Lucius watched silently as the atmosphere around the room changed in a way that made him grin absently. Even Ardred and Mort who were just at each other's throats moments ago were only throwing a few quips at each other while setting up the chairs.
Watching the four have fun, Lucius felt something strange welling up from within him. He felt uncomfortable just standing around and eventually tried helping out as well. He didn't talk much while helping unlike the others, but no one seemed to mind. And while he did feel a bit awkward going around the room back and forth while not saying anything, what made him smile and forget about it was knowing the fact that he experienced yet another thing that he never had before.
A few minutes of work was all it took for Ardred's dorm to look bright, colorful, and loud just like the streets of Delta City that Lucius saw outside, and with the preparations completely accounted for, the festivities finally began.
The walls of the fairly large room were covered with red and gold tarps on the wall. Furthermore, a wide variety of food and drinks were served on the table, and every single one of them was enough to make Lucius salivate. He almost forgot that he hadn't eaten in about a day, or technically, three centuries and a day.
What grabbed Lucius's attention more, however, were the oddities that he heard were called 'balloons' scattered all across the floor. Stricken with curiosity, he picked one balloon and palmed it before looking around warily. After he saw that no one was looking, he grasped it tightly and rolled it over his hand a few times—thoroughly amused by the colorful ball of air.
How quaint. Very elastic. Just what is this material?
Lucius's eyes widened before jumping back, much to everyone's surprise. He looked at Althea whose screams were still ringing in his ears and gave her an apologetic look. Clutching her chest, the Ferrian nodded back at him with a frown before turning back to her lightbox.
"I-It just exploded," Lucius said as Tissette walked over and saw the deflated balloon on the floor.
"Really? You weren't doing anything with it?"
Thinking that Tissette would get mad, Lucius replied with a facade of nonchalance, "Uh, no."
"Right," Tissette said while looking at him with a sideways glance. "You totally weren't lookin' at it earlier like you wanted to make out with it or somethin'."
Lucius shook his head with a confused look on his face. "Make out? What?"
Ardred and the others snickered.
With a look of genuine worry on her face, Tissette then leaned over beside him and whispered, "Uh, just a heads up—it's not for eatin' either."
"I know that," Lucius said, feeling a bit insulted as his brows furrowed.
Tissette smiled wryly. "Hey, I had to be careful, alright? Since you did grow up in the woods, I can't really blame you for being weird. I mean, look at Ardred and Mort. They're kinda weird but in a good way. That's what I like about them."
"Hey, I heard that."
"Heard that too. That is false, by the way. Ardred's the only weirdo here. Did you know that—"
Seeing no point to argue otherwise Lucius simply sighed before pointing at the deflated balloon on the floor and muttered, "I apologize for, uh, making that balloon explode."
"That's alright. It's like, what, a copper for ten pieces? Got it for a bargain in a shop three months ago. You should check it out! It's near the Marauder Guild's HQ. You at least know who they are right? They're everywhere these days."
Lucius simply nodded his head with a straight face. He had absolutely no idea what the girl was talking about.
Tissette clapped her hands. "Alrighty then. Let's get to eatin'!"
Lucius walked over to the table and sat with the others, including Althea who miraculously left the lightbox to join them. There, he was encouraged by the others to take any food he wanted. He looked around for a while before choosing to try the one he heard Tissette call "hamburger" first, just like the others.
The smell of cooked meat and fresh bread tickled Lucius's nose like a mischievous, playful fairy. He was only ever allowed by Castarossa to practice table manners with a piece of stale bread and soup ever since he was young, and so, that was all he ate growing up. Long had his tastebuds forgotten the taste of anything other than rye and watered down radish stock.
Since his recent blunders kept reminding him that he was in a different era, Lucius tried mimicking the table manners of the people around him before eating, but he eventually found out that his fear of being 'too polite' was unnecessary.
He looked around and saw that Tissette and the others weren't using their utensils at all. Instead, they all ate their food with their hands, chewed with their mouth open while messing around at the table and talking loudly.
Lucius's eyes twitched.
Is this the norm nowadays?
Although hesitant, he had no choice but to conform.
His mouth salivating, Lucius finally picked up the burger from his plate with his hands took a bite. He almost cried.
Lucius vowed to never forget the way that his teeth cut through the meat and the vegetables inside the two soft pieces of bread. How they tasted. How the lettuce gave out an audible crunch. How the meat disintegrated before melting in his mouth. How the tomatoes soaked up the condiments, giving it a strange, yet palatable flavor. And ultimately, how all of the flavors mingled inside his mouth before he finally swallowed.
Meat and fresh bread...they're indeed just like cookbooks described them to be and more!
Tissette nudged him awake worriedly. "You okay? You got quiet all of a sudden. Err, well, even quieter than usual."
Smiling absently in his delight, Lucius looked at Tissette and said, "It's nothing. It's just that I have never tasted such a delicacy before."
Tissette stared at Lucius, speechless for a while.
"So you do smile from time to time," Tissette said, teasing Lucius with a small smirk. "It's nice that I finally got to see you like this."
"Happy," Tissette said with a smile on her face.
Lucius lifted a brow while maintaining his smile. "I have always been happy, Tiz. How could I not be after you rescued me from that castle?"
"Eh, well you really weren't showin' it much, y'know?" Tissette said. "Still, I feel honored that you liked the burgers."
Surprised, Lucius asked, "Wait, have you made them yourself?"
"Nah, I bought them at a restaurant called Poor Lucy's. I'm pretty dang proud that I know where to buy these though."
Mort waved at Lucius, and with his mouth full, said, "Hey new guy, where are you from?"
Lucius, before saying anything, gulped down his food and cleared his throat. "I hail from an orphanage outside of Alavaria. Although I must apologize, I do not know where it is in Elyssia, exactly. I have been living a pretty secluded life in that orphanage until now so I know very little of the land, I'm afraid."
Ardred whistled. "And you made it all the way here? Wow, those slavers really are getting more comfortable with crossing borders, huh. I'm glad that both you and Althea escaped from those guys. Horrible people, the lot of them are."
Lucius turned to look at Althea who only seemed to be interested in going back to the lightbox as soon as possible with her rushed, yet still elegant way of eating.
So she's one of the other two people that Tissette found while roaming outside the city. What's she doing all the way out here, I wonder?
Lucius then thought of just how serious the slaver problem was and how fortunate he was for not encountering one right after he woke up inside the abandoned castle. The start of his journey could've been much worse.
"How strong are you?"
Lucius's brooding came to a halt as he looked at Orlen who was staring at him with a serious, questioning look on his face.
"He's an Unremarkable," said Tissette.
Orlen shot Tissette a disbelieving look. "You're kidding. No Epithets at all?"
As if on cue, Tissette tapped Lucius on the back, nodding. She then leaned over and whispered, "Look at their faces. Oh, and show them your Virtus too!"
Lucius sighed, but ultimately relented.
By the time the Declaration vanished, everyone in the room except Lucius and Tissette was stunned into silence—their mouths agape and eyes wide open.
As he looked around, Lucius had to admit that swallowing his pride was almost worth it.
"Didn't Tissette find you outside Askanar Castle? Dude, how are you still alive?" Ardred asked, not quite able to get rid of his befuddled expression just yet.
"That's...pretty amazing. You have my respect for making it this far, new guy," Mort said with a firm nod.
Although she didn't say anything, Althea had both hands on her mouth before lifting both her thumbs up for Lucius to see. Orlen, however, kept to himself completely and continued eating with a slight frown.
Lucius tilted his head, and after considering everyone's reaction, he wondered for a moment—utterly confused.
This amount of Virtus should be normal for someone my age. Or at least it used to be. How could it be that bad?