“Good morning, my handsome knight.”
I slowly wake to the sensation of something pressing down on me. Through blurred sight, I see a figure before me. Heavy with sleep, I rub my eyes and strain myself to return to lucidity. The instant the image comes in clear, panic sets on me like a pouncing lion.
“P-Plutia?! What are you-”
Violet hair cascading down sleek shoulders. Violet eyes set on my own with a voracious glint to them. Plutia hovers over me as I lay in my bed. A mischievous expression plays about her as she leans over me and watches me with a cheeky grin. Her palms lay flat on my chest, pinning down her prey.
“It looks like it’s my turn to give our hero some magic.”
“My, for a knight your reactions are much more cute than I’d imagined they would be. It was much easier than I’d thought to get an upper hand on you as well.”
“W-Well, I didn’t end up finding sleep until later than usual. And-”
“You must have been so tired. You hadn’t even woken up when I’d kissed your handsome cheek.”
“You kissed me?!”
She has a giggle at my expense and my the burning heat on my face flashes hotter.
“Here’s one more now that you can truly appreciate it.”
She closes in. I quickly tilt my head and redirect her lips to my nose.
“Oh? You’d moved? You do have such a cute nose, but my, my. You shouldn’t turn a woman down like that…” The smile on her face grows even more intensely desiring. “...It only makes them want to kiss you even more.”
“H-H-Hold on! Wait a minute!”
“What’s wrong? This is your mission as our hero. No need to be so shy.” She licks her lips and that piercing look in her eyes cuts deeper into mine.
“Now come here and let’s make you even stronger!”
I’m unable to escape her in time. Plutia’s lips find my own with a small peck. I can do little but grunt in surprise while the gears in my head screech in disharmony. My heart races feeling her planting a confident and yet gentle kiss upon my lips. It’s not unpleasant, but…
“See? That wasn’t so hard now, was it?”
“W-Well… I wasn’t exactly prepared.”
“Did I just steal your first kiss, cutie?”
“N-No. I’d… I had my first last night.” I say without thinking and internally grimace my indiscretion.
“How unexpected! I’ve come up just short. Please tell me who it that had stolen my prize out from beneath me?”
“W-Well, I am beneath you right now.” I mumble. “I’d… practiced with Juna last night.”
“And here I was thinking to myself that Venna would be my main competition. Your cute friend is much more brave than I’d credited her to be.”
Caught off guard, she quickly plans another kiss on my lips. Her hand lightly caresses my cheek and she sends me a dangerously mischievous smile before she rises and moves towards the hall. She pauses at the door and glances back towards me, her smile unfaltering.
“There will be a meal waiting for yourself and the maidens when you go to the dining area. Don’t miss your chance to strengthen your bonds with the others for when you steal away their firsts as well. I’ll be waiting.”
So she excuses herself from my room.
“That… Was that her first kiss? I’m not used to locking my door but from here on out, it looks like I should really start doing that.”
✩ ✩ ✩
Peeking into the dining area, I see that all but one of the maidens I’d met yesterday are present and Juna has yet to show. I decide to seek after her but when I step away from the door, I collide against something soft. The collision sends a small sting through my chest. I meet face to face with a lunar haired woman who sends me a rather intimidating leer.
“The knight that won the tournament, huh?” Celine says to me with a derisive tone.
“My apologies. I hadn’t noticed you.”
“So you’re a clumsy clod. Do me a favor and watch where you’re going next time.”
She flicks her hair with a huff and pushes past me with a palpable aggression.
✩ ✩ ✩
“Juna? Are you awake? Looks like breakfast is prepared for you and it’s ready to eat.” I rap on the door to Juna’s room.
Shuffling sounds beyond but there’s no answer.
“If you don’t mind, I’m going to come in. Okay?”
I give a few seconds pause, but still hanging without an answer, I push forward.
Her room is mostly bare save for the essentials. It should be par for the course given that we’d only just began our lives in the manor, yet her previous home wasn’t the most decorated setting you could find either. But she was comfortable where she rested and that was all that matters in the end.
I see her form resting in her bed. She’s sound asleep still. The expression on her face is gentle as she remains in her own little dream world. Without the heart to disturb her, I close the door and prepare to walk away.
“Hm?” I hear her moan wearily.
“Juna? It’s morning. You have some breakfast waiting for you. You should wake up and join us.”
“Oh. That’s right. Plutia told me that but I drifted off to sleep again.”
“Did you have a hard time sleeping last night too?”
“I did. It’s not easy sleeping in a new environment.”
“The same for me. My room felt a bit empty and nothing like my old home.” She remains in silence so I take that as my sign to let her be. “I’ll meet you out with the others, okay?”
✩ ✩ ✩
I greet my company in the dining room. Everyone besides Juna is present. Though I anticipate she’ll be joining with us shortly. A plate waits at the vacant head of the table, so I take that place. And to the left of that seat is Venna who gives me an exuberant beam.
“Good morning, Khiron! I’m so glad to see you! Did you sleep well last night?”
“I did have a bit of trouble getting rested. Likely from the new setting and the like.”
“Marcia and I had the same problem for a little bit, but we got nice and cozy soon enough. I’m sure it will be the same for you!”
“He was a knight. I’m sure he’d had a comfortable house before this. It probably makes this place seem beneath him.” Marcia speaks somewhat bitterly beside her sister.
“My house was plenty ordinary. Compared to this place, it feels like it’s a shanty. But I do look forward to when I can get fix up my own part of it to make it a bit more personal.”
“What do you have at home that you want to get?” Mercy speaks after swallowing a healthy helping of her food.
I’d imagine she could have quite an appetite given all of her physical exercise I’ve deduced she partakes in. But I’ve learned better that you likely shouldn’t bring up a woman’s diet under any circumstances. I can recall the time Juna had to teach me that little bit of wisdom after I’d accidentally been a little too forward with a fellow academy student. I can still feel the embarrassment.
“I’d had a few different pieces of equipment I’d left behind. Some books I’d been studying from too. Aside from knightly things, it’d be nice to bring some of my wardrobe and a painting I rather enjoy.”
“When I’d started here I didn’t have my exercise equipment yet, so I had to go back for it. I’d ended up having it hauled by carriage. As much as I wish I could have brought it all myself, there are some things that are just a no-go. Disappointing, right?”
“What kinds of equipment do you have?”
“You know – the best types. Weights for lifting, weights for the body… barrels.”
“Yeah! You can roll them and run on them, lift them, pull them, push them. They're really useful for training!”
An image of her rolling downhill while running atop a barrel enters my mind. The darker side of my thoughts comes out clearly as she manages to trample various venders under under its wood. I tear away that bizarre imagination spot before it can fly too much further off the rails.
“I’m somewhat surprised that I'd never once heard of a way of exercising like that. There’s something new learned for the day.”
“Oh! Oh! Tell me what do you do for exercise!” Her eyes positively glow in anticipation.
“I would always train with a weighted practice sword for starters. Then I'd do the usual you’d expect like running and push ups. It wasn't anything too fancy, but it really helped me to maintain the best shape for dueling.”
“Running is the best! I absolutely love it! It's probably my most favorite thing to do!”
“Outside of that sort, I'd most often practice with Juna. Sword practice, magic training, stretches. She’s always helped me with my sharpening myself as a knight. Why last night we-”
I halt my mind. The kind of practice we’d trained in was entirely different and not so suited for such casual chatter. Though perhaps I'd paused for too long. All of the present maidens who were minding their own business gradually sneak glances towards me.
“That’s… I mean to say…”
“We’d studied together in the library since neither of us could sleep.”
Juna enters into the dining room and coolly saves me from the predicament I’d accidentally dropped myself into.
“Couldn’t quite find the words myself, but that’s what happened! We did some studies last night and that was a big help. I feel like I've improved already!”
“What kinds of studies?” Mercy pushes further in what seems to be genuine curiosity.
“The knightly kind. Some subjects we’re both a bit inexperienced in.” Explains Juna.
“I getcha. Maybe I should train with you two sometime.”
I barely hold myself back from choking on my drink as Mercy steps on a line that hits me hard.
“Fencing is my worst sport and I could really use the push this year. Having some knights to help me out would be a lifesaver!”
“Sure thing! If you need a partner, you can find us at any time. I'm sure that Khiron would love to train with you.”
“It would be interesting practice, not to mention it would help with…”
Don't talk about that thing. DON'T TALK ABOUT THAT THING.
“...my own swordplay!”
I feel a ray of heat zero in on me. I turn to see Celine with a look that most definitely would kill if it could. I can only guess that she’s caught on to the issue Juna and I are dancing around. On the other hand, I look to Plutia to see her smirking smugly to herself. She’s definitely in the know as to the particular studies Juna and I had pursued last night.
✩ ✩ ✩
As I prepare to return to my room, Plutia stops me at the door. I take a defensive stance on instinct as the moments after I’d woken up flash before my eyes upon sight of her smiling face.
“Plutia. What can I do for you?”
“Oh dear, You seem a bit alarmed. Just what is running through that mind of yours?”
“N-Nothing too important.”
“I promise you that you're safe here… ” A dangerous aura begins to flow forth from her as her grin takes on an altogether different aura. “For now.”
“I was instructed to bring you to the royal library this morning. You have an important meeting with a new face there.”
“A new face?”
“As we'd spoken of before, you'll be required to study quite a bit in order to fulfill your role as the hero. So you’ll be scheduled to meet with a particular chosen tutor on certain days. To begin with the lessons will be more impromptu, but soon enough you’ll have a regular structure to your meetings.”
“An assigned tutor? Is this another bit of information kept under wraps until this moment?”
“It is a tradition for the Celestial Knight to be taught history and sciences by a chosen royal adviser of the king. Under normal circumstances you would have been introduced to them yesterday, but there were some complications to that plan. To make up for it, you will be engaged in your first meeting today.”
“I wouldn’t say I have any objections to that. I’m curious as to what those studies will be teaching me. If you wouldn't mind, please lead the way.”
“Certainly, dear.” She sends me a wink from over her shoulder as she begins forward.
In stride, I ponder to myself briefly what kind of person my tutor would be like. The first image that comes to my mind is an aged, tested man. A scar on the face with a stern, chiseled face to display confidently the many years of life he’s experienced. I find myself enjoying that image.