Chapter 9:

Volume 2 Chapter 3: The Capital

A Battlefield of Swords and Flowers

One and a half weeks later, Sena’s father was informed of the meeting for the Northern Trade Committee. I showed him the letter Liena had sent me and convinced him to take me with him, though, I didn’t really need to convince him, per se. He actually thought it was a good idea. It was my parents I needed to convince. But when I showed them the letter, they reluctantly agreed.

One thing I didn’t show them on the letter was the part about me potentially becoming Liena’s apprentice. I hadn’t even made up my mind yet so it didn’t seem like it was necessary for me to tell them. It would all happen in time.

Two days later, after we had finished packing and making the necessary preparations, Lia, Sena and her father, and I all boarded a coach carriage leaving our hometown eastbound for the capital. By the estimate of the coachman it would take at least a week to get there, the length of which only began to set in an hour into the trip. We wouldn’t be stopping for the next seven hours.

But every time we stopped to rest, Sena lit up with excitement as she wandered through the streets in search of, well, anything really. It didn’t matter what it was. If it was something new for her like food, clothing, or even folktales, she just could keep herself from them.

Seeing Sena filled with such joy and excitement made me glad that I had used Liena’s letter to force her to expand her horizons, even if at that moment that just meant sightseeing. Whether or not she would be returning home afterward was up to her.

But after nine days on the road, and nine days of Lia’s constant nagging, the capital city was finally in sight.

As we approached, we couldn’t help but glue our faces to the coach windows and gaze at the city’s magnificence. Once you made it passed all the fields and sparse houses on its outskirts, you were greeted with vibrant architecture and busy streets.

As you’d expect from the economic center of the empire, most of the streets we passed were filled with pedestrians shopping at markets and going out to different kinds of shops. The street itself was several times wider than the streets back home allowing for hundreds of people and dozens of carts and carriages to run by.

The further we made it into the city, the more the atmosphere changed. It turned from the busy and messy tumult of the markets to the efficient and organized roads of the inner city. Here it was clear to see that things ran a bit differently. There were still outdoor vendors and such, but the crowds weren’t overwhelming and everyone seemed to act more seriously.

Seeing the more elegant architecture made me realize that this had to be a pretty wealthy district. It almost seemed surreal to think that we were riding past all this, and I couldn’t help but think of just how much money was going into this area.

“Wow!” Lia exclaimed in awe. “If only I could live here.”

To her side, Sena seemed to share the same feeling, yet she was unable to find the courage to share her thoughts.

From what Sena’s father had told us, this area of the capital was where we would be staying. We would be provided lodging at an inn not too far from the palace where the trade conference would take place. If the current architecture was anything to go by, then the inn we’ll be staying at must be top of the line.

I wouldn’t have to wonder about it much longer, though. The coach suddenly stopped in front of a luxurious looking building. A man wearing a fancy suit walked up to the carriage and opened its door allowing Lia and Sena to climb out followed by her father and I.

Even if my eyes were closed, I could tell that we were in completely new territory just by the smell of the air.

Back home, the air would be filled with faint aromas of the flowers in the far off fields, as well as the earthy smell you get living out in the countryside. But here the smell of flowers was accompanied by the smell of food and pastries, as well as the aroma of wood and polished stone, if stone could even conjure up a scent.

We were led into the inn by an attendant. The inn was as elegant as I had imagined, and soon, we were in our rooms. Sena and Lia were placed in one room since they were girls. Sena’s father was in his own room at the end of the hall. And I had a room all to myself next to the girls.

It was a pretty good deal if you asked me. A room all to myself. Even back home I shared a room with my baby brother.

Soon it had become night and we all went to bed.

Then the next morning.

Bang bang bang!!

“Come on, Sam. Let’s go explore the city.”

I can’t say I didn’t expect it. From what I could tell of the light pouring in through the window, it was probably around nine in the morning. A bit late but can you blame me? Spending that much time in a coach carriage was exhausting.

But that didn’t stop Lia from banging on my door as hard as she could.

At this point, she was going to wake up the neighbors.

Still a bit hazy, I made my way to the door to shut Lia up. And to my surprise—

“Oh?! You’re here too, Sena?”

It only made sense. They were sleeping in the same room.

“Come with us. It’ll be fun,” Sena insisted.

Well, when you put it that way, how can I refuse.

I hurried and changed before joining them out a few minutes later.

As you’d expect, the streets of the capital were filled with people. We grabbed a bite to eat at a cafe and then went off to see the sights.

In reality, though, I mostly just followed the girls. The area we happened to be walking through was mostly a shopping and fashion district and most of the things being sold were more oriented toward a woman’s taste. So at the end of the day, I was more of a third wheel.

What I really wanted to do was head for the palace and meet up with Liena. I had thought of the whole apprenticeship thing for many days now but I couldn’t make up my mind until I had Liena tell me all the details.

“Sam, Sam! What do you think of this dress!”

But first, I had to deal with Lia.

Up close, the palace was much more grand and elegant then we saw it from afar. It was mostly hidden behind fortified walls but even they seem majestic.

Sena said she was going off to visit a few schools she was interested in attending. Her father said it was time for him to head to the meeting Liena had set up. I thought that this would be the perfect time to get to speak with her, so Lia and I followed him to the palace. But unsurprisingly, we weren’t let in with him. We would have to wait at least two hours.

I did show the guards Liena’s letter but even then they refused to let me see her. Instead, they told me that she had told them to give me a tour of the palace if she was unavailable. So that’s what we did.

So for about an hour, a guard—who didn’t seem particularly thrilled about this part of his job—walked us around the palace showing us anything and everything. It was what you’d expect from a palace: grandiose and elegant with various officials running around.

Lia, unsurprisingly, was having the time of her life. I doubt she ever expected to be able to wander inside the palace.

Eventually we passed by a wide open courtyard where several dozen people, all wearing the same outfits and standing in a grid formation, paying close attention to a single person. Though he was too far for me to clearly see his face, his dark grey armor gave away his identity.

“Hey, Sam. Isn’t that Knight Andor?” Apparently, Lia had come to the same conclusion.

We were about to leave the vicinity when Lia asked our tour guide if we could stay in the courtyard to which he stubbornly agreed.

On closer inspection, most of the people in the courtyard were boys a few years older than Lia and I, with a very few seeming like young adults. At the order of Knight Andor, the roughly forty eight boys and girls all formed lines. And in the next moment, multiple lights shot across the courtyard.

They were all mages.

I watched on with awe. I had never seen so many mages in one place. They were all probably being trained by Knight Andor and were performing drills by shooting at bells on the other side of the courtyard. An accuracy test, maybe?

Though I watched with amazement, Lia was not quite as impressed, a flat expression on her face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s just that I expected them to be better.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look,” she pointed at one of the students. “Out of the five shots she has fired, only three have hit. The girl over there is practicing hitting multiple targets but can barely hit one. And that other boy can’t control his intensity. If he continues like that, he’ll eventually shatter the bell.”

Now that she mentioned it, the more closely you looked, the more you saw that many of them weren’t hitting their mark. If you had to explain it statistics wise, I’d say that, as a group, they only had seventy five percent accuracy.

Lia pointed out that only two people had perfect accuracy.

But that’s when--

“So you think my teaching is inadequate?”

A heavy and deep voice rang out behind us.

Startled, I turned around and found Knight Andor standing imposingly behind us.

Though my heart was still racing a bit by the sudden comment, Lia didn’t seem to have been surprised at all. Instead she just said, “It’s not that you methods of teaching are bad—I have never seen you teach, so I can’t make a comment on that—it’s just that your students aren’t that talented.”

The knight still took that as a personal insult and challenged her.

“So you think you can do better?” Before Lia could even answer, the knight called out to his students. “Everyone! Attention!” Then he pointed at Lia. “This girl has criticized your skill by calling it inadequate. So, lets have her prove herself.”

Many of the students laughed when they heard that someone younger than them, clothed in a simple dress, was questioning their skill.

I was about to tell Lia to apologize when she walked forward and reached out with her hand at the bells on the other side of the courtyard.

Whenever one of the students tried to hit multiple bells, they only ever went for three at most. But at the end of Lia’s outstretched hand, five yellow orbs of lights emerged before taking a shape akin to an arrowhead. And with no break in her concentration, her eyes flared up and the five lights shot through the air much faster than those of the students before hitting all five bells with perfect accuracy.

Needless to say, everyone was stunted.

Even after accomplishing such a feat, her face stayed expressionless and she simply breathed in deeply.

Knight Andor, had no change in expression and instead contemplated on what he had witnessed with a pensive stare.

As if coming to a conclusion, he nodded and turned to his students.

“If a thirteen year old girl can accomplish that much, I expect you all to perform better than her two days from now.”

That might be asking too much. It’s not like Lia just happened to become skilled in one day. Granted, she was extremely talented as she picked up many of the things she was taught with ease.

After the knight had yelled at them all to get back to practicing, he walked back toward us, specifically toward Lia.

“It seems I must apologize.” That was surprising. I never expected Knight Andor to admit to his mistakes. He always struck me as a stubborn and prideful man. At least, that’s how he was with me. “It seems that my teaching methods haven’t been as effective as I once thought.”

“No, no,” Lia countered. “It’s not that you're a bad teacher. I just worked hard to get to where I am.”

“A good philosophy to have,” he pointed out. “By the way, who taught you?”

“Miss Alea. She used to be a mage in the army.”

”Yes, I remember her. She was an incredible mage when she was still with us,” he reminisced. “Many times, she would take time out of her day to teach me. She even taught Lady Cynthia and the Commander, though, the Commander always seemed to be her favorite pupil.”

And after finishing his story, as if something in it had made him draw a connection, his eyes wandered over to me.

“I never thought I’d be seeing you again, boy. How about yourself, have you been taught by Lady Alea?”

“Yes, but I only know healing magic. Granted, I’m not even close to the level Lia is at.”

“She has taken a hold on you, hasn’t she?”

I didn’t know what he was talking about but I could tell he wasn’t particularly impressed by my skill. Though I couldn’t say that my skills were something that could be commended to begin with. Lia far exceeded me in that regard.

“Regardless,” he moved on, “your skills are impressive for someone of such a young age. Though, I shouldn’t be surprised given that you were taught by Lady Alea.”

Lia tried to keep her composure but she couldn’t and tried to make herself sound humble.

“Well, I’ve only been studying for a few years,’ she said trying to humble herself. But even I knew that only truly talented people could become as skilled as she was.

“If I may ask, can you show me more of your skill?”

Lia agreed right away. Though she wasn’t necessarily an extroverted person, Lia could become a little too full of herself. So when presented with the opportunity to show off, I wasn’t surprised at how eagerly she agreed.

For the next half hour, Knight Andor had Lia perform all sorts of exercises.

First, he tested how fast she could shoot consecutive shots of magic. Forty nine shots per minute

He also tested the intensity of her magic by bringing out a target square made of five centimeter thick iron. It allowed you to see just how powerful your offensive magic was. The deeper the dent, the more concentrated it was. When Lia stepped up to give it a shot, she made a two and a half centimeter dent. For comparison, many of the students struggled to get to just one centimeter.

And lastly, he tested her healing capabilities. Unexpectedly, to do so he took his own sword and slit the palm of his hand without even reacting to the pain. Unsurprisingly, Lia had no problem healing the wound.

And even after all that, Lia hadn’t broken a sweat. Knight Andor continuously tested her but never allowed time for a break. Even so, Lia showed no signs of fatigue.

A truly talented individual. That was Lia.

“Anyway,” Lia said, going from one thing to another without a second thought, “by chance, do you think we could meet with Miss Liena?”

At the mention of her name, the knight’s stare became cold.

Regardless, he didn’t have time to answer because—

“Awww!! Lia!”

Out of nowhere, a figure came into the courtyard and abruptly and swiftly hugged Lia from behind, lifting her into the air and causing Lia to flail her arms and legs in sheer terror.

“You were more talented than I could have ever expected!” praised the voice from behind.

Meanwhile, “Ahhh…! Ah! L-let me go!! Ahh!!”

“You should have let me know that you were here,” said the figure.

“L-let me go!!!” She continued to flail until—


Lia stretched out her arm and created, with her magic, a concussive blast that sent her and her captor flying backward into a pillar.

Thanks to that, the figure let go of Lia and she was able to break free and walk away, though, Lia seems a bit annoyed.

But her expression was wiped away once she realized who the figure was.

“M-miss Liena?! I so, so sorry. Please forgive me,” Lia begged as she ran over to help her.

“No worries,” Liena chuckled, a little out of breath. “I probably shouldn’t have done that to begin with. I just couldn’t resist.”

Luckily, she didn’t hit her head, so a concussion was unlikely, but she still looked dazed as she stood up.

“Anyway,” she moved on as if nothing had happened, “it’s been too long. I thought you might have forgotten all about me.”

She went in for another hug which made Lia seem as if she were about to burst.

“And you,” she glanced over at me before smacking me hard on my back. I lost my breath for a bit. “I’m glad to see you again.”

“Y-yeah, me too,” I tried to say as I caught my breath.

“Is your meeting done, Liena?”

“Thanks for asking, Andor. I always knew you cared for me,” she grinned.

“Tsk.” And with that, Knight Andor left to continue training his students.

“He pretends to hate me,” Liena played it off only to momentarily put on a grim expression. But only for a moment. She quickly regained her smile.

“Welp, it’s a bit past noon. Have you guys eaten?”

“No,” we answered.

“Then let’s grab a bite to eat.”