Chapter 24:

Room To Grow

Lovely kNight

“As expected, you’re at the top of your game with elements and intermediate magic forms. I think it’s about time we move onto the even more advanced techniques.” I praise Juna for her characteristically fine work.

Training continues. I act as her partner in magic casting and back up in case of any incidence. It’s how we’d always trained together and even if there was so much fancy equipment, we would still default to our personal, hands on approach.

“Okay. The next type I’d like to try out is elemental diffusion magic.”

“Spreading the elemental energy throughout the environment. Now that’s something I’m absolutely terrible at myself.” I say with a slightly defeated chuckle. “When you’re ready, let’s begin.”

Juna closes her eyes for a brief moment and draws a deep breath. With a deep focus, she brings a spark to her hand. The crackling electricity builds upon her palm until she releases it before her. A bolt crashes and booms throughout the room before it ruptures at a distance and sends a webbed storm of energy pulsating through the air.

“Wow! You’ve absolutely improved! Just by seeing this, I could swear you’ve got it mastered. The drawing time wasn’t very long at all. Your control was flawless and the point of detonation was well determined.”

“I’ve studied my hardest and practiced plenty of meditation when I could.” She ceases from her magic and turns towards me with a curious smile on her face. “Though I’m thinking that the Celestial Knight could use some more magical training himself. Why don’t you give it a shot?”

“I’m not so sure about that. That’s a pretty advanced spell for someone like me. You know I’ve always been better at physical battle.”

“I insist. I’m here, so if anything happens, it won’t be that big of a deal. Plus we both have our shields just in case. Since I’m plenty good at spell casting, my magic shield can probably take whatever you have to dish out.” She says to me with a sly smirk.

“I know just what you’re trying to say about my magic! But you’re not entirely wrong either, so I’ll let you have that.” I laugh lightly.

She sticks her tongue out at me and I respond with a small poke to her forehead. I take her place in the room and get myself into stance. I focus as deeply as I can into manifesting the energy I can muster. Since fire is my specialty, more or less, I go for a fire spell to diffuse. But as the time goes by, I can barely feel anything. Let alone the fact that I hadn’t studied diffusion techniques and proper manifestation, I really don’t know what I’m searching for.

“Now, now. Don’t give up yet.” Juna calls from my side.

I feel her hands laying upon my shoulders and she runs her fingers down my right arm. The sensation of her touch sends chills through my spine.

“You have to see a ripple in the air before you and not an expansion. If you focus on expansion then you’ll just be making a burst spell. And we both know you’ve had plenty of experience with that one.”

“H-Hey! That’s only happened twice!”

“It’s just a good thing it rained and I was able to use some water magic to put out the fires in the trees. Anyways, let’s get back to concentrating! When you can envision the ripple, let it travel through your body and through your arm. See it flowing on your palm as an echo that will wave through the air when you release it.”

I try my best follow her instructions and feel a calm wash over me as a relaxing ripple waves through the air. The rippling in my body, however, feels like its source comes from Juna’s touch. It’s a curious sensation I can’t quite place. When I think I’ve found that ripple in my hand, I let loose.

The fire flies from my palm and into the ether, but the waves of the flames lasts barely even a meager second. My most natural response is a surrendered sigh.

“I could use a lot more practice. But with your direction, I think I’ve improved already.”

“It’s impressive that you’ve improved with such basic advice. It took me a good while to be able to find that kind of focus and vision.” Juna’s voice is fraught with surprise.

“I feel like your touch influenced the spell somehow.”

“Really? I can do intermediate magic transferal, but I hadn’t done that since I’d wanted you to go off of your own energy.”

“It didn’t feel like that... It was different.”

“Then… do you think it has something to do with how you’re the Celestial Knight and I’m a maiden?”

“Perhaps… Being near you is meant to have an effect on my magic strength, so it’s not that hard to come to that conclusion. But I suppose it’d take more study to be sure.”

“A-Ah. Yes. Studies and research.”

When I see how red her face becomes, mine picks up its pace to catch up to her. Our thoughts reach the same point in unison. She releases her embrace and we both stand still in embarrassment.

“I had a hard time believing it still, but Urania gave me the final word that our duties are reality. S-So it looks like we’ll be continuing that kind of thing.”

“I-It’s no problem at all, of course. I’m grateful I’ll be able to help your dreams of being the Celestial Knight… It’ll be fulfilling a dream of mine as well.” She hiccups a moment and her tongue quickly fires. “I-I mean to say that it’s my dream to help your dream so doing that will be fulfilling my dream as well as your dream so it’s more than okay with me!”

“Y-Yeah. Me too.”

While stumbling in my awkward paralysis, I begin to recall the previous Celestial Knight who had campaigned for the sake of Celestia a decade ago. Thoughts of him begin to fill my mind.

“I hadn’t ever expected that Solus would have done something like that either… When I was a kid and I’d see him smile and wave towards me, I had no idea that he was kissing all of the maidens.”

“I really didn’t think about that, but that is how things seem.”

Solus’ character returns boldly to my memory. His short and stylishly rough golden hair was always perfect for an adventurer of his caliber. The soft and kind features of his face that always held a smile powerful enough infect you with all of its joy and radiance. The way his glowing golden eyes watched over everyone around him with a loving care beyond any other man alive. He was the man I’d always looked up to.

“All that time ago when we’d first met, I was afraid that you wouldn’t believe me if I’d told you that Solus was my surrogate father. It’s kind of a bold claim for a kid to make. It’s like saying their father is the king.”

“With all of your passion and knowledge of him, I don’t think it’d be possible to doubt you. Who else would know all of his favorite things.” A light laugh bubbles from her. “You could tell me in an instant the colors he likes, foods he’d stuff his face with and then some. You’d even told me that despite his shape, he could eat like a horse. The moment you’d first opened up about him, I couldn’t have gotten you to stop talking even if I’d wanted to. Which of course I never did. It was always so endearing the way you’d light up at the mere mention of him. Of course you’ve never been the kind of person to lie with how knightly you are and always wanted to be.”

“I really was an embarrassing little kid when it came to him. He was there for me at the worst time in my entire life and he took me under his wing despite all of his duties. He would let me come along with him here and there and he let me live in a small house he’d called his own. It was close to the castle. Though I never did enter the Celestial Manor or the castle itself. It was amazing how he found all the time he could spend with me even though he was always so busy. He would go off to the castle and he used to tell me it was an important job that he needed to do alone. Just like whenever he’d leave to the Dark Seeds. Though it really takes on a different tone when I put it all together now.”

I can’t withhold the chuckle fighting inside of me when I look over everything with that new light of the duties with the Celestial Maidens.

“I used to be visited by a few women often. They were probably the previous maidens yet I hadn’t even the first clue about that back in those days. All of them were so radiant with infectious spirits. They became like mothers, or maybe even older sisters to me during those times. It was hard not to smile with them around and I’d asked Solus often when they would be visiting.”

“That started making a lot more sense to me as well after we’d ended up together like this.” Juna flushes with a minute smile. “What about your younger sister? Do you see anything different about her now?”

“Seidie? No. Nothing jumps out at me. She was a girl that Solus took under his care along with me. She was a wonderful sister even if the time we’d spent together was so short.”

“While Solus sent you to the academy and got you in with his position, she went her own way to live with another family. I just wonder where she is now.”

“I’d like to see her again someday, of course. It’s strange that we could never find her together.” At the prospect of her vanishing, a dour thought comes to mind. “I just hope she’s still alive and well. There’s no telling what can happen with Loveless around nowadays. People really spoke so harshly of Solus back when after that incidence, but I know that he’d always given it his best.”

Images of flames and the sounds of voices shouting in agony echo throughout my mind. The scar left by those calamitous times begins to cry out with the screaming voices that had been smothered by violence long ago.

The Day of Eclipse. I can’t think of any day worse than that horrible day. We’d both survived it, but it’ll always be a part of us. Solus rescued so many people and fought as hard as he could, I know that from everything you’ve told me and how I’d seen him fighting the Loveless with my own eyes. I was so afraid, but he was like a beacon of light and hope through it all. It’s a shame that he’ll always be remembered by some as a failure despite everything he did.”

“It wasn’t his fault that the Loveless escaped. Nobody could have predicted it and he did all of his best. I know that. Maybe more than anyone.” I clutch my chest while I remember. “I hope that I’ll make him proud and will protect this kingdom like he did. So nobody else is lost. I’ll seal away Eclipse forever if I can. I won’t let it win.”

I see the lifeless dolls that my neighbors had become. The red which painted the floor they slept upon. If it wasn’t for the tears in their clothes and their flesh, maybe I could have mistaken that they were just sleeping. Overcome with a sudden bout of fatigue. At a time, I tried to convince myself of that, but the truth can’t be neglected in favor of a lie. It’s not the way of a knight.

My darkest memories are swept away as I feel Juna’s arms around my body. She holds me firmly, but with all the gentle sweetness she has always gifted freely.

“You’ve already made him proud and you’ll do even better than that. I know you will, Khiron.”

I slowly bring my own arms around her and hold her close. As she’s so near, I begin to reminisce on how my life with her had begun.

E-Everyone has partners but us.” I said to her the first day we’d met.

I was so shy but I’d tried my best to step out of my bubble and into my new life as a budding knight. Without Solus and the maidens there with me, I’d felt so out of place and even lonely. I was always so shy, so speaking with anyone else was a trial. Yet she stood out from everyone. So gentle, so uncertain. She seemed to be just as lost along the way as I was.

...They do… Do you want to be partners?” Her smile was adorable while it was overflowing with shyness much like my own.

How innocent we were despite all the violence and destruction we’d both witnessed with our own eyes on The Day of Eclipse. And the two of us who had taken a new step in our lives towards the future, towards our dreams, found each other.

✩ ✩ ✩

We’d continued practicing and testing together. A few more magic spells were executed finely and as the night draws to a close, we finish with shield application in magical combat.

I throw a powerful fire spell towards Juna and she quickly erects her shield. As the flames clash with her, their power and glow are drawn into her body as a pure light that sparkles briefly upon her skin. A flawless execution of the absorption method. The energy which had been cast towards her has now become her own.

“I know I shouldn’t be all that surprised since you’re you, but it’s still amazing to see how much you’ve grown. You’d reflected all of my spells and captured them as well, but absorbing them… Are we sure you shouldn’t be the hero of Celestia?”

“It’s been wonderful testing out my studies with you. It makes things even easier when you have a competent partner to spar with.”

“Nothing but amazing work today. If that’s all, then I think we should get back to the manor. It’s getting late since we’d killed plenty of time joking around.”

“Actually.” She grabs my attention and I turn towards her to see that her expression is resolute. “I have one last spell type I’d like to practice.”

“A last one? Which is that? I think we’d covered just about all you’d need for your testing to become a mage knight.”

“I’ve been studying charging and storing spells.”

“Charging and storing? That’s… an awfully intimidating discipline. You do remember the reports. There have been plenty that have attempted execution and were met very unfortunate fates.”

“Most of those reports spoke about magicians attempting the spells alone without any partners for assistance and without proper means to practice. I have you. Plus after all of my success, I have confidence I can do it.”

“But being fatigued is another factor for this kind of spell casting. Storing magic in the body like that for a period of time isn’t exactly an easy thing. The most similar type you’ve accomplished is absorption, but even that is an entirely different story since you’re using a shield to assist you.”

“I’ll do my best to be safe. Won’t you help me with this one last thing?”

The stories I’d read throughout the years were always quite visceral to say the least. To generate and then store all of that energy in a form ready to be withdrawn and used in an instant is a feat in and of itself. Such explosive energy teeming about your body, even attempting to absorb it is no easy task. It goes without saying that the thought alone intimidates me when Juna comes into the equation.

Yet I suppose a small trial could be okay.

“You have been doing excellent today. I’ll give you my okay only on the condition that if I don’t feel comfortable, we stop immediately.”

“Understood.” Juna nods to me in confirmation.

I return to my place at her side and watch closely with my nerves tangling. The aching of the scar edges up a few octaves as I stand on pins and needles.

“Okay, so by what the book had said and all my meditation taught...”

She swiftly raises her right hand in an elegant, flowing trail to point up to the ceiling above. Closing her eyes and drawing her left in towards her heart, she raises her head to the heavens. With a deep breath, she returns her arm from on high and joins it to the other. A sparkling electricity begins to snap and pop before her as she grips her fist tightly. I can see her flinch and struggle with the spell but she tries her best to endure it. She begins to grit her teeth while she duels to find a way to take the magic into her own body.

I’m intruded upon by horrific thoughts that assail me like a barbarian with an insatiable lust for blood. Juna’s frail, harmed body crashes in my mind like a thrashing bolt of lightning. That very lightning strikes me in the chest as the scar booms uncontrollably a deep, torturous shriek.

“S-Stop!” I yelp.

“Khiron?” Juna’s focus breaks.

Without proper concentration, the power she’d gathered is left free where it is. In a panic, she casts the spell away resulting in a thunderous explosion to rock our chamber. The light alone is blinding and we both cover ourselves against it. When the chaos has passed, I breathe a sigh of relief and attempt to calm myself and Juna.

“S-Sorry. It’s just...” I take another breath. “I was a bit afraid.”

“Afraid? Why were you afraid?”

“Why wouldn’t I be? Thinking of my best friend getting injured or worse is… It’s not something that I can just let sit.”

She stands in silence, taken aback. Her face reads of her surprise like an opened book.

“I’d noticed that you were forcing yourself. You’re an amazing magician, Juna, but we both still need training and we can’t push ourselves too hard. It couldn’t end well to force growth. I… would be more comfortable if you’d practice more before trying something so dangerous.”

“...I understand. I… know myself I wasn’t prepared enough for this.” She grits her teeth at a loss.

The thoughts return to attack me even more. I feel my chest ache harder. I can’t resist it but to give in and double over as my breath catches in my throat, causing me to chokee lightly.

“Kh-Khiron!” She reaches my side and quickly embraces me.

“I-I was a bit frightened is all. I’ll be back to normal in no time.” I wheeze a cough.

“I… I’ll train even harder and I’ll improve enough to where you won’t have a single need to worry. I promise.”

“It’s late and we’ve both had plenty of training. I’m sure that your fatigue had played a role. You need to be well rested if you’re going to train for something so important, so let’s call it a day.”

“We should.” Her words come out in a dejected manner.

After a small breather, the two of us get on our step and prepare to leave the room behind, yet I still struggle with the aching rocking my body. Try as I might to mask it, I double in on myself again.

“Your sickness.”

“What doesn’t kill you makes you tougher.” I smile to her and joke feebly while I raise myself back to order.

“That won’t do...”

She wraps her arms around me. Her warmth bathes me in a sweet comfort. All the thoughts I’d had of her destruction are powerless against the reality of her touch.

“I’m okay. See? I’m still alive. You have nothing to worry about.”

“You are.” I say with a true smile as I lay my hand on her head.

She raises herself onto the tips of her toes and lightly pecks me on the lips before resting her head against me.

“We’ll make you a mage knight yet. Just don’t go putting yourself into grave danger before you can make your dreams come true.”

The two of us laugh together. The fear and pain I’d felt fades away like a drop of water fallen into the sun.

✩ ✩ ✩

Juna and I had parted ways to our rooms after bidding each other good night. So I lay in my bed restlessly staring up at to the ceiling. A swarm of thoughts buzz about in my mind and chase away my rest.

“Solus...” I call upon the name of my hero.

The first conversation we’d had when he’d taken me to his house was that his library was open to me. I was free to read its books as I’d so pleased. It was his gift to me while I was suffering from the pain of the scar.

While he went out to do his duties as the Celestial Knight, I take advantage of his offer. There were so many tomes on magic and knighthood and stories about fanciful worlds that filled my young mind with imagination and wonderment. Beyond the pain that I’d struggled with, it was a wonderful life.

Memories of The Day of Eclipse stained my mind to its deepest core. Sometimes those haunting images were all too much for me to bear. From time to time my life fell back into the harrowing darkness I was thrown into that terrifying day. The already agonizing pain I’d feel would crush down on me without mercy or sympathy. Yet my hero would always be there for me during those times and the Celestial Maidens of that age guide me through my despair. I remember how closely he and the maidens would hold me when I was in pain. Their embrace would help ease those feelings, but it was still a struggle.

Among the suffering I’d had with that scar, Solus’ words have always shone brightly as a beacon of hope.

Your life isn’t over. It’s just begun and it will be a beautiful life filled with hope and love. Every day is another chance to overcome this pain. Someday it will be long behind you. Until that day comes, we’ll be here for you every step of the way. We’ll be your family.” He held me even more firmly and delivered his kindest words as I quaked in pain. “You’ll be the greatest knight this world has ever known. Please don’t give up.”

With his guidance and training, I was able to gain an advantage over the pain of the scar. Little by little the more I’d focused my mind and followed his lessons, the more I could handle the pain I’d felt until it was only a whisper compared to the piercing voice it once screeched to my soul with. It was all thanks to him for taking me in and helping me during my darkest hours. I would later learn by his own mouth that the pain I’d felt had been the greatest pain a human being could ever experience. That even he, the hero of Celestia, had never felt such a bitter pain. So he smiled to me that bright smile of his that rivaled the sun’s life giving glow.

You’re the bravest man alive. Even braver than me. I’m proud of you for choosing to live, Khiron.”

After Juna’s kindness today, I now understand more fully the power of the maidens. All that time ago they had cared for me with Solus and helped to take away my pain with their love and care. I’m indebted to those maidens of the past who protected and loved me as their own.

I’d made my special family a promise. I’d promised them that I would be the Celestial Knight who would rid the world of Eclipse for good if I could. I’d do my best to find a way and never look back.

“I’ll make every one of you proud.”