Chapter 1: Prologue: Behind Every Great Captain...
A group of men sat around a table, drinking wine. These men were the vice-captains of the Twelve Holy Knights. As they drank, they counted the number present.
"...Eight, nine, ten, eleven... Looks like that's everyone," someone commented.
Adair lowered his drink and shook his head. "No, we should be twelve in number. Tyler isn't here."
"But he never comes anyway," came the immediate reply.
Frowning, Adair said, "He should join us, especially since Knight-Captain Hell is back with us." Like them, Tyler was a vice-captain.
"Ah, that's right, Knight-Captain Hell is back."
The vice-captains all looked at each other, similar thoughts on their minds. Tyler had always acted as the Hell Knight because of Knight-Captain Hell's absence. Now that the real Hell Knight was back, Tyler wasn't the acting captain anymore even though he had always been the one taking care of the Hell Knight's duties.
"Is he still angry about Knight-Captain Hell's return?" one of them asked, recalling how Tyler had vehemently refused to call Knight-Captain Hell by his title and had instead called him Knight Supreme Dragon.
"No," Adair replied, "they've sorted things out."
And by "sorted things out," Adair meant that Hell Knight and Tyler had dueled over and over again until Tyler couldn't help but end up admiring his captain's skill. Those watching soon figured out that Hell Knight's swordsmanship was even better than Judgment Knight's and Ice Knight's, and that was quite something.
"But do you think he even knows how to act as a vice-captain?" another person asked, voicing what was on everyone's minds. Tyler, despite being a vice-captain like all of them, had never had a captain to serve before Hell Knight's return. For many years, Tyler had been more like a captain than a vice-captain, having had to lead the Hell Knight Platoon and attend meetings as the Hell Knight.
"I bet not! Surely he has never before had to empty out his pockets to the last ducat for his captain!"
Most of the table laughed heartily. Some groaned.
"Why did you have to remind me of that..." one of them said, head buried in his hands as he lamented over his penniless state.
"I know what you mean. I had to do that just last week because of all those broken doors..."
Another said, "I had to buy baking ingredients."
"Seasonings for me," added someone else. "My captain says he'll pay me back, but... Considering how he has to buy paper and ink now as well, I'm not too optimistic about that."
"Blueberry pies," said the next person who was of course Adair, since no one else had a captain with such a sweet tooth.
Everyone had something to say except Vidar who held his hands up in defense once it became evident that he was the only one who hadn't spoken. "Don't look at me. Captain Judgment never asks for anything."
They gave him a look that clearly said they didn't believe that Vidar never spent money for his captain.
He caved. "Okay, he never asks for anything, but I still buy tea for him..."
Satisfied, they directed the conversation back to Tyler's situation.
"See? Surely Tyler has never had to pay repair fees or buy any number of things for his captain's sake."
Many shook their heads in disbelief. "He is so missing out. What kind of vice-captain is he?"
"Exactly, right? So missing out on what it means to be a vice-captain."
"Poor Tyler. He's never known our joy." The speaker wiped at his eyes dramatically.
"Guess that means we've just got to show him."
They raised their drinks and clinked them together, sharing a smile as they downed them. Oh boy did they have a lot to show Tyler.
"So, who wants to go get Tyler?"
After the question was asked, the Storm Knight Vice-Captain tucked his hair behind his ears and stood up, his chair scraping across the floor.
"I might as well start us off," he declared. "Wish me luck. My girlfriend will be exasperated."
Chapter 2: Suggestion #1: Get a Girlfriend
I will be addressing some of the vice-captains by their positions as "Vice-Captain Storm", "Vice-Captain Blaze", etc, since they don't have official names.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"So, what did you need me for?" I asked with a frown. I had been practicing my sword when Vice-Captain Storm pulled me away. "And why is your girlfriend here?"
Next to us stood a cleric from the Sanctuary of Light. She haughtily tossed her long hair over her shoulder when I mentioned her.
The man beside me wagged his finger. "Tyler, don't be so suspicious. We're just trying to help. We thought you could use some pointers, considering how you're new to this business of being a proper vice-captain and all."
Who is "we" and why do I need pointers? Surely his girlfriend has no interest in helping me?
I looked at her suspiciously, and she sniffed, clearly not impressed with me.
Even though I hadn't had a captain until now, I had never stopped being a vice-captain. I looked glumly at the hilt of my sword.
Have I been that bad a vice-captain that I need intervention? Even Adair has chided me about my behavior...
I looked up. That still didn't explain the cleric's presence, so I decided to ask. "I'm sorry, but what does this have to do with your girlfriend again? I'm still not getting this."
He breathed out. "Tyler, it is of utmost importance for vice-captains to have girlfriends!"
"Really," I said flatly. I didn't recall Adair or Vidar having girlfriends, and they seemed like they were doing just fine as vice-captains.
"Yes, in fact, you should have everyone in your platoon get girlfriends!"
"You've completely lost me."
"Sigh. Do I really have to spell everything out? Fine, just watch this."
Confused, I followed along as we sneakily made our way through the corridors. I noticed that even though we were sneaking along, we managed to acquire a number of storm knights as we made our way to wherever our destination was. The curious thing was, they had also brought along several women who were possibly their girlfriends.
This isn't a group date, is it...?
Finally, after sneaking through several corridors as best as we could with such a large group, we came out to an open plaza near the entrance of the Holy Temple. There was a sizable crowd milling about the place.
"Good, there are lots of witnesses- I mean, people about. Honey, it's all yours now," he cooed to his haughty girlfriend. After he finished speaking, he hid behind a pillar.
I frowned. What is he doing...?
I didn't have time to wonder about him for much longer. In the middle of the crowd was a head of blue that could only belong to Knight-Captain Storm. Undeterred by the crowd, the cleric pushed her way through until everyone finally got it and moved out of her path.
The Storm Knight looked up with a wide smile and winked, but instead of falling for his charm, the cleric yelled, "Storm Knight, you heart breaker!"
My eyes widened when she followed that up with a resounding slap. Unfortunately for the Storm Knight, his hands were full, holding several sheets of paper, which was perhaps the reason why he had made no move to defend himself. That, and he was the Storm Knight after all. He would never raise his hand against a lady, right?
The expression on Knight-Captain Storm's face didn't change much; he still had a smile on his face, though it did look a little...frozen.
"Ow," said the man who had brought me here, the one who had brought his girlfriend here to yell at his captain.
"What was that?" I hissed at him, eyes darting at the pillar beside me. Don't tell me that vice-captains are supposed to let their girlfriends slap their captain! A hand appeared from behind the pillar, making some sort of shushing motion.
The cleric sniffed.
I hurriedly glanced back at the scene that was playing out before me.
For those who didn't know her, she might have sounded like she was about to cry, but I thought that her sniffing sounded awfully like how she had sounded when she had looked down on me not too long ago.
"Do you think that's enough?" one of the storm knights whispered. I noticed that like their vice-captain, many of them had taken to hiding, some behind bushes, some behind pillars, some behind me... "Or should I send my girlfriend in too?"
"Don't you think we're overdoing it a little..."
"Nah, this isn't enough!"
"Send her in! Send her in!"
I watched dumbly as another woman walked over and started telling the Storm Knight off. Then, she was followed by another, and another, almost like an endless stream.
The storm knights hiding behind me winced. Some were even dabbing at their eyes or clenching at their hearts. The bushes rustled.
"Oh my poor captain," one bush said.
Why did you let your girlfriend yell at him then?!
I did not understand what was going on at all. After the parade of women had all taken their turns recounting how the Storm Knight had broken their hearts, I started hearing the crowd around me murmuring and sighing.
"What a flirt the Storm Knight is!"
"Such a footloose charmer."
"Always breaking women's hearts."
The storm knights hiding around the scene seemed to collectively sigh in relief.
"Phew, that worked! So whose turn is it next week?"
"I don't think my girlfriend has had her turn yet."
I was still stunned when the Storm Knight smiled a crooked smile and started speaking, bringing my attention back to him. I didn't know why he had been silent until now. "Alas, my ladies, I am afraid that you must allow me to drift like the wind, for that is my nature."
He bowed and followed that up with a wink. "It was my honor that you allowed me to accompany you in the short but beautiful time we had together. If only the wind had not my attention, it would be yours."
After that, all of the females in the crowd started clamoring and going, "Pick me next! Pick me!" and all animosity toward the Storm Knight vanished just like that. Even most of the women who had marched up to him to accuse him were also staring at him with dreamy eyes. I thought I heard the storm knights cheer and say, "That's my captain!"
I was very confused, but I came away from that thinking that Storm Knight was indeed as footloose a charmer as the rumors claimed. After all, it looked to me like he had flirted with the girlfriends of his entire platoon, considering how so many of them had come to yell at him, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why all of the storm knights seemed so happy about that.
"That, my fellow vice-captain, is why you should get a girlfriend."
"So that she can yell at my captain?" I asked, still not understanding. Don't even get me started on the messy relationships of your platoon. Just what is going on...
"Exactly. It does wonders for my captain's reputation."
I furrowed my eyebrows. "Did your girlfriend really go out with your captain? Isn't that...kind of weird?"
He looked at me with a funny look on his face.
I didn't think I would ever understand, so I decided to stop asking.
The First Suggestion for Serving Your Captain: Get a Girlfriend (so that You Can Have Her Yell at Your Captain to Help His Reputation)
The idea of the Storm Knight Platoon sending their girlfriends in to help their captain's reputation of being a flirt was inspired by one of the people who left a comment over at my LJ. If you remember having this conversation with me, let me know! Thank you for the awesome idea!
Chapter 3: Suggestion #2: Clean All Cabinets
My week was turning out strange. Truth to be told, I never mingled much with the other vice-captains. Call me arrogant, fine, but my position had been higher than theirs, and I did more than all of them too.
...With maybe the exception of Adair. I'm not really sure exactly how much he does, but he always looks beat to me. He might as well take over for his captain!
Adair was one of the few vice-captains I actually got along with. There had always been this sort of rift between the other vice-captains and me. Throughout my entire time in the Hell Knight Platoon, I hadn't exactly been "Knight-Captain Hell," nor had I merely been "Vice-Captain Hell."
I had kind of been... in between, and had belonged nowhere. I didn't go on outings with the other vice-captains, and they sort of left me alone without pushing matters. That was how things were supposed to be.
Except now I suddenly seem to be the center of attention. First it was Vice-Captain Storm, and now...
"A moment of your time?" Vice-Captain Cloud asked nervously.
Sighing, I put my sword away. It didn't feel like I would ever get to practice without getting disrupted! "What's the matter?"
The man shuffled over, his eyes trained downward, as if he didn't want to meet my gaze. I narrowed my eyes at his head. He mumbled, "Well, you know, since you haven't done this for long, we thought we'd give you a hand..."
I frowned. No, I don't know. And seriously, who is "we"?
He smiled timidly without clearing anything up for me, eyes only momentarily darting up at me before returning to his...hands.
I followed his gaze, looking down at what he was holding.
"...What's that for?" I asked.
Then, I found a dirty rag shoved into my hands.
Holding my breath so that I wouldn't breathe in any dust, I scrubbed at the inside of an empty cabinet with everything I had. After my furious scrubbing, I turned to the side to gulp in some air.
Beside me, Vice-Captain Cloud was also scrubbing and dusting away at the inside of a cabinet. He had his sleeves rolled up and his hair tied, a bucket full of soapy water next to him. He looked right at home, as if he did this all the time.
Maybe he did? I really didn't know him all that well. And by that I meant that my familiarity with him only extended to how I'd always hear him call out for his captain. "Knight-Captain Cloud! Knight-Captain Cloud! Where are yooouuuuu?" he would keep on shouting over and over. I never thought he cared so deeply about the state of cleanliness of our storage spaces.
After cleaning a countless number of cabinets, we then moved on to bookshelves. I finally couldn't refrain from blurting out my question.
"Why are we doing this?"
We're vice-captains! Not maids or squires!
The more I scrubbed, the more I felt like our time was being wasted. Surely cleaning cabinets was not at all part of our duties when our time could be better spent patrolling or honing our skills.
Startled, he blinked and darted his eyes at me. "It's a vice-captain's duty to keep all of our cabinets and bookshelves clean!"
As he was speaking, he opened the door to this bookshelf-cabinet hybrid, ready to clean it up, and I screamed.
Like, very loudly. The noise tore out of my throat.
"Tyler, it's okay!" Vice-Captain Cloud hurriedly said.
That didn't help calm my nerves at all when a ghostly limb reached out from the door and grasped the edges. Following that limb came pale skin and wispy cloth and...
Oh, it was Knight-Captain Cloud.
"See? It's just the Captain."
Knight-Captain Cloud didn't say a word. He merely nodded at his vice-captain once he fully climbed out of the bookshelf-cabinet. He dusted himself off, and I thought I felt his vice-captain stiffen at that. But what did I know. I was still in shock, my heart nearly threatening to jump out of my throat.
I gasped, and then I realized how rude I had been to Knight-Captain Cloud, treating him like a ghost. I quickly bowed to him and raised my head to apologize--
Only to see an empty corridor where Knight-Captain Cloud had just been standing.
"...Where's your captain?" I asked, feeling myself shiver.
"Oh, he often drifts off like that..."
I gripped the dirty rag I had in my hands so tightly that I squeezed the last bits of water out of the nearly dried thing.
Voice stuck, I tried to distract myself by scrubbing the hiding place that Knight-Captain Cloud had vacated. I carefully peered inside at the dark interior, my head spinning. It looked normal enough, just a little dusty.
Don't tell me my captain likes to hide in places like this too?
Maybe I should take up cleaning after all.
The Second Suggestion for Serving Your Captain: Clean All Cabinets (so that Your Captain Will Have the Perfect Getaway)
Chapter 4: Suggestion #3: Plant New Trees
Gripping my sword, I swung at the practice dummy in front of me.
I immediately grimaced.
That had been a terrible swing. If I were to strike with such a swing at my captain, it wouldn't even take him ten blows to send my sword flying. In fact, ten blows would already be a generous estimate.
I shifted my sword. Maybe if I hold it like this instead...
"Tyler, there you are!" a voice exclaimed.
With a sigh, I lowered my sword, eyes flicking impatiently at the newcomer. Why is it that I can't ever seem to practice my sword in peace these days?
"What?" I demanded.
"Come! Come quickly! We haven't much time left!"
With that, Vice-Captain Blaze dragged me off without even telling me where we were going or what was so urgent. This was shockingly becoming a trend.
"Is this an urgent mission?" I tried asking. It wasn't often that I'd get assigned on a mission with the "good, warm-hearted" faction, but it wasn't something that never happened either. In fact, I'd gone on a few missions with holy knights from the Blaze Knight Platoon before, since their specialty of dealing with spirits was unique to their platoon. No other platoon would do.
"Yes, very, very urgent!" he shouted.
I winced and rubbed my ears. He must spend a lot of time with his captain. He didn't used to be so loud. Everything out of his mouth today sounded like he was yelling.
We ended up in a forest.
A few other blaze knights were about. When they spotted us, they saluted. At least he hasn't led us into a dangerous situation without any backup.
I warily glanced around, trying to figure out what we were to vanquish here.
"Tyler, over here!" he pointed. "Strike here!"
It was due to my trust in him that I let my blade sing in the air without a second thought -- a second of hesitation could mean life or death in a battle -- and I felt my blade sink into...
A tree trunk.
The tree toppled over.
The blaze knights clapped their hands so enthusiastically that I wondered if I had slayed some great foe of theirs instead of a tree.
Vice-Captain Blaze walked over to the fallen tree, knelt down, and whistled. "Great! That's a clean cut!" He glanced back up at me. "You sure you want to use your blade to do this though? You might dull it!"
"...What are we doing exactly?"
I narrowed my eyes. At first, I had thought that these men around me were here for battle, but now I saw that they were holding axes instead of swords, and there was a large pile of logs on the ground.
"Cutting trees!" came the answer.
...Cutting trees? So there is no foe to defeat but trees?
"Are we in need of lumber?" I asked.
"Yes! We are in dire need of lumber! Since we don't have much money left... Ahem. You'll help, yes?" he implored.
You don't have much money left...?
Even though I didn't exactly understand the correlation between lumber and his money problems, I grabbed the ax he held out to me.
After all, I didn't want to dull my blade.
The sun began to set during our work. Apparently, that was why Vice-Captain Blaze had been in such a hurry, wanting to get things done before it got dark.
I knocked the trees over one-by-one, and some of the blaze knights chopped the trees into further pieces. Off to the side, a group of them looked like they were assembling the pieces into something.
"Now, here's a lesson!" Vice-Captain Blaze exclaimed. He had a smudge of dirt over his cheek. "Remember to plant trees after you're done!"
I raised my eyebrows.
After grabbing a shovel, he began to dig. "See, there are tons of pine trees around us, right? But if we keep on chopping the trees down without planting any new ones, we'll eventually chop the entire forest down. We gotta be more conscious about our surroundings than that!"
Wordless, I exchanged my ax for a shovel. It was true that we had chopped down a lot of trees. My pile of chopped wood was huge.
I just never thought that Vice-Captain Blaze cared so much about the environment, or that he was such a proficient lumberjack.
After I finished planting, I wiped my sweat and surveyed my surroundings again. We had cleared a large area of the forest. In place of the original trees were small mounds of dirt where we had planted new trees for the future generation. It would take years for the trees we planted to grow as large as the ones we had chopped down.
Vice-Captain Blaze was surprisingly very thoughtful and far-seeing, what with his foresight in preserving the forest, and his invitation for me to join them in this endeavor.
He even called out to me before I left.
"Tyler, this is for you!" Vice-Captain Blaze exclaimed. He gestured at a wooden door next to him.
I examined the door. They must have built it just now.
"This is made out of pine wood that you helped chop! Doesn't this door feel extra special because of that?"
I touched the door, a sense of accomplishment washing over me. It didn't look like it was the sturdiest door ever, and I could tell that it was hastily made, but... This is built out of wood that I helped chop!
"Thank you," I said. "Thank you for such a thoughtful present."
I thought that he must have noticed how I'd been overly focused on practicing my sword, and how I didn't really mingle with other vice-captains.
Perhaps... I should try to get to know them better.
That night when I returned to my room, I set aside the door the Blaze Knight Platoon had gifted to me, intent on adding finishing touches to it later. What was more pressing was checking on my blade to make sure its edges hadn't been dulled. Swords weren't meant for chopping wood.
Thankfully, my blade looked okay.
I was in the middle of putting my sword away when my door suddenly flew open and hit the wall with a bang.
Eyes wide, I stared at my broken door. It had broken into two. Then, I looked up. At the entrance to my room stood Knight-Captain Blaze, his foot still halfway raised.
After lowering his foot, he stepped inside and glanced around, eyebrows disappearing into his bangs. "Huh, how boring."
Behind Knight-Captain Blaze, his vice-captain peeked inside, grinned, and waved at me.
I just kept on staring.
Knight-Captain Blaze shook his head. "Tyler, you are almost as boring as Knight-Captain Judgment!" He looked me in the eye. "But fine, you pass because of that expression you have on your face."
What exactly did I pass? What expression on my face!?
As quickly as he had come, Knight-Captain Blaze left, his blazing red hair disappearing from my sight.
However, his vice-captain stayed behind, and he picked up the new door that he and his platoon had gifted to me just today.
"Aren't you glad you have a new door?" he asked, beaming smile on his face. He started fixing my new door in place.
I groaned. No, I'm not glad at all. My door had been fairly sturdy, yet look at its current condition! It's dead, severed in half! I didn't even want to consider how my new door would fare if it ever grabbed Knight-Captain Blaze's attention. "You planned this, didn't you?"
He sighed. "Don't worry, Tyler. Once Knight-Captain Blaze deems you boring, it's unlikely that he'll kick your door again!"
Why are you sighing!? It's good that he finds my door too boring to kick! But wait. Didn't Knight-Captain Blaze claim that I 'passed'...?
I didn't like the sound of that at all!
Beside me, Vice-Captain Blaze perked up. "You know what? Lesson the second! Always act surprised when your door gets kicked!"
"Oh shut up. I'm not listening to you," I grumbled.
As if I wanted my door kicked again!
The Third Suggestion for Serving Your Captain: Plant New Trees so That You Never Exhaust Your Supply of Lumber for Building Doors for Your Captain to Kick
Chapter 5: Suggestion #4: Buy New Clothes
"Tyler, Tyler, have you been cooped up here the entire time?" asked a snobby voice full of disbelief.
I wish I had been, but I really hadn't had much of a chance to stay cooped up, not with how I'd been dragged off to see Knight-Captain Storm get slapped, to clean closets only to witness Knight-Captain Cloud manifest from one, to build doors only to have Knight-Captain Blaze destroy my original one...
Instead of answering, I whirled around, lunged, and jabbed at the person who had come to bother me. No, I hadn't gone crazy. I just really wanted to keep him on his feet.
Okay, maybe I was just the teeniest bit miffed at all the distractions. And I still hadn't gotten over my broken door.
Startled, his eyes widened. He dodged and drew his sword but yelped when our blades crashed and his glanced to the side. He hurriedly grabbed his sword hilt with his right hand too, or else his sword would have been flung out of his grasp. He had never been particularly good with a sword.
"What's wrong with spending my time practicing?" I asked and straightened back up. I slid my sword back into its scabbard. "In fact, you spend too little time practicing. That's a pathetic stance. You've been slacking off."
Vice-Captain Moon scowled and stepped backward to put more distance between us. He gingerly placed his sword away and then cradled his hand. "No fair, you didn't attack any of the others when they came to find you," he grumbled, hands now occupied with fixing his clothes, making sure they were impeccable. Then, he ran a hand through his long hair and swept it behind his shoulders. That hair of his was as impractical as impractical could be and certainly always got in his way. No wonder his sword skills are lacking.
He looked me up and down, and while his expression was nowhere as haughty as Knight-Captain Moon's, it was close enough to make me frown.
"What?" I asked.
Shaking his head, he asked incredulously, "What are you wearing?"
His voice made it sound like I had made some grave blunder in my choice of clothes. I didn't even bother looking down at myself before I answered. "My training outfit."
I'd been training. Of course I would be dressed for it.
"Why is it so dreary?" he questioned.
"It's not dreary. It's practical."
"That won't do. That won't do at all." He shook his head, lips turned downward in disapproval.
Why not? What's wrong with being dressed for training?
It was like we were speaking two different languages about two different things. My clothes were perfectly fine, but I found myself being dragged off once again, this time on account of my clothes being "too dreary."
It seemed that I would never be able to train in peace.
According to Vice-Captain Moon, there was a lot that was wrong with my clothes. But anyone's clothes would be considered dreary in comparison to what he always wore.
His clothes were embroidered with fine threads, and I daresay the main material that he wore was silk, a material that could tear very easily. Don't even mention fighting in it. The style of his clothing was actually quite similar to what his captain wore. It was as impractical as his hair and perhaps a large factor in why he was a mid-range fighter. Staying out of enemy range meant having less of a chance of damaging his clothes from close scuffles.
Is he perhaps emulating his captain?
"You need to get out more, Tyler," he said with a scary gleam in his eyes, cutting me off from my musings, "And update your wardrobe."
I saw no need for either, but Vice-Captain Moon was a force to be reckoned with when it came to appearances. I found myself in a clothing store that I'd never stepped foot in before, but we were greeted heartily the moment we entered, as if we were long time customers.
Well, maybe he was one. He was now conversing with the shopkeeper, who was chatting with him non-stop, seemingly without the need to stop for breath. It was quite an amazing feat, one that made me stare.
If I could regulate my breathing as well as the shopkeeper, there would be no limits to the techniques I could develop!
I kept analyzing what the shopkeeper was doing, but as I watched him, both men turned and glanced at me. I felt a chill come over me that had nothing to do with how much or how little I was wearing.
Not long after, I ended up with a bundle of clothes in my arms, my unease coming true. I was ushered into a changing room and given the command not to reemerge until I had changed.
I looked down at the clothes, not quite sure how this turn of events had come about.
What's going on here?
After several changes of clothes, I was about to lose my mind when I was declared "sharp-looking" and thus was no longer required to keep trying on more clothes.
Even if my current outfit made me look sharp, I couldn't help pulling at the collar. It was scratchy.
My hand got knocked away by my fellow vice-captain. When I looked up, I saw that he had changed his attire too. The one he had chosen for himself was as flashy as ever. All at once, I was glad that the outfit I'd ended up in was not as ridiculous as what he was wearing. In fact, I might even call these clothes, "down-to-earth."
Compared to his clothing, anything else is definitely down-to-earth...
"We'll take these," he said.
Before I could even get a full word into the open, he paid the shopkeeper and ushered me out.
"Tyler, you're a vice-captain, aren't you?" he asked once we were outside.
"Well, of course," I replied, offended that he had even needed to ask. I might not have been operating in the capacity of a usual vice-captain for very long, but I was still a vice-captain.
Do I really inspire such little confidence...
He sighed and shook his head. "You really don't get it, do you?"
"What don't I get?"
He gestured at himself, and then he gestured at me. His gestures weren't very helpful at all. After a moment where I just stared at him, he tugged on his hair, stamped his feet, and pointed a finger at me. "You're a vice-captain, just like me! That means you need to look the part!"
By dressing in flashy clothes...?
Seriously, my training outfit was perfectly fine. In fact, flashy clothes were completely unsuitable for stealth, and stealth was of the utmost importance for the Hell Knight Platoon.
"Come on, I'll show you!"
I ended up shadowing Vice-Captain Moon during his patrol of the city in his attempt to "show me," whatever that meant. He had his head held up high as he led the Moon Knight Platoon through the streets. As they patrolled, they stopped now and then to speak to the citizens. It might have been my imagination, but they seemed to be speaking mostly to women, and many of them were quite tall...
Everywhere they went, they were followed by whispers and giggles. Not only were Vice-Captain Moon's clothes flashy, the rest of the platoon was not all that far off from his ridiculousness. Juxtaposed with the plain clothing of the common folk, the moon knights stuck out like a sore thumb. I got a few glances myself, along with some giggles, most likely because of my proximity with the flashy moon knights.
That only made me pull at my collar even more.
Near the end of the day, Knight-Captain Moon came to join us. When he arrived, he looked down his nose at me with a haughty expression. He didn't even speak one word to me before he moved to the front of the platoon, his head held high. In fact, he didn't even give a nod to his vice-captain to acknowledge his existence. All he did was blink his eyes at his vice-captain!
However, when he got into position at the front of the platoon, I couldn't deny that the entire platoon looked impressive. Knight-Captain Moon's appearance was neat and elegant, giving him a regal air. With the way his platoon was dressed, it felt more like he was being followed by an entourage rather than a platoon of holy knights. If I thought the platoon had garnered attention before this, well, I hadn't been wrong, but now they were garnering even more attention with Knight-Captain Moon in the middle of it. There was no shortage of women who had stopped in their steps to stare.
Vice-Captain Moon dropped back to match my pace.
"What's eating at you now?" he asked.
"Nothing much," I said. "It's just that the Moon Knight Platoon sure makes for quite a sight on the eyes."
"See, what did I tell you?" Vice-Captain Moon flashed me a smirk. "Looking the part is important."
I could tell that he had definitely managed to accomplish something here, though I wasn't quite sure what it was. "What I don't get is why all of you decided to wear such flashy clothing..."
It wasn't like they themselves were the Moon Knight, so why had they all decided to dress themselves up so lavishly? It no doubt hindered their motions.
Vice-Captain Moon clicked his tongue and twirled a strand of his hair around his finger. "This is where your lack of experience is rearing its head. You've got to dress the part."
Confused, I looked between Vice-Captain Moon and his captain. I tilted my head. Knight-Captain Moon's clothing was quite extravagant, but since the rest of the platoon was pretty much dressed in the same way, he didn't completely look like a weirdo.
Oh, is that why Vice-Captain Moon always dresses in a similar fashion? Is he trying to make it so that his captain doesn't feel out of place?
I looked back at Vice-Captain Moon. I'd really underestimated him. I hadn't known he was so considerate.
"Thank you for the clothes," I said belatedly, realizing that I'd never thanked him. It was nice of him to give me a gift and to show me the ropes. "But..."
A sudden realization struck me.
But... in order to match my captain, wouldn't that mean I'd need to wear a skin-tight leotard?
Maybe I wasn't as prepared to be a vice-captain as I had thought.
I fell silent for a moment. Then, ashamed that I'd never thought of how my captain must feel being the only one wearing a leotard, I finally brought myself to ask, "Do you know where I can buy a leotard?"
If anyone knew, Vice-Captain Moon would. After all, he was clearly more of an expert on clothing than I was. However...
"Huh?" was all I received as an answer before I was greeted by a wide smile. "Oh! That might work even better! Wow, I didn't know you were so daring!"
Huh? was my only response. I once again felt like we were speaking two different languages. Maybe we were...
"Did you catch her name?"
"I did, I did!"
"Think Captain will like her?"
"He must! She's over 180 cm even without heels!"
"Our new clothes were a success!"
"Tyler was looking pretty sharp too, wasn't he?"
"I never thought he'd come with us to flirt with girls!"
The next day, I found a leotard laid out on my bed.
The Fourth Suggestion for Serving Your Captain: Buy New Clothes
to Attract the Ladies to Match Your Captain so He Doesn't Feel out of Place
Chapter 6: Suggestion #5: Enjoy Your Food
My physique was not really good enough for a leotard, was it? Vice-Captain Moon had really gone out of his way to acquire a leotard that was just like my captain's.
I held it up. The material was... was that the wall I see through it?
That does it then. Back to training.
After taking care of the day's duties, I headed to the training grounds. However, before I managed to reach my destination, Vice-Captain Ice waylaid me.
I was immediately wary. Recently, there was something about training and people stopping me in the middle of it. It was happening more often than I liked, and now it seemed that I wouldn't even be able to reach the training grounds.
Thankfully, my worries were put to rest when he nodded at me.
Ah, does he want to join me?
He was never one to speak much, just like his captain. In fact, most of the Ice Knight Platoon was stoic. It always amazed me how much they could communicate with what they weren't saying. All Knight-Captain Ice had to do was incline his head and his platoon would know what to do. Truly something all platoons should aim for.
We sparred for quite a long while. His swordsmanship was top notch. The same went for the rest of the Ice Knight Platoon, no doubt because they were super diligent with their training. I would always see them at the training grounds long past normal hours.
"Not bad," he finally said.
From him, that was high praise.
"My captain and I have been sparring frequently," I explained. I could never hope to come close to Captain's fluid movements, his absolute efficiency with not a single wasted action, but despite my shortcomings, training with him meant my own skills were improving greatly. Maybe one day I could eventually achieve just the tiniest bit of my captain's greatness!
He nodded. After we sheathed our swords, he lifted his head to the side.
Did he want me to follow him?
...I followed him.
We reached another section of the training grounds. I was not surprised to see more of the Ice Knight Platoon training there. They were truly very diligent!
I stood at the side with their vice-captain, watching their training. I half wanted to shout out, "Excellent parry!" and other such exclamations, but the ice knights were all so silent while they trained that I kept my praises to myself. Caught up as I was in admiring their form, I almost didn't notice when Vice-Captain Ice left my side.
Glancing over, I saw that he had made his way to the far side of the courtyard. He looked back at me, clearly wanting me to follow him.
After one last lingering glance at the other ice knights, I followed their vice-captain once more. When I reached the side of the courtyard, I noticed that there was a table set up there, and it even had fancy tablecloth draping down from it. On top of the table were pastries of all kinds.
I blinked, surprised at the small feast they had. Vice-Captain Ice frowned at the food, but when he turned to me, the frown was gone. He gestured at the table. When I saw that he had taken one of the pastries for himself, I also took one.
Did he prepare all of these desserts for the platoon? How thoughtful of him!
It was also truly very kind of him to invite me along after our spar. I had to admit that I was a little hungry with how much energy we had expended.
I bit into the cream puff I'd taken, the texture light and tender. Food tasted best after a hard bout of training and even better with great company. As we ate, several ice knights wandered over to grab pastries as well. After they hurriedly wolfed down their food, they then returned to their training with even more energy.
Although Vice-Captain Ice remained quiet the entire time, he looked on approvingly each time one of the ice knights came over to the table. It surprised me how these silent ice knights were so animated while they ate, expressions of bliss coming over their faces, the pastries disappearing before I could even blink. Eventually, the pastries on the table dwindled down until there were only a few pieces left. Vice-Captain Ice took some himself, and he indicated for me to eat some too.
"Thanks for the offer, but I should refrain," I said. I had already eaten quite a few. Although I did put in extra training every day, eating more than my normal share would mean that it would take even longer for me to become satisfied with my physique.
I recalled what I had left behind in my room. I seriously had my work cut out for me, so I couldn't overindulge here!
However, Vice-Captain Ice gazed at me without blinking. He held up the last cream puff. Faced with such stoic, unblinking urging, I reluctantly took the cream puff.
It was good.
But when I took my bite, Vice-Captain Ice shook his head at me. I frowned and paused, not knowing the reason for his displeasure.
Finally, he opened his mouth to say, "Like this."
He took a huge bite out of his chosen pastry. Then he closed his eyes as he chewed, and he even raised one hand to his cheek as he savored the taste. At last, one eye cracked open to regard my reaction.
I stared. I hadn't known he could look that content.
He even licked his fingers clean. "Gotta enjoy the food," he eventually said.
"...Okay," I said.
I had once heard mention that enjoying your food meant that you would get more out of it. Perhaps this was the secret behind how the ice knights were able to train for so long?
I looked down at the half-eaten cream puff in my hands, fully intending to enjoy the flavor as much as I could... but it was difficult to do when I was already quite full.
When I finally finished eating my small little cream puff, I suddenly smelled the scent of freshly baked bread. It would have smelled heavenly... if only I'd smelled it an hour ago. I looked up and saw a tray of bread coming our way, bobbing up and down.
Immediately, Vice-Captain Ice stepped forward to help the bearer of the tray with the bread. Once he took the tray, I saw that the person holding the tray was none other than Knight-Captain Ice himself.
Both captain and vice-captain spoke not a word as they approached the table to set the bread out on it. Knight-Captain Ice glanced over the empty table, his gaze lingering on the trays that now only held crumbs. Not a moment ago, there were still a few pastries there, but now the table was completely empty.
He stacked the trays and replaced them with baskets of bread.
Oh, is Knight-Captain Ice the one who prepared the pastries?
No wonder they tasted so good!
Perhaps in a bread store, I might have heard the workers shout, "The bread's done!" but here there was no such shout. Despite the silence, the ice knights stopped sparring one-by-one and began approaching the table.
Knight-Captain Ice gave his subordinates a nod, and then the ice knights began digging in. Based on how they were practically inhaling the bread, you wouldn't have thought that they had just eaten a table full of pastries. They made the bread look super delicious.
Beside me, Vice-Captain Ice was also eating with much gusto. Several knights saluted their captain and then returned to training. Vice-Captain Ice thanked his captain by sharing some meaningful glances with him. At least, I thought that was what he was doing. Then, he joined the rest of the ice knights, leaving me alone with his captain.
I glanced at the ice knights, and then I looked over at their captain. "They're really super diligent," I said.
Knight-Captain Ice nodded. His eyes slid toward the bread on the table before darting back at me. Even though I was already really full, I could tell that he wanted me to try some.
My practice with his vice-captain has really helped me read non verbal cues...
Recalling what my fellow vice-captain had just told me, I picked up a piece of bread and imagined it to be the most delicious thing I'd ever eaten. It wasn't hard -- it really was delicious -- but I was also very full. Still, I must have passed inspection because Knight-Captain Ice patted me on the shoulder before leaving. He seemed pleased.
Stomach super full, I decided to join everyone else in their training. I would have to work even harder now.
...I wonder if they're trying to work off all they had just eaten...
I stilled. No wonder they train so much!
The moment their captain left their sight, the ice knights all exchanged a look, their shoulders tense. Then, in perfect unison -- I really admired their silent camaraderie -- they all... pivoted and stampeded in a mad dash to leave the training grounds.
I stared, baffled. "Where are all of you going?" I blurted. It felt wrong to break the silence in such a way, but I couldn't stop myself this time.
Vice-Captain Ice was hugging his stomach. Several of the others were also hugging their stomachs. He took pity on me and said:
I blinked. ...Food poisoning? But the food tasted fine...
It took no time at all for the courtyard to empty out. I stood frozen for a moment, as I was now the only person left, but then I decided I might as well train by myself, like what I had intended to do before Vice-Captain Ice waylaid me.
And before I had eaten way more than I should have.
I can see the wall through the material... No, stop thinking about it...
Heart wailing at how I'd eaten so much when I knew what was waiting for me back in my room, I threw myself into my drills as if my life depended on it.
The Fifth Suggestion for Serving Your Captain: Enjoy Your Food (It Will Make Your Captain Happy, and You Will Become a Better Swordsman too...Even if You Must Make Several Trips to the Bathroom)
Chapter 7: Suggestion #6: Save Some Money
The next day at the training grounds, I felt someone stare at me with an unwavering gaze, making me feel overly conscious of myself. I haven't even started wearing the leotard yet! I finished the last of my drills and turned to my latest interrupter -- Vice-Captain Leaf.
I was, unfortunately, getting used to the interruptions.
He had a bow on his back and looked as windswept as ever. He ran his hand through his messy hair and frowned at me. "Vice-Captain Hell, did you buy new clothes?"
I glanced down at myself. I was wearing the outfit that Vice-Captain Moon had bought for me. After wearing it more than once, it was actually starting to feel more comfortable to wear. I answered, "Yes... well, sort of..."
It was new, but I wasn't the one who had paid for it.
He frowned some more and crossed his arms. "Well? Is your answer yes, or is it no?"
"Vice-Captain Moon bought it for me a few days ago," I explained.
He waved one hand in the air in dismissal. "If you were a hopeless spendthrift, then there would really be no helping you! Come along!"
Do I get to say no?
Perhaps it was because his captain never said no, but Vice-Captain Leaf was quite forceful, with a temperament completely unlike his captain's.
I once again found myself in a forest, this time with the Leaf Knight Platoon. The moment we entered, the leaf knights all scattered, some even leaping up trees. I hoped they did not expect me to follow them!
From time-to-time, I could hear them shouting, "I love nature!"
Truly worthy of being leaf knights!
To my surprise, even Knight-Captain Leaf was there. He was sitting on a boulder and had a knife out.
"Did my vice-captain force you to come? I'm sorry," he apologized.
"Um, no, it's nothing..."
Before I could finish my sentence, a pile of branches appeared in front of Knight-Captain Leaf. He blinked and returned to cutting off the bark from the branches. Unsure of what I was supposed to do, I walked along the vicinity and gathered some long sticks similar to the ones by Knight-Captain Leaf's feet.
All of a sudden, Vice-Captain Leaf jumped down from a tree, landing softly before me. I jumped too, out of surprise!
"Oh, sorry," Vice-Captain Leaf said with a lopsided grin. He shook leaves out of his hair. He looked a lot less stiff than he had been at the training grounds. Maybe he feels more at home in the forest?
"Are you going to explain what I'm doing here now?" I asked, as I was no great lover of nature. "If not, I'm heading back."
"No, no, wait!" he called out. He gestured around him. "I just wanted to show you what we usually do."
"You do this a lot?"
By now, I'd concluded that they were making their own arrows, which was quite remarkable of them. Both the Blaze Knight Platoon and the Leaf Knight Platoon were very skilled with their craftsmanship.
He nodded. "You know how the Pope is."
I blinked. "How is he?"
"...You..." He looked at me in astonishment, mouth dropping open. "You... seriously don't know?"
What is he going on about?
I ventured a guess. "You mean, how he looks very young?"
He shook his head.
"How he's rumored to be able to perform Resurrection?"
He shook his head again.
I frowned, not knowing what to say.
Unable to help himself, Vice-Captain Leaf yelled, "He never gives us enough funds!"
I blinked. "...Really?"
Then, I stopped to consider his words. It was true that our salaries were not very high, and the funds allocated to the Hell Knight Platoon were only just enough for equipment and short missions, but even then, I had some money saved up. Lately, I had even been able to save up more than before. Ever since my captain returned, I stopped having to use my own money to replenish the Hell Knight Platoon's funds.
Don't tell me my captain is making up for the deficiency?! That... wouldn't do at all!
Vice-Captain Leaf shook his head in disbelief. "Tyler, you might not know the terror of running out of money, but it will happen to you one day, I swear! So be prepared for it!"
"How do I prepare for it?" I asked in a hurry.
"By making money on the side!"
I stood behind a stall in the marketplace, a smile frozen on my face.
"What are we doing?" I mouthed to Vice-Captain Leaf.
"Selling all of this," he answered and gestured at the boxes and boxes of arrows before us. They were all hand made by the Leaf Knight Platoon. I had also made some arrows as well, but most of mine were still unfinished and would be sold next time.
"Isn't this... against some sort of law?" I asked.
We're holy knights! We can't do things like this, right? Aren't we disrupting the marketplace or something like that?
He shrugged. "The Pope doesn't care. In fact, he's ecstatic that we're doing this! Since he's backing us, we have nothing to fear! And look! The citizens adore our presence!"
I didn't know what to say. The citizens really did adore our presence. The line to buy these arrows was so long that it curled around the corner and disappeared into the alley.
I gave in and helped the Leaf Knight Platoon with their sales.
As I helped sell, I noticed a box of what looked to be dolls among all of the boxes of arrows.
"What are those?" I asked and pointed.
Vice-Captain Leaf glanced in the direction I pointed. "Oh those! Those are straw dolls made by the captain! They're very popular."
Your captain makes dolls?
I held one up. It was quite exquisitely made. I could actually see Knight-Captain Leaf making these, patiently stitching them together. It was a fitting pastime for one as kind as he was.
"The truth is, we've all received one from the captain before." He pulled a doll out of his pocket. It had a mini bow on its back, like a miniature version of Vice-Captain Leaf. "Captain has quite a collection in his room. He's made one of each of us, one for us and one he... keeps."
Vice-Captain Leaf's expression turned strained.
I'm more surprised that you carry it around with you...
I stared at the doll in Vice-Captain Leaf's hand.
It seemed to stare back at me.
I quickly turned away.
"How much is it for twenty arrows?" a teenager asked Knight-Captain Leaf with stars in his eyes. This youngster no doubt held Knight-Captain Leaf in high regard.
"Five silver ducats," Knight-Captain Leaf answered with a smile.
The teenager dug around in his pouch. When he raised his head once more, his starry eyes had become just the bit moist. "Um, I only have one silver ducat... Could I please have the arrows for one silver ducat?"
I'd heard that Knight-Captain Leaf never said no, and faced with a teenager who looked like he was about to cry, I doubted he would be able to refuse! Knight-Captain Leaf's face softened, and he opened his mouth--
Only for his vice-captain to interrupt.
Full of smiles, Vice-Captain Leaf said, "Boy, you have one silver ducat? Perfect! It's enough for you to buy four arrows!"
Cheeks flushing, the boy instead took out three silver ducats and bought twelve arrows, barely enough to fill up his quiver.
Shaking his head, Vice-Captain Leaf turned to his captain and said, "Captain, you have to refuse cases like that! He was obviously trying to trick you!"
Off to the side, I watched as a vice-captain kept on berating his captain... But after the long spiel, all Knight-Captain Leaf did was smile and pat his vice-captain on the shoulder.
"I have you looking out for me, so there's really nothing to fear!"
"Captain..." He looked pained.
Perhaps this is why Vice-Captain Leaf prefers forests... There's no one he has to say no to there for his captain!
As our sales wound down, most of the platoon was now counting money instead of playing salesmen. Based on how much money we had made today, I was fairly sure the Leaf Knight Platoon must be one of the richest platoons among the twelve. They were very good at making money. They relaxed their smiling expressions... Actually, they were still smiling, but instead of business-like smiles, their smiles were now a lot more genuine.
"I love nature!"
Makes sense, they're the Leaf Knight Platoon.
"I love making arrows!"
Makes sense, they're archers.
"I love money!"
Makes sense... what?
"Now we don't have to be dirt poor anymore," sobbed one of the leaf knights.
"But it's not going to stay that way for long..." another leaf knight said.
"No! Don't say it!" wailed another.
Vice-Captain Leaf handed me a small pouch full of ducats. "Here Tyler. This is your share. Thanks for coming along. I hope you learned something from this."
I gave him a nod. "Are we heading back to the Holy Temple now?"
He shook his head, face pained. "No... we have one more stop."
I watched Knight-Captain Leaf excitedly visit one stall after the next with his vice-captain trailing fretfully after him. From time-to-time, I could hear Vice-Captain Leaf's voice rise, shouting things like, "No! We won't buy your seasonings for three silver ducats! Two silver ducats, or else we're leaving!"
"Eh? But three silver ducats seems reasonable..." Knight-Captain Leaf said.
"No, Captain! The next street over, there's a stall that is selling the same spice for only two silver ducats!"
"Is there?" I asked one of the leaf knights next to me.
"Nope," he answered.
I stared in awe. Vice-Captain Leaf was very, very good at haggling.
A moment later, both captain and vice-captain circled back to us, arms full of jars and bags. The leaf knights around me hurried to help their captain with the goods.
"Sorry for borrowing money again," Knight-Captain Leaf apologized. "I'll be sure to pay you back."
...What happened to all the money you just earned, Knight-Captain Leaf?!
"It's fine, Captain," Vice-Captain Leaf said tonelessly, hand grabbing at his hair, messing it up even more. He turned to the rest of us. "Has anyone any money to spare? Captain still needs to buy ink and paper."
Since we had just finished selling arrows, it was obvious that everyone had some money to spare, but they were all reluctant to part with their hard-earned money. Still, they did it anyway, each dropping a silver ducat into Vice-Captain Leaf's pouch.
"I'm sorry," Knight-Captain Leaf said and clasped his hands together in apology. "I'll be sure to pay all of you back!"
"No, it's okay, Captain, really!" the leaf knights protested with tears in their eyes.
The bonds of the Leaf Knight Platoon were truly strong for them to support their captain in such a way. Was my Hell Knight Platoon not disciplined enough after all?
Vice-Captain Leaf glanced over at me. I gazed back solemnly and nodded my understanding.
I get what you're trying to teach me, Vice-Captain Leaf!
I looked down at the pouch of money in my hands and inwardly made a decision. After making sure the Hell Knight Platoon had enough funds...
I should buy leotards for everyone!
We had to bond more!
The Sixth Suggestion for Serving Your Captain: Save Some Money (You Will Definitely Need It, Especially When Your Captain Comes Borrowing Money)
Chapter 8: Suggestion #7: Jot Down Notes
The problem with acquiring enough leotards for the entire platoon was that it really wasn't going to be cheap. I did not often buy new clothes, so I didn't know of places I could get a discount for buying in bulk.
Maybe the store Vice-Captain Moon brought me to earlier might offer such a deal?
As I pondered whether or not I should ask Vice-Captain Moon for advice, maybe inquire about where he had gotten the leotard, I felt someone watching me once again. I was fairly certain it was yet another vice-captain that suddenly wanted my company.
Since when have I become so popular among the vice-captains?
In the past, they had always kept their distance. Although they called me by my name, it was more because they didn't know whether to call me Vice-Captain Hell or Knight-Captain Hell. Neither was quite right. So, instead of calling me either, I had always been "Tyler" to nearly everyone. It hadn't ever been because of a sense of closeness or anything of the like.
I turned and lowered my sword, thinking I would spot one of the other vice-captains, but surprisingly, there was no one behind me.
I looked this way and that. Still no one. However, when I returned to my drills, I felt the stare again. Whoever it is, they excel in stealth, but we hell knights are no pushovers in stealth either!
As I went through the motions of my drills, I was actually paying more attention to my surroundings. Listening didn't do me much good -- whoever it was must have silent feet and near inaudible breathing. I could only rely on detecting the person's reactions and feelings. No matter how good the person was at hiding their emotions, if they were not emotionless beings, some emotion would leak out.
I felt it, a flash of killing intent. As I twisted to the side, something whistled past me, just a hair's breadth away. I darted my eyes in the direction of whatever had flown past me, intent on merely taking a glance before dashing the other way, toward the source, but this one glance froze me in my tracks.
A quivering knife was stuck in the training dummy, straight in the heart.
"Any slower and that would've been you. Have you been training at all?" came a voice from behind me, much closer than expected.
"Of course I have!" I protested as I whirled around and jumped backward to put some distance between us, immediately insulted. I'd dedicated everything to training!
The person who had thrown the knife was Vice-Captain Metal. He had a knowing smirk on his face. He walked forward to retrieve his knife. "I'm joking. I know you've been practicing hard. I don't think you even know what it means to rest. You should remember to rest once in awhile."
"There's no time to rest," I muttered. If I don't practice hard, how will I ever hope to even hold a candle to my captain?
Or wear a leotard?
Suddenly, I realized who was before me and what that meant. The Metal Knight Platoon, while they didn't wear leotards, always wore body-hugging clothes. Surely, the metal knights would know the secret to maintaining an excellent physique!
I moved closer and blurted while looking up at him, "Let me shadow you!"
He gave me a questioning look but shrugged it off immediately after. He reached out, hand pausing in midair, but eventually he clasped me on the shoulder. "I was just wondering how I could get you to come with me. You sure are obedient, Tyler!"
As I had expected, the metal knights were truly excellent at stealth. Dressed in tight clothes, it was almost as if they melted into the corridors, hidden in the shadows. One blink, and they were already at the next corner.
After I had asked to shadow him, Vice-Captain Metal brought me to meet the rest of the Metal Knight Platoon. They were dressed just like him, in body-hugging clothes suitable for stealth. They had offered me a similar outfit, but I'd declined. Today, I was wearing my very down-to-earth training outfit and not the not-as-down-to-earth outfit given to me by Vice-Captain Moon. While I was indeed new to being a vice-captain, I was a hell knight through and through. It would not do for me to wear a metal knight uniform and potentially confuse people.
Following the metal knights was eye-opening. They were a fast bunch, their speed top notch and their actions clean and efficient. Even Vice-Captain Metal, who was the tallest out of all of us, was quick and nimble. He had divided the platoon into groups. I did my best to follow the group led by him, but I soon fell to the back.
They stopped at the next corner, which gave me enough time to catch up. For some reason, they had all chosen to flatten themselves against the wall. I could only follow suit. Perhaps this was another part of their training.
Vice-Captain Metal peered out around the corner, and then he held a hand up, probably indicating for us to keep still. I heard voices drifting from afar.
Ah, so they're practicing to see if they can avoid detection? Truly admirable.
"Are you using your brain at all?" someone berated. "How could you mix up the Judgment Knight's and the Moon Knight's uniform?"
"But, it had a moon symbol on it..."
"Anyone with eyes can see that it must be the Moon Knight's clothes then!"
"But the Judgment Knight has a moon on his forehead..."
"Are you an idiot?!"
"But, but, it's true! The Judgment Knight has a moon on his forehead! Unless he mistakenly put the symbol there..."
Beside me, the metal knights were suddenly all holding something in their hands. Don't tell me they're feeling insulted on Knight-Captain Judgment's behalf?
I seemed to recall that Knight-Captain Metal was indeed extremely loyal to Knight-Captain Judgment. Perhaps the Metal Knight Platoon was just as dedicated to following Knight-Captain Judgment as their captain was.
Just as I thought I should step forward to prevent the metal knights from harming the maids responsible for our laundry, something got shoved in my hands. Like the time when Vice-Captain Cloud had shoved a rag at me, I looked down and was immediately confused.
Is this... a piece of parchment?
I looked up, trying to make sense of what I was holding, only to realize that the metal knights were all holding something white in their hands -- pieces of parchment. Their vice-captain was even holding a leather bound notebook.
"Sixty points," one of the metal knights said and scribbled something on his parchment.
"Nah, that's at most forty points."
"Fifty points then!" another person said and jotted something down.
"'Are you using your brain at all...'" Vice-Captain Metal muttered. At first, I thought he was insulting the other metal knights, but then he said, "What if we change that to, 'Do you have anything in that head of yours,' or 'Your head must be filled with s***'?"
"Seventy points!" the metal knights chorused.
Vice-Captain Metal gave a nod and wrote something down.
Then, he glanced at me and said, "Don't forget to write."
I was so bewildered by their actions that I had nearly forgotten that I too had a piece of parchment in my hand. I looked down at it. When Vice-Captain Metal realized that I didn't have anything to write with, he even passed a quill over.
What am I supposed to write?
We soon moved on, and the same thing happened more than once where we would hide and everyone else would write things down, but I still didn't know what I was supposed to write. I watched, growing more and more bewildered by what I was witnessing. Just where are they stashing those pieces of parchment? Where has their vice-captain's notebook disappeared to?
Their outfits didn't seem like they could hide much.
At first, I had been so caught up by the parchment and quill given to me that I hadn't seen the moment they'd put everything away. Then, it was because their movements were too quick and well practiced that I still wasn't able to figure it out. Looking at them now, I would never have known that they were carrying parchment and quills on them, not to mention an actual notebook in the case of their vice-captain.
As we rounded another corner, this one leading us to the courtyard, I found myself hiding behind a pillar. The metal knights motioned for me to flatten myself against the pillar some more, so I did the best I could. They had each taken a pillar too.
Once again, we overheard a conversation. At first, the metal knights merely listened, but when the voices grew shrill and I even heard something rude about someone's mother being so draconic that looking at her for more than three seconds would directly send someone on an early meeting with the God of Light, multiple quills and pieces of parchment appeared out of nowhere. Again, they had been too fast for me to see just where they had taken them out from!
Then came the furious scritch scratch of quills across parchment.
"No, that has to be at least eighty points!"
"No way! That wasn't classy at all. Sixty-eight points."
Vice-Captain Metal's quill never stopped moving as the other metal knights argued. Once he blew on his notebook and shut it, we continued on our way. I had... somewhat gotten used to it. No doubt we would stop and hide in some other place while listening in on some other conversation.
All without getting detected.
I could not help but admit that the metal knights were truly experts at stealth. I still had much to learn.
I also didn't know just how foul-mouthed many of our servants and maids are when they think no one is listening!
When Vice-Captain Metal held up his hand once more, we immediately stopped and took our places. I huddled next to a large pot, making sure no parts of my clothes stuck out. I thought perhaps there was another conversation Vice-Captain Metal wanted us to hear.
However, I instead found Vice-Captain Metal approaching the trees in the courtyard. He craned his neck and said, "Report."
If not for his actions, I would never have realized that there were several metal knights hiding in the trees.
They jumped down. Then, one-by-one, they handed Vice-Captain Metal... parchment?
He looked at each piece of parchment, nodding as he did so. "Good work."
The metal knights all preened.
It seemed that the other metal knights had been doing the same thing as us.
Vice-Captain Metal then began collecting the parchment from the metal knights that had been going around the Holy Temple with him. When he came around to me, I only had a blank piece of parchment to give him, and it was even somewhat wrinkled.
He peered at it, turned it over, saw that it was indeed blank on both sides, and handed it back to me. I thought that he might be disappointed, but all he said was, "I guess you'd need to write different things down than the notes we take, huh?"
So all of that was... note-taking? What are they taking notes for?
He reached out. Like earlier, his hand froze in midair. I blinked. Eventually, he patted me on the shoulder.
At the next corner, I looked at my blank piece of parchment.
I really should write something down.
When we stopped once again, I was prepared to start taking notes, perhaps on how the metal knights regulated their breathing or just how they managed to carry around parchment and quills while wearing body-hugging clothes -- that would solve one of my dilemmas regarding wearing leotards -- when I realized that Vice-Captain Metal had not opted to hide this time.
I took a step forward and looked around the corner.
Knight-Captain Metal was currently leaning against the wall. He was tossing one of his knives, but instead of grabbing his knife by the hilt, he grabbed it by the blade whenever it came down from its time in the air. If he weren't careful, he could accidentally cut himself.
His vice-captain walked right up to him.
"Captain," he greeted.
As Knight-Captain Metal snatched the knife out of the air and rubbed his finger along the edge of the blade, he chided, "Finally decided to show up? Any later, and the sun would be down!"
"Fifty points," Vice-Captain Metal suddenly said.
"Only fifty points?" muttered his captain. "I ran it through my head so many times too!"
Vice-Captain Metal reached out, just like how he had reached out to pat me on the shoulder. However, this time, he didn't freeze, and he didn't seem like he had any intention of patting his captain on the shoulder.
Instead, he ruffled his captain's hair.
Just how daring was he?!
"Hey, cut it out, you bastard! What kind of vice-captain are you?" Knight-Captain Metal knocked his vice-captain's hand away. He had a scowl on his face as he tried to smooth his hair down.
"Much better. Eighty-five points."
What kind of vice-captain are you?
Those were definitely words no vice-captain would ever want to hear. Even I was starting to understand, I think. But it was no wonder his captain had said it to him! I would never dare ruffle my captain's hair. I couldn't even imagine it.
"I was only speaking the truth," muttered Knight-Captain Metal.
"Yes, yes, Captain, I know. You're welcome."
Then, I watched as vice-captain and captain flipped through the leather bound notebook my fellow vice-captain had been writing in. Perhaps the notes had all been for his captain. He was a good vice-captain, truly thoughtful, minus the part where he seemed to like ruffling people's hair. But seeing them going over the notebook together made me think that maybe his captain had already forgiven him. They seemed very close.
I looked down once more at the blank parchment in my hand. Vice-Captain Metal's idea of taking notes for his captain truly wasn't bad. While I did not know if I could adapt their methods of training in stealth, at least I'd learned that note-taking was worthwhile.
And there were even ways to stash paper and quill away while wearing body-hugging clothes!
Some time later, I happened to come across Knight-Captain Metal while he was berating one of his platoon members. I did not like to admit it, but I found that my first reaction was to flatten myself against the wall so that I would not be detected. I have truly strayed from the way of a knight.
"Do you have anything in that head of yours?" he yelled. "How could you mix up the bandits' tracks with fake tracks?"
"I'm sorry, Captain."
"Sorry doesn't cut it! Anyone with eyes can see that the bandit escaped the other way!"
"But the tracks looked so real..."
"Are you an idiot? Did your mom drop you on your head while you were growing up? Of course they would make it look real!"
For some reason, the conversation sounded oddly familiar.
The Seventh Suggestion for Serving Your Captain: Jot Down Notes (So Your Captain Will Know What to Do)
Chapter 9: Suggestion #8: Speak Your Mind
Faterlin's physique was not bad. Although he was of average height, he had a strong build. Among the hell knights, he numbered among the top in skill. I could always count on having a rewarding spar with him, just as much as I couldn't count on his help with looking over documents. Despite his general lack of finesse, he was still the person I confided in the most.
After all, when I had been the acting captain, it could be said that he had been the unofficial "vice-captain." After the former Knight-Captain Hell selected me as the vice-captain of the Hell Knight Platoon, I had had to carry out the Hell Knight's duties in my captain's stead during his absence. I could not have done so without the help of the other hell knights, especially Faterlin.
"What?" Faterlin said. He tried to brush his bangs out of his face with the back of his hand, only to plaster them against his face instead. My eyes trailed over his forearms and then his torso. Unfortunately, his clothes made it impossible to see how well-defined or not his muscles were, but he was definitely far from scrawny.
He might be able to pull it off...
But when I imagined Faterlin in a leotard, I could not help myself from mentally wincing.
How in the world is my captain able to wear it so gloriously?!
Suddenly, Faterlin snapped his fingers in front of my face. "Yo, zoning out there, Cap?"
Frowning, I pushed his hand away. "I'm not the captain."
"What, so I can't call you that anymore?"
"We have an actual captain, you know," I said.
He sniggered. I resisted the urge to hit him. He asked, "And who was it again who refused to call him Knight-Captain Hell? Who told us he would never in a million years accept someone who wouldn't even show us what he looked like? Who dueled him again and again?"
"Me, me, and me," I grumbled. Just thinking about how I had treated my captain made me wish the earth would crack open and swallow me up. How utterly mortifying! I covered my face and muttered, "I can't believe I called him weird to his face."
Faterlin laughed. "He is weird."
"Faterlin!" I protested. "Be more respectful. He isn't weird." Immediately, an image of my captain clad in skin-tight clothes with a mask over his face came to mind. I faltered. "He's just... unique." Then, I held myself taller. "And he's an amazing swordsman. And the most patient person ever, and-"
Faterlin laughed even harder, cutting me off mid-sentence. "Oh Cap, you've fallen hard."
Don't hit him. "I'm serious."
"Yes yes, Cap."
"I told you already. I'm not the captain, so don't call me that."
For a brief moment, Faterlin made a face. I could guess what he was thinking. But to me, you were the captain. While I was thankful he was one of the few who had acknowledged me as the leader, I didn't want him to be disrespectful toward our captain. Eventually, he said, "Then, what should I call you?"
Relieved, I answered, "Tyler. Just Tyler."
Tyler. Not "stand-in Hell Knight." Not "Tyler-because-we-don't-know-what-to-call-you." But just Tyler. Tyler the vice-captain.
"Okay, 'Just' Tyler. What's on the schedule today?"
Don't hit him... Don't hit him...
I couldn't help it. I shoved him.
"On the schedule" today, other than shoving Faterlin, was a mission with the Stone Knight Platoon. While I had been practicing my sword, Vice-Captain Stone had come with news of a joint mission between the Stone Knight Platoon and the Hell Knight Platoon. Knight-Captain Stone was the leader of the mission, while the Hell Knight Platoon would aid him.
"Who are the strongest men in the Hell Knight Platoon? Not including you, Tyler. Not that you're not strong. I already know you're strong. Who else would you recommend? We don't need a large number of people, but rather strong people who can carry out the mission. You know, quality over quantity?" Vice-Captain Stone had said all in a single breath.
I had stared. Like always, his ability to ramble was eye-opening. Just like how I had observed the shopkeeper of the clothing shop Vice-Captain Moon liked to frequent, I studied Vice-Captain Stone, trying to figure out just how he was able to regulate his breathing to allow him to say so much without suffocating.
He shifted under my gaze.
After asking Vice-Captain Stone to elaborate on the mission, which resulted in another five minutes of rambling, I finally managed to decipher from his words what he required of me. I then went off to round up my men. If Vice-Captain Stone wanted the strongest from the Hell Knight Platoon, then Faterlin would of course be among my top pick.
Our destination was not far from Leaf Bud City. In fact, it was merely a town away, where one of the barons lived. As we approached the baron's lands, fields of crops came into view. The workers on the fields didn't stop what they were doing, but they did start whispering.
"Are those the Twelve Holy Knights?"
"Can't be, right? They're wearing such dark colors."
"Don't you know that the 'cruel, cold-hearted' faction is famous for wearing depressing colors?"
"Really? Oh, what about that knight at the front? He's not even wearing a shirt! Is he even a knight?"
I darted my eyes at Knight-Captain Stone, offended on his behalf, but all I could see was his back. They weren't wrong about him not wearing a shirt. Except for his huge sword that was strapped to his back, his broad back was like always, bare, displayed for all to see. He rode with excellent posture, which drew my attention to his back muscles even more. He didn't even twitch at the gossip the workers were spouting and merely continued riding.
Sometimes, I would think to myself that Knight-Captain Stone looked much more like a warrior than a holy knight, but I would always quickly squash my disrespectful thoughts. Besides, Knight-Captain Stone's physique was amazing, something every holy knight should aim for. Not everyone had the build to go around without a shirt like him, and from a quick glance at the Stone Knight Platoon, I could already tell that quite a few of them wouldn't be able to wear a leotard proudly, let alone go without a shirt. My platoon was very much in the same state.
We definitely need more training.
"Why doesn't your captain wear a shirt?" Faterlin suddenly asked Vice-Captain Stone without any tact.
"Faterlin!" I immediately admonished. Although I was curious too, especially when all I knew was that Knight-Captain Stone was said to have stubbornly refused to wear a shirt for some reason, it wasn't in our place to pry into a knight-captain's affairs. I still couldn't forget the disrespect I had shown my captain.
"Why does your captain wear a mask and leotard?" Vice-Captain Stone asked in return without holding back at all. Once he asked it, he immediately clapped his hands over his mouth in some sort of reflexive reaction, but then he darted his eyes about, dropped his hands, and quickly whispered in a hushed voice, "I mean, I've been wondering about that. Is it because he does spy work? But while body-hugging clothing is great for that, doesn't the mask and leotard make him super suspicious if he does get spotted? Wearing that kind of clothing is totally screaming, 'I'm a suspicious person!' Besides, is there a need to stay in that kind of outfit even when he's not on a mission? It makes me wonder if it's more of a preference than anything."
Despite the truth in his words, and the fact that I'd wondered a lot of the same myself, I felt I needed to be offended on my captain's behalf. He was not suspicious!
At least, not... overly suspicious.
But before I could say anything in my captain's defense, Vice-Captain Stone had continued talking again, his words nearly tumbling over each other. He kept patting his horse, hands twisting and untwisting the mane. The poor horse.
"Tell you what, since we're trying to show you the ropes around here, which I guess makes you part of the club, I don't mind sharing what I know. I'll tell you why my captain doesn't wear a shirt if you tell me why your captain wears a mask and leotard. How does that sound?"
He shifted and glanced at me furtively.
If you're nervous about gossiping, don't do it! How are you able to talk so much anyway?! And do you know that your captain is right over there, which means he can probably hear us talking?
I also wondered what he meant by "showing me the ropes" and "being part of the club." What club?
Faterlin scratched his head, looking like he very much wanted to share why our captain wore a mask and leotard so that he could find out why Knight-Captain Stone always went about without a shirt, but fortunately, he didn't know why our captain always did so. I didn't know why either.
But Faterlin soon grinned and said, "Deal!"
I narrowed my eyes at Faterlin. He merely shrugged at me and mouthed, "It'll be fine!"
Knowing Faterlin, he was probably just going to make something up!
However, before either of them could start their exchange, a different voice said, "We're here."
I jolted in shock. Turning my head revealed that it was Knight-Captain Stone who had spoken. He was currently shaking his head at his vice-captain, who quickly clapped his hands over his mouth again.
Even though Knight-Captain Stone didn't berate me, I felt duly chastised. I should have tried to stop them.
Through his hands, Vice-Captain Stone mumbled, "Sorry, I might've said too much again."
Exactly! You can't go around gossiping about your captain with him right there! Or even when he's not there! Faterlin, you shouldn't encourage him either!
Knight-Captain Stone shook his head again, but he didn't scold his vice-captain. All he said was, "Remember to keep.an eye out, but leave the talking to me. Don't open your mouth."
Vice-Captain Stone hurriedly nodded, hands still clasped over his mouth.
However, after thinking it over, Knight-Captain Stone added, "Unless I tell you to."
Then, I watched Knight-Captain Stone urge his horse to trot to the front again.
What a friendly captain! His voice hadn't even turned stern this entire time, except when he'd cautioned his vice-captain not to talk... which, I really couldn't fault him for.
Once we entered the building, Vice-Captain Stone immediately began doing his job. Actually, I should say that he had been doing his job the entire time, even though it hadn't seemed like it. Without the distraction of the gossiping from earlier, I could now hear him muttering to himself. Into his hand. He was trying to muffle himself but wasn't really doing a great job at it. Anyone walking right next to him, like me, could hear him clearly.
"Fields are seventy-five percent empty. The harvest doesn't look so great, but crops show signs of recent harvest. Many women were working the fields. Seven out of ten of them were ogling my captain. Servants at the door are carrying swords but don't have the correct grip. The servants along the halls..."
He even went on to speculate about what had been served for breakfast based on the empty dishes he had seen the servants carry out, and then he began mumbling about their laundry.
Listening to him was making me dizzy.
Finally, we came to the room where the baron and his wife would be receiving us. Once his captain glanced at him, Vice-Captain Stone immediately stopped talking, letting his captain take the stage. He even covered his mouth more tightly with his hand, looking almost as if he thought the room stunk. Perhaps he would benefit from wearing a mask like my captain.
Faterlin and I followed them inside while the rest of our platoon members waited outside. The servants kept darting their eyes at us. We must look fairly suspicious -- a shirtless knight, a knight with his nose and mouth covered, and two knights clad in dark... what had they called it... oh right, "depressing," colors.
I wasn't completely sure about the details of the mission, but it sounded like the baron had requested help from the Church of the God of Light regarding bandits that had been stealing their crops. I was even told that they might have a spy in their midst, which was why the bandits always seemed to know the best time to sneak onto the fields. Because they had sent most of their men out to guard against the bandits, only the elderly and the women were left to work the fields. However, the men they'd sent were merely farmers and not actual fighters.
Vice-Captain Stone stepped closer to his captain, eyes darting up and down nervously, until his captain sighed and motioned for him to speak. Only then did Vice-Captain Stone drop his hands in relief and stand on the tip of his toes to whisper into his captain's ear.
His captain nodded, eyes contemplative, and then he turned to begin the negotiations. Seeing my curiosity, Vice-Captain Stone walked my way and looked very much like he wanted to speak. Helpless, I turned my head slightly so that he could whisper to me. He quietly filled me in on what he'd said. "They're mostly telling the truth. I could tell based off of what I'd seen. The fields were..."
He continued rambling, but my attention soon drifted to Knight-Captain Stone, who was in the middle of negotiating funds with the baron. It wasn't often that I got to see Knight-Captain Stone on one of his diplomatic trips. Both the baron and his wife were staring at him intently as he spoke. Although Knight-Captain Stone didn't have Knight-Captain Sun's radiance, Knight-Captain Judgment's authority, or Knight-Captain Storm's charisma, watching him made me realize that he was the type of person who made you want to speak with him. I would not find it strange if the baron and his wife ended up sharing their entire life story with him.
It kind of made me wonder if his vice-captain had always been long-winded, or if he had become long-winded after joining the Stone Knight Platoon.
Tyler, that's a disrespectful thought! I chided myself. It's definitely not Knight-Captain Stone's fault that his vice-captain speaks so much. I think...
The more I watched, the more I felt that negotiating with Knight-Captain Stone could not be a fun past time. He was known for his stubbornness, but he was just so nice about everything that it would feel wrong not to do what he wanted. I watched in amazement as Knight-Captain Stone persuaded the baron to make donations to the Church of the God of Light for three months when the baron had suggested donating only for a week. Both parties even came out of it smiling!
Once negotiations were done, we made short work of the bandits thanks to Vice-Captain Stone's observations. I have no idea how food and laundry relates to everything, but somehow they were exactly what led to Vice-Captain Stone deducing the involvement of the baron's adviser in this entire bandit business. The baron's right-hand man had purposely advised the baron to send out all of the men, which actually left them even more defenseless than before. The men hadn't even been sent to anywhere useful.
In a second meeting with the baron, Knight-Captain Stone had given his vice-captain a look, signifying that he could finally remove his hands from his mouth and actually speak. With a grateful look, Vice-Captain Stone had let his hands drop, and then he spoke a mile a minute without holding back at all, unearthing every little detail related to the case (and even some unrelated details). Knight-Captain Stone merely nodded at the correct parts.
When all was said and done, the baron was devastated at the betrayal, as well as completely exhausted from Vice-Captain Stone's ramblings, but he could not thank us enough. While we listened to his words of gratitude, I once again saw both the baron and his wife staring openly at Knight-Captain Stone. They must really like talking with him, huh? Enough to look him up and down...
I blinked. When I turned my head to see if Faterlin had noticed anything, a bunch of servants quickly averted their gazes.
Wait, were they staring at me too?
Actually, Faterlin was also garnering some attention too.
I frowned. I'd thought that they'd at least be less wary of us now that we'd solved their bandit problem, but perhaps our dark clothes still gave off too ominous a feeling.
Vice-Captain Stone, upon seeing my confusion, cupped his hand by his mouth to whisper to me. "Seeing as you're part of the club now, I'll clue you in. You see, there's a story behind the no-shirt business, and it all started with the Pope..."
I stared at Knight-Captain Stone's back, pitying him for having such a talkative vice-captain. By the end of this mission, I'd probably even learn what color Knight-Captain Stone usually wore for his underwear!
As we walked out of the building, I couldn't help but ask my fellow vice-captain, "Do you have anything to say to me?"
All in all, this seemed to be a normal enough mission, which I greatly appreciated. However, based off of my recent experiences, from watching Knight-Captain Storm get slapped by his vice-captain's girlfriend, to having Vice-Captain Metal tell me to take notes, I didn't quite believe that this was all that innocent of an outing.
"Huh? Haven't I already said a lot?" Vice-Captain Stone said. He blinked at me in confusion.
So even you know it? But that's not what I'm talking about...
"Oh!" Vice-Captain Stone hit his hand on his palm in sudden realization. "Do you mean-"
But before he could finish speaking, we heard a very quiet, "Meow."
I didn't really pay any attention to the cat's meow, but then the person in front of us suddenly stopped walking, and I nearly bumped into his bare back.
Yes, it was Knight-Captain Stone who had stopped walking. He glanced around, and with large strides, walked over to the wall. Then, he knelt down.
There, by the wall, was a very tiny little white kitten.
Knight-Captain Stone gently picked the kitten up, eliciting a tiny mewl, and held the kitten in his hands. The thing was so small, it could fit entirely in his palm. The kitten looked even tinier next to Knight-Captain Stone, the tallest among the knight-captains.
Still kneeling, he glanced up to speak to his vice-captain, only to realize my presence, as well as the presence of Faterlin and all the other hell knights. We all stared at him and the kitten dwarfed by his hands. He looked away and quickly said, "It's not that I like kittens. I definitely don't like kittens!"
Even while he said so, he lightly patted the kitten's head, causing the kitten to close its blue eyes at the touch and purr. Then, Knight-Captain Stone shot a look at his vice-captain.
Before I could say anything, Vice-Captain Stone turned to me and immediately started blabbing at his captain's behest. "Of course my captain doesn't like kittens! Why would he go around saving cute little animals and helping stray little kittens find their mothers or a good home? Oh no no, he would never go around saving small animals, such as nursing a bird with a broken wing back to health, or making sure a caught fox's leg heals. But, Tyler, wouldn't it be sad leaving this kitten all alone to fend for itself? Isn't it just the cutest thing ever? Look at those cute blue eyes! And those little paws! And that tiny tail! It would be sad not to help! Won't you help us try to find the mother? Surely, we holy knights can do something as simple as that."
I blinked. Vice-Captain Stone, like always, spoke so much that I could barely understand what his main point was.
I think he wants us to find the mother of the kitten?
Unfortunately, we couldn't find the kitten's mother.
So, we took the kitten back with us to the Holy Temple. On our way back, I learned from Vice-Captain Stone that this was far from an uncommon experience with the Stone Knight Platoon.
It kind of made me wonder just how many of them had pets. That was the thought that ran through my mind when we parted, as well as the thought...
In the end, did Vice-Captain Stone have anything to tell me?
Perhaps he really didn't have anything he wanted to tell me, because if he did, I never learned of it.
The Eight Suggestion for Serving Your Captain: Speak Your Mind (For Your Captain When He Can't)
Chapter 10: Suggestion #9: Prepare Small Gifts
The kitten was a small, tiny thing, mewling nonstop until it was picked up. The Stone Knight Platoon were truly experts at taking care of small animals. They knew exactly what could be fed to the kitten and what couldn't be fed to it. But whether or not our leftover food was good for the kitten, it kept pawing at us, wanting to be fed.
"That kitten is a girl," said Vice-Captain Stone. Before I could even ask him how he knew, he went on to ramble way more details about feline genitals than I ever wanted to know. First, lift the tail, then...
Now, I too could determine the gender of a cat if the need ever arose. It was true that one could never be overly prepared. If I wanted to become a skilled vice-captain, I could only keep training and adding to my skill set. Including how to identify the gender of a cat.
In any case, the kitten was now at the Holy Temple, and I volunteered to look for a permanent home for it. Er, her.
Why had I volunteered? Well, pretty much everyone in the Stone Knight Platoon already had pets, multiple pets even, and if they didn't, that was because they had allergic reactions to the small creatures. None of them could take in the kitten, despite their devotion to their captain and their willingness to take in all of the injured and lost small animals he seemed to attract and find.
Because of Vice-Captain Stone's ramblings, I now knew that his captain had nursed a bird back to health and taken care of a fox with an injured leg, among many of his other achievements that I was supposed to forget about. Saving small animals seemed to be a common occurrence in the life of a stone knight.
As I trained that day, the kitten occupied most of my thoughts. Therefore, when Vice-Captain Earth approached me at the training grounds, I took the opportunity to ask him, "Would you like a kitten to keep you company?"
He froze, confusion all over his face.
I decided to explain more to persuade him. "She's quite, how should I say this, endearing with large, bright blue eyes and soft..." I trailed off when I noticed how startling red Vice-Captain Earth was becoming. "Are you okay?"
"V-Vice-Captain Hell," he squeezed out, "I-I never took you to be such a flirt."
"Flirt? Me? Whatever put that notion in your head?" I asked. For some reason, he looked utterly disappointed in me. Now, it was my turn to be confused.
"Kitten... large, bright blue eyes... soft..."
"Yes, that's what I said." I hesitated and added, "Adorable, right? She's small and may be needy, but if you give her attention, I'm sure she'll love you right back. She might even cuddle with you in bed—"
Perhaps Vice-Captain Earth had been red earlier because of feeling embarrassed or under the weather, but currently, he was definitely furious.
"Vice-Captain Hell, I will have to decline. I am not here for such matters," he said with a steely voice.
Such matters? What matters?
I frowned but said, "I apologize if I have offended you. I was merely trying to find the kitten a home."
He frowned too, confusion slowly replacing his fury. "Wait, a pet kitten?"
"Don't tell me you're talking about an actual kitten?" he asked.
"What else could I have been talking about?"
"A g-gir—" he stuttered and planted his face in his hands. "S-sorry Tyler, I thought you were making fun of me."
Why in the world would I want to do that? While I still didn't understand how he could have misunderstood me so terribly, at least I had cleared up the misunderstanding. That brought me back to my original mission.
"So, how about it? Do you want a kitten?" I asked.
I carried the kitten out of my room to show Vice-Captain Earth. She was currently very docile, curling up in my hands and blinking up at us sleepily, occasionally reaching out with a paw to place it against me. Anyone would melt at that. What a little devil! She sure hadn't been like this earlier.
"Vice-Captain Stone says that she's already weaned off milk, so she shouldn't be as difficult to care for as a newborn kitten," I said, trying to convince him to keep her.
"Why can't you keep her? Or, how about someone from your platoon? Why ask me?" Vice-Captain Earth questioned.
"I'm not good at raising small animals."
I had thought to ask my platoon, but it hadn't taken long for me to discard that idea. I had only left the kitten alone for a few minutes, and it had somehow managed to drag the leotard that Vice-Captain Moon had given me out into the open. That wasn't the end of it, either. She had even sunk her tiny claws into the stretchy fabric, leaving puncture holes in it.
The damage wasn't severe, but it sent shivers down my back just imagining what could have happened if I had left her unsupervised for just a moment longer. I made sure to lock away the leotard after that, but the damage was already done. For the same reason, I couldn't give her to anyone in the Hell Knight Platoon. If I did so, how could I ever give that person a leotard without fretting over whether or not it would get destroyed by tiny claws? That would be a complete waste, and we couldn't possibly harm Captain's reputation with torn leotards. The fabric of a leotard was already thin enough. If holes were introduced, we might as well not wear anything.
As for why I had asked Vice-Captain Earth, truth to be told, I had the feeling that I would get interrupted during training, if the recent pattern was anything to go by. He just so happened to be the first person doing the interrupting.
As we were vice-captains of opposing factions, I didn't know him very well at all. However, earth knights were known to be honest and dependable. Surely, I couldn't go wrong with asking one of them to raise a kitten.
"Also, you seem dependable," I decided to say in the end.
"Really?" He perked up.
However, he deflated very quickly after that. "But my captain always says otherwise."
Is Knight-Captain Earth actually a difficult captain to please? I tried to recall what I knew of him based on the meetings I used to attend as the Hell Knight substitute. Knight-Captain Earth had always stuttered a lot and blushed easily, and he often rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment. He didn't seem like the kind of person to be so harsh. However, in the end, he was still a knight-captain and must have his standards. I understood Vice-Captain Earth's concern. I too should work hard so that my captain would approve of me.
Vice-Captain Earth let me place the kitten in his hands. He rubbed her head, his eyes lighting up when she leaned into his touch and pawed at his hand. "She is cute, but I don't know... Let me ask my captain."
Why do you need your captain's approval to raise a pet? He's not your mother!
Despite my thoughts, I followed him without a word to seek out his captain.
"So," he suddenly asked me, "how have you been lately?" As he spoke, he continued petting the kitten. I didn't know how Knight-Captain Earth would respond, but if it were up to his vice-captain alone, I was fairly sure the kitten already had a home. He'd really taken a liking to her.
"How have I been? The usual..." I paused, thinking of how my training kept getting interrupted lately, and how I didn't have enough money to buy matching outfits for everyone in the Hell Knight Platoon. Not exactly usual, actually. Should I make something to sell like what the Leaf Knight Platoon does? But what could I make?
As we turned the corner, I finished my thought by saying, "The usual, but... just in need of a bit more money."
"Oh. Uh, d-do you want to borrow some?" Vice-Captain Earth asked and petted the kitten again. The kitten bit his hand, not letting go even when he lifted his hand up to try to shake her off. She even clung on with her tiny paws and thus ended up partially lifted into the air. Even then, she still wouldn't let go. Vice-Captain Earth merely gave a pained smile and shook his hand back and forth to no avail.
Hey, play nice, kitten. Do you want a new home or not?
I watched the kitten and said absentmindedly, "Really? I'd hate to trouble you, but that would be very help—"
Suddenly, a looming shadow invaded my personal space, and I could feel my hair stand on end. However, when I turned, all I saw was Knight-Captain Earth smiling behind me. I gulped, unsure of the unsettling feeling that had come over me. It was only Knight-Captain Earth, and he was even smiling, even though his arms were folded across his chest.
"Has t-the Sun Knight P-Platoon come to..." Suddenly, Knight-Captain Earth stopped and looked me up and down. His next words were slow but clear. "You're not a sun knight."
I blinked. Is it just my imagination, or did Knight-Captain Earth's demeanor change at the end there? I shook my head. "No, I'm not a sun knight."
He seemed to grumble something about dratted sun knights cheating his vice-captain out of his money, so he really didn't need other platoons butting in as well, but surely I was hearing things. He peered at me again and finally said, "Ah, you're... ahem, y-you're Hell."
"Vice-Captain Hell, sir," I answered.
After all, I had a captain now. To the side, Vice-Captain Earth suddenly had a beaming smile on his face despite the kitten dangling from his hand, and he shot me a knowing gaze. Unfortunately, we did not have the understanding that the Ice Knight Platoon members had with each other and thus could not communicate with just a glance. I could only make a guess. Is he that happy to get bitten by a kitten?
Knight-Captain Earth nodded to acknowledge and dismiss me at the same time. He turned toward his own vice-captain. "Have you... ahem, h-have you gotten w-what I asked for?"
Vice-Captain Earth, with the kitten still dangling from his hand, abruptly froze. "U-Um..."
Oh no, have I sidetracked Vice-Captain Earth from his task? But he had come to find me at the training grounds, so does that mean his task had something to do with me?
Whatever it was, if I had gotten in the way of his duty, then I really needed to give him a helping hand.
Knight-Captain Earth waited.
Vice-Captain Earth lowered the kitten, holding her closer, almost cradling her, before he suddenly thrust her into the air like some kind of offering. "I-I did, actually. Here."
The kitten stared up at Knight-Captain Earth. He stared back.
"That's not a handkerchief," he said.
"Um, no," his vice-captain replied.
"That's not tea."
"That's not a snack."
"Then, whatever is it for?" Knight-Captain Earth demanded. This entire time, the kitten had been having a staring contest with him. At his question, she swiped her tiny claws at him. He batted her paws away.
Go on, ask him if you can keep her! I didn't know how anyone could mistake a kitten for handkerchiefs, tea, and snacks, but as long as Knight-Captain Earth would allow his vice-captain to keep the kitten, it really didn't matter.
"For you, Captain!"
"I mean, I'll definitely look after her, but you can borrow her whenever you want."
"That..." Knight-Captain Earth began. "You..." He looked back at the kitten who seemed to have gotten bored and was now washing her face in a cute fashion. He stared at her some more. Then, a slow grin appeared. "That's brilliant. This could work. I didn't know you had it in you!"
Vice-Captain Earth blinked and tilted his head, but he soon beamed. He deposited the kitten into his captain's waiting arms. "Um, so, should I keep her?"
"Yes, definitely yes!" his captain replied as he rubbed the kitten's head and scratched behind her ears. She purred, and his grin grew even wider. For some reason, the grin made me want to back away. Maybe, I should have kept the kitten.
Vice-Captain Earth turned to me happily and said, "Vice-Captain Hell! He said yes!"
You and your captain are both very, very strange.
"What was that?" I asked him after his captain left with the kitten.
"What was what?" he asked in return. He blinked at me and followed my gaze in the direction his captain had left in. "Oh, that?"
"T-That's actually what I wanted to speak with you about," he said.
"Um, if you're having any troubles, o-or if you want to express gratitude or appreciation... I find that small gifts are nice," he eventually said.
He scratched his face. "But I guess you already knew that. Um, at least, I think you're doing something similar. Or plan to. Since, you know, you said you're in need of money."
"I... yeah, I am." Small gifts, huh? I hadn't thought of the leotards as small gifts, but they could be considered that.
"Here," Vice-Captain Earth suddenly said. He rummaged around and handed me several tea bags. "This is a great, um, strong blend. If you're ever feeling tired, it'll wake you right up!"
He twiddled his thumbs. "I figured tea would be a better g-gift to you than a handkerchief—" he pulled several out, "—or some cookies." He pulled out two bags of what was probably cookies.
I blinked. Wasn't Knight-Captain Earth looking for those exact items? "Why didn't you give them to your captain?"
"Oh, um, I wanted to give you a gift. It always seems to work for my captain. And he only told me earlier to bring something gir—guests would appreciate. He wasn't exactly looking for those... items. Who can resist such a c-cute kitten? So, I actually have to thank you for helping me fulfill my captain's request. I mean, he even praised me just now!"
He beamed again.
For some reason, I felt a bit worried for the kitten.
But I forgot about my worries when Vice-Captain Earth actually agreed to lend me some money.
Later, when I passed by the courtyard that same week to head to the training grounds, I heard lots of giggling and cooing. I continued on, intending to walk past the crowd, when I heard a sudden purr that made me stop in my tracks.
"What an adorable sound!" a female voice exclaimed. Several twittered in agreement.
I turned my head. In the middle of the courtyard, a bunch of clerics were seated around something. Some even had their heads bent down. Over their heads, I could see a much taller figure that had brown hair.
It was Knight-Captain Earth.
He had a blush on his cheeks and was stuttering in reply to the female clerics around him. I moved closer and saw that there were several tea cups in front of them. In the middle of the tea party that was happening was the little white kitten I had given to Vice-Captain Earth.
She was a sociable little creature, not at all afraid of all the people around her. Whenever someone stopped petting her, she would actually meow in protest. She only stopped when the petting continued.
I smiled and went off on my way, lost in my own thoughts.
It hadn't escaped my notice that Knight-Captain Earth usually stuttered a lot, but he never seemed to stutter whenever he was speaking with his vice-captain. He must place great trust in him, and he was even willing to look after his vice-captain's kitten for him.
Goals, I told myself.
The Ninth Suggestion for Serving Your Captain: Prepare Small Gifts (For Your Captain to Use as Bribes)
Chapter 11: Suggestion #10: Take Daily Baths
I brushed sweat out of my eyes. It was a rather warm day, and I had been swinging my sword for a good hour already, on top of regular training with the rest of the platoon. All in all, it had been a satisfying bout of training. I put away my sword, about to depart.
Of course, that was when I bumped right into a short bundle of black—Vice-Captain Judgment, and jostled what he held in his hands, but thankfully not so hard that anything fell. He quickly righted himself, and I received an eyeful of just what he held.
It was a basin with a towel in it, as well as soap and a jar of what was likely shampoo. Over his shoulder, he even had a change of clothes. He looked every bit like he was about to head for a bath, even though it was the middle of the day.
"Perfect," he said. "Vice-Captain Hell, I take it you have just finished your training for the day?"
"Yes," I replied.
He gave me an appraising look. Though he had a youthful face, I trusted his judgment. After all, he was the vice-captain of the Judgment Knight Platoon, and it was no easy position to hold without the strength to back it up.
But, I began questioning my judgment when he started sniffing the air and shaking his head at me. A grimace even came over his face, and I was reminded of Vice-Captain Moon's disdain at my clothes. What is it now? All of a sudden, he shoved the basin at me—these vice-captains are really shoving too many things at me—and said, "Come, Tyler, it's time to bathe."
That was how I found myself in the public baths of the Holy Temple in the middle of the day.
It wasn't that I didn't frequent the public baths. All of the holy knights do. It was just that I usually reserved the morning or the night for such matters. Daylight hours were better spent on training.
I placed the basin down, still unsure of what was going on. As I stood there, many holy knights actually walked in after us and naturally greeted Vice-Captain Judgment. None of them seemed bewildered over why we were here at the baths while the sun was hanging high up in the sky at the height of its glory. Then again, they were here to bathe as well, so neither Vice-Captain Judgment nor I was an anomaly.
Do so many people really bathe in the middle of the day?
They moved to the side and began undressing for their bath. Dark robes and garments were folded meticulously and placed to the side. Based on what they had been wearing and how they had greeted Vice-Captain Judgment, it was clear that they were all from the Judgment Knight Platoon.
Why are they all taking baths right now?
I tried to recall if I ever saw judgment knights during this time of day, going about their business, or if they had always been hidden away in the bathhouses during daylight hours, with everyone else in the dark. It did not match the image of the Judgment Knight Platoon.
"Come, Tyler, daylight waits for no one," Vice-Captain Judgment chided me.
Exactly. That's why we should be out training instead of taking a bath!
Unfortunately, I was here instead of outside on the training grounds. It was true that I had already completed my training for the day, but there were plenty of other things I could be doing instead of taking a midday bath.
Vice-Captain Judgment began taking off his garments and folded them with great care before placing them off to the side. Then, he slid into the water and waved for me to join him.
Although he had a young face, he could pull off a leotard, no problem.
Since standing around wouldn't make the situation any better, and I was indeed smelling of sweat, I took off my clothes as well and got ready for a strange, midday bath. Such an event definitely hadn't been on my agenda this morning.
As I scrubbed myself, Vice-Captain Judgment washed his hair and conversed with his platoon members about several criminals they were to interrogate that evening.
So they actually use bathing time to talk about work as well?
Perhaps bathing was a communal, bonding experience for the judgment knights, and much more useful for them than it was for me. It certainly seemed like they often bathed together with how no one was making a fuss over it right now.
"Is it your turn to douse the criminals?" one of them asked.
"Yes, I'll make sure there's not an ounce of dirt on him!" another said.
Although I knew they were still talking about work, their conversation lost me.
After some time, Vice-Captain Judgment suddenly asked me, "Do you feel cleansed now?"
I had thought that perhaps he had forgotten he had invited me and that I was even there at all, so focused was he with the affairs of the Judgment Knight Platoon. It was good that he hadn't, or else coming here would have been fairly meaningless. I was certain he had words of wisdom to impart, just like all the others before him.
I was definitely cleaner and fresher than earlier with this sudden bath, so I answered, "Yes."
He nodded, pleased, and explained, "It's very important to maintain a clean body and spirit. I highly recommend baths right after training."
I suppose that's a fair point... though impractical.
He then went on to show me all of his different bath salts, which could be used for relaxation, healing, and all sorts of other benefits. If I wanted to try, he would be happy to give me suggestions. I watched on, speechless. I never knew Vice-Captain Judgment was such a fanatic over baths. I really did not know my fellow vice-captains very well.
By now, it was past time to leave. I had been soaking for much longer than I normally would have by myself, and my skin was wrinkling as a result. But Vice-Captain Judgment showed no intention of leaving the warm water.
Just as I thought I might excuse myself first, the door opened, and I froze.
In walked Knight-Captain Judgment with his usual frown. He had a basin as well. Upon seeing us, he gave us a nod.
It seemed that the entire Judgment Knight Platoon was a great lover of baths. Even Knight-Captain Judgment.
His undergarments, it turned out, were just as black as his robes, but I had no need to know that. "Taking a bath with Knight-Captain Judgment" definitely hadn't been on my agenda for the day.
I felt exactly like a criminal being judged as I got out of the water.
The Tenth Suggestion for Serving Your Captain: Take Daily Baths (For the Sake of Your Captain's Peace of Mind)
Chapter 12: Suggestion #11: Think Outside the Box
"...Eight, nine, ten... eleven..."
I counted each of my strikes. When the eleventh strike hit the practice dummy, I paused.
The eleventh person should arrive at any moment.
The rest of them had all accosted me during my training, much to my confusion at the beginning. By now, even an outsider would have some clue that something was going on. Even I knew there was something going on. There was no reason the last one of them wouldn't come and seek me out just like all of the others had.
Therefore, I kept alert for possible interruptions to my personal training, but none came even as I wrapped the session up. The training grounds remained empty. I slowly sheathed my sword, and I slowly headed inside, my steps akin to a tortoise's. If I moved any slower, I might as well not be moving. Still, I remained the lone straggler.
But I couldn't be wrong about what had been happening. Each and every vice-captain had sought me out during training, getting me involved in all sorts of things whether or not I had wanted to be involved.
Now, there was only one person left who hadn't approached me—Vice-Captain Sun, the unofficial leader of the vice-captains. There was no actual leader among us, but everyone knew Adair was it.
By this time, I had already left the training grounds. He was still nowhere in sight.
Where in the world is he?
I continued with my day, but the question remained on my mind. That was why I returned to the training grounds after completing my tasks, providing him ample time to approach me. I swung my sword again and again, visualizing the enemy and my strikes against them. Yet, by the time I finished several sets, I was still very much alone.
Hm, I thought and wiped my sweat. I raised my head and looked around. There was no use in staying.
I headed back. In the corridor, I spotted Vice-Captain Storm waving over a cleric who was most likely the girlfriend of one of the storm knights. Don't tell me she was cheated on by Knight-Captain Storm too? I'm so glad my captain isn't a flirt. In fact, he doesn't even pay any attention to girls.
In any case, I decided to find out if Vice-Captain Storm knew anything.
"You're asking me where Adair is? Last I saw him was in the morning. He was preparing a blueberry sandwich for his captain–" Is preparing breakfast for the captain also part of our duties? Should I be doing it too? But Captain never eats in public or takes off his mask. What does he like to eat? "–but I haven't seen him since."
I thanked him and continued onward. When I entered the kitchen, I happened across Vice-Captain Cloud, who had a dirty rag in his hand. He didn't stop wiping even as he spoke with me.
"Hm? You're searching for Adair? He should be easier to find than my captain..." said Vice-Captain Cloud. I glanced around the kitchen at the innocent-looking cabinets that lined the walls, afraid that a certain ghost-like captain might be hiding within them. Although Vice-Captain Cloud had raised my concerns about whether or not my captain would hide in such places as well, by now, I was extremely certain that he wouldn't. He just wouldn't! "You could check the perimeter. I saw him heading out with the Sun Knight Platoon."
I took his advice. On my way over, I came across Vice-Captain Blaze holding an ax dangerously in his hand. If I didn't know him, I would think he's an axe murderer. I'd send him on his way to the Judge's Complex! After hurriedly reassuring him that I was in no need of a new door today (thank the God of Light my captain doesn't go around kicking doors for no reason), I finally got out my inquiry, and he mused, "Uh huh, saw the guy leading the pack around the city like usual."
I gave him a nod. Adair was indeed in the habit of running laps with the Sun Knight Platoon every morning.
However, instead of finding him, as morning was already well over, I came across Vice-Captain Moon returning from patrol with the rest of the moon knights. He was looking as sharp as always in his flashy clothing that was just as fancy as his captain's. I unconsciously fixed my collar, not wishing to be criticized over my clothing and to end up needing new clothes again. I had little money to spare, as I had already... well. Captain's outfit was rather unique.
"Adair? He mentioned paperwork he had to attend to in lieu of his captain, and that he needed to give Knight-Captain Storm a helping hand," Vice-Captain Moon answered.
What diligence! To think he even helps out the other captains... I truly still have much to learn as a vice-captain.
To my dismay, the corridor to the Knight-Captains' rooms was empty. Adair was already long gone from the scene, and I couldn't bring it upon myself to knock on Knight-Captain Storm's door just because I was so terrible at tracking someone down.
I trudged past his door, bumping into someone with a tray around the corner. I scrambled to grab the tray and to prevent the bread from flying off of it, but I was unsuccessful. A lone piece of bread escaped, leaping off the side of the tray.
For a moment, I thought I would fail to save it.
Then, I hurriedly darted my hand out, snatching it in midair before it could fall to its death.
"Sorry," I said and safely placed the piece of bread back on the tray.
Thankfully, Vice-Captain Ice didn't glare at me, so I assumed he wasn't angry at me for my negligence. He even gave me the piece of bread I had just saved. Then, changing his mind, he actually gave me the entire tray. I blinked when he gave me a nod after that, and then rushed off in the direction of the bathroom. Did he get food poisoning again? Isn't that happening a bit too frequently?
"Vice-Captain Ice! Do you happen to know where I might find Vice-Captain Sun?" I called out at his retreating back.
"Sanctuary of Light."
As I walked, I ate the piece of bread I had saved, feeling no ill effects from doing so. It was rather tasty, most likely baked by Knight-Captain Ice himself.
At the Sanctuary of Light, I came across Vice-Captain Leaf, who had just exited the Pope's study. He had a slim pouch in his hand and a frown on his face. Perhaps the Leaf Knight Platoon would soon be in need of selling more arrows, if that pouch was anything to go by. Might their captain have borrowed money from them again? For a time, I had been afraid that my captain was secretly making up for any money shortages the Hell Knight Platoon might have, but thankfully, a bit of investigating revealed that our platoon's finances were doing fine, if not my own.
"You're looking for Adair?" he answered me, hand snaking out to snatch a piece of bread before I even offered him one. I went ahead and gave him the entire tray. He needed it more than I did. "He was here before me to borrow a few clerics for a task Knight-Captain Sun assigned him. Check the palace. He mentioned needing to talk with some of the nobles."
Just how busy is Adair? I can't ever seem to catch up with him!
I thanked him and momentarily considered not going to the palace, as I had no reason to head there except for finding Adair, but if I were to let go of this lead, I really didn't know when I'd ever find Adair. Definitely not within the day.
Therefore, I began making my way over to the palace. When I reached my destination, I milled about outside one of the corridors quite awkwardly for much too long, regretting my decision. I didn't even know where in the palace Adair was. It wasn't like the royal knights would let me walk in to look for him just like that.
Fortunately, I spied Vice-Captain Metal by one of the pillars, holding a leather-bound notebook, perhaps the same notebook that he had been writing in the other day. It made me recall the piece of parchment he had given me when I had asked to shadow him. I'd taken to heart his recommendation of jotting down notes for our captains, filling the parchment with all sorts of tidbits. But whether my notes would be useful for my captain was yet to be seen. And I need to buy more parchment.
Upon hearing my question, Vice-Captain Metal vanished his notebook too quickly for me to figure out where it had gone. Pity. "Adair, is it? You missed him just now. He's visiting some of the nobles at their homes, since they're not here."
Come to think of it, why are you here, milling about?
Whatever the reason was for Vice-Captain Metal's presence at the palace, it would play no part in helping me catch up with Adair, and I wasn't about to barge into private homes to chase after him. I decided to wait until dinner time instead, as he had to return to eat.
Dinner time rolled about, and there was still no sign of Adair. At the dinner table, Vice-Captain Stone chatted my ear off the entire time. "I hear you've been searching for Adair! Any luck yet? No? I know, right? I don't get how he can be so busy all the time and not fall dead on the spot from overworking. Ah, but if that happens, the Holy Temple would cease functioning, and we vice-captains wouldn't have anyone to go to, either!"
The end of dinner was a reprieve for my ears, and I was ever so thankful that my captain was not a wordy person. He guarded his words much more invaluably than Vice-Captain Stone did, though that was a rather easy feat to accomplish. The dishes were being cleared, so I decided that I had stayed and listened to Vice-Captain Stone's ramblings long enough. By now, all of the other vice-captains had left. Perhaps Vice-Captain Stone had stayed behind to keep me company. It was nice of him, though unnecessary.
I left the room and immediately had to stop to avoid stepping on Vice-Captain Earth's kitten. I picked her up, wondering why she was wandering around. Soon, Vice-Captain Earth hurried over, thanking me for finding her. It was really no problem, since he had come to fetch her right away. Besides, Vice-Captain Earth had been kind enough to let me borrow some money. It made his suggestion of gift-giving a lot more feasible.
While cradling the kitten, he said, "I just saw Adair return. He should be around the Holy Temple."
I thanked him, hoping I could actually find him this time, and quickly. I had evening plans, after all.
However, when I came across yet another vice-captain that was not the one I was searching for, I was nearly ready to call it a day. Vice-Captain Judgment appeared like he was about to hit the public baths. Again. Does he take baths at all sorts of random times? This is much later than the other day. Come to think of it, I don't think my captain enjoys baths. He's never there with the rest of the platoon. But maybe Adair will be there, since he did just return from his task.
If it weren't because I had other plans, a warm bath actually sounded quite pleasant right now.
Before I could even ask anything, however, Vice-Captain Judgment lifted an eyebrow and gestured behind him with his thumb. "I believe he's that way."
I looked over. He was pointing at the training grounds I had used this very morning.
Is it truly possible he's right where I started?
I headed in that direction, not really believing that he would actually be there, but I had already run into all of the other vice-captains in my search today. He was the only one left to complete the set.
When I rounded the corner, the back of the very vice-captain I had been looking for all day came into sight. I blinked my eyes, hard. I took a second look. Then a third look. And a fourth. He was still there, in the middle of swinging his sword at a practice dummy, much like what I did every day.
I stilled my steps at the sight that was all too familiar, only with the tables turned. Hadn't they all approached me just like this in the middle of my personal training each and every time?
Adair must have heard my footsteps, for he sheathed his sword and turned around, saying, "There you are."
I walked closer, shaking myself out of my thoughts. "There you are. How are you so busy that you're even harder to find than Knight-Captain Cloud?"
"You exaggerate, Tyler. Knight-Captain Cloud is much elusive than I am," Adair replied in a tone that suggested how admirable it was for Knight-Captain Cloud to be so difficult to find. His vice-captain would definitely disagree considering how often he couldn't find him. "In any case, here I am. I hear you have been looking for me."
Shouldn't you have been the one looking for me?
"Yes," I replied, "because you're the last one." It had all started with Vice-Captain Storm pulling me away from my training to watch his captain get yelled at by a parade of disgruntled girlfriends. Following that, the vice-captains never stopped disturbing my training, dragging me everywhere, and claiming that I needed "pointers." Adair was the last one.
The corner of his mouth lifted into a smile. "I wouldn't say that."
"Why not?" Who else is there? Did I forget someone, or are they going to take turns poking at me again?
Adair looked at me. I looked behind me. Then, I turned and pointed at myself.
"Me?" I finally asked.
Adair nodded. "We should be twelve in number, just like the Twelve Holy Knights. Who would maintain order in each platoon if not for us? Welcome to the life of a vice-captain, Tyler."
I shook my head. "I've always been a vice-captain."
"But you were also the substitute Hell Knight," Adair reminded me.
It was true that I had been the substitute Hell Knight, and I had enjoyed substituting as the Hell Knight. While it wasn't the role I had signed up for, it had been a great honor, and I hadn't done a bad job leading the Hell Knight Platoon. But that didn't mean I hadn't also been the vice-captain at the same time. I had always been a vice-captain, even when I began to doubt that my captain would ever return.
But he did return.
Sparring with Captain every evening was very enjoyable. There was still a lot I didn't know about him, but he always cared greatly about my advice. For such a captain, I didn't mind taking a step back.
"What about you, Adair?" I asked, turning the tables on him, recalling Vice-Captain Stone's observations, as well as my own impressions from a fruitless day of searching for him. "You're always so busy! I couldn't even find you today. You weren't even at dinner. You do so much, you might as well be the Sun Knight."
It was a thought I had had before. Today merely drilled it in even more. As a vice-captain who had substituted for a knight-captain, I had at times considered what things would be like if all of our positions had been swapped with our captains'. Adair surely would be more than capable as the Sun Knight.
However, Adair shook his head, disagreeing with my assessment. "I don't have the ability to be the Sun Knight."
Are you serious, Adair? You, Adair, the guy who all the vice-captains look up to? Even the Knight-Captains ask for your help! You're even busier than Knight-Captain Sun!
"Why do you think you're not qualified to be the Sun Knight?" I asked.
His answer came rather quickly. I had thought he might need a moment to gather his thoughts. "Everything I do is just following orders. What's truly hard to do is giving the orders."
I gave him a look, thinking back on all the miscellaneous things he had done today, and listed my doubts off the top of my head. "Making blueberry sandwiches is part of following orders?"
"Yes." He smiled wryly.
"Running laps around the city?"
"Yes... and no."
I raised an eyebrow up.
"I was given some of the documents, and I chose to correct more. But you'll know the difference between the difficult orders and the mundane ones, and paperwork definitely falls under the latter."
"Is it the same for everyone else?" I asked, focusing on the first part of what he had said, about how he had "chosen to correct more." I thought of how Vice-Captain Cloud would clean the cabinets, and how Vice-Captain Blaze would go out of his way to plant trees. Really, all of them had their quirks, and I didn't think any of their captains had asked them to do whatever it was they were doing. For example, I couldn't see Knight-Captain Judgment ordering his entire platoon to take so many baths! "I don't think all you're doing is blindly following orders."
Adair laughed. "That's true too. They're our captains, after all. Even when we're not ordered to do something, you'll want to do something for them anyway. Haven't you felt the same, Tyler?"
"Is that what this was all about?" I asked. "You were all giving me suggestions about how to serve my captain, by showing me what you usually do?"
"That was the plan," he agreed.
"Huh," I said, thinking back to all that had happened. From special getaways, to extra spending money, to a parade of girlfriends, these vice-captains had really thrown all kinds of suggestions at me. I had given them all a second thought today, but, well... I turned a frown at Adair.
"Adair, there's a problem," I said.
While I didn't know my captain all that well yet, I did know the following. "My captain doesn't spend much money. He doesn't even give a second glance at girls. He never leaves the Holy Temple. He doesn't care about baths. All he really does is train, train, and train."
I frowned some more.
"So..." I continued. "Doesn't that mean... to best serve my captain, I should just continue training like what I've already been doing? That's what he cares about the most. Swordsmanship."
What was the point of getting dragged all around the place?!
It was like what had happened to me today. I hadn't needed to spend so much energy looking for Adair all around the Church. He was right where I had started. Eventually. But I did get to know his hectic schedule a bit more.
Oh, and there was that that had resulted from all of this...
"Huh," was all Adair said. Then, he laughed. "You really are a full-fledged vice-captain!"
I rolled my eyes.
Adair chuckled and said, "Come on, I'm being serious. It means that you know your captain well. That's the sign of a good vice-captain! And who knows? Maybe you'll think of something else you'll want to do for your captain. It never hurts to think outside the box. We all tried to show you different things. It works for our captains but maybe not yours, since each captain is different, after all."
Hearing his praise made me smile, just a bit, and feel slightly less miffed.
Adair cleared his throat. "With that said, Vice-Captain Hell, care for a drink with the rest of the vice-captains later this week? We meet each month in the tavern. You should come join us."
I think I will.
After Adair left, I hummed to myself as I struck at the practice dummy, waiting for my captain to arrive so we could have our evening duel. While most of the suggestions they had given me were useless, they were right that my captain did make me want to do things for him.
Huh, I thought to myself as my sword hit the practice dummy. Come to think of it, it's strange that I haven't seen Knight-Captain Sun at all today. Going by the usual pattern, a vice-captain comes to find me while I'm training, I follow them, and I end up crossing paths with their captain halfway through. Then again, Adair didn't really follow the pattern.
Shaking my head, I threw myself back into training, eager for the upcoming duel.
The Eleventh Suggestion for Serving Your Captain: Think Outside the Box (Your Captain Will Appreciate it)
Is there really nothing else I can do for my captain?
While he did value swordsmanship and I trained as often as I could, training with a sword was expected of a knight. It wasn't like I was putting in any extra effort. Perhaps he would appreciate it if I put the rest of the Hell Knight Platoon through more training as well? After all, we had a lot more to do before we could even hope to possess a portion of Captain's strength.
Faterlin especially could use a lot more training to live up to his potential. He possessed the skills, but he was just too lazy! I bet Adair doesn't have this problem with his platoon members.
While I devised training menus, I continued with my basic swinging practice, making sure my form was correct. The sun had dipped low by now, the last rays of the day about to disappear with it. Servants scurried from wall to wall, lighting the torches along them.
The flames cast flickering shadows, of which my captain blended right in with. He approached with silent steps, neatly moving aside to avoid a servant from crashing into him. The servant must not have seen my captain. He nearly tripped over himself to apologize.
If not for the servant's fumbling, I would not have turned and noticed my captain's approach myself.
"Apologies for being late," Captain said as he walked over. "Gri... Sun only retired to his room just now."
Ever since Knight-Captain Sun returned from the Kingdom of Moon Orchid, my captain turned into his second shadow, following him at every step. It was only in the evenings, when Knight-Captain Sun returned to his room, that my captain would even step aside for a moment.
I sheathed my sword and saluted him. "Not at all, Captain! Thank you for making time for me this evening."
It was truly an honor, as my captain did not seem to even have much time to himself. To have him choose to spend what little free time he had to meet me was a greater honor than I deserved. I was such a lucky vice-captain. After all, what other captain out there would meet his vice-captain night after night to spar with him?
At first, our meetings had been for the purpose of dueling for the position of captain. Eventually, our arrangement evolved into daily sparring sessions instead, though they were often still brought to a conclusion with a duel.
When they had still been considered "duels" to acknowledge his captaincy, we had had a sizable audience watching my failures, but now that there was more sparring involved than dueling, our audience dwindled down. Now, more often than not, I had my captain all to myself.
Captain shook his head. "It is no trouble. Shall we begin?"
I nodded and readied myself. Thus began our sparring for the night.
As we crossed swords, Captain commented on my form, giving me pointers. Tonight, he even praised me on the fluidity of my swings.
Daily swinging practice paid off!
Our sparring continued through the night. When only the light from the torches was left to illuminate our surroundings, I decided to ask, as I asked each night Captain graced me with his presence, "Captain, would you grant me the privilege of dueling with you tonight?"
"Of course," he answered without any hesitation.
We took the appropriate steps apart. He appraised me and said, as he said each night without fail, "If you win, I will concede the position of captain to you. That aspect of our duel has not changed."
I nodded, even though I no longer sought the captaincy. It was only under that condition that he agreed to continue our duels.
At first, I thought it was because he was that sure of himself, that he was certain he would never lose in swordsmanship, especially not to someone like me. While my swordsmanship was not bad and even ranked highly among the vice-captains, it was nothing compared to my captain's strength. He was unrivaled. In fact, out of everyone at the Holy Temple, I thought that maybe only Knight-Captain Judgment was anywhere close to a difficult opponent for him.
But, that wasn't the reason he agreed night after night to duel with me. This, I was fairly certain about. I may not have been a true vice-captain for long, but it was certainly the duty of a vice-captain to understand his captain.
And this was what I was sure of—he was the most confident in himself when swordplay was involved. Other times? Not so much. Despite the difference in our strengths, he truly did enjoy our bouts.
As the flames flickered, I could only catch a glimpse of my captain's serious gaze. He was every bit a part of the night, a solemn figure, one who I had almost thought didn't exist. But here he was, proving his existence.
He wasn't going easy on me, but he definitely wasn't going all out either. If he had, the duel would have ended with a single swing. Instead, he let me test out my new strategy. There was no possible way I'd be able to win in a head on clash, so I decided to strike from the side. However, Captain was Captain, and he easily avoided the strike, but not by moving out of range. He closed in, knocking my sword out of my grasp.
I dropped my hands and tried to catch my breath.
"Thank you for the guidance," I said.
He gave me a nod and sheathed his sword. Our duel for the night had come to an end, and he would soon depart.
"Captain—" I called out before I even knew what I wanted to say. I curled my fingers together. They were a bit numb. Captain's strength was truly great.
"Yes?" he answered.
Just like I had told Adair, none of the other vice-captains' suggestions truly suited my captain. He never looked at women and he didn't spend much money at all. Although he didn't have much free time, I had never heard him complain about it or appear tired. He was always very serious about his duties, and completing them would make his eyes fill with satisfaction, so he didn't need a vacation either.
What does he need then? What can I do for him?
I decided I should ask him.
"Captain, is there anything I could do for you?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Supporting you is my duty," I said. "So if there's anything I can help you with, please let me know."
He paused and looked me over. I stood straighter at the attention, but he did not say anything for the longest time. I forced myself not to fidget. In the end, after much consideration, when he finally said something, it was actually to ask a question. "Tyler, how long do people take to eat a meal?"
The question stumped me, and I couldn't figure out why my captain had asked it in response to my query. But I tried to recall the eating habits of the Hell Knight Platoon and did my best to answer. Faterlin's food always vanished at a startling rate, while I took my meals at a much slower pace compared to him, though still faster than many of the others in the platoon. Could it be that he has need of knowing the platoon's eating habits to plan for a mission? "Captain, I believe anywhere from five minutes to half an hour to eat a meal such as lunch or dinner is normal. The time taken depends on the person, the food, and the circumstances."
"Five minutes to half an hour is a big difference," my captain commented.
Although I was still confused, I explained, "Some people just eat very fast, while some take longer to chew their food. I hear that it's actually a good idea to eat slower. You get to taste your food more, and it seems to help with digestion."
Maybe I should suggest it to the Ice Knight Platoon. It is worrying how often they sprint off to the bathroom. It can't always be food poisoning, right?
"I see," was all my captain said in response.
Was that all? Captain just needed me to answer a question of his? I ventured to say, "Captain, if you have any questions, I'm always happy to answer to the best of my ability."
He gave me a nod. "Thanks. You've been a great help."
And that was that.
It wasn't quite what I had meant when I asked him what I could help him with. Answering his questions was a simple matter. I did it often, and I certainly did not mind.
But maybe, this is exactly what my captain needs, for me to just be my usual self and carry on like usual.
I can definitely do that.
While I was thinking, my captain seemed to have been doing the same and had come to some sort of conclusion. Suddenly, he said, "Tyler, I have been considering that you should know what I look like beneath this mask. In fact, the entire platoon should know."
It was unsightly and unbefitting of a holy knight, but my mouth dropped open. I could not help but stare at him in shock, nearly causing my captain to change his mind.
"Do you think he might be disfigured?" someone asked.
"Maybe it's a skin condition?" another person said.
"Or his face is too scary without it being partially concealed?"
"I bet he has a scar across his lips!" Faterlin said, finger tracing his chin to the skin right above his lips to demonstrate his meaning. Several of the other hell knights made appreciative noises at how cool that would actually look.
Don't any of you think Captain wears a mask for stealth?!
I shushed them to put a stop to their rude speculations, especially since we were approaching the training grounds where Captain waited, but unfortunately, I could not stop myself from imagining the possibility of a scar concealed behind his mask. But would Captain really wear a mask for the sake of hiding a scar?
He didn't seem the type to do that.
"Captain, I have brought the platoon over," I announced and placed the box I held on the floor.
He turned and beckoned us over. I ordered the ones carrying torches to the front so we could see better. We formed a half circle around him like asked. If anyone else approached the training grounds, they'd have to stand on the tip of their toes to look over the wall that we formed. Captain's true face wasn't something we'd easily let other people see. Even we weren't getting to see it until now.
"Thank you for coming on such short notice," Captain said.
"Not at all, Captain! We wouldn't want to miss seeing what's beneath your—"
I jabbed Faterlin with my elbow, resulting in an "oof" and blessed silence after that. I hurried to reassure him, "It is no trouble at all, Captain."
After that, we all fell silent, waiting for Captain's next action.
He explained in a practical manner, getting right to the matter at hand, "I believe you should all know what I look like to prevent possible imposters."
Although he hadn't made a grand speech about trusting us enough to show us what was under his mask, I still felt deeply trusted. The fact that Captain was willing to show us and no one else meant a great deal to me.
I gulped. The moment of truth was here.
Captain raised his hand to reach for his mask. I glued my eyes to his face. So did the others. The moment he took the mask off—
"Where's the scar? What disfigurement? His skin is too flawless!" a bunch of people blurted.
"Captain!" Faterlin shouted. "Why in the world are you hiding such a handsome face?"
Captain touched his smooth, unblemished face. "Is this a handsome face?"
"Most definitely!" everyone yelled.
"Why hide it? You could totally win in popularity over all the other knight-captains if you showed your face!" Faterlin exclaimed.
"I have no need for popularity," Captain said simply, leaving us all in awe. Our captain was truly a humble man. I took in his appearance, trying my best to engrave it in my mind. Tonight was likely a once in a lifetime opportunity. There was no telling if I'd ever get to see my captain without his mask again.
"So, why does Captain wear a mask?" someone asked after our captain left.
"Does it matter?" I asked in return. It was true that I was still curious about it, and it was likely the same for everyone else, but nothing beat the curiosity over what Captain looked like under his mask, and that mystery was already solved.
"It definitely isn't because he looks ugly!" Faterlin said.
We all agreed. It definitely wasn't that.
"Maybe it's because he's too handsome!" Faterlin guffawed over his own conjecture.
"He looks kind of familiar..." someone said.
"Really? I definitely wouldn't forget a face like that!" Faterlin said, "By the way, I've been wondering about this. What's in the box, Cap?" He gestured at the box by our feet that I had brought the meeting.
"I told you to stop calling me that," I grumbled.
"He's Captain, you're Cap. I see no problem there."
I rolled my eyes but leaned down and opened the box. The others crowded around, peering into it.
"I got you all a gift," was all I said.
Captain had gone out of his way to show us what he looked like under his mask. There was no better time than now to make sure he didn't feel out of place among us!
The Twelfth Suggestion for Serving Your Captain: Always Stay True to Yourself. Sometimes, That's All Your Captain Needs.
I like to imagine that someone else is standing guard outside Grisia's door while Roland meets up with his vice-captain, and the training grounds aren't all that far from their rooms. Let's just go with that. XD;
We're almost at the end! Thanks for coming along on this super slow ride. There'll be an epilogue and an extra after this to wrap things up.
Chapter 14: Epilogue: ...Is A Great Vice-Captain
At a certain tavern in Leaf Bud City, a group of men sat down and ordered drinks. The men sitting around the table were the vice-captains of the Twelve Holy Knights. Like always, they counted the number of people present to see if they had all arrived.
"...Eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve... No way!" Vice-Captain Stone shouted and pointed. He slapped the shoulder of the person next to him and shook him back and forth. "Look guys! Isn't that Tyler walking through the door? Wow, we're awesome, aren't we? We really did get him to come here. Imagine that, his first ever outing with us—"
Adair smiled and pried his fellow vice-captain's hand off his shoulder, kindly returning it to its owner's side. "Now, we really are twelve in number." He spoke up a bit louder to catch Tyler's attention. "Hey there, Tyler. Feel free to sit anywhere. We've already ordered for everyone, but we can still call the server back."
"That's fine. I'll just have what everyone else is having," Tyler said. He gave Vice-Captain Metal a nod, taking the seat that he had pulled out for him.
As they waited for the drinks to be brought over, everyone turned their eyes on the newcomer. For a moment, there was an awkward silence, as Tyler seemed to have no intention to speak up even with so many pairs of eyes on him.
Finally, Vice-Captain Storm, who always liked taking the initiative, grinned and asked, "So, Tyler, got a girlfriend yet?" Just like that, the silence was broken.
"No!" came Tyler's offended answer and an accompanying frown. Likely, he would have preferred to have the awkward silence back than to participate in this particular conversation. "Just how unprofessional do you think I am?"
With his hands held over his heart, Vice-Captain Storm lamented, "I'm hurt, Tyler! After all, I have a girlfriend. Are you calling me unprofessional? To think you think so little of me..."
"It is unprofessional," Vice-Captain Judgment said. "I've told you many times that you should focus on your duties more than dating your girlfriend."
"But dating her is part of my duties," was the answer he gave. Several of the other vice-captains gave him strange looks, excluding, however, one vice-captain who was dressed particularly well.
"Come on! Don't you believe me? Tyler, back me up here. You've seen how it is. Tell them the importance of having a girlfriend!"
Tyler merely frowned some more. "Why are you asking me for backup? I agree with Vice-Captain Judgment. Your top priority should be your duties."
Vice-Captain Storm's mouth dropped open.
"What?" asked Tyler.
"Tyler! I went out of my way to help you out, and this is how you repay me?"
"I don't recall being helped..."
"I mean it. Why would I ever want a girlfriend, and if I did get one, why would I have her yell at my captain? It makes no sense. As a suggestion for serving my captain, it was no use at all."
Vice-Captain Storm deflated and slumped in his chair.
Several of the other vice-captains grinned and glanced at each other. One chuckled but quickly coughed to hide his laugh.
"So Tyler," Vice-Captain Blaze spoke up loudly to catch his attention, "what suggestion did you find the most useful?"
Tyler mused, "The most useful suggestion? Well, like I told Adair, my captain doesn't spend much money. Making extra money isn't all that helpful for him."
Vice-Captain Leaf frowned.
"He doesn't even give a second glance at girls either."
Vice-Captain Storm sighed dramatically, while Vice-Captain Moon and Vice-Captain Earth both looked dejected.
"He doesn't care about baths."
Vice-Captain Judgment shook his head at that, muttering under his breath about the importance of personal hygiene.
When Tyler paused, the remaining vice-captains all glanced his way. Five of them were already out of the running. One of the remaining ones asked, "Anyone else to shoot down? Was there any suggestion you found useful?"
"Has to be mine, right?" Vice-Captain Blaze asked hopefully.
"I bet it's mine!" Vice-Captain Stone chimed in.
Before Vice-Captain Stone could ramble further, Tyler said, "But I don't even know what your suggestion was."
"What? How could that be? We even went on a mission together! I'm one hundred percent certain that you and I spent the longest time together while I was showing you the ropes, so of course you must have learned the most from me—"
"No, I didn't. Really, I mean it," Tyler said.
Vice-Captain Stone deflated and slumped in his chair, much like what his fellow vice-captain had done not too long ago.
To the side, Vice-Captain Ice merely stared at Tyler, a silent question of, Was my suggestion useful? Unfortunately, Tyler still wasn't very skilled at reading Vice-Captain Ice's expressions.
"What about my suggestion?" Vice-Captain Cloud asked quietly.
Tyler thought for a moment and then shrugged. "My captain doesn't need hiding places, but you gave me a great idea about keeping his work environment clean. Thank you. I aspire to be as diligent as you."
Vice-Captain Cloud beamed.
Someone murmured, "Point for Luchi?"
"Nah, that wasn't exactly a completely positive answer. Gotta wait for the rest of the evaluations," someone else whispered.
Vice-Captain Blaze raised his hand. "Me, me! What about me?"
"Please ask your captain to stop kicking my door."
Meanwhile, Vice-Captain Ice continued staring relentlessly at Tyler, who continued to repeatedly miss his silent question. Taking pity on his fellow vice-captain, Adair said, "What about any suggestions relating to food?"
While Adair wasn't certain of the details of Vice-Captain Ice's suggestion, he had a fairly good guess.
Tyler frowned. "Food? My captain cares little for that."
Vice-Captain Ice froze. Tyler didn't even notice. If he did, he didn't react to it.
Tyler mused some more, "If I really have to say what suggestions were useful..."
He reached into his pocket and took out a piece of parchment. When he unfolded it, black scribbles could be seen all over. He held it up and said to Vice-Captain Metal, "Taking notes has been invaluable for me to serve my captain. Thanks."
Vice-Captain Metal grinned.
Several of the other vice-captains groaned, much to Tyler's confusion. Some of them reached into their pockets, but Vice-Captain Earth hurriedly blurted, "W-Wait! What about my suggestion?"
Tyler gave Vice-Captain Earth a nod and said, "Small gifts were a great way for my platoon to bond."
Vice-Captain Earth frowned. "That's not quite what I s-suggested, but I think this means that I still did better than the others?"
Tyler, who was wearing the outfit that Vice-Captain Moon had bought for him, gestured at his own clothing and said to Vice-Captain Moon, "I must thank you as well. You also gave me a great idea to make my captain feel welcomed."
"Huh?" Vice-Captain Moon blinked. "Wait, so I was still in the running? I'd already counted myself out..."
"What's the idea?" Vice-Captain Storm asked.
"You'll see," was all Tyler said.
Vice-Captain Storm frowned. "But I want to know!"
However, Tyler kept his mouth shut, refusing to say anything more. He could be just as stubborn as his captain.
Vice-Captain Moon shrugged. "Hey, I'm glad he got something out of my suggestion. I'll let him surprise me. I bet it's going to be good! He got it out of my suggestion, after all! But in the end, I have to admit that Vice-Captain Metal's suggestion was the one he found the most useful. Pay up, everyone!"
After that, several reached into their pockets once again, now, however, with the additional exception of Vice-Captain Earth and Moon. They pulled out several ducats and piled the ducats in front of the "winner," Vice-Captain Metal.
Tyler blinked slowly. "...You guys bet on this?"
"I should be more surprised than this, but I'm not."
"Hey, you haven't said anything about Adair's suggestion yet," Vice-Captain Metal pointed out.
"Adair's suggestion?" Tyler gave it some thought and said, "He helped me figure out what I could do for my captain, so if I had to say whether his suggestion was useful or not, I would have to say that it was useful. Even though he didn't exactly give me a concrete suggestion, he helped me think more creatively."
Adair shrugged. "Sounds like the clear winner is still Vice-Captain Metal."
"To think we'd see the day that someone wins over Adair!"
The vice-captains nodded, no longer feeling as bad about "losing."
"But I can't believe the winning suggestion was note taking, of all things. That's so boring!"
Soon after, the barmaids brought the wine over, without forgetting to steal several glances at the many vice-captains as they served the wine. Vice-Captain Metal paid for the drinks with his winnings, with several ducats left over for his own pockets.
Adair raised a glass and said, "To Tyler, for being a full-fledged vice-captain!"
Everyone raised their glasses. "To Tyler, for knowing what it means to be a vice-captain!"
Tyler, although surprised by their toast, realized rather happily that he hadn't needed to pay a single ducat for their drinks today, since he hadn't been a part of them when they had come up with their silly plan to get him involved. As for getting involved, he supposed he would not mind sparing a day or two to come hang out with them again... as long as they stopped interrupting him during his usual training sessions.
Thus, he raised his glass, joining the rest of the vice-captains.
Chapter 15: Extra: The Captain is Always Perfect
"Oh no! Is that what I think it is?"
A group of holy knights stared as their captain carried a towering stack of papers past them. While they really didn't want to be stuck correcting paperwork all night, what kind of subordinates would they be if they let their captain, their super strong and amazing captain who trusted them with his real appearance, slave through the night over paperwork all by himself?
However, that didn't mean that they were enthusiastic about how their night was about to end up, so no one stepped forward right away, all waiting for someone else to do it first. Perhaps, if that "someone else" offered first, they could escape the same fate. After all, towering or not, it was just one stack of papers. Surely, that meant that one or two helpers would be enough, and the rest of them could continue on their merry way.
Yes, someone else spoke up!
"Please let us assist you."
No, why did that person have to be Tyler? He always volunteered every single one of them! And they couldn't say no because he was their vice-captain slash pseudo captain. It was pretty much like having two captains with both Tyler and their captain around.
"It's fine. I don't need to sleep," their captain said.
Wait, maybe they could still escape the fate of correcting paperwork through the night? Though, guilt was already taking tiny stabs at their hearts...
"Nonsen—! Uh, I mean, everyone needs to sleep," Tyler quickly corrected. "We're your subordinates, so it is our duty to help. It will be a lot faster with more people. This way, we will finish much earlier, and everyone gets to sleep."
Their captain paused for a long while, keeping them all on tenterhooks, before he said, "Is that so? All right, thanks."
Thus, their unfortunate fates were sealed.
As they walked into the room, they were still hopeful that this detour wouldn't take too long, since they did have a lot of people and only one stack of paperwork to go through. However, the sight that greeted them inside the room dashed all of their hopes.
Their captain walked over to a nearly completely covered table and dropped off the towering stack of papers he had been carrying, placing it next to another huge stack of papers, that was by yet another gigantic stack of papers, that was flanked by another two humongous stacks of papers...
"Have I walked into hell?" someone wailed.
"Where did all these papers come from?" Tyler asked, voice faint. "I know I finished going over our paperwork. Have they not passed inspection?"
"They did," their captain answered. "These are from Storm."
Oh. Oh no. Giving a hand to Knight-Captain Storm with paperwork was a slippery slope that led to only one destination—paperwork hell. There was no going back after the first offer to help.
They got to work with tears in their eyes, understanding that this was definitely not a one time deal.
"Tyler, you're right, this is going much faster with more people," their captain said as he circled a word on yet another document. "Your advice on how to respond to different matters is also excellent. I have much to learn."
"You praise me too much, Captain!" Tyler said. "You'll get the hang of it soon, too. See, this situation calls for..."
The rest of the platoon stared at their captain and vice-captain with envy, wishing they were the ones getting praised. If they worked faster, perhaps their captain would notice and praise them too? If not that, they'd settle for getting praised by Tyler...
"You made a mistake there," Tyler turned and pointed at one of the papers they held, immediately dashing their hopes of getting praised.
So much for working quickly.
Scritch scratch. Scritch scratch.
"Ahhhh, I can't take it anymore!" Faterlin shouted and threw his hands up. "My hand is aching, and my eyes are swimming! Who even cares about blueberries? Why are there ten pages of paperwork about blueberries?"
Tyler's pen stopped its scritch scratch over the paper. He looked up at Faterlin, trying to indicate to him with a stern expression to get back to work already. Too bad that expression of his had never worked on Faterlin before.
"We made good progress. This is enough for tonight," their captain said.
"Thank the God of Light!" Faterlin cheered. The rest of the platoon cheered as well and immediately began talking about which tavern they should visit. A drink would be well appreciated after this exhausting night. Paperwork was not a foe one could underestimate.
"But Captain, there are still a lot of documents left," Tyler said and gestured at the stacks of uncorrected paperwork that were still around them.
"It's fine. I can do the rest myself," their captain said.
Everyone froze and turned toward their captain.
"Captain, aren't you coming with us?"
"Captain, you should come with us!"
Their captain blinked in confusion, as if the thought hadn't crossed his mind at all.
Tyler removed the document that was in their captain's hand, placed it down, and said, "Captain, one's efficiency with work goes down greatly when one is tired. Taking a break is beneficial. You should come join us. You are one of us, after all."
"Is that so?"
"All right, then."
It was a little scary how easily Tyler could convince their captain about something, when their captain was usually so steadfast about everything else. Tyler's ability had gone through the roof ever since he started carrying around a piece of parchment with him. He would pull the parchment out every now and then, and bam, their captain was saying "all right." He'd gotten so good at it that he didn't even need to pull out the parchment anymore to get their captain to agree.
As they headed out, Tyler said, "Wait."
Could they not? That one word was making them shiver. If only Tyler wasn't Tyler, their vice-captain slash pseudo captain! Then, they wouldn't have to listen to him!
At the tavern, Roland sat down, surprised that he was the first to arrive. He pulled a strand of his hair forward, checking that it was indeed black. It would not do for this part of his disguise to fail, considering that he—
"No way, is that Captain?" someone gasped. "He's wearing normal clothes. Why is he wearing normal clothes? Where's his mask? Are my eyes deceiving me? Maybe I'm remembering his face wrong? But no one could forget a face like that!"
—wasn't wearing his mask.
Roland looked up and did a double take.
"Um, Captain, you're not wearing a leotard."
"I'm not," Roland agreed.
But the rest of his platoon were.
Roland couldn't figure out why.
Much awkward staring ensued.
As one, the Hell Knight Platoon turned toward their vice-captain and shouted, "Tyler! This wasn't how it was supposed to go! Now what?"
"...Now we... drink?" was all Tyler could say as he stood there awkwardly. Behind them, several barmaids were enjoying the sight.
They rolled their eyes at Tyler while Roland was still puzzling over their choice of attire. Perhaps... they always dressed this way to go out drinking, as a disguise to make it less obvious that the Hell Knight Platoon was at the tavern en masse? Maybe he should have worn his usual disguise after all. He had thought he'd be able to blend in.
Roland felt his face warming up, and it was getting difficult to focus on what his platoon members were saying. Faterlin was gesturing wildly and going on and on about... blueberries...? If that was the case, then Roland had no problems joining the conversation.
"What was that, Captain?"
Roland turned toward the voice. It sounded like Tyler. Roland frowned at him. Did Tyler not understand what he'd just said? Grisia wanted blueberries... Twelve of them...
Roland blinked, his hand suddenly empty. The drink he had been holding was gone.
"I think you've had enough to drink for tonight, Captain."
Roland shook his head and blinked hard. Tyler was holding something that looked suspiciously like his drink. "Why're you holding my d-drink?"
Tyler responded with, "Captain, will you allow Tyler to have this drink? I could really use a drink right now. Meanwhile, you can lay your head down to rest. It'll make you feel better."
Tyler always had great advice, so while Roland's thoughts were sluggish, he said, "All right, then."
He lay his head down and closed his eyes, the table soothing under his cheek.
"I can't believe you tried to get Captain drunk!" Tyler said as he tossed back the drink he had just taken from their captain.
Faterlin held his hands up. "Hey hey, that wasn't me trying to get him drunk. He really didn't drink much, you know."
"Hm." In an instant, a piece of parchment appeared in Tyler's hands, and he scribbled away at it, much to the alarm of the rest of the platoon. They were even more alarmed when the edge of his lips started twitching upwards.
"Um, Tyler...?" someone ventured to say.
"Hahaha! There actually is something I can do for my captain!" Tyler shouted and jumped up.
"Weren't we all already doing paperwork for him?" Faterlin asked.
Tyler blinked and sat down. "Oh, you're right. Huh, there are more things that I can do for him than I originally thought."
Tyler smiled at that.
Chapter 16: Character Introductions
The extra chapter was posted at the same time and can be found right before this one.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Vice-Captain Storm: Confident but worries that people might think his captain is not a big flirt, so he periodically sends his girlfriend to yell at his captain. He makes sure others from the Storm Knight Platoon do it too.
Vice-Captain Cloud: Shy and nervous. He always has a difficult time finding his captain and can often be heard calling his captain's name fretfully. Likes to clean.
Vice-Captain Blaze: Boisterous and hard-working. He used to be quiet but has learned to project after being assigned to the Blaze Knight Platoon. He can sleep through having his door kicked.
Vice-Captain Moon: Whiny. Bad with a sword. He is meticulous about appearances which is what made him decide to join the Moon Knight Platoon. He views the Moon Knight as the epitome of elegance even above the Sun Knight.
Vice-Captain Ice: Stoic but finds the Ice Knight utterly adorable. Even if he has a stomachache, he will still finish off anything his captain makes.
Vice-Captain Leaf: Nature-loving. He greatly enjoys being outdoors. When his captain is unable to say no, he does it for him. He is skilled at haggling.
Vice-Captain Metal: Brotherly. He is good at taking care of other people and is always trying to help his captain come up with new insults. He secretly thinks of his captain as a little brother.
Vice-Captain Stone: Lacks confidence. Is prone to rambling and thinking out loud. Good at processing information at a quick speed. He helps his captain on diplomatic trips and does well as long as he keeps his mouth shut.
Vice-Captain Earth: Honest. Easy to trick. He often falls for his captain's deceit, gullible to the point of having his captain regret appointing him as the vice-captain. His captain fears he will be taken advantage of by the sun knights.
Vidar: Baby-faced. Although he can't mask his emotions very well, he is a capable swordsman. He admires how hard-working his captain is, but sometimes, he can't help but wish his captain would rely on him more.
Adair: Sly but well-liked. He is one of the Holy Temple's top swordsmen and interpreter of the Sun Knight's speech. He used to be idealistic but a cliff incident brought forth an epiphany that changed his world view. Now, he enjoys thinking outside the box.
Tyler: Proud. He cares greatly about his position and his duties. Recognizes strength. New to the vice-captain business so the other vice-captains decide to give him a helping hand. Whenever he goes drinking with his captain, he will drink all alcohol placed before his captain to the last drop.
It took forever, but this fic is now complete. \o/ Truthfully, this entire story was supposed to be a oneshot titled "The Woes of a Vice-Captain," and I had planned to write it in 2nd person. Somehow, that fic never got off the ground, and I instead wrote this story. This was meant to be a quick fic, considering the original inspiration was just a oneshot, but alas, I am not friends with timely updates. Some of the chapters also got a bit out of hand. My favorites are actually the shorter ones because the chapters got to the point a lot sooner and didn't need to go on long, rambling journeys to accomplish the same thing.
I hadn't expected to write an entire story focused on Tyler, but it was fun being in his head, considering that he's out of the loop with a lot of things. I wrote him to be a bit oblivious, yet at the same time, he's pretty sharp with other matters. Once we get to see him from his platoon's POV, especially after all the visits from the other vice-captains, you can see that he can be quite the vice-captain too.
I loved exploring all the different vice-captains and showing how they interacted with their captains. I tried to give each captain a cameo at one point during their vice-captain's chapter. I'm actually surprised that Grisia never showed up in Adair's chapter, but since that chapter was "Think Outside the Box," I wanted several things to break the patterns from earlier chapters, like the chapter title being four words instead of three, and Adair's captain never showing up. XD
The format of the story is modeled after the LSK books, with prologues and extras being in 3rd person and the main story in 1st person. It was an interesting exercise!