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Gateways to Casselonia chapter4

Sorata was in the middle of a dream.

 

"Sorata. Come on wake up. Sorata."

"...Mmmm..."

 

The voice calling out to him belonged to someone he knew all too well: his mother. The tone of her voice sounding calm and gentle, but at the same time urgently demanding a response to her request. Sorata felt his right shoulder being shaken softly. With a quiet groaning sound forcefully making it's way out from his mouth, he opened one eye and raised his head up from his makeshift pillow-arms to find his mother looking down at him.

"Geez, what have I told you about sleeping at the table? You promised me you wouldn't stay up so late anymore, remember? And don't tell me you were studying all night for a big test because I've already heard that excuse before." Still half asleep and only one eye open, he could only make out the bottom half of his mother's face. Her cheeks puffed out pouting at him. She turned around slowly, then made her way over to the sink and began washing dishes. "If you're done eating then get ready for school. You have perfect attendance so far. So don't do anything that can put your streak in jeopardy." Her talking reverberated daintily around him, as if where they were was a hollow shell or something.

Sorata soon came to realize he was in the kitchen of his house. He sat on one of the chairs, his person already dressed in the black uniform of Adachi Ward Public High School, in addition, his school bag on the ground next to him. No memories of ever getting up and dressing for school were in his head, but somehow it had just happened on it's own volition. The familiar aroma of his mother's morning miso soup made it's way into his nose. He looked around the room for a minute, giving all his senses an opportunity to analyze the environment. The sound of the running water from the sink felt real, as was the wooden texture of the black kitchen table upon gently stroking it with his right index finger. Following through with the previous action, Sorata went so far as to examine his own finger that grazed the smooth table top, looking at it with a puzzled expression.

Behind him, the sounds of someone flipping through static channels on the television became audible out of nowhere. Or it could be that Sorata wasn't paying any attention until now. Still, he became curious about who could be behind him in the living room but didn’t make the attempt to look back. He felt it wasn't possible to turn around in his chair actually, for some odd reason. The intention of questioning exactly why he couldn’t do so didn’t cross his mind either. But a sudden pain of disappointment showed up on his face as a result of it. There was a chance it could be his father or his younger sister only a few meters away from him. “I... I want to see them too”, Sorata said to himself on the verge of crying as he looked down at his hands placed on each lap. A few drops of tears fell on them, making a quiet plop sound as they crashed landed. His head laid hanging for a brief moment.

He had seen his mother again for the first time in over a day, and now the chance of seeing one of two possible other family members once more was being denied to him. The time he'd been apart from them was really only a short one, but someway or another the opposite was also true. Upon raising his head back up, the kitchen and the house were gone. 

Not even a small trace of it once being there was left behind. Everything disappeared from sight.

A sudden rushing gust of wind pushed heavily against his back, he couldn't feel the chair below him anymore nor the ground for that matter. It was then that Sorata found himself freefalling in a surreal world between the sky and the earth, where the horizon was vertical.

Falling without the slightest chance of ever landing anywhere, Sorata peeked over to the right where the earth was. He knew how fast he was travelling by how drastic the nature of the landscapes changed over a few seconds. He caught glimpses of thick forests, grasslands, farms, suburban areas, shrines and temples, even chains of mountains in only a mere four seconds of focusing. And as he did, he interpreted the land beneath as his home country of Japan.

Glancing over to the left side, only clouds and the beautiful blue of the sky expanded endlessly.

River-like cirrus clouds were the farthest away and almost immobile despite the speed he was falling at. Nearer clouds past him by at a faster rate, while some even felt close enough to reach out and touch.

Since there were no obstacles near or around Sorata (except clouds), the stretching sky easily filled over 120 degrees  of his vision like a museum planetarium. He then turned his eyes in front of him to the shimmering horizon line -now vertical- that split the world in half.

It was truly a breathtaking scene, but Sorata's half unimpressed, straight-face made it seem as though he had experienced this more than once already. It could be that he indeed was completely awestruck by this 'stoner's paradise' of an experience, but because of the impact on his psyche, it was possible to be left speechless.

One second he was in his house's kitchen, and the next he's falling sideways in the sky.

Sorata's uniform flapped violently as his body collided with the wind. Both arms and legs laid peacefully in their natural resting positions defying all laws of physics, undisturbed by the overflowing force of the wind.

With a hypnotic stare, he gazed at a specific point in the vertical horizon before him. There was a tiny bulge of white light becoming bigger and brighter by the second, like when the sun slowly rises at daybreak. Only thing was that this sideways world already seemed well lit by the light of it's own sun over on the left side, it didn't make any sense for it to have another one. He squinted his eyes at the growing light. The intensity of it's brightness increased rapidly to a point where everything near and everything far from it became lost in it's long, blinding light rays.

Sorata quickly placed his left arm over his eyes to block out the rays but left it slightly angled for his right eye to catch a glimpse of anything that might happen. "Ughh..." groaning and clenching his teeth, the light persisted on shining ever brighter, erasing everything from his visibility in it's path. Only pure whiteness surrounded him. If Sorata hadn't blocked the intense light from his eyes just moments earlier, beyond any doubt he would be blind already. "What-- what is this light? I can't... take it..."

Like an enormous tidal wave, a surging beam of light roared vigorously in his direction. The light from the vertical horizon became so unbearably radiant and vast, it swallowed him whole.

The mysterious light that came peeking over the vertical horizon, in reality was nothing more than the morning sun coming in from the small window of the shack hitting Sorata in the 

face. To make it even worse, the light flickered quickly as a pair of birds outside flew in the path of the beam of light. Brushing against the hay mattress and groaning with annoyance, he re-adjusted his blanket-covered body to face the stone wall on the left. Hopefully this could prevent anymore strong light from shining through his eyelids.

It may have been for naught. Despite changing sleeping positions, Sorata opened his eyes slowly to the cheerful singing of birds welcoming a new day.

His groaning continued somewhat while raising his body from his slumber. It sounded more or less like he didn't get a good night's sleep. He did however, have a dream that poked at his emotions at the beginning.

Sitting upright on the hay mattress in a pair of male pajamas given to him by Mrs. Finlogg, Sorata quietly went back into the dream, remembering anything he could about it. Still images of his head trip played out like a short movie. "What was that all about? That last part scared me almost half to death. Just what exactly am I supposed to do from now on? I never asked to be separated from my family, my friends. Something had to have happened after we drowned in the lake that transported us here... Uugh! I'm so confused." Pressing his left palm slightly above his left eyebrow, Sorata hopelessly questioned his current situation. "Dammit!... I can't think of anything at the moment that can help us get some answers... But I wonder. What would lord Maxwell... what would he say if I told him we'd come from another world? Would he think we're crazy and accuse us of being heretics and burn us alive like they did to Joanne of  Arc? This world's timeline doesn't seem to be connected to ours though, so they may have never heard of her." Pausing for a moment, Sorata placed his left hand under his chin this time in a meditative manner.

"This place... Casselonia... It's as if this were a fantasy movie or t.v. show." Flashbacks of the gargantuan castle with levitating pillars of light from the day before came back to his head. "And that huge castle I saw when I came out from under the water. Was it even real? No... of course it was real. There's no way that Mizuki and I could be experiencing the same thing without it being authentic."

After mentioning Mizuki's name in his thoughts, a soft rustling sound of fabrics on the elevated bed to the right caught his attention.

Under thin white sheets, Mizuki's legs were moving slowly, readjusting from their previous position. She let out a subtle moaning sound without opening her mouth, still asleep. Sorata then remembered they had both slept in the same room. He stared intently at her, Mizuki's back facing him. "I wonder how she's doing right now. Yesterday she barely said anything to anyone, even to me after we were left alone in this room. That was odd though. She hugged me out of nowhere and started crying her eyes out... And then I--"  

Sorata remembered himself telling Mizuki that he would protect her. It made him blush a little thinking back on that moment where he thought he was acting cool in order to look good for her. But now he felt the exact opposite. He should have let her cry on his back without saying something so ridiculous like protecting her and what not.

There could be a chance where he wouldn't be able to do anything for her either from lacking in physical strength, to lacking in courage.

He closed his eyes tight and shook his head at the pathetic image projecting in his mind right now.

For all he knew, he had dug his own grave in the worst possible way.

Sorata looked over at Mizuki once more, only able to see her beautiful jet-black hair shining in the light of the sun coming through the window above her bed. Some long strands of hair hung over her exposed, white shoulder. Her body expanding slightly from her breathing. She seemed so calm sleeping as if nothing had ever happened, so calm in fact that it was spreading over to Sorata.

Still looking at her, he let out a sigh and thought "How could I not protect her? As a man, I have to keep my word no matter what, or else. And maybe... just maybe, she actually took me serious last night and wants me to be there for her."

With this thought in mind, Sorata firmly tightened his left hand into a fist and his face turned serious. The uneasiness in his mind vanished instantly. If there was anything in this strange new world worth protecting according to him, it was definitely Mizuki.

A soft knocking sound echoed softly from the back door in the hallway. Sorata turned his attention quickly to where it was coming from, waiting for someone on the other side to say something, but he didnt hear a word.

Sounds of keys rattling and then moving around in the keyhole faintly made it through the thick wooden door.

Then, steady and slowly, it opened and the hinges squeaked from the little oil they had left. Sorata was bracing himself for whoever was coming in, almost as if it was a burglar or something, but that idea was just silly. Footsteps made their way into the hallway sounding closer and closer.

And lord Maxwell peeked his head into the room, making eye contact with Sorata and waving his hand at him girlishly with a big smile as if posing for a photo. "Hey there newcomer. I wasn't expecting to find anyone awake yet, but you saved me some time, hihi!"

...Except it wasn't lord Maxwell as Sorata predicted.

Instead, it was the head maid of the manor: Lola.

He didn't know who she was exactly, but judging from her maid uniform, there was only one obvious clue as to what her role was in the manor. He took a good look at her as she smiled and waved at him. She had in her other arm what seemed to be an extra maid uniform with each separate garb stacked and folded neatly into squares.

She was beautiful, Sorata thought. And he blushed slightly at the beautiful dark skinned girl before him, not looking away almost hypnotized by her perfect smile.

The maid uniform she wore wasn't helping either. Sorata came from a country where maid cafe's are abundant in big cities, and where young men are treated like royalty in them. So in a sense, he had one of his many adolescent dreams standing right in front of him.

There was no way he could resist not to stare at her with hearts in his eyes.

"I can see that the young girl is still deep in her slumber. Hmmm, she looks so cute bundled up in fetal position like that. I guess I can consider myself lucky to have such a cutie as my junior hihihi. Oh, I can't wait to see her fitted in the maid uniform I brought. I'm so excited!"

"... Uhh..."

Lola giggled as she looked at Mizuki sleeping in her bed like a baby. Sorata was rather surprised to see and hear someone say all these flowery things about Mizuki so care free like that. He wasn't disagreeing  with the maid's opinion at all, on the contrary, they shared mutual views about her. But the way she was acting just didn't fit the image of how a maid carried herself in 

front of others, from his understanding. Maybe because from now on they would be co-workers, formalities weren't as important.

"Pardon me. I get carried away sometimes when I see cute things like animals and children. It's something I can't help but squeal." She laughed a bit out of embarrassment trying to explain herself.

"N-no, I don't mind... or uhh... I uhh, I mean. I-it's okay hehehe-..." Stuttering and at a loss for words, Sorata became self conscience of his own talking. "Dammit, I can't find the exact words to say. All I'm doing is spitting whatever nonsense out of my mouth like an idiot." As Sorata finished cursing himself in his thoughts, with a soft rustling and moving of sheets, Mizuki gradually began to wake up. Again, she gave out a tender moaning sound while rising and rubbing her left eye with the hand of the same side. She was still drowsy. “Rise and shine there sleepy head. It’s time to welcome a new day.” Mizuki looked up at the maid with tiredness in her eyes, blinking repeatedly.

"Mmmm... a foreigner?..."

"A foreigner?... hehehe, no. My family has lived here in Casselonia for almost a thousand years to tell you the truth. I was born and raised here too actually."

Mizuki came to her senses, and in a heartbeat she was fully awake, eyes wide and glaring at Lola almost with fear.

"Uh- uh- ummmm, I... I- I no speak English!"

"Huh, English? What is--"

"Aaaaah! M- Mizuki is just tired from the very long trip we had yesterday to get here! S- she's still sleepy as you can see and, and uh... she can't really think straight in the morning unless she stretches first. Yeah that's about right. Aha-ahahaha...!" Getting out of his wooden box bed and stumbling rapidly over to Mizuki's side, Sorata tried to cover for her since she was obviously at a loss of words like he was. She could end up spouting something deemed insulting or disrespectful in this new culture they were in, with no knowledge of their customs. And he wanted to prevent anything at all costs that might make lord Maxwell regret hiring them. They couldn't afford to be entirely on their own, especially right now.

"Nyahahaha! Oh don't worry about it alright. I already heard everything from lord Maxwell last night." Lola responded in a sympathetic voice, seeing Sorata almost flip out and trying to explain Mizuki's strange behavior.

"What exactly do you mean 'everything'?"

"Yeah he told me the reason why the two of you came along yesterday. Supposedly, Mr. Risenmarc spotted you guys floating in the Grand River that flows through the center of Casselonia. And he thought it'd be a nice idea if he brought you along over here to work since we were short on staff and all." Mizuki stared at the maid breaking the news to her. She was surprised of course, Mizuki still had no idea what happened after she drowned in the lake during the barbecue. She didn't even know that Sorata had jumped in as well to save her. And now she was being told about how they were rescued in the middle of a river.

"Also…”

Sorata and Mizuki listened carefully, Lola’s voice taking on a half suspenseful tone.

She then hugged herself and squirmed from one side to the other, exchanging her previous tone to an overly romantic one, “He mentioned that Mr. Risenmarc found Sorata embracing the unconscious Mizuki tightly in his arms 

as if they were lovers. Protecting her from the evil gazes of the townspeople crowding around the levy’s.” She of course was exaggerating that last part a little, only to poke fun at them to see if they would deny the ‘being lovers’ part or not. Gasping at the revelation, Mizuki became flustered rapidly and turned a sharp gaze over to Sorata who was equally taken back by the maid’s own personal twist on the events.

“W-wait a second i-i-i-it’s not like that, it was never like that! I mean, it’s true that I did have her in my arms but… b-but it was all to prevent her from drowning because she was unconscious!”

Mizuki tucked her arms and shoulders close to her body, and lowered her head so the long front bangs would hide her eyes.

“Hahahaha! Oh my I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. It seems that was a little too much. I never intended any harm though. I admit I exaggerated somewhat in what I said, hahaha! But it was all just to confirm a hunch.” Laughing to the point of crying, Lola swiped away an incoming tear forming at the edge of her eye with her left index finger. "I wonder. Just what kind of hunch could it be?..." , he asked himself, though he knew all too well exactly what she was thinking. Sorata pouted with a half sad- half annoyed look on his face thinking he would have to deal with Lola’s teasing from here on out. Sure, he could just admit that he was jubilant to have had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hold the most popular girl of his school in his arms and be more than willing to do it again, but that definitely would be the death sentence of any possibility he had of Mizuki acknowledging him as a potential love interest.

Clearing her throat with a cough, the maid tightened herself back to a more professional posture and her voice more adequate, but without losing the tone of friendliness she came in with. "Ahem. Anyhow, I can't allow myself to forget what I came here to do in the first place. Lord Maxwell informed me that the two of you were new recruits and that starting today, you were going to start working in the manor. And thus I was instructed to come wake you up and assign each of you your duties for the day. Although you both woke up on your own so I can’t exactly say I did my job, tee-hee!”

Lola handed Mizuki the maid uniform she’d been holding on to.

“This is your uniform Mizuki. The maid cap is supposed to be a one-size-fits-all, but in case it slides off too easily just let me know okay?”

“Thank you…” Mizuki responded under her breath and put forth her hands to receive the working clothes.

“Well then, now that we have that out of the way, I’ll be waiting outside at the door for you guys to get ready. We have a long day ahead now, there’s a lot of work that needs to get done, so we’re gonna need all the help we can get from you two.” Lola bowed slightly and then headed towards the door in the hallway. About half way through, she stopped in her tracks and without turning around or anything she added one crucial piece of information she forgot to mention. “Oh yeah by the way. My name is Lola. Lola Stradfield.”

“Uh… thank you then, Miss Lola Stradfield.” Sorata replied automatically.

“Heh. Just Lola is fine.”

“O-okay, umm…”

Clicking, jingling, and creaking, the loud keys and the door made it clear the maid had taken her leave from the external servant’s quarters.

“See you outside.” She concluded with a melodic tone.

Again, Sorata and Mizuki were left alone but this time would be much more brief than last night. The room became uncannily quiet without the talkative maid around, only the sounds of the birds chirping outside made any noise within, not letting the atmosphere become too quiet at least.

Sorata and Mizuki then made accidental eye contact, not knowing they both thought about taking a quick glance at the other at the same time, to which caused their faces to blush fiercely red. Instantly turning their embarrassed selves away, there came an awkward silence into the room that lasted shortly, but felt long enough to take up the entire morning. Lola's overdone explanation still lingered fresh in their heads.

"... Uh- ummm... could you... go in the hall please?"

"Huh?"

"I need to... change."

"Uhh... o- oh yeah! Yeah yeah sure, right away! S- sorry about that!"

Sorata just couldn't seem to catch a break. He felt he needed the people around him to repeat themselves quite often due to his carelessness at times. And right now felt no different.

He sighed once in the hallway, and then the sound of Mizuki undressing made it over to him. His sense of hearing became no more, plugging his ears with each hand tightly.

There was no way he could afford to keep letting himself blush for the entire day, he thought.

 

Lola was standing only a few steps away from the back door of the external servant’s quarters ( the shack ). Hands behind her back and swaying slightly side to side, the maid waited patiently under the shade of a tree for her new junior co-workers still inside. She was looking up at the sky, decorated with thin clouds that looked more like white brush strokes on a blue canvas.

The door behind her then signaled with it’s noisy squeak that the new recruits were out and ready to begin the working day.

“ Wow, out already I see. That was a lot faster than I expected for newcomers like yourselves. Hehehe-- we’re off to a good start, good job!” Lola welcomed them as she stretched out her right arm, giving them a big thumbs up.

“Ahahaha, thank you Lola.”

“Alrighty then, just follow me on over to the manor.” She began walking and Sorata and Mizuki followed instructively.

“First, I’ll take you two to lord Maxwell so you can say good morning. Then I’ll assign each of your duties for today before we part ways. Does that sound good?”

Both of them responded with a “Yes”, their voices in sync.

It wasn’t like Sorata and Mizuki had a choice in the matter to begin with. They were- after all- hired employees now and they had a moral obligation to repay the kindness the lord of the manor had shown them. Thanks to that, they had a job for now and a place to stay.

Now that daylight was bountiful everywhere, Sorata could finally make out features of the manor and the small village it governed. The manor itself was ample in width and height. It was robustly built with fine stonemasonry making up two floors total, and more decorative stone craftsmanship covering the outer edges. Tiles of an earthy orange and brown color covered the manor house along with a very rustic looking chimney, making up the roof. On that same side they 

were on, were long and sturdy wooden beams holding up an extruded portion of the second floor made of half-timber, very familiar and reminiscent to old European houses Sorata had seen before through travel shows on television. Except these had more subtle details engraved on the woodwork, giving it a sense of medieval fantasy from pop culture. Analyzing these details, Sorata became more inclined to reason that he and Mizuki were definitely not somewhere in their own timeline. As if the huge castle orbited by light pillars the day before wasn’t enough to convince him.

“Woah. This manor is quite something. I didn’t get a chance to get a good look at it yesterday because we arrived here after sunset. I wasn’t paying attention either, when Mizuki and I were getting off the wagon. I guess... this is the real deal then...”

His descriptive words of choice weren’t all that impactful, but nonetheless, he was impressed by the new reality he was living in.

Shifting his gaze over his shoulder, he noted the external servant’s quarters and the path connecting it were about on the same level of the hilltop as the manor house was. Giving an equal overview of the village down hill but from different perspectives.

Looking downhill at the village- excluding the manor and it’s external room- the village consisted of layered stone houses with thick thatched roofs for the serfs who worked under lord Maxwell, two huts of some sort that resembled blacksmith workshops, a small chapel-like building, and the main road cutting through the village.

Heavy scattered batches of trees surrounded the village, including the manor. Plantation fields, green meadows, and beautiful flower fields were neatly separated from one another.

The village even had it's own river, with a watermill and a cottage situated on the other side connected by a small stone bridge. This scenery was ideal for a painting, Sorata thought to himself. He never would have thought he'd be living somewhere that resembled a world heritage site.

He then noticed something approaching the village at a high speed. It was a little hard to see exactly what because of the distance. But not a minute passed before he could see that it was someone riding on horseback as they neared.

"Hmmm that's really strange."

"Strange? What is?"

"That man riding on horseback is a knight that does guard duty for lord Maxwell. Generally speaking, he comes in during the early evening hours to start his shift late at night when everyone is asleep. So it’s strange to see him arrive here so early. I hope everything is okay though. He seems to be in more of a rush than usual.”

“I- is that so? What’s his name by the way?”

“Pardon, I forgot to mention that. His name is Sir Bowen.”

“...Sir Bowen huh?” … Why wasn’t he here last night then, when Mizuki and I arrived? I mean, I don’t remember seeing him standing in front of the door or anything like that.”

“That’s because as of recently, he’s mostly been a part timer here at the manor. The truth is though-” Lola’s voice suddenly dropped to a more serious tone as she continued, “lately there’s been many growing political tensions between Casselonia and the Sovereign Kingdom of Koringia to the south. And many have been fearing that the current truce that’s been in place for over fifteen years will soon be broken at anytime, causing the Century’s War to pick up from where it left off.”

“A war you say? So, as the name implies… it’s actually been going on for an entire century?” Sorata looked at Lola, bewildered at what he was hearing.

“As a matter of fact, it’s been far longer than a century.”

“W… what?!”

“Yes. This war has actually been ongoing for 150 years. The exact anniversary of the war will take place by the middle of next month.”

“But... isn’t that insane? I mean… if both sides have been at war for this long, wouldn’t the population for both countries be almost zero at this point?”

“That’s a good question. Do you remember how I mentioned that the current truce has been in place for more than fifteen years so far?” Sorata nodded instinctively. “Well, the Century’s War has actually been carried out this way since it’s beginnings. Truces have been placed and broken time and time again, giving a chance to population growth. The longest one to date lasted for as long as twenty five years, the shortest being only a mere three weeks when it’s intended duration was two years. My family’s ancestors are far too familiar with this war, having fought in it since the very start. My grandfather used to tell me stories of all the battles he fought in, and all the friends he made and lost during his fighting. He told every kind of story you could possibly think of, from the most glorious of victories to the most tragic of tragedies. I was born four years before the last war ended when my father lost his life at the very end in a battle on Koringian territory. I don’t quite remember my father’s face at all since that was so long ago. I only recall seeing my mother cry on end for days when she learned about his death. But my earliest childhood memories of the last time any fighting occurred are but a blur.”

She let out a nostalgic but yet worrisome sigh after she finished, recalling her grandfather’s stories and her own that stuck like superglue in her mind. A soothing breeze then came in, sweeping the area.

“So to sum it up, Sir Bowen is doing part time work here because he’s off on his military training during the day. So much now that he’s only here three times every week, unlike before."

She paused for a moment, and then continued, "It really is tough… being a knight, that is.”

Hearing all this, Sorata became more aware of what kind of situation Mizuki and him had been placed in. They were in a country that could erupt in war sooner or later, and not just any war, but one that's been around for 150 years involving the same two nations. There were obviously plenty of nasty grudges to go around everytime it came back. So he only hoped nothing of the sort would happen as long as they were there. He didn't want to die in a conflict he had no business in before finding a way back to Japan. All the more reason to act fast.

In a hallway on the second floor of the manor, Lola guided Sorata and the ever so silent Mizuki over to a small library room where lord Maxwell was currently at. “Before I assign you two any work, I would like to take you two over to the library room to say good morning to lord Maxwell. He loves reading books before he starts out the day, supposedly they make him a tad more creative after he reads, and it allows him to be more productive when working.”

“Is that so? Books are a good way to expand one’s imagination, so I wouldn’t doubt what he says.”

“Yes, you’re right. The satisfied look on his face when he’s done working always proves that point to me. I guess that’s also the reason why he’s regarded as one of the best nobles in 

Casselonia. He loves what he does and always rewards those who work for him and with him a generous amount. That’s really the key ingredient for leading a prosperous village.”

“I can see why… It’s so different here from the medieval times in Europe where nobility really abused their power over the common people.”

“Medieval times in Europe?” Lola reiterated this specific line because of course she had never heard of Europe’s medieval times, nor did she know Sorata and Mizuki had come from a different world.

“Oh! Uhh, n-no I mean… y-you see it’s just that...” He panicked a little after Lola looked over at him from the corner of her eye. "Oh hell! What am I thinking!? Spitting out information so carelessly like I'm on a social media site. I need to be more careful about what I say and who I talk to when it comes to things only Mizuki and I would understand. There's no telling how these people will think if they found out." Sorata knew he messed up just now. He already made the mistake of telling Mr. Risenmarc and lord Maxwell where they were from, and naturally it was the first time they'd heard of the name 'Japan'. The real thing Sorata wanted to avoid disclosing right now at all costs was that he and Mizuki came from another world.

For all he knew, they could be sentenced to severe punishment or worst case scenario, death without a fair trial. Casselonia was in many ways, different from medieval Europe, but it was also very similar. It was still too early to know about any religious customs and rituals. So there was no way of knowing if mentioning topics like magic and traveling through wormholes were taboo enough to get you blamed for practicing witchcraft and therefore getting your lifespan cut short.

It was too big a risk to take, especially now since they had a place to stay.

The only thing Sorata could do was wait until someone else brought up a conversation about magic and such. That way he could have a clue as to how much people here tolerated the subject without sticking pitchforks and torches in his face.

Thankfully enough, Sorata caught a break for himself. As soon as he thought he'd be found out, the tall, dark skinned maid in front of him suddenly stopped in her tracks and said in a welcoming tone, "Good morning my lord."

"Good morning again Lola." Stepping out of a pair of wooden doors, lord Maxwell greeted Lola back as he exited the small library room. "The hot chocolate you made for me earlier this morning was exquisite as ever. I honestly don't know what I would do without it everyday after waking up."

"You overestimate my skills my lord. I merely do as my grandmother taught me long ago."

"Well, your grandmother must've been quite the the expert at making the best hot chocolate in all of Casselonia. I feel so lucky to sample a taste of such a marvelous recipe that's been past down through generations."

"Thank you my lord. I am sure that my grandmother would feel just as honored as I do to hear those kind words of yours."

Clearing his throat with a cough, lord Maxwell set both hands on the head of his walking stick. “So. What brings you here Lola? Is there something you need to tell me?”

“Well, it’s about the employees you asked me to assist today. I thought it would be good for them to come and greet you before I assign them their duties.” Stepping aside two steps to the 

right, she revealed Sorata and Mizuki standing right behind her already dressed in working clothes, ready to begin at any moment.

“Eh!?”

Sorata suddenly felt the weight of the lord’s eyes directly on him after Lola stepped away. Mizuki slightly moved in the same direction, but only enough to let the left side of her body be uncovered behind Sorata. It was strange because he already knew how amicable and casual the lord could be, even to those who were below him. Just yesterday when they met for the first time, the nobleman treated him as if they had known each other for a considerable amount of time, like they were uncle and nephew almost.

“Hehehe- Well hello there Sorata. Did you sleep well young lad?”

Reacting swiftly with a bit of nervousness, Sorata managed to pull himself together in time before letting his irrational fears freeze his joints stiff.

“Good morning my lord. Yes, Yes I did. Thank you for your concern. I am ready to work at any given moment. You just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” He bowed as he greeted.

Lord Maxwell laughed again at his new employee’s attempt to be formal. He wasn’t doing it out of disrespect or as a way to humiliate him, Sorata’s inexperience just made him act somewhat funny when trying to keep his cool in front of him. Tension and the sudden high pitch in his voice easily gave him away for being self-conscious, so it was natural for the peppered lord to view that same inexperience as ‘cute’ and not help but laugh.

“Hahaha! Didn’t I tell you last night there was no need to be so shy about it lad? Hahahaha- Whew. Besides, the one who’s gonna tell you what to do is Lola here, since she’s the head maid.” He giggled at the end.

Sorata couldn't help but feel embarrassed again. Maybe trying to be formal with this man was just a no go, and acting like a relative would be better so he could put an end to being laughed at.

A small feeling of disappointment came about inside him though. Part of him wanted to get along with the nobleman on a friendlier basis for the hospitality he had shown them, but since respect for elders ( especially those whom you had just met ) was an indispensable part of Japanese custom, Sorata felt awkward imagining himself acting so casual. It was something he would just have to let time handle on it's own. Sooner or later they were bound to get to know one another better.

"And I see Mizuki there trying to hide from me eh? Hehehe- Good morning young lassie, you look cute in your new maid uniform. Did you thank Lola when she gave it you?" Mizuki slowly came out behind Sorata's shadow and nodded in reply. She then lined up to his left side, bowed, and said--

"Good morning to you my lord. I would like to say that I am forever grateful to you for allowing Sorata and I to live and work here under such a prestigious house as yours. We will do our utmost so as to pay this debt we carry on our shoulders. And to answer your question my lord... Yes, I did thank miss Lola for the uniform. I shall wear it with pride."

"Very well then. I will see that the both of you not only work hard but also have fun while living here. A real manor prides itself on how well everyone works together after all." Lord Maxwell then directed himself to the maid, "I leave the rest to you then, Lola. There are things I need to take care of in my study."

"Yes my lord."

"Have a good day everyone."

Turning around in the opposite direction, lord Maxwell excused himself walking down the long hallway.

In his head, Sorata was baffled at the skill Mizuki had for sounding so professional and basically for doing a perfect 180 degree turn in her attitude when need be. "I don't know if she's faking her shyness or what, but... this girl... she really beats me at everything. I guess that's why she's the vice president of our school. She knows when to act and how."

Stepping back in front of them, Lola gave Sorata a mischievous grin as if making fun of him.

“Hehehehe. Maybe one day you’ll be just as cool and collected as Mizuki is. Right Sorata?...”

A big sigh made it’s way out of Sorata, relaxing his stiffened shoulders. “Give me a break. You deliberately put us on the spot by stepping aside like that. Rather, I was the one put on the spot.”

“Oh come on, you’re a man aren’t you? Lighten up a bit. Lord Maxwell knows you’re trying hard to impress him and all. The thing is, you look so cute doing it.”

“W- what!? C-c-c-cute!? What’s that supposed to mean?” He took a step back, not being able to comprehend how him trying to be polite to someone older ( and a noble at that ) could make him look cute. Stuttering and freezing in place didn’t fit his definition of cute whatsoever. All he knew was that when he needed to greet the lord, he always wanted to roll up in a ball and hide in the corner because of his fear of angering him.

“You can even ask Mizuki and she’ll tell you.”

“Mizu...ki?”

Slightly turning his head to the left, he saw Mizuki standing about arm’s length away, fully attired in her new black and white maid uniform. Their eyes met again and she looked away without any discretion, holding back the red pigmentation from blossoming on her white skin, not wanting to make eye contact.

Again, he felt  a drop of disappointment inside. Maybe he didn't want lord Maxwell, Lola, Mr. Risenmarc, or anyone for that matter to think of him as 'cute', but if it was Mizuki who thought of it that way, no doubt he would love the idea. But the current situation said otherwise. She was looking away as if she were bothered by him. Nothing says “I’m interested in you” like looking away, voluntarily ignoring the person.

Now on the first floor at the main entrance, Sorata and Mizuki stood side by side before Lola, her back turned to a magnificent set of stairs connecting the two floors together. “Alright then, let… me… see…” Lola said as she squinted her lush, green eyes at Sorata, putting a pair of fingers under her chin in brainstorm position.

“Uhh…”

“Hmmm…”

It was sort of an awkward situation for Sorata to sit through. Being stared at by a beautiful woman, eyes locked on to him like predators due to their prey. His eyes wandered everywhere except back at her.

“Ummm, Lola…?”

“Pipe down you. Can’t you see I’m trying to think?”

“Well that’s exactly what I want to know. Why are we standing here in the first place? I thought you were supposed to assign us work or something like that.”

Puffing her cheeks out like a balloon, the maid answered Sorata in a miffed tone.

“That’s what I’m doing. My problem is, I just don’t know where I should assign you to go… Mizuki isn’t much of a problem. Since she’s a girl, any kind of housework will do just fine. But you on the other hand, being a boy and all...”

Sorata gave her a forced smile that covered up his true feelings in regards to the last sentence. He knew she wasn’t in any way discriminating against him for being a man,it was just that to him it didn’t matter whether one was a man or a woman when it came to cleaning. He was there to work after all, “so why not just assign me whatever house chore?”, he thought.

“Umm, to be honest. I don’t really mind what kind of work I get assigned. It doesn’t matter… I’m here to work anyway--”

Then.

As if answering his call, the front door of the manor slowly opened behind them. The iron hinges cried out from being turned. "Pard'n the intrusion but..." A man's voice echoed softly through the main entrance of the manor and caught the trio's attention instantly. "One of our rakes got sep'rated from the handle, so I came t' see if ya'll got any extras 'round 'ere."

Turning their heads, Sorata and Mizuki saw a tall, thin man in his early forties standing with his left hand up against one of the doors. His hair was short, brown, and curly, with thick sideburns connecting to his shortened beard. He had a long sleeve yellow shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbow. A maroon colored vest, with equally colored pants along with dark brown boots.

He was sweating and his clothes had dirt and grass stains on them. Sorata then figured that the man before them had to be one of the villagers.

The man's racial features- like everyone else in Casselonia- was either one of two categories: Caucasian or African according to Sorata and Mizuki.

They had yet to meet anyone else who might look even a tad like them, or perhaps there were but they just hadn't crossed paths yet.

“Good morning Mr. Tybalt. How are you today?” Casually and naturally, Lola greeted the man at the door.

“Oh. Good mornin’ miss Lola. Didn’t know anybody was down ‘ere. I’m mighty fine today, thank ye very much.”

Looking straight ahead in Lola’s direction, Mr. Tybalt noticed the new faces of both Sorata and Mizuki focused on him. The way things were looking suggested he might have walked in and interrupted an important conversation and he may need to issue an apology. “Oh, sorry about that, miss Lola. Didn’t mean to interrupt. I see yer busy right now, so I’ll just go git some other one myself.” But the truth was, his timing couldn’t have been better.

And just like that, a lightbulb of ideas suddenly appeared over Lola's head. "Wait! Mr. Tybalt!" Before he could close the door again, he stopped at the sound of hearing his name. "Actually. I have a big favor to ask you."

"Huh? Uh, yeah. What can I do fer ye miss Lola?"

She took a quick glance at Sorata, thinking hard in her head. Then at Mr. Tybalt who was still at the door, a semi-puzzled look on his face.

"That's it. I know where I can assign him to work now. It was so obvious from the start. Why didn't I think of it earlier?"

"Is everythang alright miss Lola?"

She took another glance at Sorata, he was also looking a little clueless himself. Enthusiastically nodding a 'yes' to his question, the maid then responded saying, "Mr. Tybalt, can I entrust this young man here under your supervision for today? He's a new employee starting today, and I was having a little trouble thinking where I should assign him for his first duties. Would you mind taking him along with you so he can help out in the fields or whatever you see necessary?"

"Oh. So we finally got ourselves some extra hands t' help out eh? We-ll, I couldn't be more welcomin' myself ye see, hehehe!" Mr. Tybalt stepped inside and walked over to Sorata. Hearing the soft thumping of boots nearing him, Sorata slightly turned around, his vocal chords readied themselves to speak. And just as he did, an entire arm wrapped itself around his neck and out of nowhere felt his body press against the man's chest. Instead of him saying a hello or good morning, a wimpy ugh sound escaped his mouth from the unexpected physical embrace.

He was taken by surprise by a manly hug he didn't see coming.

"Nice t’ meetcha there young lad. My first name’s Abbadon, Abbadon Tybalt. ‘s gonna be a big help to have another man help us out in workin’ them wheat fields and choppin' firewood this season.”

“Too close… too close!!” Sorata’s personal space was being invaded beyond it’s usual use. But what irked him the most was the way it was purposefully done by a man who was twice as older than him whom he had just met. Sure he meant no harm, but he didn’t know that Sorata had come from somewhere with many different social norms, and too much physical contact from a stranger- no matter how good a person they were- would be enough to think twice about seeing them again.

"Is every person in this country this friendly to people they've just met? I don't know how I'm supposed to get used to these overly-welcoming customs."

"Why not tell me yer name lad?"

"Uh, ummm, I'm Sorata Honda. It's a pleasure to meet you sir."

"Huh? Sorata?... That's one bizarre name ye got there lad. Never heard of one such as that. Where ye from?"

"Oh, uhh... w- well... that's ummm..." Apparently, Sorata would have to devise some sort of strategy to dodge this question or change the subject. He began to understand that almost everyone he met would ask him this same question. The good thing was it still wasn't too late, only two people so far knew the name of where they came from and had the same pensative response about it's exact location.

Thankfully, Lola interrupted on time to change the subject.

"Ahem. I don't mean to get in the way Mr. Tybalt, but I think it would be best to leave those questions aside for now. First thing's first and we need to get working now."

"Ahahaha, of course. There's work t' be done and we can't afford t' stand 'round talkin' like it's a party. Pard'n me lad for askin' too much."

"It's fine, really. Hehehe." Sorata couldn't keep depending on luck every time. But for now, he was clear.

Mr. Tybalt putting his right hand on Sorata's right shoulder, made him turn around as he did and they both started walking towards the door. "Alright then, lemme tell ye what we're gonna do today--"

Mr. Tybalt continued talking to Sorata about the work he'd be doing as they headed outside.

Then, Sorata looked over his left shoulder behind him and saw Mizuki doing the same. She stood in the same spot without moving, only glancing at him. The expression on her face was indecipherable. Her lips somewhat opened, as if wanting to say something. Her beautiful hazel brown eyes glittered from the sunlight coming in from the opened door, as did her long pure black hair. Her eyebrows were slightly inclined, giving off a concerned look.

Maybe she didn't want him to go.

Maybe she was too scared to be left alone with other people she didn't know.

It could be anything.

Sorata didn't know how to interpret the unvoiced message Mizuki was relaying. Perhaps he was wrong about those things and she couldn't care less where he was going.

In no time, Sorata and Mr. Tybalt were out of the manor, and the door behind them began to close. Their gazes were still fixed on each other with no intention of looking away. And they held out until the door was completely shut, separating them for the first time since arriving to Casselonia.

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