The stranger quickly apologized, and Darren waved it off saying, “It’s okay, I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
The redhead inclined his head with a slight smile in acknowledgement. When his eyes turned toward Essairyn, they widened ever so vaguely. Noticing the man’s gaze, she looked directly back at him. The man trembled inwardly a little at the latent intensity that eddied in the depths of her lavender orbs. Her aura which was radiant yet darkly formidable mystified the stranger. Who..? He quickly took in the girl’s appearance and noticed that both she and the boy wore incongruous clothes. Visitors from Neu’arth all the way out here? That was the likely reason based on their attire, and yet the strong magical presence emanating off the girl threw him off.
“Excuse me, are you visiting here from Neu’arth?” he asked as politely and friendly as possible before they continued past him.
Darren and Essairyn glanced at one another in hesitation. They didn’t expect the stranger to strike up a conversation. “No,” replied Essairyn tersely as she discreetly brushed the back of Darren’s hands with her fingertips, indicating for them to leave. He got the message and bobbed his head at the stranger while walking away. Akari followed them at their heels. Due to her small frame, the redhead didn’t notice the spirit fox until now. Astonishment shadowed his face when he realized that the spirit animal was actually their companion. His amber eyes narrowed as he watched them go. What a strange bunch…
Once they were out of earshot from the man, Essairyn furtively remarked to Darren, “Well that was weird. I wonder why that man spoke to us like that. He didn’t steal anything when he bumped into you, right?” She felt something was off and wanted to verify her suspicions.
Darren checked his gear before lightly shaking his head. “No, I still have everything.”
“That’s good. But that still seems odd. Maybe I’m just being too cautious? He didn’t seem like a bad sort of fellow.” Essairyn pursed her lips in deliberation. Although the man stood out boldly with his long, red hair and striking orange-brown eyes, his mannerisms and tone of voice were courteous. He was also quite good-looking and wore rather fine apparel. Perhaps he's some rich guy? A nobleman? Would a town as large as this have one; even though, it’s not the kingdom’s capital city? For a moment, she considered heading back toward the man to make his acquaintance. Essairyn was very curious about the royals of the kingdom. No one had specifically told her about royalty, so she was left to her own imaginations. The thought of kings, queens, princes, princesses, lords, dukes, barons and such excited her. Since knights exist here, and the lands are called kingdoms, then it’s possible right?
But Essairyn shook those notions aside. For now, she wanted to stay focused on the tasks at hand. She would receive the training she desired from the Academy, and then she would hopefully find out about the group abducting mages. And from there, they could travel a little safer and wiser to Neu’arth. That is, if they stayed together.
“So about what I was saying before, do you think that it’s a good idea to join that mission? It sounds too dangerous to me. Why would you put yourself at risk like that when we just arrived in this world?” But to Darren’s disappointment, Essairyn had answered as expected.
“Because I’m curious." She shrugged. "Lachlan had mentioned this group too, so I feel like as a mage I ought to be aware, and maybe I can possibly stop them too.” She then paused and added as an after-thought, “Besides, I think it’ll be an interesting experience working with others.”
“Really? That’s it? You just want to fight against something just like with the wolves?” Darren challenged, “ Why don’t you just join the Knight Order if you’re going to be helping people like this?" He really couldn’t fathom her insatiable appetite for adventure and apparently danger too.
“Because I can choose who to help when I want to,” responded Essairyn simply. “And it’s not like you’ll be any better off by joining the Order. You might be assigned to dangerous missions too.”
“Yeah, but they won’t give me anything I can’t handle according to my rank,” he countered.
“You don’t know that for sure. They could have underestimated just like with the scouting team in this mission,” she quickly pointed out.
He curtly sighed. “Fine fine, it’s just that I have a bad feeling about it. Anyway, I won’t be sent on missions until after my second year.” The knights had explained all about how the Academy education system worked. The founders strove to create both a safe environment for the common people as well as the knights.
“Yup, you’ll be helping grannies in the meantime instead.”
Darren snorted and elbowed the cheeky girl at her sarcastic joke. “I’m probably worrying about nothing. If human mages are as rare as they said, then I’m sure you’d blow anyone away in surprise with your magic.”
Essairyn chortled. “Yes, it’ll be fine. No worries!” She winked and gave a thumbs-up, making Darren shake his head with an amused smile.
They soon returned back to the campus dorms and into their respective rooms next to one another. As Darren unlocked the door and entered, he immediately noticed another person standing inside. His new roommate, a boy around his age, swiveled around at the sound of the door clicking open.
“Hello! You must be the new knight in training. I’m Aispin, nice to meet you!” greeted his new roommate with a firm and affable shake of the hands.
“Darren,” he returned with a smile.
“So you’re a new knight cadet, huh?” stated the boy whose hairstyle looked like one straight out of an animation. He had slightly messy bangs which seemed to flawlessly part in the middle, framing his face. But a longer piece hung attractively in the center across the bridge of his nose while similar length pieces draped the right side more densely than the left. The asymmetry conferred him a charming character that matched perfectly with his handsome boy-next-door countenance. He was a smidgen shorter than Darren by just a centimeter, and his sinewy build was evident under his fitted, black T-shirt and narrow-cut, black pants.
“Darren! These rooms are pretty nice!” cheerfully chirped Essairyn as she abruptly poked her head into his room. Since Essairyn was the only girl and wasn’t technically part of the new recruits, she had a room all to herself.
However, she didn’t know this and expected Darren’s accommodations to be the same. So, her keen eyes instantly latched onto the unexpected, unfamiliar person in front of Darren. Dark chestnut brown hair, deep ocean blue eyes… Beautiful. That was the first word that came to her mind as she paused to take in Aispin’s appearance. For a long moment, they stared at one another in surprised speechlessness. While Essairyn kept thinking that this was the most beautiful man she had ever seen in real life, Aispin was struck by her serenely dazzling aura and gait as she swiftly approached him.
“Hello~!” she flashed a brilliant smile and extended her hand in a greeting. “I’m Essairyn! Are you rooming with Darren here?” Based on the various items that laid about in the room, she immediately deducted that he had been living in here before Darren arrived. Wah, I was so happy that I got a room all to myself, but now I wish I had a roommate too. She felt a little forlorn and wished to meet a girl her age too. Lucky Darren. This guy looks so cool! She couldn’t help feeling a little awed by Aispin.
But reflecting back to her arrival in this world, she realized that almost everyone she met was more eye-catching than those on Earth. That red-haired guy…even Lachlan… Hm, although Darren is pretty good-looking himself… Guh. How come the only girl is the most unattractive among all these men?! She internally fretted in dismay at the perceived unfairness while acting like she didn’t care on the exterior. Highly self-conscious and critical on the inside, nonchalant and cordial on the outside, she had always been like this. She could easily find the beauty in others, but she struggled to accept her own unique charm.
Aispin quickly collected himself and returned her handshake with restrained eagerness. “Aispin. Nice to meet you. Yes, I’m Darren’s roommate. However, I’m not a new knight trainee, so I won’t be joining you two in the training tomorrow.”
Both Essairyn and Darren’s were startled by this information. Seeing this, Aispin hastily continued, “I’m actually here on a mission. I’ve already been studying for several years now at the Knight-Mage Academy in Neu’arth.”
“Ohh…” Essairyn’s mouth opened a little in understanding. “Is the mission you’re speaking of the one about the group after mages?”
Aispin raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Yes, how do you know about it?”
“Actually, I agreed to help the Knights in the mission too in return for receiving free training.”
“So you’re not a knight? You didn’t want to take the Oath?” Aispin hadn’t ever heard of such a situation where someone refused to join the Order. Most people jumped at the opportunity to become a part of such a prestigious organization. Of course, most knights weren’t that much different from the average citizen in terms of their daily life. Like many other young people, cadets went to school and learned. The only difference was in their uniform, designation, and main area of study.
“No, I didn’t want to be bound by the Oath,” explained Essairyn with slightly lowered eyes.
Aispin hummed in acknowledgement. “I guess I can see how you might think of it that way. But for them to offer you to join in this mission… Did they tell you how dangerous it is? The first reconnaissance failed terribly. Of course, they had sent in mere D and E ranked knights.” His face darkened at the memory. He remembered the pitiful state of the only survivor who had dragged his shredded body to the borders of Byar’non. If only I had arrived sooner, he had told himself countless times since the incident. He had been trailing the nefarious group since catching wind of their activities while sojourning in the countryside on school break.
Students in their fifth year or later could schedule short breaks at allotted points in the school year. Besides the two largest breaks in-between the fall and spring semesters, the Academy instituted these smaller two week vacations as both reward and rest for older students. That’s because after their fourth year of study, the education and training became much more strenuous. By this point, students were considered more than just amateur knights with only two years of meager mission experience. They became apprentices of a specialized field in Knight operations.
“Yes, I’m aware. But I believe I can handle it,” assured Essairyn.
Aispin calmly peered into her quietly determined orbs. He heightened his senses and directed them at the girl. As a C-ranked Knight, he could roughly perceive someone’s magical power if he focused well enough. Higher ranks would be able to tell instantaneously. Feeling the sweeping surges of potent magic undulating tranquilly around her, Aispin nearly started back in shock. What is this aura? I’ve never encountered such a strange scorching yet cooling sensation before. It both alarms me and comforts me… Is she as strong as me? No…possibly more? Internally shaking away these perplexing thoughts, Aispin resolutely nodded his head.
“I guess I’ll be seeing you in two weeks then.”
A small smile traced Essairyn’s lips. “Yes, I’ll see you then…”