"Hell Knight! Stop this instant!"
Grisia bellowed loudly, finally able to catch up with one of his brother knights. Roland stiffened before he could even dare to make a sharp turn away from Grisia. But it was no use, no one can escape Grisia, well maybe except for Cloud.
The dark suspicious man who was blatantly wearing dark leotards at the Holy Temple could hear the footsteps getting closer. Then with a grave voice, Grisia commanded for him to turn around.
Not wanting to defy Grisia's orders, Roland turned, but his movements were so slow he seems as immovable as a statue.
"Roland, I am not playing around. Hand it over now!"
The sign for Grisia's seriousness was blindingly obvious. Sun was angry, he has no choice but to give up and with that settled, he finally faced the head of the Twelve Holy Knights.
On his gloved hands was an ominous jar of blue concoctions. He handled it so carefully that he seemed to be holding a bomb. Grisia inched closer to the expressionless knight, aware of the jar's contents and how expensive *cough ahem, precious it was. But there was a determination on Roland's eyes as he said a clear resounding "No."
Roland normally obeys Grisia's orders, and those few incidents that he doesn't, Grisia was actually grateful in his heart that his friend didn't, but this time was definitely not one of those.
Plastered with his usual mask of benevolence that can rival a saint, Grisia smiled, put his hand on his heart and spoke with a voice that could calm even babies unto sleep, "Roland, brother," he dropped his sun-speech, knowing that time was of the essence. "I have little understanding of the situation or the reasons behind them, but I beg you, put back Storm's hair dye, now!"
Seriously, really, annoyingly stubborn. Did Roland somehow break? Can't be, do undead even care about their hair!?
Exasperated, Grisia can't help but remember his awkward friend's actions lately. Just last month Roland have been asking around about hair colors, hair dyeing techniques, and even devices that could change hair color just like the St. Brigandine. He also started studying hair care and maintenance, always leaning to the natural oils essences and raw materials. He even started creating his own formula!
An undead, expert on hair beautification. He shuddered inwardly.
Okay, okay, so a Sun Knight who could memorize every health and beauty products in existence (and even recite the prices from three different kingdoms) is also an anomaly of its own, but this is just not right. This is Roland, for God for Light's Sake!
There was even a phase in their childhood when Roland want to shave his head because 'it is in the way'. Obviously talking about his sword fighting. Everything about him was all about his swordsmanship.
Grisia sighed deeply. Is his grudge towards his brown hair and not-so-Sun-Knight features so deep that even in his deathly state Roland still wish to erase it?
Somehow Grisia was assaulted by melancholic nostalgia as he stares at Roland. And to think that Sun even made him wear the black-haired Supreme Dragon alter ego which was the opposite of the trademark look of all Sun Knights in every generation.
But that doesn't justify Roland's actions. This has gone too far, Sun cannot believe it at first, but the evidence was staring right at his face. Roland has been stealing Storm's hair dyes.
"If you continue this behavior, Storm might die!"
Shocked, Roland's eyes widen in horror that his grip on the innocent jar tightened, creating a crack at the glass from its side. Grisia panicked, almost having a heart attack.
Grisia tried to ease in slowly, beckoning as if trying to pet a dog that might bite his hand any moment now. "S-so be a good knight and p-put it down."
They both know that the Warm-Kind Faction was on the brink of poverty. Grisia with his essentials, Leaf with his seasonings, Blaze and his never-ending repair expenses for broken-down doors, Cloud with his books (the library was not enough for him), and Earth and his stupid handkerchiefs. And of course, we have Storm's hair dyes.
The only one under his jurisdiction (and he was officially in the Cold Faction) who was not having financial problems with his retirement plan was Hell! Not to mention he's an undead so he has not spent a single copper!
He nodded, "Yes, yes, Storm will, unless you give it back."
The word hit the mark. He has been lying for all his life, but this was the first time he heard it from Roland, and this time, he's not even remotely lying! But Roland's next words shut him further.
"This...this is killing him. Storm Knight is dying because of this, so I'll make him stop."
What? Ah, I see, so that's why.
'That' was what eating Roland for months now.
"Roland, that is not for us to decide. Storm accepted his position just like any of our brothers. It is his burden, not yours."
"But you don't understand, Grisia. If he uses this, he will be the first one to disappear."
And you would be the last? Grisia finished for him in his mind.
All of the Twelve Holy Knights have expected their deaths. And by almost all accounts, it was the Storm Knight who dies young. Every knight-candidates knows this, that's why only a few went and apply even how great the benefits may be.
Sun was going to ask Roland why he was so stubborn in prolonging Storm's lifespan when someone shouted.
"As if I'll die from dyes!" A man came running through them at a speed that Hell Knight could not follow and a sharp kick came rushing through his left torso.
The jar was flung in the air and caught neatly by the attacker. "Roland, come. We need to talk." Storm said grabbing the dark monarch on his collar and dragging him from the corridor towards his room. His fair blue hair whipping in the air as Storm continued in his tirade calling out to Roland with mostly how this sword-head was already beyond hope.
Everything happened so fast, leaving a stunned Sun Knight to gape at the scene.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Roland was frowning. A deck of cards was laid out in front of him and he had been staring at it for what seemed like an unnecessary amount of wasted time.
His black leotard had blend perfectly at the shadows, giving him a sinister look. Add his dark cowl and black mask, and he must probably be the most suspicious person in history that ever walked on the holy corridors of the Temple of Light.
Amusing enough, the structural design of the temple was also eerily similar at the royal castle. Designed by the same architectural talents, perhaps?
And at the moment, he was inside a secret passageway that snaked all throughout the temple. It was, after all, a well- kept knowledge passed on from one generation of hell knight to another, and Elijah was gracious enough to show him around. Though finding out that Sun had already casually offered Roland a tour months ago came as a shock to the retired Hell Knight. And when he offered to teach Roland the secret trades of his former position, it didn't come as a surprise that Sun had also beaten him to it. Espionage, infiltration, and double-facing and other trades on the underside of everything that was chivalrous had all been already taught to Roland by no other than pure-hearted, benevolent Sun Knight himself.
Elijah had been too defeated that everytime he and Sun passed by each other, the royal knight captain would smile with dead eyes as they exchange greetings.
Roland can't help but sigh. Not that breathe ever passed on his lips, that is. Human habits do tend to be hard to get rid of, and he had never did made any effort to get rid of them.
At the thought of the dejected former hell knight, he snatched the deck with renewed determination and started shifting the cards on his fingertips, then like the amateur that he was, he made a near splendid slip, with aces and spades bursting in a scattered mess around him.
It had been his third mistake already, and each time, the slight frown on his face would crease ever so slightly in frustration. He still had a long way to go to master sleight of hand, and with his current body, flexibility and dexterity would never be his strong point.
Gathering the cards one by one, he finally heard the familiar sound he had been waiting for. He pressed his ear to the wall and waited.
"He's still awake," Roland murmured. On the other side of the wall of the passageway, was a secret door that connects to all sleeping quarters of the Twelve Holy Knights. The one he was facing was that of Storm.
The sound of gas lamp igniting, and the shuffle of papers as ink scratch the parchments can be heard from the other side.
Roland closed his eyes and concentrated. Slowly, he could feel himself relax at the consistent but minute sounds of life, coming from Storm's room.
A soft rhythm of a stylus on parchment, the shifting of scrolls and the soft breathing of a man trying to stifle his yawn every now and then.
It was a small reprieve, but as an undead, he was never in need of sleep. And nights at the temple, he had found out, was too quiet for his liking.
Almost like a grave, he thought inwardly.
It was on these moments that he found himself wandering off at the poorly lit corridors of the temple.
Trying to reach out on a flung out card, Roland made his presence smaller as he spied a knight outside, guarding Storm's quarters, and was quick to recognize the vice-captain of Storm Knight Squadron.
Any other person who might find this scenario would easily draw the conclusion that the philandering rake of a knight captain was using his subordinates to keep people away. Obviously due to some inconspicuous reasons.
But if it's within the Holy Church's ranks, then they'll automatically disapprove of such practice.
Any sane member of the temple would be high in demand as to why in the God of Light's namesake was there only one knight guarding Storm(?!)
What if Storm suddenly fell asleep with his lamp still lit? What if he suffered from exhaustion and needed water? What if he dropped deadbeat and slept on the floor and had a cold for a day!? A day!?
Those questions and concerns would make even the calmest of the temple clerks lose their minds in worry and trepidation.
Even Storm's own squadron had insisted to be on guard by pairs at most. But Ceo had been stubborn while smiling his classic wistful sneer that shows that they were getting on his nerves. Being surrounded by nagging worried men during the day was torture enough, to have them hover at him after sunset would be too much for his precious nighttime, or what's left of it. It had come to a point that Storm even threatened that he might file for a vacation if they don't stop.
The prospect was too harrowing that even the Pope step in.
The assignments were done and dealt with. The vice-captain had been at it for three months. A feat that should be applauded for.
But everyone has a breaking point. And right now, that same haunting sleep-deprived figure of a guard was unconscious and soundly snoring.
This was not the first time this happened, and Roland did not hold it against the vice-captain. He was making himself ready to move and wake the poor man when he heard the lock from Storm's room turning.
Roland hesitated for a second before the shadows claimed his silhouette once more, and he saw a head full of blue locks peaking at the other side. Once the occupant saw his guard unresponsive, he smiled and simply took a blanket to tuck the vice-captain in.
For a second, the appearance of shining blue hair with the soft light of a candle bouncing off them, was like a burst of a clear day on a dreary tomb, and the gentle act of kindness from the knight captain made him felt a warmth that he hasn't felt for a while.
Storm seemed to murmur a few words of thanks and praise for a job well done for the night, and just as silently, went back, taking a few extra precaution to latch the door back without a sound.
Roland's eyes squinted suspiciously, placed his sling back his waist, a gift from Elijah, and instead continued playing at the stone which he almost let fly to the vice-captain if not for Ceo's appearance.
He let that scene played out again on his mind as he went back to his usual hiding spot, disturbed and yet contented at the same time.
He did, after all, witness Ceo putting something on the knight's drink. No wonder the guard passed out early.
It felt like hours before he heard a dull resounding thud inside the room.
With one of the few tricks he learned from Sun, he expertly tinkered with the lock and sneaked into Ceo's room. Again, something that had eerily became a routine the moment he took this post.
With mellowed eyes, he scanned the messy room and tiptoed at the maze of paperwork towards the napping knight captain. Ceo was splayed at his work table with an arm outstretched as his makeshift pillow.
Roland pinched the light out of the lamp between his thumb and forefinger and crouched low to scoop Ceo out of his seat.
He looked down and was expecting a face that was supposed to be a living sin among maidens and downfall of virgins and widows alike, but what he saw was a petulant scrunched-up expression of a man drooling on his shoulder.
He blinked. And stared once before he could stifle any sound he could make, afraid he might wake the sleeping man on his arm.
Not the most dignified posture, for sure, and add the pale complexion and darkening shadow under his eyes, and even Roland, who was supposed to be a death knight could even feel a tinge of sympathy at how haggard the man was. Just from the deep breathing and raise and fall of the man's chest, he was sure that Ceo was out cold.
Roland doesn't mind the weight, the firm muscles which clashed to the ambiguous clothing and hair, or even the smell of perfume spiced with musk.
Gently, he put the Ceo down on the bed and started unlacing the other man's boots.
By the time he had him under the quilt, tucked and neat like a babe, Roland was ready to move out.
Just as he was about to leave, he saw an unusual pile beneath the desk table. It looked like one of those reports he made back when he was still under the royal knightsguard. The tingling nostalgia of those times was too unexpected that before he knows it, his hand moved on its own and he started flipping on the papers. His eyes had long adjusted to the dark. He was casually reading the papers when he came to a section that was gruesomely familiar that he folded it neatly and placed it back at the corner...in the darkness...where it belongs.
He spied the young man sleeping soundly beneath his quilt, oblivious of the intruder of his own room.
Roland studied him closely but this time with a different eye. Almost as if he was looking at a marvel of a discovery.
"You're...an interesting one," he whispered, seemingly to the wind.
The reports he had 'accidentally' read were all about the disappearance case of a singular nameless commoner knight captain. His. His disappearance to be exact.
It had everything, from his personal details to his daily routine, even his expense receipts, and inventories. But the bulk of the report was the torture part.
Hell smiled thinly at that. A bit incredulous at how easy the recollection came to him. He was born with a sturdy body, and his diligent training has honed him with a built that can't be easily be beaten. But that also made those few conscious moments under the torture chamber seemed eternally longer.
The day this stranger spoke of him, was the first time he ever saw this seemingly relaxed person got angry.
How did Storm word it? 'whipping, branding, pulling fingernails out, skinning, tongue cutting, soaking in salt water, pouring sugar water and then putting ants on him...'
He knelt before the bed and went closer to Storm, combing the few bangs away from the man's eyes, so carefully like he was seeking for something precious while tracing the long lashes into a crescent arc. Roland's smile turned genuine, as he remembered the creases of those reports, aged from endless reading, as if clenched and reclenched into form, and the unmistakable water marks at the edges as if drops of water were spilled across the ink.
"You cried for me," hearing the words spilled out surprised him more, that he retracted his hand as if his touch would corrupt the one he wants to hold.
Do I...want to hold him?
He pushed down the impulse as quickly as it manifested and just like that...he left.