Chapter 1: We’re All Going On A...
Everything said about the prologue applies here, too. Enjoy!
“So then, if the opponent feints like so, the correct stance to take up is like so,” explained Neo, darting around the sunny palaestra and artfully avoiding the eleven students. He was pleased that so many of them were turning out to be good swordsmen. Of course, there was always Grisia...not that that could really be helped.
Meanwhile, the students were sweltering in the summer heat, their eyes drawn to the doors and windows. All the same, they followed Neo’s example to the last flick of the wrist, afraid of his temper. Or at least, they tried to follow Neo’s example to the last flick of the wrist.
With an almighty clanging and a stifled yelp, Grisia managed to trip over his own sword, flicking his legs out elegantly and pointing his delicate feet. Golden hair fell around him in a messy cloud as he splayed his hands wide and drew his legs underneath his trunk, looking up at Neo with innocent blue eyes.
“How in the name of the Light God did you manage that?” Neo sighed, his good temper fast dissipating.
“The Holy God of Light, good my teacher, has decided for His divine purposes to shroud His good plans in a mystery which we His foolish children may not comprehend, but which may certainly serve some higher purpose unknown to us, for the God of Light would not wish to see his children suffer.”
“In other words, you don’t know.” Neo took a perverse pride in seeing his student so well-versed in making things up, and he couldn’t help but smile a twisted smile. “Get up. Do you really think a manservant will help you up in the heat of battle?”
“I’ll help!” yelled Chikus, half-dragging Grisia up by one arm.
“Thanks...” Grisia whispered, struggling to maintain his balance gracefully.
“Hey,” Chikus said, “I think I’m going to die in this heat. Can’t you get him to stop the lesson?”
“No! Arguing with my teacher is impossible,” Grisia answered, glancing at the quietly furious swordsman. Neo was standing there with his arms folded, watching the students fidget in the rising heat.
“Stay here for a second while I check the time,” he said, and swept out of the room elegantly. Almost immediately, the students split off into their little cliques and started gossiping, sitting on the floor or lying down to try and escape the heat. Of course, it didn’t last, since Neo swung the door open in far too short a time.
“It’s Sices soon,” he said coldly, “and the sun’s getting too strong for you, isn’t it?” There was an empty silence before the boys started murmuring assent. Neo clapped his hands. “The lesson’s over. You can go back to your rooms now. Don’t forget to pack your things!”
Once safely out of the palaestra, Grisia dashed to Lesus’s side. “What did he mean by us packing our things?”
“Well, this is just a rumour, but...” Lesus put his head close to Grisia’s. “Apparently we’re all getting a holiday.”
Grisia broke out into smiles – real, genuine smiles, not the fake smiles he often wore. “Whoo!” He punched the air in a decidedly ungraceful manner. “It’ll be awesome!”
“Apparently our teachers are coming with us though. Make of that what you will.”
Grisia pouted. “D’you know where we’re going?”
Lesus shook his head. “Haven’t a clue, but some people say it’s Seabloom.”
“I’ve never seen the sea. Apparently it’s amazing.”
“Neither have I, so I wouldn’t know.”
“D’you think we’ll get nice rooms, Lesus?”
The apprentice Judgement Knight shrugged. “On the Church’s budget? Not likely.”
Grisia stretched upwards and yawned. “I can dream...”
“...yeah, dream on, keep building castles in the air. I’m going to pack some of my stuff now.”
“See you!” Grisia called, waving.
“See you.” Lesus nodded in acknowledgement and turned into the cruel, cold faction’s quarters, while Grisia made for the good, warm faction’s rooms.
He almost broke into a run, flipping himself onto the bed and wincing when it squeaked dangerously. Gingerly he got up and locked the door, then returned to lie on the bed – gently this time, as it squeaked badly enough without even lying on it.
Too tired and lazy to move in the summer heat, Grisia screwed his eyes up against the light and imagined what a holiday would be like.
Seabloom. A city by the sea, he knew, and a chance to see the sea and the sand. Maybe there would be taverns where he could drink under a tree or in his room, and maybe there would be pretty girls to chat up and to record. Maybe he wouldn’t even have to act like the Sun Knight in training for a week or two!
He gathered up enough energy to make a mental note that he must ask Lesus when they were leaving, then promptly began to sink into sleep.
A key was turning in the lock, and the door was swinging open, creaking on its hinges. Grisia shifted onto his side and buried his cheek in the pillow.
“Child, you stink!” Neo exclaimed, fanning his nose with one hand. “Take a bath before you speak to me.”
“Mhnm...” Grisia mumbled, drifting in and out of sleep. “Hnm?”
“Turn around when you speak to me.”
Grisia inelegantly flopped over onto his back, then onto his other side. “Mnm?”
“Child, do I really need to tell you to open your eyes and get your mouth off that pillow?”
The student’s reaction was really quite amazing in its suddenness: he opened his eyes and sat up almost robotically. “Yes, teacher?”
“Go and bathe yourself. You positively reek. Afterwards, I have something to tell you.” Neo glared at Grisia, who almost ran into the bathroom, only pausing to grab some light clothes from his wardrobe. Afterwards, the teacher sat down on the bed, gingerly at first, then more comfortably. “Oh, and don’t forget to re-apply your whitening mask!”
Soon a pale-faced Grisia entered the room, dressed in plain, light cotton. Neo patted the bed – although it was more like a thump or a whack. “Sit down, child. This is quite important.” Awkwardly, Grisia sat down next to Neo. “We’re all going out of the city, child, and I must give you some advice on what to take.”
“Well, teacher, obviously things like clothes, some books, a decent supply of wine...”
Neo rolled his eyes. “What about things like concentrated body mask mixture? You’ve forgotten those. And why would the Sun Knight, who turns red on the first cup, gets a headache on the second, and passes out on the third, take wine with him? You also need to learn how to disguise your luggage, sew in little compartments...”
“I have to learn to sew? Teacher, isn’t this a holiday?”
“Who told you that? Child, the Sun Knight never has a holiday, except if he’s alone in his room! Now, I’ll give you some advice on packing. Firstly, you need to learn how to make a false bottom...child, I think you should be taking notes.”
Five hours and an unbelievably large stack of notes later, Neo turned to leave.
“That should be about all you need. Do you have any questions?”
“Teacher, when are we leaving for Seabloom?”
“Er, just a moment, let me check...” Neo looked on his hands, up his arms, on little pieces of paper he pulled out of his pockets in vain, and in every conceivable and inconceivable place on his person before he finally admitted defeat. “Child, do you have a calendar?”
“...I forgot the date.”
Grisia stared at him blankly.