Lucius could not keep his eyes in one place as they walked around the city. With the way that some people looked at him, he could somewhat tell that they most likely thought of him as a typical, clueless country bumpkin. He even suspected that, to them, he was dressed like one as well.
Lucius didn't care much about what the others thought of him, however, as he found it extremely hard to contain his curiosity any longer.
The surreal ambiance, the jovial music playing all around him, the chatter of patrons and merchants, the distinct smell of bread in the air, and even the strange, and seemingly-unremarkable metal posts that he and Tissette passed by every once in a while—he loved seeing them all.
Lucius took everything in, not leaving out a single detail of the experience in his mind. For ten long years, he was denied the privilege of seeing the world beyond Askanar Castle. He wasn't about to let a few funny gazes stop him from fulfilling his lifelong desire now that he was finally free to do so.
So this is what the inside of a city looks like. How positively charming!
His eyes almost sparkled as he beheld countless more oddities such as Allagorians and Ferrians merrymaking in droves with their kin and dancing away in broad daylight, street performers invoking petty, yet flashy magic much to the amusement of their audience, along with the peddlers pitching and selling their wares that went with the themes and colors of the Free Cities and The Founding Festival.
After further observing his surroundings with a huge, dumb grin on his face Lucius came across some uniformed men patrolling the city. All of them wore the same insignia that the tusked Ferrian—Rek—wore on his chest.
As opposed to the citizens who celebrated without a care in the world, he noticed that the uniformed men seemed more interested in walking around the city in droves with a watchful eye.
Curious. Are they some sort of organized group? A new age of knights, perhaps?
"Hey, what are ogling an Enforcer for?
"Ack!" Lucius jumped as soon as he felt a slap land on his back with an audible smack. He looked behind and sighed. He knew that his peaceful sightseeing moments were numbered as long as Tissette was around. Her last few words piqued his interest, however.
"Oh yeah, I forgot that other kingdoms don't have Enforcers. Sucks for them, relying on the knights to do everythin'," said Tissette. "Those people in the lame uniforms are Enforcers, Lucius. Let's just say that you wouldn't want to do anythin' shady while they're around."
"Oh," Lucius said, thoroughly amused as he looked at the so-called Enforcers with a narrowed gaze. "And who leads them?"
"You just met him earlier," said Tissette. "Y'know, he gets a bit uptight and preachy sometimes but he's still cool. He's definitely one of the few good Ferrians in this city. A real stand up guy, that Captain Rek."
Taken aback by Tissette's words, Lucius simply nodded and didn't speak any further. He had his work cut out for him for the next few moments as Tissette, without him even asking, explained to him everything she knew about the Enforcers and why Alavaria was the best and the safest place in Elyssia for having them.
He took a moment to listen carefully and to ponder over the idea of the Enforcers as he went along the Tissette's chatter with a few eager nods here and there.
"...now you should know why you shouldn't mess with 'em. Trust me. I came this close to gettin' into trouble with them back then but I was lucky Captain Rek had my back."
After hearing Tissette's enthusiastic, yet terribly convoluted explanation that then branched into more stories about how great the Enforcers and Alavaria were, Lucius could only nod absently in silent contemplation.
Public security and order had always been a struggle to uphold during his time, and even the Asherii's greatest cities were still susceptible to public riots and small-scale crimes, especially in the more densely populated ones which only worsened as the war went on.
No amount of knights, high knights, and even soldiers that the Asherii High Council expended managed to even come close to solving the problem, as they simply did not have a smaller, much-dedicated force to watch over the cities consistently.
Eventually, the seemingly hopeless war against the Human, Ancient, and Ferrian races combined with the virtually unkillable forces of the Players took a toll on every citizen's morale, and soon, political dissent, civil disobedience, and finally, chaos naturally followed.
The lack of public administration, Lucius thought, was one of several factors that sped up the inevitable demise of the Asherii. That is why he was surprised to hear at first that the conception of law reforms that made the Enforcers possible came from the Players—now called the Outworlders.
Moreover, just from the way that Tissette spoke about them, Lucius could somewhat guess that the Outworlders were responsible for more than just the Enforcers in terms of the realm's advancements as a whole for the past three centuries.
After hearing everything he just did, Lucius became even more interested in seeing for himself what other aspects of the realm changed or even improved in the last 300 years, and just how much of those were due to Outworlder influence.
With all this in mind, Lucius also questioned what he already knew about the Outworlders. If Tissette's high praises are to be believed, then what was it exactly that caused them to change?
Throughout the realm three hundred years ago, the Outworlders had somehow managed to cultivate a reputation much worse than the Asherii for being callous, selfish, boorish, and downright outrageous with regards to their behavior just because of the fact they could not die, and that they seemed to treat everything as a game.
Ever since these so-called 'Players' appeared out of nowhere just five years before the war started, Lucius remembered hearing that they acted as if everything they did had no consequences whatsoever, regardless of what race they were.
To that end, Lucius wondered just how did such a chaotic bunch manage to run a land the size of a kingdom, and run it pretty well considering what he heard from Tissette's stories.
"You're making that face again," Tissette muttered after finally concluding her lengthy monologue. Frowning, she followed Lucius with her gaze as they walked.
Sighing, Lucius replied, "What face?"
Tissette rolled her eyes and grumbled. "That broody face you always have on ever since we left the castle. Would it kill you not to sink into your own little world and say somethin' back at least? You were much talkative before, y'know? Now it just feels like I'm talkin' to a noddin', movin' brick wall."
Lucius smiled absently as he realized he was given a chance to make one of those 'jokes' he had always read about.
"Well, you did have a knife on my neck earlier, so..."
As if startled, Tissette immediately replied "W-Well I didn't know you were harmless, alright? It's not me being violent, it's just..."
Surprisingly enough, Lucius could tell that Tissette was somewhat bothered by his thoughtful attempt, or lack thereof, at a joke.
Curses! I may have butchered it or something. Fine. No jokes for now.
A bit embarrassed by his failure, Lucius shifted uncomfortably as he asked, "Just what?"
"Nothing," said Tissette—her sunny disposition now replaced by a subdued smile. She then pointed at a nearby sweets shop and continued, "We're almost at the academy. Just remember, the fluxgates are just three turns away from here. I tend to get lost often in my early days as a Primus. It was embarrassin'."
Fluxgates? What is Deus's name are those?
Although Lucius was confused with how abrupt Tissette changed the topic of the conversation all of a sudden, he kept his silence for a while until he realized what the girl just said.
"Wait, why are you taking me to this academy of yours, exactly?"
"I told you that I got your back, didn't I? Besides, my plan is much better than your plan of just wanderin' aimlessly in the city, anyway. What, do you wanna get robbed blind or somethin'?" said Tissette as she, just like that, regained her wide, toothy grin. "You're going to like it there, don't worry."
As Lucius didn't remember ever agreeing to go with Tissette to any academies, he was about to protest when he finally came upon what Tissette was talking about.
Stricken with awe, all Lucius could do was stare at the strange sight before him—a series of long, wide tunnels made of glass that stretched far above. The tunnel was inclined and appeared to bore straight through the face of the plateau beside the city.
Lucius looked around and found a small, homely shack at the foot of the tunnels with what he assumed to be a human staring at them blankly from the window as they approached. All he could see from the window was the man's bald head, along with his aging face and a distinct scar on his lower lip.
Tissette trudged happily towards the window and was about to speak, but the man cut her to the chase and spoke first in a dull, uninterested voice.
"Again?" the stranger said with a blank expression. His words came out a bit hurriedly as if he was already aware of what would happen if Tissette got going first.
"Yeah. And by the way, I found another refugee," Tissette pointed at him and continued, "This one's named Lucius and—"
The human raised his hand and silenced Tissette, took one short look at Lucius, then sighed. "I'm not interested. Just remember—"
"You weren't here. I know, I know," replied Tissette before backing away from the window and running towards the entrance of the tunnels with a wide grin on her face.
"Good," said the man with a dismissive wave as he too walked away from the window, then towards a strange, glowing pedestal inside the shack.
Before following Tissette, Lucius took one last glance at the stranger. Strangely enough, he felt goosebumps just from the man's gaze from earlier. Within that very short moment, his sharp, Ferrian instincts told him that the human wasn't to be trifled with, even though the human clearly wasn't trying to intimidate him at all.
"Who was that human, Tiz?" Lucius said as he watched Tissette walk towards the strange platform under one of the tunnels that were riddled with strange markings. Inscriptions, he concluded after observing the markings more carefully.
"Forget about him and just get in, quick! You're gonna love this! Or not!"
Tissette beckoned Lucius to come over like an excited child, which he did, and the latter immediately regretted his decision.
What happened next came to Lucius as a complete and utter shock.
His stomach tightened as soon as he stepped onto the platform, and within seconds, his feet were touching nothing at all. He watched a brief image of what he assumed to be the shack flash by before looking down and seeing the Delta City grow smaller and smaller from within the glass tunnels.
"WOOHOO! DO YOU FEEL THE RUSH, LUCIUS?!"
Then, after a few seconds, the entire tunnel went dark as they finally entered the hole in the plateau. All that Lucius could see was the brief flashes of glowing inscriptions that were embedded in the glass, which did not help at all.
Lucius was certain that he was hearing Tissette's ecstatic and childish screams as they traveled ever upwards at an alarming rate, although that was the last thing on his mind as he went through the new and terrifying sensations he never even knew he could feel.
Lucius felt as if he was flying, and it wasn't like what he expected after reading so many books and written accounts about it.
To put it simply, it was way beyond his expectations.
In a bad, stomach-crumpling sort of way.
After what felt like an eternity, Lucius and Tissette were finally ejected out of the tunnel.
Lucius's stiff, frozen body landed on the dry sand. Tissette, on the other hand, landed with a smooth and almost practiced flip.
"That was fun, wasn't it? I mean, what better way to show you the academy than with THAT entrance!" said Tissette as she patted him on the back. "Definitely more fun and excitin' than takin' the borin' old stairs!"
Lucius—still a crumpled heap on the ground—groaned. "There...were stairs?"
"Uh yeah. Why? Hah, anyway, check this out!" With a wide, unapologetic smile, Tissette waved her arms in front of Lucius before pointing towards the enormous castle right before them. "Pretty neat, huh?"
Lucius lifted his head and immediately gaped. It was a truly exceptional sight—beyond compare to even the Asherii's greatest constructs and unlike what he'd ever seen before in any books of theoretical designs or illustrations. It was plain for him to see that the magnificent castle was leagues ahead of his time.
"Welcome to Antebellum Castle, Lucius."
Lucius stood up unsteadily and looked at the castle with a strained smile. That was, of course, until his hardworking gut finally gave in.
"What are you—?"
Lucius kneeled back down to the ground before unloading his meal from three centuries ago, and more, all over the sand below. This sent Tissette jumping back with a surprised yelp, seemingly more amused than anything as she continued to watch Lucius with a raised brow.
Live and learn, myself. Live and learn...
It was then that Lucius discovered yet another thing about himself. Flying and over-the-top entrances just weren't for him.