I am so short of breath that I feel like I am going to die, walking down this many flights of stairs was hard enough, imagine running in what seems like a marathon, we are totally late. I just don't know why I still have hope that Carrie won't be late, I stopped by her room at 7:40 to make sure she wouldn't be late, and she was still looking for clothes to wear and to make matters worse, she somehow managed to cast a spell on me where I didn't even realize the time was passing while she was winding me up, the result is that it is now 8:10 and we are still half way to the cafeteria, this sucks!
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity we reach the huge door of the cafeteria, I look at the culprit of our delay for the thousandth time still with anger in my eyes, she looks at me and gives me a huge smile, I shake my hands into fists, I just want to see if she will keep laughing later, I push her to go ahead and open the door but she simply refuses and moves away from the door, we start a silent sign fight, where I tell her to go fuck herself and open the damn door soon, she answers by denying with her head and showing her middle finger.
- What are you guys doing?
Carrie and I quickly stopped fighting and looked back to where the sound of the voice came from, Logan had his hands in his pockets and was looking at us curiously accompanied by Caleb who seemed totally disinterested and totally focused on opening his lollipop package. Logan takes his hands out of his pockets and looks from Carrie to me with a penetrating and may I say mesmerizing look, crossing his arms over his chest he raises his eyebrows waiting for our response. These guys were really beautiful, but as they say, what you see on the outside can be different from what you are on the inside, and well, I really think that saying was meant for these two. Carrie puts down the finger that was culpably cursing me earlier and pulls herself together looking at Logan.
- W-Weren't you two supposed to be inside?
Carrie tidied her hair and decidedly crossed her arms over her chest as well, I catch Logan staring blatantly at her breasts, not even trying to disguise it, with a smile, maybe the first I've seen since I got here, and lean forward giving her his full attention.
- I think I was the one who asked that question first.
Carie clears her throat and looks away, uncrossing her arms and running her hands through her hair, Logan chuckles and looks back to where Caleb was standing, seeing that he is still fighting fiercely against the lollipop wrapper
- Looks like we're not the only ones late to this fucking speech.
Caleb babbles something trying to rip the wrapper open with his teeth, Logan sighs and looks at the two of us again. Rolling my eyes I move towards Carrie who looks extremely annoyed, beside her I hold up my chin, my five foot four inches tall, exuding superiority.
- Well, you're going in, right? You can go ahead.
Logan takes a step back and starts laughing, really laughing, loud and loud, I despair looking at the door, wondering if I can hear him from inside the cafeteria, while I make signs, unintelligible it seems, for him to be quiet.
- Oh, I get it.
Carrie, who now looks even angrier, takes a step toward Logan and crosses her arms, clenching them insistently and firmly.
- Get what?
Logan sighs, wiping the tears from the corners of his eyes, finally stopping laughing and putting his hands back in his pockets.
- Don't worry you'll get attention anyway, being late is just another bonus.
I feel a heavy air behind me and a hand on my shoulder, I don't even have to look back to know who it is, its negative aura is already present enough.
- What is going on here?
Brien is standing behind me with his mouth foaming with hatred as he looks at everyone with an angry and crazed look in his eyes, I try to disguisedly release myself from his grip, but he ends up squeezing me even tighter.
- Oh I got it.
Caleb punches the air when he finally manages to open the lollipop package, while I desperately try to come up with an excuse since apparently no one was willing to say anything.
- S-sorry we're a little late, it's just...
Brien interrupts me, letting go of my shoulder and forcing me to face him, Carrie grabs my arm and pulls me to her side.
- I said I would not tolerate tardiness, I don't want to hear excuses, now get in and get to your seats immediately.
Without a second thought I walk into the room realizing that everyone is now looking in our direction as we make the walk of shame and embarrassment to our seats, I couldn't help but overhear the conversation of those who stayed behind.
- And you two, this meeting is also important for you to get to know your new companions.
I peek back and see Caleb with his arm over Brien's shoulder who looks at him angrily, at his rather cheeky gesture.
- Okay, okay stay cool, we're only twenty minutes late and look we've already met two newbies.
Brien takes Caleb's arm off his shoulders with a jerky motion and gives them room to pass still staring at them with his eyes.
- They go right in.
Caleb and Logan nonchalantly enter the room attracting everyone's attention, they have this power to attract all the attention to them, and I silently hope they keep it up, so everyone can forget we're here too. I don't realize that I was staring at them sitting across the room until Caleb winks at me, and as if out of a trance I turn my attention away and look at Brien who tries to get everyone's attention by clapping his hands.
- All right, attention, now that everyone is here we can start the introductions, as I was saying tomorrow you will actually start the classes that are divided into five core subjects, where you can develop and hone your natural and battle talents.
I look again at where the boys were and see Logan disinterestedly playing with a pen and Caleb with his head resting on his hands, still sucking his lollipop, I roll my eyes and turn my attention to the queen who now holds the floor.
- As you all know the so-and-so has returned with an unknown strength and could attack at any moment, the mission of all of you is to defend and protect those who cannot. That is why this training is very important regardless of the type, quantity or function of your talents, you are all special. I'm going to leave the floor now to Brien who is going to explain exactly what you are going to do and how these classes are going to be.
Brien stands up and curtsies to the queen, who while sitting down waves in our direction, returning the gesture, Brien claps his hands again getting everyone's attention.
- Thank you your highness, well, your classes are divided into five core subjects which are, history of Baruel and its creatures, taught by teacher Anabel Blinq argon from the Animalia Kingdom, defense and attack against dark creatures by teacher Gaspel de custen from the Elemental Kingdom, medical care and survival by teacher Denger Caprini del Misting from the Animal Kingdom, improvement and practice of natural talents by teacher Guccie Francesc from the Illuminare Kingdom and last but not least protection and attack with tools and body fighting by our teacher Briden Lisen arthurt from the Illuminare Kingdom. - Brien pauses, placing his hands on the table and leaning his body forward. - Tomorrow those of you who are new to the department report punctually to the courtyard at seven o'clock in the morning to pick up your schedules, uniforms, tools, and other materials you will need for class. Okay, before the banquet is served I would like you to introduce yourselves, with your name, age, kingdom and family to which you belong, one at a time please.
A girl to our right stood up, she was extremely beautiful, that kind of beauty that doesn't seem real, she had long silky blonde hair that went down loosely to below her waist, she was tall, apparently one and seventy, looking like a supermodel from Vogue, her eyes were of such an intense blue color that without a shadow of a doubt anyone could get lost in their sparkles. Besides her notorious beauty, she presented a seemingly strong and deadly personality, I am sure that several people were even intimidated by her presence, I decide to make a mental note just in case, if you ever think of picking a fight with her. She lifted her chin elegantly as everyone fell silent to listen to her.
- I am Elenor Palleng Cusford, eighteen years old, daughter of Philip Arnald Cusford and Elen Lucci Palleng, of the Illuminare Kingdom, and I hope, with all my strength and power, to honor the name of my family and of the kingdom by defending the weakest, and by devoting myself entirely to this, being able to give up my own life to fulfill it.
Brien looks really moved, while everyone in the room remains silent, I look at Rebecca and see her rolling her eyes.
- Nice words Miss Elenor, it's good to know that we have students with such dedication, it would be great if everyone was like that. You may take a seat, please, next.
Elenor returns to her seat, not before nodding slightly to Caleb, who returns the gesture bored. The next to introduce himself is a boy who was sitting next to Rebecca, the boy was super tall and thin with black hair and eyes the same color, seemed a little shy and moved his hands a lot as a sign of nervousness.
- H-hello my name is Cam Griden Sloran, I am the son of Jeffrey Louis Sloran and Esther Kety Griden of the Elemental Kingdom-he pauses and looks down still moving his hands. - e-I am very much looking forward to the lessons.
Brien nods and gestures for Cam to sit down.
- Thank you Mr. Cam, so who's next?
Rebecca stands up with a frown on her face, everyone is looking at her and I could tell that despite the enormous effort she is making to remain calm, she is showing nervousness.
- Um, I-I please.
Brien nods and asks her to continue, Rebecca takes another breath and leans on the table.
- I'm Rebecca Lisen Roman, um, I'm Margaret Lisen Roman's daughter from the Illuminare kingdom, and well I-I don't know who my father is, so...
Several people start commenting and even laughing at Rebecca who sighs and sits back in her seat and crosses her arms angrily. I can just imagine when Carrie and I introduce ourselves. Brien claps his hands again trying to get everyone's attention.
- Silence please, thank you Miss Rebecca, next please.
And so each of the newcomers introduced themselves, and each one who stood up to introduce themselves, my heart soared with the realization that my turn was approaching. As I was lost in my thoughts, Carrie gives me a pinch on my arm, when I lift my face I realize that everyone is looking at us, so fuck it, the time has come.
- Well you two are the only ones left, please introduce yourselves.
I look at Carrie who bravely stands up and crosses her hands in front of her body.
- I, um, yeah.
Carrie starts to stutter, and everyone looks at her more intently. Taking another breath, Carrie closes her eyes for a moment and when she opens them again, she straightens her body, lifting her chin in a more determined gesture.
- I-I'm Carrie Mandison Illuminare, daughter of Kate Mandison Becker and Mason Dunkel Illuminare, well I didn't know my parents and I'm also new not only to this academy but to this world as well, so... that's it.
The conversations turned intermittently, everyone looked at her with astonishment and I might even say admiration, I could hear comments like, "that's not possible", "she is the daughter of the Queen's sister", "that makes her royalty", "she is Prince Caleb's cousin then?". I look in terror at people's reactions, I wonder what they will say when I tell them whose daughter she is, my heartbeat can be heard from miles away and it felt like it truly wanted to burst out of my chest. Brien also looks startled looking at the queen, who nods, after a few seconds he looks at Carrie again and lowers his head.
- A-a yes my condolences Miss Carrie, although I did not know your parents I can say that your parents were amazing and we all owe them a lot, they would be proud to see you now.
Carrie gives a small, genuine smile and sits back down looking at me and holding my hands for comfort.
- And you ? please introduce yourself.
I hear Brien speaking to me, but it sounds too distant and too low, if my heart was beating fast before, now it is going crazy, how can I tell all these people that I am the granddaughter of the man who destroyed their lives and killed the ones they loved? While everyone was still distracted by Carrie I thought it might be possible to do this, but now everyone has their attention on me again, and I already feel the weight of their judgments.
- It's going to be okay...
Carrie squeezes my hands tighter and tries to reassure me, if only I had at least one percent of her trust, I stand up with some difficulty, and look at the floor, even though I am not at all to blame for my grandfather's actions, somehow I couldn't really look them in the eye.
- O-m-my name is Lauren-I take another pause, I will say everything at once and sit down, that's it, I just need to do it, take another breath and look forward, trying to find the same determination Carrie found. - M-my name is Lauren Dunkel Armstrong, she is the daughter of Silvia Dunkel Illuminare and of Lambert Armstrong Shallon.
I wait for the numerous comments, but the only thing I escort is the sound of a chair dragging and footsteps to the door, I open my eyes and see Caleb leaving the hall, followed by Logan who tries to catch up with him. Everyone looks morbid including Brien, no one says a single word they just look at me in awe and.... fear? after what seemed like years, Brien breaks the silence.
- Yes Miss Lauren I am sorry about your... parents. Well, now that everyone has introduced themselves, let's eat shall we.
Everyone keeps looking at me like I'm some kind of freak, I can't stand that feeling, I walk in a hurry to the door of the hall and leave, I feel everyone's eyes following me and hear Carrie calling me and coming after me, but I couldn't stay there anymore, and as much as I wanted to wake up from this nightmare, I knew I would face much more the next day, when classes really start, I follow the corridor and go up the stairs, finally arriving at my room with Carrie right behind me, I collapse on the bed and Carrie falls on my side, hugging me.
- We're fucked, aren't we?
Carrie gives me a small smile and squeezes me tighter.
- When have we not been?
Tomorrow is going to be a long, hellish day, and I need to prepare my psychology to face it, but what do you do if your psychology is already completely fucked?
My cheek now lies on the cold damp floor of the training room while a girl, who I can't fucking remember the name, is on top of me immobilizing my arm while I desperately try to get free, the room was packed and I can feel all the eyes excited on me, and on my pathetic somewhat failed escape attempt. The girl then puts more pressure on me and I feel as if my arm is being ripped away from me, I try to change my position to ease the pain, but this only makes the situation worse making me let out a groan of pain, it has been about three days since classes started and I was not surprised to find out that I am horrible at all the subjects I have taken so far, everyone was trying very hard and doing their best and as hard as I tried I couldn't do a third of what they were doing either.
- All right, Nora, we don't want to break her arm, do we?
Miss Briden stopped in front of us and stared at me with pure contempt, she was a stupidly strong and merciless middle-aged woman, she taught the class on Protection and Attack with Tools and Body Fights, but it could just as well have another name like, torture of troubled teenagers who want to take their anger out on any living idiot, like me, I'm glad we were only in the body fighting parts, I don't know what I would do if I had to fight with a sword or a dagger.
While Nora, you can be sure I will keep that name for the rest of my life, came out on top of me, I pulled my arm slowly and felt a huge relief when I saw that no matter how numb it was, it didn't seem to be broken, sighing I sat up slowly still massaging them. The day after the fateful dinner in which we were introduced to everyone, we gathered in the courtyard with the other new students still receiving stares and comments, I am still trying to get over it, and we were resigned to go to our lockers where there would be our uniforms, class schedules, and also tools that we could ultilize, and when I say tools it goes from notebooks, pencils, pens and erasers to daggers, knives, ropes and swords, it was very reassuring to think about what kind of classes we would have given our "tools".
I was even more shaken when I realized that Carrie and I didn't have the same schedules for most of the classes, of the five, only one did we go together, otherwise Caleb was in all of them, although he wasn't a beginner he was a teacher's helper and helped those who had more difficulty, basically me, I know for sure it was a request from the queen so that they could keep an eye on both of us since Logan was in all of Carrie's classes too, since the day of the dinner when Caleb left the room we haven't spoken, when he spoke to me it was strictly professional, but this in a way is good, so I'm avoiding any contact with him or Logan. Groaning, I stand up still with Miss Briden's gaze on me making me look down, sighing she puts her hands on my shoulders and starts massaging my back.
- All right everyone, you're dismissed for today, rest up for our next class.
She spoke so enthusiastically that I was almost euphoric too, I said almost, still massaging me, and she looked at me seriously, shaking her head negatively.
- In all my fifteen long years of teaching here at the castle, I have never had a student as bad as you.
All right, even though I know it's possibly true, her saying it out loud makes me feel stupidly ridiculous.
- But, they say that the strongest warrior starts out as the worst in her class.
She pauses dramatically, closing her eyes and putting her hand on her chest, her personality doesn't match her appearance, she had long hair, a long braid that went down to her waist, and a body that was the envy of her long training series, and just like this contrast in personality I can also feel this contrast in her words, that is to say, as much as she was trying to encourage me, those words were not true, sighing she stops massaging me and turns me around, forcing me to look at her.
- All right, I don't believe this, I confess, but you have to try harder, I don't think you understand what kind of situation you're in yet. Everyone is desperately trying as fast as possible to get stronger, because the bad guy is knocking on our doors and when he comes after you, and you can be absolutely sure that he will, you have to be able to defend yourself, do you understand? And defend all those who can't do that. That's why you are here, that's why all of you are here, but I can't feel that will in you.
I understood absolutely everything Miss Briden was saying, and I felt guilty in thinking that what I wanted most was to go back to my life with Carrie and forget all about it. But in a way I was also trying in my own way, I mean, all these people were created here in this world and know their power, Carrie and I didn't even know it existed or that we had this same power. But I feel that Miss Briden would not understand this if I told her so I just nod my head sighing and look down, she puts one hand on my shoulder while running her hands through her hair with the other.
-It's okay, it's okay, there's no need to be like that, starting today you'll be getting extra lessons every day at six o'clock right here in the training room.
I immediately look at her wide-eyed, damn it, I should have said something and not just agreed with her, and now what do I do, this is not what I wanted, if it's hard enough to spend hours training and fighting, once a week for five hours straight, now I'll have to do it every day. Miss Briden lets go of my shoulder and starts to leave the room, desperately trying to think of an argument for her.
- No-no more waiting...
Miss Bridem just smiles and waves back, swinging the shoes she was carrying in her hands.
- You don't have to thank me now, thank me when you're fucking strong.
I was fucked up. After a few minutes lost in the inertia of my thoughts I decide to go to lunch because I couldn't stand up anymore, I go to the refectory and get in line to get my lunch, despite the weird shapes the food was really good and I was already getting used to the looks from people to me, I go to the table where Rebecca, Cam and Carrie were already waiting for me. Right on the first day of class we were closer to both of them, the students had a stupid rule of separating those who were more powerful both in power and financial levels from those who were the opposite, everyone was surprised when Carrie, daughter of the former king of the Illuminare kingdom and the sister of the current queen, and I, daughter of the younger sister of the former king of the Illuminare kingdom and the son of the king of Kingdom Shallon, even if this last part brought repulsion, we were, and I am still trying to get used to it, royalty, we sat with the commoners, their words not mine. It was almost a crime to sit with Rebecca who worked as a maid in the castle to help her family and Cam who was the son of farmers, well, fuck all of them, they certainly had better hearts than all of these people put together.
Carrie and I decided to investigate what was happening to us, but to start the investigation we first had to know where to investigate, so we asked Rebecca and Cam where we could find information about ancient history or languages, making up some excuse for this sudden interest, saying that we were interested in learning a little more about this place. As much as Rebecca and Cam were nice and fun, we still could not trust them enough to tell them what had happened to us, we did not know if they would keep it a secret and we could not afford to try, they told us to look in the library and even enthusiastically offered to help us. We decided to go after lunch, but now I am completely unmotivated to do this search.
I sat down on the stool beside Carrie with a thud, throwing my tray on the table in disgust, everyone stopped talking and looked at me in awe, Carrie's eyes widened and she sighed, tilting her head at me.
- What have you gotten yourself into now Lauren?
I look at her with merciful eyes and lower my head pretending to cry. I hear Rebecca and Cam laughing at my misfortune causing my despair and anger to increase. I lift my head up for good realizing that no one was asking me why I was supposedly crying.
- Do you really care about me? You are such shitty friends.
They laugh even louder and Carrie follows them, that little traitor, Rebecca finishes laughing and drinks some water closing her eyes and breathing deeply.
- You had to see her face, all right Lauren what happened?
I look at her with disdain and turn my face away angrily, I wait a few seconds to make them more curious, it does me good to think that they are really interested in my lamentations, everyone now expects me to speak, okay I achieved my goal.
- Today in Miss Briden's class I had a horrible performance - I pause, stroking my arm, remembering the unbearable pain I felt. - Now she wants me to take private lessons with her every day at six o'clock and I don't know what I'll do.
Cam sighs and looks at me with pitying eyes, Carrie puts her spoon on her plate and touches my arm.
- I'm not going to laugh at you anymore Lauren because I'm not one of the best students either, in fact I think I'm among the worst, but can't you say no?
I lean my face against the table, wrinkling my cheek and pouting.
- Given the way she said it, I don't think so.
Rebecca puts the food in her mouth completely oblivious to my distress, after swallowing her food and drinking some water she looks at me sighing.
- Oh come on, you must not have done so bad.
I look up to where Rebecca was standing and close my eyes remembering the harsh and spunky words Miss Briden said.
- Rebecca, Miss Briden said that I was the worst student she ever had, so yes, I was past bad.
Everyone rolls their eyes and looks at me pityingly, I cover my face again with my hands and pretend to cry. Suddenly everything around me becomes quiet, I don't hear but people talking, cutlery scraping the plates or even the breathing of the people around me, all I hear are footsteps coming towards us and a warm body sitting beside me. I lift my head slowly and see Caleb beside me and Logan sitting on the other side between me and Carrie, both of them with their trays and inviting themselves to join us for lunch.
- Can we have lunch with you?
I hear sighs and exclamations, I look around and see that everyone is looking at our table, Rebecca and Cam are wide-eyed and with their mouths slightly open, without waiting for our answer they both start to eat, what the hell do they want with us? I look at the table where they usually sit, logically full of snobbish people including Elenor who were staring at us. According to Rebecca, Elenor was a childhood friend of Caleb and Logan, and since she was a little girl she has had a somewhat obsessive crush on Caleb, according to her, Caleb and Logan are very closed and focused on work and therefore do not let anyone get close, the only people they have some contact is with Elenor and her twin brother Noah, who was equally snobbish, and for this reason Elenor is the only girl close to them and they seem to get along, this really does not surprise me given that the two match perfectly with each other.
What I want to understand is why they sat at our table and not where they usually sit. I straighten my posture and look at Caleb next to me, who is simply eating, pretending to be totally oblivious to the whole situation.
- Excuse me, if it's not too much trouble I'd like to know why you're sitting here?
Caleb continues eating as if nothing is wrong, while everyone else waits for an answer, sighing I bite my lips and close my eyes already feeling my anger rising.
- We're having lunch.
Caleb answers with a smile realizing that I was already losing my temper, I close my hands into fists and try to keep my composure, making a fuss and kicking them off the table would not do us any good, since everyone was looking at us. I put a smile on my face and put my hands on the table, trying to appear calm.
- What I mean is why are you having lunch here and not where you normally eat lunch.
This time Logan drags the tray over and brings it closer to him in a gesture of comfort and reassurance as I am about to combust.
- We decided to have lunch with you today," Logan looks at Rebecca and Cam, with a cynical and debauched look in his eyes. - Are you guys okay with this?
Rebecca and Cam slowly nod their heads in denial, still wide-eyed, Logan gives a small smile looking at Carrie and I with raised eyebrows. Carrie returns her gaze to Logan with a calmness I wish I had now, I was never good at arguing unlike Carrie who always knew exactly what to say and what words to use carefully, I would take the physical part of the fight, kind of kicking some ass.
- Aren't you going to say what you really came here to do?
Just as calmly, Logan puts a tomato in his mouth and chews it gently while still looking at Carrie with a smile.
- Let's go with you to the library, I'm sure we can help you with your sudden interest in this world.
Carrie turns pale and I stare, how did they know we were going to the library? Could they have known something? Carrie clears her throat and shifts in her chair, looking a little nervous of course Logan and Caleb have noticed.
- N-No need to worry about that, we are going with Rebecca and Cam, don't bother.
Carrie tries to deflect the situation, but knowing these two, well from what little I know, I already know they won't give up even if we have the best offer in the world. Caleb looks at Carrie with disdain and teases her.
- Oh come on, it wouldn't be a bother at all, it's nice to know they're interested in knowing a little more about the world they were born into.
I lower my head on the table for a few seconds, I just don't know how this day could get any worse, raising my head slowly I am met with a sober look watching me, if a look could kill someone surely Elenor would have killed me by now, God was really just a catch phrase.