Luke made sure that he was careful while moving around the castle. After all, he did not know whether there were more people besides the young man and the bandits around. Fortunately, all of them were fighting far away from the treasury that was on the other side of the castle.
Knowing the castle inside and out, it didn't take long for Luke to get to the treasury. Surprisingly enough, it was the only room in the castle left with a door. This wasn't particularly shocking, however, as the robustly thick, granite door had been the most magically enhanced fixture in the castle.
What's not surprising, however, was the fact that the room was already stripped clean of any treasures inside. Not a single one of the Asherii's collective Materia, wealth, and even stockpiled Bestowment Crystals were left.
He looked around, moderately amused that the door that was enchanted countless times by Castarossa himself was broken in. He always knew that the humans and the Players were resourceful, but breaking through a room that was practically covered edge to edge with enchantments without destroying anything was quite the feat.
They found an exploit, most likely.
Looking back, he did warn Castarossa to invoke more defensive enhancements besides the ones against that protected the vault from brute force and reverse-enhancement spells, but to no avail. Now he was the one suffering for it.
Luke's heart ached as he scoured the room for any leftovers, only to find out that there weren't any. Heck, even the shiny but completely useless containers made out of newly discovered material called gold were taken.
It was after half a minute of fruitless scouring that Luke finally gave up and stared at one of the walls instead. He took a deep breath and lifted a broken glass shard from the ground. He cut his palm—letting a small amount of blood ooze out before touching the wall which immediately glowed a dim, red light.
With a barely-audible creak, a small compartmented vault slid out of the wall, revealing a whole lot of...
Curses! Those greedy people left nothing for me!
Now he was beyond surprised.
He was dumbfounded.
Luke heard once from an elated Castarossa that his father came back to the castle for a short time and personally cast a concealment spell and a bloodline-based barrier spell on the vault right before the day he was born. It would even be an understatement to say that his father was really good when it came to enhancement casting. He was best among the Asherii, even.
Considering this, finding the small vault empty was beyond regrettable, to say the least. It was a severe blow to Luke's enthusiasm. After all, it was the place where the most important and powerful Materia had been kept, and he knew this because even the Sphere of Temporea was stored there as well.
Luke took a moment to think about the situation carefully.
Not even considering the potent concealment spell that made it hard even for powerful magi to detect the vault's presence, it should have been impossible to get through the bloodline-based barrier spell considering that his father burned to ashes right before his eyes.
Furthermore, he was certain that there was no other Asherii—halfbreed or otherwise—of high Ragnarossi blood other than him.
Luke sighed as he leaned over and tried to look further down the compartment one last time. He even took off the compartments one by one, only to find a bracelet made out of worn-out silver stuck between gaps at the very bottom of the vault. He lifted it with a frown, inspecting it closely.
Item Appraised Successfully
Requirement/s for Appraisal:
Item Name: Mark of Promise
Item Class: Materia
Once upon a time, a promise was made between two lovers. Every sweet memory of their passionate, yet tragic relationship faded with their death, but not their promise to one another.
Bonuses: ↑5 Animus
"What a touching description, but is that it? 5 points to my Animus?" Luke whispered. "And Rarity? That wasn't there before, was it? Even the entire Declaration looks...strange."
Hmm. Let's see. «Revelare».
Name: Luke Kerril telos Ragnarossi
Race: Halfbreed [Boon Unavailable]
Aether: 11/16 (49m 55s)
Corpus - 9.7
Sensus - 73.5
Animus - 16 (↑5)
Level 1 - (0/10)
"So it did change over time. I'm...Level 1? I wonder what this means. Hopefully nothing bad."
After checking his updated Stats Screen, Luke quickly wore the bracelet on his leg where it was covered by his trousers. The last thing he needed was to look conspicuous with a Materia on his arm. Besides, the bracelet was just way too big to fit on both of his skinny arms anyway.
What was this materia anyway? How could something so unremarkable be stored in the vault?
Luke wondered for a while but didn't think too much of it. In the end, he was satisfied that he at least got something out of the vault and that he didn't shed a few drops of his blood for nothing.
But then again, a five-point increase in my Animus is not that great. Nor do I find it useful for now. In any case, I need more Materia to improve my Virtus.
Luke racked his brains while thinking about what to do next. What he learned from his mother's stories and from the novels that he had read was that in order to become a hero, one needed to do great deeds. And to do great deeds, one needed to have power. In order to have power, one needed resources like Crae, good equipment, Bestowment Crystals, and more importantly, Materia. Lots and lots of them.
Well, it was either those or have an insane amount of luck, but luck wasn't something Luke could readily count on. First off, he was a halfbreed—a child of an Asherian and a Demi-Ferrian—so he received no Racial Boon from either race. Moreover, he was not born into or officially crowned as royalty so he also did not receive an Epithet.
In the end, all he had going for him was his strong sense of smell and hearing that he inherited from his mother and his ability to perfectly recall anything he had seen or heard even after only seeing or hearing them once. Although, the price he paid to achieve such a thing was something he did not even want to spend a second thinking about.
All things considered, this seems to be a good start at least. It could be worse. I could have found nothing at all, or I could have been dead by now, for example.
Not to be dissuaded by the disappointment he felt, Luke reassured himself and took one look at the dull silver bracelet in his leg before covering it up with the hem of his trousers.
He peeked outside the treasury and finally went outside after making sure that there was no one around. He then tiptoed to a shattered window by the hall and carefully leaned over to see what awaited him outside the castle.
Now, where do I go?
The woods around the castle looked awful. The scenery was dark and depressing. Not at all like what he remembered. Granted, the Asherii weren't exactly the best groundskeepers when they were still around but the forest was certainly better maintained back then than now. They were far too proud to let something like this happen.
Castarossa would surely be driven to tears if he ever saw the state of this place. Old and ruined. Just like him.
After a moment of deliberation, Luke grinned as he finally decided to go outside.
Thinking back to all the years he spent with his "kin", he did not feel all that bad for the Asherii who acted like tyrants without his father ruling them for several years.
Luke even thought that they deserved the fate that befell them for thinking and acting like they were the superior beings with the Racial Boon they received from Deus—killing members of the other races for their souls and raiding small, unprotected towns left and right.
Ultimately, the Asherii gave The Coalition a reason to start the war in the first place.
Not that the actions of the alliance and the undying were any different either, as they slaughtered every man, woman, and child of the Asherii without any exceptions before they finally got to the castle. It was a genocide, all for the sake of taking the kingdom and its resources for themselves more than anything.
The war between The Coalition and the Asherii was an ugly affair, and neither, Luke thought, had the moral high ground. Not that he was taught to care much by the Asherii for such a thing.
"War is where virtue dies and senseless violence thrives," Luke remembered Castarossa saying.
At the very least, he understood that very few things were ever right during times of war. What always truly mattered, in the end, was the outcome.
Before leaving through the front gate by the courtyard, Luke crouched and secured his surroundings thoroughly before making his move. His ears twitched as he picked up a commotion nearby, which prompted him to lean over and hide behind a broken fountain.
"Please, boy, can't you let us go just this once? It was only a crate of apples! Literally! Just! Apples!"
"You still stole from the caravan though. Besides, I was sent here to do a quest for the Academy. I'm not going back there without all of you, apples or not apples," the boy said with a cheerful smile before humming a tune.
Luke peeked over the edge and saw that the golden-haired boy from earlier was now leading the bandits outside the castle—all of whom were restrained with a small, metal contraption binding their hands.
Should I follow them?
He watched as the group got farther and farther away, contemplating the best course of action. He knew nothing about the world as it was currently, and even though he somehow understood their words because of the Providence of Babel, it was still somewhat...different. For example, there was one word he heard earlier that he could not quite grasp.
An ack—academy, was it? Strange. They all spoke like the Players, but they are not. They do not have the marks on their heads. Hmm, at this point, what else could have possibly changed?
Luke shook his head before looking around and following the group from far away. From what he heard, it seemed that the boy was leading the bandits—or apple thieves, rather—to a town, or maybe even a city to turn them over.
Luke was nearly out of the castle gates when he felt chills run down his spine. His ears twitched as soon as he walked through the entrance, and in that instant, he felt the cold kiss of a blade right on the edge of his neck.
Curses. Was I not careful enough?
He slowly put his hand up in a non-threatening manner as he looked carefully at the person who managed to catch him.
Eight red eyes, two were covered by the girl's short, bobbed hair, stared back at him—agitated, yet curious. He looked down and saw five other limbs in addition to the one holding a dagger to his neck—all armed with daggers and ready to stab him as if one wasn't enough. The stranger's fanged mouth was curved into a scowl, which only made her pretty yet slightly-unnerving face much more scary to look at.
An Allagorian? Why would she be here, and why now?
Luke tried to calm himself down with a long, deep sigh. The dagger pointed at his neck was more than enough of a motivation to pull himself together.
"Who are you and why are you following Aidan, you creep?"
"A-A very fine weather w-we have today, is it not?"
This scenario wasn't quite what he wanted to have his first real conversation to be in. It had been years ever since he talked to anyone except for Castarossa—an antisocial, borderline psychopathic old man who wasn't exactly the best person to practice his social skills with.
I must not freeze now. I can do this. I still remember all 137 phrases from 'The Ways of Pleasant Conversations.' Talking to her should be child's play for me.
Luke gloated inwardly, but his confidence was immediately crushed as soon as he saw that the Allagorian was looking at him funny.
Now speechless, Luke could only force a wide, toothy smile, to which the Allagorian only responded with a confused glare.
What came after was an uncomfortably long moment of silence with neither him nor the Allagorian speaking.