Chapter 15:

Diamond in the Rough

Chained Regalia

“Hey, *****, come over here!” When she had said my name, all I heard was an incoherent jumble of sounds I couldn’t make out. For some reason, I wasn’t bothered by the occurrence, and I simply obeyed her request.

“What is it?” I asked.

She pointed excitedly at something on the ground. I knelt down to look at it, and what I saw was…

“This… this is just a pebble.” I looked up at her, scowling. She’d gotten my hopes up for nothing.

“But look, it’s so shiny! Look at it again!” She was annoyed at my reaction, so I gave her a second chance.

“Hmm… I guess. What’s so cool about it, though?”

“I don’t know. It’s just pretty. Oh, it kind of reminds me of the diamond in my mom’s ring.”

“Huh!? This thing looks like a diamond? Are you stupid?” It was just a slightly shiny rock. I may have only been an elementary schooler, but even I knew that diamonds looked way fancier than this.

“You’re so mean!” she screamed at me. I felt kind of bad about it, too.

“I-I’m sorry. You’re not stupid.”

“Hmpf. I don’t believe you.” She crossed her arms and looked indignant.

“You don’t believe that you’re not stupid?”

“That’s not what I meant, stupid!”

“Hey, I’m not stupid!”

I thought that she must’ve been angry at me because she turned away and refused to face me.

“Stop being mad at me. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Bleh. I hate you!” She began walking away from me, which caused me to panic. I didn’t want her to hate me.

As I thought about what to do, my eyes fell onto that ordinary rock again. I had a strange idea because of something she had just said earlier. I scooped it up and rummaged around in my pocket, pulling out some twine I had stuck in there at some point from amongst the sea of junk stuffed inside.

She was quickly widening the distance between us, so the object I hurriedly fashioned was sloppy, but it’d have to do. I chased after her.

She probably heard me approach because she stopped and said, “What do you want? Leave me alone.”

“I’m really sorry. I made something for you to say sorry.”

She turned around to face me. She looked sad but was still willing to hear me out, it seemed. I held out my handiwork.

“I was wrong. It really is pretty like a diamond.” I had created a loop with the twine and crudely bound the pebble to the makeshift ring in an attempt to imitate what she had compared it to earlier.

She stared at the ring for a long time. I started to worry that she hated my attempt to make amends, but I was wrong. Eventually, she took it from my hands and slid it onto one of her fingers—not on her ring finger, admittedly, but I didn’t feel like correcting her.

“Thank you,” she said. She had started crying.

“O-oh! I’m sorry! What did I—”

She cut me off. “I’m not crying because I’m sad. I’m very happy.”

I didn’t really understand, so I just took her word for it.

It was then that the situation that had just unfolded fully dawned upon me. Even if it was extremely makeshift and cheap, I had just given her a “diamond” ring. I had basically just proposed to a girl!

A boy my age was supposed to find this kind of thing gross, I thought, but for some reason it didn’t bother me. In that moment, I thought that I probably wouldn’t mind giving her a ring for real one day.

It was truly ironic, then, that many, many years later, after we had promised each other this very thing, I’d abandoned her at the finish line.

* * *

I jolted awake. For some reason, my cheek stung. “Agh… what the hell?”

“Oh, sorry! I didn’t mean to slap so hard.”

My vision was slightly blurred, though it was unclear if that was a result of the sudden awakening or the slap. Someone was crouching and looking at me. Since they were at about eye-level, I must have been sitting. I thought they looked concerned, but I couldn’t be sure.

“Are you okay, Layn?”

Who’s… oh. My mind had finally caught up, and I grasped back onto reality.

“Yeah, I’m okay.” My vision was clearing up.

“But you’re crying. Did it hurt that bad?”

What? I’m crying? Once she mentioned it, I became aware of the dampness on my cheeks. I quickly moved to wipe it away with my sleeve.

“No, I’m fine—” I cut myself off and completely jumped track. “Hey, wait, why the hell did you slap me in the first place!?”

Lucia had a look of guilt on her face. “Well, you fell asleep here, and I needed to wake you up.” By “here”, she meant the training yard.

“So your first thought was to slap me?”

“No, no!” Another voice joined in. Its owner bounced into view, having previously been behind me. “It was my idea, Laynie!”

“Okay, then why do you have it out for me? Also, don’t call me that!”

“Hehehe. No can do, Layn.” Selina waggled her finger at me. You literally just did it right that time! Not to mention the fact that you completely ignored my first question. In the short time I’d known her, I’d already come to realize that arguing with Selina would never get anywhere, so I didn’t even try.

I rubbed my cheek and thought back to before I fell asleep. Alwey had wanted to “report” something to Lucia (his words), and they were talking for a while in their language. There could have been any number of reasons for their choice of language, but I had a feeling Alwey intentionally didn’t want me to be able to understand them. He seemed to think it was still possible I could be a spy or something, despite how nonsensical that idea was.

Regardless, I must’ve gotten bored while they were talking and had fallen asleep while sitting on a bench. Typically, my dreams were vague and difficult to recall, but this one was surprisingly coherent.

Was I seriously that bold as a kid? When did I lose my edge? I’d never be able to do something like that nowadays, sheesh.

As laudable as I found my preteen self, ultimately, I definitely wished it hadn’t been so clear. Lucia was definitely right when she told me I should try to ignore my memories, but, of course, it wasn’t that simple; not when I felt so much sorrow from each and every sliver I recalled.

When I was first summoned, I was convinced I wasn’t worth trusting, and I had originally tried convincing Lucia of that, too. In the time since then, my perspective had improved somewhat, but, eventually, I would recall enough to know exactly what led me to feel that way in the first place.

What the hell did I do, exactly? Once I have a clear picture of who I was and what I may have done to fill me with so much regret, will I be able to trust myself? Will I even be able to accept the trust of others?

“Gloom does not suit you.” Alwey’s gruff voice brought me back to reality.

“You’re one to talk. No one’s as gloomy as you.” Even he could tell? I’m awful at hiding things.

“I am not gloomy. I am merely cautious,” he replied.

“That was a lie.”

“You’re sooo lying.”

Lucia and Selina spoke in unison, shooting down his claim. Suddenly double-teamed, he seemed at a loss of how to defend himself. “Just get to work,” was what he eventually landed on, conceding defeat with a frustrated look. If that duo was enough to keep him at bay, I never wanted to be on the receiving end of their joint force. Or maybe I already had been with that slap.

Selina clapped. It was possibly because she was excited, but she did a lot of things I couldn’t explain, so I could never be sure. “Let’s begin! Get over here, Layn.”

I had no idea why she bothered to give a command, because she didn’t even wait for me to answer before grabbing the collar of my shirt and dragging me away from the bench against my will.

Up until now, I’d only trained with Lucia, so I was a little nervous about what was in store for me. Speaking of Lucia, she casually sat down on the bench, watching me get dragged away without an ounce of pity. Of course, I physically couldn’t get too far away from her, so Selina only dragged me out a little bit into the open before stopping.

“Um, so what exactly are we going to do?”

It was Alwey who replied. “First, we would like to observe your current progress. Go ahead and try to manifest your vessel. Selina will test your current aptitude.”

“Uh, about that, I still can’t—”

Before I could finish, I got distracted. Selina had taken a few steps backwards away from me. She held out her right hand and, in an instant, a long, ornate pole with a sharp, metallic point appeared in it. It looked like it had to be heavy, but she seemed to have no problem wielding it. The weapon was so dazzling, it completely cut off what I was trying to get out.

She twisted the lance to grip it with both hands.

“Okay! Let’s fight! Try not to die!” Her voice was upbeat, but since it was always like that, it just made the statement sound even more sinister.

Without skipping a beat, she charged at me, genuine weapon in hand, with a smile on her face.
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