Chapter XII ۞ Dinner Time!

As I slowly made my way up the basement stairs I was amazed by how much quieter the cabin had grown in the absence of its attendants. Each step echoed throughout the house as my feet touched it. Each flicker of light from the many lanterns could be seen from anywhere. The air was still, but it was not a dark feeling, it was a calm feeling, like the house had just been lifting heavy weights and was now sitting down to relax for a bit.

Once I had reached the top of the steps I slowly shut the door to the basement laboratory. A small puff of smoke came from the very bottom of the door as though trying to squeeze its way out. The whole cabin seemed to be alive and to reflect the laid-back feeling that each of its inhabitants seemed to carry themselves with. Nothing inside was too well kept or clean, everything seemed to be very natural and at peace, it was a warm feeling and I embraced it, maybe I was finally in the right place after all.

I made my way outside the cabin and stopped on the porch, admiring the immense amount of people pouring from the cabins. The entire camp must easily house several hundred apprentices within its boundaries. Most of the people walking towards the guild hall seemed to be in quite high spirits as they chatted it up with their friends. Dinner was a happy time for everyone, it's a time to replenish your body's energy and enjoy time with those you care about.

I looked down, realizing there was no one in the camp who I could really eat my dinner with other than Viktor or Lilith. Viktor would most likely be dining with his friends from his cabin and Lilith was of course still in the infirmary, so even if she was awake I doubted she would be up for eating anything. I turned to my right, searching for Viktor in the crowd of people from his cabin, but I was unable to find him. I did however, spot Julian walking towards the guild hall, he seemed to be completely alone, other than the other cabin members around him, but I doubted he would want to sit with me, especially considering he knew about me now.

As though he had heard what I was thinking, he turned in my direction and gave me a bit of a sad look. Did he feel bad for me? It didn't seem like a very likely scenario, given his cold and brooding exterior he had given off earlier. I weakly waved at him, but he simply shrugged and continued walking to the guild hall.

I figured I should probably head over there myself, I was starving right now, which made sense considering I hadn't eaten in who knows how long. My stomach grumbled in agreement, shaking almost my entire body. Almost everyone else had already made their way to the hall for dinner, leaving only a few people who were a bit slower getting out of their cabins left.

I made my way down the stairs and onto the path leading to the guild hall, the dirt shifted under my feet with each step. Dust and pebbles went everywhere, that was when I realized I was dragging my feet along in a somewhat obvious fashion, I probably looked like I was angrily storming about. In reality this was usually the most silent way to walk for me, very little impact and my soles were so worn out there wasn't noticeable skidding.

Once I got to the guild hall I just stopped and stared at the door, last time I walked in this building my life was flipped on its head. I could feel my heart racing, I had to give a few deep breaths before I had calmed down my nerves. A couple people pushed past me in to the hall, giving me some odd glances as they passed by. I finally collected myself enough to place my grip on the handle of the door and slowly push it inwards.

As I looked upon the guild hall, I immediately noticed how much brighter it was compared to my earlier visit. The dim orange lights were now a bright white color, fully illuminating the entire hall. Instead of the haphazard arrangement the tables had been in earlier they were now neatly placed into rows. They were almost completely filled with apprentices and loads of food. When I looked above, there was a smooth stone outcropping from the walls. As I got further inside I could see that it was a second level of seating with even more tables and a rudimentary staircase leading up to them.

Right in the center of the staircase was some sort of large station set up with several people situated behind the counter. As I got closer I could see that the station was where people were getting their food, and the people behind the counter were apprentices using magic to concoct food. Each was wearing a tall white chef's hat, it seemed like somewhat of a joke considering they weren't actually cooking anything.

In front of each of them was a long line of people waiting to be served. One by one they went up to the counter, gave their order and was quickly handed their food. It was an amazing sight to behold and I couldn't wait to get some food. I slowly made my way up to the "chef" on the far left and waited in line to be served.

As I waited, I felt my nose begin to twitch, picking up on the many overpowering smells wafting up from the many different trays of food scattered throughout the hall. I could barely contain myself from drooling, everything smelled so delicious and I couldn't wait for my food. It had been so long since I'd had a nice wholesome meal, longer than I could even remember, but everything from back then was always hard to think about.

I was snapped out of my daze by a gruff voiced man asking "Are ya' just gonna stand there or are ya' goin' to make an order?"

The man looked like a wrestler, he was tall, buff, and definitely not the kind of person you wanted to mess with. He had on a black t-shirt with the phrase "Cook Together, Die Together", it had a skull and cross bones wearing a chef's hat on which might be comical, given the person wearing it didn't look like they wanted to kill you.

"Oh... Umm... sorry, what do you have available...?" I weakly stammered out.

The man looked very annoyed by the question, but the it seemed to dawn on him "Oh, kid, are you new to camp?" He asked, sighing.

"Y-Yes sir, I just got in a few hours ago, I'm not really sure how this works exactly..."

The man placed his arm on the counter and held up his other creating a greenish-yellow seal above his palm "Look kid, whatever kind of food you can think of, I can make it for ya', get it?"

I nodded immediately, not wanting to upset him any further than I already seemed to have. Despite how hungry I was, I hadn't really been thinking of what it was that I wanted to eat, that always seemed to be the problem. I looked around the room, trying to get a bit of inspiration for the meal that I was in the mood for. I stopped, seeing a dish that made me realize exactly what it was that I wanted for dinner.

I looked up to the man and confidently said "I would like a platter of nine shrimp sushi and some smoked salmon, please"

The man smiled at me and then pulled out a plate from underneath the counter, placing it directly in front of me. He placed his hand over the plate, forming another glowing seal directly under his palm. Slowly, piece by piece a plate of shrimp sushi assembled itself before my eyes, finishing off with a well-smoked piece of salmon right in front. The entire dish looked very fancy, presented elegantly on a bright white plate with gold trim around the edge.

"There ya' go lad, nine shrimp sushi and a smoked salmon, enjoy your meal and welcome to camp!" The man said excitedly as he handed me the plate.

"Thank you very much" I smiled and grabbed my plate, heading off to find somewhere to sit.

I wandered around the hall for a bit trying to find somewhere empty for me to sit, until I heard a voice call over to me.

"Hey Avien!"

I looked in the direction of the voice to see Viktor standing up and waving me over. He was seated with four other apprentices at a table close to the right side of the hall. Each of them had their hair tied up in a bandana, much like Viktor and they had grease scattered all over their clothes and face. They had all clearly been working with some form of machinery just before they came here.

I made my way over to the table and sat myself down, being met with some less than pleasant looks from the other members of the table. Much like everyone else I met, they gave me a quick once-over, this time it was followed by a look of disgust, like they had just been shown a picture of a brutal murder victim. They muttered amongst themselves, I couldn't hear exactly what it was, but most likely it was something rude directed towards me.

Viktor chimed in with "So, guys, this is Avien, he's the guy everyone has been talking about, the son of Strataros..." His tone was a bit hollow, he clearly felt a bit awkward mentioning it.

"Oh right, the child of wind, let us all bask in his glory" One of the boys said sarcastically.

I sank down in my chair, retreating in to my jacket "Umm... there's no need for that, I'm just another person like anyone else..." I said meekly.

The boys looked at it each other, then back to me and let out a hearty laugh "You?! A normal person?! Are you kidding? Kid you are an atrocity that shouldn't exist in this world and I'm sure everyone here would be much happier if you were..." He was cut short by Viktor placing his arm in front of me in a protective manner.

"Chazz, step off, he didn't ask for any of this and you certainly are not making him feel any better" Viktor shouted angrily at the boy.

Chazz looked shocked by this remark "Dear me Viktor, are you standing up for this little freak?" He accentuated that last word while glaring right at me, causing me to sink further in to my jacket.

Another one of the boys added "I mean, come on man, what's the point, he's just going to end up getting us all killed!"

I couldn't take it, I couldn't take this kind of torment, not right now. I had to get out of there, I had to get out of there as quickly as possible. I jumped out of my seat and bolted to the door, tears beginning to well up in my eyes. I shoved my way through the door and stopped just outside, collapsing to the ground, tears pouring down my face. They stained small dark spots on the ground as they fell, one by one, dropping to the earth.

I sat there for what seemed like an eternity, feeling like absolute garbage. It wasn't just that they had said hurtful things to me, it was the fact that they were right! I was a freak who should even exist, and with my luck I was going to get them all killed. After all, Lilith was only injured because of me, no matter how much Viktor had to do with it, it was my fault she was injured.

Just as I was about to walk back to my cabin and hide in my room, Viktor came out of the guild hall. I looked up at him, tear stained face looking worse than ever before. He looked down at me with a very sympathetic gaze, taking a seat right next to me. He looked down at the ground underneath me and took note of the dark spots formed by my tears.

He sighed, disappointed "Now what are you sitting out here doing, your food is going to get cold..." His voice was cautious, as it should be.

I wiped the tears out of my eyes and looked over at him "They're right, you know, I shouldn't exist..." I croaked out, my voice scratchy and sore.

"Don't you ever say that!" Viktor shouted at me, tears welling up in his eyes "Who cares if your dad broke some stupid pact?! Just because he screwed up doesn't mean you deserve to be hated by everyone!"

I looked down at the ground "It doesn't matter that I didn't do anything, I'm still at fault, they don't hate me, they're afraid of what I could do and what I mean to this world. I'm the forbidden child, I shouldn't exist..."

Viktor placed his hand on my shoulder causing my head to shoot up and look at him, he was crying. "Avien, I know what you're trying to do, and I'm not going to let you. You can pretend like this is all your fault and that everyone is justified, but they aren't, none of this was your fault"

I could feel my body growing hot from Viktor's touch "Oh yeah?! How do you know what I'm thinking?!" I shouted, not truly angry, just frustrated at him.

He gave me a very stern and somewhat somber look "Because I've been where you are right now..."

My eyes widened in shock, I couldn't think of what to say. Viktor leaned up against one of the columns of the hall and looked up, wistfully, at the stars.

"I didn't exactly grow up in the greatest home..." He began to say, his voice a bit shaky. "I was born to a family of highly skilled apprentices. Sure, we weren't the highest tier, but we were extremely skilled at magic. When I was born, I was expected to follow that legacy and be the next great Terranova apprentice of earth, but I didn't exactly live up to their expectations..." He stopped briefly, removing his bandana and wiping his eyes, his frizzy hair going everywhere.

He tied his bandana back up and continued his story "I was scrawny, weak and I couldn't even make a proper magic seal, to them I was garbage, they wished I hadn't been born. One day, to try and teach me some discipline the trapped me inside of a stone cage. I spent the entire night trying to break out, after several hours I finally did. My first thought was to simply head inside to my family, but then I realized that if they didn't want me, then they wouldn't have to deal with me anymore. I ran away from home. After a while wandering around in the woods I stumbled across this camp, and they accepted me with open arms, made me feel like I actually belonged somewhere..."

I just sat there, looking at Viktor as he took off his bandana to wipe off his face once again. I had no idea that he had dealt with such horrific things in his life. It made sense why he had been so nice to me, despite knowing what I was, he had been in the exact same position before, he truly knew what it was like. All I could do was lean over and tightly hug him, wrapping my arms around him as I began to sob uncontrollably.

I could feel him pat me on the back, comforting me "Avien, don't worry, no matter how many people try to hurt you, I will always be here to protect you, because we are friends, now and forever..."

I tried my best, but all I could manage was "Thank you..."

Several minutes passed as we sat there, thinking and contemplating, I had no idea what I could say. Viktor had just told me the nicest thing I had ever heard, no one had ever put themselves before me, I felt honored. I had just met Viktor and he was already prepared to fight for me, not knowing almost anything about me other than the fact that I had a psychopath living in my head. I couldn't even comprehend feeling that way towards anyone at this point.

Then I thought of something "Wait, you said that you came here from a home, does that mean there are towns and such outside of the camps?"

He looked over at me, putting on a brave smile "Of course there are, not everyone lives at camps, there are hundreds of small towns dotted around our world, and even a few large cities. In fact, most of the camps are located within cities where the Masters reside."

I shot up, much more interested now "Wait, so the Masters just live amongst us apprentices?"

Viktor laughed "Well, most don't exactly live with us, but they do stay near their respective camp as somewhat of a guardian. Although, I've heard stories that Camp III, the one for descendants of your dad, is very frequently visited by him."

My eyes widened, realization dawning on me "My mom... she said that she met my dad at a camp retreat... do you think she was an apprentice at Camp III?!"

Viktor gave me and odd look, pondering the question "That's possible, but you grew up in the realm of mortals, which I guess would make sense if Strataros knew what you being born would mean to this world and he wanted to hide you."

I nodded, that made a lot of sense, if he knew that my birth could totally turn this world on its head he would most likely want to keep me as hidden as possible and hope that I would never be found.

"So... uh... where exactly is your mom then?" Viktor asked.

"Oh, about that, she um..." I stopped, unable to say it.

Viktor placed a hand on my shoulder, looking me in the eyes "It's okay dude, I understand, you don't have to continue..."

I gave him a weak smile "Thanks..."

We went back to sitting against the guild hall as the sounds of dinner and revelry continued inside its walls. The smells from inside wafted out causing me to remember how hungry I was. I looked down at my sushi and salmon and realized that I didn't have anything to eat them with.

I looked over at Viktor, remembering how he had created the stretcher out of wood earlier "Hey... would you be able to make chopsticks, like you did with the stretcher, earlier?"

He smiled, cracking his knuckles and placing his palm over the ground "I certainly can!" He said as another seal formed and two wooden sticks began to sprout from the ground and form into the shape of chopsticks. I watched in amazement, excited to eventually learn how do my own magic, assuming anyone would be willing to teach me.

Viktor plucked the chopsticks from the ground and held them out in his hand "Here you go!" I took them, admiring how smooth they were.

I placed the chopsticks in between my fingers and picked up one of the rolls of sushi, placing it in my mouth and chewing it. I was amazed by how good it tasted, I hadn't had sushi in so long and I wasn't quite sure if I would still like it. It brought back so many happy memories of spending time with my mom and when my life was much simpler.

"What exactly is that?" Viktor said, pointing to the sushi.

I laughed, quite surprised by the question "You've never had sushi before?" I said, holding a piece between the chopsticks.

"No, I've never even heard of it..."

I held the plate up to him, offering him some "Go ahead, take a piece, it's really good, I'm sure you'll like it, assuming you like fish..."

Viktor cautiously picked up a piece, briefly observing the foreign orange and green roll before plopping it in his mouth and chewing. His face went through a mix of shock, confusion, and then disgust before he quickly spit out the sushi.

"Ighck! What in Sengario's name was that?!"

I chuckled, amused by his dramatic reaction to the cuisine "It's avocado, wrapped in rice, wrapped in seaweed, wrapped in shrimp. I find it absolutely delicious, although, given the whole Ninx thing, it may make a lot more sense now..." I said, happily chewing down on another piece of sushi.

He gave me a very confused and bizarre glance as I finished off the last roll "That, my friend, is truly a product of Zeraph himself"

I smiled, picking up the salmon and swallowing it whole "Well the, I dare say that Zeraph is quite the masterful chef!"

We turned and looked at each other, before bursting out laughing hysterically. It felt good to laugh, it always makes you forget about any problems you could potentially be having or bring light to someone's otherwise terrible day. Once we had finished our fit of joy we laid down and looked up at the stars, they were so clear at bright here in camp.

"Hey, you know what we might want to do?" Viktor said, finally breaking the silence.

I turned to him, cocking my head sideways "What's that?"

"We should go see if Lilith is awake yet" he responded, his voice a bit distant.

I frowned "Do you really think she'll want to see me right now, I am the one who got her hurt after all..."

Viktor jumped to his feet and chuckled "Nah, I'm sure she'll be totally fin, she's not really one to hold grudges..."

I stood up as well "Somehow I doubt that, very much... but, sure let's go see her"

We began walking towards the infirmary, guided by the lanterns as the noise from the guild hall faded behind us. The training grounds were completely empty now, which felt very odd, considering every time we had seen them they had been bustling with activity. The whole camp was eerily quiet, save for the distant noise of the guild hall and the crackling of lantern fires.

As we neared the infirmary we noticed there was a light on in the infirmary, even though there were no nurses there right now.

"I guess that means Lilith is awake?" I said, cautiously eyeing the door to the infirmary.

"That, or one of the other patients, the lanterns inside are set to ignite whenever any of the patients wake up.

I nodded, pushing the door open and walking inside, there was only one lantern lit in the entire infirmary. In the bed underneath it was the darkened form of a girl, she was reading a book and she had something on her back. As I got closer, I realized that the thing on her back was a pair of wings, it was definitely Lilith.

She turned over to us and said "Hey guys, how was dinner?"