The Askrian mess hall was generally fairly busy this time of day. Most of the army had been either on watch at the portal gates or engaged with the summoner at the Training Tower, honing their abilities in the event that the castle was invaded again by the Emblian forces, or in the event that the Emblians struck somewhere else. Lord Hector, of Ostia, for his part felt the Training Tower, even the higher floors, hardly presented him with a challenge, and so had been spending the better part of his morning and afternoon at the arena, dueling away with several of the others who had started to find the tower...somewhat lacking.
Ryoma, from the realm of...Birthright, was it?...had presented a fair challenge, and the two had sparred a good few rounds. Effie, despite being a lance user, and against whom Hector would have thought he'd achieve an easy victory, proved to be surprisingly resilient. Ike, though – Ike was the warrior with whom, in the arena, he'd started to cultivate something of a friendly rivalry with, and he'd greatly started to look forward to their matches.
This particular morning, however, had seemed tempered despite the high energy and spirit of the duels, and despite the challenge that Ike and the others had presented. Hector found himself almost constantly looking over his shoulder, pausing in mid-swing or mid-step to look around alertly and cautiously, which was...generally not his nature in the slightest. It wasn't something he could put a finger on, or something he could put a name to, but he felt a chill up his spine as if someone were following him, or as if someone were watching him.
It was an unnerving sensation, one that reminded him far too much of Matthew for his liking.
He smirked at the thought, as he moved up to the serving counter at long last, having waded through the line leading up to the foodstuffs long enough. He filled up his place with game fowl, potatoes, gravy, and a few cooked carrots. It was hardly the healthiest meal, but he was confident he'd have it worked off fully within a few rounds at the arena with his rivals. He was placing the last spoonful of steamed vegetables, carrots, onto his plate when he paused and looked over his shoulder again, sharply and a little gruffly.
Xander was standing there, in the...curious Spring garments that he'd adopted during Ylisse's Spring Festival, and motioned a little blandly to the tray that Hector was presently helping himself to.
“Lord Hector, I hope you'll be saving some measure of carrots for the rest of us?” he asked, flatly.
Hector ignored the crown prince, peering over him and past him and still frowning with just a hint of a scowl. He could still feel it. There was still that chill running down his spine, and there was still that...uncomfortable sensation of being spied upon.
“Yes, I was...just finishing up,” Hector grumbled before he put the lid back on the tray and stepped back from the serving counter. The Ostian lord didn't even bother to retrieve a drink, finding the most solitary table that he could find, dropping down into a chair, and placing his plate down in front of him. He sighed a little as he reached for his utensils, hoping that the afternoon mean would calm his nerves or at the very least present him with a distraction.
His ears perked at the sound of footsteps approaching from behind him, and off slightly to the side. His eyes narrowed slightly, and out of the corner of his eye he started to spot a figure in a long, dark cloak with golden trim approach. Her hair was long, and had a pair of odd, short tails to either side, and she wore a circlet that momentarily left him questioning whether she was perhaps one of the lords from one of the realms joined to Askr by portals, or if she might be of some noble standing. The one details, however, that Hector picked up on as he eyed her was that her gaze was...unwaveringly, closely fixed on him.
So, he found himself thinking dryly to himself, You're the one.
Hector took a few idles bites out of a chicken leg, probably having eaten about half the meat off the drumstick as the woman circled to the opposite side of the weather, adopting a too-friendly and much-too polite series of movements and mannerisms in the process. Almost right away, Hector eyed her with suspicion, an eyebrow arched as she moved to stand opposite him, raising a hand up to her mouth for a moment as if feigning surprise.
“My,” she spoke in a light tone that sounded nothing less than forced, “What benign weather we're having, Lord...Hector, is it?” She tilted her head, looking to him curiously and...still watching him with that uncomfortable, unwavering stare. She had a plate of food of her own, with about half the contents of Hector's. Then again, there were few in the mess hall, save for Effie and a few others, who ever rivalled what Hector had on his tray.
There was an uncomfortable silence as Hector watched her skeptically, not wanting to leave her inquiry unanswered but still feeling apprehensive they exchanged gazes.
“I...guess?” he finally shrugged.
The woman smiled at this slightly and chuckled, still with her hand up to her lips. He couldn't quite say why, or what it was about the laugh, but there was something almost unnerving about it.
“Would it trouble you if I took a seat?” the woman inquired, curiously, motioning to the chair across from Hector.
Hector's eyebrow stayed arched and he motioned out with a sweeping gesture of his hand to the rest of the table, and to the rest of the hall.
“It's a free table,” he answered a little gruffly, “And Askr's a free country.”
He watched as she took a seat, her motions smooth and refined in their own way, but her eyes staying locked on him. He continued to find this unsettling, and as he took a couple more bites of his meal an awkward silence followed until finally, having had enough of the unspoken and uninitiated staring contest, Hector cleared his throat a little sharply.
“...you're staring,” he pointed out.
A hand moved to the mage's mouth in feigned surprise again, just as it had been before. It was only now that Hector noticed a ring along the middle finger that joined to what looked like it might have been some kind of arm-warmer or sleeve when he realized it was the same thin, virtually see-through garment, a form-fitting stocking, that covered the rest of her body, save for where the chestpiece, belt, cloak, and other scant garments were positioned. His cheeks turned slightly rosy at the realization, despite himself.
“Am I?” the woman asked, still feigning surprise and snapping Hector's attention back to the situation at hand.
Hector shrugged casually, still not altogether sure what to make of the oddly-dressed mage, and responding in his usual gruff, informal fashion. “Either that,” he pointed out, “Or you're trying to burn a hole in me with your eyes. And if you are, sorceress, it's not working.”
It was less the fact that she continued staring, and more the delayed pause that followed his statement that left Hector feeling unnerved as she neglected to respond. After a few seconds, her hand still up to her lips, she chuckled softly and lightly, feigning surprise as she finally moved her hand back down to rest next to her tray.
“Oh!” she smiled, a little eerily, “My...sincerest apologies. I...must have gotten distracted.”
Hector glanced down to his plate and took a few bites, hoping that perhaps if he just ignored the odd mage that she'd leave him be, or that she might...at the very least stop staring. He knew that even here in Askr, he had something of an elevated or...almost mythical status among other heroes and lords, as much as he was bothered by this ascribed reputation. He wondered if that status perhaps that had something to do with the mage's behaviour.
He glanced up at her again, his mouth full of chicken, and noticed that she still hadn't broken her stare. The mage was sitting across from him in identical fashion to how she'd been doing so before, her eyes still solidly fixed on him. Hector frowned, and let out a deep sigh, and – grasping for an out, or for something to at least ease the awkwardness – motioned to her plate, which was still as full as it had been when she left the serving counter.
“Maybe you should eat something,” Hector pointed out, dryly, “Like the plate of food you haven't touched since you sat down.”
The mage continued staring a few seconds longer, tilting her head slightly and watching him almost like now she was...looking for something, or studying him for something. Her stare had shifted from his eyes and started to move about his form, his armor, almost as if she were trying to burn every detail into her mind for later recollection.
Hector cleared his throat, trying to get her attention. His initial unease with her staring was gradually, and increasingly, replaced with annoyance.
“Food - ?” she blurted, as if jolted out of her reverie, scrambling to fill the dead air, “Oh, of course. Delightful. I'll get to it...shortly.” Her hands didn't move, however, and she showed no intention of actually reaching for the plate.
Hector rolled his eyes, and took a few more bites of his meal. He'd mostly finished off the chicken by this point and was moving on to some of the potatoes that he'd retrieved. Part of him considered moving tables but then there was a part of him that would almost...count that as a retreat, and stubbornly refused to back down from any foe – even this eerie, odd mage.
He looked up at her once more after swallowing the mouthful of potatoes, his lips curled in a frown as he saw that she was still staring, and saw that she still hadn't touched her plate.
“Sorceress?” Hector asked, flatly and a little impatiently.
“...yes?” she responded, still staring at him and seeming almost entranced, or intrigued.
“You're still staring,” Hector pointed out, matter-of-factly.
This time, for the first time since the entire exchange had started, the woman seemed to become moderately self-conscious, flushing at the cheeks slightly and leaning back slightly in her chair in retreat. She scoffed a little and looked off to the side, shrugging her shoulders.
“You must be mistaken,” she remarked, off-handedly.
Hector's mouth fell open a little with disbelief, his eyes narrowing in irritation. Who did she think she was fooling, exactly? He took a deep breath and one of his hands on the table curled into a fist, as he started to grit his teeth.
“I'm /watching/ you stare at me, sorceress, and you're sitting three feet away – !” he snapped, about to fly into a tirade when suddenly another possibility occurred to him. It all suddenly made tremendous sense – the mage's denial, the way she'd been following around, the fact that she was so damnedly persistent.
“Wait,” Hector remarked, smirking, “I get it now. Heh. Heh heh. Well played...”
There was a very simple, concrete explanation for all of this, and Hector thought himself a fool for not having realized it sooner. He threw back his head a little and laughed, sighing deeply and then shaking his head.
The woman across the table from him simply seemed...confused. She was perplexed by the behaviour and slightly unnerved herself at the sudden laughter.
“Excuse me?” she asked slowly, and uncertainly, arching an eyebrow as she did so.
Hector leaned back in his chair, confidently crossing his arms and grinning smugly. It gave him great satisfaction to know that he'd cracked the code, and that he finally had a more solid idea of what was afoot here.
“Let me guess,” he snorted, “Eliwood put you up to this? Trying to spook me over lunch?”
The mage blinked a few times at this, seeming caught off guard by the suggestion. It took her a few seconds to remember who exactly Eliwood was in the first place, and she didn't seem to have the faintest clue why he would have been involved in this at all. He certainly hadn't come across as the type for jest.
“What - ?” she stammered, still seeming like she was on the defensive, “No - ! No one put me up to this -”
Hector rolled his eyes again and leaned forward, smirking and leaning over the table to face her with more confidence this time. If anything, she retreated slightly, almost recoiling as if suddenly cornered.
“You don't have to keep up the act,” Hector noted dryly, “It wasn't going to work anyways. I'm not afraid of anything, or anyone.” He meant it. There was very little that Hector of Ostia feared – and eerie sorceresses were nowhere on that short, short list.
The mage was quiet and looked like she was about to respond when...she seemed to notice another detail and was right back to staring at him as quickly as she'd stopped before. Several awkward seconds passed without any words exchanged, and Hector's irritation gradually started to return, as he finally picked up his mostly empty plate, tapping his index finger against the wooden table as he did.
“Right,” he sighed, “Well, I'm gonna go give him hell for this. He should know better. See you around, sorceress.” He got up without allowing much, if any chance, for response or argument. The mage was silent, which didn't especially surprise Hector at this point, and he could practically feel her eyes on him as he turned and started to stalk away towards the serving counter to return the plate to the kitchen.
Hector needed to go and have a serious chat with a certain Marquess of Pherae.
Still sitting at the table, Tharja's face finally turned from a mask of innocence to a dark, frustrated scowl. Both of her hands, in her lap, started to curl into fists, gripping bunches of her cape in aggravation as she took deep breaths, and started to shake her head.
“...how?” she murmured, to herself, ignoring the rest of the hall for a moment in her reflections, as she tried to put her finger down on what she'd just witnessed. This made no sense, and was...absolutely going to warrant further investigation.
“How is this...blowhard the locus of the raw, ancient power I sense? Clearly I've made a mistake,” she frowned, as she moved to finally get up from the table as well. The words were empty – she rarely made mistakes of this caliber, and knew that surely there had to be more to what she was certain she'd just observed. She eyed Hector as he started to move out one of the exits, stomping away like a disgruntled tavern patron about to start a barroom brawl.
Tharja, the dark shadow that she was, would be keeping a close eye on this one. Whoever...and whatever...he was.