Chapter 20:

A Protective Sister

Full Moon! Through the Rings of Love

Luna stood from the collection of pillows, her warm smile seemed more content than normal.

"Come along. I think I know where the statue is for this realm."

She led me back out to everyone else. They both asked how she was doing, and if she needed anything. Even Charlie was being nice to her.

"Thank you all, but I should be honest about something…"

"We heard everything." Zumi said.

Luna breathed a sigh of relief. I don’t think she wanted to have to explain that again.

Zumi was surprised that we hadn’t encountered any resistance from Luna’s sisters as of yet, but she also made the connection that this bandit guy might have been working for them.

“Could they have hired this guy?” Charlie questioned.

“He didn’t make it seem like that, but who knows?”

Until we meet him again, we’d only be speculating what his deal was. I’m sure we’ll encounter him soon enough.

As for the current issue at hand, Luna had mentioned that she had an idea of where the statue was. Turns out, she was right.

There was a path in the building we were in that led outside into some courtyard. Right smack dab in the middle of the courtyard was the statue of two people we’d been expecting.

The pose of the two people had them both sitting down, talking over something.

Zumi got to work translating the plaque under them.

“Oh, I see why everyone's been so mushy and honest lately.” She took up her wand and pointed to the statue. “This ring is all about truth, honesty, and conflict. It wants us to talk about our problems.”

While she wasn’t looking, the plaque behind her changed from words to pictures that resemble…the four of us?

So this ring was testing all of us. That explains why we’ve all been having moments to spill our hearts out. This one wasn’t just me and Luna, it was each of us.

I didn’t see any pictures of the birds, so I guess they got a pass.

I liked how each of the icons looked like prehistoric carvings of us on the stone. Charlie looked really round for some reason, like he was a balloon. He also had a very childish looking expression.

“Mine is clearly the most elegant.” He seemed proud of his representation, at least. More power to him, I guess.

The rest of us had a very charming artstyle. Luna’s was by far the most adorable looking. She had a bright smile and cheery eyes. Clearly whatever powers that be wanted her to seem the most precious.

Everyone looked like their icons were glowing green, except for the icon that represented Zumi.

So Charlie, Luna, and myself all spoke some truth about a conflict we've had…that only left Zumi.

“Something been on your mind?” I turned to her. “I think the ring wants you to speak up next.”

“I don’t like this ring.” She gave a weak smile. “Why is this one challenging us too?”

If you think about it, her and Charlie have had a few challenges of their own up to now. The difference was they weren’t the main course, so to speak.

"Brother, I have something I do want to confess." She started. "I don't exactly just stay up all night because I love studying. Most of my time is spent trying to research different ways to help you level up."

Maybe I should have figured this was what she was motivated by. The amount of work she put into keeping my equipment in good condition alone was a big deal.

Just the other day, she bought me a nice new wand. Those aren’t cheap.

"For a while, I cursed fate for making you struggle so much. But one day when the moon was out, I realized you were gaining a little EXP, and you were even able to use magic."

I remembered that evening. Zumi had some exams coming up and she wanted to test some spells with me. It wasn’t that long ago, but it felt like we were much younger back then.

I’ve known Zumi since the day she was born. I don’t remember back then too well, but I can’t remember a time where she wasn’t around. She’s always been pretty protective of me, even after we had arguments or disagreements.

That being said, she put so much effort into me and her studies that she barely kept her own health in check. That’s one of the reasons I took up cooking and gardening. I could grow healthy foods for her. So far, she seemed to be doing okay.

Zumi continued, "Truth be told, I was starting to resent fate. Even you, a tiny bit." Her eyes widened and she shook her palms out at me. "But, I realized it wasn't your fault. It just bothered me so much that I could never figure out what was wrong, until now."

And here I thought I was the only one losing sleep over my inability to use magic right.

"Pre-mage, why do you even want to be a mage so badly?" Charlie asked.

That question had a simple answer. I wanted to make money and provide a stable future for myself and Zumi

Luna and Charlie were absolutely right that I'd rather be a painter, but it was so hard to break into that market when people could literally wave a wand and create such beautiful works from their minds, many of which looked better than my crummy displays.

Gardening also wasn't in high demand either. No matter how good you were at it, there was always someone better and cheaper, probably using some spell to grow plants faster.

So, learning magic gave me a chance to eventually take on guild jobs and earn a living for myself and Zumi. My pride would never let me use magic to create art, or grow food and flowers.

Looking back on it, what was I thinking? I'd only be able to take jobs under a moonlit sky, and even then, that wasn't much time to do anything, let alone level.

"You keep saying you wanted to ‘earn a living,’" Charlie did air quotes with his hands, "but you can't even use magic reliably? Anyone would have moved on to something else with such a handicap."

"I couldn't." I shook my head. "Most of my life I've been trying to figure out this problem."

I'd been the living definition of a sunk cost fallacy.

“You weren’t alone though.” Zumi supported. “Things haven’t been easy, but with my good grades, I’ve gotten plenty of grants to ease our money problems.”

We’ve never really had an issue with money, since our parents both left us plenty to fend for ourselves, but eventually that reserve would run dry.

“Finding a career must be difficult for all of you.” Luna gave us a downtrodden expression. “I’ve only ever known what I must do with my life. That’s been a comfort.”

“But what if you didn’t want to become the empress?” I asked. “What if doing it would be a horrible experience for you? Would you still accept it?”

She nodded. “I would. But I would do so to ensure I can make changes for future generations.”

Luna had the mindset that a predetermined life wasn’t an issue. But I respected that she’d recognize if there was a problem with following a duty. She’d thought this out a bit more than I’d originally expected.

“People would fight back against your changes, you know,” Charlie said.

“Not if they respect me.”

“Not everyone will. That’s the nature of change, and rightfully so. Otherwise, we’ll never have people test the change to make sure it's good.”

Both of them had good points there, but I think this issue wasn’t clear cut.

“I’m aware of that. But even if I can’t please everyone, I need to reach out to those who are kind.” She gestured to me. “I think so far, my journey has been rewarding.”

“Kind people aren’t the masses.” Zumi said.

“What’s better; to have a flock of tainted hearts, or a handful of trusted friends?”

Her question felt hopeful. I’ve seen Luna’s decision making up to this point, and she was definitely someone who deserved to lead others. But only time would tell if she was prepared to take the throne of her father.

But to answer her question, I’m not sure.

“I know one thing…” I started, “all my friends are right here.”

That was the most corny thing I’ve ever said. Everyone started laughing at me.

Now I felt like an idiot.

Back to the statue…Zumi’s icon was glowing green. Everyone was accounted for.

Like before, the stone plaque shot out a blast of energy that created a portal for us to enter the next ring.

Mario Nakano 64
Taylor J
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