The clang of steel against steel filled the air.
Estella watched as Nox sidestepped his teacher, Lord Rafias, then swung Erebos upward. The black tip passed through empty air, mere inches from Lord Rafias’s chin, but that didn’t deter the lancer. With a speed that matched his lithe body, Lord Rafias thrust his Animarta forward.
Nox froze as the golden tip pressed lightly on his throat.
The gathered students broke into applause, including Estella. She had been watching the lesson for several minutes now, leaning on a wall. The western training ground spanned sixty feet across in a square, and it was here that Lord Rafias held his Intermediate Combat lessons for the day.
As always, he chose the top enrollee of the school year for his usual demonstrations, just like he did when Estella first arrived here.
“Now then, Mr. Stigan, can you tell me what went wrong with our duel today? Lord Rafias asked after dismissing his Animarta.
Estella could see Nox frowning for a moment. Then his lips moved, but his voice was much too low for her to hear.
Lord Rafias nodded, as did many of the students nearby. “Indeed,” the lancer said, “your form is exceptional and you have a good grasp of the technique we are practicing today. But your footwork needs improvement. You’re a swordsman, Mr. Stigan. And unless you move as fluid as a calm river, you will find yourself always losing against an opponent with a longer reach. Like you did a few minutes ago.”
Nox bowed in response before joining the rest of his classmates. The class went for twenty more minutes, during which Lord Rafias continued his lecture about the technique he was teaching them. Twice more he had someone performed a mock duel with him. The second student fared no better than Nox, even with his Wind-forged rapier, while the third one managed to keep Lord Rafias on the defensive for a minute before ultimately being defeated by a clever feint.
When the class ended, Nox was the first one to leave, slipping away before most could notice.
Estella tracked him for a few seconds before curiosity won over and she decided to follow. She caught up to him in a minute, and their footsteps echoed in the empty corridor that led to the East Wing.
“Don’t you have classes to attend to?” Nox asked her without breaking stride, his eyes fixed ahead.
Estella shrugged. “I still have time. So, what’s your next lesson?”
He was silent for a moment. Then he stopped, turning to her with a frown. “Are you really going to watch me in each of my classes?”
“I have to if I want to make you my Squire,” she answered.
“Because you haven’t chosen yet.”
“Because none passes my standards.”
Nox’s eyebrows rose. “And what is required to pass your standards?”
“Perfection,” Estella said without hesitation. “An excellent grasp of magic, excellent fighting skills, and a rare form of Animarta. Someone who could match me in everything.”
“Someone who could defeat you,” Nox said. He shook his head. “Good luck with that, Princess.”
She stiffened at that. No one had called her that here, not unless they wanted the tip of Astra grazing their throats. And the last time someone did, it almost went badly for them.
Her fingers curled slightly, but she relaxed and strode past him without so much as a glance.
She never bothered to come and watch him in his next class.
Days passed. Estella continued her studies, but she had stopped watching Nox.
She knew she had an unreasonably high standards—it was almost impossible to defeat her in battle. But it was not because of her skills, she knew, even though it was a huge factor.
No, it was because they always treated her as Princess Estella Faven, second in line to the Favenian throne. Not Dame Estella, Knight Second Class.
But what could she do? No matter how many times she told people to stop treating her as royalty, there was that unspoken rule that she had to be treated as such. There was that fear that if they didn’t, unspeakable punishments awaited them.
Not for the first time, she wished that her mother had married off into an ordinary noble family and not a crown prince. If only she had not been born as a princess, perhaps people would treat her equally. Perhaps they would see her for what she could do, not what title and status she held in society. Perhaps—
“WHAT?” she snapped, then caught herself and covered her mouth with a hand. Lady Lyris’s eyes blazed in front of her, promising death and worse. Her Advanced Magic teacher slammed the butt of her oakwood staff on the floor with a resounding crack.
“I’m s-sorry!” Estella mumbled, lowering her hand and sinking into her chair in sheer embarrassment. Next to her, Aldros sighed.
Lady Lyris scowled. “If you’re just going to space out in my class, I suggest you leave and daydream until you’re ready to listen. I don’t need inattentive students, how many times will I repeat that?”
“It won’t happen again, Teacher,” Estella said. Lady Lyris glowered for a moment, then tapped at the blackboard with her staff as she resumed her lecture about magic affinities.
Estella tuned most of it out. It was mostly a review of past lessons, and she already knew all of it. But near the end of the lesson, Lady Lyris said something that piqued her interest.
“Resonance. Who can explain what it means?” the mage asked.
The students murmured. Estella glanced around, but no one seemed certain of the answer. And neither did she, though she remembered having read something about it before. From the word alone, it would mean harmony. But of what?
Aldros raised his hand.
Lady Lyris smiled. “I see you have an answer, Mister Zalcas.”
He nodded. In a voice that carried throughout the entire classroom, he said, “Resonance is a phenomenon when two magic are attuned with each other. If two people possess the same affinity, they can amplify each other’s magic. It is the reason why a Knight often chooses a Squire with the same elemental affinity, though it can also happen if they use the same type and form of Animarta.”
“Excellent answer,” Lady Lyris said. “Indeed, Resonance generally happens for the reasons you listed. But in some cases, and very rare ones, opposing affinities and Animarta can also activate this phenomenon. A Weapon-type, for example, can Resonate with a Spirit-type Animarta. A Fire-forged can amplify a Wind-forged, and vice versa. An Earth-for—“
“What about Light and Shadow?” Estella asked, louder than she had intended. The classroom fell silent, and the only sound she could hear was her pounding heart.
A Light-forged Resonating with a Shadow-forged. Was it possible?
Lady Lyris sent her a curious look. “Why, yes, Dame Estella. That is indeed possible. But it will be dangerous, and most Wielders, including myself, would highly advised against it.”
Her heart skipped a beat. “Why not?” Estella asked, furrowing her brows.
The mage had nonchalant expression as she answered, “Because Light and Shadow are opposites. Far more than Fire and Water are.” As if sensing Estella’s thoughts, she added, “And you’d do well not to tempt fate.”
Estella nodded, understanding the implications. But despite that, the idea had already taken root deep into her mind. “How do you perform a Resonance?”
“There are various ways a Resonance can happen,” Lady Lyris said. “First, by sharing mana to each other. The process is very much like how we test Wielders during Entrance Exams, where they pour magic into an object. If the object reacts positively, a Wielder passes the test. The second is through the clashing of Animarta, though this is usually an unreliable method. Resonance can’t happen if two people have negative feelings towards each other.”
“Does this mean that emotions can also trigger a Resonance?” a student in the back row asked.
Lady Lyris nodded. “In most cases, yes. Specifically, positive emotions. And the stronger the emotion one person feels towards the other, the stronger the Resonance.”
There were a lot of excited murmurs at that, and even Estella understood the hidden meaning behind Lady Lyris’s words.
She sat down, a smirk parting her lips. The roots had grown, and now the idea had sprung forth into a sapling, one which she would cultivate until it bore the sweet fruit it held.
A sweet fruit she would savor without hesitation.
“Please tell me you’re not thinking of doing what I think you’re going to do.”
Estella just smiled at Aldros as they strode toward the cafeteria. It was well past three in the afternoon, and many of the students were taking a break in preparation for the final lessons of the day.
They entered the double doors. Conversations filled the air, mixed with the scrapings of spoon and fork against ceramic plates. Estella scanned the massive dining hall, searching for her prey. Even with a thousand students, he should be recognizable amid the crowd. Not for his looks, but for his tendency to keep to himself.
A minute later, Estella found Nox eating alone in the furthest corner. Aldros said something to her, but she had already marched out of earshot towards the lonely Wielder.
“I need your help,” Estella began without preamble as soon as she reached him. Nox looked up with a start, his spoon halfway to his lips.
“Can it wait? I’m still—hey!” He gave a shout as Estella grabbed him by the arm and started dragging him away from the table. He was stronger for sure, but Estella knew he wouldn’t make a scene when the second princess of Faven was gripping his arm like a vice.
They neared Aldros, who was rubbing his temple and sighing in exasperation. Estella ignored the look he sent their way, and the curious gazes of many others, and continued towards the hallway outside the dining hall. There was a door on the left that led to an empty room, and she pulled Nox inside.
“You better have a good reason for interrupting my snack,” he growled as he pulled away once they were alone. Estella locked the door for good measure—she didn’t want anyone else witnessing what she was about to do—then faced Nox.
“Let’s do a Resonance,” she said.
“Let’s do a what?”
“A Resonance!” Briefly, she explained to him what it meant. Of course, he wouldn’t know about it. He was just a second-year student, though technically, it was his first year.
When she finished, Nox had a puzzled expression. She would admit, the way his eyebrows joined together looked endearing.
“Well?” she demanded when he didn’t respond for a full minute.
“You were warned about this,” he said slowly.
“Yes. But we’ll only know if that warning has merit if we actually do it.” In truth, Estella was as nervous as he looked. But fear wouldn’t help her choose a Squire. And neither would it help her become a Knight General. “Come on. All you have to do is share your mana with me.”
“Fine. But if we explode, it’s not my fault.” He closed his eyes, and Estella mirrored him.
She stiffened at once. In her mind’s eye, she could see tendrils of shadows coiling around her body, wrapping her in their cold embrace. In turn, Nox was suffused with a golden light, her light, the warmth enveloping him like a cocoon.
Estella relaxed, and frowned. A minute passed, then two. Nothing was happening. What did a Resonance feel anyway? She had forgotten to ask!
Nox withdrew a moment later. He looked relieved for some reason. “It’s not working.”
But why? Estella’s eyes darted everywhere; the dusty shelves, the low ceiling, Nox’s powerful arms, his lips which girls would probably die for to get a taste of.
Lips. A powerful emotion shared between two people.
They didn’t have that connection yet. But Estella was desperate, and desperate times called for drastic actions. Besides, it’s not as if Nox was unattractive. Far from it, if she was going to be honest with herself.
She smiled, pushed Nox against the wall, and silenced his growing protest with her mouth.
Chapter 3 is here! Hope you guys enjoyed it!