"You feelin' okay now?"
"Yes," Lucius replied as he straightened his tunic with a dignified expression. "And we shall never speak this ever again."
Tissette chuckled as they walked towards a small, hidden entrance near the fluxgate.
With a soft grunt, Tissette took off the wooden lid on top of it, and a narrow passageway was revealed.
Lucius followed Tissette inside the tunnel and closed the entrance behind him. The tunnel was narrow, musty, and dim, which he assumed made it hard for normal people to navigate their way through.
Although while not as good as Tissette's who was an Allagorian, Lucius was convinced that his sharp eyesight and hearing were enough for him to map out his surroundings relatively well.
"This is supposed to be one of the few secret entrances in the Academy, so I'd appreciate it if you're hush-hush about this or we'll both be in trouble," Tissette said—her soft voice echoing ever so slightly.
"You have my word."
"Oh, and don't tell anyone we used the fluxgates or we'll be in deeper trouble. Primus students usually aren't allowed to leave the premises unless they're given a quest, much less return the way we did just now." With a chuckle, she added, "With style. Surprised you real good, didn't it?"
"Yes," Lucius said with an unamused frown. "There are no more of these 'surprises', I hope?"
"Eh, we'll see. I might come up with something fun and excitin' once they get you a place to stay here," said Tissette before laughing. "After all, what's life without a little danger and rule-breaking?"
So this girl is a bit of a troublemaker. Why am I not surprised...
Lucius sighed inwardly as he looked at Tissette. Despite having only known her for a day, and even with his limited knowledge of social interactions, he could at least tell that the girl was kindhearted and maybe even 'too friendly' by common standards.
But then again, how could someone who pulled a dagger on him the first time they met before killing a horrific monster without even breaking a sweat be normal?
While he would never say it out loud, Lucius considered Tissette a delight to be around with even if she was indeed a bit too chatty and touchy most of the time.
Despite his positive first impression of Tissette, however, he somehow had a nagging suspicion that she was the type who would drag people along and get them into all sorts of trouble. As someone who lived a relatively plain and homely life in a castle until just earlier, Lucius just didn't know whether or not he could handle the Tissette's 'enthusiasm'.
"What are you looking at?" Tissette muttered before wiping her face with her hands. "Is there dirt on my face or somethin'? I swear, this secret passage needs some good cleanin'. Ah, one of these days..."
"There wasn't any before, but now that you touched it..."
An idea popped into Lucius's head as soon he saw Tissette struggle to clean her face thoroughly with her sleeves through the dim lighting.
He smirked. Hmm. Tomfoolery for Incompetent Fools. Seventieth page, second line, was it?
"How about now?" asked Tissette with a smile before presenting her now-clean face to Lucius.
"Your clothes were dirty as well, so no. I think you just made it worse."
Lucius chuckled inwardly as he watched Tissette fuss nonstop with her clothes and her face.
Heh. This is for destroying my childhood dream of flying.
After relishing the results of his prank for a few more seconds, Lucius was just about ready to call it a day and help Tissette when he saw a light shine through the end of the tunnel.
Lucius's ears perked up. He looked ahead and heard the door from the other side creaking before it slowly opened
Exposed to the sudden brightness, Lucius covered his eyes before peeking through his elbows. "Is that—"
"Oh, crap," Tissette said, looking deathly pale as if she was a mouse—err, spider—that had been caught with her hands in a cookie jar.
"Wh-Who is crap?" Confused, Lucius looked towards the light then back to Tissette whose face was once again dirty from all of her needless fussing.
Then, a voice echoed from the end of the tunnel, "I'll be waiting for you here, young lady. Don't even think that you can run away from me, but you're welcome to try."
" M-Master I was just—"
"And if I catch you, it'll be a thousand knife-throwing motions for every second of my time you waste. The choice is yours."
"Oh no. Oh no, no, no, that old man below must have ratted me out!" Tissette said as she hesitated to go any further. "Just when I already fulfilled my training quota for this week!"
"Who is that?" Lucius asked, his eyes now a bit well-adjusted as he looked at the silhouette tapping away impatiently at the end of the tunnel.
Tissette leaned closer to him and whispered, "She's the master of the Assassin Class here in Antebellum. She's a bitter old woman with nobody in her life, so you better not—"
"I heard that."
"H-Heard what, Master ?" Tissette laughed nervously before beckoning Lucius to follow her.
"Are you going to run or what?" the voice reverberated throughout the tunnel once again.
"I won't run, Master Katherine! We're coming! No need to threaten me with more training, please!"
Lucius followed Tissette warily, feeling a bit nervous. After all, if the mysterious person scared Tissette—someone who slew a horrible creature with barely any effort right before his eyes—then that person could only be some other kind of monster entirely.
Once Lucius finally got out of the tunnel, he quickly looked around and caught sight of the woman who was in the small, cramped space with them. He took a moment to observe and found out that the strange room they were in was filled with brooms and countless other cleaning materials.
A secret passageway at the back of a closet? Hmph, how original.
The woman—a tall, middle-aged Ferrian with a lithe figure greeted Lucius with a calm, pointed gaze. One of the ears on top of her head was clipped, which Lucius deemed was most likely a battle scar.
The woman was dressed in the same garb as Tissette, but hers looked more minimalistic and worn out. Clearly, the woman wasn't as concerned with style and flair as Tissette when it came to clothing.
The woman looked neither friendly nor hostile, but the way she was staring made Lucius think that she was gauging him, in a way, and the mere thought of being sized up by the person that even Tissette feared sent a chill down his spine.
"Who are you?" the woman asked, her crisp tone snapping Lucius out of his thoughts.
"His name is Lucius, master. I found him in the abandoned castle up north," said Tissette with a wry smile before pushing Lucius forward.
"I didn't ask you," the woman—Katherine—said, frowning at Tissette before turning back to Lucius. "I believe you can speak for yourself, young man."
"Y-Yes. Indeed I can," Lucius said before giving the woman a polite nod. "I am called Lucius, Lady Katherine. I hail from an orphanage from afar, and I have come here to seek refuge in this city. I-If that is no trouble at all, of course."
"Where is this orphanage you speak of?"
"I...I do not remember."
Katherine lifted a brow and looked at Lucius's attire for a while before turning to Tissette and said, "That orphanage somewhere in the Human kingdoms? Maybe Elven?"
"Most likely, master. I mean, look at his clothes and how he talks. He can't possibly be from around here," Tissette said, smirking.
Katherine sighed, and her gaze slowly softened a little as she gazed at Lucius. "Tsk. You've picked the worst place to be born a Ferrian, Lucius. The slavers might've just done you a favor, taking you away from that awful place. Not that they're any better, those heartless ticks. It's good that you somehow managed to escape from them."
Lucius only nodded, not knowing what to say. He'd been hearing the term 'slavers' over and over again, and although he understood the meaning of it because of the Language Providence, it still sounded new to him.
One thing Lucius fully understood though, was that he should avoid these 'slavers' if he ever saw one. The fact that the people he encountered thus far hated them was enough for him to fear the infamous group.
"This is the third refugee you've brought to the academy during this cycle, Tissette. Am I to expect that you'll be bringing in new Primus students every other day now?"
Lucius's ears twitched.
Third? Primus students? Has she brought someone else to this place before?
"Eh, I wouldn't count on it, Master Katherine. I guess I've just been lucky these past several days whenever I go outside. Meeting new people. Meeting new friends, stuff like that," said Tissette with a smile.
After looking at Katherine's blank face, however, it only took a few seconds for Tissette's enthusiasm to crumble and for her smile to turn back to a nervous frown.
"You've been busy then. Good for you. Although I would like to hear the reason why you needed to leave the castle in the first place while also using the fluxgates to return, might I add," Katherine said, her deadpan look towards Tissette unnerving even Lucius who stayed as silent as he could. "And your excuses. They better be damn good."
Tissette nodded her head so fast that Lucius suspected it could've flown off of her neck at any second.
"Good. We'll settle this later in my office," said Katherine before looking at Lucius. "But before that, Lucius, do you know where this stupid girl has taken you?"
"An academy, was it?" Lucius said, making his confusion obvious with a tilt of his head.
Katherine frowned—her clipped ear twitching a bit as she said, "It makes sense that you wouldn't know. Such facilities are rarely accessible by Ferrians and Allagorians in places other than Alavaria, after all. Even back in our own lands, only those from the best clans can join an academy."
"Sounds quite...exclusive," said Lucius with a narrow, thoughtful gaze.
"To them, maybe. It's different here in Alavaria," Katherine said, crossing her arms with the slightest hint of a smile on her face. "That being said, do you have any idea what joining Antebellum entails? Do you know what you're getting yourself into?"
Lucius never liked admitting his ignorance, but he shook his head nonetheless. His curiosity far outweighed his pride at this point.
"We do a lot of things here, but I believe I can sum it up with a sentence or two for your convenience," Katherine said, her voice as serious as can be as she continued, "Here in Antebellum Academy, we train and educate our students to become warriors, champions, magi, and in very rare cases, even heroes. Well, if they have what it takes, that is."
"P-Pardon?" Lucius gaped, doubting what he just heard from Katherine.
"You look confused. Is it really that hard to believe?" Katherine, for the very first time, smiled at Lucius.
"Yeah, dude. How deep in the sticks have you been livin' in all this time?" Tissette said while laughing at her own joke. "Keep up, will you?"
"I will take you to the Grandmaster. I suspect he'll be wanting to meet another late addition to the Primus students, courtesy of the girl beside you."
Tissette curtsied. "You're welco—"
"And, I suppose the Grandmaster will be even more interested in seeing the culprit responsible for the unauthorized use of the fluxgates for the fifth time this cycle. Now, follow me," Katherine said before turning around and walking out of the small, dark cleaning closet.
Speechless, Lucius blanked out for a while before looking at the distraught Tissette with a wry smile—both of them shocked out of their minds for entirely different reasons.