Katherine scowled. "Since you dare slack off in my class then I assume you also have what it takes to receive the punishment for it?"
"W-We weren't cutting classes, Master Katherine! I swear!" Gilly said—his voice shaking and unsteady.
"What are you doing behind this bush then?"
"We were looking for you," Lucius said, finally taking over the conversation in Gilly's stead.
"Behind a bush?" Katherine smirked. "Tell me the truth. If you weren't cutting classes, what were you two doing then?"
"We were late, Master Katherine." Seeing no point in lying to someone who most likely already knew the truth, Lucius sighed and continued, "It was my fault. I made Gilly stay up with me for a little talk about the academy last night. I also failed to wake him up at the proper time despite having woken up first, so that is also on me."
"B-But you didn't know the time—"
Lucius silenced Gilly with a pointed gaze and a subtle shake of his head. One look at Katherine's face told him that any further excuses won't be tolerated no matter who it came from.
As a show of sincerity, Lucius then bowed and motioned for Gilly to bow with him. Gilly nodded and kept his head down while muttering what sounded like prayers before eyeing Katherine with his big, beady eyes.
Katherin's expression turned grim as she looked at the two—Lucius in particular. "You have manners for apologizing and guts for admitting your faults, young man, but these aren't enough. We train students like you to be much better individuals than the rest of the common populace here in Antebellum Academy, but how can you even start improving yourselves when you don't even have the discipline to show up for your classes on time? Do you two want to be kicked out of the academy this early in the cycle?"
Lucius shook his head vehemently along with Gilly. He had a feeling that this won't end well for them anyway, but he at least had to try.
Katherine looked at the two and her eyes settled at Lucius for a moment. She grinned and said, "Oh, it's you. Lucius, was it?"
"Yes, Master Katherine," Lucius said with a curt, respectful nod.
"Late on your first day. This isn't a good look for you."
"Again, my apologies, Master Katherine. I should have asked Gilly about the schedules of our classes as well."
"Hmm, well at least you already have the uniform on along with your identification badge," Katherine said as she took a closer look at the badge on his chest. "Oh, a Virtus of 99.2? So Tissette really was telling the truth when she said that you had low stats."
Lucius grimaced inwardly. Of course, he had to be reminded that he was leagues below his peers for the umpteenth time already. A few more moments of silence passed as Katherine continued to eye him, until finally...
"Gilly, get to the fighting ring and watch the remaining Duel Rites with the others," Katherine said before pointing at one of the fields where one student could be seen running at a fast, unrelenting pace. "And since you're adamant at taking responsibility for your actions, Lucius, you will have to train thrice as hard on your first day. Just like your other friend over there."
Lucius squinted at the student who was running down the field.
Isn't that Mort?
Gilly's eyes widened. "M-Master Katherine. You can't mean it..."
"Oh, but I do," Katherine said, her face blank and expressionless. "Every student on their first day must be tested to their current physical limits in this class. You should know that since you have gone through it as well."
Gilly whimpered, then nodded weakly as if recalling something traumatic. He then looked at Lucius and whispered, "Let me go with you. Maybe I can convince Master Katherine to split the load between us."
Lucius shook his head and gave Gilly a reassuring glance. He acknowledged that Gilly had already done enough for him considering the amount of information he managed to gather yesterday, and thus, he felt the need to return the favor.
Moreover, after being locked in Askanar Castle for ten years while also being forbidden to train in any sort of way that would increase his Corpus, Lucius decided that it was about time to experience yet another thing that he hadn't experienced before.
Intense physical training.
According to the countless novels that he read, it was every hero's preferred form of self-torture, making it something that he needed to learn to love doing if he wanted to be one.
"Are you ready?"
"Yes, Master Katherine."
Four and a half hours had passed since Lucius went and trained with Mort. After spending so much time training under the sun—his stamina was already depleted and he could somehow taste iron in his mouth, but still, he dragged his trembling and sore body to a weak run.
A twenty-lap run was the first activity that Katherine made him do, and it was also the last. For the past four hours, he had been doing a variety of different exercises with very few breaks that made his entire body sore, thus making it even harder for him to run the second time. It even got to the point where running almost felt like he was slugging through a field of mud rather than treading above dust and clay.
Not much to Lucius's surprise, Mort had finished Katherine's training an hour earlier than him not only because Mort started first, but also because of his higher Virtus—a whopping 192.9 compared to his 99.2.
"Last three laps, new guy," Mort said with a nod while watching Lucius with his friends on the sidelines.
"Come on Lucy, you got this!" Tissette added, although her voice seemed more subdued than usual.
Even some of the other Primus students—now done with their daily training—were enjoying the show. Some were laughing and some looked concerned, but Lucius simply kept on jogging his way unsteadily through the last three laps.
Lucius groaned as his feet suddenly stiffened up right after finishing the second lap, making him trip right in the middle of the track.
"Had enough yet?"
His pride trampled, something within Lucius snapped as soon as he heard Katherine's words. He turned around and glared at the woman who stood behind him with a frown. "No. Just leave me alone so I can finish this."
Seemingly surprised, Katherine raised a brow and said, "Oh? Getting a little feisty are we? Even though you couldn't even finish this training at a reasonable time. Hmm, let me see your Corpus."
Lucius gritted his teeth and complied.
Katherine's eyes narrowed as soon as she saw Lucius's Declaration. The other students who saw it, however, had mixed reactions ranging from hysterical laughter and hushed gasps.
That bad, huh.
Lucius even saw that Tissette, Gilly, Mort, Ardred, and Althea—who was hidden behind them—were instantly bewildered just like the others after seeing what he just revealed.
"Your Corpus is even lower than I thought. Not only that, but it is also lower than the average untrained citizen." Katherine frowned as she chided Lucius. "What have you been doing all this time? Do you think this is all a game?"
Lucius pursed his lips, not knowing what to say to Katherine who looked as if she'd just swallowed a bug.
"Weren't you raised outside of Alavaria? How could you let yourself grow this weak when you've come from a place where you could be exploited at every turn?" Katherine said, her gaze and tone of voice so cold and sharp that it made the other students go silent.
Katherine then leaned down to Lucius's level and whispered. "And you dare think that you're worthy enough to join the academy? How about quitting—"
"Thank you. That would do, Master Katherine," Lucius said as he interrupted Katherine's words with a defiant gaze. Grunting, he leaned on Katherine's shoulder much to her surprise and pulled himself out of the ground before running once again. He did not look back.
Lucius could feel his bones creak and his muscles cramp up with every step that he took. He grimaced as his chest grew heavier and his breathing rasp to the point that he could no longer breathe properly even through his mouth.
Despite that, however, Lucius felt an indescribable emotion welling up in his chest as he tried his damndest to run the final lap. It was a high that he just couldn't get enough of.
The feeling of progress.
Base Corpus has increased by [1.3] points through training.
Corpus: 11 (↑1.3)
Virtus: 100.5 (↑1.3)
Lucius finished the final lap with a relieved sigh and knelt to the ground. Gilly tried to help him up but he refused, instead opting to stand back up with his own two feet before throwing Katherine a determined gaze.
"Excellent work," Katherine said as he looked back at him with a small smile. "Class dismissed!"
"What do you think?" Elrond said after taking a sip of wine and swirling what remained in the glass playfully.
"The boy has grit, Grandmaster El. Not only that but..."
Katherine furrowed her brows. "Despite having a Virtus of 100.5, this kid only has a Corpus of only 11. This could only mean that either his Animus and Sensus values are much higher than his Corpus."
"Yes, yes," Elrond said, nodding. "I have seen his complete stats. He has a very high Sensus for his age. Very awesome indeed. Did you know that he's also just Level 1?"
Katherine's eyes widened. "B-But how? A boy his age can't possibly have improved his mind that much without completing any quests or slaying any aberrants, right? How'd you think he managed to raise it that high?"
"Oh, you wouldn't wanna know," Elrond frowned in disgust as he remembered something unpleasant. "In any case, I want you to keep an eye on this kid's progress just like you would watch over Tissette's. Make sure that you use his willingness to learn and get stronger, but don't fixate on him too much. I want to see how far he'd get with as little outside help as possible, as I do for every student in this academy."
Katherine nodded, then tilted her head. "May I ask why you have taken a sudden interest in this particular student, Grandmaster El?"
"Let's just say that I owe that boy a great deal of debt due to my past actions," Elrond said, his eyes glinting as memories long past went through his mind. Then, with a melancholic smile, he continued, "And he might just be my only hope to get back to Earth. My home."