12. Physical and Mental

Bella was huffing and puffing as she dragged her legs one painful step after another, higher and higher on the steep hill. At first, she was self-conscious, trying to keep her labored breathing as quiet as possible as to not break the illusion of a being a graceful and coordinated person. However, at this point, she could care less and was noisily sucking in as much air as she could get.

"Are you trying to kill me?" Bella whined.

Unintentionally infuriating Bella, Edward stopped and pivoted to face her. His hair just as perfectly sculpted as when they started the hike, not a drop of sweat could be seen on his forehead, and a genuinely happy smile plastered on his face.

"I promise the view is worth it and you did say you wanted to do something different to start the day."

Bella could think of at least four sarcastic retorts but decided not to voice any because it would be a waste of the precious air she could barely get in.

What was supposed to be a leisurely walk in the forest turned into a two hour hike. Bella wasn't the most athletic person in the world, but she could still hold her own except when put up against the behemoth that was this hike.

Bella stopped to survey the hill. They left the shade of the trees a few hundred yards back. She was now on the very last steep slope before the crest. Despite the late fall weather, brisk and cold, the hill was still covered in bushes of wildflowers. Bella took a few seconds to catch her breath as she felt the trickle of sweat trail down her back. Just as she resigned herself to making the last part of the trek, Edward had circled back on the path and was now standing in front of her with an imploring hand.

With the sun shining brightly behind him, his face was haloed in light. Bella was sweaty and dirty, and she was sure there were leaves still caught in her hair from an earlier fight with an overgrown bush, but in that moment, under his sparkling gaze and sole subject of his full attention, Bella felt beautiful. With no hesitation, she threaded her fingers through his. Even after a few months of spending time with Edward, she still felt a thrill and pleasurable quivers radiate through her body at his touch.

Hand in hand, Bella and Edward conquered the last peak of the hike until she was both figuratively and literally breathless at the view. Lush forests, green landscapes, and wild flora as far as the eye could see. In the distance, amongst the sounds of birds and bugs buzzing around, she could hear the flowing of an unseen stream.

Bella closed her eyes and took a deep breath. As she released it, she could feel her magic flood from the center of her body into the earth around her, traveling through root and dirt and stem and leaf. It hummed happily in her blood surrounded by her element.

It had been a rough couple weeks. Bella was being bombarded with new spells, history, and practice at every turn. While she absorbed all the knowledge like a dry sponge, at the end of each day, she collapsed on her bed so exhausted that her mind was too tired to even dream. Although she loved being immersed in learning every day, it was also so wonderfully refreshing to do something different.

She let out a quiet content sigh now that she caught her breath.

"Told you it was worth it," Edward said smugly. Feeling elated from the view, her thrumming magic, and from conquering the hike, Bella spontaneously planted a quick kiss on Edward's surprised lips. But surprise immediately turned into delight. Ever the opportunist, Edward used his momentum to tug Bella back to him so she slightly stumbled into his arms. He wrapped the hand holding hers around her waist and brought the other to delicately frame her face. He dipped his head against Bella's, kissing her softly. Bella's hand let go of his as she let her fingers travel underneath the lip of his shirt and across his muscles, solid and warm from the exertion of the hike.

Edward and Bella had been spending an increasingly amount of time with one another. No matter how many hours a day they were in each other's company, they only craved more—more time, more flirting, more kisses, more touches.

He pulled her in for a deeper kiss, tongues intertwining, exploring one another. Bella decided to be a little naughty and start fingering the waistband of his boxers near the sensitive regions along his hips. She pressed her body more thoroughly into his, grazing strategically against Edward's front. His hands quickly traveled from her waist, over the thin material of her athletic leggings, and gave her butt a gentle squeeze while simultaneously pulling her closer to an ever growing part of his anatomy. Bella nipped at his bottom lip while simultaneously bringing her hand back around to cup his hardness. She could feel a guttural moan building in the back of his throat and an involuntary shiver run through his body.

Their sexual tension was a delicious slow build that threaten to overwhelm them. No matter how innocent a kiss or a touch would begin, they would always end at this point, mercilessly goading one another to see just how far they could bring themselves to the edge. As much as she sometimes desperately wanted to move past, she also equally enjoyed the thrill of suspense, and she had to admit, she loved playing the tease. But as he pushed that hardness against her thigh and she felt her core pulse with desire, she silently admitted that she wouldn't be able to hold out for much longer.

He moved his kisses to the sensitive area right below her ear on the nape of her neck, an expert combination of small bites and soothing with his tongue.

She definitely needed to quench this thirst soon.

After a few more minutes of activity that would make her stoic father blush beet red, Edward and Bella found a grassy spot to relax. Edward's back was against a tree stump while Bella lounged next to him, head resting slightly on his shoulder.

They chatted for a little bit about random thoughts before soundlessly sitting and enjoying the scenery. Bella trailed a pair of birds taking flight. The two expertly twirled and danced in the air until they disappeared from view into the brush. She was about to comment on them until she could feel Edward's body tensing. He broke the silence with an audible clearing of his throat.

"I'm not sure if you've heard about it, but there is this event coming up soon. It's corny and very cliché and can be a bit of a mess…"

"Wow, I don't think I've ever heard you ramble before," Bella laughed.

"Well I've never been confronted with such beauty, grace, poise…"

"Oh shut it," Bella playfully countered while gently slapping his hand. But he ended up grabbing hers before she could take it back. She absentmindedly began to play with his fingers.

"It's called the Winter Gala. It's the only formal event the League holds during the year. Everyone dresses up, dinner, dance, you get the gist of it. And I would like to ask if you're interested in being my date?"

"Before I reply, I have a few terms. I'm not one of those simple women, I have needs you know," Bella stated in a stern joking tone. Edward started to break into a goofy grin. Bella continued. "First, I required to be picked up in a carriage with a team of no less than four horses."

"Naturally," Edward replied seriously.

"I must be greeted with a dozen royal blue orchids. I'm not talking cerulean or powder, a true royal blue."

"Of course," he punctuated with a vigorous nod.

"My first dance will only be to a Disney song."

"Absolutely, I would expect nothing less."

"And lastly, but most importantly, I require a dashing, handsome gentleman as my date."

"Consider all of them, especially the last one, done, m'lady," Edward answered with a little bow. Bella let out a full bellied laugh.

"But seriously, I would love to go as your date," Bella finished while planting a kiss on his cheek. Edward responsive look of glowing happiness made Bella's body radiate with joy. After a few more minutes of contentedness, Edward finally pushed himself off the ground, brushing dirt off his pants.

"Alright, enough of your fawning all over me. If memory serves me correctly, it is time for your practice."

While Bella's normal reaction would be to either groan over having to leave such a beautiful spot (especially after the work it took to get there) or send back a snappy quip, this time she did neither and rocketed it up from her sitting position. She had been looking forward to today for weeks. Today, Edward had finally given her the okay to begin learning battle magic.

...

"What we're practicing today isn't for the faint of heart. You're going to sweat. You're going to cry. You may bleed or lose a limb, but by the end, you are going to have the best damn battle magic in the whole world! Are you with me?!" Emmett roared into the clearing.

"Every single fucking time. Why, Emmett? Why do you always have to start with a speech?!" Jasper sighed.

"He can't help it. Braveheart is his favorite movie," Rosalie explained. She and Alice were sunning themselves on beach towels at the corner of the clearing.

"And it's not just any speech. It's a pep talk! I can't very well expect you to jump into the flame without a little encouragement. And just look at her," Emmett gestured to Bella. "Before my inspiring words, she was just a shell. A meek, empty, scared shell. And now: she's ready for greatness!" He clapped his giant hand on her shoulder for emphasis.

"Regret. That is the word that flashes in my mind every time I practice with you," Bella grumbled under her breath.

"I can see the regret all the way from here," Edward confirmed from where he sat on a cushy armchair he conjured from the house. He had a neglected textbook open on his lap, needing to study for an upcoming exam, but he couldn't help but watch and be entertained by Bella's training.

It had been months since Bella first discovered her magic, and she was taking to learning like a fish in water. Despite how exhausted she might be at the end of the day, it didn't stop her from waking up eager to learn more the next morning. Edward's schedule and demands were already complex. He offered Bella every spare moment he had, but it wasn't enough to keep up with her voracious appetite for more. Hearing Bella's dilemma, Edward's friends were more than happy to offer their assistance.

Bella had been rotating training with Jasper, Emmett, Alice, and Rosalie—each one focusing on different aspects or elements. Emmett and Jasper tended to concentrate on physical magic.

"Okay, why don't we start with showing us what you practiced last time?" Jasper helpfully suggested to get the session going. Bella nodded.

She had spent countless hours the past two weeks doing this exact same movement. She clasped and opened her fists a few times on either side of her body. Then she splayed open all of her fingers, palms out. She brought them slowly together in front of her body, with at least a foot of distance in between her hands. Then she slowly turn her hands in a clockwise motion.

"clipeum."

From the center of the space between her hands, a growing orb began to grow. As it encompassed her body, it began to take shape like grey netting. Eventually it covered her whole body.

Jasper casually pointed to a rock on the ground and silently commanded it to fly across the clearing. Bella saw it coming straight for her face, she closed her eyes out of reflex, but heard it harmlessly bounce and fall to the ground.

"Great job, Bella. Good looking and effective shield. And it only took about 40 seconds this time. Let's see how far you can extend it."

Bella nodded again and began to pour her magic into the shield. It pulsed once and then it began to grow. 30 seconds later it reached where Jasper and Emmett were standing. Another 15 seconds, she was able to cover the girls. At this point she could feel her magic starting to buckle, like lifting too much weight with a muscle that wasn't used to working out this much.

Edward looked up from his book and gave a raised eyebrow towards Bella's direction. To anyone else, he looked mildly interested, but to Bella she knew this was a challenge. He was the only one not protected by the shield. She could feel him wanting to push her, could almost hear his voice in her head, daring her to go further.

She threw one last push into the magic, but instead of just covering Edward in the shield, it extended the entire opaque netting into the forest as far as her eyes could detect.

Emmett eyes opened wide, slightly taken aback by this pulse of intense power. "Whoa, okay now hold it for at least a minute," he finally directed after taking a few seconds to appreciate the shield.

Bella glanced back at Edward, and he gave her a small grin before concentrating on his book again. It was all the confirmation she needed that he was pleased with her work.

"30 seconds left, and let's see if you can turn it transparent," Jasper proposed.

Bella gathered a deep breath, she could feel that the fabric of her magic shield went far. Much, much farther than she anticipated into the forest. It was going to take another strong push to convert the entire thing to an invisible structure, but a test she knew she was more than capable of completing.

"indespectus."

Starting from her body and arcing out in all directions, the shield began to transform from the grey netting into a completely clear form.

"Fantastic. And that makes it a minute. You can release."

As soon as she let go, the magic snapped back to her body like elastic.

"Let's do nine more rounds," Emmett ordered, slipping into his commander mode. Bella did as she was told, each round extending the shield further and doing it faster. On the tenth try, she was able to immediately conjure a transparent shield, reducing the extra step of shield first then transparency.

"Nice. Shielding should be your go to move for defense. But the fun stuff is the offensive magic. For this exercise, you'll be using Jasper as your target. Eddie's told me you know how to pull out water and freeze it. Now we work on shaping the ice into a weapon."

Emmett then performed an impressive bit of magic. He pulled water from the air simultaneously combining and shaping the liquid until it resembled a spear. He froze it in the blink of an eye and thrust the ice spike at Jasper. Jasper lazily wiped a hand in the air and the ice shattered against his shield.

Emmett worked with Bella until she had her fingerings, Latin, and movements just right. It only took 30 minutes until Emmett had Bella shooting ice javelins from the hip as Jasper darted around clearing using the opportunity to practice his defensive magic. It took a few tries to acclimate to a moving target, but after a few disastrous attempts (ice spear landing in the very tiny space between Alice and Rosalie's arms), Bella was able to get a feel for the flow. It was almost as if her connection with the earth allowed her to anticipate the vibrations of Jasper's pivots and sense of direction his feet would take seconds before he made it. In the end, this gave her an upper hand so every shard of ice hit directly over Jasper's vulnerable areas.

"Are you almost done? We have some real training planned that we would like to start sometime this century," Rosalie asked from her corner, during a break.

"I'm in the middle of something here, you…" Emmett countered in an irritated voice before he realized who he was talking to.

"You, what? Hmm, Emmett?" Rosalie purred in a dangerous, low voice as she pushed herself up from a lying position to stare him down directly in the eyes.

Bella could never get over how amusing it was to see a man of Emmett's stature and strength be physically cowed by a woman half his size.

"What I meant to say was…we are almost done," Emmett responded smartly.

"Good." Rosalie settled back down to her tanning position.

Emmett rotated back to Jasper and Bella; relief was instant on his face while he non-verbally mouthed 'whew'.

"Moving on," Jasper transitioned, "let's end with fireballs today. Simple concept, should be easier than ice, but same idea."

"I think I could be of assistance here," Edward offered, standing up from his chair where he had been diligently studying for the past hour. He stretched out his long limbs as he walked towards the center and Bella took the opportunity to appreciate the ripple of muscle and flash of his toned stomach.

Emmett, at first reluctant to let Edward take over when he was felt the buzz of command, was more than happy to step away after Edward began to help. Last Emmett saw before he turned his head away in disgust was Edward positioned directly behind Bella, his fingers giving almost too much guidance, helping her position every part of her body.

Bella conquered fireballs in no time at all, but she wasn't entirely sure if the heat her body was experiencing was from the fire or something else.

"Alright, enough of this. You guys clear out. Alice and I have it handled from her. Plus it looks like someone needs to take a cold shower," Rosalie snickered as she gave Edward a sly look.

Emmett grumbled, but after Edward gave Bella a quick peck on the lips, the three of them went to go forage for dinner for the group.

Alice gestured to Bella to join them on the ground. She spelled another towel for Bella till all three of them were cross legged facing one another. The lazy afternoon sun showered Bella in warmth. She slowly unfurled her tense muscles, grateful to be sitting after the intensive physical magic.

"Here," Alice snapped her fingers and a menthol pad appeared on her palm, "it helps to stop the cramps later on."

Bella couldn't contain the appreciative sigh as she placed the pad over one of her aching forearms stemming from an overextended twist during the ice practice.

"I don't miss Em's beginner training. I remember how brutal it was. Luckily we're doing something different," Rosalie commented.

"So hand in hand with physical battle magic is mental battle magic. Not that we ever expect you to start some kind of duel, but it is important that you have the skills to succeed if you are ever in that position. You remember the tips from last time," Alice asked.

Bella nodded. She had spent her last few sessions with Alice and Rosalie doing a deep dive into the framework of silent magic—being able to cast without verbally sounding the Latin. It was grueling work. As seemingly everything in magic, silent casting had a long thorough history and the process of casting requiring mental prowess that Bella had yet to conquer.

The last time the three met, Alice and Rosalie tried helping Bella to approach the process from several different directions, however, each try ended in failure. The closest Bella got to a silent cast was when she opened the window in her bedroom during one of her personal practices, but she realized she was very, very quietly sounding the Latin under her breath.

"Great, keep those in mind, but we also figured out a new direction that we think will work much better. We were focused too much on the knowledge aspect, but we forgot to incorporate practicality. This time we are going to use something you're familiar with and start at the very basic level." Alice placed a small rock in the center of her towel. "Silently call this rock into your hand."

Bella stared into the pebble. She focused on hard enough that she could feel her eyes straining. She could see it arcing through the air and landing in her hand. She could picture the exact motion; she could feel her elation ready to burst forth from the gate; she could almost feel the rock in her hand. And yet, nothing.

She remembered their tips. Picturing it in your mind. See all the components interacting: the air, the water molecules, the rock. She could hear herself mentally shouting to move, move, MOVE. Again, nothing.

"Bella, you're concentrating so hard, I feel like an eye is about to pop out or a turd." Bella couldn't stop the surprised laughter that sprung out of her mouth. Out of all the words a delicate and fairy-like person such as Alice could say, turd was the least expected. "Good. You need to relax a bit."

Bella rubbed her eyes as the laughter died. "I'm trying, but I can't seem to get it. You don't know how many hours I've tried to practice. I just feel this roadblock I can't seem to get over," she sighed.

"Try again, Bella, but remember this is a rock that comes from the Earth; your element. While silent commands are different, your action and intent is all the same. You connect to the magic in just the same way," Rosalie coached.

"Okay, okay…" Bella trailed off.

She was right. It should be simple. At the core of the command was still her magic, just a different extension of it. And she knew her magic now more intimately than anything else she had experienced in her life. It actually shouldn't be complex at all. Her magic, her family's element. It should be as easy as terra.

And without uttering a single syllable, the pebble rose effortlessly into the air and into Bella's waiting hand.

And the flood gate was open. She started commanding dirt, leaves, water, and air until Bella, Rosalie, and Alice were in the center of a hurricane-like symphony of silent magic. Rosalie and Alice clapped heartily as Bella flexed her newfound magic muscle.

When everything settled back down, Bella's feverish smile was contagious, and Rosalie and Alice couldn't help but bask in the glory of her accomplishment.

"I knew you could do it, you're in the League for a reason," Rosalie winked.

"So what's next?" Bella exclaimed, her blood pumping. "Transfiguration, animation?" Alice was shaking her head with laugher as Bella excitedly ran over the possibilities. "Flying, bringing things back from the dead?" Bella babbled, but the reaction from the girls was immediate and felt like a cold bucket of water was thrown on Bella's good mood. Their smiles dimmed and then completely slid off their faces. They gave each other a serious look, conducting an entire conversation with heated glances. It was Alice who dared to break the silence.

"We are super excited for you to jump this hurdle. It truly is a big accomplishment for any magician of any age to do silent magic. And we are more than happy to keep helping you with your training, but there are a couple things we should go over."

"Magic has the ability to do many extraordinary things including flying," Rosalie offered, trying to infuse positive vibes back into the serious conversation, "but magic also has the ability to do terrible things. The magic we practice is good, officially sanctioned and lawful to be taught. However, there is a more sinister side to magic. We don't fully understand the repercussions, but we know nothing good ever comes from practicing dark magic. Bringing any living thing back from the dead falls squarely under the dark magic side."

Bella glanced from Rosalie to Alice and back again.

"I don't know if I understand," Bella hesitated. "How can giving life, giving something a second chance be considered dark?"

"I get your confusion because you didn't grow up in this world. But remember there is a balance to magic. Whatever magic you conjure must be drawn from somewhere or something else. It is just better to never mix in it," Alice finished.

This explanation left Bella unfulfilled. She still didn't see what Alice and Rosalie were trying to get at, and she still had so many questions. How could you know what was good magic and what was dark magic? And how can it ever be seen as bad to grant a living creature the opportunity to live again, correct their mistakes, pass on good will to others? She truly did not understand, but from the expression on their faces, Bella became distinctly aware that this subject was taboo and clearly made them feel uncomfortable. Despite her unquenchable curiosity, she decided to tuck the topic to the back of her mind. She knew who she could go to, to get the answers she needed.

After a particularly pregnant pause, eager to change the subject, Bella declared, "So Edward asked me to go with him to the Winter Gala." Instantaneously a look of eagerness swept over both women so quickly that dark magic was the furthest thing from their minds.

Rosalie and Alice chattered away, telling Bella how fun the event was, and their antics from previous Galas.

"You have to get ready with us! We won't take no for an answer!" Rosalie exclaimed.

"I'd love to, but I'll have to do a little shopping ahead of time. I don't have anything to wear."

"Don't worry about that. You don't need anything. Just bring yourself to the house a couple hours early, and we'll take care of the rest," Alice added mysteriously trading conspiratory glances with Rosalie.

"Are you sure?"

Both women vigorously nodded their heads.

...

Bella didn't get home until very late that night. The guys brought back four large pizzas, and they all hungrily scarfed down the food trading barbs, jokes, and stories as the sun went down. By the time, Bella made her way zombie-like to her bed, falling face down into the soft covers, the moon was already a quarter of the way through the sky.

Just as she was contemplating drifting off to sleep fully clothed, she heard a tiny knock at her bedroom door.

"Bells?" Angela's quiet voice questioned through the door.

"Come in!"

Bella peeled herself off the soft, welcoming blankets as Angela and Jessica came in. They didn't join her on the bed like they usually would and instead hovered awkwardly around the doorframe.

"What's up?" Bella asked, punctuated with a large yawn.

"We're worried about you," Jessica blurted out. Alice gave her a pointed look, obviously they were hoping for a more subtle approach. Bella sat up straight in bed.

"What do you mean?"

"Well Bells," Angela began, "you're schedule seems off lately. You're gone almost all hours of the day, you don't come home till late like tonight, yet no one sees you around school anymore, and I can't remember the last time someone said they saw you in class."

"We just want to make sure you're okay," Jessica added cautiously.

Bella internally groaned. Yes, her schedule had changed. Her entire world had turned upside down since magic was introduced to her life. But how could she explain this to them, that she withdrew from their university to join the League, that she spent every waking moment consumed with learning magic (and maybe spending time with Edward), and that she was starting to hang out with a different group a people, people more like her. But of course there was no simple way to tell them this, and looking into the eyes of her well-meaning friends, Bella had no intention of risking alienation by telling them the full truth. So instead, she told them what they wanted to hear.

"I'm okay. Truly," Bella added when both of their faces mirrored the same skeptical appearance. "I've been pursuing a new line of study and the research has kept me pretty busy. But I promise, I'm super happy, the happiest I've been in a while."

It wasn't the whole truth, but it wasn't exactly a lie, which was good enough to appease Bella's guilt.

"Great," Jessica exhaled. They each gave her a relieved hug.

Bella tried to make a mental note to spend time with her friends in the next week, but after Jessica and Angela left the room and Bella could successfully cause the light switch to flick on and off, and clothes to fold without having to verbally speak the Latin, the well-intentioned idea was swiftly forgotten.