Lydis had read the instructions on the board but she didn't understand what they meant.
"Leave, talent, strength. Childhood, doesn't, prevails. Behind, matter, above all. Say the three messages to 'it' and receive instructions to the next area."
She rubbed her head in confusion. Lydis had moved from the center to the edges of the clearing, making sure to distance herself from anyone. Surveying the area again she tried to look for 'it'. Lydis looked at the children in groups then at the children alone. Between all of them she found several suspicious kids. A girl with a hood who held onto a stuffed bunny toy, a boy who tried to hide in the trees, a pair of twins huddled behind a tree and a few more scattered around the clearing. Sighing loudly she leaned against the tree closest to her.
"Leave, talent, strength. Childhood, doesn't, prevails. Behind, matter, above all." Repeating these words to herself Lydis rubbed her forehead. Valfafer was excited, forgetting his past grudge against Lydis he rushed around Lydis and sniffed everything. From rocks to trees, bushes to weeds. Lydis scoffed at Valfafer's carefree behavior. Earlier he was being grumpy but now he looked more excited than ever to be there.
A twig snapped to her left. Lydis whipped her head over and saw Bennox standing there, Owen's bed head poking up from behind him.
"H-hi Lydis…" Bennox waved at her. Lydis returned the wave. "Owen, say something." Bennox pushed Owen in front of him and nudged him forward. Lydis eyes him and slowly took out the letter he had left for her.
"Thanks for your words of concern Owen. You can call me Lydis as well." Lydis flicked the letter at Owen. He caught it clumsily and stared at it.
"I-I didn't send a letter!" Although he denied it Lydis saw him stuff it into his pocket, the tips of his ears turned a bit red. Bennox stared at Owen with confusion.
"What letter Owen?" Bennox's eyes contained hints of curiosity and mischief. Embarrassed, Owen quickly turned towards the clearing and ran away. "What? Owen? I wonder what's wrong with him?" Bennox stared at his retreating friend.
"Did you need something Bennox?" He turned to face Lydis and bowed deeply.
'I'm sorry but me and Owen followed you here to the clearing. We saw you leave from our window and decided to follow you." Lydis raised one eyebrow at his words. They had followed her without an explanation nor reason to. For all they know she could've been running away or somewhere random.
"What caused you to follow me?" Bennox shrugged.
"Intuition I guess?" Lydis felt skeptical about his answer but shrugged it off.
"What's done is done but, I highly recommend you to stop that. A lone girl might get scared easily and end up attacking without thinking." She went closer to Bennox's face, the difference in height made him involuntarily look up at her cold azure eyes. He found it hard to speak so instead he swallowed hard and nodded his head. "Good. It was nice meeting you again Bennox. Let's hope fate puts us in the same class." Lydis turned around and walked back into the clearing.
Bennox sighed and fell against a tree. The pressure he felt from Lydis wasn't something a normal girl could do. He brought one hand to his chest. He could feel his heart thumping loudly against his ribcage, wanting to be let out. Bennox smiled gleefully. This new feeling sent bolts of electricity through his body. It seemed that following Lydis was the right choice back at the dorms.
He and Owen had been waiting for Lydis to leave. Watching her door, he stayed up almost all of last night, only getting some sleep when Owen said he'd change shifts. Right from the moment they met Lydis, Bennox was determined to watch her carefully. There were signs that she was someone special to the academy.
Firstly, she already had her uniforms before anyone else. They found her close to Hal's office. From their window they saw Lydis with one of the other teachers, Haven, and saw her shaking Hal's hand. If that wasn't special treatment than he should be blind. Growing up in the slums, Bennox and Owen didn't have many connections with higher ups. If they befriended Lydis there were sure to be some benefits involved.
He bit his thumbnail.
But, Owen had done something unnecessary. Based on his plan they had to seem friendly and reliable. He was going to use her uniforms as a way to get closer to Lydis by delivering it right to her. Maybe it could've evolved into a conversation or ended right there. Either way, that was a chance wasted by Owen. He thought it was weird when Owen told him Hal had come to their room to pick up the uniforms for Lydis.
Bennox released his thumbnail. If he continued to follow Lydis around she might end up hating him but if he didn't then he wouldn't know how to help her. He ruffled his hair and was about to go find Owen when she saw Lydis walk towards the slum kids in the middle of the clearing. From the other side a group of rich girls was moving as well.
After parting from Bennox, Lydis had decided to ask the slum kids some questions. Why they were huddled in front of the clearing and if they knew anything. When the slum kids saw her coming most shifted nervously on their feet, some hugged each other tighter while others looked at her with horror. A small girl tried to push deeper into the group but she was pushed back. When she fell to the ground no one helped her. No one wanted to be on the outside. Lydis approached her calmly, her feet stopping in front of the girl's face.
"Do you need a hand?" Lydis reached down and extended a hand to the small girl. Shivering, the small girl only stared at Lydis's hand. Too scared to speak a word. Lydis stood there smiling.
"Well?" The small girl seemed to snap out of it and shakily took Lydis's hand.
"T-t-thank you…" She trembled. The small girl had seen what happened to Crill after talking to Lydis for a few moments. Scared of what would happen, she tried to run away but her feet stayed glued to the ground.
"What's your name?"
"Theda huh? That's a nice name. My name is Lydis, nice to meet you." Lydis extended her hand but Theda didn't move. Lydis could see that she was scared. Compared to Lydis, Theda was comparatively smaller. Almost half a foot. She was thinner as well. Her arms looked like bones with skin, same with her legs. Underneath her clothes Lydis could see her collarbones popping out from her neck. As malnourished and starved Theda looked, her eyes showed a strong will to live. They were what drew Lydis to Theda.
"Don't be afraid. I just want to talk to you." Lydis retracted her hand and smiled warmly at Theda. Even if Theda knew subconsciously that Lydis was dangerous she couldn't help but lower her guard. Lydis's smile was filled with so much warmth that Theda actually inched closer.
"Talk to m-me about w-what?" Theda tried hard to keep her voice level but her legs still shook slightly.
"Was there anyone here before you guys came? An adult? Teenager?" Theda shook her head.
"No, slum kids were the f-first to come here. Last night we slept here. Next morning that board was there."
"How did you guys find this place?" Theda looked a bit hesitant to answer. She opened her mouth but closed it quickly. Lydis knew that Theda needed one more push. Lydis gently grabbed both of Theda's hands with her own and squeezed them slightly, in a reassuring way. "It's okay, I won't tell anyone. It'll be our little secret, you and me." Lydis placed one finger on her mouth to show that she wouldn't tell.
Theda was instantly entrapped by Lydis. She couldn't look away from Lydis's striking blue eyes. Even the gently touch of Lydis's hands had warmed her a bit. Theda was beginning to lose her previous guard. How can someone like this possibly be harmful? Crill probably fell down on his own because this girl in front of her was too beautiful.
"Crill found this place. He said we need to stick together, open spaces were easy to sleep in..." Theda began to recount the other varying reasons why Crill told them to stay there. "… strength in numbers, we are the minority here, rich people are scary…" Theda went on. Lydis filtered out the unimportant things but Theda said something interesting.
"Wait, repeate that last one?" Theda stopped and looked at Lydis.
"We must find a roof to shield us against the turbulent deceptive winds and the violent powers in the silhouette?" Theda repeated it, almost as if asking a question. Lydis pondered Crill's words Theda had repeated.
"Are you sure that's how he said it?" Theda nodded.
"Crill made us memorize the list since little." Hearing this Lydis found Crill even more interesting.
"Theda, do you know what any of it means?" Theda rubber her head and tilted it from side to side.
"We need to find shelter? Like a house?" Just from that Lydis knew that Theda really didn't know the real meaning in Crill's words. Lydis reached for Theda's hands again.
"Theda, you've done me a great favor. Would you mind if I meet Crill? Just for a little?" She pulled Theda's hands closer and made the best puppy eyes she could. Theda couldn't say no to Lydis's expectant stare.
"S-sure. Only if it's for a little though…" Theda hung her head a little. Lydis saw this and looped one arm around Theda's. Surprised, Theda tried to move away for fear of making Lydis dirty but Lydis just continued to hold onto Theda's arm, her gentle smile erasing any resistance. Although she didn't know Lydis long enough to even be called acquaintances, Theda was swelling with some unknown pride.
Theda led Lydis deeper into the group of slum kids. They parted easily for Lydis and Theda. No one made a fuss, no one tried to stop them. In the center of the group Crill was laying on the floor, on arm covering his eyes as he faced the sky. Lydis released Theda's arm and stood near Crill.
"So, why are you bugging me now?" Crill didn't even look at Lydis. Theda and the other kids shifted away from Lydis and Crill, making a small circle of room between them.
"Just a few questions." Lydis sat down next to Crill nonchalantly. She played with a lock of hair that had fallen in front of her shoulders.
"Why us? There's plenty of rich, influential ladies over there and many more pubescent boys over there." Crill lifted one hand and gestured at the other groups of kids.
"You're better than those spoiled rich kids. I don't need money, what I need is info and connections. The kind that runs below the surface." Crill finally removed his arm and sat up to look at Lydis, his eyes cold and dark.
"What do you mean? We're just slum kids. How could we have connections of any sort?" Lydis saw that Crill had already understood her intentions but was trying to draw it out.
"You say that but aren't you guys the proof that you have connections."
"Oh, care to explain?"
"Slum children are numerous. To have a group of this size…" Lydis made a wide sweeping motion to encompass all of the thirty to forty slum kids around her. "…survive until age ten without being caught and sold is already a hard feat in itself."
"Ha, there are laws against human trafficking. We're just getting by h-" Lydis cut him off.
"Yes, there are laws but that doesn't stop people from doing it secretly right? Maybe some random noble decided that a young girl he saw in the slums was worth his time and kidnaps her. After he's had his fun now he needs somewhere to dispose of it but, wouldn't getting rid of garbage and making some money be the best outcome? Soon she gets reported missing or dead." Lydis was closer to Crill now, her face directly in front of his. She could see that her words had somehow hit the nail on the head.
Crill's hands were in tight fists, his knuckles practically white. Lydis could see his jaw muscles clench and release, veins popping from his neck.
"Why do you know?" Lydis shrugged her shoulders.
"It's a common story. Happens to anyone and everyone in the slums. That's why I'm asking, give me all your info and some connections into the world below and I'll provide you with shelter and connections in the world above." Crill's mind was racing, trickling through the pros and cons of Lydis's proposal. On one hand his group would have secured a powerful ally but on the other they would have to reveal their connections. If this was a trap then he and his group would surely die, either by the shadows or the ego filled blades.
Sighing, Crill decided on his choice.
"…Alright, but your offer extends to everyone right?" Lydis smiled.
"Only to those loyal to you." Lydis reached her hand out as a handshake. Crill took it and shook weakly. He was still unsure whether he had made the right decision or not. The lives of all the other kids relied on his choice, that was what they decided on before coming to the academy. They had all believed in Crill and decided to go together with him.
Lydis saw the acceptance on Crill's face and smiled.
"You won't regret this but, if you even think of betraying me, death will just be the beginning. I'll make even the slums look like heaven." Crill nodded.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm not one to back out first. The same applies to you as well. Betray us and we'll never let you go."
"Oh? Big words for just a child." Crill wanted to retort more but Lydis had already gotten up and was walking away. Crill watched as Theda followed Lydis, their arms looped together, walk outside from the group. In truth, behind his tense and hesitant front he was actually overjoyed that Lydis had come to him first. After his first encounter with Lydis he had wanted to get on her good side but she had actually come to him voluntarily! Maybe, luck was finally on his side.
On the far-left side of the clearing Bennox watched with angry eyes, he chewed on his thumbnail as he eyed Lydis. After she had left and started talking with a slum girl Bennox had climbed a tree to get a better view. She was talking happily with a dirty child from the slums and then she had walked into their group by her own free will. He lost sight of her for a moment when her hair disappeared to the ground. When that happened Bennox wanted to rush in and 'save' Lydis from the slum children but he found that Lydis soon stood back up. He saw another person on the ground but the other children surrounding them made it hard to see clearly. Then Lydis left. He had no way of knowing what went on but he had a bad feeling about it. Bennox clenched his chest. This pain, what was it? It felt so pleasurable but at the same time it tore him apart from the inside.
Lydis saw the envious stares of the other slum children as she walked next to Lydis, their arms intertwined. She was happy, maybe the second happiest moment aside from when Crill had found her. Theda's bright smile was so pure Lydis almost felt bad for using her. Almost.
"Theda…" Lydis stopped and pulled Theda's arm into her hands.
"…I'm afraid we'll have to part here." Theda's face was filled with confusion but before she could ask one question Lydis was already moving on.
"W-wait, Lydis. Why? Am I just a disposable… pawn to you?" Theda's eyes were beginning to tear up. Thin red lines etched into her eyes.
"No, it's not like that Theda." Lydis wrapped both arms around Theda. "I'm going to talk with the wealthy children now. If they saw you I'm sure they'd bully you. Us parting now is to protect you." Theda's teary eyes almost overflowed but she held strong. If Lydis said it then it must be true. She nodded her head to show that she understood and Lydis released her.
"Good child." Lydis rubbed Theda's oily hair and turned away. Too shocked by her words Theda stood there, one hand on her head where Lydis had rubbed. She felt something she hadn't felt in a long, long time. A warm fluffy feeling that came with a warm home, a full belly and a kind mother.
Lydis had already put Theda behind her. Not just physically but mentally. If she needed to she could act like the 'perfect lady' for her again but now that she had gotten what she needed, Theda looked no different than a small blade of grass in a pasture. Lydis rummaged in her bag and found a small cloth. She wiped her hand with it and stuffed the cloth back into the bag.
Lydis had gotten a clue from Theda and obtained connections through Crill. If things kept going smoothly Lydis would find 'it' before zero eight hundred and move onto the next location.
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