Chapter 1: Judgment
Sun's recent predicament with the rampant Death Knight occupies much of my worries, leaving me no room for rest. He thought I doubted him, that I didn't trust him. He should know there is no one I trust more than him, yet he was the one who doubted me.
If I weren't in public, I would have sighed. Instead, I schooled my expression into a stoic mask. I know Sun didn't think before he spoke his accusations, but it still hurt. People scurried out of my way as I stalked forward, my robes billowing out behind me.
The only person brave enough, or should I say obtuse enough, to approach me in my stalking was Blaze. After hearing his passionate speech about finding the Death Knight for Sun's sake, I gave him the go ahead to patrol the city this month. I could tell how guilty Blaze felt for having made Sun's injury worse. If I were allowed to show my concern for Sun, I might have chosen a path similar to his. I also asked the Pope to allow for three more days to settle the matter. He immediately knew I was asking for Sun so that he would have enough time to investigate.
Make use of this time as much as you can, Sun.
Having done all I could at the moment, I retired to my room to plan my next step. Just as I thought I'd finally found some peace and quiet behind my own door with a warm cup of soothing tea, I was suddenly pulled right into the heart of Sun's problem, much deeper than I'd wanted to be.
Not that I hadn't been in deep enough already.
I hadn't even been able to sip my tea.
There was a girl in front of me with unnaturally pink skin. No, she was not in my room -- I did not make it a habit to bring little girls to my room -- and I was not hallucinating. She looked up at me expectantly with large eyes as I surveyed my whereabouts. I kept her in the corner of my eye, for even though she appeared to be a young girl, I could feel her power. It would be idiotic of me to ignore her. She was waiting for my reaction, but I still needed to get my bearings.
Somehow, I was no longer in my room. That much was evident, since this room smelled of sweets, almost like Sun's room, but at least his room was not decorated in pink and lace as this one was. I didn't know how I had landed here, but I had a feeling Sun was involved. He almost always was. What unsettled me was that I didn't have my cup of tea in my hand -- if I had been teleported here, surely the cup would have come with me.
Wanting to rest my hand on the hilt of my sword, I shifted my arm to the side, but when I touched the sword, a tingle went through my body.
That is not the Divine Judgment Sword.
My sword never overflowed with holiness like this.
Sliding my eyes down, my sight confirmed my suspicions and raised a plethora of other questions.
I was wearing white. Blinding white lined with gold. What I had by my side was not my trustworthy sword but rather a plain sword, a very familiar plain sword that I always saw Sun carry whenever he didn't want to bring along his Divine Sun Sword, which was ninety percent of the time. He has always been afraid he might break the "relic".
I didn't need a mirror to figure out what had happened. I wanted to cover my face with my hand in exasperation at the situation, but instead, I returned my gaze to the little girl. She must be Pink, the necromancer that Sun sometimes snuck out to visit. An apron-wearing corpse that was sweeping the floor off to the side confirmed my guess.
"Back to the living yet, Sun?" the little girl asked curiously before taking a lick from a huge lollipop that dwarfed her hands. "Here I was hoping that you'd finally taken the step to become my apprentice."
Sun. I was in Sun's body.
What in the world did you do this time, Grisia?
I narrowed my eyes at Pink, my face cold.
"I'm not Sun and you know it," I said, and I wasn't going to let Sun become her apprentice. Even though I figured out that I was somehow in Sun's body and that she was responsible for that, I was still startled at the high and clear voice that came out of my mouth. This was the voice that Sun always used to wheedle me into buying blueberry pies for him, a voice that could so easily be deceptively sweet and kind and deadly when the situation called for it.
She giggled. "How trusting of you to reveal that! Yup, I know you're not Sun, though I wondered who you were." She studied my face. "Let me guess. Am I in the honorable presence of the Judgment Knight?"
She was right. Just how close was she with Sun?
"Don't glare at me like that, Sun. You were the one who needed a way to investigate. What better way than this?"
"Explain," I demanded in a low voice, as low as I could get Sun's voice to go.
"Fine, be all uptight. You're no fun," pouted Pink as she waved her hand in the air. "Sun is much more entertaining than you."
I waited. If she wanted entertainment, she had the wrong person.
Pink rolled her eyes. "Like I said, you needed a way to investigate, so I gave you a little trinket that'd help with that. The Sun Knight stands out a lot, but the Judgment Knight on the other hand..."
The Judgment Knight can make inquiries out in the open, since catching and punishing criminals is the Judgment Knight's duty.
Do I want to know what Grisia is up to in my body?
"How long?" I asked. As much sense as Pink's reasoning made, I wasn't supposed to show any concern for the Sun Knight, so investigating as me wasn't all that smart.
"Time limit is three hours," she replied.
"Do we automatically change back after the time limit?"
She grinned. I did not like that grin.
"I don't know~! You'll have to find out~!"
I stared at her with narrowed eyes. She was even worse than Sun with how clearly she enjoyed our demise. I better find Sun and figure out how to get out of this mess in case we didn't automatically change back.
I also needed to do...damage control. I trusted Sun, but trusting him to behave while he was in my body was a different matter all together.
I bet he's having a grand time, no longer having to hold back his darker impulses.
Little did I know I was spot on with my thoughts. I needn't have questioned myself -- there was no one who knew Sun better than I did, which meant I was worrying for a very good reason.
Chapter 2: Sun
I knew I should have been more cautious about following Pink's whims. It's never a good idea to touch anything a manipulative little girl gives you...okay, that sounds wrong, but what I mean is, it's never a good idea to accept anything from Pink, that manipulative corpse. I only blanked out and accepted her "help" because I was still mad about Judgment. How could he have doubted me? He believed the evidence? Well fine! I'm going to find him some evidence!
I'm going to find him some evidence, and then maybe he'll forgive me for landing myself in this mess, not that it was my fault. I don't even know why the Death Knight is so fixated on me. He can't have...fallen in love with me?
I shivered at the thought.
When Pink told me she had a trinket that would help me investigate the third son of Baron Gerland, I was tempted because it wasn't like I could openly waltz up to the third son of the baron, and even if I could, I would not be able to best his swordsmanship and capture him alive. I'd have to be Judgment or Ice to accomplish that!
Damn my temptation.
I didn't think I'd actually become Judgment.
The trinket Pink tossed at me floated eerily above me in midair before slamming me in the chest. Quicker than I could blink, I had a cup of tea in my hand.
Funny how that worked. I'd have thought Pink's magical device would be more impressive than that. Magicking a teacup out of nowhere wasn't going to help me investigate!
Unless the tea was laced with sedatives. Then I could force it down the third son's throat and kidnap him without a struggle, though I'd still need to deal with the rest of the people in the residence. I sniffed the tea. It probably wasn't a good idea to drink it no matter how thirsty I was, but I was really parched and the tea smelled so good.
I should dump it if I don't want to get poisoned.
I stood up to look for a potted plant to poison when I finally realized I was no longer in Pink's house, not unless she had decided to exchange her pink wallpaper for plain walls. The room I was currently in was bare and downright boring with few personal artifacts. The place looked kind of familiar, but I couldn't quite place where I was. There was a stack of papers on the desk in the corner that looked suspiciously like paperwork, but really, who wants to keep paperwork in their bedroom? I toss it at Storm the moment I get any!
A sudden thought seized me. I'm not being imprisoned, am I? Imprisoned with paperwork? Oh dear God of Light! That would be torture! I looked down at the cup in my hands. Maybe I should keep this porcelain cup with me to use as a weapon whenever my captors were to return. Chipped porcelain could be deadly too, but wait, I still have a sword. I could feel its weight by my side. Surely if I were being imprisoned, they'd take my sword away?
Ah, but since my skill with a sword is so terrible that one can say my skill with a sword is nonexistent, maybe they didn't need to take my sword away.
Sob! I hate when I think like that. My captors must be having the time of their life at my expense. Maybe my captor was even Pink, since her trinket must have something to do with all this.
In any case, I still have my holy magic. I can break my way out of this room!
I attempted to focus my holy magic to make sure I had a large enough reserve to blast whoever were to enter the room -- they wouldn't know what hit them -- but the keyword was "attempted". My holy magic has always burst out from within whenever I called on it, but trying to coax holy magic out at the moment felt as difficult as wielding a sword! I could at most perform a few Minor Heals before I'd run out of holy magic.
I have never ever had such a low reserve of magic in my entire life.
Okay, self, don't start hyperventilating yet. Even without magic, you still have a teacup!
Someone was knocking on the door? I gripped my teacup like a lifeline and approached the door cautiously. Reaching forward, I turned the knob, ready to toss possibly laced tea at my captor.
The door opened with a twist.
They hadn't even bothered to lock the door!
I readied my tea, my hand in motion.
I almost didn't manage to stop myself from splashing Ice's frigid face with lukewarm tea, though maybe the tea could have melted his expression. As things went, the tea sloshed against the sides of the cup and soaked into my sleeves while Ice stared at me emotionlessly, thankfully not responding to the strange sight in front of him.
"Have you recovered already, Ice?" I asked, remembering how Ice had been confined to his bed the last time I saw him. At once, I was surprised by the deep voice that came out of my mouth. My ears can't already be failing me at twenty-three years old, can they? I'm still young! I'm too young to have hearing problems!
Wait, why is Ice here? It can't be that Ice is my captor?
"Judgment," Ice said with a small incline of his head. "These aren't sweet this time."
He extended a bag to me.
I stared at the bag warily, not understanding why Ice would want to give me sweets that aren't sweet. That's practically blasphemy right there. Sweets are meant to be sweet!
Dumbly, I took the bag and stared at my black sleeves.
My voice when I spoke had been deep. I've never sounded so deep even when my voice was cracking during puberty. In fact, I sounded like...Judgment.
And Ice had called me Judgment.
Stunned, I dumped the tea in the potted plant next to the door and handed the teacup to Ice who took it without a word. He just stared down at the teacup as if it were the most intriguing thing ever, but that wasn't my concern. There was something much more concerning at play here, something world-shattering.
I pulled out a piece of chocolate from the bag Ice had given me.
I plopped the chocolate into my mouth.
It was so bitter.
"Why does this taste so good?" I exclaimed in horror. I grabbed another piece of chocolate and tossed it into my mouth, the bitter chocolate melting on my tongue. It was super bitter, bitter enough that I would normally cringe at the taste and spit the chocolate right out before I gagged, but right now it was the most delicious thing ever, and Ice was looking at me with the same expressionless face as always.
Oh my God of Light! I'm in Judgment's body! What have you done, Pink?
I plopped another piece of dark chocolate into my mouth and almost wanted to cry.
I can't eat sweets like this!
Chapter 3: Judgment
Heavily based on chapter 7 of volume 1. Hopefully this brings something new to the story! Sadly, Dragon Saint Brigandine isn't introduced in this version of events... though maybe I should have named the trinket that switches Sun and Judgment.
Outside of the necromancer's house, night had already fallen. Sun had taken a cloak with him when he went to visit Pink. I donned the same cloak until I was out of the vicinity of the necromancer's house so as not to cast unnecessary suspicion on Sun for associating with a necromancer. It also gave me time to adjust to being in Sun's body. As familiar as I was with Sun, I did not think I could pretend to be him in a convincing manner without preparing myself first.
Walking around in Sun's body felt strange. I hadn't felt off-kilter in Pink's house, but once I was on the streets, it took a good distance before I found a rhythm for my gait. Sun was lighter, lither, and slimmer than me, with a different distribution of muscle mass. He wasn't scrawny -- in fact, he had some flab, no doubt from all the sweets he liked to indulge in -- but he wasn't exactly all that muscular either. Sun skived off sword practice much too often, relying too heavily on his magic, though without his magic, he would not have lasted long. However, because of his reliance on his magic instead of his sword, he had the build of a priest despite being a Holy Knight.
I frowned. That would not do. I better make Sun spar more. It'd also help him work off his extra calories.
As I considered this on my way back to the Holy Temple to find Sun, I sensed a startling amount of dark aura from a distance ahead of me. I paused in my steps and turned towards the direction I sensed the aura from. Anything that gave off that strong of a dark aura most likely fell under Sun or Blaze's jurisdiction. At the moment, I was Sun. Even if I weren't, I would have wanted to see to the matter for the safety of the city.
I hurried along, passing by several buildings before I reached a small square on the avenue leading to the palace, the dark aura growing stronger as I approached. Sun's senses were astonishing for me to be able to sense the aura from that distance -- it was like having a second set of eyes. I could finally understand how Sun was able to get by despite having a poor battle aura. He was truly a master of magic and experienced the world differently than I did. I tried extending the senses bestowed on him, the onslaught of information almost overwhelming me. There was a large number of holy knights in the square surrounding whoever was giving off the dark aura. I knew this without even laying eyes on them all thanks to Sun's senses. I'd never known his senses were this strong, and he had never revealed the extent of his skill despite how he often showed-off. He must have been keeping this a secret.
Within the square, Knight-Captain Blaze was there, along with his platoon. Their presence did not surprise me, for I had agreed to switch our patrolling schedule earlier in the day. Blaze had always been protective of Sun, and this time was no different, especially with Sun under suspicion of torturing someone to death. Sun was lucky to have a loyal friend who would go through such lengths for him. It soothed me to know that even when I couldn't openly help Sun, there was someone who could and would.
I did not think Blaze would encounter the Death Knight within a single day.
There, within the enclosure made by the Blaze Knight Platoon, was the Death Knight. Ice and the others had seen him when he threw down the incriminating words that he would be back for Sun, but this was the first time I'd laid eyes on him. He was ashen, but held himself tall, his eyes burning with cold flames. As he exchanged words with Blaze, I felt his dark aura rise. If I hadn't been in Sun's body, I would not have felt the alarming but subtle increase in his aura of darkness.
Blaze was an accomplished fighter -- thousands, no millions, or should I say billions, of times better with a sword than Sun was -- but against the Death Knight, he was losing even with the help of his platoon. They were dealing damage, but the Death Knight was a strong swordsman, so strong that it was no wonder even Ice had a hard time with him the last time they had met. If he weren't a Death Knight, he would have been a worthy sparring opponent, but as it was, it felt suffocating as his dark aura continued to increase.
I was afraid that soon he would become a Death Lord. Dealing with undead creatures was not Blaze's area of expertise -- his purifying flame was strong against spirits instead of undead -- which meant dealing with this Death Knight, a Death Knight on the verge of becoming a Death Lord, was actually my job now that I was currently the one with the most holy magic. The only other people who could help were the Pope and the Sun Knight Platoon, though I did not know where Sun's platoon was at the moment. Their behavior was often unpredictable.
When I saw the purifying flame on Blaze's broadsword flicker, I drew out the sword by my side. Although I was glad it was not the Divine Sun Sword -- that would have given Sun's identity away immediately -- the sword's holiness would have helped a lot in this fight. I did not know if I would be able to use Sun's magic, for that required knowledge that I did not have even though his body had the reserves to back the magic up. I knew, however, that I might not be able to win against the Death Knight if I did not fight seriously. For me, that meant going all out with my sword.
The problem was, it would not do for Sun to become a master swords wielder out of nowhere. My style was also the complete opposite of Sun's with how I dispatch my enemies as swiftly as possible, having never liked prolonged or flashy fights, but there was no time to consider these small details.
Blaze was in trouble.
I pulled up my hood to conceal Sun's identity as best as I could.
I'm sorry, Sun.
After apologizing to my friend who was not currently present, I sliced his left hand on his sword, coating the sword with Sun's blood.
The holiness of Sun's blood would deal great damage to the Death Knight. With this, I could end the fight before anyone realized who the hooded figure was.
I lunged towards the Death Knight, intent on striking him out with a single blow, but the holy aura that Sun's body gave off must have alerted him to my presence. He turned away from his fight with Blaze and blocked my blow, a blow that was softer than I had intended, for Sun's body did not move exactly as I wanted it to. Our physiques were different.
Blade against blade, the Death Knight looked at me in confusion. Behind him, Blaze breathed heavily, finally free from the deadlock with the Death Knight.
"You..." The Death Knight began, eyes flaming.
I slashed forward, allowing him no time to talk. When my sword sliced across his chest, his skin sizzled, Sun's blood dealing him heavy damage. Even so, he didn't slow down as he parried my following attacks, his motions becoming swifter with each of my strikes. He was strong, and he looked every bit like a knight reveling in the joy of exchanging blows with a strong opponent.
After my blade almost pierced him once more, the Death Knight leaped back and readied his sword in front of him, his previous anger at Blaze all but dissipated. He regarded me curiously.
"Who are you?" He asked.
His next words made me wonder just who this Death Knight was.
"You can't be the Sun Knight?"
Chapter 4: Sun
"Do you know where Sun is?" Ice asked monotonously.
Right in front of you, I thought. Ice had another bag of chocolates on him. No doubt they were for me. Even though I didn't want to believe it, they were probably too sweet for me at the moment.
The horror! The sweets were within reach, yet I couldn't eat them, and even if I did, they wouldn't taste good!
Even though I liked Ice a lot, I willed him to leave. Hurry up and leave already! Take the temptation with you! Unfortunately, I hadn't suddenly developed the ability to speak mind-to-mind after landing myself in Judgment's body, so my mental urging went unheard, and thus the temptation was still within tantalizing reach. Should I ask Ice for a piece of chocolate? He made it for me anyway! But would it still taste good...of course it would! I refuse to believe otherwise.
I reached out for the bag of chocolates, my curiosity getting the better of me. “He's out for the moment,” I replied when I saw Ice had no intention of leaving before I gave him an answer. “But I can pass that bag on for you when I see him.”
Silently, I congratulated myself for sounding so unruffled when in reality, I was itching to get my hands on the chocolates. I can do this, I told myself. I can pretend to be Judgment, do my investigating, and then apologize to Judgment and figure out how we can switch back without anyone knowing about it...as long as Judgment hasn't exploded from fury already.
I almost shuddered but managed to school that into a slight twitch.
Pretending to be Judgment shouldn't be too hard. I knew his quirks, and I knew even better the mask he presented to the public. In fact, I could even help bring his intimidation factor up another level! I was also a damn good actor if I say so myself. Otherwise, how else could I have upheld all that “the whole continent knows” inanity?
When Ice set the bag down on my hand, my heart fluttered in excitement. I could now experiment during my own time whether or not sweets still tasted good! Surely Judgment always exaggerated when he said my tastes were too extreme?
As Ice was still standing there, I quickly took the teacup back from his hands as well in case that was what was keeping him here. I gazed sternly down at the empty cup.
Now that I knew I was Judgment, I wish I hadn't dumped the tea. I could have used the water as a mirror. I really wanted to see Judgment's face and make expressions that he would never make. It was a once in a lifetime chance!
“Knight-Captain Judgment, the Death Knight has appeared!” Someone yelled, breaking me out of my fantasy of making silly faces.
What? Already? I'm not ready! I thought I would be able to head directly to Baron Gerland's place and force the answer from his third son with some intimidation now that I'd become the most intimidating person out of the entire Church of the God of Light. If not that, I could have at least grabbed a servant or two and forced them to talk, but now I have to toss those plans aside.
Having the Death Knight appear like this was just like having a criminal walk up to your door. It was a clear invitation for me to arrest him!
“Lead the way!” I bellowed my command in Judgment's deep voice as I put the teacup down and tucked the bag of chocolates away into the many folds of Judgment's murky black robes. Man, I sounded damn authoritative. I've always wanted to try bellowing like that.
“Knight-Captain Ice, come with me,” I told him instead of sending him off to gather the other Knight-Captains. I didn't know my fighting capability in Judgment's body, but my guess was that I'd make Judgment look like a fool compared to how he usually fought. I'd wanted to experiment first! I doubted I'd be able to use much magic, and as much as I hated to admit it, I didn't think ending up in Judgment's body had cured me of my hopelessness with a sword. If it'd been that easy, my teacher, the strongest Sun Knight in history, wouldn't have given up on me, deeming me a hopeless case. In other words, I was pretty screwed and could possibly get Judgment hurt. He wouldn't even be able to recover on his own like me!
What, you never thought I'd admit that my swordsmanship is a hopeless case, so hopeless that even landing myself in a master swordsman's body wouldn't cure me of my hopelessness? Well, sorry! I never make it a habit of heading into a battle I'm not sure I can win. Besides, this isn't my own body I'm putting into danger here.
Until I figured out what I could do as Judgment, I needed Ice with me. As one of the most skilled with a sword among the Twelve Holy Knights, he would be a very effective meat shield.
I grabbed a random holy knight and sent him for reinforcements. He looked to be from the Judgment Knight Platoon, which was strange since I thought they were supposed to be on patrol at the moment, but maybe I had things mixed up. After all, Judgment had been in his room this entire time instead of patrolling.
As Ice and I hurried along the corridors, we passed by several holy knights and even a few clerics from the Sanctuary of Light. I was about to plaster a large and fake smile on my face when I realized I didn't have to do that at all!
My heart sped up.
I don't need to smile!
That thought actually made me want to smile for once. My lips curled up.
“Judgment...” Ice began.
“What?” I said.
“You look frightening.”
I do? I looked frightening enough for Ice to speak up about it? But I couldn't stop my lips from lifting up! It wasn't my fault that I actually really wanted to smile at the moment. At least I made it into an imposing expression instead of ruining Judgment's image with a beaming smile!
"The Harsh God of Light is pleased that the Death Knight has appeared, ready for his punishment," I said, pulling out a line worthy of Judgment out of nowhere. It was a cinch given how much practice I had at praising the God of Light -- talking about His harshness wasn't any different -- and this would explain the predatory look on my face.
I turned my head. When the female clerics around me felt my eyes on them, they immediately stepped back and quickly averted their wide-eyed gaze.
Oh dear God of Light! I can look at all the females I want without pretending I'm not looking! No more recording out of the corner of my eye! No one has ever said that the Judgment Knight may only love the God of Light and may not love women...in fact, it sure wouldn't hurt his reputation for "terrifying women" to be added to his list of cruelties. It suited his reputation perfectly.
That thought, however, didn't stop me from leering at a female cleric in front of me.
After the Death Knight questioned my identity with alarming accuracy, I quickly considered my options. I could either take my hood off and reveal my identity as “Sun” -- I would need to fib my way out of how “Sun” managed to keep his sword in his hand without it flying out – or I could keep my hood on and deny anything the Death Knight might say.
I should capture the Death Knight before interrogating him. An open plaza like this is less than ideal for what I want to find out. If I can't capture him successfully, then I'll aim to dispatch him altogether.
Decision made, I was about to take action when Blaze and his platoon acted before me with their loud blabbering.
“Of course he's not the Sun Knight!” exclaimed Blaze loudly and indignantly. In a somewhat quieter voice, he added, “Sun would never have even landed that first blow...”
“He must be an adventuring swordsman!” chorused the holy knights in Blaze's platoon right after Blaze.
“No, a Death Knight hunter!” someone else said. “What? He looks like it...”
Another person gasped. "Might he even be the previous Sun Knight?"
I kept my hood on.
Blaze's platoon was much too loose with their words, but this suited my needs. I readied my sword in front of me, glad I could continue to go all out. It was necessary for me to do so, since even if I had been myself, I would have had a hard time against the Death Knight. I had no plans on letting the Death Knight in front of me walk free. The city's safety and Sun's reputation were both in jeopardy as long as the Death Knight continued to exist among us.
“Death Knight, let us duel,” I said lowly, masking Sun's voice as best as I could.
At the word "duel", the Death Knight's mouth lifted upwards in what looked to be anticipation. That I could deal with, unlike his curiosity from before. "A duel? That's more like it."
Oddly, he sounded pleased at my suggestion. I did not think that death knights appreciated duels, but the Death Knight in front of me was proving me wrong.
Blaze and his holy knights surrounded us while we analyzed each other's stances for any openings. Seeing that I had the Death Knight's complete attention, Blaze sent a member of his platoon away, most likely for reinforcements. The Death Knight did not stop the holy knight from leaving. He never took his eyes off of me.
Good, just as planned.
As quickly as I could get my current body to move, I was once again by the Death Knight's side. He leisurely blocked my blow with a clang, the shock reverberating up my arms, reminding me of how I was at a disadvantage with Sun's weaker strength. Strikes that would have been lethal had I been myself were merely dull blows in this body.
I twisted around, immediately striking out again, making use of Sun's smaller stature. I was currently only capable of fighting at around forty percent of my usual strength because of my unfamiliarity with Sun's body, but with each of my strikes, I found myself becoming more and more accustomed to moving around in this foreign body. Soon, I would be able to draw out around sixty percent of my usual fighting strength.
However, that would not be enough because as we fought, the Death Knight was becoming stronger and stronger too, as if he were waking up, slowly becoming more and more lucid. We continued in this fashion, both of our attacks becoming fiercer and sharper instead of sloppier as time passed. The holiness of Sun's blood provided me no help because I hadn't been able to nick the Death Knight's skin since the beginning of our duel.
With a particularly strong and fast blow, he pushed me back with his sword, the shrieking of our blades loud in my ears. I almost hadn't been quick enough to block him.
"Charge!" Blaze exclaimed when he saw me falter. It seemed he had been waiting for an opening. The Death Knight had extended too far to attack me, his footing unstable.
At Blaze's declaration, three holy knights charged forward from their positions, one from each side of the Death Knight. Even as his left foot grinded into the ground, the Death Knight flung off the holy knight from his right with a flick of his sword. At the same time, he blasted away the other two holy knights with his thick, dark aura. The dark aura swirled around us, growing until it isolated the Death Knight and me from Blaze and his platoon.
Within the eye of the dark tornado, the Death Knight lifted his head up and pulled himself off the ground.
"Despicable!" he spit out, his eyes blazing. "Shameless!"
I gripped my sword. The dark aura around him was rising rapidly. He was truly on the verge of becoming a Death Lord. When he saw my movement, however, he turned towards me, the flames in his eyes calming.
"I apologize for the disturbance to our duel," he said, surprising me with his words. He was honorable, unlike the majority of criminals I'd dealt with in the past.
"The fault is not yours, nor theirs," I replied, but I did not relax my stance, wondering if he intended to continue our duel now that there was no one around to disturb us. The situation had become dire for me now that I was isolated and had no backup in case I were to fall. I had calculated that I would have a good chance against the Death Knight, but with his rising dark aura factored in, my chances of besting him were now lower than my estimation.
"You should not exist," I continued.
If I wanted to win, I needed to figure out how to use Sun's holy magic. As a holy knight of the "cruel, cold-hearted faction", I only knew basic healing spells and how to gather holy light, but that would have to suffice for now.
"You are strong," the Death Knight said after a moment's pause. "A worthy opponent. I would have liked to see our duel to the end."
I gathered holy light to my left hand.
"But you are not Grisia," the Death Knight murmured, sword in hand, watching the holy light on my hand grow. "Who are you?" he asked, repeating his question from before.
He even knew Grisia's actual name.
"You will have to tell me who you are first," I said.
The Death Knight tilted his head, as if he were considering my words. He then shrugged, as if it wouldn't hurt to tell me.
"Roland," he said. "That was my name."
I turned the name over. It sounded familiar, yet not. Was he an acquaintance of Sun's from the past? I wanted to ask, but there were more important things at hand.
"I won't let you murder the one who killed you," I said.
"Even if he needs to die?"
Before I could answer, a loud shout sounded out.
"Judgment! Quick, over here..."
Roland stilled and looked like he was about to turn to flee. He'd immediately known that he could not hope to defeat the reinforcements that had come along. Once he were to drop the wall of dark aura around us, he would find himself completely surrounded by holy knights.
Before he could dispel the wall and escape, I blasted him with the holy light I had gathered to distract him and slow him down. I did not know any incantations, so I did the next best thing -- gathering holy light and pouring it out of my body like an energy blast. It was surprisingly easy to wield holy light at my fingertips, the holy light pouring out of me like a broken faucet. When the holy light hit him, Roland hissed and tried to surround himself with his dark aura, his hold on his sword loosening for the briefest second.
That time was all I needed.
I closed the distance between us and stabbed him straight through the chest, my hood falling in my movement.
Regarding Judgment's calculations about only being able to use forty percent of his normal strength (sixty percent once used to Sun's body), Pink mentions in the 1st novel (chapter 6) that donning Dragon's Saint Brigandine made it so that Sun has around eight-five percent of Judgment's strength. This is after having a 1.6x power-up. That means without the power-up, Sun would have around fifty-three percent of Judgment's strength. The percentage given by Judgment is a rough estimate by him, and maybe he also believes he can draw out more of Sun's strength. ;)
Chapter 6: Sun
Judgment's body was awesome. Mind you, I don't mean it that way. I don't have that sort of inclination! I was merely making an observation about how quick and light on his feet he was despite not even being the quickest out of the Twelve Holy Knights. I felt like I could fly!
Of course, I wasn't flying. That was just me exaggerating. If anyone actually saw the Judgment Knight flying in the air with a goofy grin, they'd probably faint.
What was happening was that I was making haste with Ice, taking long strides and marveling at how easy it was to hurry along at our inhuman speeds while our platoons followed from a ways behind us. It did feel strange that I couldn't sense any elements, like I was half blind -- I didn't know how much I relied on sensing until it was gone -- but that mattered little for someone of Judgment's caliber. If merely walking felt this great, what would it feel like to battle as Judgment? Or to leap over walls? If Judgment hadn't chosen to become a holy knight, he'd have made a very good beam-walker... ahem, I mean warrior!
As we approached, I could see a large swirl of dark aura gathering in the sky. It was thick enough to be seen by the naked eye. I swallowed and quickened my steps, hoping Blaze was unharmed. Knowing him, he had probably angered the Death Knight with his loudmouth!
I scanned the holy knights in front of me, relief flooding through me when I spotted Blaze by his flaming red hair. He looked unharmed, merely indignant, but that wasn't something that'd kill him. He was even the one to wave me over, but before he could explain to me what was going on, the wall of darkness in front of us burst out, accompanied by a bestial scream that chilled me to the bones.
I immediately pushed past the holy knights who were staring with slack jaws at the scene in front of them.
"Out of my way!" I snapped when one of them continued blocking my path. All of the holy knights around me, including the one I had snapped at, jumped at my voice. Once they saw who they were blocking, they hurriedly scooted out of my way in the blink of an eye, as if they'd get punished if they were to move any slower. They weren't worrying for nothing. If they had moved any slower, I'd make sure to remember their faces.
After they got out of my way, I was given an unobstructed view of what had transformed them into living statues. It was indeed a shocking sight, so much that I forgot all about basking in how liberating it felt to have people move out of my way with a single command, no ornate language needed.
"The Sun Knight must really hate undead creatures," one of the holy knights whispered.
If our proof was the scene before us, I couldn't agree more.
For in front of us was the "Sun Knight" who had his sword stabbed straight through the chest of the Death Knight. "Sun" had a serious expression on his face, his brows furrowed and his mouth downturned, which was actually a good thing even though his expression didn't match the normal benevolent image of the Sun Knight.
Why is it a good thing, you ask? Imagine if he were smiling widely while he had the Death Knight skewered on his sword -- he would only look like a sadist! It was better that he looked serious, especially since the Sun Knight is supposed to detest all undead creatures.
By the God of Light, Lesus, aren't you overdoing it a bit?
We'd only exchanged places for a little more than an hour, yet he'd already made a barbecue skewer out of the Death Knight.
Rivulets of darkness were oozing out from the Death Knight's wound like miasma. If anyone else had a sword protruding out of his chest, he'd be completely dead before he could even say "shit", but the Death Knight wasn't just anyone. His hands had dropped next to his side, as if he had tired from screaming in pain, but he wasn't so easily done in. I watched as the Death Knight slowly raised one hand to grip the blade in his chest, wisps of his dark aura curling around his arm.
The Death Knight stared straight at the one who had impaled him, their faces close in proximity.
"Grisia...?" He uttered in disbelief, his voice hoarse. "How could it be...? I was so sure..."
This time, it was my turn to become a living statue. Behind me, I could hear Blaze wondering the same thing -- hey, stop insulting my swordsmanship! -- except even he addressed me as Sun in his exclamations when this Death Knight had actually addressed me as Grisia.
No one moved forward because it looked like the Sun Knight had things well in hand, and everyone knew that they weren't supposed to steal the Sun Knight's prey when it came to undead creatures. I, on the other hand, was too shocked to move.
"Give up, Roland," Lesus said to the Death Knight. "There is no escape."
I started, unable to help it when more emotions were probably flying across my face than Judgment had ever displayed in public before. Roland? The Death Knight was Roland? I stared at the Death Knight, my heart almost stopping as I tried to imagine how the Death Knight would look with normal skin and normal eyes instead of his grayish-white skin and his flame-shaped eyeballs.
It was Roland.
It was Roland, and Lesus was only an inch away from turning him into dust.
At the words Lesus uttered, the flames in Roland's eyes burst out, trickling down his cheeks in black, murky trails.
"I cannot succumb to eternal sleep here."
With that, Roland grabbed his own sword.
"Protect Knight-Captain Sun!" I yelled right away, but I was too late. Lesus leaped away, letting go of his still embedded sword, but he wasn't quick enough to dodge Roland's slash.
I heard him yell out in pain and stumble. I managed to rush to his side, but everyone else got blasted away by Roland's dark aura. Only Blaze and Ice managed to stay upright.
I looked up at Roland and knew immediately what was happening before my very eyes, but I stilled, not knowing what to do. I had failed Roland, letting him die a painful death by torture. Now, I couldn't even save him from dying a second death. I was angry at him for hurting Lesus, but Lesus would be all right. My body recovered fast.
If I had been the one to run into Roland first, would I have let him escape instead of cornering him like this? What would I have done?
There was no such choice at the moment to confuse me and lead me astray. Roland was thoroughly trapped even if he kept blasting us away.
Blaze and Ice managed to join me as I drew out the Divine Judgment Sword.
"Capture him alive," I said.
After that, I didn't think -- I just let my current body move on its own.
If I had stopped to think, I probably couldn't have done it, but I managed to knock Roland to his knees, my sword slicing through his ashen skin. However, even as he screamed in pain, he kept chanting that he couldn't rest just yet. Lesus shot holy light at Roland, but it wasn't enough to pierce through the dark aura surrounding him. Tear-like markings spread from Roland's face and disappeared down his shirt, spreading across his bare arms. Blaze tried to impale him, but Roland immediately blasted him with dark aura, tossing him yards away. Ice dealt a quick blow, his Divine Ice Sword cutting into Roland's shoulders, but that wasn't enough to stop him either. Even as we battered him down, even from his position on the floor, Roland clung on, refusing to rest. The dark aura around him compressed around his body and gathered at his back. Shaken, I tried gathering holy magic to stop him, only to remember too late that I wasn't myself at the moment.
Two damn impressive dragon wings with claws at the ends unfurled from where his dark aura had gathered, knocking Ice off his feet. He flapped his wings and rose to his feet, the gravel around him flying up in the gust. Roland then opened his eyes and pulled out the sword that was still stuck in his chest, streaks of darkness bursting out the moment he slid the sword out. He threw the sword onto the floor with a clatter.
Roland had become a Death Lord. It had all happened so quickly.
Yet...I felt relieved. His power spelled doom for us, but I couldn't help but be relieved. I didn't want him to die a second death so easily. That was the only fate waiting for him with the number of holy knights surrounding him.
My relief was short-lived when Roland immediately summoned a plethora of dark creatures.
Chapter 7: Judgment
I had been too careless. My attempt at stopping Roland had instead spurred him into becoming a Death Lord. How could I have let a Death Lord be born right in front of me?
Even though his eyes were flames, I could tell his disbelief when my hood fell, revealing my appearance. He didn't want to believe it. His screams had been as much from incredulity as they had been from pain.
I knew it then. They must have been friends.
When I saw "myself" rush to my side even as darkness obfuscated my vision and pain exploded in my stomach, I could only stare through the murkiness at the gaunt face I saw in the mirror every time I vomited in the bathroom after punishing criminals. It was a face I was all too familiar with, and now it was fraught with worry. I wouldn't have cared as much if what I saw was merely a reflection from a mirror, but it wasn't.
This was my friend who was worried.
Grisia, you're here, I thought. I always berated him for getting himself into dangerous situations, but here I was in the thick of it all. I'd even gotten his body hurt. Sun must surely have a target on his back for trouble to follow him everywhere, even if I was currently "Sun".
He quickly glanced over me, taking in my injuries, before he stepped in front of me and turned to face Roland, shielding me from what was the come. I stared up at his looming back, wondering what kind of courage he must have mustered up to face his friend like this. I had wanted to spare him that, but ironically, I was now the one who needed protecting, our positions reversed.
I wasn't going to stay down.
Weaponless and hurt, I gathered holy magic to cast a Minor Heal in an attempt to close my wound. It wasn't enough, and I still felt light-headed from my blood loss and from the aura of death Roland's sword had inflicted on me, but I pulled myself to my feet and prepared to help as a long-ranged attacker. I threw holy light at Roland as the others attacked in close range, but I was no priest.
For the first time since our untimely "switch", I cursed that I wasn't currently myself.
And now, Roland had become a Death Lord.
The first zombie that tried to stumble its way over to me immediately crumbled to dust from a blast of holy light courtesy of me. After that, I continued blasting away nonstop at the dark creatures around me. Down went a skeleton. Down went a vampiric spider. Blaze dealt with the spirits with his purifying flames while I continued to pour out holy magic, fighting in a way I'd never fought before, the sky lighting up with streaks of white. Ice and all the holy knights in our platoons were busy getting rid of the mob of dark creatures that had started spreading out. We had to prevent them from wandering out into the rest of the city. These dark creatures weren't very strong, a far cry from the one who had summoned them, but they were numerous. Near me, Grisia hacked away at a zombie, somehow managing to keep his hand on the Divine Judgment Sword. We continued fighting in this manner, the creatures closing in around us even as we pulverized their companions into nonexistence. Soon, I came back-to-back with Grisia.
"Care to teach me a wide-range holy spell that will fall all the creatures in front of me at once?" I asked Grisia when I felt my back run into his. I didn't know how to command Grisia's holy magic as well as he did, but I was sure he'd have been capable of decimating the crowd before us in one swoop.
"I wish!" he replied in my voice from behind me. I don't think I'd ever get used to that. "But I don't know how to explain it. I just do it!"
That was majorly unhelpful. I really should have known that was how he did things, as I'd never seen him truly study any type of magic. All the priests and mages in the world must hate him for his ability to learn by osmosis.
"Any tips?" I asked as I flung holy light at the skeleton in front of me. It crumbled into bones.
"Just keep layering holy light on top of another layer of holy light. It'll become thicker!"
Thicker? What...? That's not how magic works...
But what did I know? If that was the way Sun did it, then that was the way he did it. I flung holy light out and immediately flung some more so that they layered on top of each other, the brightness intensifying and destroying an entire row of skeletons.
Huh, it worked.
Together with Grisia at my back -- I never thought the day would come that I'd rely on him to have my back with a sword -- we defeated all the dark creatures around us until we were finally able to see Roland again now that the crowd had thinned. He stood in his original place, not at all part of the battle. He'd brought his wings around himself protectively, the claws at the end of his wings snapping like vicious jaws whenever something flew towards Roland, such as a chunk of zombie or a stray bone from a skeleton. Regardless of what they were, the claws destroyed them all before they managed to hit Roland.
He must have felt our gaze. Roland turned his head to look at us from where he stood, a self-deprecating smile on his face. He then turned away and surveyed his surroundings. As he did so, he started flickering. I could see the building behind him through his flickering body.
Immediately, I readied myself, heart thumping as I wondered if he was going to appear right in front of my face, or right in front of Grisia, impaling one of us this time. Unlike him, a sword through our chests would be fatal, and I currently had no sword to block his thrust. I tossed a wall of holy light in front of us, a weak imitation of what Earth could do with his shield, but I kept in mind what Sun had told me, and layered holy light over holy light over holy light. If a zombie tried to approach us now, it might even give itself a head injury once it ran into my wall, though it was more likely the zombie would crumble upon contact with the mass of holy light before me.
Roland vanished, leaving behind only traces of the teleportation magic he had called upon. Death Lords were truly frightening for him to have grasped such knowledge right after his transformation.
I expected him to appear in front of me, but when that didn't happen, I quickly spun around to see if he had appeared in front of Grisia instead. Thankfully, Grisia was safe. His eyes darted left and right before he settled on staring at the empty spot where Roland had been standing earlier.
Stunned by what this meant, I let my wall disperse, the holy light I dispelled toppling over all the scattered dark creatures that remained before us. Roland had teleported away altogether. Had this been his intent all along? Escape?
Grimly, I looked at the dark creatures that Blaze, Ice, and the holy knights in our platoons were still battling against. Most of them fell with one or two blows. I blasted another zombie to pieces without even looking at it before I walked over to Roland's previous location, bent down, and picked up my fallen sword.
I looked towards Grisia to catch his eye.
Roland had only been keeping us busy with the dark creatures.
Chapter 8: Sun
After Roland teleported himself away -- damn, even I didn't know how to do that yet -- we easily cleared away the rest of the dark creatures and made sure none had escaped into the city. I thought we'd be battling dark creature after dark creature without end, and that we would have to fight a Death Lord straight on, which might result in me dying before I ever got the chance again to savor sweet sweets instead of bitter sweets -- Judgment's taste buds are whacked, okay -- but that hadn't happened.
Roland had chosen to retreat. My traitorous self was happy about that even while another part of me was horrified at what we had let loose among the city. Roland had already been strong. Now he even had dark creatures under his command.
How is that fair? I thought grumpily. He's already too impressive with a sword. Add on these new, flashy skills of his...
Before he had vanished, he'd smiled -- it wasn't mocking, or smug, or taunting. It was a smile that was similar to the ones that I had sometimes evoked whenever I asked Roland to beat a dog for me, or to sneak out to buy blueberry desserts for me, or to cover for me even though he was the worst liar ever. It was a smile that spoke of the sticky situation I always put him in, of how difficult it was to do what I asked of him. How could he help cover for me when he was such a bad liar, his inability to lie rivaling my inability to wield a sword? How could he sneak out when we weren't supposed to leave the grounds, when he was such a stickler for upholding the rules? How could he beat a dog when it didn't even reach his knees, when he refused to hurt those weaker than him? I always asked the impossible of him, and while he found my requests difficult, he always helped me out in the end. That was the Roland I had known.
His smile told me that he didn't want to be in this situation, that even though he had died and become a Death Lord, a dark creature that even the Basic Knowledge of Undead Creatures textbook says should never be born, he was still Roland, the Roland that had been my friend.
I slid the Divine Judgment Sword back in its place by my side and almost laughed at how I had been able to fight with a sword without impaling myself. If only my teacher were privy to what I'd managed to do! Wielding a sword in such a way had felt amazing. I never knew that was what fighting with a sword was supposed to feel like. The sword had felt like a part of me, though I'd found that I sucked just as much as usual if I thought too much about it. However, if I let Judgment's body move on its own, it still remembered how to dodge and how to strike with quick reactions that were more reflexive than anything.
Funny, since whenever I tried not thinking while I fought in the past as myself, my sword always flew out of my hand, so over-thinking wasn't the problem...
Now, if only I could somehow absorb Judgment's fighting ability so that I could do the same when we return to ourselves...! My teacher might die of happiness if I could accomplish that, or maybe he'd die of shock instead, since swordsmanship was the one thing he couldn't get me to learn no matter how much he tried to drill it into me. Yes, it was just that one thing, since I did manage to stay on my horse after my teacher threatened to send me to the God of Light with one strike if I were to fall off, so don't you dare mock my horse-riding skills!
During our battle with the dark creatures, however, I distinctly realized that neither Judgment nor I were capable of fighting at our best with this switch. Maybe it was because we weren't used to each other's bodies yet, but his fighting style wasn't mine, and that had cost me. At times, I had paused at the most inopportune moment, hand in mid-motion of casting magic when there was no magic to draw on. If both of us had been ourselves, I doubted Roland would have been able to retreat even with his flashy new skills.
The side of me that was more Grisia than the Sun Knight said that perhaps this was for the best.
"Sun, are you all right?" asked Blaze worriedly, breaking me out of my reminiscing.
"I'm-" I paused when Blaze slid his eyes towards me. He hadn't been looking at me before then. Oh right, I currently wasn't "Sun". "I'm wondering the same thing too," I said instead, turning my head slightly to look at Lesus.
He didn't look all right at all. His paleness rivaled that of a ghost's, and he looked just about to keel over, his white clothes stained with a deep red, but he held his hand up when Blaze moved to support him.
"I..." he started before he coughed blood into his no longer pristine, no longer white gloves. Or actually, they were my gloves, and it always pained me when they got dirty because they were so hard to wash, but it was much too confusing at the moment to make the distinction of who the gloves belonged to, and Lesus was coughing up blood.
Alarmed, I tossed a Moderate Heal at Lesus, the healing spell cast before I even realized I had gathered holy magic to do that. I flexed my hand, feeling very empty after a mere Moderate Heal. Judgment's reserve of holy magic was so low! Maybe I could help him expand that by using it more...
Blaze blinked. He stared at me, impressed. "Wow, Judgment, your healing has improved!”
Right, Judgment wasn't supposed to be able to do that. “I thought it would be useful,” I explained. I wasn't exaggerating or anything. It would be useful! When would healing spells ever not be useful?
“How do you feel now, Sun?” asked Blaze in concern. It was good that he asked, since I wanted to know too, and Ice wasn't helping with that since he was just staring with his frigid face. I could tell he was concerned too though. He'd even opted to stand in close proximity with "Sun", not close enough to make his platoon members gossip, but close enough to dash over and catch "Sun" if he were to fall.
Lesus was in the middle of shaking his head at my actions when Blaze questioned him, resulting in a half shake, half nod before he settled on a reassuring smile. So that's how I look when I smile. Am I narcissistic for thinking I look quite charming? I should totally be at the top of every woman's list for the best smile! "I...Sun feels fine. Let us return to the Holy Temple,” Lesus said, awkwardly imitating my speech. We were, after all, in quite a public place.
I covered my mouth before my laughter could escape, muffling it into a cough. Lesus immediately shot me a dark look.
Whoa, I have quite a glare! But nothing compares to Judgment's actual glare...but hey, Lesus, stop glowering, you're supposed to be all smiles! I thought you liked smiling!
When Blaze offered yet again to support "Sun", Lesus shook his head.
"Knight-Captain Blaze, pick out members of your platoon that are still capable of fighting and accompany the rest of your platoon to see the clerics. We must have holy knights patrolling the city at all times now that we have a Death Lord walking among us. Sun will send members of his platoon to help you." He paused before adding, "May the God of Light have mercy on this wayward soul."
Hey, hey, Lesus...don't think you can imitate me just by tacking that on at the end!
Blaze nodded slowly, though he kept glancing back at "Sun" even as he left. I even heard him mutter under his breath about how he couldn't believe how reliable "Sun" seemed at the moment, and how straight to the point his words had been. And what was with the crazy swordsmanship that "Sun" had displayed...
Hey, I'm always reliable! And what do you mean by "crazy" swordsmanship? What did Lesus do?
I know my swordsmanship has been called lousy, messy, terrible, unsalvageable...you get the point, but it's never been called crazy before!
"Knight-Captain Ice," Lesus continued. "Sun suggests for you to do the same."
Ice turned to me to see if I agreed. I nodded, but Lesus stopped Ice before he could leave.
"Take the Judgment Knight Platoon with you too. Knight-Captain Judgment and Sun have much to discuss regarding the Death Lord."
Lesus then shot me a pointed look. Even though I hadn't suddenly developed the ability to read minds just like I hadn't suddenly developed the ability to communicate via telepathy, I knew what was going on through his mind. You're not going to let a Death Lord walk free, are you? was what he was asking me.
"Do as he says, Ice," I said dryly. "Have them healed and then select the ones you feel can patrol tonight. You may choose from my platoon too."
After that, there were only the two of us left. Lesus had very obviously sent them away so that we could be alone.
“We need to talk,” Lesus said immediately. I shut my mouth before I could say, "You're not planning on breaking up with me, are you?" since I didn't think he'd appreciate my quip.
His tone had sounded pretty foreboding after all.
Chapter 9: Judgment
Our walk back to the Holy Temple was no short walk, giving me plenty of time to “talk” with Grisia. We walked at a snail's pace as he supported me. His support was the only thing that was keeping me upright after my adrenaline from battle had faded, leaving me exhausted and aching. Even though it was a rare sight to see the Judgment Knight supporting the Sun Knight, my current state of appearance would be explanation enough for everyone to keep their thoughts to themselves.
After a bout of silence, I opened my mouth to break the standstill.
“I'm sorry-” We both ended up saying at the same time.
We were such a priceless pair.
“What for?” He asked in bewilderment, in a tone I didn't often hear from myself.
“For getting injured so heavily,” I replied right away. For being unable to prevent you from having to go against your friend, I added silently to myself.
I glanced at him just in time to see him roll his eyes. He'd understood what I meant by "getting injured". “You forget that I'm like a cockroach that'll never die. Stab me a few times and I'll come bouncing right back after a single day of rest. Ugh, I can't believe I called myself a cockroach.”
I smiled at his frank words, though I'd never liked how at ease he was about getting hurt. He was letting it become a habit. What if one day he took it too far, being too assured that he would be able to recover? “And you're apologizing for...?”
Since he currently had one of my arms draped over his shoulders and one of his arms around my waist to support me, I easily felt it when his shoulders tensed. “For...this,” he mumbled, but I'd heard him loudly and clearly.
“Ah,” I replied. “It is problematic. How did this come about anyway?” I had been about to drink a cup of much needed tea when I got whisked away from my room. Merely thinking about it was making me yearn for a cup of tea at this very moment. I think I would have been more exasperated about this entire situation if I'd run into Grisia earlier, but now I was more tired than anything, both from the drawn out battle that had resulted in my injuries, and from being confronted by an old friend of Grisia's.
"It's because you didn't-" Grisia started in a defensive tone before pausing, his sentence dangling in the air.
"I didn't what?" I asked, not believing for a second that Grisia could keep whatever complaint that was on the tip of his tongue to himself.
He sucked in a deep breath before forging on. "Because you didn't trust me! I wanted to find evidence to prove you wrong." In a guiltier voice, he added, "Pink said she had something that could help me investigate. I know I was wrong to accept, okay? But it wasn't entirely my fault. She threw the dratted thing at me!"
I let his words wash over me, not quite sure what I should be feeling. Should I feel angry that he was trying to blame me? Or guilty for making him think I didn't trust him? No, perhaps I should be feeling stupid for letting something like this happen, or even pleased that he thought so much of me that I was his motivation more than clearing his name? I didn't know what I was feeling, just that Grisia always made me feel too many emotions all at once.
The most prominent one at the moment was this stinging feeling in my heart.
"There is no one I trust more than you," I said quietly.
"...I know," he replied in an equally soft voice. "I'm sorry."
We left it at that.
After a short moment, Grisia cleared his throat and asked, “Did you meet Pink?”
“Yes,” I answered, recalling the devious little girl who had been utterly delighted at our switch. She was not someone I would normally choose to associate with, but at least she hadn't lied to me. Grisia's explanation matched what she had told me.
“What did she say?” asked Grisia slowly, as if he didn't want to find out.
“Time limit is three hours," I explained. "But she doesn't know if we'll switch back automatically after that.”
“Three hours, huh...isn't it past two hours already? Then we should be switching back soon."
I nodded. “Let's head somewhere to wait it out.”
We fell silent after that. Even though we had been talking in quiet tones, our conversation wasn't fit for the public. It was late, so we hadn't come across that many stragglers, or else we'd have needed to put on a show. As it went, we merely spoke quietly to prevent our conversation from drifting over to unwanted ears.
Since I was the one who was injured, Grisia walked me towards his room so that "Sun" could rest. We almost made it without running into any obstacles, but when we reached the corridor that led to Grisia's room, we got stopped by the person most likely to realize something was off about us.
"Captain!" I heard a male voice gasp. "Are you okay?"
Slowly, I looked up at who had stopped us. There, in our path, stood Adair, Sun's capable vice-captain. He was looking at us intently, eyes darting between me and Grisia. I glanced at Grisia too. He looked like he was bursting to say something to Adair, no doubt because he so heavily relied on Adair to clean up his messes on a daily basis.
"Adair," I greeted with a smile. I needed him to do something, so Grisia would have to save his words for later. I had promised Blaze that I'd send him help. "Our brothers are on patrol tonight because a Death Lord is loose in the city. See to it that the Sun Knight Platoon lends their help to the Blaze Knight Platoon, the Ice Knight Platoon, and the Judgment Knight Platoon."
"Understood, Captain," Adair said, leaving right away, no questions asked. His eyes had merely widened when I mentioned "Death Lord", but that was it. Grisia had often told me that he had Adair trained well. I could see what he meant.
"Oh, and Adair," I said before he walked too far. "Take a select few platoon members and shadow Jacques."
Adair stopped and looked at me, really looked at me, before he nodded and left. I wondered why until Grisia enlightened me and reminded me of just how well Adair knew his captain.
"Who's Jacques?" Grisia asked when Adair disappeared from view.
"...the third son of Baron Gerland," I replied.
"Oh!" Grisia exclaimed. "The bastard who threw his sword at me!"
I shook my head at how I had let myself slip in front of Adair just like that. I thought it wouldn't hurt not to go the full length with imitating Grisia's speech since we were quite alone in the corridors, but even merely mentioning a name was enough to raise Adair's suspicions. If Grisia couldn't even get the majority of the Twelve Holy Knights' names right, then Jacques had stood no chance before this, though now his name would be forever engraved on Grisia's list of offenders. Grisia held grudges for a very long time.
After that, we finally made it to Sun's room. Once we shut the door behind us, I collapsed into his bed, wondering if I should have actually accompanied Blaze and Ice to see the clerics myself.
"Minor Heal!" Grisia murmured, a warm, honey-colored healing light spreading across my chest and stomach. Before I could thank him, he actually started complaining and pouting. Pouting with my face! The image was incongruous… "Lesus, your holy magic sucks. I'm all out of holy magic now!"
"Grisia, you need to train more," I shot back.
Immediately, he fell silent, eyes wide. I continued to speak.
"You're a holy knight, Grisia. You need to have a better build."
"Hey, not everyone can be like you, Lesus!"
I rolled my eyes at him. "The difference is that I train while you don't train enough. When we switch back, you should go up to Adair and ask him to spar with you every day. Even better, you should join your platoon's practices more."
"Spar with Adair?" Grisia exclaimed. "Do you want me to die?"
I rolled my eyes at him some more.
As we waited for the time limit to pass, Grisia peeled my stained gloves from my hands and dunked them into a basin of water, the water immediately turning pink as blood washed out of the gloves. While he scrubbed, he kept complaining about how hard blood was to wash out, how I had it so much easier since my clothes were so black you can't even tell when they get dirty. I listened with only half of my attention, the other half focused on gathering up holy magic to cast a few more Minor Heals on myself. Even though I'd found Grisia's complaint about how my holy magic sucked to be ludicrous -- I wasn't a cleric, nor did I belong to the "warm, good faction" of holy knights -- Grisia's reserve of holy magic was truly impressive. My reserves, although not bad for someone from the "cold, cruel-hearted faction", far paled in comparison with Grisia's.
After Grisia finished scrubbing his gloves and I'd changed into some fresh clothes so that Grisia could now scrub his blood-stained clothes instead, we were still...not ourselves.
I watched Grisia scrub his cloak and his jacket, soap bubbles clinging onto his arms. A dab of it was even on his face. Or well, my face. It made for a strange sight, the Judgment Knight busy scrubbing clothes in the Sun Knight's room. The clothes had a large tear in the midsection where I'd been injured the heaviest, but knowing Grisia and his stinginess with money, he definitely wasn't going to toss his clothes away. An additional ruffle would probably be enough to cover the rip.
"Has it been three hours yet?" Grisia asked impatiently, wiping his face with the back of his hand. More soap bubbles ended up on his cheek.
I sighed and nodded, golden hair falling into my vision in my movement.
"Great," Grisia muttered under his breath sarcastically. "Damn that Pink!"
I was inclined to agree.
Chapter 10: Sun
All of a sudden, I understood deeply why Blaze always liked going around kicking down people's doors because at this very moment, I really wanted to rush over to Pink's house and trample her cute little door in with my foot. Let's see how much she likes that!
"Perish the thought," Lesus said disapprovingly from where he sat on my bed. "It's too late at the moment. I know you've been visiting her frequently, but you shouldn't trust her so much. It would be foolish of us to pay her a visit at this late of an hour. We are both exhausted as well."
This time, it was my turn to roll my eyes. Did he really have to read my mind like that?
"Where's the trinket?" I asked, recalling the small trinket that had slammed me in the chest before I'd ended up in Judgment's room. If we examined it, maybe we could figure something out. I hadn't gotten a very good look at it, but it must be a powerful item to be able to cause this switch, certainly powerful enough to cost a small fortune.
I wonder how many gold ducats it's worth...
"Even though Pink mentioned a trinket, I did not find any on your body-- Grisia, what are you doing?" By the end, his tone had turned incredulous. It was probably because I had just stepped over the basin of soapy water on the ground and pulled up the shirt Lesus was wearing, exposing his skin to the cool night air. I was checking to see if the trinket was hidden underneath his clothes, all right? What, did you think I was going to molest myself?
...all right, I suppose the pose was a little suggestive, since I did have one hand on his shoulder and we were in my bedroom and he was on my bed, but you, yes you! Perish whatever thought you have from your mind! Although I may be handsome and fair-skinned, I'm not going to jump myself!
Hm, is it the lighting, or does my skin look a little more honey-white than milk-white? That's not acceptable...
"Grisia, if anyone were to open the door right now, they'd think the Judgment Knight is assaulting the Sun Knight," Lesus deadpanned, blue eyes unimpressed with what I was doing. I'd often seen that look on his face whenever I did something that exasperated him, but I never thought I'd earn that look from...well, myself. The look he was giving me even reminded me of my teacher, since my teacher was the only other person I knew who had dazzling golden hair and clear blue eyes much like mine.
It made me want to shiver.
"It's my own body! Stop being such a cheapskate!" I replied indignantly. What was done, was done! I lifted his shirt up more, my eyes roving over "my" abs before passing on higher. See? My build's not that bad! It was a little strange seeing my body from this angle, but whatever. The trinket wasn't anywhere, though I did end up seeing a light, pink scar that ran diagonally from my stomach up to my lower rib cage. The wound had already closed thanks to the healing spells we've both casted, but even my supreme recovering ability wasn't going to help Lesus recover right away, not with the dark aura Roland's blade had inflicted on him. How much must this wound have hurt? Did it still sting? I thought we'd have switched back by now, and that I would be the one with the injury. I reached forward, finger almost running across the scar.
Lesus swatted my hand away. He pulled his shirt down and then smoothed the wrinkles away in a fussy manner. Not a lot of people know about how much Lesus dislikes messiness, but he does! I think it has something to do with how he likes order and structure, as well as cleanliness. If Lesus hadn't become the Judgment Knight, he'd also have made a very good butler.
"Other people won't see it that way. As you can see, I don't have the trinket on me," he said.
"Then where is it?" I asked as I retracted my hand. I completely thought the trinket would be on Lesus somewhere, but it hadn't been in the clothes Lesus had peeled off, and it wasn't underneath his clothes either.
"I don't know," he replied. "But I have a feeling I won't like the answer."
He placed a hand just slightly under his rib cage, his brows furrowed.
Was his wound hurting? I was tempted to throw another Minor Heal at him, but I was all out of holy magic. I hadn't been exaggerating when I said his holy magic sucked!
"I guess we'll have to ask Pink," I murmured, not happy with this turn of events. I paced along my room and considered what I should bring Pink to bribe her to help us. This was all her fault, but she wasn't going to see it that way. Should I have Ice make lollipops, or shaved ice...
"We should tell the others about this," Lesus said.
"What? No!" I replied immediately, spinning around to meet his even gaze. I didn't see a need to tell anyone else -- okay, except for maybe Adair since he knew me too well -- about what had happened, but surely we could find a way to switch back before anyone noticed anything?
"Grisia, you should have noticed. We don't fight as well as each other, and if we truly don't want to give ourselves away, then we can't even use our strengths to our advantage. I will not allow us to become liabilities. If we tell them, then we won't need to hold back in front of them," he explained patiently.
Like always, Lesus made a whole lot of sense, but telling everyone would also complicate things! "No one needs to know!" I exclaimed while waving my hands around to make my point. "Not everyone knows we're friends. If we tell them, we'll have to act as if we don't know how to act as each other because we don't know each other that well, and then we won't even be able to carry out our duties because I'm supposed to be benevolent while you're supposed to be cruel, so how will I be able to judge criminals when everyone knows the Judgment Knight is actually the Sun Knight now, and, and..."
I had a lot more to say, but what I'd just said was already confusing me.
Thankfully, whatever I'd just spouted had been enough to convince Lesus. He furrowed his brows once again. Stop giving me wrinkles... "All right, I see your point. We won't tell anyone, but only as long as you and I are both capable of carrying out each other's duties. If not, then we'll tell them and have them help. It it turns out we can't switch back right away, we'll both need to train too so that we can fight to the best of our abilities."
I nodded fervently, glad I had managed to convince Lesus. I couldn't imagine having to praise the God of Light and smile widely at everyone while I was Judgment. I'd rather hole up in Judgment's room and never leave if I had to do that!
"That means the first thing you need to do tonight is finish reviewing my paperwork," Lesus said.
My eyes widened. "You can't mean that huge stack of documents that was in your room?" I thought I'd escaped from that torturous fate of being imprisoned with paperwork!
"I only have ten pages left."
"Only" ten pages!?
"Make sure you don't use any fancy speech. It shouldn't take too long since you just need to be straight to the point when you summarize them."
"Can we switch back already...?" I murmured weakly.
I saw the corners of his mouth lift up. That mollified me slightly. Only slightly. He'd always only allowed himself the tiniest of smiles even while he was in my presence. Now that he was "Sun", he didn't have to hold back, but it looked like the habit was hard to break. I almost forgave him for making me do his paperwork until he continued talking.
"Don't forget to attend the meeting tomorrow morning. That's also when the paperwork is due," he said in such a calm manner that I would have thought he was commenting on how nice the weather was outside instead of dooming me to waking up at the break of dawn and going without sleep tonight to finish his paperwork. I don't even know when I last attended a meeting!
He shook his head at my incredulous expression before he settled back. He looked tired, his eyes just about to close. "This switch is not exactly a bad thing."
Both of my eyebrows shot up. I'd been waiting all this time for Lesus to chew my ear off about my latest folly, for pulling him in so deeply into what was my problem, not his. Maybe he was having fun because he could see me suffer with paperwork? But no, even though he was amused at my reaction, that couldn't be it...
He continued to speak. "At least, this way you can't go off and get into danger without telling me. Don't even think about it. We're in this together."
He looked at me, his eyes fierce. Even though I was staring at my own face, all I could see was Lesus.
Stunned, I nodded before a small smile graced my lips.
"Yeah," I replied softly.
No matter what happened with Roland or my reputation, Lesus would be there.
Chapter 11: Judgment
Even though I was tired, we talked late into the night to make sure we had our stories straight, and I finally asked him about Roland. His eyes gained a faraway look, his voice a wistful tone. He told me about how they had met all those years ago during the selection for the next Sun Knight, and how Roland had been the top candidate at the time, just like I had been the top candidate for the Judgment Knight. Back then, practically no one had thought Grisia would become the Sun Knight, Grisia himself included. He stared at me as he spoke, hand reaching out to grasp a strand of golden hair.
"Your golden hair isn't what made your teacher pick you," I said, hand resting on Grisia's reassuringly, but even though Grisia shot me a grateful look, I could tell he didn't believe me. He let the strands of golden hair slip through his fingers and busied his hands with something else.
He continued to tell me about Roland, about how they had easily become friends because they had never considered each other competitors. I had no such friend among the Judgment Knight candidates, as we had all treated each other as opponents to be defeated. Roland, however, had looked after Grisia in much the same way I was currently "looking after" Grisia.
It made me want to sit down and have a cup of tea with Roland to discuss our many hardships with dealing with Grisia. If Roland hadn't died, I might have gotten along with him very well from what I was currently learning about him.
When Grisia told me about how impressive Roland's swordsmanship had been even back then, I nodded because I had experienced it myself during my duel with him. The way he moved with the sword was not something anyone could achieve without diligent practice coupled with a natural gift for wielding a sword. When Grisia told me about Roland's seriousness and kindness, I thought back to how Roland had agreed to fighting with me one-on-one, and how disappointed he had been when we were not allowed to finish. Even from my limited interaction with him, I could tell he was honorable. It was a pity and an abomination that he had to die so young in such a way, and it was cruel that he was still not allowed to rest despite his death.
Hearing about Roland only made me even more aware of how difficult the current situation must be for Grisia. I outlined to him what I planned to do, and he grudgingly explained to me his plans, though I doubted he was completely forthright with me. I was so deeply engrossed in our discussion that I didn't pay attention to what Grisia was doing with his hands -- after all, he'd occupied himself with washing his clothes just before this -- until he plopped a bowl of lavender-scented...green goop in front of me.
"Lesus," he said in a very serious tone, face impassive. With such a look and such a tone, I almost thought I was looking at my teacher, the previous Judgment Knight, until he continued to speak. The following wasn't something my teacher would ever care about. "You must have been outside for too long. You're so dark now."
"You're speaking nonsense," I said right away. "I had on a hood almost the entire time, and the sun had long gone down before I even stepped foot outside."
All I got in response was a super long explanation about spreading the lavender-scented goop over my face, my neck, and all over my body. I was then supposed to steam myself in front of the fire and scrape it all off after a certain length of time.
"Can't this wait until we switch back?" I asked, my voice faint. The entire process sounded like it was going to take a lot of time. If Grisia had time to do this every night, he should have plenty of time to look at paperwork while he "steamed" himself. Without any paperwork to do, I might fall asleep with the whitening mask still on my skin, making me look like a green monster with golden hair... not even decaying zombies would look as terrifying.
"No! How can the Sun Knight not be fair-skinned? I can't have you go around looking like that! If a skin-whitening mask isn't applied every single night for an entire week, my skin will be unsalvageable!" His voice grew louder and louder as he expressed his strong opinions about the necessity of daily skin care. He was probably speaking loudly enough for anyone walking past this room to hear the Judgment Knight's deep voice extolling the virtues of mixing soured milk with lemon, roses, flour, and lavender to make the most effective body mask.
I doubted anyone would believe they were hearing correctly.
"Are you sure you want my hands all over your body?" I finally asked.
He'd only blanched for a second before he started sputtering. "You'd need to bathe anyway! I refuse to let you become a stinky knight! That's not acceptable either!"
He had a point, and I did smell, so I mutely accepted the bowl. I wanted to sigh, however, when Grisia instructed me not to coat the body mask onto his "important area". He'd actually flushed red when he said that, and even muttered under his breath about how terrible his teacher had been to forget to warn him.
I'd learned a lot about Grisia just from being him for less than a day, but this was too much information. I'd thought this many times since I was chosen as the Judgment Knight, but I'm glad my teacher was responsible and dependable and that I had not landed myself with Grisia's teacher despite his strong swordsmanship. Taking lessons in the art of skin-whitening was out of my forte.
Grisia was all too happy when I told him to go to my room to bring my paperwork over. I would for sure fall asleep if I had nothing to do while I waited for the body mask to dry. When Grisia left, I made use of his bath, the warm water soothing and relaxing me. I washed the grime off, something I should have done right from the start. Sun's long hair gave me the most difficulty, and it was heavy once wet. I lathered shampoo into it, arms tired from all the sword wielding I had done. He truly did not have the right muscles. Had he been training at all?
As I washed, I felt the area just above my stomach tingle. My muscles there felt warm, as if something was burning inside of me. Sun's holy magic fluctuated, spiking and then settling down. Was his body battling the dark aura from Roland's sword? Ice hadn't been able to get out of bed when he'd been injured by the same sword, but here I was, still capable of taking a bath.
When Grisia came back with my paperwork, I had just finished toweling myself dry. He looked like he had taken a quick bath too, his hair still damp.
We got to work soon after that, with him working on my paperwork -- I refused to go through his skin-whitening routine if he didn't do any paperwork -- while I applied the lavender-scented mask over my skin, towel around my waist. The scene should have been normal enough for us, but it felt decisively strange that I was the one lathering a lavender scented substance over my body while Grisia was actually diligently doing paperwork.
Once I finished applying the body mask and the substance dried enough that it wasn't sliding down my skin, I took one of the documents and started correcting it.
All the while, Grisia kept glancing at the door.
"What?" I asked him after he glanced at the door yet again.
"Shh!" he said. "I'm waiting for the curse to happen."
"Someone always disturbs me when I apply my masks! It's a curse, I tell you! A curse that makes me have to scrape off my masks before I'm done steaming, making me waste my precious, expensive materials..."
"Just focus on the paperwork already," I said.
"What, you don't believe me?"
I rolled my eyes at him and continued correcting my paperwork. After I finished my half, I waited until Grisia finished his. He took a long time, his attention more focused on the door than on the papers in his hand. When he finally finished, it was also time for me to scrape the lavender-scented, green substance off my skin.
The entire time, no one had come to the door.
"The God of Light is harsh tonight," muttered Grisia. "Making me into a liar..."
I shook my head at him in exasperation and shooed him out of the room so that I could finally sleep.
It had been a long, tiring day.
Chapter 12: Sun
Damn Lesus! Stupid Lesus!
Why was I cursing my best friend at such an early hour? It's because he is such a hard-worker that he would never miss a meeting, and he would never be late to a meeting, while I am a lazy ass who almost never attends meetings, and am almost always late when I do attend. Since I was currently Judgment, that meant I had to pull myself up at the break of dawn so that I could get myself to this meeting on time, and it also meant Lesus wouldn't even be there for me to glare at because he was "Sun" at the moment, and Sun never attended meetings.
Sometimes, I really wanted to curse myself too.
I stifled a yawn.
"Did you not get enough sleep yesterday, Judgment?" asked Metal worriedly by my side.
What, not even an attempt at barbed words? He sure acted differently around Judgment. If it weren't because Leaf, who was too nice to comment that Metal wasn't being enough of a bastard, was sitting across from me in my sight, I'd have thought it was Leaf asking after me! He'd sounded so concerned!
"Paperwork," I said, giving a nod to the stack of papers in my hand.
"Is it just me, or does your paperwork smell like lavender?"
"It's just you," I said dryly, thinking it would have been better if Metal had tried for poisonous words instead of stating the obvious, but to my left Moon started sniffing the air after hearing our conversation. That only made him look even haughtier than usual with how he had his chin permanently jutted upwards.
"I think I smell it too..." he said. "Reminds me of my girlfriend's perfume."
Geez, thanks Moon. You don't have to rub it in all the time that you have a girlfriend. Besides, I doubt your girlfriend's perfume smells as nice as my paperwork!
Moon gave me a strange look down his nose -- I really hated it whenever he looked down at me even though that's the only way he can look at anyone in the eye with that stiff neck of his -- and said something that made me want to slap my forehead despite how much his words had enlightened me.
"Where were you last night?" asked Moon. "Ice asked me to tell you that he had your platoon members healed and out patrolling, but you didn't seem to be in your room."
So the curse of the body mask had taken effect once again! Except, I wasn't in "my" room to get disturbed! Hah, don't you dare call me a liar, Lesus! I crowed silently to myself. Out loud, I said, "I must have been asleep already."
"But you just said you were up late because of paperwork..." he said in confusion.
I only said "paperwork". You made your own conclusions!
At that very moment, Blaze arrived just in time with a kick to the already open door, and in followed the rest of the holy knights. Moon promptly forgot he was asking me a question that could have backed me into a corner. If he'd have continued asking though, I'd have told him that paperwork was just that tiring. I'm pretty sure if I hadn't done the paperwork in the presence of my good friend Lesus, I would have fallen asleep from looking at the first page of gibberish. Surely Moon would allow "Judgment" that much after having battled a Death Lord?
When everyone finally arrived and sat down, they all turned to look at me.
Right, I'm supposed to conduct the meeting...
I tried to think back to what Lesus had told me yesterday about the meeting. Damn him for not being here. There were two empty spots among those who were present in the conference room today. One belonged to the Sun Knight -- why would I want to attend a meeting like this when I could be sleeping? -- and the other belonged to the carefree Storm Knight who is free like the wind, which meant if there's a meeting to be skipped, he skips it.
In reality, Storm was probably holed up in his room at this very moment, slaving over endless paperwork. Sucks to be him.
I was about to open my mouth to praise the God of Light for gathering all of my brothers here today when I remembered just in time that I didn't need to and wasn't supposed to do that. I could save my breath and actually get to the point!
"Reports?" I asked, inwardly rejoicing at how little I needed to speak.
Each of them gave a short report about something or another. I listened and nodded, though I didn't pay much attention to what they were blabbering about. I did hear what they were saying, so if Lesus were to ask me to repeat what went on during the meeting, I could rattle off word-by-word what Earth or Leaf or any of the others had said during the meeting. Taxes, salaries, platoon discipline, new paperwork to distribute, blah, blah, blah...
"And then Sun furiously stabbed the Death Knight straight through the chest!" Blaze exclaimed in the middle of informing us about the Death Knight.
I nodded absentmindedly, filing Blaze's report to the back of my mind.
Wait, did Blaze just claim that "Sun" had become a master swordsman with swordsmanship that rivaled even that of the Judgment Knight's on one of his good days? Blaze, what's with this embellished tale!?
Earth and Leaf were both staring at Blaze in fascination as Blaze continued with his exuberant recounting of "Sun's" amazing swordsmanship, complete with hand motions for each strike and parry. I couldn't tell if Cloud was staring or not, because like usual, I couldn't even see his face, but he had his head cocked to the side like a puppy might do in rapt attention.
"I-I wonder if y-you may have m-m-mistaken some other p-person for our d-dear S-Sun Knight?" stammered Earth.
"I'm not making this up!" Blaze exclaimed while pounding the table to make his point. "I could've sworn the hooded figure wasn't Sun with how he practically glided with his sword, but then the hood came off and there he was! I don't know how he did it, but he managed to impale the Death Knight. Now that was impressive! It was definitely Sun! Just ask Ice! He was there too!"
Everyone turned to look at Ice. Ice inclined his head ever so slightly. If it had only been Blaze, everyone might've questioned if Blaze had encountered an impostor or a look-alike, but Ice's contribution tilted Blaze's observation into the realm of the real.
"Judgment was there too!" Blaze continued to say.
Everyone turned to look at me.
"When I fought next to him, he lit up the sky with holy light," I said. Like a light show.
That seemed to convince everyone that the person Blaze encountered was the Sun Knight.
Earth started muttering under his breath. What he said suspiciously sounded like, "Is the end of the world coming? That has to be it. Nothing short of the end of the world can turn Sun into a master swordsman," but of course he was the Earth Knight, Sun's best friend, so how could he be badmouthing the Sun Knight?
Haha, very funny, Earth.
I didn't want to admit, however, that even the end of the world probably would not be enough to spur me into becoming one with my sword, at least not in the normal sense. It was more likely that I'd end up skewering myself!
"So the Sun Knight has improved his remarkable and unique swordsmanship?" questioned Metal in his strange mockery of a poison tongue. Wow, he managed to make my swordsmanship sound pretty good.
"If the Sun Knight actually knows how to wield a sword that well..." Stone trailed off after his oh-so-helpful speculation, but the damage was done.
If the Sun Knight actually knows how to wield a sword that well, and he knows holy magic and elemental magic, then aren't we all doomed?
All of the Twelve Holy Knights who were present, except for me, stared at each other in rising horror. Okay, I didn't know about Cloud since I still couldn't see his face, and Ice's expression never changed, so I couldn't really tell if he was staring in horror or not, but you get the point. Besides, I think his eyes might have widened by a millimeter or something like that.
To my surprise, it was Cloud who spoke up for me.
"The Sun Knight loathes dark creatures," he said very quietly without looking at anyone, reciting what was pretty much a statement right out of our textbooks. For him, that statement was probably the be-all and end-all of the argument. The Sun Knight hates dark creatures. Of course he can display awesome swordsmanship when it came to dealing with dark creatures!
May the benevolence of the God of Light bless Brother Cloud on this beautiful morning!
As soon as that thought crossed my mind, I froze, unable to believe what kind of language had just invaded my thoughts. Was I so deprived of speaking in the most difficult manner possible that I had to mentally speak that way to myself!? Ugh.
Still, I was grateful that Cloud had just given me an out. I was going to take it.
"The Sun Knight is an expert when it comes to dealing with dark creatures," I said calmly to end their gossiping. When they didn't look convinced, I added, "It's just Sun."
A look of sudden realization came across many faces. It was just Sun! Absurd and unpredictable Sun with millions of tricks up his sleeves! Why, thank you all for your confidence in me...
"That is all," I said. "Knight-Captain Blaze, tell us about the Death Knight."
Blaze looked like he was still stuck on the subject of "Sun" and "awesome swordsmanship", not that I could blame him since even I never thought my name and "awesome swordsmanship" would ever go hand-in-hand. I would have loved to enjoy my sudden rise in swordsmanship fame, except I hated how that came along with dragging my horrid sword skills out in the open. I couldn't stand their obvious disbelief either! I know my horrid skill level is the brutal truth, but could we just drop it already...? Just wait, and they'll think I've been hiding my skill, or that I've magically become more than competent with a sword, and then they'll be expecting me to be that good with a sword even when Lesus and I switch back...
I stared at Blaze until he dropped his gaze and glanced at the others who were present instead. "The Death Knight has become a Death Lord! The king has heard about it and has declared the kingdom to be in a high state of emergency. He wants to see Sun," Blaze finally declared.
After that, Blaze informed everyone about the Death Lord's physical appearance and the skills he had displayed during the battle. I organized patrols, making sure we had a sufficient number patrolling at all times. I was pretty sure the king was going to send out his royal knights too.
Roland wasn't going to have an easy time. For his sake, I hoped he was in hiding.
For my sake, I hoped Lesus stopped displaying "awesome swordsmanship". I was never going to be able to live up to that!
Chapter 13: Judgment
When I woke up the next day, I almost didn't remember where I was. My limbs felt weak as I propped myself up, golden hair spilling over my shoulders, reminding me of all that had happened yesterday. I pulled myself out of bed to stare into the mirror.
The reflection that greeted me couldn't be more different than what I usually saw in the mirror. Instead of somber black hair and dark eyes, I now had bright golden hair and blue eyes. I tried a smile, the expression not at all unusual on Sun's face, but there was something off about my smile. It was too hesitant, too small. I widened my smile, cheeks twitching at the forced smile.
This is going to take some time to get used to, I thought as I brought my hands up to pull at my face so that my smile wouldn't lapse back into a frown. Sun's skin felt smooth and soft under my hands, but that was no surprise. I shuddered when I recalled the long skin-whitening process I had experienced yesterday.
My hands still smelled like lavender.
After refreshing myself, changing, and spending much too long trying to comb Sun's hair, I was as ready as I could be to face the day as the graceful and perfect Sun Knight. My mind was telling me I should have woken up an hour ago to attend a meeting I would never have missed if I had been myself, but as I was Sun, I forced myself to take my time making sure I was healed enough to be up and about. The extra sleep had been helpful and extra time wouldn't hurt.
Sun was still on vacation for successfully stopping the king from raising taxes, so that meant I was free from his duties and could use his time as I wished. I headed out of his room to look for his platoon as I needed to borrow one of them to accomplish my next task.
As I searched for the Sun Knight Platoon, I came across Storm in one of the corridors. He must have skipped the meeting much like what I was doing. Like usual, he was carrying a large stack of documents. I recalled that Storm had been given time off too, but he didn't look like he'd been on vacation at all with the dark circles under his eyes.
Grisia and I had both agreed that Storm was the best person to approach for information on nobility with a hobby of torturing others. Storm often dealt with aristocrats and noblemen, and he often played the role of diplomat, so he knew their secrets even better than I did. I'd calmly told Grisia, however, that I'd already approached Storm when Grisia had still been in bed after fainting from blood loss. I had already drawn up a list of suspects as well. That had made Grisia pout once again.
I was afraid that I was slowly getting used to seeing that expression on my face.
Although I already had my list of suspects, that didn't mean I had nothing to ask Storm about. Storm wasn't just familiar with nobility. He was familiar with all sorts of gossip, and he also knew the most people out of us all.
"Brother Storm," I opened my mouth to say, though I hadn't yet formulated the next part of my sentence.
"Stop," Storm said immediately, a frazzled look coming over his face. He looked like he really didn't want to talk with me, something I'd never experienced before, not to this degree, though perhaps he merely reined in his expressions in front of "Judgment" more. I had a feeling it was just Grisia who made Storm react this way though. "Please speak plainly."
I was entirely happy to comply.
"Do you know of Roland?" I asked. Grisia hadn't known anything about what happened to Roland after the selection for the next Sun Knight, but I felt it was relevant to our investigation. Roland had to have been close enough to our suspects for him to have been targeted by them. That meant he had a connection with nobility or perhaps even with royalty.
Storm thought for a moment before replying. "Yes, he was a promising royal knight captain, with around the same level of popularity as Elijah."
A royal knight captain...
He gave me a look. "Why are you asking?"
I filled him in on the identity of the Death Lord and told him my suspicions.
"The king has summoned you," Storm said after my explanation, his frazzled look transforming into chagrin. "I'll accompany you."
I nodded, knowing that Storm would not be able to leave this matter unturned. He'd want to know everything, and he would dig deep into the matter now that he knew what I knew.
"Before we visit the king, I need to speak with my platoon," I told him. Storm nodded and left to do a quick investigation into Roland's background. I would meet him in front of the palace entrance once I visited the Sun Knight Platoon. As he left, I thought I heard him say that "Sun" felt like an entirely different person today, strangely dependable and easy to understand...
That's because I am a different person...
At least I saved Storm from a headache.
I found the Sun Knight Platoon outside, diligently jogging around the entire perimeter of the city. Sun's vice captain was at the front of the group, barking commands and yelling for the rest to keep with him. It wasn't an unfamiliar sight, as I often saw them jogging in the mornings during times when I trained with my platoon and didn't have meetings to attend. Sometimes, I wondered if Grisia even knew how much his platoon trained, as I didn't recall ever seeing Sun run with his platoon within the city walls.
I was tempted to jog up to them and run with them -- it was what I would have done with my platoon -- but I stopped myself. Grisia has never done that before, I reminded myself. Starting now would be blatantly out of character.
That didn't mean I couldn't get him started, but there was also my injury to consider. Sleep had done wonders, but there was still a strange pain around the area of my stomach. I settled to wait where I stood for the Sun Knight Platoon to make their way around once again.
"Is that the Captain?" I heard someone gasp from the far right.
"Stop joking!" another person exclaimed. "That's such a lie!"
"Yeah! The Captain never supervises us. Don't think you can trick us!"
I turned before they could dig themselves deeper. Everyone immediately shut up.
"Captain?" Adair asked for the sake of the rest of the platoon. Everyone else had been shocked or frightened speechless.
"Yes?" I replied, widening my smile as I had practiced. I tried to organize my thoughts so that I could imitate Sun's speech even though it would be one of the most painful things I ever had to do. Although Grisia and I had once thought we would have done well in each other's positions, I was glad to leave the fancy talk to Grisia so that I could tend to matters without having to speak nonsense.
I heard someone squeak before a bunch of them started exclaiming that they weren't slacking off, that they had run seven rounds around the city already and were now on their last round. I even heard someone thank the God of Light that they hadn't decided to skip out on a round even though they had joked about it because they didn't think their Captain would ever find out.
I wondered if these sun knights had always been like this, or if Grisia's personality had warped them somehow.
When I raised my hand, all of them fell silent. I surveyed the faces in front of me, eyes landing on one particular sun knight who had brown hair and was the right height. I beckoned him forward. He stared at me, eyes large.
One of the knights near him started sniffing. "I'm honored to have known you, Ed," he said.
"Go forth proudly!" another knight called out.
No one in my platoon would have dared spoken out like that. I knew Sun often let out his true personality in front of his platoon, but imitating that would be a great deal more trouble than imitating his fake façade. I considered my options. Should I glare at them? Or warn them verbally? I would rather not speak out before I needed to.
When everything fails, depend on Adair.
I gave Adair a reproachful look.
Adair immediately turned around and yelled for everyone to shut up.
Well, that worked.
"Adair," I began, mentally reciting what I was about to say. I'd taken a lot of time to craft this sentence. "Sun wonders if any of you have formed beautiful friendships with the royal knights from the palace thanks to the generosity of the God of Light."
He nodded slowly. I wasn't at all sure what was coming out of my mouth or if anyone could understand me, but I continued speaking.
"Their clothes are exquisite, formed from the finest material under His benevolence, and would surely make Ed look dashing."
I had to praise Adair for not reacting to my strange request even while the rest of the platoon gasped when Ed's name left my lips. All of them looked at Ed with pity. It was strikingly similar to how people looked at criminals about to face judgment from me, and Ed himself looked just like the criminals I judged -- like he was about to walk into a situation where he'd rather die. Adair turned towards a sun knight I didn't recognize and told him to go look for Elijah to borrow a royal knight uniform. That was the second time I'd heard Elijah's name mentioned within a single day. After that, I had Adair send the rest of the platoon back on their run. To Ed who had been left behind, I instructed him to practice acting suspiciously.
"What?" he asked me in confusion.
"Practice," I replied. "So you know what to do later." I'd already used up all my concentration on trying to speak two sentences in Sun's elaborate speech patterns, so I resorted to speaking plainly. I thought it had been bad to be on the receiving end of Sun's speech, but being on the other end was even more troublesome. It was much too much nonsense and wasted words.
As I watched Ed dart his eyes around furtively, Adair came over to my side.
"Adair, anything to report about Jacques?" I asked.
Even though Adair probably felt something off about me, it would take a leap of faith for him to consider I wasn't Sun. As I expected of him, he didn't question me but kept his observations to himself, as I wasn't entirely out of character even though I would never be able to completely imitate Sun. I wondered if I would be able to push it and arrange to spar with Adair, but he already suspected me enough.
"None, Captain. He stayed home all night."
I nodded. That was what I had expected, but I still desired to confirm my suspicions. The king's summons was actually a golden opportunity, for at least two of my suspects would be present.
"Ed, you will be coming with me when I visit the king."
Chapter 14: Sun
After the meeting, it was time to relieve some stress!
Lesus had given me instructions about his morning duties. During mornings when he had meetings, he didn't train with his platoon but instead went straight to the Judge's Complex to intimidate, ahem, I mean interrogate, criminals after his meetings.
So that was what I did, my lips curling up at the thought of all those criminals who were soon going to be wishing they'd never been born. It was too bad for them that their executioner wasn't actually Lesus Judgment but rather Grisia Sun!
The benevolent God of Light may forgive your sins, and Lesus may take pity on you, but Grisia never will!
I paid little attention to people I passed by on my way over to the Judge's Complex. Had I been the Sun Knight at the moment, I would have smiled brilliantly at everyone, my pace not much different from that of a tortoise's, careful to make sure my every step was as graceful as possible. Since I currently wasn't the Sun Knight, I scowled to my heart's content and walked swiftly, my black robes flaring out around me in an impressive fashion. I rarely got to do that with my clothes. Imagine walking at the pace of an unbearably slow tortoise. Do you think your clothes would even flap around at all when you walk at that pace?
For those of you who have never tried imitating the agonizing speed of a tortoise, the answer is a loud and clear NO. I even have to make sure that not a piece of my clothing ends up out of place when I walk, so that dashes all plans of making my clothes flare out impressively. It makes the mere act of walking tiring and boring.
That was why my current pace was liberating, and I didn't have to do anything for people to keep their distance either. Conversations around me died before I could even catch wind of what they were talking about, their voices dropping into hushed tones reserved for scandalous gossip that wasn't meant to reach the ears of the Judgment Knight because that'd just be asking for punishment.
Oh, she doesn't look half bad...hey, don't run away from me!
It looked like nothing would get people to actually stay in my presence either. I'd only looked at her. It wasn't like she was going to lose anything from that! How stingy of her!
Holy knights and clerics alike scuttled out of my way as I passed by, leaving me an unobstructed path as bare as an abandoned road you might find intersecting a ghost town. You'd have thought I was a terrifying dragon or something, about to chomp their heads off, with how quickly they got out of my way.
Poor, misunderstood, Judgment...
No wonder he always needed a heart-to-heart session with me in the bathroom.
In no time at all, I reached the Judge's Complex thanks to my quick pace that was a million times faster than that of a tortoise's, and thanks to how eager people were to scram out of my path. Without thinking, my feet brought me to the door of the bathroom where Lesus and I usually had our rendezvous, but that wasn't what I was currently here for. I urged my feet to continue walking.
Destination: Room of Interrogation.
As interrogation was the Judgment Knight's duties and far, far away from the Sun Knight's jurisdiction, I had only been to the interrogation room a few times before today. Each time I'd come here, I'd come to find Judgment.
Today, I was on my own.
Today, I would be the one with my back turned on the God of Light's symbol.
I grinned and cracked my knuckles before I threw the door open, intent on making an entrance, words about the harshness of the God of Light ready to escape my lips. I was eager to shout something like "In the name of the God of Light, I will punish you!" for my grand entrance...
...except there was no one in the room. The shackles on the wall where my prisoners were supposed to be chained to were empty!
I had the sudden urge to yell for Adair to fix the situation for me, but Adair currently wasn't my vice captain. Where was Judgment's vice captain when I needed him? What was his name again?
Stepping backwards, I stuck my head out of the room to peer into the corridor. When I spotted one of Judgment's platoon members milling about, I quickly called out to him.
He immediately came over, though he approached me cautiously. I bet he was feeling guilty for milling about in the corridor!
Try as I might, I could not recall his name, but I couldn't ask him for his name either. He would think I had hit my head or something and confounded myself.
"Where are the criminals?" I asked sternly.
Obediently, he replied, "In the jail room, Captain."
"Well, why haven't they been moved here yet?" I demanded.
The knight looked at me in confusion, hesitating before he said, "Captain...you instructed us to wait for your orders."
Right. Now, if this had been one of my own platoon members, I'd have winged it and pretended that had been my intention all along, to confuse him and all that, and of course I remembered my own instructions, how dare he question me, but it was unlike Judgment to confuse his platoon members. No wonder the guy in front of me had his eyebrows bunched up enough to make me think that was a permanent look of his.
"Ah, yes, lead them over now," I finally said, deciding I didn't need to explain myself. I'd probably make the situation worse.
Now this was more like it. I flexed my fingers when I heard the clink of shackles binding my first victim to the wall.
Pacing menacingly in front of the guy, I began my reign of terror. This was probably an once-in-a-lifetime chance! Or well, hopefully it was, since I had no plans on being stuck as Judgment, with black hair and black eyes and black clothes. Black, black, black! How dreary was that?
"Now, who have we got here?" I asked snidely, like a cat toying with a mouse.
The criminal wrinkled his nose and spat at my feet.
I kicked him with the foot he spat on, his chains rattling against the stone wall, making sure I wiped the spit off, though his tattered and dirtied clothes were no better. I'd probably exchanged spit for dirt.
For the sake of keeping this PG-13, I'll do you the favor of skipping over the gruesome details, but I guess I can tell you about how I accentuated each of my punishments with insults; harsh God of Light this, harsh God of Light that, blah, blah, blah. I might've gone too far -- not with the insults, but with the part I'm not telling you about, the gruesome part -- since even Judgment's subordinates cowered when I turned on them, and I know for a fact that they're probably the toughest holy knights you'd be able to find, a far cry from my rag-tag bunch of knights, though I don't know how my knights ended up in such a way.
When I was done with the first guy, he was pretty much completely unrecognizable. If you wanted someone to repent, bringing them to Judgment would get them spilling their guts out after the first minute. Figuratively, I mean. If you wanted someone to become unable to repent, bring them to me and I'd make it happen. It might involve some literal gut-spilling.
Except I was supposed to be Judgment at the moment.
I tossed a healing spell at the man in front of me. Even with Judgment's terrible reserve of holy light, I could manage that much at least.
"Are you continuing the interrogation, Knight-Captain Judgment?" asked one of the knights quietly.
"Of course. I haven't gotten the information we need yet, nor has he shown repentance."
I didn't know that this would be the cause of a new rumor about the Judgment Knight's ruthlessness, about how he didn't let criminals rest even after they fainted. If he revived you from the brink of death, it just meant he wasn't done with you yet, and that you'd be wishing you'd already gone on your way to see the God of Light.
I continued in the same fashion with the rest of the criminals that were brought in. I could imagine Lesus berating himself with each strike he dealt in this kind of situation, with each insult he furled even if the sinners deserved so much worse, but I had no such qualms. Perhaps I was much more suited for this than he was, for what I felt was satisfaction.
Afterward, my feet brought me to the bathroom where Lesus waited for me as Sun, our positions reversed, but I needed no heart-to-heart session, and I wasn't even close to emptying my stomach.
Chapter 15: Judgment
When I reconvened with Storm outside of the palace, he arched an eyebrow at me. As I looked no different than I had before we parted not so long ago, the only thing that could be causing Storm's reaction would be the presence of the knight behind me.
"Why's Ed here?" he asked. "And why is he wearing a bloodied and torn royal knight uniform?"
I made a note to myself to remember to repay Elijah for the royal knight uniform, as it was in no shape to be returned now. Ed had looked at me as if I'd betrayed him when I ordered him to damage his clothes. He'd even wailed that I'd lied to him about how he'd look dashing. In response to his absurd claim that I had lied, I'd smiled, as the inane complaint reminded me of Grisia whenever he pouted about his clothes. Grisia must have rubbed off on his platoon. I was sure of it now. When I looked back at Ed, he'd paled.
"Good," I had said at the time. "Whatever you're thinking right now, remember that."
After all, I needed him to keep a pale countenance.
Back in the present, Storm paused and raised one hand in the air to stop me from answering. "Never mind, you must be up to one of your schemes again."
He sounded a lot like I did whenever I didn't want to know what Grisia was up to. The irony wasn't lost on me.
Several thoughts flew through my mind. First was worry over my plan that maybe Ed was too well known for this to work -- Storm had recognized him right away -- but I reassured myself that Storm knew more people than most. Second was this feeling of ludicrousness over how Storm thought I was scheming.
Lesus Judgment, scheming?
I was scheming. Perhaps Grisia had rubbed off on more than just his platoon, or I was just that entrenched in Grisia's mentality that I hadn't considered a less sneaky course of action to take. If I had been myself, would I have taken this step? I liked to think my mind was my own, which I almost managed to convince myself of, since the truth was that even before we'd switched, I'd already come up with this plan, but how much of that was inspired by Grisia, influenced by years of knowing him, and how much of that was myself?
I breathed in. I found my footing. Golden wisps and white cloth played at the edges of my vision, but this was...me. Even if I was not in my own body, even if I had to pretend to be Sun, I was still myself. Nothing would or could change that, and I would not have anything changed either.
Although Storm did not want to know what I was up to, I still filled him in so that he could help Ed's act. He also filled me in about what he had found out about Roland. It wasn't much but did serve to highlight that Roland's death wasn't a simple matter. The royal knights thought he had died on a mission when no such thing had happened. He must not have fallen to a foe but rather to one of his allies, and that was the tragedy.
We then headed inside the palace, passing by a guard who relayed our arrival. I smiled widely at the guard who looked at me with an awestruck expression when I was much more used to lowered heads. I quickly spoke a line about the God of Light, careful to maintain Sun's image, as much as it pained me to talk so much about nothing of importance, and then we were inside the audience hall, before the king and the crown prince.
Without even exchanging any pleasantries, the king jumped immediately into the matter, his face pulled down in a severe frown that bunched the fat on his lower chin. He slapped the arm of his throne.
"There is a Death Lord running around in my city. Explain to me how this has come to pass, Sun Knight!"
Had I been myself, the king would not have dared to yell at me in such a way. Here he was, thinking he could take advantage of the Sun Knight's benevolence and forgiving nature. It told me just how little he knew his own Sun Knight if he thought Grisia could be cowed with a few loud words, or that it was safer yelling at the Sun Knight than yelling at the Judgment Knight.
How wrong he was. He should be glad it was not Grisia he was confronting.
"Your Majesty, the benevolence of the God of Light is with us even now in this generous lesson he has tasked His children. Although we face dire danger, there is much for us to learn from this experience. Nothing is-"
"Enough! Are you implying this is my fault?" roared the king, cutting me off. I had not, but I could tell when a guilty conscience fueled someone's words and actions, and this was as guilty as they came. The king pointed a finger at me. "Rumor has it that you tortured the Death Knight to death! And people saw with their own eyes that you had the Death Knight in your custody, yet you let him transform into a Death Lord! You let him escape! This is an act of-"
Treason, I finished inside my head. But I was not the one who had betrayed our country, nor was Grisia the one.
The one who had started the rumor about the Sun Knight torturing the Death Knight to death was the real culprit. Roland had only claimed that he would be back for Sun. The most people should have gotten out of that was that the Sun Knight might have been the one who killed the Death Knight, but torturing him to death? Only the real culprit could have known torture was involved. The culprit must have spread the rumor about Sun to divert attention, not knowing that this very rumor would lead me straight to the truth.
And because Sun was the one who had been implicated, I would never stop investigating even if it meant unearthing the ugly truths of my own country.
When the king stopped yelling at me, it was because he had paled, his finger trembling. Ed had just stepped closer, eyes trained on the ground so that his bangs would hide his face, as I had instructed him to do once I began talking with the king.
Finger lowered, the king gripped the arms of his throne, but he could not stop his entire body from trembling tremendously. That was all the proof I needed. A glance at the crown prince told me he had not reacted to Ed's presence, but the king's reaction alarmed him. I most likely did not even need to pay a visit to Baron Gerland to test his reaction, but just in case, that would be my next stop.
"Would you like to finish that sentence, Your Majesty?" Storm asked lazily from my side. His act was perfect, as he must be feeling anything but blasé at the moment. I knew, because I felt much the same.
"I-Intruder!" the king yelled suddenly, voice shaking. "Apprehend him!"
The guards looked around in confusion.
Although Ed did look suspicious with his torn uniform, he had made no hostile movements towards anyone in the audience hall, and he had entered together with Storm and me. The king's conclusion that Ed was an intruder was illogical. There was only one conclusion I could make. It was one that dismayed me, as it backed up my deduction. While being right usually made one happy, and in this case it would also clear Grisia's name, I had not become the Judgment Knight to condone nefarious acts performed by none other than the leader of my country. I'd known for years that he was not a good king, but this...this terminated all loyalty I had ever had toward him.
If the head was poisoned, what could we expect from the subjects? Letting the poison go untreated could only cause it to spread. This was a potent poison, one that had already caused the death of a dear friend of Grisia's. If it had happened once, there was no stopping it from happening again.
"Intruder? I see no intruder, Your Majesty," commented Storm smoothly, not at all like the overworked Storm that I so often encountered when no outsiders were present. As confining as our façades were, they were also what lent us strength until we were able to become even more than the façade.
"The D-Death Lord! Capture him!" the king yelled when none of the guards made any movement to apprehend the "intruder".
This was what one might call digging your own grave, and it was much more than I'd asked for. The king was far from an accomplished criminal. Perhaps I should be glad at his incompetence because the only thing that could be worse than a corrupt and selfish king would be a corrupt and competent king.
The guards jumped into their positions, though slowly and hesitantly. They'd looked around the room until they finally decided to point their weapons at Ed since he was the only one they didn't recognize. There was no way the king could have meant that the Sun Knight or the Storm Knight were death lords.
Ed shifted to move closer to me. I held out an arm to block him from the guards.
"Sun must ask, how does Your Majesty know what the Death Lord looks like?" I gestured at Ed. "Does the Death Lord have brown hair? Even if he does, this is merely a royal knight Sun met in the corridor. Sun promised to heal this brave knight's injuries on the way back. He is very much not dead, Sun assures you, so he cannot be our wayward Death Lord."
I vowed to enjoy my solitude after this affair. I never understood why Sun insisted on addressing himself in third person, but talking in such a way was completely draining my energy.
Ed had brown hair and slightly resembled Roland, but only if you didn't look closely, and no one should have considered that the Death Lord might look this human. Roland had only appeared before us with flaming eyes and ashen skin, and the king hadn't ever personally met the Death Knight turned Death Lord. He shouldn't have known.
I had not planned on taking this confrontation so far -- I only wanted to confirm my suspicions -- but the king had completely let down his guard in front of me. He truly thought too little of Grisia. He had always been warier around "Judgment", thinking I had the power to punish him when that couldn't be farther from the truth. The ones who did have power against the king were the Pope and the Sun Knight, never the Judgment Knight.
The king looked like he had swallowed something unpleasant. Beside him, the crown prince covered his face.
"Father, let me handle this," the crown prince finally said.
When the king grudgingly left after claiming he was tired, the prince, the one who did the actual governing, laced his fingers together and stared me down.
"Sun Knight, what are you up to this time?"
Now even the prince thinks I'm scheming...
That mattered little.
Chapter 16: Sun
Lesus was already inside the bathroom. Of course he was already inside. Lesus is never late. The world would sooner end than for that to happen, just like the world would sooner end than for me to become a master swordsman... did I really just think that? Why brain? Why?
It's all Earth's fault, I decided. I hadn't forgotten what he'd said during the meeting this morning. Yes, definitely Earth's fault for making me think of this kind of comparison...
After taking care of Judgment's duties this morning, including turning in paperwork perfectly on time -- I so deserve a reward for this -- I only have one conclusion to make. Lesus' duties are so boring. Interrogation is fine, but paperwork and attending meetings? Ugh. No thank you.
Seated on the stool he'd brought, Lesus handed me a basin of water. He must have had a much more entertaining morning than I had -- darn him for getting all the fun parts -- and I would soon hear about it. The plan was for us to quickly fill in each other about our mornings before we visited Pink. If it weren't because "Judgment" had been tied down by his duties, I would have wanted to join Lesus in intimidating our suspects!
I dunked my hands into the cold water in the basin. As I washed my hands, Lesus watched me carefully.
"What?" I asked while drying my hands.
Was there something on my face? Why was he staring at me like that? Was it really so fascinating to stare at himself? He was staring so intently that I was getting goose bumps! As much as I thought I looked quite handsome, it was still extremely weird getting stared at so intently by "myself". I mean, imagine looking at a mirror and having your reflection move on its own accord, completely different from whatever you're actually doing. That's creepy!
I made a face at him, even going as far as sticking my tongue out.
He twitched before he rubbed the area between his eyebrows and followed that with a sigh. Or well, he exhaled deeply through his mouth. Same difference.
"Lesus!" I exclaimed immediately. "Don't do that! You'll shorten my lifespan by three seconds with every sigh!"
Death by sighing too much did not sound like an elegant death. My teacher would never approve of that!
This made him roll his eyes, marvelously showing off the whites of his eyes. My eyes actually. I do have very pretty and very blue eyes.
"I haven't died yet, have I?" he asked.
"No..." I admitted, and I did make him sigh a lot. Countless times throughout the years we've known each other. Mostly with each favor I asked of him. But hey, I made him laugh just as much!
"Just, stop sighing!"
"I only sighed once."
That was more than enough!
Thankfully, he didn't sigh again, and he also stopped staring.
"You look fine," he said instead, eyes roving up and down before they flicked upwards and settled on my face.
If I had been eating, I might have choked at that, except neither of us had prepared any food, so luckily there was no food for me to choke on. I imagine "Judgment Knight found dead in the bathroom from choking!" would not have been a pretty headline, and while Lesus' teacher wouldn't pull Judgment back from beyond just to kill him again so that he'd die gracefully, Lesus himself would probably never forgive me.
"Lesus, are you...complimenting your own looks?" I asked incredulously. I had little idea what kind of expression I was now displaying. It was hard to imagine what Lesus looked like when he was shocked - at most I could only imagine him paling. He normally had his expressions controlled just as well as I had mine controlled, except he took on disapproving frowns while I displayed forgiving smiles. If everyone on the continent had a contest over who controlled their expressions best, we'd probably come out as victors, only losing to a single person. Want to take a guess at who I'm thinking of? I know, I know, it's no contest. Ice would totally win every single contest.
My words earned me another roll of his eyes. "No, I'm not you."
What did that mean? Also, if he really wanted to get technical, he was me at the moment.
He continued on. "You don't look disturbed."
"Of course not. I'm not crazy," I said.
"Now you're purposely playing dumb."
Fine, he had me caught. I crossed my arms and sat down on the second stool Lesus had so kindly brought, much like what I always did for him after his interrogations. I never thought the day would come where he'd be waiting for me after I finished interrogating criminals. Normally, he was the one who brought the food, and he was also the one busy vomiting -- even though he doesn't look it with that stoic look he always has on, Lesus is quite a sensitive guy, don't let him fool you -- so I was always the only one who ate in the bathroom while I watched him empty his stomach. From what Lesus had observed, I was clearly fine and undisturbed, with no need to vomit.
Truthfully, Lesus should be more worried about his Judgment Knight Platoon than me. His vice captain had looked somewhat green in the face when I'd left him.
We must be quite a sight, Lesus and I, two grown men sitting together, side-by-side on dainty little stools in the bathroom. Not just any two grown men either, but the Sun Knight and the Judgment Knight, the two most prestigious holy knights in the kingdom. If given a list of statements and asked to determine which ones were false, ten out of ten people would immediately label "Sun Knight and Judgment Knight regularly meet in the bathroom to have heart-to-heart talks" as completely false without any doubt, yet here we were.
I darted a look at Lesus, who had fallen silent after he'd torn away my nonchalance. Stupid Lesus. Stupid tapeworm. Why'd he have to go and do that? Sometimes, I really detest how he seems to know me even better than I know myself.
Lesus turned blue eyes on me, golden tresses framing his face. I knew he was Lesus, but at the same time, I could not stop my mind from going into overdrive. Lesus was so much more responsible and honorable than me. If not for his utter monopoly on the color black, he would have made a fine Sun Knight without any need of putting up a charade. Now, he even had the looks to back it up.
As for me, if not for my golden hair and blue eyes, why would my teacher have even chosen me? What else did I have going for me? The logical choice back then had been Roland -- even then his sword skills had been phenomenal, and his sense of justice just as phenomenal -- yet my teacher had chosen me, a Sun Knight who cannot keep hold of his sword and who doesn't even bat an eye at flaying a criminal into unconsciousness.
Roland would have been a more righteous Sun Knight than me. Lesus would have been a more benevolent one. Yet the first was dead, wrongly slayed, and the latter tied down by ancient legends, only able to show his kindness to but a select few.
Perhaps, in return, I would have made a fine Judgment Knight. I'm sure I would have been able to uphold the harsh image of the Judgment Knight without any problems. I wouldn't even need to pretend much, and I wouldn't need to hold myself back. Unlike Lesus, I would not have to bend over and heave my guts out after each and every interrogation.
Lesus is a good guy, on par with Leaf's level of kindness -- that ought to tell you just how much of a good guy Lesus is because you'd be hard-pressed to find a kinder guy than Leaf out there -- except Lesus has always had to put up a front and force himself to appear harsh. I've watched him through the years, his mask down in this unused bathroom that belonged only to us. If you were me and were privy to Lesus when he had his mask down, you too would wonder how such a kind person such as Lesus could ever be the terrifying and unforgiving Judgment Knight that everyone feared. I mean, he even had tears in his eyes when his teacher brought him along during his first few interrogations!
I was far from benevolent, yet I was "Sun". Lesus was far from cruel, yet he was "Judgment".
I fingered a strand of dark hair, and wondered.
"Grisia, what are you thinking?" Lesus asked, his voice light, but I could hear the concern in his words. That was my voice he was using. I knew it well.
"Lesus," I started. "What if we never change back?"
What if we were stuck? We did make plans yesterday, yes, but I'd half-expected to wake up as myself. Then, I'd half-expected I would miraculously find myself back in my own body while in the midst of the meeting, or in the midst of interrogating a criminal, rendering our visit to Pink unnecessary, but now morning had passed and we were still not ourselves. Pink had said three hours. This was way more than three hours. I hadn't wanted to consider it, but...something must be wrong.
Are we stuck? Is the God of Light trying to tell me something?
Did He not want me as his Sun Knight anymore?
That thought left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Chapter 17: Judgment
Grisia was lost in thought, his eyebrows bunched together. I had been waiting for him here in the bathroom, turning my own thoughts over in my head, when he walked in through the door with an impassive face, strides steady and sure, every bit the imposing Judgment Knight he currently masqueraded as. I knew that interrogating criminals would not faze him -- for him, that was even a welcome stress-reliever -- but I still wondered and worried. That nauseating feeling that always came over me after an interrogation session could very well be a physical reaction instead of a mental one.
I soon figured out that I was worrying for naught. Watching Grisia’s nonchalant behavior made me very glad we had decided to keep this switch a secret. If people knew that the current Judgment Knight was actually the Sun Knight, yet he was merciless and undisturbed even after whatever he had subjected the criminals to, we would lose the majority of our followers, as that was not what the people wanted out of their Sun Knight.
I don’t even want to know what he did today to the criminals.
Interrogation had not fazed Grisia, but something else had. He had been flippant when I inquired after him, but I could tell something was on his mind.
What if we never change back? he had asked.
I believed greatly that there was something about this bathroom that made both of us let our guards down while we were here. This was the location where we’d first gotten to know each other’s true selves, and this was the location where we continued to take our masks off, speaking with no need for pretenses or excuses.
That wasn’t just an off-hand comment from Grisia.
He was worried.
"I don’t want to be stuck with black hair."
Yet he continued to be flippant.
I breathed out. This was how Grisia coped. With flippancy. But that didn't mean everything was fine. I watched him raise his sleeves, his lips pursing in distaste as he stared at them.
"Black hair and black sleeves. Black everything! Lesus, your color scheme is so boring," he complained.
"I thought you appreciated how much easier black clothes would be to wash," I commented.
"Yeah, but I feel like a walking bundle of negativity, and I even get frightened when I look down in the dark! It's like I have no body..."
Thanks for speaking your mind, dear friend, I thought dryly to myself. Except he wasn't truly speaking his mind. Did he feel the need to keep me at arm's length even while here in this secluded location that belonged only to us?
"Grisia..." When I spoke, he tilted his head slightly, black hair falling forward, but he did not look at me, nor did he turn my way. "Sun," I said instead, for he was Sun to me, and he needed to hear this more than ever, "you are the only Sun Knight I will acknowledge. You are Sun."
Regardless of what we looked like, he would always be Sun to me.
"...how do you do that?" he exclaimed after a slight pause. He turned fierce eyes on me, dark, tempestuous eyes. "How did you get that out of..."
Grisia didn't know it, but to me, his expressions were like an open book, though I was not used to seeing Grisia's mannerisms on my own body and face. The end result was something that was both foreign and familiar, as I knew my own face, and I knew Grisia's, but not together. However, even if my facial mannerisms hadn't betrayed his inner thoughts, I would have heard beyond his flippant words.
All of a sudden, he stopped, and I once again let him change the subject. "Forget it. I know you're a mind reader, stupid tapeworm."
Words alone would not be enough to convince Grisia.
The matter wasn't settled, but we began filling each other in about our mornings, as there was much to be done still. If we truly wanted to panic, that could come later after meeting Pink, but only if she were to tell us we could not switch back. Still, even if such an outrageous statement were to come out of her mouth, that did not mean other methods of switching back did not exist.
At the moment, we were both physically fine, with no physical repercussions from this switch. That would have to do for now.
From Grisia's recounting of his morning, it sounded like things went as well as they could have, and that no one was suspicious that he was not me, though I suspected Grisia was selective in his retelling, leaving out any possibly incriminating parts. I nodded when he outlined how the patrols had been reorganized since yesterday, with twenty-four knights, two from each platoon, patrolling at all times in addition to our normal patrols.
I explained to him my findings this morning, and how the prince wanted royal knights to be added to the patrols. This meant that each of the twenty-four holy knights would also be accompanied by two royal knights, making it forty-eight knights on patrol at the same time throughout the city. This was in addition to our regular patrols. These knights would be responsible for protecting citizens and for searching for Roland, while those that remained behind would protect the king now that the prince knew the king was in danger.
As I explained, Grisia's eyebrows almost disappeared into his hair. "The king sure put his foot in his mouth."
"That he did," I agreed. He had considerably hastened along our plans, forcing me to confront the prince with a less than ideal hand. With Storm's help, however, I had managed to make something out of the situation, turning it to our advantage.
Grisia leaned forward, his entire body tense, hands twisting the fabric of his robes. "I can't forgive him."
Yet we could not bring him to justice, bound as we were. It was not that I was unwilling to trample my name, the name of the Judgment Knight, into the dirt by adding "punishing the king" to my list of misdeeds, or to have Grisia help me tarnish my name considering he was currently Judgment, but bringing the king down in such a way would only cause unease among the citizens.
We could only go for the next best thing -- removing him from power so that he could no longer misuse his authority.
I laid a hand on Grisia's shoulder to comfort him.
He grasped my hand, rough calluses -- my own from my years of wielding a sword -- brushing against my skin.
"The prince agreed?" he asked.
I nodded, though my affirmation brought no smile to Grisia's face. Although things were playing out as we had discussed, the compromise we had settled on still wasn't justice, and for me... There was too much acting involved for me to ever feel comfortable with what was to come. Acting was more Grisia's specialty than mine. I hoped we would be back in our own bodies in time for Grisia to show off, and for me to do what I did best -- supporting Grisia by his side.
Our plans were now set. Those in our platoons would be our eyes and ears while Grisia and I tried to find a way back to our own bodies. Our visit to Pink was aimed to be short -- time was not on our side, as we did not know what Roland's next move would be. That was the wildcard in our plans.
As we were about to leave, Grisia turned towards me.
"You know what we were missing?" Grisia asked and then continued on without waiting for my response. "Food."
"You're Judgment," I said immediately. "You should have brought food if you wanted any."
"Sun" never brought food, as I was always the one who prepared the food for our private meetings. I saw no need to bring food this time, as I didn't plan on eating, and I did not think Grisia would have the stomach to eat after an interrogation... but apparently, I had underestimated him.
Right after I said this, Grisia pouted. I truly was getting used to seeing the expression on my face now. It was not very comely.
Even though I hadn't had to interrogate criminals today, not in the usual sense, the thought of eating in this bathroom still made me queasy. No matter how clean this room was, this was still the place where people were supposed to do their business. It did not matter if the place was in use or not. I did not want to eat here.
"Oh, I know!"
With one swift motion, Grisia retrieved a small and very familiar bag from his sleeves. Embroidered with a sun emblem, that looked to be the bag of sweets Ice always kept full for Sun. Each of us had similar bags catered to our tastes.
"I completely forgot about this yesterday, but Ice wanted 'Sun' to have this. Here, catch!"
I caught the bag with one hand.
Grisia gazed at me with expectant eyes.
He...wants me to eat chocolate here? These super sweet chocolates? Here?
"Have you had any yet?" I asked, somewhat surprised he was even generous enough to pass the sweets on. Grisia did share when he felt like it, but he more often than not kept his sweets for himself, and few could stand his extreme tastes anyway.
"I did..." he replied with a scowl.
Ah...could it be...
Could he have tried them out and finally experienced why I don't like sweets?
I looked down at the small bag in my hand. I could not say that I wasn't curious.
"Come on, try one!" he whined. That so did not sound right in my deep baritone. "I want to see your reaction."
Resigned, I shook the bag and picked out one piece of chocolate from within. Grisia's eyes were practically glued on my hand as I brought the chocolate to my mouth. I was half-expecting to cringe from the sweetness, but...
It was truly delicious, not at all too sweet.
Chapter 18: Sun
Finally, it was time to storm Pink's place and demand some answers out of her. I couldn't be stuck in dreary black forever. I would be doomed to fall into depression with all the murkiness that followed me if that happened! I would not even manage to reach retirement age and would be fated to visit the God of Light before my time, even before Storm who had paperwork and hair dye working against him. That was an unbearable thought and was already depressing me.
In the presence of the God of Light, would I still look like Lesus, or would I return to looking like myself?
Oh please, God of Light, be merciful to Grisia. I really want to be your Sun Knight!
I couldn't do that wearing black now, could I?
We left the bathroom at different times so that we would not be seen together, much like what scandalous lovers in a love affair might do... No! I mean, much like what secretive spies exchanging intelligence might do. I stuck my head out of the door, peering down the corridor. When I saw the coast was clear, I left first to return to Judgment's room to grab myself a cloak -- Lesus would be doing the same, going to my room to grab himself a cloak.
He better not go through my drawers...
He did know all of my secrets though, so I bet nothing in my room would surprise him. Not my bottles of lotion, or my special shampoo, or the notes I had jotted down about wine-making... I just didn't want him to throw away the blueberry desserts I had stashed away! They won't attract ants, I swear!
Although our rooms were next to each other's, I didn't hang around to wait for him, or else what would have been the point of leaving the Judge's Complex at different times? I quickly grabbed what I came for and left his boring room.
The corridors were quiet and empty during this time of day, with everyone out and about, either patrolling or doing something else, whatever their job was. With our increased patrol schedule, there were even fewer people around than usual. Lesus and I might have been able to reach our rooms and leave without running into anyone, but oh well, too late for that now.
I was happily frowning and happily making my robes billow out when I heard voices around the corner. Drat, I had been so close to reaching the exit. Hurriedly, I hid myself, sliding behind a pillar to wait for them to pass...
Wait, why am I hiding anyway?
I was also quite conspicuous in my black robes, so trying to hide behind a white pillar was silly. Black was a good color for sneaking around in at night, but it was a terrible color to sneak around in during the day. Not that I was sneaking around. I was just giving an example!
I was about to continue on my merry way and pretend that my first instinct upon hearing voices hadn't been to hide and eavesdrop -- really, I hadn't planned on eavesdropping -- when the voices continued to speak.
"Is it just me, or... "
I slid back behind the pillar and pulled my sleeves in too so that they weren't showing.
The voice lowered into a whisper, making it so that I couldn't hear the second part of the sentence very well, but I didn't have to hear to know that they were gossiping!
Their faint voices grew louder as they approached.
"...thinking too much," came the second voice. "Don't let the Captain hear you say that."
Now that was a voice I knew all too well. It belonged to none other than my competent vice-captain Adair. Oh Adair, how I missed his specially prepared breakfasts! He knew exactly what I liked to eat the most and always seemed to prepare it just at the right time.
Just thinking about Adair's specially prepared breakfasts was making me hungry. I hadn't been able to eat after interrogating criminals either since neither of us had prepared food. Ugh, so hungry. So, so hungry that I couldn't even focus on my platoon members' words even though I knew they were gossiping about me!
"...strange...has always been...but today..."
Huh, what was that noise? Oh, my stomach... What an inelegant sound... Was there enough time to run away? Darn Lesus and all his black. I'd get spotted immediately, and my platoon members were no joke, especially Adair. Throw on my cloak? No, that would make me appear very suspicious...
"Who's there?" shouted the person Adair had been speaking with. How strange that Adair hadn't shouted that instead. He was usually very alert.
"Don't, Ed, it's probably the Captain..."
I'd already chosen to step out when Adair said those words. I saw that Adair had his hand held out to hold his fellow platoon member back. Adair's eyes widened just a bit when he saw me.
Perhaps I should have chosen to run away.
"Knight-Captain Judgment!" the other holy knight blurted out. Ed, was it? What a cowardly gossiper! His face was half frozen in fear from Adair's assessment that I was probably hiding behind the pillar -- just how good was Adair's intuition? When Ed saw that it was "Judgment" who had heard his gossip though, he relaxed quite visibly.
...did this mean I was normally scarier than Judgment? Huh.
Ed pleaded, "Please don't tell Knight-Captain Sun...?"
Too late for that. I'd already heard him gossiping. He was not cut out for gossiping – if you didn't have nerves of steel, then gossiping really wasn't the right path for you -- but luckily for him, I actually hadn't heard the contents of what he said because of my hunger.
I was still going to remember his name though.
Now, how was I going to get myself out of this predicament? If it was just Ed, then I would have no problems making something up, but Adair was sharp. What would be an acceptable excuse for Judgment to be hiding behind a pillar? More importantly, would Adair ever forget hearing "Judgment's" stomach growl?
Maybe Judgment wouldn't care...? Adair might berate Judgment's vice-captain for not taking care of his captain better, seeing to his needs and all that, but that had nothing to do with me.
"Shush, Ed, that's no way to talk to Knight-Captain Judgment," Adair said. He'd already gotten his previous shock in control. There was no trace of it on his face anymore. He bowed slightly and said, "Good afternoon, Knight-Captain Judgment."
I gave him a slight nod.
"He's smiling!" Ed whispered furiously to Adair, eyes wide. Adair glanced up, eyes trained on my face. An indiscernible expression came over his face, one that boded ill for me.
I'd smiled so much normally that I'd defaulted to smiling while lost in thought. And it just had to be in front of Adair! A trademark, Sun-styled smile!
Chapter 19: Judgment
Some spoilers below for Judgment's vice-captain! He hasn't appeared in English translations yet, but I found him necessary to include in this story because my aim is to have many of Judgment and Sun's experiences and thoughts to parallel each other's.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Recalling that Grisia's cloak had been damaged the day before, I wondered if I would have trouble retrieving a cloak for my current use. I soon realized that my worry was baseless, for Grisia had many cloaks. At least, he had more than necessary for the virtuous Sun Knight.
I randomly grabbed one. Cloak in hand, I left Grisia's room.
Even though it would give my identity as "Sun" away if a fight broke out, and I might end up causing Grisia heartache with how worried he was over the "relic", I decided to bring the Divine Sun Sword along with me. The sword could very well be the deciding factor of the outcome of any battles I might engage in.
With the sword by my side, I headed toward the entrance of the Holy Temple. The Divine Sun Sword was truly vastly superior to the sword I had used yesterday. It brimmed with holy light and felt almost warm to the touch. I almost thought I could hear the sword sing, and perhaps I did, for it was attuned to Sun's body much like how my Divine Judgment Sword was to me. Although other people could use our weapons, they would not be able to bring out the weapon's true strength. I had held Sun's sword before, but it had never sung like this.
Although I didn't enjoy bloodshed, I couldn't help but wonder what it would feel like to use the Divine Sun Sword in battle.
I did not pass by very many people on my way out of the Holy Temple, but when I did pass by those few knights and clerics, I smiled as widely as I could. I doubted my smile was as brilliant as Grisia's usual, but I did a passable job, enough for those I passed by to greet me with smiles in return. It was a good feeling.
The next person I came across was my vice-captain, Vidar, who did not greet me with a smile, though that was expected of him considering he was a judgment knight. However, that wasn't what was strange about him. He appeared as if he hadn't noticed my presence, and his face was drawn.
I recalled that Vidar hadn't looked this haggled the last time I saw him. That was merely yesterday, a little before my untimely switch with Grisia. What had happened in a single day for him to look like this?
Concerned, I approached him, his name at the tip of my tongue.
Vidar, finally noticing my presence, straightened. "Knight-Captain Sun," he greeted me. He was neither cold nor overly friendly. If I had to put his current attitude into words, I could only say that it lacked the usual respect and admiration he held for me. He was courteous, yes, but no more than that.
I halted and swallowed my greeting. I wanted to ask after Vidar but realized that approaching Vidar right now was not exactly smart. I was just creating trouble for myself, for Vidar knew me too well for me to drop my guard around him. If I wanted to ask after Vidar, I would even need to speak in Sun's complicated speech while insulting Vidar at the same time with some silly nickname. Thankfully, Grisia had never bestowed on me a nickname. I could imagine just how he would have butchered my name if he had ever dared to. Lesus Judgment? More like Laser Judgment...
I think I'll just skip Vidar's name...
I really didn't want to call him Radar.
We fell into a stiff conversation. I asked after the patrols as the "head" of the Holy Temple. I also wanted updates on the interrogations, but I could only ask about ones Sun would have known about. It was bothering me, this farce, but I understood why Grisia wanted to keep our switch a secret. Just like how we normally maintained our masks to keep the public at ease, this was another matter of playing a role. That, and both Grisia and I wanted to believe that this would not be permanent.
The entire time, Vidar stood ramrod straight, his eyes darting left and right, as if he wanted to be anywhere but here. I knew he didn't have a very good opinion of Sun, but his behavior was quite obvious at the moment. I could see why Sun liked to tease Vidar, but that was also exactly why Vidar didn't like Sun. It was quite a vicious cycle, and now I was on the receiving end of Vidar's disdain.
The saying that the "good, warm-hearted" faction and the "cruel, cold-hearted" faction don't mix must surely refer to their case. Vidar had little love for Sun.
That won't do.
However, it was not my place to try to improve their relationship, and perhaps this was for the best. We of different factions had never meant to be on good terms with each other, though Grisia cared little for that and had always thought of the Twelve Holy Knights as his brothers. I was thankful for that, for I could not say with certainty that I would have sought Grisia out and offered my friendship if he had not done it first. I certainly could not have done it with his ease, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for us to be friends.
If he hadn't approached me, he would have remained a puzzle to me, an enigma, and I would have been alone without any respite. I did not like imagining it.
I glanced at Vidar. If Sun had wanted to be on better terms with Vidar, Sun would have initiated on his own. The fact that he hadn't meant that Sun felt no need, and that I should leave them alone. There were still certain boundaries to be kept between captains and subordinates, so I kept my distance from Vidar.
As we continued talking, however, Vidar's stiffness slowly diminished until the pinched look on his face finally vanished. Perhaps the fact that he was talking with "Sun" no longer weighed so heavily on his mind.
When we were about to part ways, he back to the Judge's Complex, and I to the entrance of the Holy Temple, curious voices drifted our way. Both of us faced the direction the voices came from to make sense of what was going on. One of the voices sounded like mine. It was hushed and low, but I could still identify it. It was definitely my voice.
That meant Grisia was talking with someone, which left the question of just who he was speaking with. My question was soon answered when someone else spoke.
"Ed, go on ahead of me."
Ed's confusion sounded immediately after that, but the one who had spoken merely urged him on again. "Go on, I'll catch up with you later."
Soon after these words, Ed from the Sun Knight Platoon appeared around the corner, confusion all over his face, but when he spotted me, his confusion was abruptly replaced by surprise.
"Captain!" he exclaimed. His eyes darted quickly to the side. "And Vidar?" Confusion once again appeared on his face.
"Ed," I paused, catching myself just in time, "Might Sun ask what is happening around the corner?"
Ed nodded and stood up straighter. "Yes sir. Knight-Captain Judgment and Adair have gotten into some sort of face-down!"
How ironic it was that I had run into my vice-captain while Grisia had run into his own, but what was this about a face-down?
"What?" Vidar exclaimed from my side, scowl threatening to take over his face. "Why are you giving Captain Judgment trouble?"
"Vidar," I chided reflexively. No matter how much I had instructed him on how to keep his composure, he always got particularly hotheaded when it came to matters that involved me, never hesitating before jumping to my defense, much like what Blaze always did for Sun.
"Sorry, Cap-" he paused before he realized who he was talking to. Abruptly, I also realized what I had done. Not only had I chided Vidar like I always did as his captain, I even used his name, which Sun almost never did.
Vidar jerked his head to stare at me.
Immediately, I spoke the first thing that came to mind.
"Radar, leave us," I commanded. "As this matter has to do with Adair from the Sun Knight Platoon, Sun will take care of it."
After I spoke, I felt like putting my face into my hands.
Dear God of Light, let me never have to butcher people's names like this ever again.
To make matters worse, Vidar did not at all look like he was going to do as I had instructed.
Radar is indeed Sun's nickname for Vidar. "Laser" is from one of Yu Wo's plurks where she mentions that remembering "Laser" is a good way to remember Lesus's name.
Chapter 20: Sun
After Ed departed from our view, Adair locked eyes on me and spoke quietly in a hushed tone. "Please let me help."
Apparently, now that Ed was no longer around, Adair felt that it was okay to speak his mind. I had been glancing furtively at Ed, so Adair took care of that right away by shooing him off. Immediately after Ed left, Adair started speaking frankly, getting right down to things.
...Adair, oh Adair. How do you do it? How do you know me so well that you can identify me even when I'm not myself? How are you so absolutely certain about my identity that you don't even need to question me about what's going on? I mean, why are your first words "Please let me help" instead of "What's going on?"
I really had him trained too well. Ever since I had managed to make Adair conform, he had never once let me down.
If Lesus were tapeworm number one, like a parasite who lived in my stomach and knew my every move, then the title of tapeworm number two would have to go to Adair. Actually, maybe it should even be the other way around. Storm even told me once that he felt there was no one better at deciphering my words and intentions than Adair. He was quite right about that. I had never had to spell things out for Adair in everyday language. He always seemed to understand my words no matter how embellished or difficult-to-understand they were. Whenever I spoke a long spiel, Storm would be complaining of a headache and Earth would be rolling his eyes at me while Adair would merely be nodding and saying, "Yes Captain, I will send platoon members to follow the man" without my having to repeat or reword a single thing.
On top of that, Adair wasn't merely playing at being a translator and interpreter.
People often said that the best subordinates were ones who could anticipate your moves before you even decided on them. Adair was just such a person, always making decisions that I wholly agreed with. Even when I wasn't around, Adair kept the Sun Knight Platoon running smoothly, often making me question if I was even needed... I mean, of course I'm needed! After all, I was the one who discovered Adair's talent and trained him to become such a multi-talented vice-captain!
Currently, my vice-captain was even leaving me a way out if I wanted to take it. He had made no mention of my actual identity. Like always, he took things as they came and required no explanations from me. If I wanted to, I could still fib my way out of this, and he would let me.
I thought it over. There was no reason for me to keep this a secret from Adair. He knew my true personality, knew that I could use magic, and even knew that I was friends with people I wasn't supposed to be friends with, so there was nothing to hide. Besides, I had considered telling him if I really had to tell someone.
Lesus shouldn't mind, right? He was always the one who wanted me to reach out more and stop doing everything by myself. He shouldn't mind...even though I was the one who had wanted to keep things a secret in the first place... It wasn't like Adair would magically forget about what had just happened even if I tried to lie my way out of this. That seed of doubt had already grown... It was only a matter of confirming things for him...
I had to admit, however, that I just wanted my vice-captain because I was damn hungry. If I had thought about it more, I would have realized that having the vice-captain of the Sun Knight Platoon run errands for me while I was Judgment would attract unwanted attention...but I was too hungry to care about that.
"Food," I said, my stomach making my decision for me.
It was a testament to Adair's composure and his understanding of me that he wasn't at all surprised upon hearing such a word come out of "Judgment's" mouth. Immediately after I spoke, my stomach gave another embarrassing grumble to remind us of the importance of regular meals.
Quiet down, stomach! I'm going to feed you soon!
Adair's expression didn't change despite my stomach's rumbling. He merely asked, "Blueberry-flavored?"
Oh yes, if I hadn't already been sure that Adair knew who I was, then this told me that yes, Adair definitely knew who I was. Neither of us spoke any names, but the conversation was telling enough. Thank the God of Light Adair wasn't my enemy! It would be hard to sneak anything past him.
I was about to shake my head and ask for a normal sandwich when I paused and started wondering what blueberry-flavored foods would taste like with my current body. Did Judgment like the flavor? I had tried sweets already, but I hadn't tried anything that was blueberry-flavored yet. This would be a good experiment!
"A sandw-" I started.
"Adair, stand back!" burst a voice, cutting me off in the middle of my instructions. I'd wanted a sandwich with blueberry jam! Who dared to interrupt me?
"With blueberry jam sir?" Adair asked, as if I had given my complete instructions.
As expected of Adair! He really did know me too well.
I was nodding my affirmation when three people appeared around the corner. The first was...what was his name again? I had had all morning to recall his name. Radar? Right, Radar! Judgment's vice-captain was in the front, and he was the one who had yelled for Adair to stand back. He had a large scowl plastered over his face. Following him was Ed who should have left already, and then behind Ed was "Sun" who immediately seemed to brighten the corridor with his shining blond hair and dazzling white clothes...
Lesus, why'd you bring so many people with you? It's not like we're having a party here!
It took less than a second for Lesus to survey the scene before he focused his attention on me. He then darted his eyes at Radar, seemingly wanting to say something about his vice-captain. Great, it looked like I would need to do some reverse mind-reading. I thought it was Lesus's job to read my mind, not the other way around!
After Lesus indicated Radar to me, he brought his hand up to point at himself before shaking his head slightly. He then ran his hand through his blond hair to cover the action.
I shared a look with Lesus, though I was not at all used to interpreting my own expressions like this. Fine, I'll take care of this. You better thank me, Lesus!
"I expected more of you, Adair," continued Radar loudly. "You shouldn't be badgering Captain Judgment like this!"
What? Where'd he get such an idea?
Immediately, I realized it had to be Ed's big mouth. There could be no other culprit, and I was right on the mark given how Ed was behaving at the moment. That was as apologetic a look as they came. He was also making funny gestures behind Radar, much more exaggerated than the silent conversation I just had with Lesus. He was probably hoping Adair could make something out of that. Good thing Adair's interpretive skills have always been good.
Adair replied in an even tone, "You have the wrong idea, Vidar. Knight-Captain Judgment and I were merely talking about the patrols."
I started but hurriedly hid my surprise. It wasn't Adair's lie that had caught me off-guard, or how calm he was when he spoke the lie. Rather, it was the fact that Judgment's vice-captain wasn't named Radar that surprised me. Good thing I haven't spoken up yet...
But I would have to speak up if I wanted to diffuse the situation. It was apparent to me that Lesus had tried to stop Ra...Vidar, but Vidar never liked to listen to me. He was so frustrating! Hah, but since I'm currently Judgment, he has to listen to me now!
"Vidar, it is like he said," I finally said. I glanced at Lesus and saw him nod his head slightly. I might not be able to fool Adair's eyes, but that didn't mean I couldn't emulate Lesus! It would just require a bit more effort for me to pass Vidar's inspection.
Right after I spoke, Vidar calmed down. Do you think Lesus's words are words from the God of Light Himself or what? I mean, it's not like I explained much more than Adair explained. You sure turned docile...
"I apologize, Adair." His cheeks were even now pink in color.
The entire time, Lesus said not a single word. I bet he just didn't want to talk. See? If you had to praise the God of Light in every three sentences you say, you would rather shut up than speak too.
I opened my mouth. "Vidar, go prepare a sa-"
Lesus immediately shot me a look. Even Adair was giving me a look, though his was more along the lines of, "But that's my job!" I had been on the receiving end of this look of Adair's more than once, so I knew it well.
"...go prepare for your patrol."
"Adair, Sun recalls that the Sun Knight Platoon will also be patrolling under the God of Light's guidance."
This time, it was my turn to shoot Lesus a look. You choose now to speak up? Come on, was it so wrong of me to want to tease Vidar a bit?
To people who weren't in the know, we probably looked like we were glaring at each other. Ed was swiveling his head left and right to stare at the two of us, as if things were about to get ugly. Maybe they were, because clearly Lesus was trying to make me angry when I'd just helped him out! I get why we need to dismiss Vidar, but why dismiss Adair too?
Adair hesitated. He eyed "Sun" and then he glanced toward me. Finally, after he came to some sort of decision, he said, "Yes Captain, Ed and I will be departing now."
Vidar left first. Adair followed after him. He dragged Ed away with him.
Wait! Don't leave! What about my blueberry sandwich? What about your title of tapeworm number two?! If you knew my thoughts, you'd stay!
Lesus started walking toward the exit. "Come on, we've taken too long. We should try to get back before dusk."
But, my sandwich! My blueberry sandwich! Lesus, I hate you! Why are you making me starve?
"...is that what vice-captains are for?"
Chapter 21: Judgment
Grisia was still complaining about his sandwich when we made our way out of the Holy Temple. We donned our cloaks as we left. Thankfully, we met no one else on our way out, or else many people would have dropped in fright at the Judgment Knight's sudden fascination with sandwiches.
"So you told Adair?" I asked as I pulled my hood up. I paid extra attention to tucking away the golden strands that threatened to escape from my hood. They stood out a lot.
My words immediately shut Grisia up. I glanced over at him, curious at his sudden silence, but his hood hid his face too well for me to see his expression, his dark hair blending right in with his cloak. However, his tone told me all that I needed to know.
"It wasn't just me, okay? You slipped up too in front of him!" he exclaimed, voice rising until even my normally deep baritone sounded quite high pitched in his indignation. I did not even know my voice could go that high.
I breathed out and looked up at the afternoon sky. The sun is still high up. We should be able to get back before nightfall if we don't dally. "I'm not blaming you," I said, attention still on the sun, "I think it's a good idea, actually."
With how perceptive Adair was, it would have been monumental not to slip up in front of him. Still, a single day had been all it took for us to trigger Adair's suspicions and for Grisia to change his mind about not telling anyone. That was far too short a time.
I had also confused Vidar greatly, but given how I had tried to avert his suspicions with that horrendous nickname... I did not want to reveal the true situation in front of him anymore unless completely necessary. He was a good vice-captain, but he was much more rigid in his thinking than Adair, and his admiration for me could be said to be even greater than the admiration Adair held for his captain. He had certain expectations of me that I did not want to let down.
That included letting him know that I was the one who had called him such an appalling nickname.
I placed my hand on the Divine Sun Sword. Now that Adair knew what was going on, I could even approach him about Sun's training. I meant it when I said that Sun needed to spar more. Lifting a sword shouldn't feel all that taxing, yet I had felt muscles straining when I fought in Sun's body. He really didn't have the right muscles even though he was supposed to be a holy knight.
"Since Adair knows about us now, he can even train with me while we're stuck," I explained when Grisia turned toward me inquisitively. I hoped, however, that we would not be stuck for much longer. I didn't have many candidates I could spar with since everyone would be in too much shock over "Sun's" sudden skill with a sword to spar with me, but thankfully Adair was one of the best swordsmen in the Holy Temple.
"Hah, I knew it would be a good idea to tell Adair!" Grisia boasted, immediately changing his tune.
"This is why I wanted to tell everyone from the start. You know they could actually help us," I said plainly. We didn't need to tell the general public, but the Twelve Holy Knights could have lent a hand, and they had the right to know.
"No!" Grisia protested right away. "Adair is Adair, but everyone else... I don't want them to find out!"
I thought he would say that, so I didn't press the matter further. Despite how Grisia always appeared like he was fooling around and making people's lives miserable -- well, he actually was fooling around and making people's lives miserable -- but part of that was also because he didn't like involving others or telling them what was going on. If he could keep you ignorant, he would, and you'd be none the wiser about what was going on behind the scenes...until he returned injured. That always frustrated me.
This was why I had never been so glad for this untimely switch of ours. If nothing else, it made it so that Grisia had to accept my help and keep me in the fold.
Our first destination was the popular sweets shop Grisia always asked me to frequent for him. He always went on about how only the Judgment Knight could terrify the crowd enough to buy blueberry desserts without waiting in the ridiculously long lines. I didn't believe in cutting in line, but the lines always parted for me whenever I visited, and with how frequently I visited, I couldn't say that they didn't save me a lot time by doing that. Today, we decided to pay a visit to Grisia's favorite shop so that we could buy some lollipops to, in Grisia's words, "bribe" Pink. It was either lollipops or shaved ice from none other than Ecilan, but as we had already left the Holy Temple, and it had taken us quite some effort to do that, we settled on buying strawberry lollipops.
However, I thought that Grisia probably just wanted to try intimidating the crowd at the shop himself. He had looked positively delighted when he suggested buying lollipops, like a child let loose in a... well, we actually were visiting a sweets shop. I could only shake my head at the completely foreign look of delight that Grisia had made with my face. Like many of Grisia's mannerisms ever since our switch, that expression had looked incongruous on my face, like it didn't belong. It was not an expression I usually allowed myself. In fact... do I even know how to make such an expression anymore? Have I ever?
On our way to the shop, I found the sight in the city to be eye-opening, and I knew it was exactly why the Holy Temple had been so empty. We had mobilized a lot more of our knights than usual, and now even the royal knights were patrolling with us, making for quite an impressive and an even slightly oppressive scene. We could have sent out even more knights to patrol the city, but as it was, I could already see citizens glancing furtively at the knights on patrol. It wasn't often that holy knights and royal knights patrolled side-by-side, uniforms contrasting sharply with each others'. Although we had not wanted to worry the citizens needlessly, a tense air had still settled over the city with the presence of all the knights.
With a death lord loose in the city, we could not afford to be anything but vigilant. I surmised that Roland, having only just ascended to death lord status, had retreated to bide his time yesterday evening. I did not think he would attack during the daytime when it was more difficult to hide and to gather the dark element, but once night fell...
We really could not anticipate when Roland might strike. His current silence was but a tenuous peace that could be broken at any moment in time, hence why Grisia and I wanted to lure him out on our terms. Ideally, we would have switched back before then, but if not, I would have to do my best to carry out Sun's part.
"Have you heard?" Someone exclaimed. "I heard that the Sun Knight tortured someone to death, causing that person to become a despicable death knight."
I did not turn in the direction of the voice, but I could already tell that this was a conversation Grisia did not need to hear. However, there was no shielding him, for these rumors were being spoken everywhere within the kingdom. Few could resist the possibility of learning something scandalous about the perfect Sun Knight. Many were even voicing opinions about how they'd known this was coming; the Sun Knight's rumored personality had always been too good to be true.
A gasp sounded. "No way? Our kind Sun Knight would never do that!"
Another voice chimed in. "The death knight must still be after the Sun Knight! Otherwise, why would royal knights be on patrol with holy knights? The king doesn't trust the Sun Knight!"
This time, an entire crowd gasped. Their gossip continued even after that. When the first voice had spoken, I saw Grisia flinch just the tiniest bit out of the corner of my eye. He then pushed past me, leaving me only the view of his back, but I immediately reached out and grabbed him by the arm to remind him of my presence.
"Calm down," I said, stopping him in his tracks.
Grisia blew air through his mouth, posture rigid. "I don't need to calm down. This is just ridiculous. How dare they gossip right in front of me! I'll show them!"
"You knew these rumors were around. It's nothing new," I said. We had both faced worse than this before, and we had both inherited generations worth of rumors from our predecessors. Normally, Grisia would have brushed this off.
"Yes, but that 'death knight' is Roland! I would never..." Grisia abruptly stopped and tugged his arm out of my grasp. I let him. "My reputation is going to be super hard to fix," he said instead.
I looked toward the twittering crowd and the knights on patrol as I said, "The rumors will fade in time. Besides, don't we have a plan for that?"
"If you say so... Let's just head to the store already," Grisia said.
I nodded. It was best if we continued on our way as soon as possible -- those knights looked like they wanted to come over to inspect us. We must look quite suspicious with our cloaks... If none of the knights thought us suspicious, I would need to question their training.
Ah, here they are, heading our way.
If I had been alone, I might have revealed myself, but I was together with Grisia. The Sun Knight and the Judgment Knight loitering around together? I don't even know what the public would make of that, and I don't want to know either.
We quickly got out of there.
When we reached the sweets shop, Grisia unleashed his bad mood on the unsuspecting customers. He walked right up to the front of the line, pushing past a long line of customers. When the man at the front of the line grabbed Grisia's shoulder in anger, Grisia merely turned and glared at the man.
"Got a problem?" Grisia asked in a deep and lethal voice, eyes narrowed. He hadn't taken his hood off -- it made him appear even more dangerous.
"N-No..." the man stuttered. He backed up, bumping into the person behind him. The person behind him even had to hold him up with how his legs no longer seemed to support him.
Right after that, Grisia turned toward the stunned shop owner and said, "Two strawberry lollipops."
The shop owner stared. "Y-You want lollipops, sir? S-Strawberry-flavored?"
"Hm? That's right," Grisia said. "Oh, and add a blueberry pie onto my order as well."
I wanted to put my face in my hand.
Should I be glad that Grisia hadn't taken his hood off?
Chapter 22: Sun
After the shop owner told me how much I had to pay, I reached to fish three silvers out of my pocket with my heart in pain -- the strawberry lollipops weren't even for me -- until I remembered I wasn't actually spending my money!
I gleefully tossed the money at the shop owner who hurriedly reached to catch it. Maybe Lesus wouldn't notice that I was spending his money...
Freshly baked blueberry pie in one hand and two strawberry lollipops in my other hand, I turned around to find Lesus. A large smile stretched across my face, my mood infinitely better than before.
Whenever I visited the shop in the past, I would always find myself squished between giggling teenage girls, reluctant boyfriends, young kids who always seemed to like grabbing my cloak with their grimy little hands, doting parents buying sweets for their children, and the occasional adult who liked to indulge in sweets way too much... What? I'm not qualified to make such a statement? I should be happy there are others who like what I like? Shoot, they're the ones who should be honored that they have the same tastes as the Sun Knight!
The point was, I would always find myself stuck among what felt like the entirety of Leaf Bud City, wishing I could peel off those grimy hands from my cloak, cut right through the giggling gaggle of girls, knock aside those bastards who had women when I had none, block off those overly lenient parents, and steal the spot of those whimsical adults who dared to lessen my share of the sweets, image be damned.
However, I could never bring myself to do it in fear that I would be recognized as the Sun Knight. The Sun Knight cutting in line? If my teacher were to get wind of that, I would be thrashed so thoroughly in a battle of swords that you wouldn't be able to tell me apart from pie batter. You'd be asking yourself, "Is that the Sun Knight, or is that mashed strawberry pie? Look at all that red juice..."
All the while, with each stab and parry, my teacher would be loudly trying to teach me how the Sun Knight has the Sun Knight's trademark way of line jumping -- mainly, dazzling the audience so much that they have no choice but to do your bidding, including giving you their spot in line, so that had better be the example I follow -- but there was a huge problem with that proposition.
If you're wondering, "Why not reveal yourself as the Sun Knight? Surely the citizens would relinquish their place in line for the Sun Knight like what your teacher claims they'd do!" then boy, are you off the mark. There was this one time when my hood fell while I was in line. Do you see where the story is going yet? You do, right? Instead of praising me and feeling honored by giving me their spot in line like they should have done, the people instead crowded around me like a swarm of bees who'd just spotted honey! They sang praises and everything, voices full of awe, but with them swarming around me, how in the world was I supposed to reach the counter to buy my blueberry pie?! It took me at least a full hour to get out of that swarm of bees! I might as well have just waited patiently in line.
I hate to admit it, but "dazzling the crowd" at the sweets shop just plain doesn't work. I bet it only works for my teacher because he doesn't just dazzle the crowd, he also intimidates them. He doesn't show it, but people can sense the underlying danger he poses on an instinctual level, which forces them to back off and admire him from a distance without daring to breach his personal space. There's a reason why he's known as the strongest Sun Knight in history.
However, my teacher probably just thinks they keep their distance because they're so in awe of him.
As for me... Those who know me fear my smile, but those who don't... Let's just say they don't know any better. I can usually get crowds to stay outside of my personal space out of awe, but the crowd at the sweets shop? That crowd is really something else, full of sweet-crazed lunatics without any sense for danger. Anyone from my platoon would already be blubbering or apologizing upon seeing my "smile" at being estranged from my rightful blueberry pies, and if we had been next to a cliff, they'd already be jumping off, but the crowd at the sweets shop... Would it kill them to keep their hands off me and let me through?!
Since I haven't been able to dazzle the crowd successfully without wasting time, I always have Lesus buy my blueberry desserts for me. Whenever he sets foot in the shop, the crowd would immediately fall into a hushed silence, and then they would clear a path for him right after, leaving him a completely unobstructed path. The people never dare to even look at him for long, so they'd never crowd around him, wanting to touch his silky locks or pull at his sleeves in hopes that they'd be blessed by the God of Light...
See how hard my life is? I can't even buy blueberry pie without getting molested!
That was why today was a beautiful day. Today, I was finally able to fulfill my wish of cutting in line! That's one item off my bucket list... I was even allowed to glare as much as I wanted to. I didn't have to rein in my frustration, didn't have to hide it with a smile, and didn't have to pretend to be cheerful and forgiving when there was not one ounce of forgiveness inside of me after hearing those rumors.
The man behind me (I bet he's one of those infuriating men who's here to buy some cupcakes to woo his beloved, damn him) had placed a large berth between us. It was a large enough gap to fit at least half a platoon of men in it. I was surprised no one had moved into the open space that was clearly inviting people to cut in line.
I arched an eyebrow. "Your turn," I said plainly and waved him on with the lollipops.
The man gulped visibly. "O-Okay...t-thanks..." he answered, large eyes following the movement of my lollipops. He then started inching past me, almost tripping over himself with his wobbly legs and with how he was skirting around me without looking at where he was going.
Hm? Why is he shaking? Oh well, who cares.
I tossed that thought to the back of my mind and walked over to Lesus with long strides. He had been standing off to the side, quite far from where I was. Isn't he standing a bit too far? It's as if he doesn't want to associate with me! When I reached him, I sighed in contentment, a small smile playing at my lips as I gave a nod toward the counter. "I've always wanted to do that."
After I spoke, I handed the two strawberry lollipops to Lesus. I couldn't eat the pie with those lollipops in my hands. Lesus took the lollipops but didn't even look at them before he tucked them away.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" I asked, for he was scrutinizing me way too closely yet again.
"I'm just trying to figure out what you've 'always wanted to do'. Is it cutting in line, scaring people out of their wits, or spending my money?" He paused for a brief moment before shaking his head. "I'm over-thinking this. Clearly you wanted to do all of them."
Immediately, I said, "I'm not paying you back."
"What are you going to do with the pie?" he asked after showing me just how white the whites of my eyes were with an exasperated but still graceful-looking roll of his eyes. He really took to this graceful thing very well.
Phew, sounds like he doesn't want me to pay him back. What a good friend! I answered like it was the most obvious thing in the world, "What am I going to do with the pie? Eat it, of course."
"I don't like blueberry pie," he answered in a deadpan voice. "Never have."
I gazed at the pie in my hands. It looked so delicious and still felt warm to the touch; I was so very hungry. "I don't believe you."
He shrugged. "It tastes fine, but I wouldn't say I'm particularly fond of the taste. If you don't believe me, you can go ahead and take a bite. That's what you bought it for, right?"
Indeed, that was what I had bought the pie for. To experiment as well as fill my growling stomach. I also wanted Lesus to try it out, so that he could experience why I love blueberry pies so much.
Without further hesitation, I brought a slice up and took a bite.
"Owwwwww!" I exclaimed immediately.
The sweetness made my teeth smart, and the taste wasn't anywhere as divine as I remembered it.
I looked at Lesus who had that infuriating "I told you so" look on his face while I rubbed the side of my cheek.
"Lesus, do you have cavities?" I asked.
I didn't want to do it, but I gave the rest of the pie to Lesus. Under my insistence, Lesus grudgingly took a slice and nibbled on it. I watched as his face lit up. He chewed thoughtfully and swallowed.
"This is good," he said, turning the pie over and over in his hands to inspect it.
"I told you so!" I crowed.
He gave me a funny look but kept on eating until the entire slice disappeared. Then, he took another slice and continued to eat, as if he couldn't help himself.
"Strange..." he murmured. "I would have been tired of the taste already if I had been myself. How is it that I can take so many bites of this and still not feel sick?"
Even as he spoke, another slice disappeared. As I watched him, my stomach growled.
Damn, I'm still so hungry! Ugh, Lesus, I'm so envious!
Halfway through the pie, Lesus stopped abruptly and looked down at the pie suspiciously. He then hurriedly handed what was left of the pie back to me as if he had been burned. "I can't believe I ate that much."
"You can still eat more," I said.
He nodded with a small frown. "Yes, that's even more unbelievable. I feel like I can eat the rest without any trouble. You have strange metabolism, Grisia."
"Not any stranger than your tastes..." I muttered, staring down at the pie sadly.
"If you're hungry, you can eat some more of that, you know," Lesus said. "It won't kill you even if you don't like it."
I knew I could eat it. Lesus often ate things he didn't like, never one to be picky with his food. He would even go out of his way to make Ice happy by eating the sweets Ice prepared even when they were not to his tastes. But...
I shook my head and exclaimed strongly, "I don't want to ruin my fondness for blueberry pies!"
Chapter 23: Judgment
We continued on our way, heading into the more rundown part of town, the houses growing more and more ramshackle, like a gust of wind could blow them over. Although we were but a mere few streets away from the better part of town, the district we entered now made me feel like we were in a completely different city, one that had seen years of neglect and that the authorities continued to turn a blind eye to. It was a perfect part of town for a necromancer to set up her residence, as perfect a place as it could get for a necromancer living in the very stronghold of the Church of the God of Light.
Pink's residence was close now, and I should have been on alert, yet the entire time we walked, I could not stop eying what was left of the pie that was now in Grisia's hand.
That pie was dangerous. The chocolates that Grisia had me try were delicious -- Ice was truly a superb pastry chef -- but this pie, this blueberry pie, was irresistible. I could still taste the lingering blueberry flavor on my tongue. For the first time in my life, I didn't feel like I needed to wash the sweet taste down with tea. Instead, I wanted to savor the taste. I wanted more of that sweetness.
I furrowed my brows. How was it that I was so affected by it? My mind told me that I had never ever liked the flavor, but Grisia's taste buds insisted that blueberry was the best flavor in the world. I could have eaten the entire pie all by myself. The mere thought of that was normally enough to make my stomach queasy, but now I just felt like licking my lips at the thought.
"I wonder why Roland hasn't made a move yet?" Grisia asked.
My lips turned downwards in a slight frown. I stared intently at the pie in Grisia's hand.
It's truly a miracle that Sun has managed to maintain his figure despite his sweet tooth. After my first-hand experience of just how delicious blueberry pies were to Sun, I could no longer fault him for devouring pies as if they had no more substance than air. I had done the exact same thing, so entranced by the taste that I had momentarily forgotten myself. If I hadn't forced myself to stop, the rest of the pie would have ended up in my stomach too.
Belatedly, I realized that Grisia had spoken. I looked up, startled, only to find Grisia staring at me in amusement, dark eyes dancing in merriment before he could no longer hold in his laughter.
Grisia doubled over and even had to wipe the corner of his eye. "I can't believe it! You totally zoned out on me! Don't tell me you reaaally wanted pie?" He waved the pie in front of me, the sweet scent of blueberries enticing me once again.
I covered my face with one hand and exhaled slowly, trying to forget the pie altogether. The situation was so bizarre that I was afraid I would start laughing too, affected by Grisia's amusement. "Stop waving that in front of me. You're tempting me," I said.
"No way, really?" Grisia blurted out. He dropped his hand and started looking between the pie and me incredulously.
"Yes, you should know what kind of effect pie has on yourself," I answered. I walked on ahead, forcing Grisia to follow after me, pie out of sight but unfortunately not out of mind.
His voice came from behind as he hurried to match my steps. "I do, but I thought surely you would, you know, not succumb to your appetite, or something. You always have such good control."
"You thought wrongly then," I replied. I was prepared for a lot of things, but I hadn't been prepared for blueberry pie to taste that good, enough for me to temporarily forget who I was. Even now, I still didn't entirely feel myself, though I did not think I would manage to completely find my footing until I regained my own skin. The world around me was still the same as always, yet at the same time, nothing was the same. Even the simplest things were now new experiences. "In any case, don't we have more important matters to discuss?" I asked, trying to bring Grisia's attention back to what he had tried to discuss with me earlier.
"But this is so interesting!" Grisia exclaimed.
When I didn't answer, Grisia made a discontented noise, but he continued on regardless. "Fine, I was talking about Roland."
I glanced back at him and saw him staring at the pie in his hand. I'd bought pie and other sweets for Grisia countless times. From what I had heard from Grisia, Roland had done much the same during their training days. Had the pie reminded him of Roland?
Grisia explained some more, almost rambling in his musings. "It's strange that we haven't heard anything from him, or even anything about him. The citizens looked uneasy, sure, but that was because of the patrols we set up. There was nothing about a Death Lord being spotted. When we set out, I was afraid he might have already been terrifying the city with his new powers... I mean, why wouldn't he use them right away... but this silence... I feel like this is just the calm before the storm. I don't like the feeling. Besides, how can Roland even hide with those huge wings of his and his unfair amount of dark element?"
"Let's hope we continue to hear silence," I said in response to Grisia's concern. "Our plans do not include meeting him before we figure out what is involved with switching back."
I glanced toward Grisia once more now that he had caught up with me. He'd fallen silent. What was he thinking about now? Not for a moment did I feel that Grisia was not affected by the idea of his old friend attacking the city, forced to a continual existence as an undead creature raised against his will.
As I focused my attention on Grisia, I could see a white shimmer around his body fluctuating. At the very beginning of our switch, I hadn't immediately known what each element looked like through Sun's perception of them, but now I had them mostly figured out. This white shimmer was the holy element. Even when I closed my eyes, I could still see the holy element that surrounded Grisia, mixed with lower levels of other elements. His presence, however, wasn't as bright as my current presence, so bright was Sun's holy element. I turned my sight on myself, curious to examine my elemental levels. As expected, the level of Sun's holy element was very high. There was also a small amount of dark element curled around the area of my stomach, tumultuous and inky, very near the place that tingled and bothered me like an itch I couldn't scratch. I hoped it was nothing more than residue from the injury Roland had inflicted on me.
"Grisia," I prodded, his complaint about Roland's "unfair amount of dark element" giving me an idea.
"Do you think I could find Roland with your senses?" I asked.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Grisia feigned immediately.
Undeterred, I said, "I was able to tell that the knights we passed by earlier had strong holy and water elements. I didn't even have to look at them to know they were most likely from Ice's platoon."
Grisia huffed and stamped his feet. "Lesus! I'm trying to keep a secret here! I can't do that when you lay things out so clearly!"
"I can't really help noticing that things look a little different," I said dryly.
"You...should have pretended you didn't notice anything!" Grisia pouted.
First was feigned ignorance, then came huffing and stamping, and now it was pouting... I must have struck a nerve.
"But I would still know," I said. "I'd rather you know that I know."
After considering my words, Grisia gave in and explained about his teacher's advice to him, about how his teacher had cautioned that it wouldn't be wise to reveal to others that he could identify people based solely on their elemental composition. It was an ability I never would have experienced myself had we not switched bodies like this, for it wasn't something people who didn't have the aptitude for it could learn or understand. For Grisia, it was more of an innate ability. Even if I could learn it later on in life, I would never be able to achieve Grisia's skill at it. It was an impressive ability, perhaps even frightening, one that would put many people on edge, but I could only be proud of Grisia, and glad for him that he had yet another weapon up his sleeve. Those who thought him weak and easy to take advantage of knew little of his hidden strength, though I did not think of Grisia's fighting ability as his strongest strength.
"Does it feel strange not being able to sense people?" I asked in concern. Without this extra sense of his, did Grisia feel the world was muted?
"It's...different," Grisia stated. "Everything looks simpler."
I imagined it was a little like going from being able to see colors to becoming colorblind, having something that was a given taken away, introduced to a muted world in shades of gray. For me, it was just the opposite when I focused on wanting to "see" more than my immediate vicinity, the world suddenly bursting in superimposed images of elements like grains of sand melding together, forming solid figures of art.
"How do I locate someone?" I asked.
"You think I know how to explain that?" Grisia exclaimed. "I just do it."
"I pity your future student." His answer had been much the same when I'd asked about his holy magic. It sure didn't sound like Grisia would be much of a teacher with his "I just do it" explanations.
"Hey, I resent that!"
"Please let me be the one to instruct your future student in swordsmanship when the time comes," I said. After all, "just do it" was not the way to teach swordsmanship, though it was a thousand times better than Grisia trying to give an actual demonstration.
"That's probably best...hey, that's not what we're talking about right now! I resent that too! I might have Adair take my stead instead just for that."
"Adair would be a good choice."
Grisia scowled at me, "Back to the point, I really don't know how I do it. It just comes to me, and no one ever explained it to me. My teacher said it's probably close enough to how warriors sense battle auras. Just imagine pushing your boundaries outwards and search for Roland's aura. Do you remember how he felt like when you met him in the plaza?"
Well, that's a better explanation that I could have hoped for.
"He had a very intense dark aura," I replied. "As well as earth and metal elements."
"Search for that. Each person's elemental composition is like their signature. Fingerprint even."
Closing my eyes, I tried to remember what I had done before when I had felt Roland's overflowing aura the first time. I had been able to extend Sun's senses then -- it was truly as simple as breathing -- but now I wanted to extend them even further out, and I wanted to locate Roland's unique elemental composition. I swept my attention across the city, marveling at just how much I was able to see, amused that it really was as easy as "just doing it". No matter how much I looked, however, I could not find Roland. As I reeled my senses back in, I started swaying. Grisia caught and steadied me.
My eyes flew open.
"Whoa, careful, I think you extended your sensing too far..."
I gripped Grisia's sleeve to right myself, the overflowing dark element that was so close in proximity stealing my sight. I could see nothing else, so focused was I on his sudden appearance.
With my finger, I pointed past Grisia.
Exasperated, Grisia muttered, "Don't tell me that Roland is behind me?"
I didn't answer. That was answer enough for Grisia.
Grisia grumbled, "Great. Wonderful. Absolutely fantastic. He's not supposed to show up yet! This is messing up all of our plans!"
Despite Grisia's flippant complaints, I could hear the apprehension in his voice. How would he react once he turned around and saw just how human Roland currently looked? The "huge wings" Grisia had wondered about were nowhere to be seen, but that wasn't what made Roland look human.
I stared at Roland. He stared back at me with hazel eyes, clear and lucid, so very different from the frenetic, blazing eyes that he had turned on me merely a day ago.
"Grisia," he greeted me. "Like promised, I have come to find you."
Roland's words echoed in my ears.
Grisia, like promised, I have come to find you.
His voice sounded calm and peaceful, like what I thought he should have sounded like in life had I gotten to know the adult Roland. He had always had a steady personality, like an immovable boulder that could never be swayed by the current around him. I thought that I would never hear his voice in such peace ever again, not with the way he had tossed his words down, eyes blazing with cold flames, claiming that he would be back for me...but this current calmness and peacefulness could only be a lie.
Roland was dead. His existence as a death lord meant that Roland did not feel at peace. He had unfinished business; otherwise, he would not be here. Had he returned because of hatred for me, for taking the position that he had been much more qualified for? It would explain why he was so intent on seeking me out even though I was not the one who had killed him.
I swallowed. If I didn't turn around, I could almost pretend that Roland wasn't dead, that I hadn't failed him. What kind of friend was I? What kind of friend let their friend die all alone? I'd wanted to become the Sun Knight to protect my brothers; I'd wanted Roland to be one of them even when I had been too naïve to realize that it wasn't possible. I'd wanted all of that, yet I let Roland walk out of my life. I had failed him. And now he was dead.
Death was irreversible.
No. I felt holy magic course through me. Not completely. Death isn't absolute. There is a way. If only I had known Resurrection. If only I had been by his side. If only...
Gently, Lesus placed his hand on my arm, guiding me back.
I raised my gaze to lock eyes on him, grateful that he had pulled me out of my tangle of thoughts. It was true that Resurrection could have brought Roland back, but now it was too late even for that. Now was not the time to lose myself in what-ifs, to run away from reality. Roland was behind me. Whatever state of mind he was currently in, that was the Roland I had to face.
Slowly, I turned around. When I laid eyes on Roland, I immediately blurted, "You...were resurrected?"
Right away, I wanted to slap myself. No matter how much I wished Roland could have been resurrected, no one had been there for Roland to resurrect him, and death knights, not to mention death lords, could not be resurrected since they were already undead creatures. Besides, I was currently Judgment, which meant this kind of sudden exclamation was entirely out of character. Not that it was in character for the Sun Knight either, but Roland had only ever known "Grisia" and hadn't ever known the Sun Knight persona I had later crafted. He wouldn't have been surprised by such a statement from me. But from Judgment...
It really wasn't my fault though. I hadn't been prepared for Roland to look so human. He looked much less suspicious with his nondescript brown hair and eyes than the two of us who were wearing hooded cloaks. Seeing him like this, however, was like being punched in the gut, what I could not have thrown back in my face.
If I had kept in touch with him, this was the man I would have gotten to known. He hadn't lost a single bit of his charisma, practically unchanged from the boy I remembered, except he was of course taller than before, and must have gone through quite a growth spurt at some point in time. Surprisingly, we were just about eye-level when I remembered having to raise my eyes to look at him when we were younger.
Oh right, I'm Judgment, duh. That meant Roland was actually slightly taller than me. How unfair...
"No, I didn't get resurrected," Roland answered in a serious tone. He had always been too serious for his own good, hence why I always liked to prod him to see if he could actually smile or crack a joke. He tilted his head, eyes darting between Lesus and me. "Is this a bad time? Should I return later?"
That sounded like the polite Roland I had known. I was very, very confused. Why did Roland look so human? Why was he acting so human? Where had his wings gone? I mean, they were so huge! There was no way he could be hiding those under his clothes! And what happened to his ashen coloring? Or those flames he had for eyes? What happened to the fury I had heard in his words and seen in his attacks?
I turned and whispered to Lesus. "I'm not hallucinating, am I?"
"Don't ask me to pinch you," Lesus replied. "You're not hallucinating."
In a louder voice, Lesus said to Roland, "If you are here to speak with me, there is nothing you can't say to me that can't be said in front of Judgment."
"Why do you look so human?" I blurted almost before Lesus had even finished speaking. I was still unable to get over this fact.
"You are much more spontaneous than I've heard," commented Roland, brows furrowed, but he darted a look at Lesus, as if to seek his approval, and then he answered me by raising his hand and showing us the pink, heart-shaped ring he was wearing. It looked completely cheap and girly. I wouldn't be caught dead wearing it... Ah, but Roland is dead. I tried to recall if Roland had ever paid much attention to fashion and appearances. I don't think he did.
Roland glanced at the ring, his face impassive. "This is the Ring of Life. It allows me to assume the appearance of a human."
I really shouldn't have been surprised that such a cheap-looking ring could grant Roland the appearance of a human being. After all, the harmless-looking trinket Pink had tossed at me yesterday had even been capable of forcing me out of my own body and into another's! Trinkets nowadays seriously didn't look the part enough. Shouldn't they at least look more impressive? Like a silver-plated dragon badge or something similar? But no, they came in pink. Heart-shaped even.
"That is something of Pink's?" questioned Lesus.
"Yes," Roland replied cooperatively. Why was he being so pliant? I thought he wanted to kill me? Should I be worried for Lesus right now? If Roland went on a rampage, Lesus would probably be the first to get stabbed.
"Is your sword also one of Pink's?" continued Lesus as he eyed the sword by Roland's waist. That was the sword that had sent me to my bed for days, and that same sword had injured Lesus, or actually, Lesus in my body, and Ice.
"No, it is a family heirloom, one I never wished to use for it is a wicked sword."
Something about that statement was off, but I didn't have time to examine it. Roland had drawn his sword out as he spoke.
Immediately, I gathered holy light, the light shining around the blueberry pie I was still holding, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lesus place his hand on the hilt of his sword.
"There are two of us here," I said in warning, as imposing as I could make myself while holding blueberry pie. "Don't think you can defeat two Knight-Captains by yourself, especially when we are both armed with holy light in addition to our weapons. We won't hold back."
Roland was damn strong and could even summon undead creatures to back him up -- we had had a hard time against him even when Blaze, Ice, and a bunch of our platoon members were around to help -- but I wasn't going to let him think that he could take us on easily.
"I am not here for a fight," Roland murmured, not at all cowed by our battle-ready stances. "I merely wish to finish the duel between Grisia and me. We were interrupted before we finished."
I exchanged a glance with Lesus. Is he for real? I thought. A second later, I realized that yeah, Roland meant every word he had spoken. He was just that kind of guy, the type who saw his promises through to the end, the type who regarded duels with great respect. It seemed that even death had not changed him, though it had dulled his fashion sense even more than before. With a flick of my eyes and a small nod, I indicated to Lesus that Roland was speaking the truth.
After our silent communication, Lesus said, "I accept, but only if you promise me one thing."
It was as if Lesus and I had rehearsed this, and in some ways, we had, though not this exact situation. Yesterday night, we had come up with all sorts of behaviors Roland might choose to take and how we would respond. I didn't entirely think Roland would be the Roland I knew, so I didn't know how much my understanding of that Roland would help us, but so far, this Roland who stood before me was so achingly familiar.
"What is it?" Roland asked in reply. I thought he sounded even somewhat friendly. Duels were definitely his thing. This could actually work.
"If I win the duel, you will listen to what we have to say," Lesus said.
Roland fell silent. "And if I win?"
"We will listen to what you have to say."
While they spoke, they began circling each other. Step-by-step, I backed away out of range.
"I accept," Roland said.
Swords ready, my two friends flew at each other, their blades clashing in my ears.
...guys, can't you just skip the duel and just listen to each other? No? I guess not. =P
I really wish it worked out so that this section was in Judgment's POV. This is too close to the novels for my preference, but I tried to write things a little differently. I've always wondered how Sun learned Resurrection all of a sudden like that at the end of volume 1. I've decided that he learned Resurrection most likely because he had a desire to know (given how much he hates harm coming to those he cares about). He doesn't have the means to learn Resurrection yet in this fic though because he hasn't learned necromancy spells from Pink.
Chapter 25: Judgment
I dropped to my feet, arms swinging my sword up to block Roland's blow. The Divine Sun Sword weighed heavily in my hands, and Roland had put so much strength behind his attack that I had to use both of my arms to bring the blade above my head to block him. Roland had caught me in a bad position. My tired arms protested, straining from the effort. Heart beating with adrenaline, I clenched my teeth and gave a push to throw Roland off so that I could reestablish my footing.
That was a miscalculation on my part. Between Roland and Sun, the former was the heavier one. Not only did he not stumble from my push, he eased back and allowed me to stagger forward. I quickly caught on, letting my momentum carry me forward as I twisted and borrowed the opportunity to strike, relying on Sun's speed that was quicker than my own to force Roland to take a defensive stance. In order to emerge victorious from this duel, I would have to turn Sun's lighter frame into an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
What was possibly a faint smile flashed over Roland's lips, a miniscule, almost imperceptible upturn at the corner of his mouth. He was enjoying himself despite my messy footwork, just as I felt a similar rush of exhilaration over exchanging blows with a worthy opponent. Metal shrieked with enough friction to induce sparks when our blades met, the Divine Sun Sword gleaming against Roland's demonic sword.
Bringing the Divine Sun Sword along with me had been the correct choice. In a prolonged duel, an inferior blade would not have held against Roland's sword, a beautiful but deadly one that gave off rivulets of the dark element. To my sight, the sword appeared like an extension of Roland, both so heavily overlaid with the dark element, void of impurities from all other elements. When my sword clashed against Roland's, I could even see the holy element from the Divine Sun Sword piercing into the darkness that enveloped Roland's blade. At the same time, the dark element from his blade pushed back, threatening to wipe out the holiness of the Divine Sun Sword. With each clash, the elements wavered and battled for dominance.
This was the world I saw after Grisia's explanation of his elemental sensing. All of a sudden as long as I focused, even normal, everyday objects transformed into completely new sights, constructed by different percentages of elements. My naked eyes saw merely the norm, but Sun's extra senses gave new meaning to what it meant to see the world. As I fought, dodged, watched, and bided my time, I saw more than I had ever seen before, knowing to twist away when I saw dark element approach me from the side, or when I sensed a building composed of the wood element coming up from behind me.
Usually, I could guess at my surroundings with my instincts, but now, I knew my surroundings better than ever before, an intimate understanding that allowed me to anticipate what was to come. Even with battle aura, I had not sensed this much, as battle aura only applied to the animated.
I fell into a rhythm, finding a balance between seeing and reacting.
It was almost like dancing.
With this kind of ability, Sun could have easily become a very powerful swordsman, if only he could keep his sword in his grasp.
Does Sun just not know how to combine this knowledge with swordplay? It would explain why his swordsmanship always seemed so confused. His elemental sensing was a blessing when it came to magic -- the elements responded to him so easily -- but applying it to swordplay required a balance and an understanding of how things worked that he had never seemed to be able to master.
Off to the side, Grisia watched in silence. To my current sight, he was a mix of unique elements that I didn't have to turn to see, a steady presence. I knew he was there, eyes trained on both of us, watching but unable to interfere.
I'll finish this, I promised him inside my head. I no longer wanted to see him distressed over Roland or to hear his name slandered. I would end things once and for all. Only then would Grisia be able to lay down his guilt and self-doubt. Only then would Grisia be able to understand that he hadn't failed anyone.
Carefully, Roland studied me for openings just as I studied him.
"It's like I've never known you," Roland said as we circled each other. "You've changed."
Grisia made a strangled noise even as I thought, No, you do know Grisia. You know him well, so well that you know that things aren't quite right.
However, I kept my thoughts to myself and instead spoke for Grisia's sake, knowing he would want to know. "I could say the same of you. Do you loathe me? Why have you attacked me? I am not the one who killed you."
"Why would I loathe you?" Roland asked, bewildered.
"You injured me the moment you showed up. I bled and could not leave my bed for days."
And for the same number of days, I worried over Grisia, visiting his bedside whenever time permitted in-between my investigations.
An apologetic look came over Roland. "I did not mean for that to happen. I am sorry. I only meant to bring some undead creatures from Pink for you to take care of. When I saw you, I wanted to greet you, so I waved... I did not know my own strength and speed, as I had only recently become a death knight then. It was an accident that I cut through you before I could stop myself."
Both Grisia and I stared at Roland.
Could this all have been a misunderstanding?
"Why did you say that you would come back for me?" I continued to ask. Although my assumptions had just been completely turned over, I remained composed, years of being the Judgment Knight seeing to my steadfastness. I pressed on.
"I wanted to find you to say goodbye," Roland said.
Yet with those words, you implicated Sun and damaged his reputation.
"Is that why you're here now?" I asked.
"Yes. That, and I wanted to finish our duel."
"Then let's finish it."
Only, this wasn't going to be goodbye.
It relieved me to have Roland's words that he would "listen" if I were to win this duel. After this latest revelation from Roland that he hadn't injured Sun out of malice, I did not doubt that he wouldn't hold himself true to his promise. The only problem now would be actually winning the duel. I had the Divine Sun Sword to aid me this time, and I was growing accustomed to fighting in Sun's body, but Roland was no easy opponent. His skill was phenomenal. In fact, if I had been myself, without Sun's blessed Divine Sun Sword and Sun's elemental sensing, I would hesitate to say that I could win against Roland.
However, I was currently Sun, and I had Sun's special set of skills to help me, even though Sun didn't know how to use them in conjunction with swordplay. I had thought I would be at a disadvantage as Sun, fighting in an unfamiliar body, but perhaps this was even a blessing in disguise.
Neither Roland nor I borrowed strength from offensive magic, as if we had come to a silent agreement that this would be settled by swords alone. If Roland so willed it, he could summon undead creatures to aid him, blast me with the dark element, or even teleport, flashing away all too quickly for me to land a hit. I, on the other hand, could attack him with holy light, burn through his large amount of dark element, and even hurt him with the holiness that ran in Sun's blood, but I did none of that.
Both of us stuck stubbornly to our swords. I had no doubt that Grisia thought us both to be sword idiots.
I flew forward, a rush of elements warring for my attention. Blow after blow, I blocked, I parried, I dealt the starting hand in a never-ending dance. Roland met me each time. My arms shook with effort and sweat dripped down my face, but my movements were still lithe and light. Graceful. A style entirely unlike my usual, yet it wasn't Grisia's either.
When I found myself in another stalemate with Roland, I gave a push yet again, this time with my feet digging into the earth to maintain my footing. Then, I took a page out of Roland's tactics, and dropped back, knowing that a battle of strength did me no favors.
Roland stumbled forward.
I struck, blade singing out-
His sword flew out of his grasp, piercing the ground behind him.
For a moment, both of us stood still. I almost couldn't believe that I had done it. My heart was still pounding furiously, blood rushing in my ears as I kept my sword trained on Roland.
Then, the corners of Roland's mouth quirked up, though his eyes were sad. "I surrender."
I lowered my sword. Roland bent to pick his up from the ground.
"As promised, I'll listen to what you have to say," Roland said.
I sought Grisia out, who gave me a nod. Then, I turned my attention back to Roland. He promised us he would listen. Now that we knew Roland did not bear a grudge against Grisia, that made things simpler.
"Help us stage an attack on the king," I said bluntly.
Roland's eyes widened. "What?"
Chapter 26: Sun
Oh the look on Roland's face! Good job Lesus, you've managed to shock a death lord into exercising his facial muscles. I bet few can claim to have achieved such a feat!
Roland stared for so long that I became impatient and decided to nibble on the slice of blueberry pie that I still had. Don't judge me -- I'm sure you like to chew on things too when there's a good show in front of you.
Immediately, I wished I hadn't given into that impulse. I made a face at the blueberry pie. It still didn't taste any better than before, which made absolutely no sense! How could blueberry pie not taste good? There was something seriously wrong with Lesus' taste buds.
Meanwhile, Lesus finally slid the Divine Sun Sword back into its scabbard. I was itching to rush over and snatch the blade out of his hands so that I could inspect it. With the insane way he'd fought with the blade, I was sure that he had shaved an entire layer off of the sword. I had been able to hear the screeching as it had happened, an entire layer of my earnings gone just like that...
No, if the Divine Sun Sword breaks in the future, it would definitely not be my fault! It would be Lesus' fault, so he should pay for it!
"What do you mean?" Roland asked hesitantly. I unwillingly tore my gaze away from the Divine Sun Sword.
"What he means," I cut in to say while trying to shove thoughts of the Divine Sun Sword to the back of my mind, "is that you've done a lot of damage on the Sun Knight's reputation, so you had better help us fix that."
Roland glanced at me, confused. I'd say he looked constipated with that pinched look of his, but I don't think death lords need to use the toilet. Did he really not know that he had caused all sorts of problems for my reputation?
"You said you would come back to find Sun. Now people think the Sun Knight was the one who tortured you to death," I explained moodily. "There are also whispers about the king not trusting the Sun Knight."
My explanation didn't seem to help. Brows furrowed, Roland commented, "I don't see how attacking the king would help fix the Sun Knight's reputation."
Ah, so that's what he's hung up over. Well, let's simplify things for everyone then.
"King gets attacked by Death Lord. Sun Knight saves the day. Sun Knight's reputation rises. Misunderstandings are cleared. King is injured during the attack. Can no longer rule. Crowned prince takes up leadership. That easy enough to understand?"
Heh, looks like I've just managed to shock a death lord into exercising his facial muscles too!
Without giving Roland time to recover, I pressed on. "You promised us you would listen, so listen up and help us deal with the king. It's within your interests to help us out."
"...so you know that he's...?" Roland asked, voice thick as he glanced between Lesus and me. He made some kind of gesture at himself before his hand ended up over his chest. It looked like he was gripping his heart, remembering his pain.
We nodded in affirmation.
I know Roland. I know he is the one who murdered you. I know now that he is the one who you've come back for as well.
His next words were quiet. "...but I've never mentioned..." He paused, his tone suddenly changing, eyes hardening. "I can't let him walk free. Burn me at the stake if you must, but I cannot let him walk free."
This is your lingering obsession, isn't it? Not revenge but a need to prevent the same tragedy from happening again. I can't let you kill him, but I can do this much for you. Let me help you. I thought you to be lost, but you're not. You're still Roland. No matter what form you wear now, you're still the Roland I knew. You would rather sacrifice yourself if that means no one else would come to harm. But...don't. I've already lost you once. I don't want to lose you again. Not in this way.
Don't taint your hands and become a king slayer. That's not you.
I found it hard to speak. Thankfully Lesus, like always, had my back. He spoke for both of us. "I believe our plan to attack the king would benefit you."
He then explained our plans in detail, and when I finally found in myself the ability to speak, I also chimed in. Our plan had already been set in motion. Now, we just needed the actors. We could have done without Roland -- in fact, that had been the original plan, to have someone else pretend to be our missing Death Lord in what promised to be a spectacular play -- but who better to invite to the performance than the actual Death Lord himself?
Not once did Roland argue the semantics behind "listening" while we outlined our plans. It seemed that he had used up his quota of interesting expressions for the day because a blank look took over his face as we explained, wiping out all other expressions.
Perhaps we've shocked him so much that he doesn't know how to react anymore?
After all, if I had been in his position, I would have argued until my last breath, or well, in Roland's case, until disintegrating, that I had only promised to "listen", meaning "hear him out", not "listen to orders". He, however, didn't protest at all. I couldn't tell if he was going along with us because of the promise he had made us, or because he was simply too shocked to disagree.
I'd like to think, however, that it was because our goals aligned.
When we finished speaking, Roland finally managed to work his mouth, "This...is a ludicrous plan. Who came up with it?"
"Hey, I resent that. It's not a crazy plan. It's sound, okay? It'll solve all of our problems all at once," I said. "If you must know, the brains of..." I slid my eyes towards Lesus, "Grisia and I put together this plan."
Lesus firmly said, "I wouldn't call it a very sound plan, but it's the best we've come up with. It'll do," Lesus turned toward Roland, "as long as you are willing to lend a hand, Roland."
"I never knew both the Sun Knight and the Judgment Knight to be reckless to this degree," Roland commented. "You're actually asking me to cooperate with you. Me. A death lord."
Smiling softly, I quipped, "You've missed out on a lot, Roland. Should've kept in touch."
Ah, am I giving myself away?
After all, I hadn't been trying to emulate Lesus at all. Not since Roland had approached us.
Roland tilted his head to study me in more detail. I shifted, hands tightening before I remembered that I still had a piece of leftover blueberry pie in my grasp. What should I do with it?
Then, he said, "I remember you. Weren't you the one who helped Grisia and I defeat those bullies who had us surrounded outside the training grounds?"
A flash of recognition seem to pass through Lesus' blue eyes as he also placed Roland. Roland's eyes flicked to him before they focused back on me.
Now that Roland had mentioned it... There had been such an event in the past, hadn't there? I'd almost forgotten. It was that time when Roland and I had been surrounded by ten people or so, or should I say...I was the one who had been surrounded? Roland had come to my aid, and then he'd gotten involved too. I seemed to attract all sorts of bullies back then. Well, even now, I still attract all sorts of adversaries, but hey, I strike back hard now, even if it's still never with my fists or sword.
Ten people had truly been too tough even for Roland. I'd managed to sneak out and find Lesus to help us. When he'd heard that it was ten against two, he hadn't hesitated at all. After Lesus joined us, let's just say those bullies hadn't stood a chance.
I'd gotten beaten up so much in the past that I hadn't really kept track of whether or not my helpers had ever met. Two sword idiots like these two...if only Roland had chosen to stay with the Holy Temple, perhaps joining one of the platoons of the Twelve Holy Knights -- he could have even become one of our vice-captains -- I'm sure they would have become great friends.
And I could have prevented...
Slowly, I nodded.
"Thanks," he said, years after the fact, to the wrong person. Well, he was facing both of us, and seemed to be angled toward Lesus a bit more than me, but he had to have been thanking me. The Judgment Knight.
I guess I hadn't given myself away after all. Some part of me actually felt...crestfallen?
I'm Grisia, am I not? I wanted to say. Don't you recognize me? Will you...ever forgive me?
Suddenly, Roland smiled one of those small smiles of his that was barely a smile, eyes darting between me and Lesus. So he hasn't used up all of his expressions... Then, he told me, as if we were best of friends and were merely catching up, "You've found a good friend. I'm glad."
Well, thanks for the compliment, Roland.
The way he had said it, however, felt kind of...strange.
Roland said no more as he accompanied us to Pink's place. I kind of thought he was going to mysteriously disappear on us, but I guess there wasn't a need anymore, not when we were all on the same page now, more or less. Sorta. It frustrated me that Roland still didn't recognize me! But...whose fault was it but my own for falling out of touch with him?
Surprisingly, Pink was actually home. I had almost thought she wouldn't be, with how things in stories usually played out. I gave in to my urge to kick her door open. She seriously had it coming. My foot slammed into her cute little door. It flew open, revealing the overly pink interior.
"What have we here?" a girl’s voice sounded.
She was anything but an innocent little girl. I'd never been tricked, and I wasn't going to be tricked now.
"Pink," I growled in Judgment's deep voice.
"Hello Judgment Knight~," Pink said in a singsong. She looked up at us from where she sat resting on a pink chair with her pink shoes propped high in front of her. I could even clearly see her pink undies with the scandalous way she was sitting. "Or are you my future apprentice?"
I threw the blueberry pie at her face. "What do you think?"
Chapter 27: Judgment
After all that we had experienced, I was finally back in Pink's house, the place where I had first discovered that I had gotten pulled right into the middle of Sun's latest problem. I really didn't think that there was any way I could get more involved than becoming Sun himself. It had only been a little more than a day, but it felt like it had been much longer than that.
I recalled everything that had happened since I found myself bereft of my tea -- dueling with Roland, fighting back-to-back with Grisia protecting me with a sword, flinging holy light around like nothing, smiling a lifetime's worth of smiles, speaking with Grisia deep into the night, getting him to let me in, to let me help... I'd even schemed right along with him.
Although I could have done without the facial, I couldn't say that this hadn't been a worthwhile experience. The world was completely different through Sun’s eyes, and the appearance I wore meant that people treated me differently too. It was like stepping into a different skin to observe myself and what people thought of me, and of Sun, and to learn the world Sun experienced.
It had been both confining and liberating being someone that wasn't myself.
Right at this moment, Grisia stood in front of me, back trembling with fury, but that was my body. He moved with my feet, scowled with my face, and tasted with my senses.
Yes, even something like taste, which I'd never given much thought to, differed in this body. I watched, heart clenching, when I saw Pink smack the blueberry pie Grisia had thrown at her down to the ground.
I should have eaten it after all.
"Grisia, Grisia," admonished Pink as she licked the bits of blueberry pie off of her fingers, one finger at a time. "Is that how you should greet me?"
The pie is not important, I tried to remind myself. I stepped forward to address her. "Pink, it’s been longer than three hours. Tell us how to switch back."
She looked up at me through amused eyes. "How strange to hear you talk in such a controlled tone." She gestured at Grisia. "I’m more used to that kind of reaction. Maybe some table-flipping even. Do you know how outrageous he has been during his visits? He has even blasted my cleaning corpse to dust more than once!"
Pink folded her arms and shot a berating look at Grisia.
Grisia bristled. "I'll show you table-flipping if you don't start speaking about that damn trinket!"
Peals of laughter filled the air, a little girl’s delight at our troubles. "Oh how scary! Are you sure you want to switch back? Your current look suits you much better. That sparkly appearance of yours has never fit you. There can't be anyone out there who has as incongruous an appearance as you had. You should thank me. I've done you both a favor."
Pink grinned fiercely, all teeth. She was hitting Grisia's insecurities without holding back, but Grisia wouldn't let himself appear weak in front of her.
"Yes, we're sure," Grisia smiled right back, no doubt a habit from always having to smile, even when angry, but his current smile was anything but reassuring. I'd known that smiles look frightening on my face, but this was more than just frightening.
...Perhaps I should try smiling during interrogations after all. A smile like that might even get many of the criminals to confess.
Truthfully, despite the terrifying smiles on both of their faces, watching Grisia and Pink was like watching a pair of squabbling siblings plotting each other’s downfall. Grisia, however, veered towards appearing like an overbearing and mean adult bullying a little girl. Unfortunately, it wasn't something the public wouldn't believe of the Judgment Knight.
I shook my head, pulled out the two strawberry lollipops we had bought, and held them out to Pink.
Immediately, the evilly smiling little girl transformed into an angelic, albeit hyper, little girl with shining eyes. She hastily jumped off her chair and grabbed both lollipops.
"That’s more like it!" she exclaimed, lollipops in hand.
"Humph, happy now? We spent a lot of money on those! Now spill!" Grisia commanded, arms crossed.
You mean you spent a lot of my money...
All this time, Roland stood off to the side, looking entirely out of place in Pink's overly pink house. Stuffed cake plushie, pink table, and then suddenly, stoic Death Lord.
When he noticed my gaze, Roland shifted from his stiff stance. He looked over at me while Pink and Grisia continued to squabble like little kids.
"You really aren't Grisia," Roland stated without any doubt in his voice.
"I'm not," I replied, recalling the conversation we had exchanged yesterday when he had asked me who I was.
I could have asked him what gave me away, what made him so sure, but I already knew the answer. The explanation was simple, one that Grisia would unfortunately loathe, and perhaps our conversation with Pink just now was enough to fill in the rest of the blanks for Roland.
"I doubted," continued Roland, "and thought that maybe Grisia had changed completely from the Grisia I'd known. How much did I know Grisia anyway? It's been so long, and we hadn't spent all that much time with each other in comparison."
"It doesn't matter how long you've spent in each other's presence," I said. "You've affected him greatly."
"Have I? I thought he'd forgotten me," Roland murmured.
"You're not easy to forget," I replied. "Grisia wouldn't stop telling me what your odds were in the betting pools back then, and he also had a lot to say about how you helped him."
In fights. In scaling walls to buy blueberry desserts. In beating dogs that used to chase after him.
I felt a sudden surge of empathy. Perhaps we still had time to sit down and have a cup of tea together.
"Betting pools?" asked Roland in confusion.
Smiling, I merely shook my head. It figured that Roland hadn't paid attention to them. I hadn't either, though I did know of their existence. I had been completely focused on completing each phase of the selection, and Roland must have been the same. "Never mind that. Just know that you haven't been forgotten."
Roland smiled back at me in a tentative fashion before he continued. "At first, I considered that maybe Grisia had changed so much that I no longer found him familiar, but... a person's skill with a sword doesn't lie. There's something strange about your style, like you're not completely used to moving in that body. You strike with the instincts of a master swordsman, but your body doesn't respond as quickly or as sharply as you want it to. It's less evident today, but yesterday..."
Like I had thought, it was my swordsmanship, and Grisia's lack thereof, that had clued Roland in. I'd only given passing thought to imitating Grisia's poor skills with a sword, but there was really no copying that. I couldn't even if I tried, and... I really hadn't tried. All of Roland's observations were spot on.
Catching my eyes, Roland said, "The way you fight must have taken years to hone. Even if Grisia's skills have improved, they wouldn't have your finesse. You're the Judgment Knight, aren't you? You're Lesus, that boy who once saved me. I haven't forgotten your swordsmanship, though I couldn't place you until our duel just now when I was reminded of the time you had helped both Grisia and me. I'll say it once more. Grisia has found a good friend."
I smiled and held out my hand. "Perhaps introductions are in order. Hello Roland, I'm Lesus."
Very few people knew me by that name. It warmed me to be able to introduce myself this way.
Roland grasped my hand, his skin cool. "Pleased to meet you, Lesus. My name was Roland. I suppose... I am still Roland."
We shook hands.
"Great, are you two bonding over there while I'm facing off with the big bad necromancer?" demanded Grisia. He turned his head toward us in displeasure.
"How did you end up in this situation, Grisia?" asked Roland.
"Oh, so now you know who I am?"
Despite Grisia's words, he sounded mollified and also less likely to flip Pink's table than before.
Confused, Roland tilted his head slightly to regard Grisia. "Didn't I tell you before we came to Pink's house that you've found a good friend? I'm glad for you."
The look Grisia formed with my face was quite comical. Eyes wide, mouth slightly open in shock... It was perhaps an expression that could be described as "gob-smacked", and it wasn't one that could help me interrogate criminals. He kneaded his face, pulling his mouth closed and narrowing his eyes before he gave himself a smack, as if to reset his features.
"You are so, ugh, so Roland," Grisia finally managed to say. "That was your reaction to all this? Just how nonchalant could you have been about it? Come on, at least act somewhat surprised... As for this mess, it was all Pink's fault. She threw a trinket at me that was supposed to help me investigate your death, but it just got me swapped with Lesus."
Grisia stopped. "Actually, it was more your fault, come to think of it. If you hadn't said you'd come back for me..."
"Sorry," Roland apologized immediately. "I've caused you a lot of trouble."
I watched as Grisia fell silent. Roland was truly a very serious person and even took Grisia's jests in utmost severity.
Breathing out, Grisia turned towards Pink again, apparently deciding to ignore Roland's apology. "So? How do we switch back?"
Pink smirked. "You're right. It's been more than three hours, yet you're still stuck. That's because the trinket is still at work. Any guesses on where the trinket is?"
Immediately, my hand flew over my lower stomach, where I felt holy light fluctuate. The tingling sensation had been in the area of my rib cage yesterday, but it had slowly traveled downwards, the sensation fading as time passed. I had almost forgotten about it, thinking that it was just a reaction to the injury I had received from Roland yesterday.
Apparently, I was wrong about that.
Pink's eyes followed my motion, and her smirk grew wider. Grisia's eyes also followed me, but instead of smirking widely, he looked close to re-enacting his previous gob-smacked expression. He stared at me in disbelief.
"It's...in me," I stated.
"Bingo~!" Pink sang.
"...how do we get rid of it?" Grisia asked in a deadpan tone.
I had a very bad feeling about this.
"Oh, it'll just have to come out the natural way!" beamed Pink.
"I... was wrong about Roland being constipated. Lesus, you seriously haven't needed to do a number two since our switch?!"
"...you better do it gracefully," Grisia added unhelpfully.
Chapter 28: Sun
"Lesus, are you done in there yet?" I questioned yet again outside the door.
When we returned from Pink's residence, Lesus headed straight for the private toilet in my room. I didn't think that he would need to use the toilet so soon after Pink revealed just where the trinket was and how we were supposed to get rid of it. After all, even if we had forced laxatives down his throat right after we'd found out, they wouldn’t have done their job so quickly.
I was right.
He didn't need the toilet that way.
He explained to me that now that he knew where the trinket was, it was just a matter of getting it out of his body. Then, he started retching on command.
I should have known he would prefer this to that, but I still screeched, "Lesus, you're not being graceful!"
If you wanted a professional at vomiting and if there even was such a thing as a professional at vomiting, then Lesus was your man considering how often he spent his time heaving his guts out after interrogations. He’d vomited more times than I could count in the time that I’d known him. He had more than ten years of experience! There really was no one better at vomiting than Lesus out there.
Still, vomiting was definitely in the top five of my list of "What Not to Do" as the Sun Knight. Despite his experience, I did not at all believe that Lesus was being very graceful at the moment!
"It's not working, is it?" I asked even though there was no need to ask. Just by looking down, I could see that I was still wearing the Judgment Knight's black robes, dark hair framing my face and vision. After blinking slowly, the sight that greeted me remained unchanged.
Nope, I'm not bent over vomiting. Thank the God of Light for that.
"No," came the answer from beyond the door, confirming my suspicions.
When Lesus exited the toilet, his hair was wet, as were his sleeves. He must have splashed his face with water. He looked weary but not ungraceful even with golden strands of hair plastered to his face, so I decided to cut him some slack.
Still, I couldn't help but prod him a bit. "Not going to try the other way?" I asked out of curiosity.
Lesus glowered and cradled his stomach. If I hadn't known that the trinket was inside of him causing havoc, I might have had other thoughts, like oh I don't know, someone might be pregnant?
...By the God of Light, that was a thought I didn't need.
Because if anyone were to burst into my room and see the current situation, they would probably swivel their heads to stare alarmingly at him and then accusingly at me, coming to the conclusion that I had something to do with the way he was holding his stomach. Which I did, but not in that way!
I glanced at Lesus whose face was drawn together. A twinge of guilt hit me. It wasn't exactly fair that I was the one who had gotten him into this mess, yet now he was the one who had to suffer for it. In fact, I wasn't even feeling any of the side effects. What a sinister trinket, only sucking the juices out of one person when both were involved!
Maybe I should buy blueberry pie for Lesus to make up for it. It should be enough to take his mind off of things...
As I pondered how to make it up to Lesus, I also considered our situation once more. According to Pink, the magical number was three. Since we hadn't changed back after three hours, then that meant the actual time limit was three days. At least, that had better be the actual time limit because if it turned out we actually had to wait three months, then I think all of the criminals of Leaf Bud City would rather die than go through interrogation. It might actually help lower our crime rate, now that I think about it.
Thankfully, it sounded like the trinket was en route to being flushed out of Lesus's body. Right after we had switched, Lesus had felt the trinket in his chest area, and later, he had felt it just below that area, mistaking it to be residue from Roland's dark aura. The feeling had slowly traveled through his body, but he hadn't known that what he felt was the trinket. Now, the pulsing dark aura was in the area of his stomach. If the trinket continued moving, maybe Lesus would have it out of him even before the end of three days.
It just meant we had to wait. It also meant that we would need to continue pretending to be each other throughout the king's address that was also going to happen tomorrow afternoon. We'd wanted to be back to ourselves by then, but it looked like Lesus would have to clear my name for me in my stead after all.
One last appearance as Judgment in public, huh... Hopefully the last... While Lesus will be the Sun Knight. Brilliant, upstanding Sun. Lesus would do a good job. Maybe even better than me.
"Come, let's train a bit," Lesus said, heading to grab my back-up sword. Seeing him put away the Divine Sun Sword loosened some part of me that I hadn't even known was tense. Finally, the Divine Sun Sword would be out of harm's way.
"You want to spar with me? Right now? Really?" I asked, incredulous. Still, I followed after him, knowing that Lesus just wanted to do something other than wait. For someone like him, sparring was exactly what would take his mind off of things, though in his current condition, I wondered what would be more effective: waving a sword in front of him, or waving blueberry pie?
As there were no blueberry pies around, I could not experiment and find out the answer to my question. Going with a sword, however, was never the wrong choice with Lesus, though I had a feeling that blueberry pies would be just as effective this time, if not more.
We didn't go too far, borrowing one of the empty prayer rooms and making sure to lock the door behind us. A locked door meant nearly nothing in the Holy Temple, not with Blaze around, but at least it provided some semblance of privacy, and we wouldn't be exchanging blows in plain sight.
Sparring was not something Lesus and I normally did with each other. Let's just say I'm not exactly the most ideal sparring partner, not unless what you wanted was a very unpredictable opponent to practice with. My unpredictability rose even more whenever you put a sword in my hand.
Today, however, we'd been presented with a unique circumstance, one where I might even hold my own against Lesus in a sword fight. It also wasn't everyday that we got the chance to fight against someone who had our own visage. It would almost be like fighting against ourselves if not for how differently we fought as each other. I was eager to find out just what I could do as "Judgment". Lesus was most likely feeling the same thrill of anticipation that I currently felt.
He raised his sword in front of him, metal gleaming, ready to strike out. Faced with such a Sun Knight, no one would ever accuse him of being incapable of fighting with a sword.
Without a word, Lesus rushed toward me, a flash of white and gold. Without thinking, my arm swung upwards, my entire body supporting me. The resulting clash reverberated throughout me, but my sword remained firmly in my grasp.
So this is how it feels to truly wield a sword, I thought, amazed. I'm actually holding my own against Lesus!
Exhilaration running through me, I took the next swing, intent on forcing Lesus back.
As I swung, the sword flew out of my hand and pierced the ground right by Lesus's foot.
Lesus and I both stared.
"I think," Lesus said, blue eyes wide as he looked down at the sword that had nearly stabbed him in the foot and would have actually stabbed him in the foot if he hadn't deftly stepped to the side, "you've been in my body for too long already."
I scowled and gathered holy light to my hand. "Let's restart this fight."
Chapter 29: Judgment
Grisia proved to be a poor sparring partner. Even the addition of holy magic didn't help; if we really wanted to compete via holy magic, I currently had a better capacity for it than Grisia did, with holy light practically dancing at my fingertips. I also had Sun's sensing ability, which meant I could dodge all of his attacks without even breaking a sweat.
"You are so violating all the rules. Why are you so strong?" Grisia complained. He wasn't panting or even the teeniest bit winded, but he plopped himself down on the ground in defeat. I was sure he still had plenty left in him. I was not so forgiving of myself to ever let myself slack in training.
I caught my breath and rolled my eyes at him. To be precise, it was Sun's strong magic and sensing ability that were violating the rules. "Don't blame me for knowing how to use your sensing ability together with sword fighting. You have always had the capability of fighting this way."
"Yeah right." Grisia obviously didn't believe me. The look on his face was as skeptical as they came.
I amended my words. "Perhaps not at my level, but-"
"Now you're just gloating," Grisia pouted. What does it say about me that I'm already used to seeing that expression on my face? He turned away from me and began playing around with holy light, face scrunching up in concentration. He was clearly ignoring me. I watched holy light gather in his hands. It really wasn't much.
"Lesus, you know what I've said about sighing-"
"Be right back," I said.
Before he could finish, I left the room.
I had hoped that Grisia would at least be able to hold onto his sword as me, but apparently that wasn't to be now that we were getting used to being displaced. It would prove dangerous for us tomorrow if Grisia could not fight. If Grisia could neither wield a sword nor depend on magic since my body was not attuned to it, he would have little in his arsenal except for his schemes, which some might claim to be his most dangerous weapon, but that still did not lay my unease to rest.
I returned with Adair.
When the door to the prayer room closed behind Adair who had followed me over without asking anything, as expected of Sun's vice-captain, Adair's first word was unsurprisingly, "Captain?"
To outsiders, Adair might have looked like he was addressing me, but he was actually calling out to the other person in the prayer room -- his true captain, no matter what his current appearance was.
"I suggest you spar with your captain daily," I said, giving a nod at Grisia and putting to rest any lingering doubts Adair might have had about our identities. "Now's a good time to start."
Adair's eyes flicked toward Grisia for but a moment. It was enough for Adair to catch his captain's intentions.
"I'm afraid I am unable to comply, Knight-Captain Judgment," Adair said to me.
Grisia laughed, deep chuckles sounding throughout the room. "You have as much guts as always, Adair!" He shot a triumphant look at me, as if saying, "Take that Lesus! Now what are you going to do, huh?"
In return, I gave both of them a stern look. "Adair, while it is admirable of you to follow your captain's wishes, you would be doing him no favors."
Adair smiled apologetically. "It's not that I won't try, sir. The prerequisite for a successful spar is well..."
Ah. True. The prerequisite is that Grisia would need to be able to keep a hold of his sword...
"Adair!" Grisia called out, aghast. His tone clearly told me that he thought Adair had betrayed him. Truthfully, it amused me. I had thought that Adair was turning me down, but that didn't seem to be his intention after all.
"Sorry Captain, but with Knight-Captain Judgment asking while looking like you, it's kind of hard to refuse... I'm just joking, Captain!" Adair held up his hands in surrender as Grisia glared daggers at him.
"You... You are both conspiring against me!" Grisia accused.
I snorted. "Don't tell me you don't want to learn how to wield a sword?"
"Captain, I believe that you actually want to learn. If not, I wouldn't agree," Adair added.
Grisia's face dropped. "Ahhhhhhhhh, you two tapeworms are so frustrating!" He pivoted away from us and started pacing the room. He turned to glare at us. "Who needs mind readers when there are people like you two around?" He returned to pacing. "You know it's not that I don't want to learn. As a holy knight, who wouldn't dream of wielding a sword against his foes? I'm just...incapable of learning, okay? Even my teacher couldn't do anything about that." He turned sharply at the last sentence, eyes belligerent.
Inside his heart, he must think himself a lost cause.
I shook my head and drew the blade I had by my side, raising it before me even though my muscles protested, sore from the strenuous activity I had subjected this body through since our switch. "It's not that you're incapable of wielding a sword. Although you don't have a strong physique because of a lack of training, that hasn't stopped me from being able to fight with a sword as you. What you lack is a proper feel for the sword."
Grisia raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "And how do you suggest I gain something like that?"
"Hasn't the best opportunity fallen into our laps?" I asked and gestured at the two of us.
He looked down at his hands. The sight of black sleeves no doubt reminded him of our current situation.
"Fine, fine, I get it," he said glumly.
"Captain!" Adair exclaimed happily. "Leave it to me!"
Grisia harrumphed. "I won't forget how you teamed up with Judgment against me, Adair!"
"But Captain, I only wanted to help..."
I shook my head at their antics. What kind of show are they putting on here...
After that, I had Adair and Grisia spar so that I could observe Grisia. Even though Grisia was a schemer who could think of a million different ways of bringing someone down, he was actually not someone who thought greatly about how his attacks worked. As long as something was effective, he didn't care about the means. He had never needed to know the theory behind his magic. Magic was just something he did.
The same could be said for sword-fighting. There was no need for Grisia to understand how sword-fighting worked, and I was under no illusions that he would ever understand anyway. What he needed to gain was an instinctive feel for swordplay, just like how he had an unconscious control over magic. My hopes were not for Grisia to become a master swordsman -- I just wanted him to be capable of holding onto his sword.
Of course, this was easier said than done because it was undeniable that Grisia did not have any "feel" for wielding a sword, but it was also true that we had been handed an opportunity of a lifetime. Grisia had been able to fight as me when we had come across Roland in the plaza. At that time, Grisia must have experienced what it actually feels like to have his sword answer to him.
No matter how much Neo had tried to teach Grisia, he hadn't been able to help Grisia experience that. This switch of ours truly was a blessing in disguise.
At least, I hoped it would prove to be one.
I watched the exchange of parries before me with both my eyes and Sun's sensing ability. Each time they began exchanging blows, Grisia would manage to block Adair for the first few blows, his movements reminiscent of my own. No doubt muscle memory was helping him out, and I could even see Grisia's delight at managing to keep up with Adair. However, as their spar continued, Grisia's sword would undoubtedly fly out of his hand at some point in time. More than once, Adair had been nearly too slow to smack away or dodge the sudden projectile -- that was, the sword that should have been in Grisia's hand.
I knitted my brows together. Grisia was actually doing a passable job holding onto his sword -- at least, he wasn't losing it right away, and it didn't seem like it was flying as far as it usually did, meaning he was often capable of grabbing it and jumping back into battle. But why is he losing his sword in the first place?
The next time Grisia's sword flew out of his hand, my eyes widened.
It can't be...
"Try that again," I said.
"Like it's going to do any difference..." grumbled Grisia, but he grabbed his sword and swung at Adair.
I narrowed my eyes, trying to see better, but that didn't actually help me. What I was currently using to "see" was Sun's sensing ability. Narrowing my eyes did nothing to help sharpen my sight, but I was so used to the action that I continued to keep my eyes narrowed as I examined the sight before me.
The holy element in the air was mostly converged around me, but both Adair and Grisia had some too, since they were holy knights. As Grisia attacked, holy element would fluctuate around him wildly, while it stayed smooth and controlled around Adair. Once Grisia swung his sword, holy element would gather near his sword, and whenever Grisia truly wanted to strike, the majority of the holy element around him would converge in the area of his sword, and then his sword would fly out with a burst of holy element trailing after it...
I planted my face in my hands.
Dear God of Light. Grisia, you're....
Even though I had thought his sword to be like a projectile, I had not known how spot on I had been.
You're shooting your sword out like a magical arrow!
If this was happening even while he was me, then how much worse must it be as himself when holy element answered his beck and call?
And in this case, even when he didn't want to call on it.
Chapter 30: Sun
Lesus and Adair are slave drivers. Slave drivers, I'm telling you! I can't believe they forced me to pick up my sword over and over again. Me, sparring with Adair? Does Lesus have a grudge against me or what? Although Adair isn't as strong as Ice or Judgment, he is still one of the top swordsmen of the Holy Temple! More importantly, I thought he was supposed to be on my side, that traitor!
I shouldn't have clued Adair in if this was what was going to happen. Ugh, now I have not one, but two tapeworms conspiring against me!
I watched as both blonds turned my way, waiting for me to grab the sword that had flown out of my hand yet again. Their reactions were eerily alike. If I didn't know better, I might have claimed that they were brothers related by blood, clad as they were in the white and gold uniforms of sun knights and ganging up on me like this. I'd never thought Adair and I looked alike, but seeing myself next to him like this... Was this what people mean when they say that the longer you're acquainted with someone, the more you'll resemble each other? What was Adair like in the past... Was he always this sly...
Despite being ganged up on by tapeworm number one and tapeworm number two, something good had actually come out of this torture. Lesus discovered the reason why my sword liked to jump out of my hand so much. Those blasted swords seem to have a mind of their own, I'm telling you!
"You're saying that my holy element is causing my sword to fly out of my hand?" I exclaimed in disbelief.
I stared at my hand. Has holy element been converging at my hands without my knowledge? How can that be?
I certainly had not meant to gather holy element to my hands just now. Earlier, yes, but not just now. It wasn't like gathering holy element as Judgment was an easy thing to do.
"Now that we know, we can at least have you practice keeping a hold of your sword," Lesus stated.
As he spoke, I couldn't help but resent that my sword idiot friends were so handy with a sword that their battles looked like dancing while I, on the other hand, still hadn't graduated from trying to prevent my sword from dancing out of my hand.
Throughout the rest of the night, I continued practicing, paying attention to what Lesus had observed. It was not exactly an easy feat consciously attempting to keep holy element away from my hands. The more I wanted to do so, the more holy element I ended up gathering, and my sword would fly out even faster than before. Rather than improving my grasp on my sword, I instead felt like I was improving Judgment's skill at gathering the holy element.
Hey, maybe Judgment's ability to gather elements isn't that hopeless after all!
By the time we parted, I had a marginally better chance at keeping my sword from performing a disappearing act or even tangoing with the floor, but it was still up to chance and not very reliable at all. I couldn't "see" what Lesus was talking about, so I could only depend on guesswork about how much holy element was around me.
Alone in Judgment's room, I continued practicing. Hey, don't give me that look! I can be very diligent when I put my mind to it! Okay fine, I wasn't practicing my swordsmanship... Even after the countless times Lesus and Adair had made me go through the motions, I'd probably still kill a table or two in the process.
To tell the truth, I was practicing magic. If holy element was now responding to me enough that it was interfering with Judgment's natural adeptness at swordplay, surely that meant that Judgment's holy magic was indeed trainable and not a lost cause.
That, and who knew whether or not Judgment had any aptitude for magic outside of holy magic? I doubted Lesus ever gave it much thought.
And so, I experimented late into the night.
When the next day arrived, my body woke up at the crack of dawn despite how I had gone to sleep late. My eyes opened, and I stared past my black fringe at Judgment's boring ceiling.
So, I'm still Judgment... Ugh, why does he have to be such an early riser?
As expected, we hadn't magically reverted back to ourselves in the middle of the night while we were sleeping. I wanted to go back to sleep, but no matter how much I tossed and turned, I couldn't fall back asleep.
Getting up at this hour two days in a row is such a pain!
However, it wasn't like Judgment's body would let me go back to sleep even though I still felt tired, and I was supposed to take care of Judgment's duties, so I crawled out of bed to get ready for the day. Black and more black dominated Judgment's closet. I selected one of the black robes and threw it on before pulling myself over to the mirror.
The mirror revealed some pretty ugly eye bags that might even give Storm some competition. Thank the God of Light this wasn't my face. I stuck my tongue out at the mirror.
Oh dear God of Light...
The expression was so hilarious that I ended up doubled over in my laughter. It took me a full minute before I could suppress my laughter and straighten up, but then I immediately poked at my cheeks and made another face, muscles protesting at what I was putting them through. This was a testament to how closely trained Judgment normally kept his expressions -- my face was already growing tired from these expressions that had probably never graced his face before.
I poked at my cheeks some more. Hm, Judgment's skin is too coarse.... How can a twenty something year old's skin feel like this? It must be because he always stays out in the sun without doing any skin care!
I peered more closely at the reflection in the mirror. Are those... wrinkles?
Oh no. No way am I allowing this. We're the same freaking age! At this rate, people will think he's an old geezer! I better get Judgment into the habit of taking better care of his skin!
Still, even though he was my best friend, I wasn't going to let him use my precious ingredients. They cost me an arm and a leg!
An alternative. I'll have to come up with an alternative.
After all, I wouldn't be Grisia if I were to forsake my friend like this, turning a blind eye to his plight when I could have prevented his condition from worsening!
"I will defeat you!" I shouted at the mirror. How dare wrinkles exist in my presence!
"C-Captain Judgment, are you alright?!" came a sudden voice beyond my door.
Startled, I whirled around to face the door and blurted, "I'm fine!"
Damn, I shouldn't have yelled.
"Is there someone in there with you?" the person continued asking worriedly.
I hadn't immediately placed his voice, but now I was sure it was Radar who was outside in the hallway. Instead of saying anything further, I threw open the door, coming face-to-face with a startled Radar. I had been right about the identity of the person outside.
"I am perfectly well," I said as calmly as I could. I left the door open so that he could see that there was no one else inside.
He peered inside hesitantly before he looked sheepishly up at me, his emotions written clearly across his face. "I am sorry for disturbing you, sir! It was just that I thought I heard some strange laughter..."
Erk! He even heard that?
"Come, let's head to practice," I said instead, abruptly changing the topic. I grabbed Judgment's sword and started making my way toward the training grounds. Radar trotted after me quite obediently. Thank the God of Light for Radar's reverence of Judgment!
Mornings with no meetings meant that Judgment trained with his platoon before heading off to interrogate criminals. While I was quite certain I wouldn't give myself away in a meeting or an interrogation, training someone in swordsmanship was an entirely different story.
I had no intention of actually training with the Judgment Knight Platoon (that would give me away faster than I could devour a blueberry pie... Well, faster than Lesus could devour a blueberry pie at the moment), but I had every intention of cutting practice short so that I could actually eat breakfast today. Judgment might skip breakfast in fear of emptying his stomach after interrogations, but I wasn't going to repeat that dreadful experience from yesterday. I'd nearly starved!
It was with the resolution of merely overseeing practice that I approached the training grounds. Upon my presence, the judgment knights immediately filed into two straight rows and saluted me. "Good morning, Knight-Captain Judgment!"
I nearly took a step back because of the damn impressive sight these incomprehensible early-risers presented, but Radar was right behind me.
"What are your orders today, sir?" asked Radar eagerly.
Get me breakfast. Then get me some sour milk, lemon, roses, and flour...
Out loud, I said, "The usual."
Whatever that was! Damn, I should have asked Lesus...
Radar nodded and turned to bark orders at the rest of the platoon. "Two hundred swings! Then, one hundred thrusts! After that, pair off with your sparring partner to practice form B!"
Without wasting any time, the holy knights before me got into position and began swinging their swords.
Damn, why aren't my holy knights ever this orderly? I've underestimated Radar! I didn't know he had it in him to be this authoritative!
Radar was at the front, leading them in their drills. I couldn't deny that he was indeed a capable vice-captain in his own way, though he really needed better control of his expressions. Truly, the result of having a captain that was too serious meant that the subordinates would become lax...
I walked up and down the rows, pretending like I was observing their forms when I didn't really know what they were doing. My teacher had tried his utmost to teach me, but my inability to perform any of the stances he had taught made remembering them...challenging.
After their first set of drills, Radar asked, "Will you be joining us, sir?"
All of the judgment knights stopped and stared at me expectantly.
I gulped. None of you would be looking at me like that if I had a sword in my hand!
Despite wanting to think that even I wasn't so terrible that I couldn't wield a sword even while in a master swordsman's body, the sparring from yesterday evening proved that I was indeed so ill-suited to a sword that I could even turn a master swordsman into a well-below average one just by inhabiting his body for a day.
The mere thought made me want to cry. "I leave today's training in your capable hands... Ra-" Shit, that's not his name, "-ndomly pull out some knights to inspect their progress... Vidar."
At first, Radar was crestfallen, but once I finished my instructions, he perked up. "Yes sir!"
I stood off to the side and watched their morning practice expressionlessly, continuing to pretend that I was paying attention.
When is breakfast...
Chapter 31: Judgment
Breakfast was a strange affair. Adair offered to fetch me a sandwich, but I thought it prudent to personally show up at the breakfast table so that I could catch both Ice and Earth in one place and inform them about where to station their platoon members in the afternoon. I wanted Earth around for his specialty in defense and Ice for extra fighting power.
At least, that was the plan.
I somehow arrived earlier than anyone else despite how long I had spent battling Sun's hair. The first person to arrive after me was Metal. He walked in through the door with a bored expression, but the moment he saw me, he abruptly left the room and then reentered with a sneer on his face, as if he hadn't already walked in once before.
It was an amusing sight, to say the least. Metal has always been earnest in everything he does.
"Has our Sun Knight actually become an early riser?" he sneered as he approached.
Seventy points, I thought. His delivery wasn't bad -- he had the tone down and quite the correct attitude, but the content could still use work. I might have, however, given him extra points just because of how unaccustomed I was to being on the receiving end of Metal's attempt to anger people to death just through speaking. After all, I'd grown used to having Metal look up at me with reverence -- now we were the exact same height.
I tried to figure out how to respond.
Thankfully, only the Twelve Holy Knights used this room, with the exception being the kitchen staff who had already finished setting out the food. I would not have to try very hard at Sun's speech, but it was better to imitate his public manner than to have to imitate his true personality. Even though I would sound oddly formal, I could at least escape from having to drop a nickname or two to appear authentic.
Mutilating Vidar's name had been more than enough excitement for me to last a lifetime. I could not imagine a repeat performance with someone else's name.
I smiled. Even though I would rather speak as little as possible as Sun, I did enjoy being allowed this smile. It was good seeing Metal in high spirits. "The God of Light bade Sun to join his brothers as swiftly as possible," I decided to say.
Metal raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything further. He heaped his plate with food and sat down to eat. I soon followed suit. Neither of us wanted to talk all that much.
Moon was the next to arrive, chin jutted upwards. I had just gotten up to refill my cup when he passed by my seat. I looked up at him and suddenly understood Grisia's complaints about Moon staring down at him. I'd never felt Moon's expression was all that bothersome, but now I realized it was because we were around the same height. As Judgment, Moon and my height difference was negligible. Even with his chin raised, there wasn't much staring down he could do. But as Sun who was shorter...
That look is indeed quite irksome.
Still, I smiled at him, more amused than anything. He was most definitely daydreaming about his girlfriend. It was the look in his eyes that always gave him away to me.
Moon gave a cold snort. "What wind brought you here today?"
Not for the first time did I feel that Moon could take up Metal's position with no problem. He was normally quite amiable, but when he was trying to appear disdainful, his words were always deadlier than Metal's ever could be. However, the truth was, nearly everyone was better at being hostile than Metal was. Of course, he was always the most unlike the Metal Knight in my presence as well, so I was not the best judge of that.
Both Moon and Metal had remarked on the same thing -- I was here too early.
I really should have spent more time combing Sun's hair. Even more time, I mean.
It was indeed strange for Sun to show up this early. If I had been privy to such a scene myself, I would be part of the faction wondering if he had some ulterior motive or not.
Which I supposed I did have. Grisia was truly influencing me greatly.
The rest of the Twelve Holy Knights slowly trickled in. Leaf was the first of the "good, warm-hearted" faction to show up. He, like Moon and Metal, was surprised to see me, but unlike them, he greeted me with a smile.
"Have you recovered, Sun?" he asked in concern.
The wound I had received from Roland during our fight at the plaza had completely healed by now. I didn't even feel it anymore. The only thing that still bothered me was the trinket, a lingering presence that I couldn't forget now that I knew what I was feeling.
"Rest assured, the God of Light has seen to Sun's quick recovery." I smiled some more.
Leaf let out a sigh of relief. "That's great!" As he spoke, he dug around in his pockets and brandished two bottles of spices. He then proceeded to sprinkle the spices over his breakfast without having even tasted the original flavor.
Everyone expressed similar feelings of surprise upon seeing "Sun" at the breakfast table so early in the morning. I half wanted to get up and leave, foregoing getting a hold of Ice and Earth for the moment. I should have had Adair fetch me a sandwich after all to avoid coming into close contact with the rest of the Twelve Holy Knights all at the same time. I quickly reminded them that there was the king's address to prepare for, but they didn't seem to believe even that would make Sun want to get up early.
After I finished speaking, in order to stop them from bombarding me with questions, I decided to keep my mouth full. I'd wanted to be forthright with them about the plan, but the breakfast table was not exactly the most private of places to speak with everyone.
This blueberry jam is quite delicious...
It mostly did the trick, as I was generally left alone after that, but Blaze had no qualms chattering my ear off even when I wasn't responding. He first rambled about the king's address before telling me that he believed in me and would do his utmost to help clear my name. I didn't doubt Blaze's earnestness. He was and would always be Sun's number one supporter.
While Blaze talked, I thought I saw a pale hand grab a pastry, but when I blinked, the hand was gone. I shook my head, trying to clear my vision. Was that... Cloud?
Suddenly, Blaze pounded me on the back. I coughed, a piece of toast nearly getting stuck in my throat.
"I knew you had it in you!" Blaze declared, emotion overflowing. "I mean, it took me a lot of thinking to get my head around it, but I'll be damned! Miracles do happen!"
That doesn't sound like praise at all...
He looked at me solemnly. "Sun, congrats. I don't know how you did it, but you seem to have graduated from accidentally killing someone with a flying sword."
I merely continued coughing. The worst thing about Blaze's words was that he was actually sincere and truly happy for Sun despite his contradictory statements. Earth would have meant the words to be sarcastic but not Blaze.
Blaze scratched his face. "Maybe we should duel sometime?"
"...Maybe later," I finally managed to say, wondering if this was the first time since everyone had learned their lesson not to seek Sun out for duels that someone was actually seeking him out again.
"You're on!" Blaze declared happily.
...I said maybe later... But fine.
In any case, by the time Blaze and Sun's duel came about, Grisia and I should have returned back to our own bodies. It would do Grisia good to try to duel Blaze and test out how well he can keep his sword in his hand now that he knew the reason behind his poor grip.
Breakfast was starting to wind down, but neither Ice nor Earth had shown up. Storm was nowhere to be seen either. I got up, about ready to leave. Moon and Metal, who had arrived the earliest after me, had finished too. They passed by me on their way out. Moon gave a disdainful sniff.
"Lavender..." he murmured.
"Lavender?" Metal asked. His nose twitched. "Hey, you're right!"
Both of them swiveled their heads to look at me before they looked at each other as if some great realization had struck.
I gave a confused smile. "Is something wrong?"
I did indeed smell of lavender -- lavender oil being one of the main ingredients of Sun's facial mask -- but Sun always smelled of lavender. There was no reason for their sudden interest.
"None of your concern," Moon waved his hand since he couldn't shake his head very well with his stiff neck.
"But why would Captain Judgment's--" Metal started to say.
Moon started dragging him off before he could finish.
I stared, not entirely understanding what had just happened.
It was at that time that Grisia came in through the door as if summoned by Metal's query, robes billowing out behind him. Moon stepped to the side to let him pass while Metal jumped out of shock at Grisia's sudden presence and stumbled over his words in his haste to clarify that he hadn't been gossiping about Captain Judgment.
Grisia merely put up a hand, which stopped Metal mid-speech, and as Metal looked up at Grisia in reverence, ready to hang on to his every word, Grisia merely said one word:
He had indeed made it in time for breakfast.
Chapter 32: Sun
Stomach satisfied, I went about our final arrangements in relatively good cheer. With some time left before our show that wasn't going to be anything less than amazing, I even made a quick trip outside the Holy Temple to buy something for Lesus. Never let it be said that I wasn't a good friend!
Although I cut the time close, I managed to assume my position just in time for the king's address. I calmly took my spot next to Lesus on the balcony and looked out toward the crowd.
The crowd almost made me lose control of my expression. There was a ridiculous amount of people present, way more than we predicted.
"Didn't we only just announce this address..." I mumbled under my breath. And doesn't anyone have anything better to do?
I had spoken quietly, but Lesus had still heard me. He responded, "The citizens want to know what's going on." Then, he glanced at me, his gaze seemingly saying, It's not just for their peace of mind. They care about their Sun Knight. They especially want to know what's going on with the rumors about you.
I snorted. I bet they just want more fodder for gossip!
It was bad enough that I'd walked into a den of gossipers this very morning. The citizens liked to gossip just as much! What were we, a city of gossipers?
I didn't know what Moon and Metal had looked so guilty about upon seeing me in the morning, or what Blaze and Leaf had been whispering about when I'd walked into the room -- imagine that, Blaze whispering! -- but I learned the reason behind the latter when Stone pulled me over after breakfast to ask me if I knew what was going on with Sun and his sudden, early appearance at breakfast. Once I realized that they had been gossiping about me, I immediately wanted to scowl!
Don't they know how much work I have to put in to make my appearance perfect? Of course it takes a lot of time to get prepared every morning. Besides, too little sleep would mar my complexion! It goes without saying that I need my beauty sleep! I mean, take Lesus for example! Sleeping so little surely plays a part in his skin problems!
Recalling the gossip from the morning, I shot a look at Lesus who was standing straight and tall, Divine Sun Sword by his side. It was his fault for being such an early riser that he'd gotten to breakfast super early.
He probably felt my gaze, since he soon glanced over at me in inquiry.
I made a face at him. Did you really have to show up so early to breakfast? You could have had all that free time to yourself to lounge abou-- I mean, you should have used that time to make your appearance impeccable...
My thoughts trailed off when I truly took in Lesus's appearance, his gloved hand laid comfortably on the hilt of the Divine Sun Sword. I couldn't deny that his appearance was spotless, and dare I even say, impressive? However long or short he had spent on my appearance had been plenty. He made me feel like he could strike gracefully without a second of hesitation, and he most likely could. When his lips formed a smile, with the sun shining behind him, I couldn't tear my eyes away.
It was so unfair.
He was clearly showing off, carrying himself in a way that only master swordsmen could and making me forget to be angry at him.
I know I don't normally look like that! But, maybe he'll be able to snag some more followers for us... A grimace immediately came over my face. I don't need Lesus doing my job for me!
"Have you readied your men, Knight-Captain Sun?" I glowered at him.
Lesus's smile was an amused one. I was sure of it. He wasn't even the least bit apologetic! "Indeed I have," he said, not forgetting to tack on, "thanks to the God of Light's generosity."
Below us in the plaza, scattered all through the crowd, were holy knights from the Earth Knight Platoon, the Ice Knight Platoon, the Judgment Knight Platoon, and the Sun Knight Platoon, each platoon led by our vice-captains. Earth and Ice came to join Lesus and me on the balcony. Our job was to "guard" the king, but the truth was, the fat pig king just wanted us around to look impressive in front of the crowd, not knowing that we had a different agenda. There really was little that looked more impressive than having the Sun Knight and the Judgment Knight flanking your sides, along with their "best" friends, the Earth Knight and the Ice Knight. Really, the only way to top this was to have all of the Twelve Holy Knights present, but it wasn't like we could all be at the king's beck and call. Besides, he had his knight-confidants for that.
The rest of the Twelve Holy Knights were actually in the plaza, among the crowd, keeping a lookout in case anything happened. Their platoons were tasked with patrolling the rest of the city. At the moment, however, the knight-captains were acting more as crowd control than anything else. Storm, for one, was doing a marvelous job attracting the women and keeping them all in one place. I pitied his eyes.
I glanced from one knight-captain to the next, searching for them among the crowd below, before I directed my attention back to Ice, Earth, and "Sun" who were here with me on the balcony. I couldn't help but feel warmth surge from within. These were my brothers, and although I'd kept most of them in the dark, none of them hesitated in giving "Sun" a helping hand in clearing a besmirched name.
If it weren't because this was all a great big hoax put on by yours truly and let's not forget the other main perpetrator, sneaky, sneaky Lesus, I would have felt bad for Roland. In fact, I did feel bad for Roland. Just a teeny bit. There was no chance he would be able to triumph against all of us when we were so unified!
It wasn't just us he had to deal with either. Lobster-red dotted the crowd. The royal knights were present and accounted for too.
Finally, it was time for the king to make his appearance. The doors opened, and he made his way out, followed by his two knight-confidants and his son. He waddled up to the front. An extraordinary feat, considering his size.
He cleared his throat, the fat hugging his chin jiggling as he did so.
Despite his presence and his call for attention, the crowd continued talking as if he had not shown up. The king cleared his throat again to no avail, the color of his face nearly matching the lobster-red uniforms of his royal knights. His attendants quickly tried to remedy the situation.
"All hail the king!" they announced, which they should have done from the start. Even their words, however, fell on deaf ears.
Well, well, well. In such a scenario, it was of course up to the imposing Judgment Knight to scare everyone into submission.
My lips quirked up and I let the tip of the Divine Judgment Sword hit the floor in a loud CLANG before I followed that up with, "Kneel before your king!"
Ice turned toward me, expression unchanged, but I could tell he was surprised. Earth was doing a marvelous job inching away from me, even standing closer to "Sun" when he normally wouldn't be caught within a feet of his "best" friend if he could help it.
Oops, did I overdo it?
Lesus flicked his eyes to the sky, as if asking, "Why me?" The smile on his face, however, never wavered.
But whatever their reactions, what I did worked like a charm. The crowd immediately fell silent out of surprise and fear and quickly followed my command.
It felt damn good being the Judgment Knight!
After that, the king was able to start speaking with no problems. It was all a lot of sugar-coated words, promises about taxes, reassurances about good relations between the Church and the royal palace... Blah, blah, blah...
Even I was getting bored by what he was spewing.
Then, as a good seventy five percent of the crowd must have been visiting the dream world, something exciting happened, saving all of us from being bored to death.
A figure flickered into existence and leaped off of a nearby building, leathery wings unfurling as he did so. A swirl of dark element gathered around him, darkening the sky. He was flying straight at us. In the plaza below, numerous undead creatures suddenly appeared out of nowhere, no doubt summoned by him.
The first to scream was a man whose voice went so high that he could have made a very good soprano in singing the Hymn of the God of Light.
I stared at the flying figure who was quickly approaching us.
Although I had told Roland to make his arrival striking, I didn't think he would take to flying right off the bat!
Various people shouted. "Protect the king!" "Protect the prince!" "Protect the Sun Knight!"
I placed my hand on the hilt of my sword, readying myself for battle. The walls of the palace were now crawling with undead creatures trying to climb the walls. It had taken no time at all.
I amended my previous thought. Perhaps it's a good thing this is all a hoax.
I would hate to imagine what it'd be like if Roland actually were our enemy!
Chapter 33: Judgment
Our plan was simple, as simple as a plan could be with Grisia's hand in it, but it was still reckless. I had given my approval though and was even responsible for a large part of the plan, so I really wasn't one to talk.
The goal was to have "Sun" "protect" the king in order to dispel the rumors surrounding the Sun Knight, to have the prince, ever the attentive son, "suggest" for his father to step down and enjoy his elderly years away from danger after a close shave with it, and for us to "defeat" the Death Lord in front of the public, solving everything all at once.
It was definitely going to take a lot of acting. The crown prince was in on the plan, so at least that was one less factor to worry about. With Storm's help, I'd laid out what evidence I had of his father's misdeeds in front of him and the royal advisors. We had been forced our hand early, but we made do with what we had, leaving the rest to my ability to compel convicts to confess.
The prince wasn't a convict, but I dealt with him with the same means. I confronted him confidently, never revealing that I didn't have a full hand. I also stated outright that if he didn't agree to have his father step down, I would instead drag the king off to the Judge's Complex for the Judgment Knight to deal with him like a regular criminal. I was not afraid to drag my own name into the mud, and this was a time when my poor reputation came into use.
I'd essentially threatened the crown prince. Grisia usually went to such outrageous means that the prince didn't even blink twice at my actions, thinking it on par with the norm.
The prince, as expected, hadn't been happy at all, but in the end, he could only sigh. It was not like he could silence the Sun Knight. He knew when he had been outmaneuvered, and it was no one's fault but his father's for forcing him into such a position.
"So, it has come to this, Grisia," the prince had said, using Grisia's name instead of calling him the Sun Knight. It was perhaps the prince's way of saying that Grisia may be the Sun Knight, but he was also Grisia, someone who was much younger than him. The prince had practically watched us grow up. Head shaking, the prince said, "You are getting more and more audacious, even daring to threaten me, but I concede. Father is indeed in the wrong."
I had actually been surprised that the prince had agreed so easily; however, his next words explained his decision. "It is amazing that you even alerted me to your plans before carrying it out without cluing me in. This does not feel like your style. Perhaps you are maturing."
Or perhaps I am not Grisia...
The prince then smiled softly. "And perhaps it is a sign that I too should start taking more responsibility. I have done the kingdom a disfavor in turning a blind eye to my father's misdeeds."
In such a way, the prince had agreed, and I was relieved that our kingdom would soon be in better hands. The prince knew what state the kingdom had been left in because of his father's poor leadership. He'd just never had it in him to dethrone his father. The prince was a good son and a good leader -- his only fault was that he was too lenient with his father.
That was why Grisia and I gave him a push, a push allowing him to take that last step and seize control. Any other man would have long overthrown the king, hungry for power, but not the prince. He was not an ambitious man. He needed an excuse. We provided him with one, and we'd also planned it so that his father could even save face, much more than he deserved. It was a decent plan, and the crown prince had approved of it -- he just didn't know that we'd actually invited the real Death Lord to the show.
So, when Roland appeared instead of a stand-in actor, the prince immediately turned his head and glared at me in accusation. No actor of ours could look that believable, with dark element oozing off of him, so thick that even the naked eye could see it. Not to mention, no actor of ours would be able to fly through the sky like what Roland was doing.
However, this was no time for the prince to start having doubts. I quickly placed my hand over my chest and bowed to the prince. Of the royal family, he was currently the one closest in proximity, but truthfully, I was just trying to make sure he wouldn't back out of the plan. "Prince, please trust Sun," I said. "Sun will definitely protect all of you!"
Unlike how I would normally be treated, the royal knights behind me regarded me with reverence upon hearing my words. Grisia made a noise but quickly pretended to be paying attention elsewhere. His sword was already drawn, and fortunately, it was still in his hand.
I ignored him, thankful that his reaction could be written off as disdain, and glanced up to catch the prince's eye. Don't worry, the plan will still continue like what we have discussed.
The prince frowned but moved back, possibly doubting his original suspicion. No matter how audacious "Sun" may be, even Sun would not be able to invite the real Death Lord... Or so people would normally think.
Sword drawn, I directed my attention back to the situation on hand. Numerous undead creatures were trying to scale the wall. When one of them reached a skeletal hand onto the balcony, I immediately slashed at it and sent it falling. Grisia was also trying to clear the undead creatures that were breaching the wall. He even stomped on a hand with his foot, crushing the bones. I heard a loud screech as the undead creature fell. I held no love for such beings, but even so, I could not help a wince of sympathy.
Grisia glanced at me. One side of his lips lifted up in a crooked smile. It was quite a frightening sight, especially after the scream he had just caused. "Perhaps this is how things should be," he said after a moment's pause. I can be cruel in your place.
In the heat of battle, Grisia's thoughts were clearly going haywire. I would have none of his nonsense. "You will easily get tired of wearing black," I said.
He immediately shot back, "But you would get to wear white." And walk under the light.
I shook my head. "I much prefer a different wardrobe."
Anyone who heard us was probably wondering why we were talking about our wardrobes in the middle of battle, but thankfully, most people were too occupied to pay much attention to what we were saying. At least, I hoped so.
Grisia had his head tilted, eyes asking, Are you sure?
I was positive.
There was only one person that I would ever acknowledge as my Sun Knight, and it certainly wasn't me, no matter what strange thought had seized Grisia this time. It did not matter what we looked like.
I smiled. "Brother 'Judgment,' dealing with undead creatures is 'Sun's' duty." If you want to torture undead creatures, do it as yourself!
Grisia's eyes danced. Whatever insecurity had plagued him was now replaced by amusement over my attempt at his speech. "Oh? 'Sun,' do you think you can deal with an entire army by yourself?"
I found his words so ironic that I nearly laughed. I responded, "'Sun' knows better." And you better know it. We're in this together, don't you forget. Now, stop making me speak.
Below us, the holy knights and the royal knights were busy dealing with the rest of the army Roland had brought. The undead creatures were all weak, but they were countless, from zombies to skeletons to vampiric spiders. Earth Shields popped up one after another, separating the citizens from harm. Even though Grisia always complained about Earth, the way Earth had his platoon trained in the art of defense was always a sight to see. Even Grisia would have to agree, however grudgingly.
Meanwhile, Roland flew straight at us, nearly unobstructed, except for Leaf's arrows. It was a good thing Grisia and I had not stationed Leaf's platoon in the crowd. I would have to worry for Roland if we had. As it was, I still worried. Leaf was an excellent shot. He alone would be enough. His arrows always flew true, and this time was no exception. The only reason Roland was still unharmed was because of the dark element swirling around him, protecting him like armor. That, however, wasn't going to hinder Leaf for long.
I watched as yet another arrow hit the wall of dark element; this time, Leaf must have done something to the arrow. It burrowed through the dark element and would have nicked Roland if he had not quickly responded by knocking it away with his sword. All the arrows that followed after that were the same, slicing through Roland's swirling dark element, momentum only slightly hindered. However, the slight decrease in the arrows' speed when passing through his wall of dark element was all Roland needed. Each and every arrow that came his way ultimately got knocked away.
Roland landed in front of us and stood up, dark wings nearly blocking out the sun. With a flick of his hand, he summoned a bunch of undead creatures and set them loose. Leaf gave up on shooting Roland and instead started shooting the undead creatures that were trying to climb up the wall, the ones Grisia and I had been hacking away at. Each shot of his brought down one of the creatures. Countless corpses joined the arrows that Roland had deflected to the ground.
I readied the Divine Sun Sword. Now, it was time to put on the show of a lifetime. "Foul creature!" I yelled at Roland. "The God of Light may be forgiving, but even He will not turn a blind eye on the darkness you bring!"
I would only be too glad to give this acting job back to Grisia and return back to the shadows to support him!
While I yelled, I swept my arm in front of me theatrically, indicating the swarm of undead creatures Roland had brought.
Roland, unexpectedly, was not entirely a bad actor. "Sun Knight! I have come for your head! This city will be mine!" He yelled the words Grisia had him recite. I did think, however, that both of us sounded somewhat stiff.
We'd both yelled loudly and clearly. Enough people should have heard us and would help spread that the only reason the Death Lord was interested in the Sun Knight was because he wanted to take over the city and thought that eliminating the Sun Knight would be the quickest way to do that.
After speaking, the dark element around Roland rose even more, and he rushed forward at me with a burst of speed. Grisia and Ice were kept at bay by the undead creatures Roland had summoned. Royal knights scrambled to protect the king and the prince. Earth raised a shield to protect me, his trusty earth element mixing with holy element to form a solid wall. However, instead of slamming against the shield, Roland began flickering.
I pretended to widen my eyes at Roland's action, but I already knew where he was going next.
"Sun Knight, if not your head, then the king's head will be mine!"
I yelled, "Protect the king!"
Then, as if I'd realized that the knights' protection wouldn't be enough, I leaped in front of the king myself. The king was quivering, rooted to his spot. He stared past me, eyes wide with fear.
"Father!" The prince yelled at the same time voices yelled in concern for me.
This is truly a reckless plan.
Now, I was glad that Grisia and I hadn't switched back yet. I would hate to see Grisia doing something so stupid. He was probably hating himself and me at the very moment for our reckless plan.
Roland materialized right in front of me, his eyes blazing with cold flames, dark element trailing down his face. I twisted around, trying to block with my sword, but my struggle was nothing to Roland, not when my stance was completely wrong. He knocked my blade away and sliced me across my abdomen. It was a light cut, but I pretended to be hurt beyond repair.
I fell dramatically, sword clattering to the ground.
In hindsight, it was probably not the smartest idea having Roland strike me where the trinket was currently located, but what was done, was done, and even now, after the fact, I still wasn't sure if that had anything to do with triggering "it."
A wall of ice appeared before me, protecting me from further harm, forcing Roland to step back. Ice ran over to me in panic. He'd lost his control over his expressions. Once he reached my side, he immediately tried casting a Minor Heal.
Earth shouted, "He'll be fine! He's Sun!" Despite Earth's words, he cast a Moderate Heal in my direction. I also realized that he'd forgotten to stutter.
The warm healing light from their spells soothed the pain, but the receding pain only left a strange, inexplicable feeling in its wake.
In the meantime, the prince had rushed to his father's side and yelled a string of words. I vaguely understood that he'd acted out his part too, the part of a concerned son wishing for his father to step down so that he may enjoy his elderly years in safety.
Grisia had also rushed to my side by this time. He yelled at Roland, playing the part of the unforgiving Judgment Knight.
Everything... just sounded really far away, like I was underwater.
Right when Grisia bent down to pick up the Divine Sun Sword, claiming that he would battle Roland on my behalf, I felt it, like a divine message straight from the God of Light that it was time, time for us to be put back in the right clothes.
I doubled over, hugging myself.
I... really need to go to the bathroom!
Chapter 34: Sun
Everything happened very quickly.
In one moment, Leaf, who was way below us in the plaza, was trying to make a pincushion out of Roland. In the next, Roland had skillfully escaped the fate of becoming a pincushion and had already reached the balcony where we were, acting out the play of a lifetime with Lesus -- I really scored with my front row ticket -- and then Lesus got injured and purposefully fell in full view of the public. The fat pig king, the crown prince, and everyone else all watched with eyes as wide as saucers.
It took all of my control not to burst out laughing at the show Lesus and Roland had put on -- really, I couldn't have found any actors more entertaining than them even if I tried -- but I quickly sobered when Lesus fell. Even though it was just as planned, I couldn't help wincing. I tried to convince myself that Lesus would be alright. There was nothing to worry about. After all, my body always recovered quickly, and even if that wasn't the case, both Ice and Earth had already tossed healing spells at Lesus so promptly that he would be fine.
Still, I bet Lesus was regretting our plan very, very much.
What wasn't planned was what came after that. The God of Light must be chortling at our expense. It wasn't that I didn't want to be myself again -- I did! -- but what kind of shoddy timing was this?
With Ice and Earth looking after Lesus, I'd walked forward to deal with Roland. I threw down words about the God of Light's harshness and how He frowns upon evildoers. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the Divine Sun Sword on the ground.
On. The. Freaking. Ground!
Lesus, you need to be more careful with a delicate weapon like this! There's no need to imitate how I... lose my weapon all the time...
I mean, since he was me, he should have made me look cooler, like propping himself up with the sword or something. Yeah, yeah, I know the Divine Sun Sword isn't a cane, but using it as a cane would still beat having it kiss the floor.
I bent down, worried about any damage the Divine Sun Sword might have sustained. Right away, I realized that showing such concern over the weapon probably looked weird, so I instead reached out to grab the sword, intent on picking it up. I could then inspect it better, and I might as well fight in the Sun Knight's stead with it. A poetic touch!
I really hadn't given it much thought beyond that. Our luck really sucked.
When my hand closed around the hilt of the sword, a jolt went through me. The sword hummed in my hands. It was like being welcomed home after a long, long absence.
As I felt warmth spread through me, I heard Lesus groan. Immediately, I jerked around in alarm and saw him doubled over, hugging his stomach.
"L-" I almost said. I quickly shut my mouth, nearly biting my tongue.
Lesus raised his head, golden strands slipping off his shoulders. His face was pale. He mouthed something to me. Immediately, my jaw dropped, image be damned.
Isn't the time limit supposed to be three days? I wouldn't have cared if it had been earlier or later, in fact I'd have been super happy if it'd been yesterday, but out of all times...
It won't do to have the Sun Knight take a crap in front of the practically the entire city!
My eyes narrowed as I quickly thought about what we could do.
Damn, why have so many people shown up... Not that it matters whether the audience is ten thousand people or just a hundred people. Even if it is only one person, the Sun Knight may never be inelegant! I might as well bid my image goodbye forever and ever if Lesus can't hold it in! I would never be able to live it down!
I spotted a royal knight that was really getting on my already frayed nerves with his all-purpose handsomeness, so I leveled my most menacing glare at him, and you better believe that it was as menacing as menacing could be given that I had full use of Judgment's face!
"You there!" I barked. "Take the Sun Knight to the clerics! Make it fast!"
The royal knight hesitated, eyes glancing at the king and the prince. I clicked my tongue in annoyance.
Ice stepped forward, looking like he had every intention to support Lesus to the clerics, but I quickly shook my head at him. "Knight-Captain Ice, we will need your Ice Walls to defend everyone!"
My words seemed to help the royal knight make up his mind. He hastened to support Lesus and even said to him, "Sun Knight, let's retreat."
In a louder voice, he commanded, "Retreat! Protect the king and the prince as we fall back!"
I blinked. I hadn't known that the random royal knight I picked out would have so much authority! It figured that someone with an all-purpose handsomeness like him had climbed up the ranks easily.
As they retreated, Ice and Earth held the undead creatures back. I gave one last glance at Lesus's back, dearly hoping Lesus would be able to find a way to extricate himself later on. Just as I was about to turn away, Lesus looked back, blue eyes meeting mine for the last time.
Next time, it won't be blue eyes anymore, huh? Next time, he'll be looking out from familiar dark eyes once again. It'll feel a lot less strange.
His gaze seemed to say, See you later.
I inclined my head just a bit. See you as ourselves.
It was time to end this.
I turned and pointed the Divine Sun Sword at Roland, who had been waiting very patiently and politely. I really hoped no one noticed that he hadn't been attacking while we tended to Lesus. He was truly upstanding to a fault. I bet he would never cut someone down from behind.
"You will regret what you have done to the Sun Knight," I growled. "Let me send you off to eternal rest!"
Don't gather holy element to your hands, don't gather holy element to your hands, don't... I kept repeating to myself, hoping the repetition would help my control. Lesus had told me that the holy element around Adair was smooth and controlled in the middle of battle while mine fluctuated wildly. As long as I could keep the holy element around me smooth, I should be able to keep the sword in my grip.
The Divine Sun Sword, however, didn't want to play nice at all. I suspected that the vast amount of holiness it contained did not at all help my endeavor of keeping holy element away from my hand.
Roland closed in. I hurriedly brought the Divine Sun Sword up before me.
Right away, it disappeared from my hand, though not without hurting Roland, who recoiled from the holy element that must have gathered around me before the sword went flying out like a projectile.
I huffed. Screw this.
Roland was an expert swordsman. On top of that, he was even a Death Lord! Lesus might choose to battle with only a sword against Roland, but there was no way I could do the same! I hadn't expected that I'd have to deal with Roland and act out the last part of our play either. We'd assigned Lesus, the "Sun" Knight for that part, but now it was up to me.
I heard the doors close. A quick glance told me that the king and everyone else had successfully evacuated. Only a few knights were still around, as well as Ice and Earth. They continued hacking away at the undead creatures that were swarming the balcony. It looked like it would still be up to me to deal with Roland, the final boss.
Well then, it was time to see just what I could do as "Judgment" for our final act!
I drew on the wind and holy element around me, bringing it about my feet. The elements reacted sluggishly to my call, but they were reacting. Had I been myself, I'd have given myself a much larger boost, but since using magic as Judgment was pretty damn hard, I could only manage a very small boost of speed.
It was more than enough.
Thanks to the boost and Judgment's body that was already well-trained in the first place, I managed to dash forward in what felt like an instant and grab the Divine Sun Sword once more. I also drew the Divine Judgment Sword out of its scabbard. Since these swords loved being projectiles, I might as well make sure I had more than one projectile to use!
I fell back into battle with Roland, who made use of his wings to fly above me and was now a dark shadow blotting out the sun. It was so unfair. But hey, if that's the way he wanted to do it, then so be it!
I swung the Divine Judgment Sword, letting blades of wind cut at him. If I was lucky, people would just think that Judgment's swing was so powerful that he could move the wind. It wasn't that farfetched for someone like Judgment, and it was actually more believable than Judgment using magic. And if anyone started doubting, well, in the end, people always fell back on explanations that made sense to them, so I wasn't worried. Much.
I had a much easier time keeping the Divine Judgment Sword in my hand than the Divine Sun Sword, no doubt because it wasn't leaking a ridiculous amount of holy light. I probably should have just given up on the Divine Sun Sword, but I'd already picked it up. It would look ridiculous if I threw it away now!
With that thought in mind, I furrowed my brows in concentration as I drew on holy element from the sword and wrapped it around my hand. It wasn't a very neat way of doing it, but I hoped it would be a good enough stop gap measure for now. If I couldn't keep holy element away from my hand, then I might as well use it to bind the sword to me!
I leaped back into battle, combining my magic with swordplay. Surprisingly, I managed to keep hold of both swords. The magic wrapping thingamabob worked!
Each swing of the Divine Judgment Sword came accompanied by Wind Blades while each swing of the Divine Sun Sword came accompanied by blasts of holy light. Roland was grinning in a freaky way (tell me it's not freaky when someone with gray skin and cold blazing flames for eyes grins from ear to ear... It's definitely freaky!) and dodging all of my attacks, flitting this way and that. I breathed in deeply and gathered more wind element around my feet -- this was getting easier and easier! Perhaps I'll make a mage out of Judgment yet. I leaped upward, propelling myself over the edge of the balcony to slash at Roland--
Only to abruptly find myself squatting in the bathroom.
I raised my hand up and stared at it. I touched my hair, bringing forward a golden lock.
Then, I wrinkled my nose and looked down with disgust.
"Don't tell me I have to look for the trinket now..."
Ew! Lesus, you should be doing this instead of me! You're the one who ****** it out!
Chapter 35: Judgment
When we finally returned to ourselves, the first thing I experienced was freefalling through the air and seeing the ground rush up to me. I didn't know what kind of battle Grisia had been fighting while I paid a hasty visit to the bathroom, but I certainly did not expect to be falling to my death immediately upon returning to my own body.
Thanks a lot, Grisia.
It left me no time to appreciate being back in my own body, as I was quite preoccupied with staying alive.
"Judgment!" I heard Ice yell.
A layer of ice appeared near me at the same time as an Earth Shield. They were exactly what I needed. Without thinking -- I must have been "Sun" for too long -- the first thing I did was blast holy light at what Ice and Earth had summoned, using the force to propel myself backwards.
The angle wasn't quite right, but it would have to suffice. I twisted and swung the Divine Judgment Sword out, ramming it into the wall to prevent myself from falling further. My sword cut into the stone, sparks flying for a good meter before I finally came to a stop, hanging precariously by one hand. Bits and pieces of the wall tumbled down, dropping past my vision.
My heart thumped loudly in my ears.
When a dark shadow landed on me, I looked over and saw Roland, who was blocking the sun.
While I was freefalling, Roland had swooped down, possibly in concern when it became evident that it was not my intention to keep falling, and that I might very well fall to my death if he didn't take action.
"Pleased to meet you again," I managed to say, glad that I was able to keep my voice steady, and even gladder that I hadn't joined the corpses of undead creatures lining the ground below us. "Although the circumstances leave much to be desired."
Roland's eyes crinkled, the flames he had in place of his pupils flickering a bit. It actually made him look somewhat kind despite his alarming appearance. "Hello there, Lesus. I thought something was up. Although Grisia's style is hard to grasp, even he isn't that reckless."
I felt my lips twitch upward. Whatever Grisia had been planning, I was quite sure it wasn't "falling to his death."
I took a quick appraisal of the current situation. I was back in my own body. Grisia was no doubt in the bathroom, meaning, nowhere near here, so it was unfortunately up to me to finish the final act with Roland. It seemed that I wouldn't be able to escape from acting no matter who I was at the moment. I quickly whispered to Roland my intention to change the plan a bit, considering we didn't have our original actor anymore, whether in body or in spirit. He gave a slight nod.
In a much louder voice than I had been using to converse with Roland, I declared, "The harsh God of Light will not forgive you for your transgressions. It is time for you to return to your eternal rest!"
When my deep, booming voice sounded out, a sudden hush claimed the crowd. The sounds of clashing weapons and shouts of warnings all stopped, as if everyone knew that this was the final moment. The crowd below us looked up, and many people gasped upon seeing how their Judgment Knight was hanging precariously by one hand. Their gasps were particularly loud in the ringing silence.
With great difficulty, I swung myself upwards, the crowd below gasping again. When my feet landed on the hilt of the Divine Judgment Sword, it was to another collective intake, almost like background music for my every move.
Standing on the hilt of my sword thoroughly tested my sense of balance. Thankfully, I had had a lot of practice balancing on tree branches in my youth thanks to all the times I had to find ways to scale walls in order to buy blueberry pie for Grisia.
Even though I was standing on my weapon, I still had another weapon in hand -- the Divine Sun Sword. In fact, it even felt like it was glued to my hand, which was quite inconvenient.
Come to think of it, why did I even have two swords in my hands before this? What had Grisia been trying to do? Masquerade as a dual blade wielding swordsman? I would have thought one sword would already be plenty for Grisia. Two swords meant yet another sword he would have to worry about losing.
At the very least, I had used the Divine Judgment Sword as my foothold instead of the Divine Sun Sword. Grisia would no doubt cry rivers if I had instead chosen to ram the Divine Sun Sword into the wall.
Whatever his reasons for using two swords, it meant that I still had a weapon now even though one was being used as a foothold. I pointed the Divine Sun Sword at Roland.
We had planned on using holy light to obscure the last part of the battle. My holy light was not strong, but the Divine Sun Sword would be able to aid me. I could draw on its holy element like what I had already unintentionally done to save myself while falling. Perhaps it was because I had been "Sun" just before this -- my first instinct had actually been calling upon holy light to aid me when I needed a way to fling myself back toward the safety of the wall.
I drew upon all the holy element I could from the sword, the feat not as difficult as I thought it'd be. The area around us lit up, blinding us and all the spectators.
I leaped away from the wall, stepping on the ice that had been frozen before me. At the same time as I did that, I yelled for Ice to create more footholds for me. Even though he couldn't see what I was doing very well, more layers of ice appeared just like I'd asked. I made use of these to close in on Roland. To the crowd below, I must have looked like I was leaping across thin air.
While Roland was still "distracted" by the holy light I emanated, I stabbed in his direction, "skewering" him with the Divine Sun Sword, and rammed him into the wall.
As the Judgment Knight, there was no reason I needed to prolong the fight.
Ah, looks like I haven't prevented the Divine Sun Sword from ending up in the wall too.
It seemed that Grisia would have to cry that river of his.
Although it looked like I had stabbed Roland, I had only stuck the sword between Roland's arm and his body, the most rudimentary way of faking a wound. I'd blinded everyone with holy light to keep them from realizing what had actually happened. At most, people would only see a silhouette.
Still, the proximity of such a weapon brimming with holy light must be uncomfortable for Roland. He screamed, and I silently apologized, for that scream could not be entirely an act.
I made sure to call upon more holy light to obscure our surroundings even more.
"I...h-hate you, Judgment Knight!" Roland screamed, the words tearing out of his throat in a garbled mess. "I curse you! I curse you! Curse you! I curse you to die!"
"You are the one who will perish today," I said calmly. Then, I "pulled" the Divine Sun Sword out, and Roland let out one last blood curdling scream that made my hackles rise. Despite how much even I thought Roland was cursing me for real, he looked at me with a tiny smile before flickering out of existence. In his place, dust scattered. He'd actually teleported away and crushed a pre-prepared pellet. To everyone else, it would look like he had truly perished and crumbled into dust.
It was done. I watched the dust fall to the earth.
I pulled myself back onto the balcony. Ice reached out to lend a hand. I looked at him gratefully, closing my hands around his. After I climbed up to safety, I looked back down at the crowd below the balcony. They were completely silent and seemed afraid to even twitch. The holy light I'd used as a screen had dissipated by this time, and all of the undead creatures had fallen with Roland's disappearance. The people all looked at me with wide eyes.
I felt my lips twitch upward at the comical sight. It wasn't a situation where I should laugh or even find it the least bit amusing, but I felt myself relax and smile because finally, it was over. Now, I was back to being stared at by frightened eyes, with people too scared of me to even speak in my presence. While I hated it, it was familiar, and this was the path I'd chosen.
This was my path.
I had been given a nice break, being allowed to smile genuinely. I was going to miss it somewhat. Though, perhaps, smiling as myself wouldn't hurt either. After all, I learned that it might even help make me look more imposing.
Like now. The crowd was still completely silent. I readied myself and declared, once and for all, "The Death Lord has been vanquished! Any evildoers who dare bring harm to Leaf Bud City will meet the same fate of being judged by the God of Light's harshness!"
Perhaps my stint as the Sun Knight has really helped improve my acting ability.
With that said, I whirled around, robes flaring out behind me. Even that thought gave me quiet amusement, as I knew that Grisia quite liked doing that as "Judgment."
I had to admit that I kind of missed making my robes flare out.
At the archway that led indoors, Ice caught up to me and gave me a slight nod. "Nice magic," he said.
I looked at Ice impassively and said, "It was nothing."
Inside, I couldn't help but wonder, Don't tell me Ice is talking about something else other than the holy light I'd borrowed from the Divine Sun Sword?
Immediately after I left the balcony, a loud cheer broke out, the silence abruptly broken all at once. I also realized that I'd forgotten to retrieve the Divine Judgment Sword.
"The Death Lord has been vanquished!"
"The Death Lord is no more!"
I was surprised that people were even shouting things along the lines of, "Long live the Judgment Knight!"
The remaining knights on the balcony didn't stay silent either.
"Did you see that? Judgment Knight practically flew through the air!"
"He was also using wind magic before that!"
"He can levitate!"
"I didn't know he's a sword mage!"
I couldn't help it. I turned away from Ice and covered my mouth. Then, I laughed and laughed and laughed, my shoulders shaking.
Ice stared at me in alarm.
I clasped him on the shoulder in reassurance and strode back out onto the balcony. Immediately, another hush fell upon the crowd.
I nonchalantly retrieved my sword.
Well, that was certainly one way of getting rid of the rumors about Sun.
Chapter 36: Sun
Ugh, Lesus gets to be heroic while I have to dig through crap...
I had no doubt that with our return to our bodies would come Lesus's return to his quick and boring style of dispatching his enemies. The battle was probably already over while I was still stuck here in the bathroom!
Locating the trinket was quite a nasty task. I braved through it by utilizing some magic. It felt great being able to call forth the elements again with barely any concentration, and perhaps it was because I'd had to try so hard to have the elements answer to me as Judgment that it felt ridiculously easy now.
A bit too easy, as I'd just accidentally soaked myself from having too much water element gather about me. It was made worse by the fact that I saw the water element gather with my sensing ability but was too slow to stop it from crashing down on me.
What a joy.
I spit out a strand of wet hair and lifted all of the particles of the water element out of my clothes and hair. Sun Knight dryer service, at your command. I let the water element I'd just gathered drop to the floor and then summoned another jet of water, this time with less force, to clean the trinket without touching it. Then, I formed chains out of water to wrap the trinket up and levitate it before me. No way was I going to touch it with my bare hands!
With the trinket floating above me, I was finally able to take a good look at it. Pink had thrown it at me so abruptly that I hadn't even had a chance to see what it looked like.
I immediately did a double take.
Why in the world is it heart-shaped?!!
For a trinket that had caused so much trouble for us, it looked deceptively normal and cutesy. It also made me think of the heart-shaped Ring of Life that Roland had worn.
Do all of Pink's powerful trinkets have to be heart-shaped or what?
This particular heart trinket had a jagged line down the middle, bringing to mind the image of a broken heart, and there were different engravings on the two sides. A closer look showed that the engraving on one side was of a circle with squiggly rays and the other side was of a crescent.
Are you freaking kidding me? I'm going to have a word with you about this stupid trinket, Pink!
I took off a glove and dropped the trinket inside.
When I stood back up, pain shot through my muscles. I grimaced. I was sore all over. When I closed my hand, the muscles on the inside of my palm burned as they contracted, and the muscles on my arms felt like they were on fire too.
My legs as well. It felt like I'd been pulled apart and then put back together. Granted, I did have an out-of-body experience, but I doubted that had anything to do with my soreness.
It was a wonder that Lesus had even been able to walk normally when he had been me. The abuse that he'd put this body through to achieve those athletic feats of unattainable swordsmanship was no joke!
My body hasn't been trained for it!
And now I had a bunch of blisters to show for it too. Stupid Lesus! I was so nice to give him a present too, and this was how he repaid me?
Grumbling, I exited the bathroom, only to realize that someone was standing guard outside. I immediately plastered a smile on my face. That dratted royal knight with the all-purpose handsomeness was still here.
Lesus, you should have chased him off!
"Sun Knight, are you all right?"
I smiled brightly. "Thanks to the God of Light's generosity and your gracious concern, Sun is in good health."
"Um, okay, that's good to hear," the royal knight said after a pause.
"Sun is truly fine." Now run along and leave me alone.
I was speaking the truth too. Except for sore muscles, I did not actually have any injuries. Lesus must have personally healed any injuries he had received, or perhaps Ice and Earth's attempts at healing had been more than enough. After all, the reason Lesus had to leave the scene hadn't been because of an injury. He just had to answer the call of nature. Not that that was a reason that could be shared with the public... and I supposed I had to keep pretending to be hurt, or else this royal knight would figure out that I didn't need any clerics. I only needed the bathroom!
When the royal knight still looked at me in concern, I started weaving a long speech about the God of Light's benevolence, long enough to chase most people away, but the dratted royal knight continued to stand rooted to the spot.
"Let me take you to the clerics!" he said after my long spiel, seemingly having opted to ignore whatever he didn't understand and making me wonder why he was so adamant about this. It couldn't be that he'd taken my words as Judgment this seriously. "The prince personally asked me to look after you."
Ah, so it's the prince who wants me watched! Figures...
I was none too happy about paying the Sanctuary of Light a visit when I wasn't even hurt, but I did need to have the trinket examined, preferably by the Bishop of Radiance so that she could seal it. I ended up letting the royal knight follow me to the Sanctuary of Light, though I "graciously" declined his offer to support me.
I can walk perfectly fine, thank you very much!
And I certainly don't need a guy holding me up!
He, however, looked on worriedly. I was probably limping a bit, but that was because my muscles were sore and it sucked having to get used to being short again. Not that I'm that short. I'm just not as tall as Judgment.
On my way to the Sanctuary of Light, I came across plenty of people, which meant I had to smile and nod at them. No more scowling allowed for poor Grisia. Many people were even already gossiping about the amazing feats of the Judgment Knight and the subsequent defeat of the Death Lord. Word sure traveled fast. The royal knight trailing after me relaxed greatly upon hearing the news. I also relaxed. It seemed that the ordeal was finally over, and Lesus had become a promising actor in the process. Not a bad result.
When I reached the Sanctuary of Light, I saw that there were only a handful of people present that the clerics were looking after. It relieved me that not a lot of people had been injured in our fake attack against the king. It was probably all thanks to Roland's superb control over the undead creatures.
Hey, I might not even have to ask Pink to summon undead creatures anymore! Roland's an expert at it!
Of course, I did want my dear friend to rest in peace as quickly as possible.
I retrieved my glove and handed the trinket over to the Bishop of Radiance off to the side. I asked her to seal the trinket and to let me know anything she could glean from it, but I warned her not to actually touch it. I didn't tell her much else, only that there would be unfortunate circumstances if she wasn't careful. She took a look at the trinket and said, "I will need to examine it more closely, but my first impression is that this is likely to be the remnant of a lovers' quarrel, the crystallization of two opposites."
"Sun means no disrespect, but Sun doubts that is what the trinket is," I said. Obviously, the shape of the trinket was giving off the wrong vibes. Remnant of a lovers' quarrel? What a joke! What kind of lovers' quarrel would plop two people in completely different bodies? I left her at it.
While I conversed with the Bishop of Radiance, a holy knight had been sent over from the scene of the battle to report what had happened there. He sure arrived promptly, not too soon after me. No doubt my detour and my tortoise paced walking had given him plenty of time to reach the Sanctuary of Light.
After that, the Pope himself personally came to look after me, which finally eased the concern of the royal knight who had been relentlessly tagging along after me. He was sure difficult to get rid of. I was positive he was now off to report to the king. Or probably the prince. The prince was actually more likely.
When the Pope saw that I was perfectly fine, all we ended up doing was exchange some quips. I then followed him into a private prayer room. Might as well get my report over.
"Sun Knight, it looks like you actually managed to solve the matter within three days," he said once we were alone.
"Of course, Your Holiness. Sun would never dream to drag down the name of the Church of the God of Light." I beamed a smile at him. Inwardly, I wondered why he'd mentioned "three days." Why that particular time limit?
He rolled his eyes under his veil. "You should thank Judgment for having the foresight to ask for more time, otherwise you would not even had had three more days to settle the matter. I didn't see you coming over to plead your own case."
So, Lesus actually went and asked for me? No wonder the Pope left me alone.
It seemed that Lesus had trusted me from the start. I had been wrong to doubt him. Even while I had been doubting him over at Pink's residence, Lesus had been thinking of how to help me.
He had helped clear my name, my reputation no longer stained, and he'd help Roland exact justice as well. Now, in response to our final act, people would be scared to death of the Judgment Knight. The Pope was going to be very happy with the result. I was sure that donation money was going to come pouring in. After all, people would probably be afraid that they'd be the next to be cut down by Judgment if they didn't show their support to the Church of the God of Light.
That evening, when all was said and done, I snuck into Judgment's room. It had only been mine for two nights, but it had already started feeling like home despite how bare and boring it was. When I closed the door behind me, I heard a clink of china that nearly made my heart leap out of my throat.
"Sun, you do know that your room is next door, right?" Lesus asked. It seemed that he had been drinking tea and had just placed his cup down. It was likely the very same cup that I'd nearly assaulted Ice with right after our untimely switch.
"Of course I know!" I scowled.
"And that normally, you should knock before entering someone else's room?"
I scowled even harder. "I just didn't want to be seen."
Lesus raised an eyebrow. "Well?"
"I heard that you have my sword," I said.
"Ah, it's over there." Lesus nodded his head toward the side of the room. Both his sword and mine were over there.
I walked over and picked up the Divine Sun Sword. It hummed at my touch, and once more, I felt like I was being welcomed home, except this time, it was my own hand that I was using to hold the Divine Sun Sword. I closed my eyes and breathed out. Then, I opened them again, golden bangs framing my vision.
I'm the Sun Knight.
I was back to being the Sun Knight, and now I also knew more than ever that Lesus would always support me. There was no one he trusted more than me.
"Thanks," I whispered.
Lesus made a noncommittal noise. Then, he asked, out-of-the-blue, "What is this jar, Grisia?"
I suspect that it was probably the very first thing he'd seen upon entering his room. I'd left it on his table before the king's address, not having anticipated that we'd return to our bodies before I could do anything with it.
I turned, and with a beaming smile on my face, said, "Oh that? That's my present for you! Daisy essential oil! Your skin has truly become too coarse! You need to maintain your skin better!"
Lesus seemed not to know what to say. Finally, he said, "...I'm flattered. Now, I really know that you're sincere in your gratitude considering you're even spending money to give me a present."
Indeed, it made my heart hurt to have to spend extra money on this month's facial mask ingredients, as my own were already expensive enough. That was why I'd picked daisy essential oil. It was one of the cheaper kinds available.
"...No wait, wasn't it my money?" he suddenly said.
"So, this is the real reason you snuck into my room," Lesus said with a sigh.
Haha... caught again.
If it weren't because we'd already switched back, I'd planned on giving Judgment a much needed facial maintenance this very night. But since we did switch back, I planned on coming to his room, mixing the ingredients, and having the mixture ready before his return. Too bad he was already chilling around with a cup of tea.
"Come on, Lesus, you better use it! I paid a lot of money for that, you know!"
"Need I remind you again that it was my money..."
"All the more reason for you to use it then. What a waste if you don't!"
Lesus flicked his eyes up in exasperation. I didn't know how glad I was to see that expression again, on his own face, until now.
I'd missed it.
Chapter 37: Judgment
My eyes slowly opened on their own, and I found myself staring up at my nondescript ceiling. I turned and glanced around. The sky outside was still somewhat dark, as it was not quite dawn yet, but it was not so dark that I could not see around the room. Wisps of dark hair brushed against my face as I sat up.
I held up my hand, flipping it back and forth. Then, I rubbed my fingers over my calluses and touched my face.
Ah, so we did switch back for good.
Thankfully, I had not woken up on the third morning since our switch to discover that we had not changed back after all. That would have been disappointing and exasperating.
In no time at all, I finished my morning preparations and threw on some black robes, unlike how it would have taken me at least an hour or more to get ready if I had still been Sun. In fact, if I had still been Sun, I would not even be up, as I'd still be sleeping. However, despite sleeping late last night, my body was conditioned to wake up early, so wake up I did.
I lifted an arm and sniffed at myself, wondering if I smelled like daisies. Grisia had wanted me to use the ingredients he'd prepared no matter how much I had argued otherwise.
Last night had been...interesting, to say the least. If anyone had kicked open my door, they would surely have been scared out of their wits by the sight that would have greeted them. Two grown men, one whose face, arms, and body were completely green, and the other whose face, arms, and body were completely yellow. Only the eyes had been left untouched, staring out of the goo intensely, and the hair as well, topping off the goo monsters with a shock of blond and black. We were a much worse spectacle than even rotting undead creatures that Sun liked to vent his stress out on. Thankfully, Blaze had long since gotten bored of kicking my door. Otherwise, I might have to worry for him coming across a yellow monster sipping tea across from a pouting green monster.
I took another sniff. I suppose smelling fresh didn't hurt. It did make me feel cleansed.
As I was actually too early for today's meeting, I decided to head to the Judge's Complex first to make sure everything was in order. I also wanted to review over which criminals had already been taken care of and which still needed to be scheduled for the day. I'd only been away for two days, but it had felt much too long and I was eager to get back to work.
On my way to the Judge's Complex, dawn broke, the sky outside the windows of the corridors gradually growing brighter. My eyes sought out the brightening sky, a sight I often saw, but I felt like I was seeing it with all new eyes.
Which, I guess I was.
I had, after all, been someone else just the day before. Now, I no longer had Sun's sensing ability anymore, so I had to rely once again on my own sight. I had thought the world might look muted after being able to see another dimension to it, but it was beautiful all the same, perhaps even brighter because I didn't have other senses battling for my attention.
A small smile came unbidden to my lips.
As I gazed outside, mesmerized, footsteps stopped near me, and a voice called out, "G...Good morning, Captain!"
Wiping the smile off my face, I turned and gave him a nod. "Good morning, Vidar."
He stood a bit straighter when my gaze landed on him. This was what I was used to from Vidar who always held me in high regard. The indifference he had shown me yesterday had felt strange. It was indeed a good morning to be able to greet my own vice-captain like this again.
Vidar had a stack of documents under his arm. Likely, he had come here to retrieve them before overseeing the platoon's morning training. He had come just in time. I asked, "Vidar, do you have today's interrogation schedule with you?"
He nodded and quickly pulled it out for me. I glanced over it, surprised to see it nearly empty.
I looked up from the schedule at Vidar.
Vidar elucidated the matter immediately. "Captain! Six of the criminals scheduled for today confessed to their sins yesterday evening! We also received a full account of the information we were looking for and were able to make more arrests."
Huh. That didn't often happen.
I gave him a nod. "Good work, Vidar."
Vidar regarded me strangely. Instead of holding himself higher, as he usually did after I praised him, he said, "No, it was nothing, Captain..." In fact, he actually seemed deflate from my words.
Ah, was it Grisia's handiwork, then? If so, then of course Vidar would find my praise to be strange.
Vidar shifted his gaze away from me but then resolutely looked back. He stood up taller again. "I mean, it was all thanks to Captain's perseverance! The way you healed the criminals over and over and kept making them-"
I held a hand up to stop Vidar from speaking further. He was obviously trying to bring himself to praise "me," or at least, what Grisia had done as me, but the mere thought of whatever Grisia had done was already making Vidar green in the face. I could deduct what Vidar was trying to say. Grisia's methods of interrogation had been so frightening that criminals awaiting their own judgment had already caught wind of his methods and decided to confess before their turn.
Vidar looked grateful for getting stopped, but then he glanced up at me with wide (shining?) eyes and asked, "Captain, did you really fly through the sky yesterday?"
...Or maybe it wasn't all Grisia's fault. A flying sword mage for a Judgment Knight was probably enough to send most criminals confessing.
After I explained that Ice had created footholds for me, Vidar actually looked somewhat crestfallen. I hoped he understood that normally, people can't fly. A wind mage might be able to, but I was no wind mage. We talked about the schedule for the day, and then I made my way over to the conference room, pleased to be able to carry out my duties once more. While the break wasn't all bad, purposely staying away any longer would have made me feel even more restless.
The meeting started off normally enough. I walked in with the paperwork that I'd gotten from Vidar, perusing it while I waited. Grisia's questionable interrogation methods were detailed within. I really should award my platoon members for dealing with him. Once everyone arrived, with the exception of Sun (even Storm had shown up, fashionably late), I asked for reports. Most of them reported about the king's address and the clean up that was to follow. Now that the matter of the Death Lord was settled, we no longer needed to have extra knights patrolling the city. Our patrolling schedule was to return to normal.
As the meeting came to a close and we finished reorganizing the patrols, I was about to declare the meeting done.
However, it was then that everyone started talking all at once. I stopped mid-motion of realigning the papers in my hands.
"Sun has been really strange lately..." One of them started to say, and that was enough to get everyone clamoring to say something all at the same time. It did not go unnoticed to me that they snuck glances at me as they shot out their observations. It seemed that Grisia and I had not avoided their suspicions after all.
"His words have been so easy to understand!"
"What was going on with the Death Knight? That guy really had it in for him!"
"They must have been lovers-"
"No, no, the real question is, how did Sun keep his sword in his hand..."
"More importantly, what's with the way he's been walking?"
At that moment, the doors to the conference room burst open, flooding the room with light. Sun walked in with a beaming smile, Divine Sun Sword by his waist. All was truly back to normal.
However, Sun was indeed walking in a funny way. Limping, actually, even though he was hiding it fairly well.
This is why you need more training, Sun. If only he had been diligent in his training, his muscles would not be hurting so much from the sword moves I'd tried to use.
"My dear brothers!" Sun exclaimed. "Sun has just received the God of Light's urging to come with utmost haste. Sun dearly hopes he is not late?"
You're late enough that the meeting is about to end, but you're just in time for the gossiping session, I thought wryly. However, the fact that Sun had even shown up was enough of a surprise. I glanced at everyone's expression, fairly sure they were all thinking, Why did you even bother to show up?
Indeed, why had Sun decided to show up? I caught his gaze. He looked back at me with his bright blue eyes. Instead of his usual fake cheerfulness, his eyes were full of relief. One blink, however, was all it took for him to cover it up.
Ah. Like me, he had probably been restless, and he had probably wanted to make sure that we were both indeed ourselves again.
You are Sun, I tried to convey to him. And you will always be Sun to me, no matter your appearance.
Storm recovered quickly. He circled around Sun. "There's really something strange about you lately," he said, looking Sun up and down.
"You're early again!" Blaze exclaimed.
"Actually showing up for a meeting?" Earth said. "Will wonders never cease?"
Sun shifted. "Now, now, dear brothers, surely you are overthinking things, hm?"
Sun sought my gaze. Have they found us out?
I lifted my shoulders slightly. They're getting suspicious.
Storm was the first to voice his suspicions. "You actually brought the prince in on your plan and didn't try to do everything yourself."
Of course. It's not a good idea to antagonize the royal family for no reason.
"I can't believe that you stuck to your sword nearly the entire time yesterday!" Earth added.
Of course. I would not be able to keep up with Roland otherwise.
"Are you turning into an early riser?" Blaze asked, eyes shining. "We can spar in the morning then!"
At the word "spar," Sun's eyebrows creased.
Ah, that's right, Blaze did say he wanted to spar with Sun... I had forgotten to tell him about it.
"Really, you've been strangely... reliable lately," Storm muttered, eyes glancing over at me as he spoke. It seemed that they were coming closer and closer to the truth.
"It's not what you think," Sun began to say. "Judgment and I didn't..."
Done with their observations, no accusations, of Sun, they now turned to me. Ice said, "Judgment, you used magic yesterday."
That was all Grisia.
"Captain Judgment, you crushed those undead so ferociously!" Metal nearly swooned.
Wait... Metal's reaction... wasn't quite what I was expecting. Don't tell me, they think...
Moon had on a grin as he said, "You know, it's really strange that Judgment's paperwork smelled like lavender. And that he himself smells fresh today."
"...I heard Judgment talking about facial masks," Cloud contributed. "From Sun's room."
Alarmed, Sun protested, "It's really not what you think! I just had Judgment try out facial masks, okay? He has all those wrinkles! I know we probably should have told you, I mean Judgment wanted us to, but I-"
They completely ignored Sun's protests. I was too speechless to say anything, as I'd finally realized what they were insinuating, and Sun was totally misunderstanding and digging an even deeper hole for us.
"And the way Sun has been walking so stiffly!"
"Didn't you see him exit from Judgment's room? I did! They've been frequenting each other's rooms!"
"Also, he's been holding that area near his pelvis. Suspicious much?"
That was more near the stomach... because of the trinket...
I held my head with my hands. It seemed that Grisia had also finally come to the same conclusion I had made. His jaws dropped. He snapped his head to look at me in astonishment. And horror.
Storm patted Sun on the shoulder and cheerfully said, "We always knew Judgment would make an upstanding man out of you! Congratulations! But don't corrupt Judgment too much!"
"Bastards! We did nothing of the sort!" Sun immediately shouted. Amazingly, he managed to make the table shake, but it was too heavy for him to flip.
Perhaps I should have slept in after all.
When I walked in through the conference room door only to be greeted with everyone bombarding me with questions and accusations, I'd really thought they'd found us out, like what had happened with Adair. I'd panicked but also felt secretly pleased they knew us so well. I was about to bestow on them the title of the Twelve Holy Tapeworms when they went and pulled that stunt instead!
They didn't even stop there. Judgment and my attempt to logically clear up the misunderstanding only made things worse.
"I wasn't holding my pelvis," I said. And it wasn't even me doing it. It was Lesus because of the stupid trinket! "I was holding my stomach since I'd gotten slashed near there!"
"Stomach, you say?" Earth gasped in fake concern. "Sun, have you gotten pregnant already? Don't you know to use protection?"
"You bastard! I'm a guy!"
"But are you really?"
"Duh! You've seen me without a shirt before!"
"Well, you could just be a really flat girl! It's not like you ever use the public baths, so how would we know if you're a guy or not? Maybe you're hiding something!"
"He probably just has a complex of not having hair down there..." Judgment suddenly murmured. When he realized what he had said, and that he'd said it loudly enough to be heard by everyone, he froze, but all hell had already broken loose.
Amidst everyone's clamor, I stared at Lesus in disbelief. Lesus!!! This is totally not the right time to bring that up no matter what kind of epiphany you had!
He looked at me apologetically, but that wasn't going to make anyone forget what he'd said!
In the end, I finally shouted, "I get it already, okay? I'm sorry I didn't tell all of you from the start! The truth is, Judgment and I..."
And that was how they forced me to spill everything that had happened in the past few days. Some had on dawning looks of realization as they probably went over all of their interactions with us, trying to determine how much of that had been me and how much of it had been Lesus. Some of the others actually looked a little disappointed, even saying, "What? So that's it? Tsk, how boring... Our theories were so much better."
You try being someone else!
After that, everything returned to normal. Well, normal enough for us. Lesus went back to attending meetings and interrogating criminals. I went back to skipping those meetings and returned to giving people headaches. What wasn't normal was that Judgment could now sometimes be seen using wind magic, and Blaze kept on pestering me for a spar even when I kept on telling him that Lesus was the one who had agreed to it, not me! In the end, I gave in to his earnest looks and took up my sword, gluing it to my hand with holy element. I was proud to say I didn't lose my sword during the fight even though my moves weren't anywhere close to elegant. After the match, Blaze pounded me heartily on the back and shouted, "That was awesome, Sun!"
He'd really made my ears and my back hurt.
Some things actually took getting used to again. Even though we told each other a lot, there were some things that we hadn't told each other. Apparently, Lesus had made friends with the royal knight that had kept following me around after the king's address, whether it was during the short time said friend supported him to the bathroom or whether it was during some other time, I really didn't know. All I knew was that I certainly hadn't warranted the royal knight being so friendly towards me, and now I was stuck with not even knowing the guy's name. All I knew was that his all-purpose handsomeness was still getting on my nerves.
"Good morning, Sun Knight. I hope you are feeling much better now," the man said with a beaming smile. Way too bright! It's practically blinding! "By the way, thank you for the new uniform. You really didn't have to go so far."
New... uniform? Why would I spend money on a man?!
Oh wait... I did buy a present for Lesus... Even if it was his own money that I spent... But this and that are completely different matters! Why would I buy anything for this stranger?
He proudly put his hand on the collar of his red uniform and straightened it for me to see, like he was showing off.
"It looks... flattering..." I said and tried to force a smile on my face. "The God of Light's generosity must be shared with all."
But I still didn't know his name.
"Elijah, good morning," a voice called out.
It was Adair, to the rescue!
My vice-captain approached and "seemed" to notice me, but I was sure he already knew of my presence. "Good morning, Captain."
After saluting me, he turned to Elijah and said, "Elijah, are the clothes to your liking? Captain really wanted me to find you a replacement for the one you lent us. It really helped speed our investigation along. If not for your help, we would have had a much harder time."
As expected of Adair! He was such a smooth talker, and he'd even illuminated the matter for me.
They talked a bit more before Elijah finally seemed to recall that he'd come to fetch me because the prince had summoned me. There was nothing I could do but answer the summons.
My short stint as Judgment had some other repercussions too. From time to time, I would accidentally slip. What I meant was, sometimes, a scowl would come across my face, and if Adair or Lesus were around, they'd immediately say, "You're slipping!"
Like now, Adair alarmingly said, "Captain! Don't forget your elegance!"
Elegance was truly something that had to be equipped. I'd become an expert at it over the years, but the short vacation I'd taken had set me back. I steeled myself and plastered a wide smile back on my face.
It was with such resolve that I met with the prince, who frowned severely upon seeing me and told me to drop the act. He was definitely going to be a tough king to deal with once his coronation happened, but I had hoped that once the fat pig king stepped down, Roland would finally be able to rest in peace.
How wrong I was to think so!
Roland was indeed still around. Our very public play was just that, a play. While it had successfully cleared my name and upped Judgment's intimidation factor even more, it had not satisfied Roland's lingering obsession.
In fact, Roland's lingering obsession had absolutely nothing to do with the king. When I snuck out of the Holy Temple to get on Pink's case about the stupid trinket looking like a heart of all things, I learned that Roland's obsession was that he wanted to be the Sun Knight!
Does this mean everything would have been solved if I'd switched with Roland instead of Lesus????
But thankfully that hadn't happened. I did not want to become a corpse, and who knew what would have happened to us once Roland's lingering obsession was taken care of with the two of us switched?
As I made my way back from the palace, I remembered to equip my smile and elegance once more.
Time to emulate a tortoise, Grisia! I told myself, making sure I was walking at a pace that would not disturb a single fold of my clothes.
It took me an agonizingly long time to reach the bathroom in the Judge's Complex with how slowly I had to walk, and I couldn't even directly appreciate all the beauty around me to occupy my time. I was back to recording from the edges of my vision!
Thankfully, my muscles weren't as sore anymore, so there wasn't anything the other Twelve Holy Knights could mock me for anymore either. Right after the disaster of a meeting, I'd sent Adair to round up all of the paperwork he could find and shove it into Storm's room. Yes, including the paperwork Adair usually helped Storm with!
When I entered the bathroom, Lesus was already inside, back facing the door. I beheld his appearance from behind, from his dark robes to his dark hair to his dark, well, pretty much everything. Black was truly Lesus's color, and I was glad to return it to him. He turned, caught my gaze, and smiled.
You've gotten a lot better at that, Lesus.
His smiles had always been a bit awkward, since he never really allowed himself to smile, so even when he did smile, his smiles looked more terrifying than anything. But this smile was... really warm. It softened his face a lot and made him look much less world-weary. I was pleased to see that the facial masks were already making Lesus's skin look much more fitting for his age.
Then, Lesus moved out of the way of the table he'd been blocking. My eyes lit up. Dessert! Oh how I missed the desserts Judgment always brings after his interrogations!
I handed him the basin and immediately pushed past him to take in the glorious sight.
Usually, Judgment brought me cookies, cupcakes, or other small things, but this time was different. There was blueberry pie sitting right in the center of the table. A whole, entire, fresh, blueberry pie from my favorite store, and I hadn't even had to wheedle Lesus into buying it for me!
I looked up at Lesus. He caught my gaze once more and gestured at the pie. I guess he must've felt somewhat bad that he had been no help at all with clearing up the stupid misunderstanding. Fine, for the sake of the pie, I'll forgive him!
"It's been awhile since you've had pie right? Go on," he urged.
You don't even have to tell me! You don't know how much I'd had to endure, watching you wolf that pie down when I couldn't eat it myself!
I quickly snatched a slice of pie. Although Lesus was back to his incomprehensible self that no longer appreciated the deliciousness of blueberry pie, that didn't mean he wouldn't steal the pie from under my nose and dispose of it or something.
I took a large bite, the sweet, blueberry flavor melting on my tongue. I closed my eyes, savoring the taste. Yes, yes, this was it! Oh, how I missed this!
Lesus was still smiling when I cracked open my eyes. He said, "They really do have amazing pie."
"I always told you so!' I replied.
"Yes, yes, and you were right." Lesus chuckled, his deep voice soothing to my ears.
Wordlessly, I watched Lesus splash water against his face as I ate more pie.
Everything was back to normal.
Even though there had been some snags along the way, bittersweet things I'd rather forget, I was glad that Lesus had been with me every step of the way. And, it had been kind of fun actually, seeing Lesus endure the trials of facial masks and praising the God of Light, not to mention succumbing to the deadly temptation that was blueberry pie. I couldn't imagine facing Roland without Lesus's support. Besides, I'd also gotten to experience what Lesus always had to undergo. It truly wasn't easy, always being thought of as the bad guy. I thought I'd known Lesus, but now I knew him even better.
And here we were, back in this bathroom, back in this place where we needed no masks. It didn't really matter what I looked like, or what Lesus looked like. I was Grisia, and he was Lesus.
We were in this, together, and that's really all that mattered.
Lesus glanced over at me. I took another bite of the pie and felt a warm feeling come over me, a feeling that was super, duper sweet.
Just how I liked it.
And that's a wrap! Thanks for reading!
A formatted PDF version of this fic, which includes cover art and revisions, can be found over at my livejournal. The post also includes my final author's notes.
A printed version of this fic will also be available in a few weeks. The book version will include this fic as well as all of my LSK fics completed before July 2014. It is not for profit, but if anyone is interested, keep an eye out on my LJ!