Chapter 1: Prologue
It is often said that the thirty-eighth generation of the Holy Knights was the most powerful and influential of them all. After all was it not the generation that contained Grisia Sun? The man who was said to be the epitome of perfection and the closest the world had seen to the God of Light coming to the earth himself. Little is mentioned of the generation immediately following this one. The thirty-ninth generation that was the students of the so called "Greatest Generation".
Some say it was because the thirty-ninth could never hope to compare to the thirty-eighth and those were overshadowed. Others that there was some great scandal the church was trying to cover up by the startling lack of records. The idea that the War that broke out simply prevented the keeping of accurate records was also thrown around. A few joke that the Blaze Knight of that generation caused a fire and that was what destroyed the records.
The truth of the matter and the generation could all be found if one simply asked the Cloud Knight, who had the only remaining copies of the journals of the thirty-ninth generation carefully under his care. But no one would. After all that would require them to be able to track him down. Besides he wouldn't let anyone near the delicate papers until he completely got rid of the smell of smoke and finished recopying.
The story of the thirty-ninth generation, if it was known, could have been considered just as unusual as their predecessors. After all they stopped the Erlking King, traveled among the Dark Elves to slay a witch, dealt with a spot of time travel, faced down an obsessive stalker, stopped the War of the Three Kingdoms, and married a King.
Not to mention changed a rule that affected all the generations that followed.
Adair had long ago learned to trust his Captain and follow his every order, but he did sometimes question some of the stranger things his Captain did. Even if it was just to himself. Looking over the child that his Captain selected he had to agree they certainly looked the part even if he couldn't understand why his Captain had picked this one particular. Golden hair that shined almost as much as the Captain's, though it was cut short to frame the child's small face. Dark blue eyes that looked up at Adair with a mixture of curiosity and innocent bewilderment. Surprisingly lovely fair skin that was only very lightly colored by the sun which the Captain would now doubt take care of soon enough. The perfect image of the next Sun Knight.
His Captain clearly thought so too. If his smile, much larger and realer than normal, was any indicator of how pleased he was with himself anyway. Trying not to look to troubled and not wanting to give the child, his Captain's student now, a bad impression he smiled.
"Hello there little one I'm Adair. Can you give me your name?" Adair questioned since his Captain had forgotten to give out this key piece of information when he'd introduced the child to the platoon earlier.
The child hesitated for a moment before speaking in a clear, tiny voice. "I'm Lucien, but I like Luc better Mr. Adair."
"Vice-Captain," Adair corrected gently and the child nodded looking him over with a sudden increased interest. Adair kept his smile, but noted that the voice had been high pitched and if he hadn't been looking at the blonde haired, blue eyed child before him, he would have sworn it was an old friend from his village he'd grown up with.
"Your mother was Ingrid wasn't she?" Adair asked, earning a strange look from his Captain. The look of sudden terror and shock that passed over the child's face was answer enough. The child, suddenly looking worried, vehement shook their head.
"And your father was Daniel. You have his coloring."
This time it wasn't a question and the child knew it, staring up at him horrified and with tears gathering in those dark blue eyes. Adair sighed and without thinking began to give the child a comforting pat on the head he'd once given Ingrid. The child jerked a little in surprise, but allowed it.
"Why don't you go talk to the platoon? Ask for Ed and tell him Adair said for him to take you through our usual routine." Adair said in a much more cheerful, friendly voice. The child looked confused and looked up at the Captain questioningly.
The Captain who was watching the entire interaction with an elegantly displeased expression gave a sharp nod and the child turned on their heel and ran off. Adair straightened knowing the Captain was displeased, but mostly confused. Instead of waiting for him to speak he looked his Captain in the eye and asked him the first question about one of his decisions that Adair had asked in years.
"Captain you do know that that child is a girl?"
The look of dumbfounded shock and the gaping mouth (Quite inelegant, Adair mentally noted) would have been funny if the situation hadn't been so ridiculous. Actually it was still a little funny.
"Did you provide a back-up?"
"He ran away when I mentioned the hair dye and skin whitener."
Chapter 2: Step 1: Praise the God of Light and Keep Up His Image (Or Else)
I am a knight-in-training. To be precise, I am training to be the Church of the God of Light’s Sun Knight.
The Church of the God of Light of course serves the God of Light and is at this point in time considered to be particularly blessed having defeated the Demon King during this decade and for having the current Sun Knight who is said to be the incarnation of the God of Light and the man closest to perfection. It is said that his exploits require five long epics to be fully narrated and that he is the kindest and most benevolent of souls.
This man is my teacher.
When I entered the Holy Temple a little over a year ago I also believed all the stories that had been told of my teacher. In fact stories of Teacher were a favorite of mine! When a bard or storyteller passed through my small town I would eagerly beg for a story of the Sun Knight. If my parents and later my caretakers at the orphanage had business in Leaf Bud City my only request would be for them to try and meet one of the Twelve Holy Knights so I could hear more of them.
In fact I was so in awe of this perfect Sun Knight I did not dare try out for the Twelve Holy Knight selection and instead came to the Holy Temple to apply to be a regularly holy knight with the dream of serving the next Sun Knight. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your point of view) the holy knight from whom I asked directions took one look at my appearance and instantly directed me to the sign ups for the Sun Knight. I hadn’t even been aware it was the wrong one until I finished signing up and the Sun Knight arrived to greet us!
Of course I couldn’t leave by then. What human being would dare do something like that! It would be as if I was telling the Sun Knight to his face “ Well sir I’m truly grateful you defeated the Demon King and saved the world and are brilliant and perfect, but I certainly don’t want to be like you! ”. If my father had still been alive and I’d done such a thing he would have died of shame! So I stayed and was somehow chosen by this perfect man to be his successor. He had even let me stay after discovering my secret! Truly he was a forgiving and great man.
It only took a week after being selected to realize the truth of the perfect Sun Knight.
Teacher had taken me to a small forest area and I had followed slightly confused, but trusting. We soon came upon a small trail that led down a cliff. Teacher had taken it and we slowly walked down the narrow trail on the cliff until we were a little over halfway down its side. Teacher had stopped his radiant smile still in place and turned to face me. I had been very nervous, but also curious about what in the world Teacher could want to show me so far out.
Are we perhaps in some secret sacred place far from the sinful influences of a large city in order to communicate on a spiritual level with the God of Light so I may discover something truly profound and meaningful about joining in his service?
Smiling kindly and with the look of an angel Teacher had spoken in a kind, gentle tone the order that ruined my image of him forever.
I hadn’t and learned the first important lesson from my despicable-but-perfect Teacher as I was blasted off a cliff for half a day until I finally jumped off myself.
“Students should be obedient to their teachers.”
. . .
Obedience was just the first of the many rules that came with being a Sun Knight.
A Sun Knight must always smile even if faced with a truly deplorable person.
A Sun Knight must always look their best.
A Sun Knight must have fair skin.
The list went on and on for a good ways. As I was still learning Teacher said that I would be eased into the other duties of a Sun Knight, but I must always bear in mind one of his more important rules. “Maintain the image of the perfect Sun Knight.” Teacher himself was incredible at this, smiling and charming others. Making himself appear just like the rumors surrounding him. Knowing him as I now did I was really quite impressed by this despicable man.
Mother would have praised him for understanding the importance of a public image. Having been a very skilled business woman herself she had her own image that was displayed to the public. I think she also would have appreciated his real personality. Either that or they would have hated each other. It was always hard to judge the reactions of people who were as similar as Teacher and Mother.
But I digress, maintaining the image that has been held over thirty-eight generations is not an easy thing to do. For starters I color very easily. Teacher despaired over it during my first summer here after he’d spotted my steadily darkening complexion. Now my skin whitening routine is even more stringent than Teacher’s and I must constantly apply a nifty balm Teacher had been gifted by the Princess of Moon Orchid that helped prevent the sun from burning skin. It was rather expensive and very popular among the nobility and wealthy. Most all of the miniscule money I had went into paying for it.
Despite this and other hardships I’ve faced as Teacher’s student I do like it here. I like learning how to use a sword. I like getting praised by Teacher when I finally figure out how to do something correctly. I like how the Sun Knight Platoon takes me with them when they do their rounds and I get to see all of Leaf Bud City. I like the fact that I get to have eleven new brothers because of my choice.
It makes it worth Teacher’s lessons and the things I have to do.
. . .
I dove behind one of the decorative pillars in the Church without an ounce of hesitation.
Teacher had recently implemented the rule that I must start speaking like the Sun Knight as he supposed I had been listening to him long enough to understand the basics. My respect for Teacher had actually increased as a result of speaking this ridiculous way. It was physically painful to get through a conversation while speaking in such a roundabout manner with a constant smile no matter how many times you had to repeat yourself when trying to simply ask someone how their day has been. Teacher had actually been sympathetic reminding me that the Sun Knight was never said to be talkative, but he was also very strict about catching me “out-of-character”.
I had already been forced to endure five separate conversations in which no one understood what I was saying. Being held up talking to people would not help me make it back into the Temple before Teacher returned for lessons. Plus my jaw was starting to ache from all the smiling.
I could not refrain from smiling and speak normally either. Teacher would find out. He always knew no matter what.
Hiding was clearly the best solution to avoid conversations.
I didn’t relax until the group of clerics had drifted by. Smiling to myself at the success at my new plan I continued to creep forward, jumping behind pillars, hiding in cupboards, keeping to the shadows, and occasionally hiding in plants to avoid detection.
Right at the entrance I heard the sound of a large group, likely a platoon by the sound of their clanging metal. I rolled down the hallway hidden by the eaves and pulled myself up into an alcove to tuck behind a holy statue. The marble kept me well hidden with the stone skirt of a saint.
It was only as the group got close that I recognized the voices of the Sun Platoon with Ed very loudly saying something about “extra patrols”. Normally, I would have not bad much mind to this as Teacher was known for increasing and decreasing the amount of runs around the city the platoon did on a whim. But then I heard Knight-Captain Judgement’s name mentioned and went still. The platoon, I noted that Adair’s voice was absent, was talking about how he had been sending them on missions that they were supposed to keep quiet. ( The gossips .)
A chill went down my spine though when even Ed’s voice turned serious as the commisserated.
Apparently there had been recent disappearances of children in the outlying villages under mysterious circumstances. The theory behind it ranged from slave traders to dark elves. Knight-Captain Judgement was becoming very distressed since they had yet to find any clues as it appeared the children had vanished into thin air.
Hearing that last night a child vanished in Leaf Bud City did not put my mind at ease and neither did hearing how now the King is breathing down their neck demanding they do something about it.
At least that explained the amount of times Teacher had been summoned to the palace lately. What concerned me most though was that judging from their frustration they hadn’t found anything yet and the wildly guessing was only making the situation tenser.
I kept still as they went by, but shook off the troubling news. Teacher would tell me if something important happened, or at the very least Adair would and then Teacher would do some harebrained scheme to make it alright in the end. I relaxed at the thought, despicable or not Teacher was quite capable.
Humming, lightly I pulled up the hood of my cloak now that I was in the City and made my way towards the forest that had long been part of the Church of Lights ground and the sanctuary I had there far from lessons and constant demand for smiles.
My sanctuary though was occupied.
. . .
One of the second things my teacher had taught me was that in order to pay for the numerous things a Sun Knight must do to protect their image was find ways to cut costs. If you did not you would slowly starve to death as you spent all your money on supplies. As I was someone who needed to take extra care with my skin the lack of funds become increasingly important within my first month of settling here. I had quickly taken Teacher’s advice and chosen something less expensive to base my skin whitener on. It had taken some time but a mixture of mint leaves, lavender, and several other plants (plus a dash of holy magic) left me fair.
Buying them, even if they were nowhere near as bad as Teacher’s own, would still bankrupt me though. It wasn’t until I was visiting the kitchen to pick up Teacher’s apples that a solution came to me. The Cook kept a small window sill filled with herbs that she grew fresh for the meals. They were low cost and easy for beginners. After talking to her for a little while and reading some books, I struck out into the mostly ignored forest and found a small open plot to work.
For all this advice though and my efforts I could not get the plants to thrive and had to tearfully use whatever money I managed to keep to buying supplies.
And that is where the intruder who was currently weeding around my strawberry vines came into play.
. . .
Paul was the knight-in-training for the position of the Hell Knight and one of my closer friends.
Paul was a very ordinary looking guy, who was friendly and open-minded. Despite this he had an oddly forgettable quality. When Teacher had met him the first time he had openly smiled and clapped Uncle Roland on the shoulder praising him for choosing a child who would become all-purpose handsome and therefore perfectly suited to espionage in the future. Uncle Roland had been confused and explained he had chosen Paul for his superb swordsmanship. I had just beamed, pleased to see my friend had passed and he had returned it.
Paul and I had an agreement during training despite the different knight hopefuls being mostly separated.
I had agreed to help him with his studies after finding him looking perplexed over a book history of the Kingdom of Forgotten Sound. In return each night he we would go into the training yard he would help me learn swordsmanship.
I quickly discovered that Paul’s worst problem was that when he was reading the letters would get switched up.
He quickly discovered that I had absolutely no idea how to hold my sword or stand correctly.
Without each other’s help we both knew we would never have succeeded as we did. We had remained close as well despite being in different factions.
When I had initially began starting and failing in my attempts at gardening, Paul had found it and quickly taken over helping me. Paul it turned had been a farmer’s son and had helped his mother keep the family garden as well. He had shown me all sorts of tricks and helped me build a fence around the plot we signalled out.
Because of this Paul was the only one who knew about our secret garden and in return for his help I kept him supplied with strawberries, which hadn’t grown near his home at the border and were no his favorites.
He came over to help pretty often, but he only ever came here alone to work when he was upset about something. He’d been here a good while too judging by the sweat through his shirt and the black under his nails were. After looking over him quietly a few minutes I very loudly stepped on a twig as I went forward.
“Paul,” I called out cheerfully, smiling naturally this time. The bent over brown head looked up with a returning smile that though small was sincere. His brown eyes seemed a little worried though.
“Good morning Luc. These should be ready to pick soon and the mint is ready to harvest again.” he looked towards a corner thoughtfully before adding. “I think we should plant some pumpkins soon. The pulp can be used to create a good moisturizer, the seeds make excellent snacks, and the flesh can be given to cook for soup.”
I nodded bowing to his wisdom and quickly went over the shack we had built one free weekend. It was lopsided and on the small side, but stayed up and did it’s job. I had some minor scars on my hands from the building of it. Every time I walked in though it I felt the need to buff out my chest with pride. Going inside I quickly changed from my holy ropes to the loose shirt and pants, grabbing the large floppy hat to protect my skin, and the thick gloves Paul had given as a gift to help with my hands. I picked up a basket and headed out to careful pick the mint.
Paul soon joined beside me and we started chatting about the going on of the Holy Temple.
The Sun Knight Platoon had taught me the importance of being up to date on the latest gossip.
“Teacher’s been secretive lately,” I admitted after a while letting my frustration show at this behavior. Paul was safe to break character around and a good listener as well, something that came from training to be a spy. “He’s been visiting the Pope pretty frequently lately and they’ve been having a lot of pleasant conversations . I can’t figure out what Teacher wants out of him.”
Paul remained quiet and so I continued with pointed casualness.
“Have you heard anything?”
Paul hesitated for a few moments. I made sure to keep solely focused on the plants, letting him take his time.
“Teacher says that the Sun Knight has finally convinced the Pope to end the separation of the two factions early. He thinks it will benefit them not to be apart for the full three years.”
All at once I didn’t care about the worry in his tone.
All I could feel was the instant surge of happiness. It was finally happening! More brothers at last! I loved all my brothers in the “good, warm” faction, but I had been promised eleven brothers when I became the Sun Knight-in-training and not being able to meet the others was a great trial of mine. Paul was in a unique position to be involved with both groups so I would shamelessly pump him for information on the brothers I had yet to meet.
I knew all their names, most of their likes and dislikes, how they were doing in their training, and exactly how skilled they were with swords (as Paul like his Teacher was a swordsmanship fan boy he noticed this in detail).
“Do you know when it’s happening? Do the others know? Are they excited? How are we doing it? Are you certain we’ll be meeting all of them?” I bombarded Paul with questions unable to hide my excitement at the prospect. His brown eyes widened and he leaned back from the explosion of noise.
“I know it’s sometime soon, Teacher Hell said the Sun Knight was making the final arrangements. I think I’m the only one who knows because I heard Teacher talking about so he explained. As far as I know all twelve of us will be brought together.” Paul told me slowly going through my questions with a slightly bemused expression.
“I can’t wait!” I said bouncing up on my heels and clapping a little. Paul gave me a smile at this reaction, but the worry hadn’t left his eyes. I tramped down on my urge to jump up and down from joy and focused on my friend.
“Is there something wrong?”
Yet again he seemed to hesitate looking down to fidget with a sprig of mint.
“Paul,” I said trying to copy Adair’s tone when he was giving commands. “I need to know if there is a problem. As the leader it is my duty to help solve any problem that may arise with my knights.”
Playing to Paul’s sense of duty was a little under the belt, but the boy clearly knew something .
He looked up at me with such a hang-dog expression I wanted to load him up with strawberries and stab whoever made him sad. I resisted and instead gave him an encouraging smile, trying not to wince as my muscles gave a tinge at the motion.
“Luc, I, I’m not sure if everything will go as smoothly as you hope.” he told me clearly reluctant.
Seeing my expectant expression he sighed and when he spoke again it was with an oddly determined and despairing expression.
“I know you see us all as companions and want to get along with everyone, but not everyone sees it that way. The two different factions don’t like each other. Even our Teachers don’t like each other. Those guys I’m with aren’t…” Here he paused a moment to consider. “ Nice like the others. It’s not gonna be easy to get along with them. They’re stubborn and prickly and I just don’t want you to get your hopes up and think we’re all going to just become instantly friends.”
I nodded, understanding his concerns now, but my smile didn’t waver. I leaned forward to pat Paul’s shoulder.
“It’s alright. I know we won’t instantly like each other. Sometimes it takes a while to warm up to people, you know? But we will be okay Paul.”
We’re brothers after all. Well, and one exception.
I gave him a look with total confidence. “It doesn’t matter if we fight or someone has a bit of a bad personality. We’re family. We’ll figure out how to get along.”
Paul gave me a look filled with doubt, but didn’t have the energy to argue his point. I gave him another pat and stood up.
“Let’s finish picking the mint and we can have lunch.”
. . .
After we finished our work and we had lunch, Paul had seemed more cheerful, but still worried. We parted with a smile though. Paul had left to go pray in one of the more unused chapels (he seemed to pray a lot, which I suppose was appropriate for a holy knight) and I made my way slowly and stealthily back to my room. I needed to wash off the sweat and grime from working in the garden.
I arrived back to my room unnoticed and smiled on the inside. I stripped out of my work clothes laying them to the side. After washing off the mint and leaving it to dry at my work table I went into my bath. I took a quick wash and then began to fill up the bath for a milk-and-lemon soak. Thankfully, I had a mostly free day and felt my muscles relax as I sat in the warm, nice smelling liquid.
I was pleasantly surprised that no one showed up to interupt me and I even had time to use the sugar and vanilla exfoliating scrub. Feeling hopeful, I brought down my last can of whitener and began to apply the mixture onto my face and get ready for a steam. I might be able to actually finish my full routine today!
After all I definitely did not want to face Teacher’s wrath if my time in the sun had darkened me any.
I should have known better than to think that. As soon as I had finished putting on the mask a knock came from my door. For a moment I froze, tensing and ready to launch myself into the bathroom to hide my mask. But thankfully the person knocking was polite enough not to just let themself in (*cough* Teacher *cough*).
“Who is it?” I asked a little nervous and hoping it was a messenger and I wouldn’t have to show my face.
“It’s me Big Brother,” a sweet small voice answered. It was the kind of shy, sweetness that could melt the heart of even the most evil and despicable of people. Even my Teacher would have trouble being anything short of genuinely sincere in the face of such pureness.
“I’ll be right out Graeme.” I told him and quickly went to wash off the mask ( *sob* So much money wasted. ).
I dressed in fresh clothes, checked my appearance over one last time to make sure nothing was out of place, and opened the door to find the young Earth Knight-in-training patiently waiting. The moment he saw me his small face bloomed into the sweetest smile I had yet to witness. My arms itched to pull Graeme into a hug and coo at him. I peeked around the corridor behind him and seeing no one else was there instead contented myself with smiling and giving his soft brown curls a gentle pet.
He didn’t protest the affection and instead looked even happier smiling up at me brilliantly.
Graeme, at seven, was the youngest of all the Holy Knights in-training. He was a kind, shy little boy with soft brown curl, big doe like brown eyes, and always spoke with the slightest little lisp because of his missing front teeth.
In short he was utterly adorable.
But he also looked like a pint-sized version of the current Earth Knight.
I had learned, from Graeme who told the story with innocent confusion, that his mother was the one who brought him to the Holy Temple. She had apparently arrived to talk to the Earth Knight about “responsibility” and upon seeing the assembled hopefuls had told Graeme to wait with the older boys and dragged the Earth Knight into another room. When she returned the Earth Knight’s cheek had been curiously red, his mother had seemed pleased, and Graeme was in the running to be the next Earth Knight. He had won easily and no one commented about his appearance or the fact his mother would occasionally visit the Earth Knight to “talk” throughout the process.
As the youngest, smallest, and sweetest of my little brothers Graeme held a special place in my heart and I (and most everyone else though some denied it) spoiled him shamelessly. He called my “Big Brother” instead of my title or name and we were able to get away with it because the Earth Knight and Sun Knight were best friends after all. He was one of my favorites and on top of that was always so eager to help and generally happy to be around.
Saying no to Graeme or refusing him when he wanted to talk would have been like drowning kittens or kicking puppies.
“What do you need Graeme?” I asked him pulling my hand back. He pouted slightly in response, but perked up and adopted a serious expression that looked ridiculous on his round baby face.
(*squeal* So cute .)
“Teacher Hell sent me to find you. Lessons are now because the Teachers have important business tomorrow.” he told me seriously and then the expression was ruined when he smiled pleased with himself for remembering the message.
I kept my smile up, no need to upset him, but inside I despaired. Not only had I just lost money, but now I would have to spend the afternoon getting thoroughly beaten up in swords class my the monster swordsmen-in-training I called “little brothers”.
“Everyone else is there, so we need to hurry.” Graeme chirped up at me and grabbed my hand to pull me along.
Sobbing internally, I nodded and closed my door allowing myself to be pulled along as Graeme hummed and skipped.