"So you must be Allen Walker." I tried to rise to my feet, but the ground was uneven and I didn't expect to be standing on such rough terrain. It took a second try before I finally could bear my own weight and straighten my back. I had been told Allen was short, but to be honest he was around my height and I wasn't known for being particularly small.
"That's right!" The fifteen-year-old exorcist smiled brightly. A gleam of gold drew my eyes as the golem Timcanpy fluttered on his shoulder, in what was probably the equivalent of a wave.
"Okay, good." I let out a breath, the dog-like ears on top of my head relaxing a little. If I couldn't get the main character's name right, I had no clue how I would even survive here. "My name is Lucidia. Pleased to meet you."
Allen held out his hand, and I shook it firmly. "Hello, Lucidia. Welcome to -man."
"Allen, we're wrapping up now." A feminine voice piped up from behind him, and before I could think about whose it was another exorcist approached hugging a clipboard.
"Oh, okay," Allen sighed. He was visibly disappointed, but the brightness returned to his face almost instantly.
"You're Lenalee?" I guessed, a little timidly. I couldn't imagine how embarrassed I would be if I managed to get somebody's name wrong. Alienating the exorcists was not my idea of fun.
"Yep!" Lenalee looked a little bit surprised at first, but her expression relaxed quickly. "You must be Lucidia, then. Welcome."
I was about to reply, but Allen began speaking again. "You arrived at good time," he told me happily. "We're about to finish up for the day, so you can relax until we start up again tomorrow."
I nodded slowly, not quite understanding. I guessed that the characters did a lot of the acting work themselves – not a way I had thought about it before, but it was entertaining to roll the idea around in my head. "Okay, sounds good."
"I have a couple of things to take care of before we pack up. Lenalee can show you back to the base." Allen motioned towards the girl with the clipboard, who smiled in response. The exorcists seemed oddly friendly, but maybe that was just how they were outside the more well-known story of -man.
Still a little disoriented, I started following Lenalee. I attempted to think of something else to say, but before I could come up with an intelligent question yet another voice interrupted my thoughts. "Hey, Lenalee."
Startled, I turned to the source of the voice. Somebody else was approaching, but he didn't look familiar. At all. I panicked a little bit; I couldn't tell whether he was a friend or an enemy.
"Oh, hi, Alma," Lenalee stuttered, rotating herself much more slowly and calmly. Her words weren't quite as confident, though. "What brings you here?"
"I thought I'd say hello to the new girl." This character named Alma smiled amiably, showing pointed teeth. For the last few seconds I had been all but staring at him; immediately I had noticed, a bit nervously, that he didn't wear any clothes, but I relaxed a little when I realized there was no reason he needed to. My eyes traced the gracefully curving patterns on his body, which dyed his skin in various shades of bright blue and purple. As he answered Lenalee, my gaze fell to his face. He had narrow but lively eyes, with vivid sky-blue irises surrounding the slit pupils. Tapering stripes of ocean-blue traveled down his face from his lower eyelids, ending about at the corners of his lips. Fluffy blue and violet hair fell over his forehead, concealing long eyelashes and thick, expressive eyebrows. I noticed his ears were pointed at the tips like those of a cat, which made me want to pet them a little.
I was so absorbed in studying him that I jumped a little when Alma's sky-colored gaze met mine, and again when he spoke to me. "Is something the matter? You're staring a little." His smile turned from friendly to slightly awkward.
Abashed, I dropped my eyes to his feet (which, of course, were mostly purple). I took an extra second to answer the question because I had to form a relatively coherent sentence. "Oh, sorry… Your name is Alma? I'm Lucidia." I looked back up at him after I finished speaking, hoping my voice wasn't too quiet to hear. Meeting new people was not my strong suit.
"Pleased to meet you, Lucidia." Alma bowed his head quickly. I waited until he opened his eyes again and made eye contact, since having to repeat this would be embarrassing:
As expected, he blushed vividly, turning his face stripes a bright violet. "Oh, um… thanks. That's nice of you to say that…" He laughed a bit nervously, although I could see in his smile that he did appreciate the attention. When something started moving behind him, I noticed he had a tail – a long, slender one with an arrow on the end that was wagging like the tail of a contented golden retriever.
A rough hand appeared on Alma's shoulder, narrowly avoiding the pointed scale on its surface. "Alma, time to go. The director has a question for you."
Alma stepped aside to reveal Kanda standing behind him. Perhaps approaching from that direction hadn't been the best idea.
Kanda made eye contact with me for a split second, and then broke it intentionally. My ears started pointing back instantly; I had never liked Kanda very much (since he went around frowning all the time). To be honest, he was the last person I wanted to see here, other than the Millennium Earl.
"Oh. All right." Alma started to follow the hastily retreating Kanda. He glanced back at Lenalee and me for a moment. "See you later!"
I thought about replying, but he was already out of earshot before I could think of anything intelligent to say. Alma didn't appear to be uncomfortable with Kanda's presence, but maybe it was just me who had an inherent dislike for the grumpy exorcist.
"It's good you're getting along with… almost everybody," Lenalee piped up. "Don't worry about Kanda."
I shrugged, already aware of the difficulty of befriending Kanda. Instead of worrying about it, I decided to follow Lenalee to the base Allen had mentioned earlier. Was it like a big hotel? Or was it smaller, like a house? I guess I would have to find out.
I spent the night in what was essentially a hotel room. A big and comfy hotel room, but a hotel room nonetheless. I guessed that a lot of the rooms in the building – which turned out to be at least the size of a normal hotel – were around this size, given how many characters there were in -man. I wondered whether Allen had a bigger room, and if so, whether it was because he was more important.
Despite the unfamiliar surroundings, I managed to sleep well. The only possible issue was my odd schedule – I preferred to go to bed at eight and get up at six. I would have to leave my room to find out whether that was too early for everybody else.
Sure enough, by the time I was awake enough to exit into the hallway, it was silent and empty. There were probably people awake in other parts of the building, but none near me. Perhaps the rooms around me were vacant as well.
Fortunately, I was able to find my way downstairs (just go down). Only upon arriving at where I thought breakfast was served did I realize two things: first, this place was actually that big castle Black Order building I remembered (partially), and second, I was far too nervous to talk to that Jerry cook guy this early in the morning (providing he was even awake yet). Fortunately, the doors to the hall were open but Jerry was nowhere to be seen, so I assumed that I would be safe for now. I would have to ask Allen to order breakfast for me later.
It helped calm my nerves that there was nobody else here. Either I was very early, very late, or in the middle of two assigned times for everyone to get out of bed. Lenalee hadn't given me any specific directions before I went to sleep the night before, so I guessed that nobody would hurt me if I went somewhere funny on accident.
I was considering going back up to my room when I heard the giant door behind me swing open. Thinking a stranger would enter, I whirled around in my seat in case I needed to get up. However, I instantly recognized the flowing form of Alma, and let out the heavy breath I had been holding. I felt my ears droop a little above my head.
"Sorry," Alma murmured meekly, stopping in place at the threshold. "Did I startle you?"
I watched the pendulum motion of his tail against the backdrop of the dim hallway. "No, I'm just a little nervous is all." My eyes rose to his – I was glad I was farsighted at that moment, because I could separate all of the shades of blue on his face from my position not so near the door.
"New place?" he guessed, calmly taking a seat next to me. He kept his back bent a little, as though he wanted to keep his eye level at mine. I noticed through this that he was indeed several inches taller than I was.
"Yeah, something like that." I slowly drew my eyes back to the dull browns of the hall. Still empty. "Is it too early for everybody else?"
"Usually," Alma answered cautiously. "Neither the exorcists nor the Finders get up this early unless there's some issue they need to address, and it's peaceful here a lot of the time."
Exorcists and Finders. I ran the terms through my head again. My knowledge may have been a bit limited thanks to my unfamiliarity with my surroundings, but at least I knew who the exorcists and Finders were. I stared intently at the table for a few seconds longer before switching my gaze back to Alma. His sky-blue eyes had dropped as well, but rose again to mine when he noticed my head turning.
"You're not either?" I asked carefully, hoping I had interpreted his statement correctly. "You just like to get up early like me, then." The thought made me smile a bit – other people would often think I was a little crazy for avoiding sleeping in.
"Something like that." Alma smiled too, and I heard a hushed whoosh as he gave a little wag of his tail. If he really was one of the few people awake at this hour, he was probably lonely for a lot of the morning. I guessed that he was grateful for somebody to talk to.
An awkward silence ensued. Conversations were another one of my weak points – even small talk was usually outside of my comfortable range. I grew nervous and tried to avert my gaze, but I only ended up admiring his colors. Of course, once I realized I was staring, I looked even further away.
"Is there something I can do for you, Lucidia?" Alma inquired suddenly. "You're acting jumpy."
I felt my ears press against my head. "No, sorry, it's just me," I stammered. "I am a little nervous, since I just got here and all…"
I didn't notice the door open behind me again until I heard a familiar voice. "Hi, Lucidia. I didn't expect you to be here this early."
"Oh, good morning, Allen." I straightened my back quickly. Hopefully having Allen in the room would alleviate some of my stress, since I knew no matter what he wouldn't do anything to make me uncomfortable on purpose. After all, he was a bit like my tour guide. "Yes, I am a bit of an… early bird."
It wasn't long before breakfast did begin – as it turned out, I wasn't more than a few minutes early after all. However, Alma got up and left without eating before the hall got too crowded. I didn't have a chance to ask why, as I was hungry myself, and I managed to confront Jerry with Allen's help. Or rather, I managed to hide behind Allen while he took care of the introductions.
"By the way," Allen piped up a little after we had both finished, "I had something I wanted to ask you about."
I blinked, my ears flicking to each side a little bit. "What was it?"
"I have a more relaxed assignment tonight with a few Finders," Allen began. "There are a couple of nearby places we want to visit by boat for various reasons. As long as we're not reckless, it's not a dangerous mission. Would you like to come along?"
Come along? By boat? Traveling with an exorcist did sound like an interesting sort of vacation. I might as well do something to get more involved – just sitting around mooching off the cast wasn't my idea of fun. "What time tonight?"
"We would leave after it got dark and not return until morning," Allen replied, "so you might want to get some sleep during the day if you plan on joining us. There might be a lot of walking involved, though, so you would have to be prepared for that, too."
I was good at walking, at least. I had the endurance to travel more than eight miles if I needed to, and I could jog for several of those straight. Getting some exercise was tempting, but being nocturnal for one night was not as much. Still, I didn't want to get caught tagging along on a mission that involved killing dangerous akuma, so this might be a good place to start out. "Sure, I'll go. Where and when should I meet you?"
"I'll come to your room," Allen offered. "Be ready to leave around eight tonight."
The thought of going on an overnight voyage with Allen excited me. I wondered briefly whether I would be able to sleep with that expectation.
We rose from the table within a minute or two, and I started for my room with Allen not far behind. We had only gone a few steps into the (now brightening) hallway when a familiar silhouette, becoming a face, strode past. I barely had time to recognize the exorcist; his dark black eyes glared at me for a split second before continuing, presumably into the hall where I had just been.
My steps slowed a little bit, and I couldn't help but shudder. Kanda could have at least ignored me as he passed. After all, I hadn't done anything to provoke him…
"He won't be coming with us," Allen assured me, sensing my unease.
Closing the thick curtains, I did manage to get some sleep that afternoon. I ensured that I was mentally prepared as well – I didn't want to be stuck on a boat or anywhere without my warm coat, for example. Overall, it sounded like quite the adventurous excursion, and it would be impossible to come back and fetch something I had forgotten.