"Sir Pat...SIR PAT...!" A faint but persistent voice assaulted my senses. "Um... Five more min-"
A gentle hand caressed my shoulder and THAT jolted me awake. I wasn't used to such mellow wake-up calls - the alarm on my phone blaring out being the usual deal.
I opened a bleary eye and noticed Francisa, in yet another costume. Greenish, less ceremonial, and far too frilly for my tastes.
"Have you rested well? Do forgive me, but it is time for the luncheon, Sir Pat." She spoke softly.
'Damn, when did I fall asleep?' I sat up. 'Ah, she was bringing a friend along. Almost forgot with all that went down in the morning.'
"Yeah, I did. Must've been more tired than expected. No need to apologize." I smiled at Francisa.
"I understand, Pat. All that waving around must've been exhausting indeed." She smirked. 'Was she always this sassy?'
I snorted and went to wash my face. She called for a maid, who immediately rolled in a trolley of delicious smelling food and started laying out plates on the table.
"Today might be your last day of leisure Pat," Francisa called out as soon as I stepped back into the room. "After all, you will start training from tomorrow. Though it should be more of a lecture than an exercise in your case."
"Right." 'Guess my stamina won't be impressing anyone soon' "When is your friend coming over?"
"Oh, he's already in the palace. Right now he is greeting my lord father. Should be here presently." She was absentmindedly caressing one of her frills watching the maid finish up her work.
'I wonder how this new NPC will be like. Heh. I never thought I would say this but these characters are a bit too realistic. What was his name again?'
Just as the maid retreated into her corner, there was a knock on the door. 'Speak of the devil!'
"Enter." Francisa intoned. A tall man with a broad physique and a sunny smile pushed the door open. He carried himself with a lazy grace on heavy footsteps. Dark brown hair that ended in curls sat neatly on his head. And his light brown eyes danced with easy mirth. They lit up on seeing Francisa, who had walked ahead to meet him. They hugged each other lightly and then he stood beside her staring at the crimson patterns on my robe.
"Ahem. Sir Pat, this is my dear friend. Shield-Knight Hamilton." Francisa introduced him, then turned to him with a respectful gesture in my direction. "And gracing us for lunch today with his presence is the Hero-Mage Sir Pat."
"It is an honor, Sir Pat." His eyes turned somber and then he gave a deep bow that, despite his bulky frame, was balletic.
I nodded. 'Damn it this is awkward. Do I have to bow as well? Nah, I'll only end up making a fool of myself.' "It's nice to meet you as well, Hamilton." 'I don't think I'll forget his name again, now that I heard it clearly.'
¤ ¤ ¤
Hamilton was the most chill NPC I had encountered so far.
Once we got over the initial meeting ice-breakers, we had a lovely lunch. The food was awesome as usual. Hamilton soon loosened himself, starting to lightly tease Francisa. I joined in as well later, adding a few jabs of my own, leaving her red in the face.
He was easy to talk to. He never once said any words that had me wishing for a dictionary like NPC clan head. Nor did he ramble on and on like Francisa tended to do oftentimes. A jape here, an anecdote there, the guy was overall quite convivial. Even Francisa was enjoying herself.
Soon though, the lunch was over. We said our goodbyes. Hamilton offered to show me around the Knight training ground when time allowed. "I shall escort Hamilton outside. Please take some time to yourself, Pat. I shall arrive in the early evening for our assembly with the Royal Mages." Francisa said and strutted off, leaving the maid with the cleanup duty.
This was the same NPC who had been attending my room for the last couple of days. Average face, slightly tanned skin, dark hair tied in a loose bun. "Hey, need a hand?" I offered.
She seized up, jerking her face upward and looking at me with wide eyes. "N-No Sire, please. I-I got this." She stuttered.
"Um... Okay then. I'm gonna get some rest-" 'No, have to meet with Arya and Carol.' "Actually, I'm gonna head out for a bit. Thanks for cleaning up." I beamed and headed off. I was in a good mood as well.
The good mood did not last long. The shade in the garden did little to ward against the heat rolling off in waves from the blazing afternoon sun. Even examining the light Rune on magic lamps got dull in a while. After thirty more minutes of waiting, the sweat had formed a full layer between my skin and the robe. I felt myself losing SP just sitting there. 'Where the hell are they?'
I wish I had my phone with me. I would've called them ten times by now. Eventually, I gave up and trudged back to my room. Thankfully, it was somewhat cooler inside. 'I'll look for them later.' My legs found their way towards the bed, and for the second time that day, sweet slumber stole me like a master thief.
¤ ¤ ¤
The sun had gone down considerably when I woke up next. I sat up on the bed, contemplating the lengthening shadows.
For a moment, I wondered what my folks were up to again. 'Probably sleeping. And will keep sleeping while you waste time here.' I had no "better half" to worry about, haven't had since recently. 'Man, don't think about her again.' I mentally chastised then consoled myself. 'You have literal princesses jumping into your bed now!'. Then I chuckled, imagining what some of my friends from back home would've done in my situation. 'Home, eh?'
I had assumed I'd find some way to exit soon after leaving the tutorial. Sure, it was just day 2 here, but it wouldn't be as "soon" as I thought it to be. In fact, I was at a dead-end on that front.
The storyline offered so far was the generic "hero save world" crap. I had hoped to avoid it entirely if the path to exit was clear. Now? I wasn't sure if I could escape even after saving the world, despite my assurances to others.
One thing was apparent - I lacked information. About magic and how it interacted with this world. 'Yes, this ain't a sprint no more. Think marathon.' I gathered my resolve, taking a deep breath to calm my unsettled nerves. Getting sentimental won't help anymore. That was easier said than done though, given I had lingered among strange people and stranger lands for a better part of a month. Against my wishes, that too. True, I liked to travel as much as the next guy, but this unexpected vacation had thrown me into disarray. Just as a weight threatened to squeeze my heart, a soft knock rang out in the suddenly stifling room, bringing me out of my stupor. "Sir Pat? Are you awake?"
I took a deep breath again, finally managing to shake off whatever melancholy had crept upon me. "Yep. Come on in!" I shouted, faking a smile.
"I see you're awake this time." Francisa's eyes twinkled.
'This girl!' "Were you hoping for another chance to grope me?" I smirked back.
"G-Grope? I was merely hoping to awaken you. I scarcely t-touched your shoulder." She panicked a little, a rush of red coloring her cheeks and ears.
"Sureee." I drawled, lips stretched in a smug smile.
She caught on before I could tease further though, smirk replaced by a business smile. Back to serious mode. "Royal Archmage Kazif Arkanis will be meeting us in the mages' tower." She spoke. "He is the current captain of Royal Mages squadron and also in charge of Lohengramm Mage Tower." 'Do I notice a slight disdain in her tone?' "He will arrange for your tutelage."
"I see. He's the one teaching me?" I questioned.
"No, he will only confirm your Status, then assign mentors and necessary resources for you."
"Hmm. I should go wash my face again. When is the meeting?"
"The audience is in a while, but we shall present ourselves there soon and wait inside anyway." She said with a thoughtful look on her face, which then turned back into her earlier smirk "And yes, you should wash your face. Your luck stat must be in excess; after all, you have acquired a wrinkle-immune robe to sleep in, a deed you seem quite fond of performing often."
"Heh." I had no retort to that but a light chuckle. And the robe was quite comfy. Being free of wrinkles was a secondary concern to me.
"Oh, by the way, Lady Arya and Lady Carol wish to speak with you tomorrow. You all shall have breakfast together. I was given to understand that you missed your concourse today due to a mismatch in luncheon timings." 'Well, that is one mystery solved."
Wondering if luck attribute actually existed, I headed out with the princess in tow.
¤ ¤ ¤
The mage "tower" was a three-story high round structure made of similar compressed stone as the palace. More broad than high, we headed towards one of the four entrances - one in each cardinal direction, according to the princess. I was a bit disappointed with the distinctly non-magical and unimpressive architecture but then again, I should have expected it. These people are essentially refugees. The Sun was kissing the horizon behind the tower, turning it into a shadowy featureless giant to my eyes.
Soon we reached the eastern entrance. A large polished door adorned the otherwise plain stone wall. The door stood out due to the numerous designs tastefully etched across the surface. My Perception sphere had already picked up seven separate runes and three intertwined circles. At times like these, I dearly missed my phone. 'Could've just taken a photo now and studied them all in detail later. I hope I get a chance to go over them at some point.'
Francisa extended her hand and touched her palm on the Circle that was etched at the center of the door. It was one of the more distinguishable patterns, the other circles on either side barely visible in the waning light. I would've entirely missed the Runes if not for my ability. They were snugly hidden in the decorative but useless patterns scratched all over the door. I sneakily selected the constructs and ran identify on all three Circles, giving me respectively Circles of Authentication, Intimation, and Alarm from left to right.
I watched in fascination as she scrunched her eyebrows a bit in concentration. The middling Circle - which I assumed to be a form of a magical doorbell - glowed a slight blue spreading a bit across the other Circles, upon which she withdrew her hand. The glow faded after a few seconds as we waited. By the time the sun was halfway down the horizon, the door smoothly swung inside to reveal a dimly lit room and a man in dark robes standing at the threshold.
Squinting my eyes slightly, I noticed that the robes were not dissimilar to my own. Except the color was deep purple instead of bright crimson and more importantly, instead of magic Circles, it had what appeared to be absolute hogwash. Not a single Rune lit up in my perception, despite the nouveau riche appearance and close imitation of Runes.
"F-Fredrick!?!" Francisa almost squealed. "Why are you here?"
"Hello to you too, dear Francisa. As for why I am here - well, I am one of the only two apprentices to His Eminence, The Royal Archmage. As such, I have leave to come and go from the tower as I deem necessary." He then turned to me, inspecting me over from head to toe, not once but twice. Our eyes met, and he puffed a small breath. 'What crawled up this NPC's ass today?'
Turning to Francisa again, he continued. "The hero's session is not till sundown. My master is not so idle as to accommodate those who have otiose time to spare."
"But," he cut her off, "since it is you asking, princess, I shall oblige." So saying, he turned his back with a flourish and headed inside. Sending an apologetic glance towards me, Francisa gestured for me to follow her as she walked inside. Her gait was not the princess-y strut she often employed but an unwieldy slog, as if carrying a mountain on her delicate shoulders.
I shrugged and followed. This should be one of the last cut-scenes, I presumed. Once I get a "training" schedule, I would be free to experiment again. And finally, start looking for a way out.