Chapter 11:

Caught in the Act

Lovely kNight

I woke up today due to echoes of pain which had cut through my dreams. It wasn’t the first time I’d found my night ended so rudely by the scar and there’s no reason to believe it’ll be the last time. It’d be much more pleasant to come to as Plutia’s prey than to feel the burning carving its way through my body.

I’d sighed to myself and began my morning exercise and stretches before tracing my path to the dining hall.

✩ ✩ ✩

Breakfast continues as each member of the Celestial Manor take their place at the table. Though she should be eating, Juna is busy burying herself deep into the book beside her plate on the table. It’s only once every few moments that she remembers her food exists and she takes a small, unsubstantial bite. Meanwhile I subtly steal glances at Neptanie whom always seats herself in the furthest seat from me. I’d expected such a thing from Celine, but Neptanie’s shy spirit seems to be quite a hurdle placed in her way.

“If I didn’t need to go to town so early, I’d ask you for some of that sparring practice today.” Mercy speaks to me.

Unlike Neptanie, Mercy has a habit of taking the seat closest to my left while Juna is the first seat to my right. I’m grateful she’s relaxed around me unlike a particular trio among the maidens. My eyes unconsciously flit from Marcia to Neptanie and then to Celine. As I absentmindedly spot Plutia, she sends me a wink. I quickly snap my eyes from her.

“I’m sure we’ll find the right time soon enough.” I respond to Mercy.

The dull clang of Juna’s fork against the plate set before me brings my focus back to her own which flows through the ink printed on those pages fronting her.

“Juna, you can study in your room after breakfast. You should rest and enjoy your food.”

It takes her a moment to notice me and she slowly peers up from the page. Her eyes widen in embarrassment when she notices the other maidens attention joining mine.

“O-Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Juna has been so busy since day one. Always locked up in her room or practicing. I wish I could spend some time with her.” Venna speaks in an airy, lethargic voice.

“She is a hard worker, but she should have some fun every now and again. No use grinding an axe until its metal is all flaked away.” Plutia pitches in to the conversation. “But I’m sure outside of studying, Khiron has kept her plenty busy.”

Then a confident smirk comes my direction.

“Too bad she’s being such a bookworm. It’d be fun to go running with her. I bet she’s really good since she’s Khiron’s partner.” Mercy moans, dissatisfied.

“She’s a busy woman. We should let her be.” Celine adds with a slightly pointed tone as if to defend Juna.

“I’m sorry, everyone. I really haven’t spent much time with any of you yet. I’ve been so caught up with preparing myself for the coming kingdom mage knight test. I’m sure I’ll have some more time to spend with everyone after Saturday.” Juna is apologetic.

“Oh, but I’m sure that Khiron is going to take up plenty of that time if we don’t snatch it up for ourselves first.” Plutia prods us further.

“Those two are together all the time.” Mercy chuckles.

While we all make small talk among ourselves as every morning so far, Neptanie is once more silent as she quietly eats from her plate all the while staring down to it.

✩ ✩ ✩

Though it wasn’t the most knightly thing to do, the moment breakfast ended and Neptanie went on her way, I’d kept my distance and followed in her footsteps. My curiosity for her had grown so great after I’d caught her eavesdropping last night. With that intrigue flowering, I’d grown a desire to learn even more about her. Given how shy she’s been, I’d naturally become a bit apprehensive for a more direct approach lest she’d shut herself up or flee.

The path was a simple one but it seemed that she was cautious as she checked about her surroundings from time to time while she went on her way. I wouldn’t imagine she’d be so worried over her fellow maidens, so her concern was likely over myself. Which did drive an inkling of guilt into my heart, but with how far I’d already gone to pursue her, it would be an utter waste to turn back. Or so I’d reasoned with myself.

The path lead into a hedge maze nearby the castle. Continuing, I found my way through and into its center where a beautiful garden rested. So I watch over her though I can’t shake the concern that I may be perceived as a rather unsavory character if any unfortunate circumstances arise.

Neptanie tends to a bushel of flowers before her. Their bright colors and eclectic breeds stand out among the rest which are more uniform and symmetrical. They seem to be avant-garde compared to the rest of the garden.

Are those her personal flowers?” I wonder to myself.

Though all other times I’ve seen Neptanie she would be reserved and timid, maybe even afraid, this is the first time I’ve witnessed her so at ease. The face that would be sullen now has a gentle smile blossomed on its lips. She tilts the watering pail in her grasp and hums to herself merrily.

“There you go. All better and ready for the day.” She speaks to the flowers.

After more tending, she takes a seat before the bed and pulls out a pen and a small notebook from a small bag on her hip. Continuing to hold that blissful smile, she begins writing. With how innocent and uneventful the entire situation is, the seed guilt I have from my blatant stalking grows in its factor. The silver lining is that I gain a sense of relief having learned a small something about Neptanie.

“Seems she likes gardening and writing when she’s not locked up in her room.”

While I continue observing, I’m brought back to an old memory. Running through the maze’s turning paths and corners leading their way to the blooming flowers. Chasing, laughing and loving life beneath the summer sun. It’s a bit hard to fully realize how much time had passed since those days. A deep nostalgia carries its way on the gentle breeze and I breathe it all in watching Neptanie sitting before her small garden.

My focus is ruptured asunder at high pitched sounds of squeaking. I jerk to about face to the dainty yapping barks. It’s only now I notice a regal individual with their diminutive dog on a leash who had been following their course through the small maze. But evermore important, I throw my eyes to Neptanie and see that she’s noticed me thanks to that noisy, pint sized canine.

“Khiron…?” She speaks so lightly I can scarcely hear her voice. “Kh-Khiron…!”

Her skin begins to burn a bright pink in embarrassment. She shoots up to her feet and begins into a speed walk out of the garden.

“Great. Now she’s most likely going to get the wrong idea that I’m some stalking creep… Well, I mean I did stalk her and...”

The yapping continues, grating its shrill tone against my ears. The regal woman stares at me with concern scrawled all across her face thanks to my absentminded monologuing. I give my apologies for disturbing the peaceful morning and begin on my way back to the manor in a walk of shame.