Chapter 11:


Chained Regalia

“Hmpf!” A strange sound ejected from my mouth as I slammed into the ground. I had the wind completely knocked out of me.

I’m getting some bad déjà vu here…

“Oh, sorry! I didn’t intend to knock you over.”

I heard footsteps nearing me, so she was probably approaching to help me up, but I couldn’t will my eyes open—or, rather, I thought it was too much effort.

“Will you remind me again why I agreed to all this?” I moaned.

“You never actually told me, so no, I cannot.”

I had expected the second day of training to be easier than the first, but reality was not so kind. “Basic physical activity is a bit too much for me to handle. Can I be your secretary or something instead?”

“Secretary? What is it that you think I do, exactly?”

“It was the first thing that came to mind that didn’t involve immense pain and suffering. Besides, you were doing some kind of paperwork last night, right?”

Yesterday, our first day of training, had concluded once I’d been brought to the brink of collapse. Even though she’d given me frequent periods of rest, I’d ultimately ended up so exhausted and bruised that Lucia needed to practically drag my body back to the inn. According to her, I passed out almost instantly, despite the fact that it wasn’t even evening time yet. A couple of hours later, she woke me up so we could go out to eat something, and, while out, she (and I, given I couldn’t exactly stray from her side) went on a brief errand to pick up a large stack of sealed envelopes from a building on the outskirts of town. After returning to our room, she spent an hour or two reading through their contents and doing some writing of her own.

Earlier this morning, we had gone to drop them off at the same building, so it was probably some kind of courier or mailing service. I didn’t know much more than that, though, since she hadn’t elaborated, nor had I asked her to. Last night, I’d lacked the energy to ask any questions or process their answers, so, instead, I just sat down and watched her idly until I fell asleep again.

Looking back, I wonder if she found that creepy. I mean, I did essentially just stare at her absentmindedly for a while. Agh, screw past me; I can’t believe he did that…

No matter how creepy she had (or hadn’t) thought I’d been last night, though, it was probably nothing compared to how pathetic I looked now, still sprawled out on the ground with my eyes shut.

“Well, I suppose it would be helpful to have someone assist me in working through all of the letters and documents I receive,” she replied, “but you’re completely illiterate, so you would be even worse at that than at this.”

“Yikes. I was joking, okay? Don’t kick a man while he’s down.”

I had made absolutely no effort to move since falling, likely to her annoyance. Although I had explicitly taken ‘kicking’ off the table, she must have thought ‘poking’ was okay, because not long after, I felt something dig hard into my cheek.

“Ow! Ow! Stop it!” It didn’t actually hurt very much, but it was uncomfortable enough to force me into action. I pushed her hand away and finally opened my eyes.

She had crouched down on top of me in order to poke at my face. It seemed innocent enough, except for the fact that, from this angle, she was completely flashing me—if you could call it that. Lucia wore fairly short dresses, so I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that she wore a pair of black, tight-fitting shorts underneath. As the hem of her skirt only extended slightly past them, they tended to become briefly visible anytime she moved quickly, and, as a result, I had long since been aware of their presence—not that I was ever intentionally looking, of course.

Considering she was the one who had decided to crouch, she clearly wasn’t feeling particularly embarrassed to be in this position, but I certainly was. I wouldn’t have thought twice if she was just wearing the shorts without the dress, but, for whatever reason, the extra clothing somehow made this situation feel more scandalous rather than less.

I turned my head sideways. Since I was on the ground, it was the only way I could avert my gaze. “C-can you stand up, please? I can’t get up when you’re in my way.”

She got to her feet and stepped to the side, giving me space. I responded by lifting my back up off the ground to get into a sitting position. I was still tired, so I didn’t feel like fully standing up just yet.

“Hey, wait.” A thought had struck me, and I voiced it without a second thought. “If leg armor gets in the way of your movement, why didn’t you just wear shorts on the day you summoned me, too? Wouldn’t that have solved the issue you accused me of causing?” I regretted it instantly, because it was immediately clear to the both of us what had led me down this train of thought.

Her eyes widened a little. “Could it be…” Her voice began to quiver lightly, and an inexplicable look of concern washed over her. I gulped on reflex at the sudden severity of her reaction. What is she about to—

“Do you have a leg kink or something!?”


“W-what the hell!? Where’d that even come from?”

“Oh gods, he didn’t even attempt to deny it…”

“I don’t, okay! Not any more than the average person, anyway.” My voice loudly cracked mid-sentence, making the already horrifying situation I found myself in all that much worse. Her sudden outburst had gotten me flustered enough that I found myself instantly vomiting out whatever came to mind without a second of curation. Goddammit. Saying that last part definitely sounds like I’m admitting to it…

Lucia suddenly snorted at my response and burst into laughter. “‘Not any more than average’, huh?”

“L-listen, I’m telling you, I’m not—”

“Relax, alright? I can only watch you squirm so much before I start feeling guilty.” Her laughter eased, but my stress levels certainly didn’t.

“… What was that even about in the first place?”

“There was no deeper meaning to it. It was the second time you broached this exact topic, so it just got me wondering, you know?”

“Well, there’s nothing to wonder about,” I replied sourly, more than a little downtrodden. Also, this wasn’t the second time at all! You were the one who took the conversation in that direction the first time. This is a false accusation! I chose to grumble to myself mentally rather than out loud, given the near nil success rate of my verbal rebuttals so far in this conversation.

“Please stop looking so upset at me. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Your reactions are just so entertaining sometimes that I cannot help but mess with you.”

“Fine, whatever…” I accepted her apology in the hope that moving on would help me feel less embarrassed. I had been sitting on the ground during this entire exchange, so I took this opportunity to finally stand up.

I sighed. Entertaining, huh? I guess I tend to find her reactions entertaining, too, so I can’t get too beat up about it.

“Would you like an answer to your original question?” she asked.

After going through all of that, I better get an answer. I nodded.

“The truth is…” She stopped speaking for a moment, creating an overly dramatic—and overly unnecessary—pause, and then continued, “… it was cold that morning. Nothing more. It was not so cold as to make wearing an entire cloak necessary, but chilly enough that I felt it pertinent to at least cover my legs.”

I lightly glared at her. “So that entire excuse you came up with at dinner that night was just… a lie? You were just messing with me?”

“Precisely. Do you remember how you made fun of me for the way I introduced myself after we first met? I wanted to get back at you for that. Oh, but I was telling the truth about it affecting my movement; tight clothing covering joints naturally adds extra resistance. So I was only partially lying.”

“Whoa. You wanted to get back at me for that? You really hold grudges, huh?” I said that, but it had only been a few hours between those interactions, so it wasn’t as if she waited days to enact her ‘revenge’.

“That was when I first realized that your reactions could be quite entertaining. It’s endearing how you choose to defend yourself over the most frivolous things.” She smiled gleefully as she said it. Somehow “endearing” doesn’t sound like a compliment here…

But, in the end, I couldn’t complain. In fact, I found myself smiling too. To answer my own question from earlier, the reason I chose to follow Lucia was, ultimately, because I wanted to see her happy and smiling. So I really can’t complain when I’m getting exactly that.

For now, that was enough. She’d believed in me—even scolded me—when I completely lacked faith in myself, and I appreciated that. I wanted to do what little I could for her as reciprocation. This desire was the one thing I could cling to, the one thing I had to drive me forward.

But I wasn’t that unwaveringly selfless; I knew I wouldn’t be capable of clinging to that gratitude as my reason to live forever. I refused to delude myself into believing that our happiness was intrinsically linked or some wishful, romantic bullshit like that.

We weren’t that close. This was an exchange. I was repaying a debt, and, someday, my gratitude would fade.

When that day came, where would I be? Would I have found a stronger foundation to stand on, a steadfast motivation? Or would I have regressed back to where I’d been from the beginning?

“Alright.” A voice cut off my internal monologue. “With that, how about we wrap up for the day?”

I was sure that, at some point, my expression had turned overly serious, and that this interruption was her way of looking out for me. Feigning excitement, I nodded eagerly at her suggestion.

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