Estella twisted to the left, evading a strike meant to cleave her from right shoulder to her left hip. Astra was a silver blur as she pressed Nox into the defense again, driving him back, never giving him even a second of respite.
They had been practicing for fifteen minutes now, but they were far from finish. The next class was still an hour away, and there were no combat lessons today, surprisingly. It was an opportunity they couldn’t miss. Very rare did they have time to practice together.
Their Animarta locked, pushing against each other, struggling for dominance. Silver and black. Light and darkness. Erebos had the advantage of weight, but Astra was an inch longer. Estella pushed, and Nox grunted. And yet they were firmly locked in place, their faces straining with pure concentration.
Estella smiled. “Bu—"
And the floor of the northern training grounds grew cold, as if winter had come again. Estella sighed. Not this again. Her legs were coated in ice, numbingly freezing, locking her in place. The frost didn’t stop there, however. It crept toward her torso, encasing it in frosty armor, then made its way to her arms.
She arched an eyebrow at Nox. “Really? You know I can burn this, right?”
Her squire, her lover, stepped back, rolling his shoulders. “Yeah, I know. I just need a moment.” He planted Erebos on the ground and leaned on the pommel, wiping sweat from his brow.
Estella watched him with amusement. “How can you defeat me if you can’t last longer than fifteen minutes? You weren’t like this when you fought Karsos.”
“It’s different.” He sighed. “I was, you know… Fighting for you.”
She smiled at him. “And you’re going to fight for me again. Only it’s against me as well.” Steam has started to obscure her, and she moved her arms, still quite stiff from the melting ice, into a guarded stance. “Now then, shall we?”
Nox charged. His form wavered in front of her eyes, and when she blinked again, he was gone.
Estella spun around just in time to block Erebos coming for her neck. “Good. But not enough, love,” she said with a smirk as she countered with a flurry of blows. One, two, three. Nox’s expression was stoic, but she could see the strain in his face.
On the fourth blow, Estella lunged too fast. Momentum carried her for a moment, but she was already adjusting her trajectory, aiming for Nox’s right arm, when he vanished yet again.
And the cold blade of his Animarta pressed against the side of her neck.
“Guess I won,” he said softly through ragged breaths. Before Estella could respond, the slight pressure lifted and there was a soft thud.
She whirled around in panic, but her worry subsided almost at once. Nox sat on the ground, his chest heaving. But he was smirking at her. “Well?”
Estella huffed. “Well, you nearly killed yourself again just to defeat me in practice. Congratulations!”
“Hey, it’s not that bad.” His hands trembled in his knees, and he grimaced. “Maybe.”
With a sigh, she sat next to him and draped her head across his shoulder. It was almost five in the afternoon, and there were quite a number of students still practicing. Some were staring at them, but Estella ignored them, as she always did.
“Have you decided?” she asked while pinching at the cuff of Nox’s uniform’s sleeve.
“Your career path. You’ll be a Senior next year. By graduation, you’ll have to choose.”
There was a brief pause. “I haven’t decided yet,” he admitted when he finally spoke. “But I want something that will let me see the world. You?”
For several heartbeats, Estella didn’t answer. She had debated with herself about telling Nox the truth, but she knew it wasn’t fair if she kept it a secret until the last day. “I will return to the palace. The king wants me to enlist in the Royal Army as soon as I graduated.”
“That’s why you’re in Warfare.”
“Yes. And after I return, I’ll be most likely posted on one of the border provinces.” She looked at him and found him staring back. “So… We won’t see each other after graduation. At least not until you’re free.”
Nox held her gaze for a moment, his expression inscrutable. Even his thoughts were shielded from her, though she wasn’t surprised. “I see.” He turned away, and Estella’s heart ached.
“W-We still have time,” she blurted, her voice tinged with desperation. Was Nox disappointed? Angry? Perhaps he felt betrayed. “I mean, I’m sorry I-I haven’t told you before. I didn’t know we’d be together and—“
His lips silenced hers, and the sweet taste of it melted her worries. When they parted, Nox was smiling faintly. “Sometimes, you really need to stop worrying.”
She laughed at that, wrapping her arms around him. “You’re not mad at me?”
He shook his head. “No. Why would I be?” His fingers found hers, and they intertwined. “Besides, now I know what I’ll choose as a career.”
Excitement flooded her veins at his words, and she broke away to sit up straighter. Through their Resonance, she could feel his determination and resolve swelling. “You’ll join me?”
He nodded, smiling. “After I graduated.” Taking her hand, he kissed the knuckles. “A general needs her squire, right?”
And it was the sweetest thing Estella had ever heard.
The bell rang, and the classroom was filled with the sounds of sliding chairs and tromping feet.
Estella was starting to rise from her desk amid the bustle of her classmates filing outside the room when she heard her name being called. “Dame Estella? A moment please.”
She looked up. Lady Lyris was approaching her, staff clicking on the floor. What could it be? She rarely got called by a teacher unless it was important. “Yes, Lady Lyris?”
“Relax. I just want to discuss your squire with you.” The mage stopped in front of Estella. “You’ve Resonated, am I correct?”
Estella nodded. “Yes. Ever since I chose him as my Squire.”
“How strong is your connection?”
“Well…” Estella hesitated. “Nox can feel my thoughts and emotions, and I could feel his occasionally. Sometimes when we fight, we both know each other’s next move. But…” She shrugged. “It doesn’t happen often.”
Lady Lyris nodded. “That’s to be expected, but no less concerning. Light and Shadow Wielders are rare, and you two are the only ones we have at this school. From now on, you will have to strengthen your Resonance. The final exams will be difficult otherwise.”
“How can we do that?”
“Through practice,” Lady Lyris said. “It may be an invasion of each other’s privacy, but you’ll both need to learn how to know what the other feels. Every single moment. In battle, this will be essential.”
“What if Nox doesn’t agree?”
“He’ll have to. He’s your Squire, you are the Knight and his master. Regardless of your current relationship, as long as you are still a student in this school, your word is law.” Her lips curved into a faint smile. “It can be difficult, I know. But you’ll be more efficient because of it.”
With that Lady Lyris tipped her hat in farewell and strode out the door, leaving Estella to ponder her words.
Thank you for reading!