Chapter 10:

Volume 2 Chapter 4: The Final Decision

A Battlefield of Swords and Flowers

When Liena told us she would take us out to eat, I expected us to go somewhere nearby. Instead, we took a twenty minute carriage ride to a café on the outskirts of the capital. There were still a multitude of people walking around but we were far from the capital’s center.

“Since you kind of won our game of hide and seek, drinks are on me,” Liena informed us.

“Good, because I have no money on me.”

Neither did Lia. She spent most of hers on clothing.

Also, clothing in the capital is expensive.

“Either way, eat and drink as much as you want,” she assured. “We haven’t been able to talk in two years, so it’s enough of a reason to spend a bit of money.”

“It reminds me of when we first met,” Lia pointed out. “We took you to a cafe, as well.”

That was some time ago, though. And Liena tried to make me pay for all her drinks.

“Coincidence or not, I just picked this place because it’s one of my favorite places to eat. Not many people think that you can find good food all the way out here.”

They’re narrow minded, she murmured.

“The food better be good. The drive here made me hungry.”

“Well then, let me recommend some things.”

For the next ten minutes or so, Liena went over every dish the café served in detail as if she were once a cook here. Eventually, I decided to get a mincemeat pie. Lia got a southern style omelet. And Liena went for a locally popular quiche.

Not to give Liena any praise but she did know how to spot good cafes and restaurants. This pie had to be the best I have ever tasted.

“All this delicious food if you just bother to look,” said as she dug into her quiche.

Once all was said and eaten, Liena looked over at me and asked, “I know it’s a bit sudden to ask but…” She hesitated a bit before continuing. “Have you come up with your decision?”

“You mean about becoming your apprentice?” It wasn’t I who answered, but Lia. “You’re so lucky, Sam. Who would’ve thought that one day you would be given the chance to become an apprentice to a knight.”

I rarely talked about it, though. I knew it was something of a dream for Lia. I mean, it was for many people. Whether Lia preferred becoming a combat medic or a knight, knowing someone who was given the chance probably made her jealous.

That was partially the reason I hesitated with my choice. I had known Lia all my life. We spent most of our time together and she knew me better than my own mother. I guess I just didn’t want to leave her behind. Even if Liena seemed like someone I’d like to hang out with, I’d definitely miss Lia.

I slowly began to remember the conversation I had with Sena a few weeks back.

“Of course,” Liena continued, “I’m not forcing you.”

“By when do you need my answer?”

“By the end of your stay here. Though, that only leaves you with four days to make your decision. Sorry if that’s not enough time.”

“No, no,” I assured her. “I’ve had two years to think about.”

“Well,” Liena started as she took a sip of her water, “until you make up your mind, I won’t bug you about it.”

“Still,” Lia jumped in, “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to become her apprentice.”

“Like I said, Lia, it’s for him to decide, and we shouldn’t be putting any more pressure on him.”

Lia agreed and returned to eating her meal while Liena caressed Lia’s hair as if she were a well behaved puppy.

It was a great opportunity, but the fact that it was such a great opportunity was the reason I felt so apprehensive toward it. For many reasons and more, it was hard to decide.

Soon afterward, we left the restaurant and walked around with Liena. All we really did was talk and catch up—not that I had much to tell.

Regardless, even if they were just random conversations, we were so entertained with each other that we lost track of time, and when we looked up it was nearly night.

Eventually, we found our way back to the capital’s center and Lia and I returned to the inn while Liena headed to the palace. She said she still had some paperwork to do. And judging by the pained look on her face, I could only imagine just how boring it might be.

Then, the next morning.

Bang bang bang!!!

I was rudely awoken once again by loud banging at my inn door. It must have been eight in the morning but still, I like having some peace and quiet while I have the chance. It wasn’t everyday that someone like me could spend several days in a fancy inn.

So, Lia loudly disturbing me was obviously going to make me blow my head off.

Twice in a row, now.

I raced from my bed to the door and swung it open to find not only Lia but Liena as well.

“Morning, Sam,” she greeted me with a smile. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“So it was you who did all the knocking!!” I accused while Liena tried to play dumb.

I could slap her right now if I wanted to, but I held back. And you made me blame Lia at first. Shame on you.

I asked why she was here since we didn’t remember making any plans to spend the day with her, but all she told me was to get dressed because she was taking us to the palace. Lia would be coming along as well.

I was a bit excited. We were headed to the palace, after all. And Liena was a knight. So my head became full of ideas of what may be happening.

As we walked through the palace halls, she began to tell me that she had thought of an idea before she had gone to sleep. She realized that it wouldn’t be any good to have me decide on becoming her apprentice if I didn’t even know what the job would entail. So she thought it would be a good idea to have me around the whole day to see if I would like it.

I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t a little excited. I pictured her teaching me with a sword or teaching me some sort of magic. The things you’d expect a knight to do.

But, oftentimes, the truth hurts.

“This is my office!”

It was a very grandiose gesture for what we were looking at.

“’s just a desk with a bunch of papers on it.” There were also various bookcases, cabinets, and even a wine rack. Tell me again, why is she a knight? “Are all knights like this?” I couldn’t help asking.

“Nope, but recently, they’ve been piling up a lot of paperwork and miscellaneous tasks on me. So…” she brought her gaze over to me and Lia. “...Could you please help me with all of this.”

She was practically begging.

Regardless, her effort was futile.

“I’m not going to help you do your own job. You hyped the knight thing up just so we could do your paperwork.”

“But you misunderstand, my dear Sam. You wouldn’t be doing this work for free.”

She whispered into our ears the amount she was willing to pay us.

I shuttered on the spot.

I’m not a sell out or anything, but what she offered was easily six months worth of salary. So Lia and I gladly accepted.

Four hours later and we had been given a break. Liena on the other hand was swamped even more than I had realized, so she decided to eat while she worked.

I definitely didn’t expect being a knight meant having to do all these menial tasks. But every time she seemed about to finish her work, another knight showed up with more things for her to do.

Seriously, it was as if it was a consensus the Liena was where all the boring paperwork was supposed to end up at.

I really hope that I won’t have to do all this if I decide to be Liena’s apprentice.

Though I felt sorry for her, all that also meant that Lia and I were being overworked, as well. So we made sure that we took advantage of this break to its fullest.

Liena had told us that if we headed for the courtyard and kept on walking, we would eventually reach a dining room where they would serve us food. That’s where we were headed to at the moment.

But as we passed by, we noticed the student mages still hard at work in the courtyard under the instruction of Knight Andor. It didn’t interest me much so I kept walking. But when I didn’t hear Lia footsteps behind I turned around and found her looking out at the students

“It's pretty cool, isn’t?” she said without looking away.

They were just performing simple drills, and Lia was arguably a better mage than them. So why was she looking on with such admiration?

But before I could come up with an answer, Knight Andor noticed us and walked over to Lia.

“I’ve been meaning to ask Liena to allow me to speak with you again, but it seems like I won’t have to now.” He spoke in the deep, baritone voice he always did.

“Oh?! Why did you want to talk to me?”

“Well, a simple conversion isn’t necessarily what I had in mind,” he backtracked as he looked out at his students and back toward Lia. “The skills you showed me yesterday were well above what someone your age should know. You even showed yourself to excel past the skill of my students. And because of that, I wanted to speak with one more time.”

“O-okay, there anything else you wanted to say?”

“Yes. I have a request for you.”

Ooh. A request by a knight. And from Knight Andor no less. I’ve always had a feeling that he didn’t like kids—or maybe he just didn’t like me specifically. Regardless, for such a proud knight, him making a request seemed out of place. So this had to be something big.

He cleared his throat before disclosing his thoughts. “I’d like to request for you to duel one of my students.”

“A-a duel?!”

I was left just as speechless as Lia was. Where did this guy even come up with this idea? Sure, Lia was talented, but that also didn’t mean she was all of a sudden going to go off challenging everyone in sight.

When Lia took too long to respond, the knight attempted once more to persuade her. “I can’t reveal this at the moment, for fear that you might lose, but your reward for winning the duel will be of grand value.”

After a moment, Lia regained her composure and, surprisingly answered, “Sure.”

What?! Just like that?!

I couldn’t say I wasn’t concerned so I went up to her just to make sure.

“You sure about this, Lia?”

But Knight Andor was the one to answer.

“If you're worried about getting hurt, don’t be. The duel will be set up in such a way that no one will be hurt.”

I wasn’t completely rid of worries but if Lia was on board with it, I wouldn’t go against her.

And so, Knight Andor’s best pupil, a girl with short blonde hair named Ana, was pitted against Lia, a rookie mage from the north who boasted exceptional talent.

The rest of the students gathered around on the outskirts of the courtyard to give the two girls sufficient space.

The match was simple and straightforward. It would be a combat duel. Though Lia hadn’t been taught much on combat magic by Lady Alea, she was still quite talented. Each girl could only use non-lethal attacks. They could use any magic they wanted, it just couldn’t harm the other.

The first one to knock the other onto the ground would win.

Both girls started several meters apart. Lia’s opponent glared with a stubborn expression. She was a student specifically chosen by Knight Andor and so was being trained to be a part of the empire’s elite set of mages.

She wasn’t about to lose her pride.

In comparison, Lia stood more at ease. She had nothing to prove, so she had no contemptuous glare. That isn’t to say she wasn’t going to take this match seriously. While she held no malice, her eyes were ripe with determination.

“Begin!” Knight Andor yelled out, and the two girls started dashing around.

Lia ran to her right, as did Ana. They circled around, neither taking a step closer to one another. They clearly understood each other's talent. They saw themselves as equals in terms of skill. They couldn’t know for sure, though, and that’s why, the moment they had started sprinting, both girls already had their spells ready.

Lia’s opponent spawned three radiant spheres of light above her shoulder as she ran, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Lia did something similar, though, because Lia had never entered combat before, she instead spawned her spells at her fingertips. But unlike Ana, Lia conjured up five orbs instead of three.

Each continued to circle one another, waiting for an opening, until...Lia shot first.

Three orbs of light sped toward the other girl at an insane speed. One in front, behind, and in the middle, creating a horizontal line. Lia’s spells were so fast that Ana had no time to out run from them. There was only one thing she could do.

Her own three spells shot out from above her shoulder, but they weren’t aimed at Lia. Instead they were headed directly for Lia’s spells.

In less than a second, all six spells collided. I expected to feel some blowback as the spells nullified each other, but instead, a thick cloud of grey smoke developed instead, shrouding their arena in smoke almost instantly.

Lia had used smoke bombs.

I remembered a lesson Lady Alea had once taught us. She told us how many spells didn’t particularly give any clues as to what they were. The more powerful ones did, but simple ones like creating a light source merely looked like an orb of energy.

And now that I looked back on it, Lia’s spells had a light grey hue to them. It was hard to tell from afar which meant that their intensity was very small. Which is why Lia needed three of them, so that the smokescreen could be as big as possible.

But, she still had two spells left; two intensely bright orbs of energy, as I recalled. And I didn’t think that they were the same spells as before. But we couldn’t know what they were until the smoke dispersed. In the meantime, every other spectator, including me, was left in silence. There wasn’t much we could say. The smoke clouded our vision.

And then suddenly, a loud boom was heard from inside the smokescreen. And from that point, the smoke was pushed away and cleared in an instant. But when it all dispersed, the only figure we saw was Lia’s opponent, Ana. Lia herself was somehow five meters in the air. Everyone standing witness gasped at what they were seeing.

I couldn’t help but let out a chuckle. I’m guessing everyone else figured out what Lia had done, too. Her two remaining spells seemed like mere orbs of energy, but in reality, they were powerful concussive spells, spells that harbored twice the power of the winds of a hurricane.

When I first heard the boom from inside the smoke, I pieced together exactly what Lia was doing. She often used those same spells to reach the fruit of tall trees.

Leave it to Lia to come up with crazy things like that.

Even though it was so sudden, Lia’s opponent was able to focus her eyes on Lia in an instant. But when she did, she saw that Lia—who was still in the air— had already conjured three more concussive spells at the end of her outstretched hand.

She stared Lia down with determination. A shield of vibrant blue light began to form before her, and an intense light began to flicker in her hands as she prepared for an attack.

But, it was too late.

Lia fired off her spells, and in the next moment, another boom shook the ground and gusts of powerful winds blew through the courtyard, almost knocking over the spectators

Once Ana’s shield of light met Lia’s spells, it started to shatter piece by piece until there was nothing left to defend Ana and she went flying back, while Lia herself was pushed back, managing to land safely on her two feet.

Lia had come out victorious.

An unsettling silence broke out among the crowd. I’m sure all the other students weren’t too thrilled, or more likely didn’t want to accept the fact that a random girl from the countryside beat the best student in the class.

Without much of an expression, Lia made her way over to the girl and extended out her hand.

“That was fun,” Lia began with a smile. “Though, I can’t cast spells like you do. I can only spawn them from my hands. I guess I still have some things to learn.”

Ana’s eyes had been sharp and resentful one moment, but after hearing Lia’s words, she begrudgingly swallowed her pride and took Lia’s hand. The stares of her classmates changed accordingly and now they looked less likely to pummel Lia to death.

“Everyone,” announced a deep voice, “return to your barracks.”

And with that, the courtyard was left barren.

“Now,” Knight Andor began as he walked toward Lia, “I did mention a reward of some sort.” He put his hand to his chin for a moment, and a second later he looked back at Lia as if she had concluded something. Suddenly and out of nowhere… “Would you like to become my apprentice?”

It was the same question Liena had asked me. And with it came the same silence of shock that I had given once before. The knight spared no time getting to the point, unlike Liena who seemed even a little shy when she asked me. He asked in such a nonchalant way that it left me, and especially Lia, speechless.

“R-re…” Lia stuttered as she tried and failed to come up with words to express herself.

“I’m aware that you’ll be in the capital for two more days. I don’t expect you to have an answer at this very moment. So I’ll give you some time to think about.”

Lia nodded and slowly turned her head toward me. A grin stretched across her face.

It was a dream come true, I guess. Whereas I never idolized the knight, Lia praised them. In fact, many kids looked up to them through a golden filter.

It was no surprise, then, that Lia was as happy as she was. But yet an even bigger surprise awaited me.

“I don’t need to think about it. I accept.”

She said it with no hesitation.

Now it was my turn to stare in silence.

I knew Lia really looked up to the knights, but I really thought that she would take a little more time to consider it. It has been two years since Liena asked me, and I was still doubting myself. Just like she had jumped into the duel without a second thought, Lia was going to accept the apprenticeship without hesitation.

“Well, if you have truly made up your mind, then I have no objections.” The proud knight extended his hand toward Lia and both held a firm handshake as an agreement to their partnership.

“Are you sure?” I whispered to Lia. But she didn’t seem to have any concerns.

“Isn’t this great, Sam?” she yelled out. “Now we can both be apprentices together.”

“Was that your only motive?”

Lia didn’t have time to answer, though. It seemed I had piqued the interest of someone else. Knight Andor had started walking away, but Lia’s comment drew him back.

“So you have decided to accept Liena’s offer, after all?” he inquired.

“Liena told you?” I answered with a question of my own.

“No, but it was quite obvious that Liena had grown fond of you. I assumed that she had asked you, and that it was the reason you two came to the capital. But it doesn’t matter in the end. If she wants an apprentice at such a young and inexperienced age, then so be it.”

As he ended his speech, the knight’s voice sounded more and more frustrated.

With not much more to say, he turned and started walking away while at the same time leaving Lia with some final words.

“On the day that you leave the capital, come find me so that I can make accommodations for you at the palace.”

And with that, Lia had become an apprentice much faster than I had.

That afternoon.

Lia had already walked back to the inn. She seemed especially tired today, but that was to be expected after her duel.

As I walked through the grand halls of the palace, the warm light of the setting sun rushed in through the lattice windows painting everything it touched a gentle orange. It seemed as if someone had put a filter over my eyes which made me see the world in a different light.

Soon enough, I reached the door I was looking for. I knocked a few times, to which a muffled voice invited me in.

The room I entered was painted in the same warm light. A desk sat in the middle piled high with pieces of parchment and documents. And behind it all was a young woman who greeted me with a smile.

“Oh? I thought you had gone back to your room?”

Without giving her answer, I said “I accept your offer.”

“My offer?” She looked at me with her finger on her chin as she thought. “Ah, so you’ve finally decided?”

“Yes,” I said as I faced her with determination. “Liena, it would be an honor for me to become your apprentice.”

She smiled. “I was counting down the days until you would accept. But as the days passed, I was starting to get worried that you would reject my offer. But this great news because now I won’t get stuck with paperwork since I’ll be busy training you. No more grunt work for me.”

Geez. Did she always have an ulterior motive?