“You… You’d actually gotten permission from the academy?” Juna’s voice was filled with shock and excitement as she’d looked to the slip in her hands.
“It took a little bit of effort, but they’d obliged the request. I’d hoped you would like it and I’m glad that I’d made the right choice. So… happy anniversary, Juna.”
It was our first outing together for an official freelancer quest from the tavern. Since our 4th anniversary as friends was coming up, I’d had a strong desired to give her a special gift she would love. Thus I’d made myself busy with petitioning the academy into allowing us the special privilege of a one time trial of the special, coveted upcoming program established to help foster new knights.
“I can’t believe you’d talked them into this! Everybody is talking about it and I’d heard that less than a tenth of any applicants are ever chosen! You… did this for our anniversary? I’m… This means so much to me…”
“Of course. What’s better to celebrate our big day than having ourselves a special adventure?”
“Thank you so much, Khiron! I wouldn’t have ever expected we’d be chosen out of everyone.”
“Well, when they’d given me the official approval, they’d spoken highly of you, you know. One of the chairmen was astonished with your abilities and stated that you’d reminded him so much of Libera.”
She clutched the page closer to her heart while being gentle to make sure not a crease nor fold would adulterate its body. Though there was a trace of tears building up in her eyes, she’d caught herself quickly and gave me a sunny expression.
The next moment she’d ran to her desk to gather a clear file and placed the page inside for safe keeping. Then she was quick to put on her special, temporary arm band given to us for our special day and jogged towards her door.
“We should get going! It’ll run out by midnight, right? So we have to make sure we make the most of our time!”
Her racing heart lead her dash out of the room before I could even respond. I began to chase after her and together we broke rule against running in the dorms. But we didn’t have a care in the world. We were too busy dreaming of adventure together.
✩ ✩ ✩
We sat side by side at the bar table of the tavern while flipping through a binder file. The owner was kind to us and even gave us a free soft drink on the house. All of the tavern’s customers and freelancers took a particular interest in us. There wasn’t a single person present that wasn’t older than we were and we’d undoubtedly looked like babies in their eyes. That much could be read in the little glimmer of humor each had as they stole glances towards us.
We’d spent nearly an hour going over every possibility until we’d eventually settled on our goal, lest we’d waste anymore time. A kindly apothecary had run out of a special herb she’d needed to make her medicines. The herb in question was known to only grow by the sides of rushing rivers. The nearest river matching her given descriptions was tucked away into the trees outside of the city’s walls.
The very moment we’d made our decision, Juna gave the bartender a tip and hurriedly rushed out into the streets with me all the while keeping the token signifying our choice clutched tightly in her hand.
✩ ✩ ✩
“You hear that? That sounds like water! We must be getting close!” Juna bounced in her step as she carried our wicker basket in her hands.
The trail through the trees was peaceful and serene with the spring breeze giving us a healthy dose of fresh air. I’d been in charge of navigating our map even though I was a touch clumsy with my handling. But nevertheless we were nearing our destination.
“This really is the farthest we’ve ever been out of the city. I wonder if this is going to be the norm when we’re officially knights. I wouldn’t mind coming here from time to time.”
“And when we’re knights, we’ll be adventuring together always.” She was so radiantly joyful. It reminded me of all the times when we were but children and she would skip across the small burbling streams.
“I’d also heard that there are some really nice berries and mushrooms that grow around here. If we were able to find any of them, they’d might be something I could cook with. Keep your eye out for anything that pops out. The mushrooms have a lightly green color to them. But it’s important to cut them to see if their internal color changes from exposure to air. If they do… well… they’re not exactly the type we want.”
“Roger! It’d be nice to have some more of your cooking. The last you’d made was so tasty. You’ve improved a lot since you’d started. It’s good to have food that isn’t burnt on the plate!”
“One time!” I croaked to her in embarrassment.
We’d come to a quiet as the river we’d been searching for showed itself. Strong, white water coursed aggressively through nature, cutting it in twain and separating it with a large, mighty flow. The sights and sounds were awe inspiring to say the least. The gentle misting spray of water that glanced our faces was relaxing as we stood at its side.
“The world outside sure is something else.” I’d said in awe.
“It’s beautiful. I just wonder what’s beyond this river. There must be so much to see. I hope we’ll get to visit a hot springs or waterfall someday.”
“If we’d found it, we’d have to try it out ourselves. Maybe we can ask around the academy and find out if anyone knows if there’s anything like that this way.”
“Well, we’d better get all of those herbs before we get too lost gawking.” She reaffirmed herself and began into a gleeful stride ahead with the basket held tightly with anticipation.
✩ ✩ ✩
It was a marvelous time walking by the riverside together. There were points where it would build in intensity and times when it would calm to a gentle stream of restful waters. There were fish swimming with and against the currents. Frogs, toads and wild rodents were all around. The squeaks of the frogs as they’d jumped into the river was a charming experience we’d both endeared.
We were able to gather a few of the herbs but were still missing just one for our count. The commissioner had requested that a bundle of twenty stocks be returned to her. Neither of us would allow anything else but perfection for our customer. Yet with how rare the plant proved to be, it was a bit of a trial to find the final source. In respects to future produce, we’d left as much of each plant we’d found so they could prosper. Although we were considering gathering from one of the previous sources, I was a bit more hardheaded on the matter.
“It’s a part of the thrill and adventure to find even more. I think that we should search for one last plant and take from that one.”
“If you say so. Just make sure it’s nowhere dangerous.”
“I’ll do my best to be safe, of course. And speaking of!”
Just away from us on a small isle made from the currents stood a lovely, fully bloomed herb which flared out with elegance. Not just that it was the final source I’d sought, but also that I was taken by it from the beauty of its appearance was I drawn to desire it as a trophy for our mission’s success.
“There it is! The last one! I’ll go and get it real quick.” I’d pointed Juna in its direction.
Before I could hear any ifs, ands or buts, I was already fording the water that quickly gathered up to my knees. It was cold and refreshingly so. But I had been so foolhardy to have jumped in without a second thought for my clothes.
“Khiron! You need to be careful! I’ve heard people say that this river has a lot of deeper parts to it!”
“I’ll be fine. It’s not so far away. Just a little bit further and I’ll have it.” I’d stopped briefly to face Juna so she could hear me over the sounds of the rushing water.
When I’d continued forward, I’d found that the next step was deeper than I’d anticipated. My body fell into the water and began to be dragged by the current. The feelings of its cold waves sweeping over me was a shock to the system as I’d taken a drag of air only to be interrupted by a thrust of water.
“Khiron!!!” Juna screamed in horror as she watched me being pulled along.
“I’m fine! I’ll just need to swim a little and-”
Try as I might to find anymore land to step on, it was taken away from me by a more aggressive force. Before I’d I could even register it, the water had turned white. Thrashing about, it tossed and split on rocks lining the pathway. Exactly where I was headed.
I braced myself and felt a number of blows and strikes against my body as stone after stone impeded me. But with a stroke of luck I’d managed to have caught hold of a rock in my way. But by that point I was cold, shivering and felt my injuries taking a toll on my body.
I’d peeked my head above the current to see Juna sprinting to my location. It wasn’t until that point that I’d realized just how quickly and savagely I’d been gripped by the waves. Then against my better judgment, I’d began to feel a petrifying sense of fear soak my mind.
“Khiron! Stay where you are! I’ll… I’ll do something to get you! Whatever you do, don’t look back!”
But as always with warnings like hers, my first instinct was to look exactly where she’d warned against. And then my already cold blood was frozen colder.
Falling, the water was even faster as it slid down a series of descents with plenty of hard places waiting to break water and bodies. If I’d slipped away from the rock, it was doubtless that I’d soon be thrown down and broken piece by piece until I would be left as nothing but a shadow of a man.
I’d gripped onto the rock even tighter and began to freeze. I had no clue what to do and the little hope I’d had was stolen away by the rushing river. To make matters even more horrid, the scar began to press me and pain me as another enemy seeking my demise.
Juna was in a panic herself. She was petrified as she’d looked down to me from the side of the river. Straining her mind, searching for any way to rescue me. She’d pushed and pushed herself until she’d broken down the barrier keeping her locked away with fear as she’d breathed in deeply.
Her actions were fast as she’d leapt down the side of the hill and surfed it with her heels to the bank of the river.
“Don’t come any closer! You’ll get hurt if you go any further!” I yelled a meaningless warning to her while terror marred and clawed me.
“There’s no way I’m going to stand back! I’m going to get you out of there!” She yelled and took a moment to think to herself. “What… What would Libera do?”
The answer she was searching for came to her mind quickly. She steeled herself with an indomitable resolve that shone in her eyes. Without a single warning, she jumped headlong into the river and caused my heart to nearly stop at the sight.
While I’d expected that she would crash into the waves and be carried down the falls for a meaningless, stupid sacrifice, she kicked the water hard as she’d touched its surface. It opened from her strike and divided at the very place she’d landed. From the revealed floor came jutting up a large piece of earth and stone. Her feet met its flat surface and the currents began to be redirected from it. Yet its structure was fallible as it was already giving way from the very moment it was erected.
She forced with all of her might with spell after spell to throw the water away and build up an earthen wall in its wake. Again and again as quickly as she could until she’d built a wall which blocked all of the water. I was left too frigid and injured to do much else but fall slack onto the floor when the water receded. There wasn’t the faintest trace of hesitation in her as she’d jumped to the bed and sprinted for me.
The wall was quickly meeting its critical point as the river gathered began to overflow from behind it. By the time she’d reached me, the waves began to sprint through and a thunderous crashing sounded with intimidating measure. Grabbing hard onto my shoulder, lifting me up to stand, she focused all of her might and mind while the water came charging to destroy us.
And then it happened. An amazing moment unlike any other in my entire life.
Drawing in her breath, she thrust her palm to the floor and caused an amazing gust of wind to blast beneath our feet. We were thrown skyward with twisting and spinning. I’d immediately lost track of what was up and down, left and right, but Juna, she’d fought hard against the dizzying spiral. She clutched tightly to me, refusing to budge her fingers a nanometer. With a cry of courage, she forced her palm outwards and caused another fantastic blast of wind to blow, throwing us back to the bank from which we came.
It was a rough crash landing. We remained breathless and still for a helping of minutes. Heaving to catch our wind from all of the excitement with pounding drums for hearts. Staying still, I stared up to the blue skies above while Juna kept her face pressed into my chest, embracing me close.
I was banged up from the incidence, but with our breather and some help from Juna’s own mending magic, I was able to rise to my feet and walk. While we tread our way forward, she gave me a talking to. Not out of anger, but from relief and fear.
“Please don’t ever do something that stupid again.” She pleaded to me while she’d stopped and returned her face into my chest. “I don’t know what I would do if anything ever happened to you. So please… You have to…”
“I really screwed up. I’m sorry for causing you so much worry.”
“Don’t apologize for that. I’ll worry for you even if you tell me not to. Even if you’re safe and sound. I’m just grateful you’re alive and you’re here with me.”
✩ ✩ ✩
It was a sheer stroke of luck that we’d quickly located our final stock and completed the task. We’d ran the entire way back to the kingdom so we would make it well before sunset. We were given our award by the commissioner herself. But of course when we were asked why one of us was completely drenched, we’d played down the circumstances. No matter, she was more than happy for our assistance and asked us to visit her shop ourselves someday for special service.
Even if my clothes were soggy, a little bit of sunshine and play in the streets made it a non issue. Juna refused to leave my side the entire time through. She held herself close and hugged onto my arm strongly, refusing to break away no matter what. Though there were plenty of stares from the commoners and passersby, it ended up being more or less a cherry on top of the cake of our special anniversary celebration.
It wasn’t until later that night that we’d both returned to our dorm rooms. I’d swapped out my uniform for some comfortable clothes to sleep but ended up taken for a moment by some of the bruises I’d been left with as I’d looked into the mirror. As usual, I’d placed my hand against the scar that leered at me from the reflection.
The moment I’d found the strength to break away from a horde of depressed thoughts, I was alarmed by the sounds of clicking against my window. I’d peered down from the second story to see Juna looking up to me with another pebble in hand, ready to toss.
“Juna? What are you doing here? It’s pretty late so you’d better get some sleep before you end up not sleeping at all.” I called down to her.
“That doesn’t matter. I’m way ahead of you with that!”
“What do you mean?”
“Stay there and give me a moment!”
Focusing her mind just as she had in the river, she’d forced her palms to the ground and caused herself to ascend up high to land on my windowsill. Her landing, however, was a bit clumsy as she stumbled and fell forward. I was there to catch her as she’d landed into my arms. Though it was unfortunate that my own legs wound up being clumsy and we’d both plummeted.
As she raised herself, our eyes met. She hovered over me with her palms on my chest and her legs straddling my body. Though the scar did give me a little sting, I could barely feel it while I was wide eyed and flushed hotter than fire.
We were close, intimate and her warmth soaked into my skin and served as a pleasant contrast to the cold I’d endured earlier on. Her scent carried down and filled my senses full of her. Time froze as I’d entered a world alone with her. The moonlight dancing through my opened window silhouetted her and made her luminously beautiful.
I could only stare at her and she had only stared back at me. It felt like minutes as all that I’d felt and experienced was her and her alone. She began to lean in closer, her hair touching my face and tickling my nose.
Our lips drew near to each other…
Only for the two of us to have been ripped away from our closed space when a voice sounded from my doorway.
“Yo, Khiron! I’d heard a pretty loud thump from your room. You okay, man?”
“Ye-” Juna reflexively began to answer but I’d quickly clapped my hand over her mouth.
“I’m alright! Just fell down is all! I’m not hurt or anything so there’s no need to worry! But thanks for checking on me!”
“Alright, alright. Get some good sleep then.”
We’d both cooled off at the sound of my neighbors feet softly sounding on the path back to his room. Juna had jumped off from me and made herself busy with smoothing her skirt while her skin was as red as a fully ripened cherry. When I’d taken myself off from the floor, I’d restrained my wildly beating heart and calmed myself on my bed.
“S-So…” I’d clumsily began. “You seemed to have learned a new trick today. I had no clue you could do something like that. With… wind.”
“I… didn’t know that myself, but I had no other choice. If I didn’t try something then it would have been nothing but bad news.”
“Y-You did amazing. I know I’ve already said it plenty of times, but thank you. If you didn’t catch me for my stupidity, I’d might not be here right now.”
She nodded to me silently and was pensive as her feet shuffled uncertain towards me. She sat beside me on my bed and remained still for a beating of my heart before gently leaning herself against my shoulder.
“I couldn’t sleep… alone… Not after what happened. So… I was hoping that you would…”
“…You can. You can sleep here for tonight.”
She hugged tightly as she pushed me to fall down onto my bed. Her will was impervious, unwilling to budge as she held me in her arms the entire night through.
Even if such a terrifying event had occurred, we’d both loved the day together and it became one of our most precious memories. From that moment forward, I’d felt indebted to Juna even if she would never desire me to harbor such feelings. As I’d returned her embrace and breathed in her scent while my eyes fluttered closed, I’d swore to myself that someday I would repay her for saving my life.
“Happy anniversary, Juna…”