Unofficial Art Work of Talica.
I looked at the name plate in front of my desk, “Lillianne,” misspelled with an added ‘l.’ I gave it my complete attention, anything to look away from what was going around.
“Don’t turn away,” said our professor.
There was a dead body near the podium. Blood seeped in between the thin lines of the wood floors and spread where its path met the least resistance. Every student in the class had gathered with desks around the professor just as he was about to begin the lesson, and all of us had a complete meal waiting on top of our desks. This consisted of steak, mashed potatoes, corn, and water.
“What do your eyes see?” asked our professor. He paused and took a moment to meet everyone’s eyes before continuing. “Last week we learned how to toy with one’s mind under the effects of an illusion. This week, however, will be different.”
The corpse seemed like it had been there for weeks. Maggots were having a meal at whatever they could reach, even pieces of skin that were falling off added to the buffet of nourishment they had. Quinn’s face was turning green, as if she was about to vomit all over her meal and perhaps her mulberry colored hair. The professor didn’t say it, but what we saw wasn’t just a visual illusion, it was also one we could smell.
There was this unique scent that wasn’t coming from the steak or corn. Certainly not the mashed potatoes. It was a smell close to that of a pickled vegetable. Any worse, and I would have thought there was an open sewage nearby. I looked at my plate and ignored the corpse in the middle of the classroom, knowing that just the smell had me lose any ounce of appetite I had to begin with. The stench was unbelievable.
“What you see will likely differ from student to student,” he continued. “For example, I see the remains of two deceased persons with bite and claw marks carved on their bodies. It may be more intense for others, but believe me when I say that, what you see can and will become a reality on the battlefield.”
One student couldn’t hold it and vomited all over their steak before they could take their first bite. Seeing the mesh of colors that this unfortunate bastard had stored in his stomach forced something in my mine to wake. I could feel the acidic after taste in my throat warning me that I couldn’t endure long.
“Today I expect each and every one of you to leave the sheltered lives you’ve had, and experience firsthand what it means to win a battle.” The professor raised his hand and out came out a purple ooze that engulfed the room like a blanket of mist falling on everyone. The corpse bursts with maggots flying everywhere, some landed near my meal and I held my mouth the moment I felt something building up my throat.
“Lilia,” Quinn placed her hand on my back and released a green vapor and stopped before I could feel its effects.
“Magic is not allowed!” yelled our professor.
I forced everything down my throat and back into my stomach. My hands were shaking, my eyes red as I saw they reflected on the glass of water next to my meal.
“… I’m okay,” I said. My friend Quinn nodded. Four other students released the contents of their stomach and I looked away before I could discern what the little chunks of food they had were made of.
“Now,” said our professor, “eat your meals.”
* * *
The class was over and I was staring down the inside of a toilet. I was stuck waiting there for my stomach to stop being indecisive. I wanted to release everything but it was like a horror being in limbo.
“That was an interesting class,” said Quinn. I had seen other students join me as we had rushed out of class and into the bathroom stalls.
“Shut–,” I said before my stomach had finally made its decision. I bobbed my head inside the toilet and made sounds similar to the ones being heard in the other stalls. .
“He didn’t have to make it more intense,” she added.
“Lilia, are you going to be alright?” Quinn patted my back and held my hair up.
“Why aren’t you suffering like me?” I asked, seconds from adding expletives.
“I skipped breakfast,” she explained. “And I’m somewhat used to these levels of gore.”
We left the bathroom after I washed up, and only when I was certain my stomach wasn’t about to betray me. Quinn leaned against a window in the hallway and outside was the castle from far away. Half of it bathing in sun light while the other cooling off from the high mountainous walls that make Talica unique. It was just as how I remembered it when my family first arrived coming from Stanhal. I used to think violet hair was unique in my family. Turns out there is a whole country of them. It was like entering a strange world too, because everyone we met on the streets had different shades of violet hair. I turned my eyes back on Quinn and her much darker violet-red hair. Almost wine colored, eyes too.
“What did you see?” I asked.
“An orc,” she said. “It had an elvin arrow crystallized deep in its fore-head. I think the rest was eaten by a forest animal.”
We walked down the hall to our next class, passing unfortunate students who were heading to have one very nasty meal. I had the urge to advise them in skipping class for once, but doing so would a disservice to them. By the time we reached our class we saw a young woman wearing black and standing outside conversing with two guards. They weren’t the type we’d see on campus grounds, and going by the trims of their uniform and outward point of their spears, I’d say they were the type only to be found inside the palace.
“These are the students graduating this year?” asked the woman in black. She couldn’t have been more than a year or two older than I was, just by looking at her. Soft and well-kept skin. She had no impurities and her hair, it was a color that matched her clothing, but darker and didn’t seem to shine.
“An elv,” uttered Quinn. I covered her mouth and the girl in black gave us this mean stare.
“Yes, Ma’am,” said the guard, turning to look at both Quinn and I. “But I don’t think we’ll have more than a handful who will make it.”
We bowed to the guards the moment we were to enter the classroom and just as soon my ears filled by students chattering and gossiping. A few nearby spoke about an elv.
“I’ve never seen one before,” he said.
“Doesn’t matter,” said another, “she isn’t welcome here.”
We came up to our desks to find red folders laying on them, just like everyone else. In it were official documents regarding a newly established faction within the Royal Guards. Things we could expect, wages, and required skills were highlighted in blue.
“It pays more than a normal position as a royal guard,” commented Quinn.
“The payment matches the difficulty,” I said, looking directly at the skills wanted from those interested in joining, except for a few lines that caught my eyes. Quinn burst out laughing.
“Maid duties,” she scoffed. “They want a house keeper?”
The skills written on the document did in fact include cleaning, maintaining a building, and serving an individual. The most important, however, being a required set of skills in combat which were also written in bold. Farther down the list was one line that stood out.
Undying fealty to your lord.
The room grew quiet. Everyone stopped flipping through the pages of the document and in came that woman wearing black, followed by two guards. She stood on the podium and waited to receive everyone’s attention. One student rose from his seat.
“What’s an elv doing in this academy? He asked, eyes filled with disgust. One guard tapped the butt of his spear on the wooden floor.
“Mind your manners,” said the guard. “I will not have someone disrespect an honored guest of Princess Glinn.”
“I don’t care who she is,” said the student. “She doesn’t belong in Talica.”
Before the guard could follow up, the woman in black invited herself into the exchange of words.
“I see this school is also filled with people who have no issue disrespecting the royal family,” she said.
The student sat back down, clinching his teeth.
“My name is Aliciven,” she said, “or Alice to make things easier.” She looked at the student who had made a commotion a moment ago and continued. “I won’t touch on matters that don’t involve me. Instead, I will speak on why all of you have received an invitation to join a new group.”
A few students got out of their seats and made their way outside the classroom as she said that. Some could be heard mouthing curses under their breath aimed toward Miss Alice and showing their disinterest in what she had to say. I raised my hand and Miss Alice acknowledged my presence.
“Who is this line, “Undying fealty to your lord,” refer to?” I asked.
“That would be Princess Glinn’s youngest child, Princess Lehvie,” she explained. Everyone returned to talking among themselves in excitement. Few others seemed shocked and were speechless. Quinn was no exception, as she was frozen in place and I took this chance to pinch her cheek. They had become flushed the longer the longer I held my hold.
“But why us?” Quinn raised her hand.
“Princess Lehvie is three years old now, which means she will need personal guards to watch over her,” said Miss Alice, stopping for a moment before continuing. “She will need people she can come to trust, and create a bond between each other as early on in her life.”
“I don’t understand,” Quinn interrupted. “Couldn’t someone more experienced do the same?”
“Certainly,” answered Miss Alice. “However, these people you are referring to are older, much so that they won’t be able to keep up with the Princess’ pace of growth. They’ll be too old in her prime and absolute trust is something that takes a long time to build.”
Another student and in the front row of the class raised their hand. “How will candidates be chosen?”
“That is what I’m here for,” she replied. “If you decide you want to join, then at the end of the holiday you will be invited to meet with the princess. Once you meet her, you will know instantly if you have been chosen or not.”
* * *
The night sky was clear and I could see the stars twinkle. Quinn and I rode the same carriage to return home for the holidays.
“You got lucky,” said Quinn. She was untying the steel plating of armor from her shoulder and placing them on the carriage floor. I looked at the plating layered on my fingers. Some of them were slightly bent where Quinn struck me repeatedly in an attempt to drop my spear during our sparring match.
“It’s not luck when you haven’t beaten me once,” I said with a smirk on my face.
Some of the stars were blocked by moving castles, two of which had rooms lit as signs of someone living there. The chances were that Princess Lehvie was inside one, while the other had her older sister Princess Nes. I looked to Quinn.
“Well,” she said, “we only have a week to come to a decision.”
“You mean what Miss Alice said?”
“Obviously.” We reached a stop and nearby was my house. It was a two floor house with wood trimmings, ‘reeking of middle-class, as Quinn had once put it. “Lilia, I’m going to the market tomorrow. Care to join me?”
I got out of the carriage. Quinn stuck her head out of the carriage window seemingly waiting for my response.
“Yeah. I’ll see you in the morning?”
Quinn nodded and smiled as she returned inside the carriage and left shortly after. When I went to reach for the door it was already being opened by someone inside.
“Welcome,” a young man greeted me inside.
“You are?” I asked. A closer look and it appeared that he wasn’t any older than fifteen. Nor did he have the usual shades of red only found on Talicians. He was like me; a foreigner. Probably, though I still shared my mother’s red hair I’m still from Stanhal.
“I was hired by your father and we received the message that you’d be staying for the holidays,” he explained. “You are Lady Lilia, or am I mistaken?”
“You aren’t mistaken—where is my father now?” I looked around the entrance. A few tables had been moved and walls repainted from the last time I had visited. One thing stood as it hung in the middle of the room on the wall. It was an emblem of an owl guided by a phoenix stitched on a rosewood red cloth.
“A Licia Night Owl,” said my father and made himself present, along with that beard that mother always told him to shave.
“So,” I said, holding back a smile, “it’s official?”
The servant my father hired began helping me remove my armor after a short, ‘If I may,’ and under that the carefully locked pieces of thin chains on padded leather until nothing but my normal wear was left.
“That’s all for now,” said my father, gesturing the boy to leave and I thanked him. The boy bowed and left for the kitchen. My father and I headed straight for the living room where the fire-place was burning wood. He took his seat closest to the fire and mine opposite to his. “We are now recognized as full citizens under her Majesty.”
I smiled, and again, holding an urge to jump for joy. “It’s good to see you, father.”
“That’s hard to believe,” he took a smoke pipe from his chest pocket and lit it up with a flick of his finger, “seeing as how you haven’t visited in weeks.”
“Well, it’s hard to do so when your love for smoking seems to surpass the one for your own daughter.”
My father coughed in what was probably the taste of guilt over the smoke he had just puffed.
“Forgive me,” he said, returning his pipe back in his pocket. “After your mother passed—”
“I know,” I interrupted.
“So,” he said, scratching the brown hairs on his beard, “you’ll be staying over the entire holiday?”
“Just for a few days. I’ll be staying over to practice at Quinn’s for the remainder.”
“Shame,” he said. “Stanhal sees great weather this time of year.”
“Perhaps another time,” I said. “There’s something I need to speak to you about.”
“Go on then.”
“..I’m thinking about joining a new faction within the Royal Guards.”
“You already know that you have my blessings,” he said.
“And you always did the opposite of what mother wanted…” I said.
“Yes,” he said, “and she hated the very moment you told us about wanting to join the military. I suppose it eased her mind when you considered joining the royal guards, as they see less combat in their service, but to what end?” He sighed after taking a long look at me. “Do what makes you happy.”
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