time for this!"
Before Ashley could finish accessing her memories Evlin grabbed her arm and forced her to hop on her back so she could start running across the forest.
"Evlin calm down!! You are going too fast!!"
"We already lost too much time already. I need to pick up the pace!"
"At this rate I'm going to throw up!!"
Ashley was one step away from passing out of top of Evlin's back, but before that could happen, Evlin suddenly decided to stop on her tracks after entering an open field. At first Ashley assumed she had stopped out of concern towards her condition, but after she looked again she realized that another thing had caught her attention.
A large group of animals and mythical creatures were being imprisoned in cages while guarded by a great number of men and woman wearing rough clothes and armed with swords and whips. A large creature of the size of a car was being dragged while being knocked out inside one of the cages by a group of five people. The beast looked like a lion with the head of an eagle and huge wings coming out of his back. From the books and games Evlin had seen she assumed the creature was a griffin. Inside the cages she could also see a few goblins, one ogre, two wolfs and a huge black rat with red eyes, among a few other beasts she couldn't recognize.
"Ash... What is this...?"
"Hunters... They catch creatures and sell their parts... We should get out of here, now!"
Evlin took another look at the griffin being dragged across the ground while being whipped by the hunters. One of the hunters spotted the two of them and called the attention of his comrades.
"Hey! Who are you two!?"
"Evlin, lets go, now!!"
Evlin started to run away from that spot with all her speed while carefully trying to avoid hitting any of the trees by accident.
"Good thing we managed to get out of there without troub- Eh...?"
Evlin suddenly stopped running and gently placed Ashley on top of a tree branch.
"Just one second... Be right back!"
She then proceeded to run in the direction she came from towards the hunters location.