Chapter 33:

Stride

Lovely kNight


“All rise.” The knight commands the audience in attendance.

Chamelis makes her exit from the court without a trace of emotion lingering on her face. I’m unable to resist leering at her as she goes on her way. The very second that we’re released from the proceedings, my heels are hot on the path to Juna. She had endured the remainder of the ceremony while hiding away her heartache before others. So much and so far that the two sitting next to her could never know how devastating a blow she’d taken. They speak their condolences as I draw near.

“I really hope you can get a phone soon! That way we can keep in touch! Until then, here’s our numbers!” One speaks to her with bright cheer.

“Make sure you messages us as soon as you can so we can save your info right away!”

Their friendly chatter continues for a moment more until they go on their way together, at last leaving Juna to myself and Vestil who has just reached the two of us.

“Juna… I…”

“I suppose some things just aren’t meant to be, are they? I… really do have an important mission to fulfill for this kingdom, so I’d better focus on that in the meantime.”

She speaks to me with a sad smile on her face straining to mask the pain she feels. To anyone else but myself and Vestil, she just might be able to fool them. My heart sinks deeper than if it’d have touched the bottom of a trench.

“I feel like going home. So let’s get going already, alright?”

She begins ahead of us with a rush to her steps. After so long of enduring, she struggles to keep her emotions from escaping. The two of us follow close behind and let her have a share of space.

✩ ✩ ✩

We meet the green at the edge of the city. The returning road to the manor where the view opens broad to reveal the sight of trees standing tall on the green and the sun set high in the blue.

Though Juna had lead the way for all the distance beforehand, her steps slow and she eventually match pace with Vestil and I. The lack of emotion in her expression reveals that she’s gathered herself once more. Even if it’s entirely fruitless, she continues to bottle up all of her emotions before us.

We’re silent until the manor comes into view. What’s best for Juna, I know, is that she’d get to her room to rest first and foremost. No prodding for an opening, just letting her open up when she’s ready to. Despite what many may think of her, she holds herself as high as she can even if it bring her deep misery. To be seen at anything less than her strongest by others would only serve to deepen her already grievous wounds.

Drawing near the front porch, I lay eyes on a lunar haired maiden with all the luminosity and serenity of the moon. Seeing us, she prepares to greet us yet quickly holds her tongue as she sees Juna.

My intuition digs its claws deep into my mind. I ask Juna and Vestil to wait as I go to speak with Celine in privacy.

“Celine. I’m glad to see you here, I-”

“Something happened.” She cuts my words short while her voice is filled with urgency and concern.

The way her eyes snap back and forth from Juna to me displays well just how worried she is. On edge to hear anything and everything she can. It catches me off guard for an instant.

“Unfortunately. There was a situation today with Juna’s knighthood. It’s a serious matter. I’d take it that everyone likely has something waiting for her beyond that door.”

“…We had planned a surprise party to celebrate her graduation. It’s dispiriting to hear that it’d be troublesome, but I understand.” Celine manages to catch the meaning of my words without a hitch.

“I suppose that I could stay with Juna while-”

“Y-You’d be better at explaining. Go on ahead and I’ll stay with Juna and your friend.” She jumps to a decision for both of us.

“I suppose you’re right. I’ll go on inside. Please buy us some time.”

She nods to me and we both take up our rolls.

✩ ✩ ✩

The lot of the maidens nearly jump to action as I step through the door, but when they realize it’s me without Juna at my side, they hesitate awkwardly and stumble.

“Congratulations on that knight thing you’d wanted!” That is, all but Mercy who afterward is dipped into confusion. “Khiron? Where’s Juna? I mean the party was meant to be for bo-”

“Sh-She’s right! Where’s Juna? We’d expected she’d be right there with you.” Venna asks me, more than obviously stopping Mercy before she can spill a secret. “But it’s not like I’m unhappy to see you! Just…”

“About that…” I sigh and the spirits of the lot wavers with worry. “It would take a bit of time to explain, but the short of it is that the results of Juna’s testing went much differently than we’d anticipated.”

“She’s alright, isn’t she? She hasn’t been injured?” Neptanie’s voice is less tired sounding than usual, but it’s weighed down by her concern, nonetheless.

“I can gratefully say that she hasn’t been injured physically… but emotionally, she’s not doing the best right now.”

“Did somebody hurt her?! Show them to me and I’ll break their elbows!” Marcia barks with a grunt.

“Well, it technically does involve someone but I’d rather you not wind up getting yourself arrested. It’s the thought that counts in this situation.”

While Marcia seems visibly enraged, Plutia’s brow raises at my statement. By the way she carries herself and crosses her arms, she seems to have caught hold of something I’d stated with understanding.

“I’ll be able to explain in greater detail soon, I’m sure. For now I regret to ask that we’d reschedule this celebration for Juna.”

“Wh-When would that be? When can she… retake the test or whatever she needs to do to become a special knight?” Neptanie asks with a little less energy in her voice.

“That’s… well…”

I recall the Chamelis’ sentence. A horrible, extreme sentence as unforgiving as the desert. Barred from becoming a kingdom mage knight for as long she remains the judge whose word is law for her case.

As I recall that bitter truth, a flame is kindled to catch more of my heart aflame once more. Though my chest had cried loudly, it’s quelled an iota as I find a hint of hope behind the dark shroud. I clench my fists as I feel my fight return to me.

“By my hand and by everything I can do, I’ll make sure that day comes soon. We’ll all celebrate Juna together when she gets the title she deserves more than anyone else! I promise every single one of you that.”

The maidens nod their heads and believe in my resolve.

“…But this party was also about-”

“We believe in both of you! We’ll keep everything prepared until that day comes! But for now we’ll make sure to put it away quickly.” Venna once again interrupts Mercy’s wandering tongue.

With all 6 joining effort together, we clear out the manor of all the banners and decorations in mere minutes. Everyone had put all their might into it with as much care for Juna as they’d placed into preparing their would be celebration.

Their celebration which is to come.

I open the manor door and invite the trio in. As Juna enters along with Celine at her side and Vestil right behind, she wears the best smile she can so not to reveal her breaking heart to the maidens. They, meanwhile, do their best to act casual and bid her a fine homecoming. Though she remains there to speak with the lot for a brief moment, she excuses herself to depart for her room early.

I go after her and ask Vestil to wait for me in the meantime. But given how she’ll be surrounded by a group of pleasant women, I have no doubt that she’ll be able to find some entertainment and relief for herself amid the dour air that should have been one of joy and high impact cheer. She simply nods to me and gives me a look. A look that states all so clearly that there would be much to discuss once I’d returned.

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