"Alavaria. Right." Lucius tried not to frown after hearing what Tissette said, but the slight notch on his brow gave him away.
"You can't be serious. Just what kind of backwater orphanage were you from?" said Tissette with a lopsided grin. "Why, even the most secluded tribes of Allagorians know about Alavaria!"
"The nearest city we're headed to. What is it called?"
"Oh, it's Delta City, The second biggest city in Alavaria. You're gonna love it there!" All eight of Tiz's eyes widened and her smile broadened as she continued, "As I said, it's not without its faults, but it's the best place to be for you and me."
Delta City? There is no such place in the Registry of the Asherii Kingdom's Land and Territory. Must be new."
"Well rhymed." Lucius nodded, leaving his thoughts momentarily as he asked Tiz, "You a bard, mayhaps?"
"What? No," Tissette said somewhat bashfully. "It's just what other citizens say when they describe Alavaria to outsiders. It's kind of a trend that they started after the war broke out to get more people to visit this country. You know, to let them know that this place is better than the ones they were previously living in."
Lucius could only nod at the Allagorian's enthusiasm. It killed him not to ask about the war, just as it killed him not to know anything that he didn't. But he knew he asked too many questions already, and he did not want to annoy Tiz by asking more.
After seeing Lucius go silent all of a sudden, Tissette clapped her hands and said, "Alright, enough of the chatter. What do you say I get you out of this dreadful place and take you to the city so you could see it for yourself?"
"Please do," Lucius said with a small nod. "You have no idea how long I have wanted to leave this place behind."
Tissettechuckled. "I would imagine. This creepy old forest isn't somewhere I would want to wake up to all of a sudden if I was put to sleep and obliviated. Especially with that ruined castle of the Insidious Ones nearby. Might even be haunted if you ask me."
Lucius's ears perked up. His eyes narrowed as he turned to Tiz and said, "Insidious Ones?"
Tissette sighed. "It's a long story, but I don't really know much of the details since I don't go to my history classes that often. All I remember is that three of the five races stood united to overthrow the evil that used to rule this land with the help of the Outworlders. Those were dark times. Very scary stuff."
"They all sound evil, indeed," Lucius said, nodding slowly.
It made sense for the victors of the war to villainize the losers. Such was a common occurrence throughout the history of the realm, and it didn't surprise him that much that it happened once again.
"You said it. I heard that they could consume the souls of the beings they kill for power. Kinda like with aberrants when we kill them, but with people instead," Tissette muttered with an uneasy expression as she shivered. "It is even rumored that the Insidious Ones were responsible for the aberrants spawning out of nowhere all over the realm right after they died."
Lucius shifted uncomfortably after hearing another unfamiliar term. Tsk. Another thing I do not know about. Exactly how many things have changed for the past 300 years?
"I just got chills talking about it here. Did you know that their leader used to stay here?" Tissette said before looking back at the castle with bated breath. "If only Aidan didn't go here then I wouldn't have followed—"
Lucius raised a brow right as Tissette caught herself. Tissette stiffened for a moment but regained her composure fairly quickly.
"Okay, that's enough talk. I must've scared you after blabbering so much about the Insidious Ones and whatnot. Sorry," Tiz said with a wry smile. "Besides, we better go before night falls. The aberrants have been pretty restless lately. I don't want to have to clean my weapons for the seventh time this week when I get back."
"Right," Lucius said. "Most kind of you to lead the way, Tiz."
"Stay close," Tissette said, smiling before turning around and beckoning him to follow.
This must be it.
Lucius sighed as he looked back at the castle one last time, then towards the unknown where he and Tissette were headed. A world that he had never seen before. One he had only been allowed to marvel and dream about while reading his books or while daydreaming from his bedroom window atop the castle.
Today, Lucius could finally tear off the bonds he was shackled with by the Asherii and leave his prison.
Today, he was finally free.
Now a considerable distance away from the castle, Lucius was entirely focused on taking in as much of the outside world as he could. He didn't see much, but even the occasional blades of grass that grew on the infertile soil and the dry, hollowed out trees scattered along the way amused him as they walked on the trail.
One time, Lucius saw a bird perched up on one of the dead trees. A rare sight, he remembered, from his bedroom window. He wanted to get closer to it just to see what it would look like up close, but he quickly restrained himself because of his present company.
While he tried not to look like a child out of place by staying a bit behind Tiz, she would look at him once in a while as if waiting for something, making him a tad uncomfortable.
"Not much of a talker are you?" Tissette finally said, breaking the ice after a long time. She then slowed down to let Lucius catch up, much to the latter's dismay.
"Uh, I thought you said enough talking?" Lucius asked with genuine confusion. After all, he did remember her asking for silence not too long ago.
"You don't have to take things too literally you know," Tissette said, rolling all eight of her glinting, red eyes. "Besides, it's gonna be a long walk to Delta City. I know I might be a bit of a chatterbox sometimes, but I wouldn't mind if—"
A snap of what seemed to be a dry branch sounded out nearby. Lucius's ears perked up, and at the exact same time, Tissette quickly unsheathed all six daggers from her belt.
"Damn it. When did they get so bold that they'd wander even the trails now?" Tiz clicked her tongue with a dark expression on her face. She kept her eyes trained right in front of her, unmoving.
Lucius turned towards the origin of the sound to try and see what exactly was it that made Tissette draw her weapons, but he couldn't make out the silhouette completely as the cluster of dead trees were way too thick to reveal what was coming.
"What is it?"
"Stay quiet and don't move. We can't outrun this particular kind of aberrant, so let me draw its attention instead," Tiz muttered as she stared squarely at the looming figure in the woods.
The stocky, yet nimble creature quickly made its way around the trees before leaping several feet off of the ground and landing right in front of Lucius and Tissette, sending bits and pieces of dead soil their way.
This beast! What manner of monstrosity is this?
Lucius's eyes widened as he unconsciously took a step back from the monster. This seemingly small act of his, however, was enough to draw some degree of attention from the monster.
He looked at the creature before him and observed, all while keeping in mind not to make any further sudden movements.
The creature had a freakish, deformed head that somewhat resembled a wolf. The countless rows of thin, yet needle-sharp teeth in its mouth made the creature look more unnatural than it already was.
Whilst completely armless, the furry skin that hung loose all over the monster's body and the curved, muscular hind legs that ended in long, webbed claws for feet made the monster look like a true abomination.
Upon seeing the monster's form, it instantly looked like one of the most dangerous predators that Lucius had ever known, bar the dragons and Ferrian metamorphs he had only ever read about in books.
The monster growled at him, sending shivers down his spine as he tried to make sense of the situation.
"«Revelare»!" Tiz shouted, revealing the monster's Declaration whilst drawing the creature's attention to her at the same time.
Aberrant Rank: Inferus
Exp Given: 370
Common - 85%
Uncommon - 13%
Rare - 2%
Lucius saw the Declaration that appeared right above the head of the creature and guffawed.
So that must be one of these 'aberrants' she mentioned earlier.
He then looked back at Tissette who seemed to be doing a lot better than him—even whistling nonchalantly as the monster taunted her with one of its ear-splitting roars.
How did she reveal the stats of another being so casually like that? And why did she not use it on me earlier?
"Don't worry Lucius. This will only take a minute tops," Tiz muttered with a thin, fanged smile before tensing her entire body and got ready to fight.
Utterly confused and flabbergasted, Lucius looked back and forth between the monster and Tissette. "You are not fighting that thing, are you? It—"
"We don't spare aberrants here in Alavaria, Lucius," Tissette said calmly. "Not one."
Lucius's eyes flashed as Tissette quickly threw one of her daggers which struck the aberrant's shoulders. The monster yelled in pain—its eyes turning bloodshot before barrelling forth with a mad howl.