Lucius tried not to look out of place as they walked along the main hall of the castle. Never before had he ever seen such a diverse crowd of people in one place. Humans, Allagorians, Ferrians, and even some people of the Ancient races—orcs, goblins, elves, dwarves, and more—were scattered all over the academy merrymaking while mingling within their own cliques.
"Will you stop it?"
"Stop what?" Lucius said absently.
"Makin' googly eyes with everybody. Seriously, were you born yesterday?" said Tissette as she looked around, looking unusually fidgety and wary of the people around her.
Lucius ignored Tissette and kept on taking in the interior of the castle along with committing every new face he saw to memory. It was quite the chore, he admitted, as he had never seen so many people before.
They took many turns and climbed even more stairs along the way. By the time they reached the Grandmaster's office—a secluded yet grandiose room at the very top of the castle—Lucius was already out of breath and panting heavily, much to his chagrin. He shot the chuckling Tissette a serious look before wiping his sweat and composing himself. He may be out of shape, but he at least had to preserve his dignity.
"Here we are," Katherine said before knocking on the door and stepping back. "I would tell you to mind your manners, but I think that wouldn't be necessary."
Tissette snickered."That's very true, master. While he might not get the 'Highest Corpus' award at the end of the cycle, I'm betting that he could beat anybody else when it comes to politeness! Oh, you should've seen him when I met him earlier. He had the perfect bows, and greetings, and stuff!"
Lucius's eyes twitched.
Remind me not to observe and practice common etiquette in this era ever again.
Before Tissette could get another word in, the door suddenly opened by itself, revealing the entrance to the headmaster's room.
Lucius followed Katherine and Tissette inside. He looked around and was surprised to see several different oddities from obscure kitchenware—mostly bottles of wine and wineglasses—books, small figures of people, replicas of devices he didn't recognize, several maps, and a strange image made out of pure, flickering light that was hung on the wall above the empty table.
He looked closer at the image depicting two Outworlders whose marks were dull and lightless—an elf and a human—standing side-by-side with a wide, warm smile on their faces. Behind them was a huge, spacious contraption with what seemed to be wings on both of its sides and a flour mill's blade on the front.
It was a strange sight, to say the least, but it wasn't what caught Lucius's attention right away.
Lucius's blood ran cold. He recognized one of the two people in the image. How could he not? After all, he watched the man burn with his father's Shadowflame right before his eyes.
Smiling, Katherine said, "Your office is as messy as always, Grandmaster El."
"What? Messy? I've just finished cleaning this room yesterday. Hmm, wait. Maybe the day before that?"
Alarmed, Lucius looked above and saw an elf sitting crosslegged while floating far above them. The elf appeared to be retrieving a book atop the tallest bookcase he had ever seen.
As Lucius watched the elf float his way down towards them, every doubt he had regarding the stranger's identity vanished.
Except for the once-shining mark of the Outworlder Providence on the elf's forehead, everything about his features: his pointy nose, black hair, and deep, charcoal eyes. It all remained unchanged even after three hundred years.
"Who's this?" the grandmaster said, his eyes trained on Lucius with a flicker of curiosity.
"Tissette found another one," said Katherine. "In that old castle of the demons up north. Couldn't remember where he was or what happened to him, just like the others."
"That castle?" The elf's eyes seemed to glint. "Another escaped slave, then. What's your name, boy?"
"Lucius," he said calmly. He tried not to show any signs of discomfort on his face, but inside, he was desperately hoping that the elf didn't see him back then from outside the barrier, his hope hanging on the fact that it was enchanted with an obscurant spell.
Elves, even the younger ones, have naturally high Sensus values, so Lucius didn't dare assume that the elf wouldn't recognize him if he was indeed seen by him three hundred years ago.
"Not much of a talker, are we?"
Lucius opened his mouth, but his wit wasn't quick enough to beat Tissette's natural proclivity for chatter.
"He's a bit shy, but he's been good to me so far. A bit awkward and definitely uh, weak," Tissette said, grimacing. "That's why I was surprised when I found him alone outside the castle. I asked him to show me his Virtus. It was low, and not only that, but he's an Unremarkable too! Can you believe it, Grandmaster Elrond? No offense, Lucius."
"None taken," Lucius said, not knowing if he should be grateful or annoyed by the girl's talkativeness.
"Ah, so that makes three refugees this cycle. Those slavers are getting bolder and bolder," said the Grandmaster—Elrond—with a frown before looking at Katherine. "So, she went out without permission again?"
"Yes," Katherine said, not even bothering to cover for Tissette.
Elrond looked at Tissette and smiled. "So, how'd you do it?"
Tissette perked up instantly. "Well, first I—"
Tisstte's words, however, were cut short as soon as Katherine shot her a withering glare. With her enthusiasm drained completely with one look from her master, Tissette sighed and said, "I'm sorry, Grandmaster. It won't happen again."
Much to Lucius's surprise, however, the Grandmaster simply threw Tissette a sideways, disbelieving stare.
"That's not what a real member of the Assassin Class would say, Tissette," said Elrond, smirking. "What do you think you should be saying right now?"
"Oh!" Tissette smirked back at Elrond before scratching her head. "Uh, I won't get caught doing it again?"
Hearing this exchange, Lucius would have frowned if he weren't trying to get as little attention in the room as he could. He'd always been around Castarossa—a person who led others with an iron fist—so he was a bit taken aback by Elrond's lack of heavyhandedness with regards to the situation.
"Grandmaster El!" Katherine said, her eyes narrowed sharply. "How could you keep on encouraging such behavior?"
Faced with one of Katherine's glares, Elrond simply shrugged and said, "You have to agree that letting the girl put her training into practice makes sense, Katherine. Weren't you raising her as a future member of your group?"
Katherine opened her mouth, seemingly about to argue, but reconsidered. She sighed and said, "You might be right, Grandmaster, but punishment for this unruly behavior is still in order. I don't want her running around just doing whatever she wants as a member of the Assassin Class. That would be disgraceful."
Lucius watched as Tissette pleaded for the Grandmaster's help with a pitiful look on her face, but the elf only responded with a shake of his head, smiling wryly.
"Now, if you'll excuse us. My pupil and I have some special, lengthy, and thorough training to do."
"Okay. Have fun," Elrond said with a smile before turning to Lucius and continued, "Hey, kid. Stay for a while. I want to talk to you."
Lucius stood nervously before Elrond, his expression cool and calm despite his mind being in complete turmoil.
After an exchange of farewells, Tissette and Katherine finally left him alone with the Outworlder. And just like that, he was suddenly put in one of the very few situations where he did not know what to do due to panic—a state of mind he knew very little about.
But Lucius knew he had to try. Led right to a potentially dangerous person, he berated himself for being blindsided by his own curiosity and Tissette's well-meaning invitation to the academy. But then, he thought to himself, how could he have possibly known that it would lead him straight to one of the very few Outworlders that he once encountered?
He gritted his teeth and shook off his thoughts. There was no use in backtracking and telling himself what he could have done right. He made an error, being as carefree as he had been, and he was already in a situation where he could not turn back. Now, all he could do was push forward and see if the situation was still salvageable. Improvise and prevail, as Castarossa used to tell him.
"Is something the matter, err, Grandmaster Elrond?" Lucius asked, eyeing the elf with as little apprehension as he could.
"Just El, please," the elf smiled wryly. "Tissette's the only one left in this academy who still calls me that. I would rather not make you the second one. The name...doesn't suit me, you see. Never has."
A bit confused, Lucius nodded slowly. "I see. As you wish, Grandmaster El."
"Lucius, was it? I know I've seen you before," said Elrond—his tone and expression serious and grave unlike before. "Even your voice..."
Lucius's breath wavered, but still, he tried to push through with a facade of calmness and said, "Apologies, but I have never seen you before I'm afraid. I believe you have me mistaken for someone else."
"I'm sorry for the headache that comes after, boy, but I must know," Elrond said before walking over slowly and reaching out towards Lucius with both hands.
Reasonably frightened, Lucius tried to take a step back and reason with Elrond but failed. Surprised, he found that he could not move even an inch away from the elf. He closed his eyes and looked within—feeling a subtle disturbance in the aether surrounding his body.
‹Lull› has been cast on you.
You are falling unconscious.
Duration: 10 seconds
Lucius's vision started to go dark. The last thing he saw was the sad, yet resolute look on Elrond's face, along with another prompt that he failed to read right before his eyes closed shut.