Vestil and I enter into the courtroom. Its sheer size is awe inspiring. The luxurious, chiseled wood is rich with color and luster. The tall and wide window panes lining the way are exquisite. They pour light into the room and bring it to a fantastic glow.
Pew seating lines the two floors which direct themselves towards the heart of the room. A robust desk rests in the sunken half circle at its back wall. Before that desk is a single stand for the visitor who conferences with the judge. And from the walls hang the banners of Celestia’s justice system. Their gallant colors are displayed with pride.
Honored knights with regal, decorated uniforms stand watch over the room as security. Their posture is perfect and their eyes are as sharp as daggers while they stand at attention.
Everything abounding is magnificent and breathtaking to that point that it could easily leave one humbled by the raw aura of strength it exudes. Just another marvel of Celestia’s knighthood. Anyone who stands in this historic place is either privileged or embroiled in an intense dilemma.
Vestil and I take our seats at the front of the assembly so to be near Juna who is seated with the rest of her fellow candidates. There’s a small relief to see her merrily chatting with the rest of the participants. Her amicable and sweet spirit has doubtlessly made her more friends.
“Look who’s the social butterfly as ever. She sure does have a knack for attracting some real cuties to flock around her.” Vestil snickers to herself while eyeing Juna and her company.
“I’m sure she could introduce them to you after this hearing. But you’d better make sure you don’t get too ahead of yourself. I wouldn’t want you to end up stealing them away so quickly.”
“You say that like it happens all the time! It just kind of happened that one time… I think.” She chuckles some more before switching her demeanor to a more serious mode. “But it’s really unlike Juna to lack resolve. I can barely remember many times at all she’d ever been so down. Heck, I’d probably only need one hand to count all of them.”
“It’s only been in recent that she’s began to waver like this. It worries me so much.”
“Together every day. Spending so much time together that you could retell her entire life story at the drop of a hat. How romantic.”
Thinking it over, I could understand if last night’s situation in the training room had somehow traumatized her and shaken her resolve. Should it be that situation that had caused her to lose her pep, it’d have had to do with my having let my fears get the best of me. My mind fills with that wonder and the pressure forces a sigh from my lips.
“That’s quite a sigh.” Vestil’s voice carries a tone of friendly concern.
“I’d just had a thought is all. It’s hard seeing Juna so under the weather.”
“Obviously you’ll just have to pick her up. What about you go ahead and do that in a more literal way? Take her into your arms like a princess and carry her into your room so you can-”
“I’m going to stop you short there before your imagination gains anymore momentum.”
“I was just going to say that you should tuck her in and give her a goodnight kiss is all. Where was your mind going? Your response seems a little suspect to me.” A smile plants itself on her lips.
“Oh sure. I know how innocent you are despite being such an immense flirt. You would never lead someone on. It’s just not in your character.”
“Playing it cool all the while your face is getting red there. Maybe it’s not my imagination you should be policing.”
“I’m not falling for it. My face is perfectly normal, thank you very much. My imagination is quite tame and controlled compared to yours.”
“We’re not speaking comparisons, just reality.”
Vestil’s laughter carries through the room loud enough to grab the attention of all those nearby. She and I continue chatting together while watching over Juna until the ceremony commences. A knight given post steps before the podium and calls for all present to rise. The two of us stand into proper, knightly stance and click our heels together with a salute.
The ornately carved wood of the doorway opens to reveal the ceremony’s assigned judge. With a head of long, well kept bluish-green hair, her appearance is exceedingly refined. The uniform she wears is without a single wrinkle in its fabric. Each and every pin and badge she bears is polished to a shine that catches the light from the grand windows overhead. The symbol she bears on her arm reveals her to be a civil officer, not active in the field of combat. Rather, the badge denotes her to be a scholar and trusted peer to the knighthood. A judge, a professor, an assistant to the kingdom and fellow knights.
Her scarlet eyes give the room a once over with their honed gaze. They skip from face to face in the crowd that has been gathered. Here and there, she takes small pauses before carrying on their way.
I hear a gasp from Vestil. Even if it’s improper to remove focus from a superior officer before being relieved to do so, her uncharacteristically shocked reaction is enough to steal my attention away.
What begins as an expression of surprise slowly darkens to a stiff, serious scowl with knit brows. The lowered corner of her lip carries the lethal edge of a knight ready to witness bloodshed. Her eyes hold such an intensity I could swear she’s ready to draw her sword and engage the judge who now steps towards her desk.
When her honor takes her seat, she introduces herself to the audience of the courtroom.
“I am superior judge Chamelis of the kingdom of Celestia. It is my duty and honor that I have been delivered the privilege to act as the presiding judge over this ceremony for candidacy for this kingdom’s proud mage knighthood. Please hold your applause until the conclusion of each reviewed case, friends and loved ones of the candidates. You may be seated.”
The entire courtroom retakes their seats. Yet Vestil’s most commonly jovial and carefree disposition is nowhere to be found. Instead she continues to be rigid and pointed with an ire unlike anything I’ve seen from her prior. Without a proper opening to speak among the proceedings, I’m begrudged to remain silent.
✩ ✩ ✩
The evaluation proceeds as knight after knight stands before the judge to be given the results of their testing. Though most have proved themselves worthy to be officially deemed mage knights for the kingdom, there are those who don’t seem to make the cut. Every time a potential knight is denied, I feel a small pit in my gut for them.
Throughout the entire hearing, Vestil has continues edged without dropping frame for a single moment. Truly she is a well disciplined knight but this serious attitude that is so unlike her continues to hold me on high alert.
When Juna is at last called to the stand, Vestil’s already tense composure only strains worse and her eyes now look like they just may kill. But it isn’t just Vestil who is on pins and needles. Juna is timid with tense shoulders. She looks like a statue before the judge.
The refined and placid Chamelis shifts her weight as she watches Juna closely. She flips through the document in her hand page by page all the while glancing up towards her. Though her expression continues to be devoid of emotion, I can feel something peculiar deeper inside of her with the way she looks to Juna.
“Freelancer knight Juna.” Chamelis starts.
“Yes, your honor.”
“Having witnessed your abilities firsthand as the one who had administered your testing and having overlooked your written work, I have come to a decision on behalf of the knighthood of Celestia kingdom.”
She laces her fingers together and places them on her desk. A mannerism she had not taken while speaking with the other knights that had met before her for evaluation.
“It seems that your written testing is undeniably of a fine quality and precision rarely seen in all of my time overseeing such proceedings. It cannot be said that you do not know what is required of a kingdom knight be it in conduct or abilities. Of all the students which had participated in this examination, you are the sole individual who had managed to get a perfect score in the written exam.”
There is a small, awed hum in the air as this fact is revealed. The audience and candidates turn and speak with each other for a dozen passing seconds. Chamelis waits for the room to quiet down in a barely noticeably impatient spirit as her fingers drum against each other while laced.
“Your technique and abilities with magic seems to be at a fair level and you seem to have come to understand a number of different spells which have the potential to aid the kingdom.”
She gives a pause for breath and then continues with an unreadable aura flowing forth from her. A concoction that comes out tasting bland despite the sheer amount of ingredients placed therein.
“I’d read your personal file as I’d evaluated your case. It seems that you are already involved in another important duty which the kingdom itself may in fact be in consequence towards. This duty you’ve been given is one I cannot disclose. One that even I am unable to know. Is this correct, young lady?”
Despite that her face yet betrays emotion, there’s a glint to her eye like that of a sharpened blade glittering in the light. One ready to cut and weave itself through the one it watches. There’s something undeniably off about her but it feels nearly impossible to pin down. Juna shudders beneath her sharp, piercing gaze.
“That is correct, you honor.”
The way she looks at Juna with those eyes emotionless yet filled with a strange, invisible backing, it invites nothing but mystery to every single one of her movements. It brings my unease to a frost while my skin runs cold with black anticipation.
“It seems that our entire kingdom itself may be at the mercy of your own conduct and abilities with this duty you’ve been given by the king himself. What would become of all of us if you were to stumble in this important task? From all of my understanding, that would be a steep price at the cost of the kingdom. One that could jeopardize countless lives. Is my assumption incorrect?”
“W-Well, that’s not… That’s not entirely untrue…” Juna’s voice comes out meek and timid.
My senses falter. The way she’s so the judge is so unreadable yet seems to have herself in plain sight is beyond my understanding. Seeking after answers happening upon a single one, my chest begins to burn. That flame sparks hotter as I watch Juna squirm helplessly where she stands before her superior.
“Then I would deem my own decision to be of sound judgment. Placing even more responsibility on your shoulders when you already have so much of a burden would be of an active detriment to the kingdom. But there are more reasons to this decision than that possibility alone. Outside of such circumstances I would say that your abilities are lacking and leave something to be desired. You’re young and seem to have done well for yourself but I fail to see that it would be a wise decision to give you duties you are not prepared for nor capable of handling.”
“...What?” I’m at last entirely overcome as I hear her speak her cold words.
The shock I feel is so mighty that I’m unable to stay my tongue. I speak audibly among the audience. I’m rendered powerless as I watch Juna’s rigid shoulders begin to droop as the final remaining shreds of confidence she’d carried are shredded away leaving behind tattered rags without dignity in their threads. She struggles to keep her head held high and her eyes on Chamelis’ own which pierce through her like like a thrust lance. She grips hard onto her skirt and shakes lightly while fighting to maintain whatever facade of resolution she can manage.
The scar begins to pound, screech, slash open as I see Juna floundering in the hands of despair which strangle her. I’d never in a hundred years had entertained the thought that I’d hear anyone ever say such a thing about Juna. That disbelief inside of my heart gives way from a chilled breeze into a blazing wind of anger which builds inside of me to roar like an adversarial lion. I clench my fists so hard, I could swear my bones would shatter from the sheer force I exert to stay myself.
Vestil’s own tense composure falls as she sees me. Her expression is yet knightly and handsome but it’s clear that her worry has doubled, taking me in as another focus for her concerns.
“So long as you are not fit to be a mage knight. So long as you are inadequate in your magic and studies. So long as you hold this duty given by the king himself, I will not allow you to become a member of the knighthood by my own ruling and the power that has been invested into me. And as I am the judge which has been chosen to preside over your case, I will not allow you to take on any further duties of knighthood. I make this decision in the best intentions for the kingdom.”
That expression she wears that blends all of her thoughts and feelings together into a blank canvas. I’m stunned to witness it; how she can deliver such a sentence without the most minute fluctuation of her brow or her lips. It cuts me through and challenges me to tear it apart to see the true core hidden away.
“Freelancer knight Juna, you are hereby dismissed to go about your life and your duties. Don’t disappoint this kingdom which is in your hands.”
The final verdict.
An impossible sentence.
Devoid of justice and truth.
I can barely hold myself back from sprinting out to Juna to catch her in my arms. I can only strain my fists to wring themselves even tighter. Despite how abused she had been before an entire audience of peers and fellow knights, Juna bows to the judge with all the respect that she has inside of herself. But she holds that bow longer than anyone else had before her.
Though her face is clean of emotion I know well that she’s filled with pain she refuses to display. Confusion and disappointment fill her to her deepest depths. The impact of all she’s faced echoes inside of her chest as her heart has been gutted from the inside.
Murmuring begins to stir as the many she’d tested with begin to speak among themselves. They too are perplexed and maybe even a bit intimidated for their own outcomes.
The scar on my chest roars its own grievances for the impossible outcome to the ceremony. I grip my shirt tightly and take deep breaths as the pain begins to reach my threshold. I fight a war to keep myself together and to quell the feelings of tearing agony.
“Khiron…” Vestil lightly rests her arms on me and speaks my name with worry heavy in her voice.