Lucia Makes a Choice
For some reason, rather than spreading out in a drifting cloud as they always had, the soap bubbles that appeared came together to form one gigantic bubble. A bubble that enveloped the roc.
I stared at the monster, unable even to blink. What is this? What’s going on? The razor-sharp talons that had been slashing down at me…stopped in midair.
After a moment, the roc lowered them to the floor. As it did, it made a soft sound, almost like a coo. Its voice was incongruously relaxed, nothing like the murderous screeches a moment ago.
I blinked. What…just happened? My heart was still pounding painfully in my chest. In sharp contrast, the roc looked completely at ease, as if it had completely forgotten that it was attacking us.
“Wind Wall!” “Ice Rain!” “Wind Arrow!”
A storm of magic spells flew at the roc’s back. Blades of wind and spears of ice sliced into the roc’s body from all directions. The roc shrieked as blue blood flew everywhere. When I craned my neck to see what was going on, I saw three mages wearing the deep green uniforms of the Academy glaring at the roc, hands gripping the crystal pendants lying over their robes.
“E-Everyone! It’s all right! We are Academy students, we can handle a roc!”
“All civilians, p-please retreat! Th-the Academy and the knights will d-deal with this!” “The other students and the professors have joined the battle! So you’ll be fine!” Seeing them and hearing their words, a sigh of relief went through the ballroom.
Except for the roc. For a moment, it had appeared calm, but apparently the magical attacks
had enraged it again. With a screaming cry, the wounded roc stamped its feet against the ground.
“Look! Another one is coming!”
Apparently the roc had called a companion. Come to think of it, there had been two when we first saw them. Just one had been terrifying enough! Now we had to deal with both of them? Everyone blanched. Even the faces of the Academy students went as white as sheets.
A few moments later, the second roc appeared in a thunder of wings. Eyes burning with fury, it shrieked a battle-cry. The momentary calm in the ballroom broke as everyone once again descended into blind panic.
“We, we’re doomed!”
“Noooo! I don’t want to die!”
The newly arrived roc turned its glare on the mages, who quailed before it. From out of the rain, a new voice shouted, “Academy students, fall back!”
In their first attack, one of the mages had sliced through the original roc’s rear leg with blades of wind, but apparently they’d failed to immobilize it. That roc twisted, pulling its head free of the ballroom, and flared its wings in challenge as it let out a furious shriek. The second roc turned towards the Academy students, talons raised.
The wind-casting student screamed as he took the blow squarely and went flying. A thicket of red flowers broke his fall, but when he collapsed to the ground, he didn’t get up again.
No… Is he okay? I was worried, but fear still froze my body. Even though I wanted to go help him, I couldn’t make myself move.
Again, the first roc screamed, wings still spread. The high, piercing cry made the air shiver, and terrified everyone in the ballroom even more. Just as that scream rang out, however, the roc’s terrible beak suddenly fell away, cloven in two.
“Academy students, fall back and support us! We will hold the front line!”
Two knights appeared. Apparently they were the ones who had cut the roc’s beak.
They must have been fighting the whole time. Their hair was plastered to their heads by rain, and their blue-stained uniforms were sodden and heavy with rainwater. Even so, their hands were steady on their swords as they moved to put themselves between the rocs and the Academy students and the rest of us.
With another screamed challenge, the rocs turned away from the students, clearly recognizing the swords turned towards them as the main threat. The ground shuddered under them. Apparently, they were well and truly angry.
“Dammit, I thought there were only two of them!” one of the knights cursed. “Where’d the other one come from!?”
“They must have called for allies. It happens sometimes, apparently!”
So the monster blood staining their uniforms must have come from the other roc that had peeled away to attack elsewhere. The new roc wasn’t one of the pair we’d originally seen, then.
But…something was strange. For all its screams and threats, the first roc that had attacked us wasn’t attempting to lash out with talons and beak the way it had before. The only one actually attacking was the second roc, the one that had come later. True, now that the first roc’s beak had been cut it couldn’t attack that way anymore, but nothing was stopping it from using its talons like before…
In its place, the new roc, which hadn’t lost its beak, growled. At the sound, shock waves slammed out from around the monsters, sending the knights and mages trying to defend us
flying. Blood flew.
As the battle raged in front of us, the people in the ballroom started to flee. “Someone, save us!”
Suddenly, an unfamiliar man grabbed me by the shoulder, his face inches from my own. “Hey, you there! That weird magic earlier, that was you, right? Can you do it again!? That’s
what stopped the roc, wasn’t it!?” “Eh…? Ah…” I stammered.
“I saw you! Please, I don’t want to die! That thing, that soap bubble, that calmed the roc down, didn’t it!? Do it again, please…!”
Staring at the man’s bloodshot eyes, I pictured the roc in the soap bubble again. It had looked calm. Even now, for all its fury, the roc I had cast Soap on was only brandishing its wings. It wasn’t attacking. If I could do that again… It might not be much, but maybe it would help the knights and mages who were fighting the rocs. It wouldn’t help them fight, but if it could prevent the monsters from attacking, even temporarily…
My mother’s dying words whispered in my ear. “If you don’t know what you should do, then look for something that you can do, and start there. Even if it’s only a small thing. Start with what you can do. Just take it one step at a time. Eventually, you’ll figure out how to get through it.”
I made my choice. If there was something that even I could do, then I had no reason not to do
I shook off my terror and turned towards the roc facing off against the knights. I was still scared, but it wasn’t as bad as before. My heart was still deafeningly loud, but this time, it wasn’t because I was afraid. I wasn’t on my own. The magicians and the knights were here, too. And Soap might work. This was no time to turn away just because I was scared.
I had something I could do. That gave me strength.
I drew in a deep breath. Let it out. I just needed to calm down. I could do this!
The roc’s back was to me. I faced it, and threw everything I had into my magic. “Soap!” Please let this work!
Carrying all my feelings with it, the soap bubble enveloped the roc, just like before. As the bubble wrapped around it, the roc’s ruffled feathers smoothed and settled, and it relaxed, becoming docile.
For a moment, everyone — the knights struggling to their feet with swords in hand even as blood streamed from their wounds, the Academy students still lying on the ground with only their heads raised — simply gaped at it. Which only made sense. Of course it was a shock to see such an implacable enemy become calm and passive!
“What…was that? That magic just now?” The Academy student who had used ice magic stopped halfway through pushing himself back to his feet. He stared at me as if he couldn’t believe his eyes.
Following his gaze, the knights saw me. Their eyes widened, and both of them blurted, “The Soap Bubble Saint…!”
Um. Wait. What? Where did that name come from!?