Hidden 15 days ago 15 days ago Post by Obscene Symphony
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"I was wondering what you could tell me about Lucan Bordeleaux. I'm aware that you both have ties to the Noila family and was hoping...maybe you could give me some insight on him?"

Aaron's eyebrows shot up and his smile faltered, and a look of confused shock crossed his face. "...Lucan?" he wondered aloud.

He would never had believed it had the young man not handed him the photograph. But there he was, right there on a pairing sheet with the Noila crest and everything, all carefully constructed stoicism and beaten-in composure. Aaron's face split into a wide smile, some combination of disbelief and elation. "You lie," he gasped, before laughing once and smacking the photo with the back of his free hand. "I can't believe it!"

Still smiling, Aaron whipped out his phone and opened his messenger app, tapping out a quick text to Lucan and shooting disbelieving glances at the new mage as he did so.

> You sneaky bastard! You never told me you'd be here too!

Once he was done, he returned the picture and enthusiastically shook the mage's offered hand, who introduced himself as Salem Spellman.

"Great to meet you Salem, I'm Aaron Starag, but I guess you already knew that," he stuck his phone back in his pocket, leaning back and glancing around between Salem and Lilie, still surprised by the fact that Lucan was attending the Academy too. "You really won the lottery there Salem," he began, gesturing to the photo. "He's been my teacher for the past five years, taught me almost everything I know about swordplay, self-discipline, that sort of thing. Music too. I don't know what I would have turned into without him." A fond look crossed Aaron's face as he thought back, resting his left hand absently on the pommel of his sword before nodding with a grin in Salem's direction. "You're in good hands, I can guarantee you that."

His phone buzzed in his pocket, and he checked it to find a text back from Lucan.

> I wasn't truly given a choice, like most things. But the question is how exactly do you know I'm here?

Aaron nearly rolled his eyes at Lucan's usual formal tone before his lips caught a mischievous smirk. "Here, we'll get a rise out of him," Aaron said to Salem, crossing over next to him and opening the camera on his phone. He gently nudged Salem with his shoulder as he held the phone up to catch both of them in frame. "Smile."

He snapped the picture without leaving a whole lot of time for Salem to respond, looking very pleased with himself. He tapped out his next message to Lucan, sending the picture right after.

> Because look who I'm talking to!

With that, Aaron put his phone away for good, done for the moment with being impolite. "You and I are probably going to be seeing more of each other, Salem," he noted, and remembering Salem's second request, added "And of course, I'd be happy to help you study magic. You and anyone else interested." He shrugged, reminding himself not to be prideful. "But remember, I'm still learning."

Aaron was practically beaming. His Academy experience so far, while short, had been a roller coaster of excitement, horror, self-doubt and cautious optimism. Having William and Sariel around had been a small comfort, but now with Lucan there too, he was feeling a lot more like he could handle things. That, and it made him a little more confident that there really was a good reason for him being there, that he wasn't just being thrown away. After all, he highly doubted the Noilas were disposing of the Knight of the damn Evening, so maybe his own fate was a little more hopeful too. Nonetheless, Lucan was like a brother to him and knowing he was around was a welcome lifeline.

As he stood there with Lilie and Salem, and others in their year all around, Aaron felt lighter. Like the weight of the whole situation had been temporarily lifted. Without vampires around there was no upper class weighing down on them, and even though there were still expectations to meet (he was a Starag after all, they were meant to set an example) the consequences were a lot less dire. He allowed himself to be optimistic. Here he was, talking, making friends, spending the most time of his life thus far with people his own age. People seemed impressed by his magic. Lucan was around campus somewhere. In that moment, it really seemed like his time at the Academy would be a good thing after all, a chance to escape the ancient halls of Noila Castle and live a little with his peers before his life of servitude came into full swing. There was still the matter of uncertainty, and Varis... well, there was still hope for Varis. On the whole, things seemed to be looking up.
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It wasn't long before the ship was deemed finally ready and Aurelia and Willa were escorted aboard, led to a large cabin at the stern by two of her personal guard, accompanied as always by the Firthian ambassador.

"Are you quite sure, Your Grace?" asked the Ambassador with that weasely little mouth of his as Aurelia invited him to take his leave.

"Oh, I insist," Aurelia purred dangerously, Willa already helping her out of her cloak, "Please Ambassador, go make yourself comfortable somewhere."

The Ambassador looked displeased for a moment before schooling his features back into his practiced shifty grin and bowing. "As you wish," he conceded, skulking out the door with his minions.

"Greasy rat," Aurelia spat as soon as the door had closed behind him.

"Maybe he'll fall overboard..." Willa wondered aloud, eliciting a chuckle from the Princess.

The cabin was suitable enough, Aurelia supposed. Decently sized, with a large feather bed for her on one end and a smaller one on the other for Willa, a vanity, private lavatory and a table with a few chairs in front of large windows. Her most immediately needed belongings, a few trunks of clothing and other essentials, were stacked neatly in one corner, as was a trunk filled with Willa's belongings. At the very least, it would be nice to be sleeping in the same bed for more than one night as they made the two-week crossing to Sommerfirth.

With a long sigh, Aurelia fell back onto her bed, thankful for the chance to rest and only slightly unnerved by the gentle rocking of the ship beneath her. For a moment, both she and Willa were silent, Willa having sunk into a chair near the window.

The moment was short-lived, however, as suddenly a chorus of muffled shouts rose from the deck, accompanied by the sound of clashing steel and pounding feet.

"What on the Gods' good earth-" Aurelia's exasperated complaint was cut short by another sound, a much louder thud against the wall of her cabin. The shining point of a broadhead peeked through a split in the wood.

Aurelia shot up, started to her feet, and Willa rushed to the door, throwing the deadbolt down across it before retreating back to the window. Aurelia joined her, putting as much space between her and the door as possible.

"What's happening?" Willa cried, voice shaking with fear and eyes watering.

Aurelia kept her eyes trained on the door, frozen, listening over the sound of her own racing heart for any more activity. Indeed, the din on deck grew louder, footsteps thundering this way and that and shouting much closer now.

"Bandits," she gasped, snapping out of her shock and grabbing hold of Willa's arm, dragging the younger girl to the corner furthest from the door. She looked desperately around for another exit, but there was none.

"What do we do?!" Willa's voice was becoming more frantic, and she was beginning to panic.

Aurelia turned to her, eyes hard and deadly serious. For a second she thought, and noticed the gleaming jewelry Willa wore, a small but valuable necklace and a matching set of earrings. Her service staff had always been adorned like this; Aurelia would accept nothing less from the women and girls who attended her.

Without explanation, Aurelia grabbed hold of Willa's necklace and pulled, snapping it from her neck and throwing it behind her. Precious stones scattered across the floor, but Aurelia paid them no mind.

"You are going to run," she commanded, going for Willa's earrings next.

Willa's eyes finally overflowed, but her expression was shocked. "What?"

Once Aurelia had rid Willa of her earrings (thinking the girl would be safer from bandits if she weren't wearing anything obviously valuable) she jabbed a finger into the girl's abdomen, where a delicately embroidered pattern sparkled. "Take off the dress."

The din outside grew closer still, and Aurelia could now make out a few words, though nothing any more useful than "There!" and "Halt!" and a particularly disturbing "Where is she!?"

Aurelia was eerily calm as she searched the room for an escape, but found nothing except the window.

She whipped back to Willa. "Can you swim?"

Willa was a mess, standing there with her dress pooled on the floor, wearing nothing but a linen slip. "What?"

Aurelia marched over to the girl and pinned her to the wall, forcing the maid to look at her. "Can. You. Swim."

Willa nodded.

Aurelia released her and crossed the room to the table, where a heavy bowl filled with fruit had been set out. She dumped out its contents, turned and threw it as hard as she could through the window, spinning unsteadily with the effort. The window broke with a deafening crash and the bowl sailed down into the harbour. Glass scattered across the floor.

Aurelia turned back to Willa and pointed to the now-broken window. "Jump."

Willa looked on helplessly, frozen in place.

Aurelia marched back over to her and took her urgently by the arm, half-dragging the poor maid to the window. Willa looked out of it and down, where the harbour rocked leisurely about three storeys below.

"I can't!" Willa cried.

Aurelia's expression was firm. "Yes you can," she stated, more a command than a reassurance. She took Willa's wrist and lifted it up. On it the maid wore a form-fit silver cuff, with the royal crest stamped on one side and Aurelia's personal crest, a songbird with wings spread and a magnolia in its beak, stamped on the other. It was a symbol of status, marking Willa as a personal attendant to the Princess.

"Swim to the docks, and when you get there, hide this as best you can until you find the Wickport Garrison." Aurelia tried to keep eye contact with the Willa, but the girl kept sneaking terrified glances at the ocean below. "When you do, show them this and tell them who you are. They will protect you."

"But Princess-"

"They do not want you!" Aurelia shouted, pointing to the ever-louder squabble of probably-bandits outside the door, "But if you stay here I cannot guarantee your safety."


"Go!" Aurelia shrieked. The look in her eyes could draw blood. "That is an order!"

Willa flinched but did as she was told, looking back at the Princess only once with fearful eyes before taking several quick breaths and willing herself out of the window. Aurelia watched her fall, kept her eyes trained on the spot where she landed until she was satisfied that Willa had indeed resurfaced and was making her way back to the docks.

With Willa gone, Aurelia's boldness disappeared almost immediately, and she backed against the window still intact, sinking down to the floor. She wanted to jump too, to get away, but she had no way of knowing she wouldn't be found by the ship's attackers if she left. Not to mention, if she were to run, her guards - wherever the hell they were - might not know where she was to protect her. She was fairly confident that the bandits - Gods, let it be bandits and not something worse - wouldn't kill her if they found her. She was far too valuable alive.

The thought was not of much comfort and Aurelia's heart raced. She had been aware that attacks were a risk on the road, especially for a company of this caliber, but she had never seriously considered that it would actually happen to her. Aurelia's breathing became erratic. Inky blackness pressed in at the edges of her vision. Her hands shook as she grabbed a nearby piece of broken glass, wrapping the hem of her dress around the bottom of it to protect her hands and brandishing it like a weapon, trained on the door.

Suddenly, there was much louder banging. Her door convulsed with every impact, deadbolt rattling in its braces. They'd found her.
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Aurelia flinched each time her door sprang against the deadbolt, watched on in wide-eyed horror as the beams began to warp and splinter. There was shouting everywhere, but she could hardly hear it, hardly hear the crashing and banging on her own door over her heartbeat. She found herself pressing ever harder against the window, knees tightly up against her chest, pressing back against the glass as if she could will herself through it. She had such a grip on her shard of glass that it cut through the layers of her dress and bit into her trembling fingers. She didn't care.

From somewhere on deck there came a ferocious sound, raw and animal, ripping through the ship's holds. Then, a moment later, a great whoosh that rumbled, but never subsided.

Aurelia smelled smoke.

Through the broken window she could hear the desperate cries of dying men and a cacophony of steel and pounding feet over the rush of the sea. Something fell off the stern of the ship behind her and crashed into the water; Aurelia didn't see what it was, but as it fell it had been screaming.

A glance out at the fading light revealed a dangerous orange glow above, flickering in the darkening sky and glinting off the water. Smoke was seeping through the ceiling; she could see flames licking between the beams. Now and then sparks rained down upon her as someone or something pounded across the top of the cabin, and the occasional crack of weakened wood reminded her that her time was running out.

Suddenly, there was shouting outside the door, though she couldn't make out what was said; then, grunts and cries of pain, the shing of grinding metal, soft thumping and a great crack. Then, a voice.


“Princess?! I’m coming in.”

Aurelia barely managed to brace herself before the door exploded inward, a shower of wood and splinters raining down on her. She hid her face from the barrage; when she looked up, she was met with the hulking form of Ser Kincade, all armour and massive wings silhouetted against the hazy glow of the corridor behind him.

“My lady, come with me, quick! We have to get off the ship.”

Aurelia had never been so happy to see the half-breed in her life.

There was no hesitation; Aurelia leapt to her feet, discarded her painful weapon and rushed to the knight, taking his extended hand with both of hers. She could have dissolved into frantic sobbing right there from the relief, but that would have to wait. When she looked up, she saw the shining enamel of his cuirass was awash in red; it didn't register as a problem. The blue eagle underneath it was all that mattered to her.
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Ser Kincade started grabbing bags and handed Aurelia her cloak with a command to put it on. She offered no protest and swept the thick grey cotton over her shoulders, stabbing herself more than once with shaking hands as she tried to fasten the pin over her collarbone. The smoke was growing thick and Aurelia pulled her hood around, pressing the fabric over her nose and mouth in an effort to get in a clean breath. Meanwhile, Asher was making quick work of the window.

"We're going to fly. Please hold on tight, my Lady. I'm afraid you're going to have to trust me." The half-dragon moved behind her, guiding her back and arranging his arms over hers around her torso. Even with his bulky armour his arms enveloped her easily, and somewhere in the far reaches of her mind Aurelia remarked just how large a creature he was. She'd never really given it much thought, having only but once come close enough to him to even notice.

At the moment, though, she wasn't concerned. We're going to fly?!

There was no time to consider it further as the knight lifted Aurelia with ease, pausing only a second for two laboured breaths before rushing toward the window.

Aurelia squeezed her eyes shut and stifled a scream as Asher leapt; her gut quivered and spasmed as they fell, and she clenched every muscle she could muster to stop her stomach jumping up her throat. She braced herself for the shock of cold seawater she was expecting, but it never came.

Instead, she felt her legs grow heavy as they slowed and grasped desperately for anything she could hold onto - with her arms crossed as they were, she settled for the shoulders of her own cloak - as they climbed. The heavy rush of wingbeats filled her mind like the pounding winds of an autumn gale, and she all but curled around the knight's stalwart arms, entirely expecting to fall out of the sky at any moment.

After a long moment Aurelia dared open her eyes, peeking out at the town below. She saw the ship, aflame on the water, saw the masts of other vessels, the wooden structures of Wickport, and the churning ocean around it - all from above. It was thoroughly bizarre, and the queer tilting of each tall structure as they passed, the disorienting angle and the sheer, terrifying height made her head spin. A wave of nausea bowled over her, and she squeezed her watering eyes shut once more, the only thought in her mind aside from please don't drop me being how to keep her stomach where it was supposed to be.

For a time there was only the rush of cool air the buffeting of Asher's wings as the din of the burning ship and the battle upon it faded below them. After what felt like an eternity of her heart pumping in her throat, Aurelia could feel them descending, and soon Asher pitched backward and flapped harder before finally - finally - planting them safely on the ground.

The knight's grip on her loosened, and he seemed content to stand still and support her against his body as he heaved for breath behind her; Aurelia had other ideas. She weakly but urgently wormed her way out of his grip, stumbling to a nearby cluster of sparse bushes and falling to her knees, lurching forward and heaving violently until all the nausea from the flight had been purged from her system.

Somehow she managed to preserve her hair and clothes, and by the grace of the gods there was a handkerchief in the pocket of her cloak. When she had recovered and composed herself, she threw it angrily down in the bushes and rose shakily to her feet, whipping around to her half-dragon Champion.

Emerald eyes swirled near-black in the gathering darkness and her posture was murderous, head forward like an animal as her face drew into a scowl that would strike fear into the hearts of lesser men. Except this time, the daggers of her glare were aimed not at the half-breed, but at the faint orange glow in the distance.

"Am I alright?" she growled, each word like the crack of a barbed whip, "Gods grant those men shelter, for when I find them I will put the arrows in them by hand!"

She marched past Asher, barely noticing he was there, eyes trained on that cursed glow on the horizon, fists clenched at her sides. "I will have each of their heads on a spike!" Her voice was growing shrill, slicing through the relative silence. "And the second I am Queen I will have that cunt of an Ambassador's heart on a spit!"

Her barrage had to end when the itching in her lungs overcame her and she fell into a series of coughs, bucking over until the fit had passed. Looking back over at Asher, she saw something protruding between his wings.

She drew a long breath. "Ser Kincade, you have a crossbow bolt in your back," she stated, her former outrage having burned away to exasperation. She returned to him, coming up from behind to examine it; she wasn't very educated on these things, but surely it couldn't just stay there.

She had to admire Asher's resolve; he'd flown - flown! - all this way, clad in armour and carrying her, all with an arrow in his back? She wasn't stupid. She knew full well she may not have escaped that ship with any other man. Her desire to live was stronger than her distaste for the half-breed and in that moment she couldn't help but be grateful - be it for his wings, his dedication, or both - that it was him and not another of her father's knights who attended her.

"What are you waiting for?" she snapped, noting how the bolt glistened in the moonlight with what must have been blood, "Tell me how to remove it."
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Aurelia examined the wound further as Asher instructed her, leaning this way and that in an effort to see it more clearly in the limited light. It wasn’t a simple task - in the moonlight, the wound was just a wet, glistening black mess - but she eventually did see a glint of silver, and sure enough she found two, three, four of the points of the broadhead. The bolt must have worked itself out during the flight, as the points of it and a little of the shaft were wet with blood, but the task seemed simple enough.

A shiver worked its way up her spine as she looked closer, noting how the tissue moved and pulsed with each of Asher’s breaths and heartbeats. Gingerly, she took hold of the shaft, careful to avoid the part wet with blood. She was taking a second to prepare herself when Asher spoke up again, accusing her of pushing Willa out the window.

A familiar, simmering displeasure returned to her, and her eyes narrowed. “You will watch that familiar tone with me,” she warned. Emboldened by her new distaste, she gripped the bolt and pulled in one quick motion; a sickening squelch signified its release, a few globs of blood and other matter flying off the tip of the broadhead as she flicked it dismissively into the brush.

She wandered back around Asher and leveled her gaze on the half-breed over her shoulder, eyes cold. "She'd be worthless to kidnappers. I didn't want to have to worry about her."

What she said was true, but there was more to it than that. True, kidnappers or bandits would see no value in Willa. However, what held no value could be broken and thrown away without a qualm; she would have hated to see Willa ravaged or killed for the high crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

She turned away and looked out into the darkness inland, hiding the expression of worry that settled on her face. She could only hope Willa had made it to the garrison; she would probably never know, and the uncertainty would drive her mad if she thought too hard about it.

Her anger and adrenaline having faded - for now - she wrung her hands together in a rare anxious display and was immediately reminded of her own injuries; her right hand stung with every motion. She hissed and turned back toward Asher, where the moonlight would allow her to see the damage.

There was a long slice along the length of her palm where the glass had bit into her, and matching cuts on the insides of her thumb and fingers, each bleeding persistently. Each flex of her hand felt like the glass was cutting her anew, painfully reopening the cut with every movement.

Aurelia didn't really know what to do about it, so she settled for clenching her fist in an attempt to staunch the bleeding, cradling her hand close to her chest. She made a mental note to carry a knife of some kind in the future, so she wouldn't have to resort to glass should the situation arise that she would need to defend herself again. Speaking of which...

She turned back to Asher, some of that former fire sparking once more in her eyes. "So, King's Champion, disregarding for the moment exactly how these unfortunate circumstances came to be, what now? Surely you've planned for an outcome such as this, what with my life and those of my father's men having been trusted to your capable hands."

Her tone was inquisitive, but every word dripped with poisonous sarcasm. Her relief and gratitude at being saved had faded to deep-seated ire at having been put in the position to need saving in the first place. Had the half-breed not been sent to prevent this very scenario from ever occurring? They'd been loading that damned ship all day, at a standstill in a busy port city where people from every country on the Inland Sea could be slithering about and what, they hadn't been prepared for an attack? In Aurelia's mind, her party had either been unprepared or overwhelmed. Both options, to her, circled back to a fault somewhere on the half-breed's part, and her eyes bored a hole in that helm of his as she awaited his reply.
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Aaron was content to listen as his peers continued to chat, though Lilie's self-deprecating statement made him deflate a little. He was going to cut in and encourage her not to think that way when a new person showed up, a red-haired girl who introduced herself as Dakota, interrupting with an ill-advised challenge.

"With confidence like that, I’d pay good money to see you take on some of the guys here. Show ‘em who’s boss."

"Looks like you'll get your wish," he said to Dakota, patting the pommel of his sword, "Lilie and I are sparring later today. We've both had ten years of training, so I' think it'll be a good show." He flashed a smile in Lilie's direction. He was pretty sure he knew what the outcome would be, but he hoped she would surprise him.

Salem spoke up then, and Aaron's brow furrowed as he listened to him downplay his skills. He agreed that Lilie shouldn't think so lowly of herself, but Salem shouldn't either. From his time with Sariel, conversations with his relatives and his own study, he knew that a mage's affinity could manifest in a whole host of different ways, and on top of that, there was Arcane magic to be learned as well. And Salem used his gift to help people; what wasn't there to be proud of? It wasn't as if Aaron could help anyone with his magic, and as much as he adored his combat training, he really couldn't understand why Salem felt bad about not having any. Come to think of it, if he was going to Lucan, he'd probably be picking up some techniques anyway, but surely everybody didn't have to be a fighting machine.

Heh, he thought, try telling that to Lucan.

At the mention of lunch, Aaron glanced at his watch, and almost on cue a bell sounded an people started shuffling out of the hall.

"Looks like it," Aaron replied, a little bit of amusement leaking into his voice. "Shall we?"

Before they left, Aaron quickly asked the Arena Guild representatives for a scrap of paper and wrote down his name and phone number in elegant script, tapping Max on the shoulder and handing it to him as he passed with a friendly grin. "Text me when you're ready to start."

He opened the door for Lilie as they left, and held it for the rest of the group before falling into step with Salem. After a moment, he gently nudged him to get his attention. "You shouldn't be so hard on yourself," he advised, "Medics are some of my favourite people. I owe you guys a lot. I mean, look at this!"

He turned his head to Salem and tapped his nose, which was straight with an even slope. "I've had my nose broken six times," he muttered, lowering his voice with a quick glance at Lilie, "and you'd never even know. I'd look like some kind of goblin by now if it weren't for mages like you." He tugged absently on his left ear, running his thumb over the jagged line there as he thought back. Broken noses weren't the only things that healer mages had helped him with, but that was one example he didn't particularly like talking about.

He offered Salem a reassuring smile and shrugged. "Don't sell yourself short. Fighting is overrated anyway." Maybe it wasn't entirely true, but he was trying to be helpful.
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Aaron noticed Salem's blushing and smiled when he was thanked, and listened as Salem explained his magical background with genuine interest. Plant magic, not quite the sort of medic affinity he'd been expecting (the doctors at Noila Castle were all Life mages) but he could see the potential. And clearly Salem and his family knew what they were doing, if they put such effort into learning about their magic and running a clinic. He seemed like a hard-working mage, and that was something Aaron held in high regard. It seemed they had a good bit in common so far. Good thing too; if Salem was Lucan's mage, they'd probably be seeing a lot of each other.

"My affinity came out in my Awakening too," he finally chimed in, "I was worried sick that I wouldn't have magic, but on my Awakening day my crystal lit up the whole room." He smiled widely at the memory, absently rubbing the pommel of his sword with his thumb. "I was so relieved I almost fainted."

It was then that Sariel hijacked the group, steering them in a roundabout way to the dining hall and chattering about her own experiences all the way. He looked animatedly around at the campus as they went, noting the decidedly "Noila" style of the architecture and the generally familiar feel of the grounds. When Sariel said her closing blurb, he had to shake his head for a second, grinning. It was as if Sariel was actively trying to throw people at him; sure, this was his first chance to really make friends, but did she think he was that desperate? Hopefully not; he really could see her genuinely wanting every mage in the school to confide in her.

He caught her look when she mentioned reaching out for help, and his stomach twisted for an instant as he remembered the night before, Count Varis' little display and how uncomfortable Sariel had looked. In that moment he couldn't look her in the eye, the thought of it making him uncomfortable all over again. He swallowed hard and took a deep breath to quell the sudden unease in his gut.

Just as Sariel left, Aaron’s watch vibrated, displaying two texts from Lucan, one from earlier and one from just then.

> Oh, I see you've found my partner. How fortuitous, and you already appear close. Less that I have to do in the long run.

> Hey, where are you? Did Sariel go over with her talk or something? I’m in the lunchroom now, I’ll meet you and Salem at one of the tables I have reserved.

Grateful for the distraction, he stifled a laugh at the first message and pulled out his phone for a quick reply, pulling Salem aside as he did so.

> Something like that. You know how she can be!
> We’re just arriving now, be over in a minute.

Once he hit send, he pocketed his phone and turned to Salem, whom he could see was getting anxious again. Shooting a look back to the rest of the group (which he hoped they would interpret as a request for a moment of privacy), he turned the pair of them a little away and spoke quietly.

”Before we go up, just a few things to remember to make a good impression, okay?” He made sure to catch Salem’s eye and determined he was listening before continuing.

”First off, don’t make eye contact unless directed. Just avert your eyes a little, nothing major. I usually just look at his cheekbones or mouth or something. Secondly,” he counted on his fingers, ”Don’t speak until you’re spoken to. Just wait until he addresses you first and then act as you normally would.” He shrugged, posture very casual. ”It’s just common-sense manners, really. Nothing special.” He waved nonchalantly with one hand, tone almost bored, as if he was just going through the motions of the most routine thing in the world.

After a second considering the other mage, who looked to be getting more nervous by the second, he met Salem’s eyes again and tapped his own chest with both hands. ”Breathe,” he advised, offering a smile meant to be reassuring, ”I know it’s nerve-wracking, but you really have nothing to worry about.” He patted Salem on the shoulder and steered them both back to the group, turning then to approach Lucan’s table.

Aaron straightened as they approached, a slight bounce in his step, taking note of the other vampire sitting with Lucan and assuming a more formal posture, resting his hands comfortably behind his back. He averted his eyes appropriately to the tabletop, head down just enough to be polite without looking stiff, and checked to see if Salem was following his instructions. He still seemed a little nervous, eyes mostly stuck to the floor but stealing the occasional glance upward. Aaron reminded himself once again that not everyone was as familiar with interacting with vampires as he was, and hoped Salem was acting that way out of jitters at the new situation and not out of fear of Lucan.

Lucan was just about to respond to Morrigan when he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He considered just glancing at the message but wished to remain polite, even if the embraced vampire he was currently speaking with had no idea of what was truly polite in vampiric high society. ”Indeed? Sorry, one moment.” He broke off the conversation and then glanced down at his phone, missing the mages as they entered the cafeteria.

He had just started a reply when he sensed someone approaching the table, and looked up to see Aaron and Salem. Luc gave a small shrug and put his phone away before standing with his hands behind his back and eyes scanning the new arrivals. He didn’t let his gaze linger on Aaron for long, knowing that the Starag had his manners down well but was surprised to see Salem also seeming like he knew how to properly show respect. No doubt he had been coached, as the young man kept sneaking glances up at Lucan, who had to use all of his skill not to give a smirk of amusement.

With a small tilt of his head and a step closer Lucan spoke, his voice a soft tenor. ”So we meet at last Mr. Spellman, I am Lucan Bordeleaux. It is a sincere pleasure to make your acquaintance. My friend beside me is Morrigan Cade, one of the Embraced vampires attending this year. Please, feel free to relax, both of you.” He added as he shot a glance to Aaron, a lightning fast one that the blond would be able to read as soft amusement and appreciation for helping his mage.

Aaron smirked and winked at Lucan when their eyes briefly met, before he averted them once more, relaxing his posture at Lucan’s request. He looked between Lucan and the other vampire, Morrigan, offering the latter a curt bow of the head in greeting.

”It’s a pleasure to meet you, Morrigan. I’m Aaron Starag.” Aaron said, assuming that Lucan’s invitation applied to them both, before turning back to Lucan and adding, “And Lucan, always a pleasure.” He glanced over to Salem with an inviting grin, silently willing the other mage to say something.
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