Chapter 9:

Racing the Horizon

Lovely kNight

I return to the Celestial Manor, basket in hand and come across Mercy who is busy with stretches at its front. She takes a pause and shows off a cheeky grin as she sees me.

“Hello, Khiron! What are you doing walking around with a basket?”

“Venna invited me out for a picnic, but she suddenly had to leave. There’s still a few things left if you’re interested.”

She gives the basket’s contents an eye and makes her decision.

“That sandwich looks pretty good. I wouldn’t mind helping myself to that, but I’m just about to go for a run. So I’ll hold off for a bit longer. I’d be more than happy to take it off your hands when I’m back.”

“Then I’ll make sure to leave it be for you.”

She begins to jog in place while a pensive expression finds its way onto her features.

“We need to get closer or something, right? What with that hero business we’re all roped up in. How about we knock out two birds with one stone and you join me for a run? You are a certified knight, aren’t you? So you shouldn’t be too out of shape, I hope.”

“I am. I’d earned my certification the moment I’d graduated from knight’s academy when I was 18.”

“That’s some new Khiron news to me. Did you get a job as a kingdom knight?”

“I’d actually remained a freelance knight of sorts. Up until the tournament, I’d mostly worked at helping civilians with requests. I’d made my living through whatever tasks I could complete through the questing directory.”

“I don’t really get how all of that works.” Mercy’s expression becomes pensive. “Never really learned much about knights. I just knew they protected civilians or something.”

“Really? Though it’s likely citizens that aren’t too privy into that side of the kingdom wouldn’t know too much about it. Care to learn?”

“Sure thing! I’ve been much more curious lately since I’d met you and Juna.”

“There are different orders of knights within those who work for the kingdom and those who work as freelancers. The kingdom knights are the ones that you see wearing matching uniforms and being stationed around the city. Anyone who graduates with the right marks and classes from the knight’s academy are able to become officiated kingdom knights. I’d chose the path of the freelancer so I would have more leeway with my earnings and training. That way I could focus myself on preparing for the tournament.”

“Makes sense so far. But what about your friend, Juna? She’s a freelance knight too, but she wants to become an Elite Mage Knight. How would that work, exactly?”

“Juna had graduated in the same class as myself as a freelancer. Freelancers aren’t commissioned by the kingdom but rather seek out their own profits in questing, assisting the citizens and even some vigilantism. Though there are often times where vigilantism is frowned upon as it can clash with the kingdom knights’ own branch of control. A freelancer may become an active duty kingdom knight if they pass testing or undergo more courses in the academy to earn a diploma of certification. Going from a freelancer to a kingdom knight is a much simpler process and some people even choose to freelance before taking the next step.”

“So is that why Juna decided to be a freelancer too? You’d think with how much she seems to want to be a mage knight for the kingdom, she would have just graduated as a kingdom knight to begin with. I mean, she seems pretty sharp. Ever since she’s been here she’s locked herself away with books. Well, when she’s not hanging around with you.”

“She had given thought to aim for the kingdom diploma once upon a time, but ultimately decided to become a freelancer too. She’d told me that it would be easier to go the freelancer way.”

“Hm? That’s odd. With how hard she’s always working, you’d think that she would have gone the extra mile to cut out the middleman with that sort of thing.”

“Well, I’ve gone and talked so much about knights. What about yourself?”

“Me?” She points to herself. “Before this whole maiden business was dropped on my lap, I used to work at a market in the city as a saleswoman. It was really boring, but it was a living. Just standing around waiting for customers and then talking with the humdrum ordinary types of people. Rarely any were anything exciting to chat with so there wasn’t even much of a drive for the social part of the job. None of it was anywhere near my dreams. My real passion is in competition!”

She pumps her fist and shoots me an energetic smirk.

“You compete in events?”

“Yes! I’m going to be the greatest athlete in the world! I’ve got a long way to go to reach the top, but I’m pushing that boulder up the hill!”

“I was about to ask if you’d have entered the Celestia Hero’s Tournament, but I’d remembered that only men can apply… Though now I think I understand the reason as to why that is... If you want to improve in fencing, I’d be more than willing to lend a hand.”

“ That would be a huge help! Thank you!” She continues her neutral jogging for an instance before picking up from where she’d left off. “I’d gotten a little bit sidetracked there. I don’t think I’d received an answer. Do you want to join me for a run?”

“It’d be nice to exercise some more today. I could use it.”

“Great! Then let’s get started!”

Mercy doesn’t hesitate a nanosecond as she begins into her run. I place the basket down behind a bush to keep it cool in the meantime and follow after her.

✩ ✩ ✩

We run side by side. Our course had taken us through some of the city streets after a natural trail and we begin to close in on another edge of the city. Plenty of people have been shocked as we cut through the crowds and weave in between them.

“You really are quite the runner. You’re not even breaking a sweat.” I praise her.

“You’re not so bad yourself. Most people would at least be winded by the distance and speed we’ve been running. Looks like you’re not just some sweet bread munching market knight after all.” She chuckles to herself.

“Speaking of lazy knights, I’d heard from Venna that you’d been in the audience for the tournament.”

“I did. Even though Celine didn’t seem too excited, I think all of us were entertained in the end. It was really neat having the best seats in the house while seeing who would be the next hero.”

“I’d noticed the royal balcony section of the coliseum, but I hadn’t given it that deep of a thought since I was so busy with my opponents.”

“Really got to say it; you were pretty cool. I had myself a great time watching you win. And when you were named the hero, I’d thought it’d be interesting when I’d get to meet you the next day.”

We turn a corner in the streets together and Mercy leaps off of a large box just because she’s able to.

“Venna had told me that she’d been found as a maiden months before I became the Celestial Knight. What about yourself?”

“I hadn’t been a maiden for as long as Venna and Marcia. Only about two to three weeks, really. It was kind of shocking. There I was, minding my own business at my job when these really official looking mage knights came to see me. They’d asked me a whole ton of questions before they’d just gone ahead and asked me for my blood. I was pretty weirded out at first, but then when I’d heard enough, I bit the bait. After that, I was told that I had an important duty to the kingdom and I was required to move to a new house.”

“It must have been an enormous shock. Apologies that you’d suddenly been pushed somewhere else completely. You’d lost your job too, hadn’t you?”

“What? Why are you apologizing? It was one of the best moments in my life! No more working at that fruit stand and suddenly I’d get to live in a place rent free where I can exercise and train all I want! It was nothing short of a dream come true!” The excitement in her voice bursts forth, unable to be contained.

“I hadn’t expected that much joy over it. Usually people are a bit more down to leave their past behind, so I was more prepared for that kind of talk.”

“Living with the girls has been pretty nice. They’re not bad at all to hang around and there really isn’t any trouble. Celine is a really fun person to talk to for sure! I just… need to make sure I don’t prattle on too much around her.”

“You enjoy talking with Celine? Well, I hope that my inclusion hasn’t caused any difficulties.”

“Oh! Oh! Here it comes! Get ready!” She smiles wildly in anticipation with her eyes fixed forward like a lion set free to the Savannah.

“What? What do you-”

Without a single word of warning, Mercy fires off into a manic sprint the second we reach the edge of the city giving way to the grasslands beyond. With the tall reeds and trees swaying in the breeze, it feels as if she’s one with the wind. Her swift movements and incredible speed carries her across the plains and hills at a stupefying pace.

I shake off the initial shock I’m thrust into in her wake give chase.

✩ ✩ ✩

The kingdom is aglow with the sweet rays of the evening sun when our run comes to its conclusion. Mercy is waiting for me at the front steps of the manor as I catch up to her at last. She has the sandwich in her hand and merrily chews on a mouthful without a care in the world.

“Good work! Usually my partners don’t even make it back to me until at least 20 minutes have passed. You’d gotten here in about 4. That’s the best I think anyone has ever done!”

“You’re… You’re really fast…!” I wheeze.

“That was some nice exercise! Maybe in enough time you could be nearly tied with me! I think you’ll need it if you’ll be fighting some spooky monsters. Thanks again for hanging out. We should do this again sometime!”

So she steps into the manor while continuing to enjoy her small snack. I take her place on the stairs as I chase after my breath for a minute... or seven.