More than a week had passed when Sterne realized she might have made a huge mistake.
The land occupied by the Royal Academy is comparable to a huge town with several towers and lofty buildings positioned at all sides. What she did not understand is why they have to be separated by a wide expanse of gardens and mazes!? Clearly, those things are nothing more than decorations.
Why did she have to suffer a long walk in exchange for that scenery? Ugh, it seems like she would need a horse to cross from one place to the other. But the academy will surely not let her. She could only cry in her heart. After bemoaning her fate for a length of time she then bitterly walk her way towards their division.
It has been more than a week but their mentor is yet to show himself, in the eyes of other students they were pitifully neglected but even so the knights' enthusiasm never cooled down for a second. Commander Vlugel will be their interim instructor, they understand he couldn't just leave his post within the castle, especially now that the monarchs called for a thorough investigation with regards to the incident at the start of this year. Any moment now, the balance between factions could crumble.
The Obsidian and Blue Falcons are currently on high alert, taking note of the subtlest changes within the Royal Capital. Mythril is on the verge of collapse… she was immersed in her own thoughts and did not notice she already reached their building.
Sterne proceeds to enter the impressively large Warrior Division, as soon as she pushed the door open, a blast of noise welcomed her and a herd of green-robed, grim-faced mages marched out. To avoid getting trampled she stood to the side and let them pass first.
So early in the morning and they're already full of energy.
"Why did the mages come here?" she asked one of her classmates.
The chap looked at her helplessly. "It's about the training field belonging to our division. The Mage Division asked the seniors to let them use it first since we are yet to form teams to practice."
"But aren't we going to select team members today? If we let them use it where are we supposed to practice?"
She was in the middle of a conversation when a mage walked past her with a sneer. Seeing Sterne's whole face, he frowned as he deliberately raked his eyes all over her body. Sterne holds back from slapping the fellow to death. It was only brief but the lady managed to catch his rude gaze. Tension suddenly rose.
The fellow snorted. "Who would've expected that Lady Nachtwald would choose to be in this brute place?"
"If not here where would I be?" She retorted with an absolutely lost expression.
Poor guy did not anticipate she would reply.
"Lloyd Bragg, you were part of the Support Division last year but you unhesitatingly jumped to the Mage Division suddenly. Was your defeat from our class depressed you so much into fleeing? It looks like you've found a pretty strong pillar to hold on." a cool mocking voice came down from the second floor. "Who are you to question Lady Sterne's choice?"
Andrej Wisteria is sitting on the balcony railings like a king. One foot is drawn up, the other hanging down. A carefree smile tugging on his lips.
"She's a woman hanging around with a bunch of men."
"It's not as if it has something to do with you. Why? Are you jealous?" Andrej taunted. "Let me tell you, even if you wear a skirt and strangle yourself with a corset, there is no way we'll let you in."
Laughters burst out in the quiet hall. Everyone here knew how he repeatedly applied for the Warrior Division ever since entering the academy at twelve and yet four years have passed still with no positive result. Archers, Swordsmen, Scouts, and Knights are profession not as lucrative as being a Mage but they are the most respected in the kingdom.
"Don't talk nonsense! I'm merely pointing out how indecent it is for--"
The blunt sound of his knees hitting the stone-cold floor startled his mage companions. Without rhyme or reason, Lloyd Bragg just fell on his knees and couldn't get up! He was stuck in that position for a good couple of minutes enough for everyone in the hall to see how miserable he looked.
"You need to kneel if you want to apologize." the junior knights said.
"No! I-- I can't get up." He said horrified.
"What took you so long?" from outside, Laius enters and immediately saw his companion squirming on the floor.
"It's them, they did something to me. I can't get up!"
"Who are you exactly pointing at? You can't be accusing our whole division, can you?" Andrej laughed.
Laius' face began to change into a darker shade. He waved his hand to dispel the coercion but nothing happened. He swept his eyes around to search for the source of the spell but he couldn't find it, finally, it landed on Sterne Nachtwald.
Feeling someone else's gaze at her, Sterne raised her head to meet Laius head-on. She gave him a small nod as a greeting which is considered polite but she did not expect the resentment spewing out of his eyes before sharply turning his head away.
Aren't you showing your true colours too early? The childish display did not do so much as shock her, either way, the two of them are not even considered friends. After a couple of minutes, Lloyd Bragg regained control of his body. Angrily he sneers at everyone in the Warrior Division.
"We came to ask you to lend us your training field if you do not want to agree you could have said so, there is no need to humiliate a member of our division like this." Laius said self-righteously.
The group of mages behind him also showed their displeasure now that they have someone speaking up for them. The mages had little respect to brutes who neglect to practice their magic. Unfortunately, the 'brutes' treated their resentment as a mere tantrum fit.
"Which eye did you see him being humiliated by us?"
"Yes, he clearly fell on his own."
Getting no serious response, the unwanted visitors were about to step out when Andrej spoke again.
"Indeed. You came to ask and yet you also came to insult." This time, he jumped down from the second floor in a flawless arc smoothly landing beside Sterne. "Leaving without apologizing?"
Lloyd Bragg scoffed. "Why because she got hurt by my words?"
"No," Sterne interjected. "It's because you opened your mouth without using your head. Your disability to think and speak politely is a grave insult to us normal people."
Everyone sucked in a cold breath.
Lloyd enraged, raised his finger to point at her. "You, are you saying I'm--"
A unified opinion was wordlessly understood. Lloyd was so mad his oily face gushed out more sweat while changing colour from pale to crimson. Surprisingly, none of his companions in the Mage Division refuted those words adding more insult to the injury. Laius who righteously defended his action a while ago turned silent.
"Lady Nachtwald aren't you ashamed to be saying such things?" A lady mage steps in, who knows what grudge she held but she looked at Sterne as if she was the most hateful person there is.
The lady was stunned to silence. Being suppressed with a simple question was far too humiliating than being forced to kneel. Sterne did not hold back with her tone, why does she have to be polite when she is being personally attacked? Besides, she really doesn't recognize who the lady is.
"Lady, your companion here called us indecent. Tell me, should we just let you say whatever you wish because you think are entitled to?" Andrej spread his hands wide appealing to the other Junior Knights and Swordsmen, the others happily nodded.
The lady's face turned severely red you can squeeze out blood from it.
These kind of people lacking any impressive skills and strength but still had the cheek to throw their weight around just because they have the backing of Magic Bureau are simply parasites. It's easy to deal with them it's just that one must have enough patience.
Their classes went on without trouble, and the issue with the training field was thrown at the backs of their minds. However, only three days after when everyone thought that those mages would temporarily retreat, they suddenly showed up in their field claiming to use it for half a day for the whole month.
Andrej asked in a dangerously calm tone. "Who gave you the right? Our mentor is still not here to make decisions. Didn't we agree on that in the last meeting?"
"Sir Wisteria because Commander Vlugel is yet to take his post as your mentor, for the meantime, Grand Commander Licht approves of us using this field of the Warrior Division." Laius was all smiles as he said that. "Your field has the most secure barrier it can isolate up to 5th Tier magical attacks. With this, we can practice several kinds of spells without the worry of damaging other facilities. I hope Sir Wisteria understands."
Normally, the Halcyon Knights have far more authority than the Chivalric Order despite the latter being the kingdom's main force. The reason being is that Commander Vlugel is a direct descendant of the Sword Saint who journeyed together with the Hero King and one of the founders of Aurum. Aside from bloodline, the commander is also a person who wields incredible power.
Even with the most justifiable reason, the Chivalric Order, or any Order wouldn't dare demand anything because they fear to fall on the commander's bad side. This is an unspoken truth among the officials and lords.
Unfortunately, Commander's Vlugel fledgelings are not put on the same level of regard.
"Is this some kind of harassment?" Sterne wondered looking at her frustrated classmates.
A pretty lass in ponytail answered her. "You can say that. The Advanced Class are currently not here that is why they took advantages of it to press us down."
With regards to the Advanced Class, they are already strong enough to go out on missions. Sterne chose to remain in the Regular Class because she needed to stay inside the academy. As for Andrej, he was demoted a month ago for some shallow reason.
"Ah, these mages really…" another classmate muttered. "There is no reason for them to openly go against us but this is too much."
"Mages have always been a cocky bunch. Coming here and throwing demands is already crossing the line."
Silently sitting in the corner, Sterne blinked her eyes and languidly look at the group of green-robed pestilence finding them more and more irritating to the eyes. Sighing, she gazed at the smug-faced mages, then to Laius Ravencroft and the lady beside him. Needless to say, they are Regina's cronies.
One of the knights happens to lock his gaze at Lady Nachtwald lazily lounging on the chair. Her face a very picture of boredom but her lips as dewy as rose apple is raised into a smile. He looked away quickly.
Aye, he's afraid. Very afraid. The stormy face of that person flashed in his mind and couldn't help but complain. Dear Young Master, I'm merely looking. I'm not going to steal your wife.
Back to the problem at hand, while Andrej remained impassive, students of Warrior Division are gnashing their teeth. Half a day for the whole month? Which area are they going to use then? Since everyone is protesting, Laius' smile becomes wider. Slowly, deliberately he took out a scroll stamped with the Chivalric Order's crest as he was about to read it someone spoke.
"You can go ahead and use it." Sterne said nonchalantly.
Everybody's attention were all drawn to her. Andrej's eyes showed a hint of confusion. She smiled at him, it was only faint but he could feel his rising anger settling down.
"The academy is vast, there are plenty of places we can use."
Uhh… milady, which places exactly?
We've been here half of our lives but we've never seen any place far better than our practice field. The knights cried in unison.
"It's good that milady is sensible." Laius said, the smile not reaching his eyes.
Sterne held out her hand while eyeing the scroll. "The authority?"
She took the scroll from his hands and tucked it away neatly. "Brothers, since today's combat exercise are cancelled why don't we return inside the teaching hall and read manuals?"
Tears enough to flood the ground started dripping from the knight's eyes. Read, read, read… so tired of reading our eyes will rot. Can we just spar instead?
She could practically hear the voices in their heart. However, they needed to hold for the meantime if they want to end this charade once and for all. Right now, they are just chicklings easily pinched if they struggle too much. Anyway, a surprise is coming soon.
Laius' could feel himself trembling, but he doesn't know exactly if it was excitement or something else…
What is he getting so excited for? Is it because his prediction came true? Then, this just proves that his knowledge of the future is still the most reliable, he licked his lips to restrain a smile. They were on a standstill for half a day until the Warrior Division graciously gave in.
The knights calmly sat on the side, passionately reading their manuals, their faces devoid of any extreme expressions. A scene in perfect harmony to their surroundings like ancient monks chanting sutras amidst the flowing rivers and swirling haze of mountain mist. It was elegant. Sublime.
And something about this scene pricked the mages' eyes. What do they take them for? Air?
"Lady Sterne, are we really just going to let them steal our field?" Penelope Bismarck asked looking at her with helpless eyes.
The young lady is very worried about their future. Seeing this, Sterne tore her gaze off the manual, raised her eyelids and with a soft smile said, "Of course not. Who told them to come here and harass us without thinking of the consequences?"
Penelope was confused, she did not expect Sterne would answer like this. Her face remained calm and composed despite the ongoing argument, her demeanour easily infected everyone and eased the knots in their stomach a little.
"On the first place, who was that blind person that started the rumour that Commander Vlugel abandoned us? They don't even have proof." Sterne one-sidedly talked. "Listening to gossip is fine, but believing in it is not very healthy… and that is also a direct insult to the commander's integrity."
Several paces from their group, the mages began to come in clusters. The anticipation on their faces became more vivid as they saw the knights not hindering nor creating trouble for them. Some of the braver ones began throwing taunts to see how far the patience of the other side goes but all to no avail. Who would find enough time to bicker with them? The monstrously thick manual is already enough harassment!
The knights who are loved for their chivalry, discipline and elegance, are currently cursing the author of their book for creating the most effective mental torture. Contrary to what they feel inside the other mentors who are responsible for teaching theory method danced happily seeing how obedient these children are for once. "Youth should be spent like this."
Before midday arrives, a whole class of mages marched in towards the training field. Sauntering forward like a flock of geese with their necks up high, though they concealed it very well the knights can still feel a pang of disappointment with the system. Even when the mentors feel very sympathetic towards the Regular Class they do not have enough influence to butt heads with the Chivalric Order and Magic Bureau.
When Regina arrived, everything is already in place but the quiet atmosphere puzzled her. The knights sat inside the teaching hall in an orderly manner, the scene was tranquil and harmonious. Nobody was screaming in protest.
What's going on?
Her fingers pinched into a fist.
She grabbed one of the passing knights holding a thick book and asked in a gentle tone mixing it with a bit of bashfulness. "Might I ask, Sir Knight what is going on?"
The young knight, seeing it was Regina Stolz composed his features. The innocently sweet face made the irritation he felt towards the Mage Division ebb a bit, "Since our daily combat training is cancelled, we decided to read the manuals instead. Lady Nachtwald proposed the idea."
Her smile stiffened. "Sterne Nachtwald?"
The knight gestured for the uniformed lass sitting on the farthest right corner of the teaching hall, by the window basking under the glorious sun. With one hand supporting her head, her dark hair turning into an ocean of blue with large waves tumbling from her back towards the desk, the small face, haughty eyes and provocative lips looked more pronounced that Regina suddenly found herself so small.
When she turned to the knight, his attention was already glued to the lazy beauty by the window. "Isn't she stunning?"
A burning feeling rose from within her chest. Excusing himself, the young knight proceeds to find his own seat with the abhorrent, thick combat manual in his hand. Regina didn't like being ignored but she tries hard not to show it on the surface.
Sterne continues to riffle through the pages, slim fingers lightly caressed the old parchment as if afraid she would accidentally damage them. Noticing someone standing behind her, she stopped. "What brought you here Lady Stolz?"
Regina was caught off guard. She did not expect the other to be accommodating considering what happened today. Stepping in with a sweet smile, she greeted. "Hello, it's been a while since we have met. I didn't know Lady Nachtwald would be in Regular Class, I assumed you joined the Advance Class and is already outside for experience. After all, you did quite well during the enrollment passing with high marks."
"It has been a while indeed." Sterne replied casually. The hint of jeering on her tone fell on her ears. "I'm flattered Lady Stolz remembers my test scores."
"Quite a number of juniors actually. It's surprising you chose to be more idle today."
The surrounding became awkwardly silent. To Regina's defence, she did not mean to point out their lack of activity, she just blurted it out to make the conversation hold but it seems it came back to bite her.
"Well, we have a lot of free time. It seems Lady Stolz as well."
"Lady Nachtwald, you jest I came because our class is scheduled to borrow your division's field."
Again, she poked a sensitive topic. Regina itched to slap the slut in front of her. She leads her on purpose! Hateful… so hateful.
"Shouldn't you be on the field right now and not here in the teaching hall?" Sterne gave her a faint smile. "As you can see, everyone is busy. These books are very important and quite complex it needs one's full concentration."
Although the two appeared to be talking normally, it did not hide the sharpness in their words enough for the spectators to notice it.
"No wonder, since you cannot use the field you went on self-study." This time she made no effort to conceal the disdain in her tone.
Sterne's smile widened as she inclined her head towards her, without twitching a muscle she declared. "Self-study is quite fun."
Regina appeared to be lost for words.
The knights who heard her restrained their laughter then tried very hard to emulate 'fun' she was talking about.
"Lady Nachtwald and the rest are diligent." She was smiling but her tone was frigid.
To her surprise, Sterne shamelessly took the honour. "Why thank you."
The innocent joyful tone was like a knife digging into her flesh. She had to swallow several times to prevent herself from bursting. When she calmed down Sterne was already languidly leaning on the backrest of her chair while the rest of her classmates were looking at their direction with amused smiles.
Regina screamed inside, SLUT.
However, the unblinking eyes now looking at her proved to be more daunting than her words. Unmistakably, Sterne Nachtwald is doing this on purpose, she is going against her. Looking at the other lady's clear confident face, she felt like screaming herself hoarse.
What she did not know is that Sterne is merely thinking about why she hasn't scrammed yet. Lunch is approaching and her stomach is now protesting.
Reading the first hundred pages of the compressed combat manual is taxing you know!
Truthfully, when she saw Sterne Nachtwald some years ago she already felt a distinct dislike towards her. They said the daughter of Duke Nachtwald is a weak untalented girl, at that time she expected to see an ugly emaciated face just like how Lloyd Bragg kept on telling her. The Wargod is a celebrated hero, refined and elegant she would very much want to be his daughter instead of that sickly child. The Nachtwald brothers are all beautiful, she could even imagine being pampered by them.
But her delusion was shattered when she saw her riding that horse along with the duke. Same hair, same eyes, carved meticulously on an exquisite face. She thought she was seeing an apparition but when she confirmed it was indeed the Wargod's daughter, an inexplicable loathing took root and now grew within her.
Though there are some who confidently declared her talentless and unremarkable, she knew deep inside her that those were shallow lies to soothe one's ego. When it comes to temperament and appearance, unmistakably, she inherited them all from her father.
But how can someone have so much? It was hateful!
"Oh, it seems I am intruding for long." Regina spoke again, but with less edge than she had a while ago. "Sir Laius must be looking for me now. Do continue with your reading, I'll be on my way to the field." Finished twittering, she quickly went to find Laius leaving behind a roomful of knights eyeing her with contempt in their eyes.
"I just realized this now, Lady Stolz is very disappointing."
"Ha, glad you're awake. That lady came pretending to check on Lady Sterne but she actually wants to shove it in our faces how they easily took over our field."
"Right? And they call her the Delicate Flower of Aurea."
Penelope who is sitting beside Sterne leaned over. "Our family has heard many rumours about the Stolz' deeds in these few years. Right now they have gained plenty of strong backings through Heraldic Order's influence and Chivalric Order's power. Now that Vermillion is to be dissolved, it was rumoured that the Grand Commander is thinking of passing the authority to Stolz. Obsidian and Mythril should be more careful."
"Your family as well."
"Hmph, those self-important third-ranked aristocrats think too highly of themselves just because they have a bit of wealth. Especially people like Stolz. He's not even a legitimate member of that family. Anyway, be very careful of his daughter."
What chivalry and elegance? The knights will surely not lose out to your favourite gossipmonger out there.
"Unn, noted. Thank you." Sterne answered, appreciative of this piece of advice.
Regina reached the training field sporting a black face. Laius was sitting in one of the outdoor tents buried into deep thought.
She hesitated to come near him for a few seconds before pushing herself. "How certain are you that Commander Vlugel will not be the one handling the Warrior Division? He himself proposed the idea of taking in students to find potential talents for his Halcyon Knights."
Laius gave her a sideways glance coupled with a playful smile. "The Commander is a good friend to the Wisteria House, this only a few people know of. Currently, Marquis Wisteria is on his deathbed and his subordinates are clamouring who will be the next Lord Commander. The King ordered Commander Vlugel to personally see through the procedures over in Purple Haven to make sure there is no mutiny. Otherwise, why would he be absent from the castle for more than a month now? Even during the trial of Vallis, only his second-in-command was there."
A bright smile finally dawned on Regina's face. "So that's why. Wait, with him in Purple Haven, how are the people my father going to move?"
"A few months of waiting is not that long. Don't be impatient." Laius crooned at her.
"I want to be Queen soon."
"You're not going to be Queen yet. There are still two years to go."
She pouted unhappily. Moments later, the rest of the mages in their class filled the tents ready to play in the field.
At that same moment. A tall handsome horse leading a group of one hundred more stopped at the gates of the Royal Academy. As the black-haired man dismounted, the handsome chap riding beside him said, "Commander, your students will receive a pleasant surprise. Remember to make a lasting impression. Do not scare them with your sullen face!"
"Pleasant, huh." the twenty-nine-year-old bachelor repeated. "Let's see what those brats are doing. If I see anyone rowdy, I'm going to nail them on the pillars immediately!"
The rest of his men laughed it off.
Being laughed at by your own people, some superiors would probably bathe the streets with blood by now but for the man standing before them, he could only helplessly shake his head. After all, didn't they have a great time in Purple Haven for a whole month? There is no reason to be in a bad mood.
It wasn't Commander Vlugel's first time entering the Royal Academy, he dusted his clothing and fixed his cape, secured the sword on his waist before strolling the paved road ahead. He had said it before, he is going to say it again now. These roads are too damn long and the buildings are far apart!
The cool breeze ruffled his shoulder-length wavy hair and the earrings dangling on his ears. Outwardly, his thoughts are not mirrored on his face. Leisurely walking forward, he left his team of Halcyon Knights beyond the gate as he set his eyes towards the Warrior Division's building.