Lucius opened his eyes and saw only the white ceiling above him. He grinned, as before opening his eyes he half-expected that the ceiling would be darker, more worn out, with hints of splotched gray and covered with mold, for it was a place that he couldn't reach no matter how hard he tried. It was the only part of his old room that he couldn't clean at all.
So it wasn't a dream. I truly am out of that horrible castle after all.
Lucius took a peek below and looked at Gilly who was snoring his lungs out while sleeping in an uncomfortably bizarre and contorted way.
Careful not to wake Gilly up, Lucius climbed down the small ladder at the side of the bed and landed on the ground silently. He walked a small distance away from the bed and stretched just like he always did after waking up.
Yawning, he looked outside the dorm room's window and took a deep breath. He saw no one outside the building but a couple of students walking by, and a small tree hanging limply by the side of the building's entrance walkway along with a simple flowerbed that was planted underneath it.
While Lucius had to admit that the view from his old room was better, there was something about the mundane scenery outside the small dorm room window that made him smile. It was simple and clean.
Speaking of clean...
He looked down at himself and scowled in disgust. While not overly dirty, his tunic and trousers were on their way to looking more and more like rags rather than clothing.
Lucius sighed. So much for conducting myself as royalty.
Disappointed with himself, he looked towards the furthest side of the small dorm and eyed the bathroom door with a smile. He grabbed his uniform from his desk and the towel that Gilly was kind enough to lend him yesterday, and after tiptoeing some more, he finally entered the bathroom and looked around him in awe.
So this is the famed 'shower'. And a 'sink'. And a 'toilet'! Ah, how lucky am I to have found them this early?
Not wanting to waste any more of his precious bathing time, Lucius took his clothes off and walked towards the corner where the shower was and marveled at the sight of it.
What he gathered from the book: 'The History and Influence of Outworlders in the Modern Times' that he read yesterday was that running water, along with something called 'indoor plumbing', were only a few of several inventions that Outworlders brought from their realm ever since they lost their Providence three hundred years ago.
Needless to say, Lucius was thoroughly amazed since running water for private bathhouses was a luxury even for royalty back then, unlike nowadays where it had apparently become a common fixture in Alavaria so much so that even public buildings and properties have them.
"This must be the—"
Switch, Lucius was about to say as he turned the small, metal lever at the bottom of the shower sidewards, but he was immediately interrupted by a blast of lukewarm water that cascaded onto him from above, soaking him from head to toe.
Brilliant! Amazing! This must be what bathing in the rain feels like!
Lucius tried hard not to giggle like a child as he showered while humming inwardly. Gone were the days where he had to wait for almost an entire week just to have enough water to clean himself up, along with only having ice-cold, hydromancy-generated water to drink and bathe with.
Warm. This must be what heaven feels like. Oh. Warm?
Lucius caught himself as his curiosity struck once again.
How could it be warm?
He stood by the tip of his foot while looking closer at the showerhead above and noticed several nail-sized inscriptions that were carved on its edges—each glowing a dull, deep red.
Ingenious. I have never read or heard of such small inscriptions working effectively before. Hmm, I wonder just how far Inscription Casting has developed since then?
Lucius sighed as he shook off his thoughts and continued bathing. First and foremost, he wanted to enjoy the heavenly experience of 'taking a shower'.
After getting out of the shower and heaving out a long sigh of satisfaction, Lucius was about halfway dressed when a small stick made out of wood with countless, hair-like bristles sticking out of it caught his attention.
What in Deus's name is this? A brush of some kind? For painting? No. Hygiene, perhaps. But wherever for?
He walked towards the sink where the odd instrument was placed. He picked it up and inspected it, admiring its bizarre craftsmanship before coming up with a theory of his own.
Hmm. With it being this small, this must be for scrubbing the corners of people's feet, or—
"Oh no. Oh, no no no no! No! Lucius, we're LATE! Our PCC class is about to start!"
Lucius was just about to put his 'feet-scrubber' theory into practice when he heard Gilly's commotion from outside. He quickly returned the small brush to the sink and finished dressing up as fast as he could.
"Late? Why the sun's barely even up yet," Lucius said after bursting out of the bathroom door.
"No no, we're supposed to be at the training grounds before the sun reveals itself in the sky halfway, that's one of her rules," Gilly said. "W-We can't skip core classes, Lucius! Especially not Master Katherine's! We messed up!"
Lucius looked outside and nodded with a frown as he looked at the almost fully-risen sun on the horizon. "What a strange rule. Is Master Katherine this strict?"
"The word 'strict' when it comes to her is a severe understatement. Oh, we're so dead. Wait for me, Lucius."
After running around the room for several moments like a headless chicken, Gilly took his uniform from the small, wooden closet beside the bunk bed and ran to the bathroom frantically.
Lucius retrieved his identification badge from the drawer on his desk before walking over to the door as he waited for Gilly to finish.
He didn't have to wait long, however, as not even a few minutes later, Gilly suddenly burst out of the bathroom— already in his uniform with his hair wet and said, "Alright, let's go!"
"Don't forget your identification badge," said Lucius before walking out the door and letting Gilly lead the way.
"O-Oh, right! Thanks!"
Lucius couldn't help but feel bad after seeing Gilly's weary and bewildered face as the latter stumbled around the room. After all, he was the one who asked Gilly to stay up all night with him to talk about the countless affairs and aspects of the Antebellum Academy.
It seems that not only Tissette and her friends are afraid of Master Katherine. She seemed nice enough when she first saw me yesterday, but I wonder...could her strictness be any worse than Castarossa's? Hmm. I doubt it.
"Here we are!"
Even though Lucius ran nonstop with Gilly, it still took what seemed to be an eternity for them to arrive at the training grounds.
Now I am certain that this entire academy does have some sort of space-enhancing spell cast on it.
Lucius struggled to breathe through his nose and instead took several gasps of air with his mouth like there was no tomorrow. Even Gilly who had a higher Corpus than him was leaning on his knees and panting like crazy.
"Quick! W-W need to look for the others!"
"Others? Do you mean other Primus students?"
Lucius didn't even have to ask Gilly to clarify his words as he immediately saw a large group of students wearing a uniform with a bright white color that was similar to his. He looked closer. They all seemed to be watching two similarly-dressed students fighting in one of the many rings in the training grounds.
That other fellow. Isn't that Aidan?
Lucius's eyes shone as he saw Aidan's fighting form and swordplay in full display once again. It was like watching poetry in motion. Concise, calm, and elegant all at the same time.
Be that as it may, Lucius was shocked that Aiden's opponent—a green-haired troll with sharp eyes and brown skin—was matching him blow for blow. The match was a perfect stalemate, with neither of the two having any advantage over the other in every single exchange.
Eager to find out more, Lucius squinted and looked at the Allagorian more carefully.
Hmm. That mark on his identification badge...is he a member of the Ardent Congregation? No wonder he's keeping up with Aidan. The Marauder's Guild must have been taking good care of you in terms of resources, not to mention training you well, Kal Formikin.
"Hello, Elyssia to Lucius! Now's not the time to space out!" Gilly whispered before dragging Lucius to a nearby bush.
Gilly looked around for a bit before grinning. "I don't see Master Katherine! I think we should just sneak up in there while she's gone."
After recalling what happened yesterday at Tissette's party, Lucius frowned as he looked around as well. He didn't see Katherine anywhere, but for some reason, he was feeling more nervous than relieved.
"I do not think that this is a good idea, Gilly."
"Trust me, I wouldn't want to get caught either but we have no choice. Duels mostly take up the first hour of this class anyway. Maybe she went somewhere else for now? Uh, what do you think?"
Lucius raised a brow, confused. "Why are you asking me? Today is my first day going to her class, may I remind you."
"Agh, I dunno what to do anymore! She's too scary, Lucius! Either way, we're dead if we get caught. You wouldn't wanna know what I had to do the last time I was late." Gilly shivered.
Lucius sighed inwardly. He read from the academy's student handbook that Physical Combat and Conditioning Classes, or PCC Classes for short, was a five-hour-long class used mostly for training students in combat and conducting physical exercises to improve their Corpus and overall combat readiness.
In addition to this, Duel Rites—a system that was set up by every academy in Elyssia for students who sought to spar and even settle disputes with other students—were also allowed and even encouraged to be conducted during PCC classes.
Considering all this, Lucius conceded that Gilly might have a point. Although, there was also a possibility that Katherine was simply hiding in plain sight, just like a predator waiting for the most opportune time to pounce on the two of them for being late. His lips went stiff while mulling over his options. He couldn't decide if this was a gamble he was willing to take.
The more I think about it, the more I doubt that someone like Master Katherine would leave her class just like that. Hmm. Or perhaps I'm just overthinking things. Just to be sure, I should—
"Ah, screw it! I-It's do or die, Lucius! We should go before she comes back!"
"Wait! we need to make sure that she's not—"
"Now, what are you two boys doing all the way back here? Cutting classes, are we?"
Lucius's blood ran cold as he recognized the familiar voice calling them out from behind. He turned around, his ears perking attentively as he gaped at Katherine who had been standing behind them, watching them with her pupils shrunken into the narrowest of slits as it glinted with a dull, chilling light.