Age Thirteen – Celeste Varethe
Something felt off once she'd stepped onto academy grounds. Celeste stood idle as the students watched her fall into a pensive state.
“Shouldn't we call for the instructors?” One of them murmured.
She furrowed her brows as she took notice of the students who had followed behind her. “Wasn't this the indecisive group from earlier?”
“Huff... huff...” Elicia arrived by her side panting, before looking up and taking a quick glance around, ”Where— huff... Where is everyone?”
Celeste heard her words and took her attention off of the students. Quickly surveying the grounds— that was it, she thought. Although it was twilight, there still would have been a couple of students loitering around the campus, some of the instructors should also still be going around the hallways. Also, she recalled the gate being devoid of guards. At such a time, why was there was nobody around?
“Do you think they all went home?” Elicia asked.
“Let's head to the faculty room, they might still be there.” Celeste suggested.
“Ummm... What should we do?” A female student stepped forward from the group behind them and spoke up.
Celeste subtly squinted, a faint feeling of irritation surfacing from her mind.
Without answering, she turned to the direction of the faculty room and ran off. Time was of the essence and honestly, she didn't want to bother with them.
Elicia looked over her shoulder, “You guys go look around the campus for any students or instructors that might be of help!” she yelled, before running after Celeste.
Arriving at the faculty's door, Celeste was about to enter but was stopped by Elicia.
“Celeste!” Elicia called, and grabbed her shoulder, “Why aren't you giving them orders? Big bro told us to take them with us.”
Celeste frowned slightly, thinking about the group that had followed her. Again, she felt irritated, she didn't know why. Maybe it was because she didn't get much of a good impression from these people as they were among the other students whining earlier.
She shook her head, not giving Elicia a reply, and reached for the door.
As she was about to open it, the handle was suddenly turned from the other side and the door was opened by someone else.
“Student Celeste Vinney.”
Straight brown hair falling down to his eye-level, its ends hitting the pair of glasses resting on the bridge of his nose. The timid expression on his face continuously giving off an air of unreliability, it was Instructor Danny that opened the door.
“Student Elicia Perid, I thought I heard your voice. What brings both of you back to the academy? Didn't you hear the Headmaster's announcement?”
“Announcement?” Elicia asked.
“Yes, after Erden's Tower gave off that unsettling light, the Headmaster suddenly sent everyone home.” Instructor Danny replied.
Celeste was puzzled, “Light?” she thought, “Wasn't it the central pillar that lit up?”
Elicia spoke from behind her, “You saw that? We were inside the tower when it happened— Oh no! Did you just say everyone went home!?”
“Student, is there something wrong?” Instructor Danny felt compelled to ask.
“There is a stampede at the tower's entrance.” Celeste answered, her expression displaying the same worry as Elicia's.
“A stamp—!? Don't be silly, that only happens outside the Erden wall.” Instructor Danny replied with a wry smile, but was taken aback as his two students didn't seem to be fooling around.
He gulped a mouthful of air, “Take a seat inside and tell me more.”
This time, Celeste felt irritated for a different reason. They were in a hurry and yet, Instructor Danny was acting too leisurely. She remembered the people they'd left behind at the entrance— some were old, some already injured. She knew they needed to return as fast as they could with reinforcements.
“We need to go.” She muttered.
“Pardon?” Instructor Danny didn't hear, he turned around to face Celeste.
“We need to—!” Celeste wanted to answer but a sudden cry from outside caught their attention.
“There were still students in the academy?”
“That came from one of the students that were with us!”
The three of them ran to the windowss to check on the disturbance. They were on the second floor of the academy so they directed their gazes down into the courtyard. The cry they had heard was from a female student sitting frightened on the ground.
In front of her, the outline of a creature clad in pitch black was slowly rising off the ground.
“—Little girl! Didn't I tell you all to go home, why are you still here?” An irksome tone of voice, familiar to Celeste and Elicia resounded from behind the creature.
White scruffy hair, deep wrinkles on his skin, and wearing an embellished red robe— it was the Headmaster, Arinndra.
Celeste and Elicia watched as Instructor Danny jumped off from the window. With a swirling gust of wind forming around his feet and cushioning his descent, he landed on the ground and rushed towards the female student.
“S-S-Stay away from my student!” He shouted, as he gathered mana to his seed and prepared to defend against an attack while covering the girl.
Arinndra cackled, “Danny, my boy! There's nothing to be afraid of!”
A crimson hue of mana flickered around his body, beckoning the creature towards him. “Forget anything you've seen here and take these students away from the campus.”
“Headmaster!? W-what is that thing!?”
Instructor Danny didn't receive an answer.
Celeste and Elicia, from the second floor, as well as Instructor Danny— all watched as the unidentified creature fully emerged from the ground and turned into a solid-like mist, shooting straight into the raised arms of the headmaster.
“This is it!!! Hahahaha! I don't know who it is that opened the tower, but to think that it would be me getting the benefits of that dragon's scheme!”
As the mist was drawn into his body, some of the wrinkles visible on his arms visibly faded.
“More!!!” He shouted, “Bring out more of these delicious snacks!!!”
Arinndra became hysterical as he kept on shouting in one direction, his eyes glued to Erden's Tower in the distance while he danced in circles. The glow of mana around his body growing larger, as if becoming a huge beacon.
“The old man's gone nuts!” Elicia gaped. She always found him to be crazy, but with this display, he really painted a picture of lunacy.
“Nifyr...” Celeste blurted unconsciously.
“What was that?”
Answering Elicia, Celeste pointed to a few spots around the cowering Instructor Danny.
Shadows abundant in the surroundings as the sun had almost sunken below the top of the Erden wall— all of them leaning to the east.
From the direction of Erden's Tower, silhouettes could be seen jumping from shade to shade, heading towards the headmaster.
“A fairytale my mother used to tell me to scare me into doing chores.” Celeste continued, “Monsters that would go after children and eat them up whenever they misbehaved.”
“M-monsters!?” Elicia stammered. “But wasn't it the Headmaster that ate the thing up?”
“I don't know, maybe he's also a monster.” Celeste grunted, she gripped onto the hems of her sleeves as she felt her stomach start to churn.
There was no time for this, they didn't even know what was happening at the entrance of the tower right now. She turned away from the window, making her mind to go back to the tower to help.
“Aaaaah!!! What are these things!?”
A few sudden shouts appeared from the courtyard.
Celeste glanced outside of the window again. Some of the other students had made their way there and were startled by the specters appearing from the shadows.
“C-Celeste, where are you going?” Elicia asked, seeing that she was about to leave.
“They need our help at the tower.” Celeste replied.
“They need our help here as well! Don't you see that something weird is going on?”
The Headmaster was acting suspiciously in the courtyard while more and more shadows were popping up from the ground.
Celeste rubbed her fingers together, contemplating for a few seconds, “You aren't afraid?”
“O-Of course I am! But we brought those students here, so we need to get them out!”
Celeste reluctantly nodded, “Then let's get to the courtyard.”
She ran down the stairs with Elicia and exited the building through the courtyard doors.
Immediately, they were met face to face with one of the Nifyr.
“Whah!?“ Elicia jumped back in caution, ” Wait, how come they're not doing anything? They're just walking towards the Headmaster.”
Celeste also stopped and took a good look at the creature. An appearance like that of black mist, producing no sound as it trudged along the ground. Its eyes reminded her of that glow in the eyes of the mana beast they'd once seen.
“Come on, they're not paying us any attention. We should go get Instructor Danny and the others.”
Celeste continued and weaved through the emerging Nifyr, with Elicia trailing behind her.
“Instructor Danny!” Elicia called.
Instructor Danny was still covering the female student who was sitting down and unable to move from fright.
“Student Vinney, Perid! W-why are you here? We still don't know what these things are so you shouldn't have come.”
He came to his senses after seeing the two girls and took a quick glance around, noticing a few other students cowering from the monsters that had appeared.
“Instructor, we should get out of here.” Celeste said.
“I-I know, but I—”
Celeste caught sight of the trembling in Instructor Danny's legs, and perceived the sentence that was supposed to follow his words.
I can't move— Words she was familiar with, along with a few other thoughts,
“Following quietly behind, while doing nothing to help— “
“In front of danger, being too scared to even move—“
Celeste bit her lower lip as she shifted her gaze between the students. Lastly, she stared at the female student being covered by Instructor Danny.
She finally knew what it was that had been troubling her.
It wasn't the students.
She realized that she had been exactly the same. It was irritating her that she was seeing her previous helplessness through the others.
She paused for a few seconds before reaching for Elicia's hand.
“Huh? For what?”
“...Nevermind... Let's get everyone together and leave.”
Elicia smiled, and said wryly. “Alright, but it would be better if you gave the order. They seem to want to listen to you.”
“Do I have to?” Celeste winced, but took a deep breath to prepare for a shout.
“NOOO!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?” The headmaster interrupted.
His sudden outburst had startled everyone and had urged them to look at him.
At this moment, his hair— now greying, was turning back into white. A couple of wrinkles on his face that had faded, making him look a few years younger, were coming back.
“What's wrong with him?' Celeste frowned.
The mana the Headmaster was displaying started sparking out from his body like wild flames.
“THIS IS MINE!!! YOU CAN'T TAKE IT AWAY!!!”
He continued to shout— the sparks growing ever larger, before separating themselves from his body and shooting up into the air, and once they had reached a certain height, they unfolded—blooming like fiery flowers in the evening sky.