“The skies are clear and blue, the wind is pure and crisp! The perfect kind of morning! I’ve been looking forward to this!”
Mercy is already limbering herself up with stretches the very second we’ve stepped onto the green. The pure energy flowing from her is so palpable it almost feels as if it’s transferring to me on the flowing breeze. It’s a mystery where she manages to get all of her energy from.
Fiddling with her phone, she finds an app and makes one last tap with her cheery grin stretching wider. She pockets it and sets on her marks.
“Since we’ll be heading towards the training grounds, I’ll go ahead and-”
Too antsy to wait a single second longer, she bolts off into a full sprint. Together with the wind, she lets its free spirit act as her guide. I push myself as hard as I can to sprint after her.
“Do you even know where the training grounds are?” I raise my voice to catch her ears.
“No clue! But I’m not opposed to a good run!”
“Then I’ll just have to run fast enough to lead you there!”
I raise my pace and manage to take the lead from her. I look back to her and send a smile and a nod to which she answers with her own. We knuckle down to putall of our might into our race.
✩ ✩ ✩
“About 8 Minutes at full speed. Not half bad.” Mercy looks to the stopwatch on her screen reading back the exact time of our arrival. “We could do better though.”
Meanwhile I pant and hold close to the wall of the building. With my heavy breaths, I’m on my second run to chase after my soul which makes to flee from my body. With the pure speed she commands, I could only give my absolute hardest the entire time so she wouldn’t overtake me. Even then I still know that she’d held back on me. By the fact that she’s only breathing a little heavier than usual with a little bit of sweat on her brow, her victorious smile still strong on her face, she could have gone for much more much longer.
“We’ve only arrived and already there’s been good exercise. I suppose you’re going to really be putting the axe to the grindstone when you see what they’ve got in here.”
“No doubt! I’m betting there’s some cool stuff in there! I wonder if it could revolutionize my training. I want to see it already, so let’s go!”
So pushy and raring to go still. I snap myself together again and pace my way behind her as she starts into the facility.
✩ ✩ ✩
The facility’s floor plan proves to be memorable enough to lead the way without a map or guide despite that I’d only visited it on one occasion prior. I open the doors to the machine gymnasium she’d been pining to visit and in an instant she’s driven to awe. Though she’s always been a fountain of will and energy, it’s a first that I get to see her eyes so wide with wonder.
The interior is sleek. What could only be described as cutting edge. An astounding number of machines line the walls and are organized precisely into their own designated spaces. The knights currently training make good use of the machines, putting in their due diligence to hone themselves to a finer point. Though I’d seen these kinds of machines while I was in academy, the sheer variety and make of them is surprising even for me.
“I’ve… never seen so much equipment in one place! Not even at the gyms around the kingdom! If I’d had the money back when, I would have taken a membership without a doubt… But…” she turns to me with a shocking speed, “I’m able to come here for free?”
“I’d had the opportunity to ask my friend, Vestil, about it through a message and she’d said that it’d be fine for you to visit whenever since you’re a maiden.”
“Really?! Really?!” She comes so close that we’re mere centimeters apart. “This is just about the best news ever! No doubt it’s up there with the time when I was told that I no longer had to work at a fruit stand! What should we do first?!”
“It’s all up to you. I’ll join you with whatever you’d like to try. So go ahead and give anything a shot.”
No use in telling her twice. She’s off after a nod and by the way she moves, she’s like a kid on a playground.
“I may have bit off more than I can chew. I just hope she’ll take it easier than she usually does.” I chuckle to myself but feel a small knot of dread for what I may have just unleashed.
✩ ✩ ✩
Running on machines at full speed, lifting heavy metal, jumping with rope, pedaling with intense force. She takes her pick and has her fill which seems utterly insatiable. I do my best to keep up but have to lay off against my wishes. Though I’d love to match her in every pursuit, the fact that I’d be a member of Vestil’s operation later in the day holds me back.
Though she’s unfazed. Rather, even if she’s working with all the passion of an inferno, she nearly never stops speaking while having at it. And more or less, I become her conversation partner during our crusade through the training center.
Longer than an hour passes by in the blink of an eye.
To call our weight training good for the day, I lead her towards the secluded room Juna and I had reserved days before. Hanging around and having ourselves some water to quench our thirst, she stretches while in the merriest of spirits.
“That was beyond incredible! Now that’s what a workout should be!” She’s cheerful all the while focusing on her obliques. “I’m looking forward to having a new place to hit up for training every once and awhile. With everything here, becoming #1 should be an absolute breeze!”
“It is incredibly impressive. Even I’d ended up learning quite a bit today. But even with all of that, the best part has been seeing you so charged up. I may not be able to do it all the time, but here and there I’d be up to acting as your partner.”
“Oh, you smooth talker! Looks like I’d underestimated your flirting abilities!”
“Flirting? That’s flirting? I’d just meant that-”
Seeing the smirk on her face, I realize her teasing.
“But for real; I’d be more than happy to have you along whenever you have the chance. It’s not every day that someone gets to train alongside the Celestial Knight. Feels like I’m doing my kingdom a service by keeping him on task with his exercise.”
“With how much you can do and still keep going, it’s a surprise you aren’t a knight yourself.” I say with a chuckle. “But that does bring up the reason why I’d brought you here of all places.”
“Oh? There’s something about this place? What kinds of training is this used for?”
I get up from my seat and open up a concealed cabinet to brandish two training swords with two specialized belts. I toss Mercy the sword and she catches it with a satisfying snap.
“You don’t mean…?”
“If you’re going to be practicing fencing, then you’d best wear this as well.” I throw her the belt and continue. “It’ll save you from injury when you switch it on. Though it’s not meant for any actual combat, these training swords work together with that belt to form a specialized barrier that will surround your body. That way we should be safe to give you the most realistic experience experience with sword fighting without too heavy of bruises.”
For the second time in the day I see Mercy caught in awe. She’s paused, staring, but snaps to arm herself with fervor.
“Ready whenever you are, Mr. Celestial Knight!”
We begin with the most basic lesson: stance and proper handling of a sword. She’s surprisingly quick to catch on and we’re fast to the next step. Basic strikes and defensive maneuvers. With a nice rhythm, she proves to be a quick witted student.
She catches my strike deftly and repels it back towards me, ready for the next coming hit. We repeat the strikes to engrave it into her mind and muscle memory.
Soon, however, things begin to heat up.
A true sparring practice begins impromptu. She does her best to fight against me with hopes to land a single hit. Her competitive nature comes out full swing while she swings and strikes at me only to catch my own blade. The sparkling expression she wears puts her heart on display. The passion she has burning for sport is unleashed from every pore of her body as she begins to work up another sweat.
“This is even better than I was expecting! Why didn’t I pick this up earlier? I could have been doing this for years!” She says with a bright smile while our weapons clack together.
“It’s never too late to become a knight. With how quickly you’d caught on today, I’m sure you’d be an ace student in an academy. But I’m sure you’d rather focus on that mission of yours.”
“You really know how to flatter a girl! It is a neat thought, but you already have that part of me figured out! I don’t have time to do schooling when I have medals I could be winning!”
The sharp edge of her eye stands like a shimmering blade. The thrilling feeling of her own forged style that has just been newly born. The way she grins so widely says everything. Even after all our hard work today she’s still raring to go with that endurance of hers that is ever a spectacle. She effortlessly wins over my respect and my own knight’s heart.
“I’m glad you’ve been enjoying yourself so much. Since you’re such a good student, I wouldn’t at all mind hosting some more lessons for you in time to come. At this rate I feel you’d be ready to enter into the fray of the competitive scene with a few months of work.”
“Yes! Absolutely! I’ll take you on whenever and learn to be the best! And you’d better watch out because someday the student may surpass the teacher!”
“At that point the kingdom might need you to lend a hand to the Celestial Knight.”
We snap our strikes together one more time before taking a rest and having ourselves a little laugh.
“It feels like I’m being spoiled. Being taught by the Celestial Knight himself. It’s just what I need to have an edge on the competition and climb the tournament ladders.”
“It’s the least I can do for a friend and someone who’s going to be helping the kingdom. It’s not something I’ve spoken of that often in my life, but I’ve always wanted to train someone from the ground up. So this has been a dream come true for myself as well.”
She just stands and grins towards me. Elated, the warm and joyful smile that could only belong to someone beaming from within. She points her practice sword towards me and makes one last request as we wind down for the final time in the day.
“That’s all fine and dandy and I’m glad to be able to make one of your dreams come true, but you’ve been holding back on me. I mean, I’m not complaining or anything, but I’d love to see how our Celestial Knight is when he’s at his absolute best. I just want to know what it’s like to challenge the best of the best. The true blue hero! That’s what’s been on my mind this whole time.”
“That’s… honestly a bit strange for me to think about. I’ve never once done anything like that towards any but those who are at least on my level in swordsmanship. I’m not all too confident about someone who’s entirely new to fencing.”
“Just one round! That’s all I’m asking for! Let me see how I stand against you!”
It’s a brief bubble of thought as I throw the idea around in my head. But after how well she’s done, I come to the conclusion that she deserves one more bonus.
“Alright. These devices should be more than enough to keep us safe. So I’ll go until you’d be counted out in official tournament rules. Get into stance and we’ll start.”
“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” She retakes her stance and positively shines with anticipation.
At my count, the match begins. I stand steadfast and unsheathe my mind’s sharpest edge. Every twitch, every minute motion and color of her character is tested in my eyes which tear her form piece from piece to analyze anything and everything.
She’s hesitant. Calculating her moves with the shallow amount of information she has to rely on. But it’s all thrown to the wayside as she brashly dashes forward to meet me. I slap her sword out of the way and more quickly than she can comprehend, the tip of my own weapon touches against the center of her chest. Her eyes shoot wide in shock for her anticlimactic defeat.
“I’d… I’d expected so much and yet… You’re even more amazing than I’d even dreamed you’d be!” Despite her incredible loss, she’s all sunshine and radiance.
“You’re anything but a sore loser.” I joke with a laugh.
“What are you talking about? Getting beaten that badly only stokes the fires to keep me going! You’re tough as steel and someday I hope to be every bit as tough as you are!”
She reaches out her hand and gives me a cheesy grin straight across her face. I take it and we shake.
“It was a wonderful time learning from you, teach.”
A chiming perks up from my device and draws our attention. I take a peek at my notification to see mail from a name I hadn’t expected to see waiting for me in the inbox.
My body moves before my mind has time to decide for itself and opens up the letter.
“Hello, Khiron. I pray that you’ve had a fine morning for yourself. I’d desired to inform you that I will be visiting Celestia Manor in the afternoon time at 3PM so to make up for time apart from the maidens and yourself. I would be more than grateful if I could have another chance to speak with you as well. Take care as you go about your day.”
“Look who gets special mail from the king.” Mercy prods me when I reveal the sender. “That’s probably like a huge honor for knights or something, right?”
While I speak with her and share in banter, I’m blown about in surprise yet at the same time have a welling feeling of excitement in my heart. Another chance to spend time with a friend who has already found their way to claim a piece of my heart.