K A I
Squad 13's 3rd Seat
A man in too many colors for Kai's liking came out on stage, and made a long speech. Contrary to what one might think given what little display of his temperment they'd seen, Kai actually leaned forward on the post as he focused on the speaker.
This was it! He would be joining a grand tradition of knighthood, going back over five whole centuries! The same figures in the books, who slew Daemons and rescued princesses! The ones who defended the weak, and saved those in need! The ones like his Gramps, who could be stronger than anyone else...and kinder than anyone else, too. He was going to be like Gramps, too!
Then the strangely dressed man began reading out names. Kai tried to observe the others, but there were just so many even his eyes got tired after a while. He also fidgeted, and began to wonder when his own would be called. Gramps had once told him he'd been in one of these houses, but Kai couldn't remember which one. But Gramps had been House Champion--he'd been the best of the best! The bluette cracked his neck from side to side and renewed his vigilance, eager to live up to his adoptive parent's legacy.
The speeches of the other Heads of House weren't as interesting, as most of them only addressed the students themselves. The big guy with hair like a lion made it sound like his House would be a lot of fun, but even by Kai's standards it also seemed a little meat-headed. However, he noticed that the boy he himself had wrestled down to the ground in the qualifier spar, without even using a weapon, had been selected for this House. He smiled at that, genuinely happy that they might get to fight again...although, deep down, something inside him felt prickly, too. Why had that boy's name been called before his own, if he won the duel?
The older guy and the dangerous fellow with sharp eyes weren't long-winded either...but Kai's name was also not called for their houses. The boy's braid lifted over his shoulder in a question mark at first...and then began to droop.
"And, finally, the thirteenth squadron!"
Kai felt something cold, and heavy--a feeling he couldn't remember experiencing too many times before--settling on his chest. He gulped. What if...what if he had to go home? What if...he couldn't be like Gramps? He tried to tighten his jaw, because for some reason his lower lip was quivering.
"This squadron will be headed by His Highness, Prince Rossweine Lupus Grayle!"
This boy was tall and slender, but to Kai's opinion he seemed almost...fragile. He was a Prince? Weren't Princes supposed to be the ones, alongside Heroes, to defend the kingdoms and face down evils? Could a guy like this really do that? Kai had never really met any high nobility while living with Gramps. He tried to remember if he had seen this youth's spar before...and as he wracked his memory, he found it. He had found it really, really boring. And he didn't understand why everyone had cheered.“The Knight King’s blood must truly run in his veins! Look at how he forced his foe to kneel without once striking back!” That was what they had said. But Kai had only thought this: How insulting it must be, to be beaten by someone who doesn't even have the will to fight.
"His second seat shall be Nathaniel Lothwren," continued the announcer. As the other boy walked on stage, Kai recognized him as one of the intense ones, the one he had noticed other applicants talking about--though most of those had already been chosen by now. Once the bluette got a better look at his face, he remembered that spar now too. Now that had been what a fight was supposed to be--although that little blonde had been more willing to "win," whereas Nathaniel had just been the "better fighter." Maybe that was why the guy had seemed like he was mad about something this whole time.
"...and his third... Kaiser Underwall, of House Sauvage."
"YES!" The boy's heart leaped, and so did the rest of him. Kai did a somersault with a one hundred and eighty degree twist from the post's top, and upon landing on the ground went on to perform a full cartwheel into a backflip before he landed with a heavy THUMP. Then he noticed the announcer and some of the others staring at him, and the body language on the House Commander. He decided to imitate the "ten-hut" attitude and curt nod that Nathaniel gave, and snapped his hands to his sides as he stood up ramrod-straight. His braid curled near his temple as if it were saluting.
The naming continued, and Kai relaxed a bit as he became more focused on watching those around him. Although...now that he wasn't up above the crowd anymore, there was really a lot
going on. He started to feel...itchy, in a way. There were so many to pay attention to...
"Signar Wayland!" The big guy--the one he'd just seen back on the bridge, too. That blonde was still next to him. Wait a minute! That was the same one Nathaniel fought! Kai glanced at the other boy, feeling that an interesting reaction would have to take place if that kid got called. But, if Kai was remembering the big guy's spar, too...He didn't think he'd seen it directly, considering the crowds and so many other fights going on. He thought he remembered...an explosion? He smiled. He bet that guy had cool magic.
"Zenshin Ferros!" The one who acted like he didn't want people to notice him. Would he pull his hood down now? It was hard to figure out what might be going on there if Kai couldn't see his face. Watching other people's expressions seemed important if he wanted to understand what they were feeling.
"Dot Auferrum!" The other one from the post! Kai had a better look at them despite that flowing cloak and their dark clothes. And he recognized anger, not just in their face, but in their body's tension and the white-knuckle grip they had on that post. Why? Were they looking at...the Prince? But the shock of being called almost threw them off their perch. The anger seemed to...not so much fade, but cloud over. Maybe only for now.
"Liese Victoire Brendorn!" The other blonde, and the other really
intense one. Kai got a look at their face and other features in more detail now that there wasn't a crowd between them. He...wasn't sure what to think. They didn't...look
strong. Physically. But he got the impression that they were
, somehow, strong...or...maybe the better term would be determined?
Like the idea of retreat or losing wouldn't even occur to them. Kai thought that was...somewhat foolish. Maybe if you had no chance to get away from the predator, it was better to fight to the death. But the vast majority of fights weren't like that, at least from his perspective. If hunting prey took too much energy, it was better to scavenge. If holding territory meant facing a more powerful predator, it was better to give up and retreat.
"Julian Baker!" The one whose stomach had growled. The one who had beaten Nathaniel. Kai couldn't help but smile a little as the blonde came running towards the stage--some of these others were hard to figure out, but this one looked like they felt a bit like he did--like a dream was coming true.
The final of the four men upon the dais rose up, his long, dark hair trailing behind him as he approached the front of the stage.
"That will be all," he said, dismissing the herald, who nodded, rolled up the scroll, and departed. Not a word was spared for the remainder among the hopefuls, who quietly began to gather their things and trudge away. Kai looked at them and felt, to a lesser degree than before, the heaviness in his chest. An intrusive thought broke through--what if he
had been like them? How would he have felt? He wasn't quite sure...but he figured, if he wouldn't have liked it, they probably didn't either. His braid slinked from one shoulder to the other.
"I have never had a particularly fine way with words... but I think we have all heard more than enough speeches today already, so I will keep this brief..." Their House Commander had struck Kai as one of the "dangerous" ones he'd seen today--all four of the men had. There was no doubt in his mind any one of them could easily best him, or any of the kids gathered here--maybe even all of them at once. But each one had different qualities, and thus they felt "dangerous" differently. This one...this one felt somewhat like...a vulture, maybe. Or a hyena, watching other beasts fight and ready to eat the loser.
"What is it that you can do for Grayle? Think long and hard on that in the days to come... and when you find an answer, see it through."
"Be a Hero!" Kai answered immediately, without even having to think. Why else would he be here? Why else do any of this? Knights fought and followed laws and codes. The only reason to fight was to win, which meant beating the enemy. And the only reason to follow rules were because you were good, and the rules were good to follow. So if good people had to fight and win, they had to fight evil, and protect people. So they had to be Heroes.
"Report to the Eastern Barracks. Your instructors will be waiting there to assign you your quarters, and you'll also have opportunities to meet with your squadmates. I would encourage you to use this time to familiarize yourself with both your accommodations and your brothers-in-arms, as tonight will be the last night of your old lives. Your training begins at dawn tomorrow. Dismissed!" Barking back these curt remarks, the bespectacled man turned and strode away, his long mane of hair and flowing cloak trailing behind him as he disappeared from view. Kai thought the man had scowled, but otherwise the bluette's "answer" had been seemingly ignored. The cadets looked around, unsure of themselves, but moments later began to disperse, making their way in a disorderly procession out of the courtyard and around the perimeter of the palace's outer wall, towards the barracks on the eastern side of the castle grounds.
Kai's gaze yet again swept the others. Liese moved to talk to Dot. Julian approached Signar. The Prince immediately headed for Signar as well, but had something to say to Julian too. And others. Nathaniel addressed the Prince. The blue braid lashed back and forth as Kai breathed out through his nose. There were too many conversations going on, and he wasn't sure what to do now. No one was talking to him at the moment...should he just follow the Commander's orders and head for the Barracks? But all of the others were introducing themselves and stuff. How...how should he act? He reached up and pulled at two of his hair's spikes in frustration, like a dog pawing at its own ears.I don't want to be left out! I just--I gotta do something! Quick! The quickest! What's the fastest way!?
He didn't want to initiate, but there was already so much going on, he felt itchy on the inside all over!@webboysurf
The closest! The physically closest person to him! And that was...
The Prince had made a sort of circuit to greet several people, and Nathaniel had beelined after him, but between the stage and Kai. The others had been further back in the crowd even after they were called forward. And Nathaniel had introduced himself to the prince, and suggested that they head towards the barracks, and the Prince had responded, and it all sounded a lot like some of the older
books he had read with Gramps, the ones where the words just kept going and going...
"Please excuse me, 2nd Seat Nathaniel." Kai walked with completely straight legs towards the other boy, then snapped them together when he stopped within arm's distance. He slammed his right fist over the left side of his chest and bent at the middle, then straightened again. "I'm Kaiser Underwall, adopted third son of Sir Kyner Sauvage." His braid twitched back and forth. "I thought I should introduce myself properly. I also look forward to working together in this squadron!" He smiled, with more than a hint of nervousness in his cheeks. But it didn't quite wrinkle his eyes--because they were focused intensely on the young man of equal height in front of him. Had he...done that right?