Fandom: The Legend of Sun Knight
Summary: Grisia wasn't chosen as the Sun Knight. This is the legend of the strongest Pope in all history. AU.
Notes: This chapter got a bit out of hand, oops. Though with this, I've caught up with January's word count. Now to tackle February's!
Part 9: Laica
I first got to know him through a mission, and boy did his healing spells amaze me then, among many other things about him that amazed me.
He was really good at that, leaving people speechless.
How could he not, when blinding light descended upon me and brought me back from the brink of death?
Okay, it hadn't been that desperate a situation, but you get the idea. I had been in a world of pain, and all of a sudden, the pain had disappeared without a trace. After that, I was still light-headed from blood loss, but I could finally breathe without obstruction.
Through barely opened eyes, I had seen him with a rare, rigid stance. At the time, I hadn't even known him well, but even I knew standing so still wasn't anything like him. Golden light glowed around us as he cast another heal to take care of the small cuts that littered my skin. The minor cuts were nothing compared to the gash that had spanned across my chest, but it was while those sealed up that I thought, ah, so this is my future Pope.
He was unbelievable and definitely nothing like me. While he was a strange one, I was sure his teacher had no bad words to say about his qualifications, unlike my teacher.
I couldn't do anything right. I couldn't even get down the basic image of the Metal Knight. I had wanted to excel at the mission to prove myself, but I couldn't even do that right. It wasn't even a difficult mission, just your usual bandit busting to impress upon the criminals hanging around the Kingdom of Forgotten Sound that the Church of the God of Light was no pushover. There weren't even very many bandits left in the vicinity, as the teachers had taken care of the major bandit groups several years back. However, it had been enough time that some foolhardy bandits were resurfacing.
It wasn't my first mission ever, but the number of actual missions I had gone on could still be counted on one hand. I had thought that this time, surely I could impress my teacher and make it so that he would stop sighing when he looked at me. It was with hopeful eyes that I held my teacher's gaze and told him, "Teacher, I won't disappoint you!"
Teacher had sighed yet again and shaken his head. "No, Laica. Instead of saying that, you should protest and complain about being sent on the mission!"
I never really understood why my teacher wanted me to complain about missions. They were my chance to prove myself.
Teacher didn't come with us on the mission. The leader was his vice-captain, who led a small squad that consisted of holy knights from the Metal Knight Platoon and the Ice Knight Platoon. I was the youngest there, barring the other Twelve Holy Knight trainee, the young Ice Knight, Ecilan.
He used to be a lot shorter than me and had this perpetual blush on his face, but not only had he shot up just this year and threatened to grow taller than me, he'd gotten his expressions down pat as well.
Ecilan's transformation had always given me hope. If he could change so thoroughly, then surely I could too.
When he spotted me, he gave me a small nod, expression blank. I gave a nod back. He didn't seem to want to make small talk, so I kept to myself as well, saving us both the trouble of figuring out what to say.
As we waited for everyone to gather, I patted my side, checking on my daggers. I had my main pair on me, as well as several spares I could use as throwing daggers to give me a long distance advantage. While the expense would add up, I could use any advantage I could get. I was definitely going to make the mission a success and impress my teacher.
When I finished taking stock of my weapons, a newcomer had joined us, and Ecilan's cheeks were rosy again. So he hadn't managed to completely lock that reaction away. The thought relaxed me just a bit.
However, Ecilan's blush gave me pause. I would never forget the look on his face that day, how he wished to look over yet wouldn't, his expression tightly controlled yet betrayed by his reddening complexion. This was the boy behind the Ice Knight's mask. Over the years, this side of him would become a rare sight, only to be seen by a select few.
I looked him up and down. It was only then that I noticed he was holding something in his hands—cheesecake. This would soon not be a rare sight, but at the time, I was utterly confused.
Why in the world would he bring cheesecake on a mission?
I would soon find out why, because wherever he was, desserts were never far away. Cheesecake and pie especially, even on the most dangerous of missions. He said something about how it kept him going.
"For me?" The newcomer exclaimed. "Ecilan, you're the best!"
At that, Ecilan ducked his head, and I stared.
In the years to come, not only were desserts never far from wherever he was, neither was Ecilan, who always delivered them personally.
The newcomer stepped closer and took the offered cheesecake. Side by side, he was nearly half a head shorter than Ecilan. He wore the robes of a cleric and had a veil that was pushed over his blond hair in favor of the cheesecake, which he was already happily munching on.
It hit me then that they must be friends.
When the newcomer noticed my attention, he had already finished a slice. Bright, blue eyes that could rival the Sun Knight's glanced my way. They flicked down for a brief moment, considering the cheesecake in his hands. After much deliberation, he grabbed another slice and held it up. He offered, "Cheesecake?"
I definitely hadn't been staring because I wanted cheesecake. Who ate cheesecake on the eve of a mission? Cheesecake wasn't anything that could be kept for a long time on the move. Dried rations were much more appropriate, and if not that, if it had to be sweets, then at least cookies or pies kept much better than cheesecake, of all things!
I was about to voice my confusion when Ecilan shook his head and pushed the cheesecake back to the blond, leaving me no room to say my piece.
"Yours," he said. His cheeks were still a bit pink, even though it wasn't as obvious as before.
My eyebrows shot past my bangs, and I gave the two of them another once over. Friends or not, just who was this boy that the supposedly reticent Ice Knight-in-training was giving him cheesecake and blushing in his presence? On top of that, Ecilan didn't want him to share.
Thwarted, the blond took the offered slice back and promptly stuffed his own mouth with a huge bite. "More for me then," he said. At least, that's what I made out from his muffled speech. He followed that up with a shrug. His next words were marginally clearer. "Can't go against the wishes of the cook."
So, Ecilan's the one who made the cheesecake?
That was when I figured out that Ecilan was a pretty damn good cook, and he'd been making a lot of cheesecakes. In fact, around that time, cheesecake had been on the menu more often than not. Lesus always nibbled on the smallest slices he could find, yet he never failed to sample them.
I hadn't known Ecilan was such a skilled pastry chef. The most I could do in terms of cooking was roast stuff over a fire and dice vegetables up with a knife. Maybe pluck some feathers out.
Although I hadn't wanted the cheesecake, it still hurt to have Ecilan exclude me so thoroughly. At the time, I hadn't known why he'd done so. I'd thought that perhaps it was because it was me.
I tried to brush it aside. It wasn't like we were friends, even though we were in the same faction. Besides, as the Metal Knight-in-training, every word of mine was supposed to drip with poison. My words should be chasing people away, so being friendless could only be considered a success. They weren't supposed to like me, after all.
I racked my brain for something the Metal Knight would say. That was how my first words to him ended up being, "I don't want any of your rich cheesecake anyway!"
"Rich?" The blond blinked and ate another mouthful of cheesecake thoughtfully. "It is very rich and creamy. Delicious! You're missing out."
I frowned. My words hadn't been poisonous enough. Or, he was too dense to understand my meaning. Holy knights like me, trainee or not, shouldn't eat stuff that was so fattening.
To the side, Ecilan wasn't exactly smiling or anything, but he had this look on his face. His expressions then could still be understood by the likes of me. He seemed... pleased... by my insult. I thought that maybe, he was secretly a masochist and liked to be scolded. Why else would he be pleased to be insulted?
If he had any thoughts about excluding me, he didn't voice them at all, and our awkward conversation ended there after the arrival of the rest of the holy knights. In the end, there were a total of five metal knights, five ice knights, two holy knight trainees (me and Ecilan), and a single cleric.
A single cleric. All by his lonesome. That blond. Ecilan's friend.
I immediately thought that was too few. Especially since he looked no older than us. He had to be a trainee, just like us. A single cleric for an away mission—no matter how simple this mission was supposed to be, even when we weren't going far from the city—that was a lot of responsibility.
My teacher would never trust me so much.
Either he was really good, or we were supposed to take care of ourselves with our own holy element. But we were all from the "cruel, cold-hearted" faction. Holy element and healing really weren't our forte. At most, I could heal small cuts or injuries. Anything more than that was beyond me.
Before we departed, we had a quick round of introductions. I finally learned who he was.
"I'm Grisia, the pope-in-training," the blond said quite simply, hands empty. His hands were indeed empty by then. I couldn't believe how quickly he'd finished the cheesecake. The entire thing! He fixed his veil back in place now that he was no longer eating.
The pope-in-training, huh? Maybe he really could be responsible for an entire squad of holy knights.
(He could. With room to spare.)
If he'd left it at that, I would've been impressed, but then he went on to say, "I'm a cleric, not a holy knight, so I'll be standing in the back. Don't forget to protect me! Good luck, everyone."
He went on to do exactly that. But what could I say? He was a cleric and shouldn't be on the frontlines. Still, it was annoying seeing someone so leisurely standing in the back, so obviously watching on like a spectator enjoying a good show.
Grisia, don't think I haven't noticed you shifting behind Ecilan! What is he? Your meat shield?
He did so love to use us as his meat shields.
Ecilan, on the other hand, wordlessly swung his sword against the bandits with breathtaking speed, much faster than he'd shown in practice.
The bandits had scattered the moment the ice knights bust into their hideout, only to be taken down by the metal knights hidden outside. However, upon seeing the three of us teenagers, the bandits thought us to be easy targets and were now converging upon us, forcing us back.
Now, that wasn't smart of them. While we were indeed trainees, we were no ordinary trainees. Ecilan and I were the next generation Twelve Holy Knights, and Grisia was even the next Pope.
Ecilan was a scary guy. He truly was. Once, he'd let slip that he had never used a sword before getting chosen. Can you believe that? Yet, he took to it like a fish to water, and soon he was having one-on-one spars with Lesus. Lesus had been pretty good with a sword from the start, and once we started sword training, he'd only improved even more. To be able to spar with him meant one had to be of considerable skill.
Even with three bandits closing in on Ecilan, he more than held his own, sword flashing out, knocking aside the bandits' weapons. He expertly kept Grisia behind him the entire time.
"Look out!" I shouted when a fourth sword chopped down at Ecilan. I hurriedly threw a dagger at the sword, wanting to knock it away, but a zap of lightning was faster than me, yellow sparks rushing at the man, shocking his entire arm and forcing him to drop his weapon.
I blinked and turned. Behind Ecilan, Grisia's hand was raised, and he didn't stop there. He followed the first zap with a stronger one, until the man fell twitching to the floor.
"Thanks," Ecilan said simply.
The moment Grisia zapped his first foe, all inhibitions seemed to vanish. He threw himself into battle with relish, no longer hiding behind Ecilan. His veil fluttered with his motions, allowing me to catch sight of a huge, smug grin before the veil hid his expressions away again.
He was a damn sight to see.
Apparently, he'd also tossed up some sort of protective shield at the same time he'd cast the lightning, for when the second enemy tried to rush us, he ran right smack into the protective shield. The man's nose would never be the same, but it was no loss for a face like his.
Liking the effect, Grisia gathered more holy light and molded it around the bandit, transforming the shield into a dome, effectively trapping the bandit. I'd never seen anyone use a protective shield in such a way.
Then, when the third bandit got over his shock and tried to attack, Grisia froze his feet. The ice crawled up his ankles and shins. No matter how much the man tugged and pulled, he couldn't break free. When he began yelling and swinging his arms, Grisia froze ice over his mouth and hands as well, leaving only his bulging eyes free to glare.
As for the final bandit, Ecilan knocked him unconscious while the other three were occupied. It all happened so abruptly that I was left with nothing to do.
With two bodies suddenly at our feet, one frozen bandit, and one trapped bandit, I couldn't help but be impressed. I blurted, "What happened to standing in the back? Are you a cleric or not?"
I was impressed, but if even a cleric could defeat more enemies than I could, how was I supposed to prove myself? I hadn't managed to do a damn thing to aid them.
Grisia shrugged and off-handedly zapped the bandit Ecilan had taken care of when the guy started twitching and climbing back up. He said, "I'm a cleric of the Church of the God of Light. Don't underestimate us!"
...Does this mean all clerics of the Church of the God of Light are as scary as you? Mixing lightning and ice, he'd effectively captured the bandits just like what the mission asked of us, and it was insane how the shield he cast was still up. I'd seen what the Earth Knight trainee Georgo had to do to keep his protective shields up. It was no walk in the park. The bandit was even pounding on the very solid shield to no avail. His cries of, "Let me out!" were getting annoying.
I tried to catch Ecilan's gaze to see what he made of this, but he merely blinked at me, as if he thought nothing of how his friend had so easily captured three adult bandits and kept the last one from getting back up.
The adults in the squad finally checked up on us after all the excitement had already ended, and they were a lot more banged up than we were. Grisia solved that with a wave of his hand, startling the holy knights when healing light closed all of their cuts and soothed their bruises.
"That's amazing," an ice knight said, lifting his arm to examine it. Of course, healing spells couldn't heal clothing, so his sleeve was still ripped and torn, but the skin underneath it was smooth and unblemished.
"Did you even use any incantations?" another holy knight asked.
Grisia just shrugged. "You must not have heard me."
My teacher's vice-captain came over then. "Great job, lads, on capturing the bandits. We'll be able to hand them over to the Judgment Knight Platoon for interrogation. Did the three of you capture them together?"
I started to shake my head—I hadn't caught any of them—when Grisia declared, "Ecilan and Laica caught them. They did such a great job!"
"What a liar!" I gasped, unable to believe it.
"You sure have a sharp tongue," Grisia said.
Huh? I was just speaking the truth. I hadn't done a thing. How could I claim any of the deed? He and Ecilan had been the ones who had fallen our foes!
Grisia shook his head and gestured at the bandit stuck in ice. "How can you deny that Ecilan, the Ice Knight-in-training, didn't capture that bandit?"
Said bandit stuck in ice glared furiously at Grisia.
I don't know why a cleric knows how to use ice magic, but you were the one who caught him! And that's not the part I'm protesting about.
"What's with the bandit over there?" someone else pointed out.
Yeah! What's with the bandit stuck behind your defensive shield? You can't explain that one away. Neither Ecilan nor I could've been the ones responsible for that.
"He must be addled, pretending to be captured so as to avoid actual capture," Grisia said without a care.
At that, the bandit glared and pounded on the shield some more. "You're the one who's addled! Let me out already!"
"You really are addled," Grisia commented and let the shield fall.
With the sudden disappearance of the shield, the bandit stumbled forward.
Ecilan abruptly stepped in and gave him a hard chop with the back of his sword, rendering him unconscious next to his buddies.
"See how skilled Ecilan is?" Grisia boasted, as if there had been no shield and it was all thanks to Ecilan that the bandits were taken care of. "That's exactly how he caught all of the others."
With how the bandits had been glaring at Grisia, his story was a difficult one to buy. Yet, it still seemed to be more believable than a cleric catching three adult bandits who were much more towering than him.
Even then, years before any of us succeeded our teachers, Grisia had already been a weaver of words, able to talk himself out of all sorts of situations. Most importantly, he could lie right to your face, and you would be inclined to believe him. That, and he was just so Grisia that even if you didn't believe him, you would pretend you did.
What followed after wasn't anything glorious, but it did lead to a defining moment in our friendship.
What had I been thinking? Grisia would be the first to tell me that I hadn't been thinking. See, it went like this. A lot of bandits had been caught, but their leader wasn't among them. Desperate for approval, I snuck away to capture the man myself. Grisia and Ecilan had more than done their share. No matter the story Grisia had spun, I hadn't contributed at all, and I needed to do something worthy.
If there was one thing I was proud of, it was how well I could track someone. I'd gone on plenty of hunting trips with my dad since I was young, and it turned out that tracking criminals wasn't all that different from tracking game. Good observational skills were good observational skills regardless of the quarry.
So, when I broke apart from the rest to sneak into the forest, I knew I could find the guy. No one even noticed my disappearance, either, or so I had thought.
It didn't take me long to find the head bandit; he hadn't gotten far yet. I pressed my back against a nearby tree and took out my two daggers, a grin coming across my face. I'd done it. I successfully tracked him down. I imagined delivering him to my teacher. He was going to be so proud!
Of course, that's when things fell apart. Although I hadn't won against any of the bandits earlier, I had held my own against them, so I had thought that the same would happen here. After all, he was just one man while I'd been up against a whole lot more just now. But I hadn't taken into account that this man was their leader, and as their leader, he was a much more formidable opponent than any of his henchmen.
That, and neither Ecilan nor Grisia were around to have my back.
Naive little me hadn't known just how much Grisia had been part of that battle. Only the flashy magic had been obvious enough for me. I'd thought he'd hung around in the back enjoying the cool breeze the entire time before that, but he'd actually been part of the fight all along even before he struck with lightning. He was why Ecilan's strikes had been so much quicker than the ones at practice.
I caught the guy unaware, but it wasn't enough. He easily overpowered me after I lost my advantage, but I wasn't going to go down without a fight. Even as he taunted me for playing dress up, for masquerading as a knight when I was but a snot-faced kid, I struck, and a scream resulted.
"Why you freakin' brat!" the bandit snarled and lunged at me, stumbling and slashing at my chest.
I fumbled for my last dagger and stabbed it right into him.
He grunted in pain and staggered back, but I had little to celebrate. The ground came up to meet me. It was only then that the pain registered. Sweet, warm agony blossomed across my chest.
No, no, no. Losing consciousness here could very well mean losing my life. The bandit was still there... yet the pain was so welcoming...
As darkness took me, my teacher's disappointed face flashed to mind.
I really was nothing but a disappointment.
"Don't you dare!" a voice growled, young but fierce, startling me awake.
The warm light that settled over me knitted my flesh back together. It tingled like a thousand needle pricks, but soon my skin was like it had never been broken. When the tingling warmth left me, I wanted it back. I struggled to open my eyes.
There he stood, glowing with holy light. He knelt down as he soothed away the rest of the damage, proving that he truly was so skilled that a single cleric was all we needed. No, more than we needed. He was no simple cleric. He was my future Pope.
Then, he slapped my face, stunning me.
"What were you thinking?" he said, cradling his hand and casting a healing spell over it.
"...What happened to the bandit?" I asked, rubbing my cheek, trying to sit back up. His hand seemed to have hurt more than my face. My mouth twitched upward.
Only then did I notice Ecilan behind Grisia. The bandit was unconscious next to his feet with several of my daggers sticking out of him. Ecilan had his sword out and was in the middle of sheathing it. He had finished the job I couldn't complete.
I lay back down, smile dropping from my face.
Grisia shook his head at me. "You're an idiot."
Don't I already know?
He went on to say, "You're a holy knight, not a warrior! Holy knights specialize in ganging up on people, not in going off and being a lone wolf. Learn to rely on your companions more. You're lucky that Ecilan noticed that you snuck off."
I blinked, looking toward Ecilan, who came closer and held his hand out.
"I didn’t want your help," I said as I clasped my hand around his and let him pull me up.
Grisia patted us both on the arm. "There, there, look Ecilan, he's fine enough to mouth off at us."
Ecilan ducked his head and let his hand drop. I stared, not quite believing what I was seeing. Had he been worried about me? Ecilan then gave Grisia a glance.
"Yeah, yeah, I was worried too," Grisia said. After that, he whirled around and spoke words that I would always remember, "You! You gave us both a scare! You're going to be the Twelve Holy Knights, not the Eleven Holy Knights, got it? None of you are going to die on my watch. There better be six of you on each side of me, or my name isn't Grisia!"
They really had been worried for me. I hadn't thought they would care. We weren’t even that close, but maybe that was going to change. Grisia’s words gave me hope. The Twelve Holy Knights and our friend, the Pope, who would always have our back.
I found myself grinning. “Such a pipe dream! I like it.”
Later, when we reported to my teacher about how we caught the head bandit, Grisia merely said, "Oh, Laica caught him."
"What a liar!" I couldn't help but blurt out once again.
Grisia made a shushing motion at me, as if this were our shared secret, and went on to describe how I’d expertly ambushed the bandit. The daggers were obvious proof.
Ecilan patted me on the shoulder. He must be used to it already, and maybe I'd get used to it too. On our way out, Ecilan even gave me a cheesecake, much to my surprise, as I had thought it was for Grisia, and he even refused to let Grisia have it. Something about how Grisia wouldn’t like the taste of this one because it wouldn’t be sweet enough.
I grinned. Ecilan really didn't have anything against me. We watched Grisia stomp off, muttering about how he shouldn't have helped me—look at how we were ganging up on him now! Ecilan gave me another pat, telling me in his own way that things would be okay. Friends teased each other like this.
Grisia was such a liar. But he was my liar of a friend, my future Pope.
And he was a damn good one.
to be continued