There was a searing heat, like that of a burning star. It was followed by the cold embrace of the void, and though all logic dictated that the two should not mix, Estella felt it. The power, flowing between the like a river.
The kiss only lasted for a couple of seconds. Nox grunted and gently pushed her off him, his face a mask of sheer astonishment and disbelief. “What in the Abyss do you think you’re doing?” he hissed, but not aggressively.
Estella stepped back, touching her lips. Nox tasted sweet, probably from the cake he had been eating. She smiled at him. “You felt it too, didn’t you?”
“Felt what?” he demanded. His hands were shaking, for some reason. But why? Wasn’t she a good kisser?
“The Resonance,” she said. Her smile turned into a smirk. “Our magic, our powers, they Resonated.”
Nox strode past her without so much as a glance. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He unlocked the door and left.
Estella stood alone inside the room, pondering what had just transpired. It was Resonance, she was certain of it. And she was also certain that Nox knew it as well. He was just denying it, avoiding the inevitable. Why?
“Why indeed?” Estella mused. Perhaps she had been too forward; Nox was two years younger than her, after all. He probably had no experience with what she did, either. But no matter. There was no denying their connection.
At last, she had found her Squire.
The days passed. This time, Estella actively sought for Nox, but he started avoiding her. Every time she would approach, he would find some excuse to leave immediately, often before she could even talk to him.
But Estella wasn’t frustrated, not in the least. If anything, she savored the ‘hunt’, as weird as that sounded. No one had denied her this much, and those who did, well, they soon found out that denying her was a big mistake.
Then the day came when the second-years and third-years were pitted against each other, at least those who weren’t partnered yet. It was a tradition in the Academy to hold mock battles between sophomores and seniors, testing their skills in preparation for the field exams.
And as luck would have it, Estella was partnered with Nox. Again.
It was the eastern training ground this time, twice the size of the Selection Courtyard, allowing for more spectators and participants. As always, Sir Balor was the referee, his incredible height prominent within the crowd.
Estella and Nox strode towards the center, Animartas already in hand. They stopped thirty feet from each other, and as Sir Balor recited the rules, Estella smiled at Nox, letting the unspoken words show through it.
Today, you will be mine.
“Begin!” Sir Balor said, rending the air with a powerful hand.
Nox struck first, too fast. Estella blocked his first strike, whirling around to parry the next. Something was different with him today. The shadows, she could see them coiling around Erebos, thicker than during the Selection Duel.
Estella pressed forward, weaving a complicated patter, keeping Nox on the defensive. They were given five minutes to defeat one another without the use of spells, and she was confident that she would emerge victorious; Nox may be a good Wielder, but she had already seen how he fought.
Their blades locked. They were so close to each other that Estella could feel his hot breath, short and ragged. “Yield,” she murmured.
Nox’s expression hardened, and he pushed with all his strength. Estella stumbled backward, swinging Astra to block the strike she knew was coming. Sparks flew as their Animartas met.
There was a pulse, faint but noticeable. Estella ignored it and evaded a thrust. Nox parried her counterattack then rushed in, executing a complex pattern. His Animarta was a blur, but somehow, Estella knew where it would strike.
She blocked the attack meant for her thigh. Nox had placed too much force into his second thrust, and momentum carried him forward. Estella let him dashed past her, spinning around to swing at his neck. A fatal blow, and at this range, he shouldn’t be able to avoid it.
Faster than her eyes could see, Nox whirled around and blocked her strike. His chest was heaving, sweat coating his forehead. But the same ironclad determination was etched on his face.
“Two minutes!” Sir Balor announced.
Not good. If she couldn’t defeat Nox now, her chance of making him her Squire would be gone.
“You’ve improved,” she said. He grunted in response and attacked again.
As their Animartas met again, there was that same pulse, stronger this time. They exchanged a flurry of blows, and for every strike each one sent to the other, they somehow anticipated all of them, dodging and parry and blocking until they wove into a dance of light and shadow.
Estella laughed. She could feel it, the connection, the Resonance. And Nox looked like he could no longer deny it. His expression was uncertain, his stance wavering. Estella pressed forward, exploiting the opportunity.
As she prepared to rush him, she felt it—the flow of magic. Astra glowed, and Erebos writhed with shadows. But she kept going, even as Nox’s face hardened once more.
They swung as one, and their blades touched.
And a wave of pure magic exploded between them.
I found my Squire,” Estella said smugly as she took a seat opposite Aldros. The table was already laden with food, for Aldros wasn’t the only occupant. A boy sat to his left, munching on a strawberry cake.
“So I’ve heard,” he said, chuckling. He glanced up from his plate and raised an eyebrow as Nox sat next to Estella, a tray in hand.
She shrugged. “You brought yours. I don’t see why I can’t bring mine.” Indeed, it was customary for seniors to eat together with their Squires. And not just that, they were expected to train together, study together, even sleep together on the same room.
“Of course.” Aldros waved a hand. “But your Squire doesn’t seem to enjoy company.”
Nox glared at him. He glared at Aldros’s Squire too when the boy introduced himself, making the second-year looked down at his food in embarrassment.
Estella nudged Nox with a foot. “Hey, don’t be like that,” she said. It was clear that the arrangement was not to his liking, for whatever reason.
“I don’t like eating with other people,” he said flatly.
“You ate when I was with you last week.”
“That’s not the same thing.”
Aldros snorted. “An antisocial, then. Good luck training under Estella. She’ll drive you insane.”
“She already is,” Nox muttered as he began to eat.
“You need friends, Nox,” Estella said. “Everyone does.”
He opened his mouth, as if to respond to her, but he closed it abruptly and ignored her. Estella shook her head, then turned to Aldros’s Squire with interest. “Erian, right?”
The boy dipped his head politely. “Yes, ma’am. Erian Dauros.”
Estella’s eyes widened slightly. “You’re a child of General Dauros?” She scrutinized him further. Yes, he had the same facial structure, if a bit sharper in the cheeks. And those eyes, like she was looking at the forest canopy.
Erian bobbed his head. “Youngest son. You’ve met my father, ma’am?”
“Please, just call me Dame Estella.” She chewed for a moment before continuing. “I’ve talked with your father quite a few times. He’s a good a man, and an even better soldier. My father wanted to appoint him as Lord General of the Army, but he refused because it would make sit on the rear lines.”
“Father always wants to be in the thick of a battle,” Erian said, smiling faintly. Then he frowned. “Wait. Your father?”
“She’s Princess Estella Faven,” Nox said before Estella could respond. She sent him a glare, but his gaze remained fixed on his food.
“It’s rude to butt in into someone’s conversation,” she said.
“I’m rude. Get use to it.”
Aldros choked. “That’s quite a Squire you have, Ella.” He chuckled.
“I think I can manage.” Still, she wouldn’t deny that Nox’s behavior was unbecoming, especially for a Squire of a Favenian princess and future Knight General. Perhaps she should teach him some etiquette too.
“Anyway, Erian, how’s your first month so far?” she asked.
“It’s fun,” Erian said. “Though I got lost a few times during the first few days. The Favenian Academy is much bigger than my last school.”
Estella frowned. “You’re a transfer student?” She turned to Aldros, frowning. “Why wasn’t I informed of this?”
“Because you were busy looking for a Squire, President,” Nox said.
“I swear, Nox. If you don’t stop doing that, I’ll—“
“Kiss me again?”
Ever so slowly, Estella twisted her head to him. He was still looking at his plate, but there was a spark of amusement in his eyes.
“Would you want me to?” she said with a teasing smile. She had done it to know if he was fit to be her Squire, but Estella still enjoyed that brief moment of intimacy between them.
His expression darkened. “No,” he said softly.
Odd. Before Estella could ask about that, Aldros coughed.
“Instead of flirting with your Squire in front of us, why don’t you tell me what’s your plan for the Assessment Exam?” he said.
Oh! She had completely forgotten about that. “That may or may not have slipped from my mind,” she admitted. And for good reason. The Assessment Exam for the seniors required them to have a Squire. There was no way she could pass it without Nox. But now that he was her Squire, she was confident of their victory.
“You better start reviewing and training with your Squire then,” Aldros said. “There’s only three weeks left.”
“We’ll be fine,” she assured him.
Erian spoke. “The exam covers magic, combat ability, as well as every subjects, right?”
Aldros nodded. “Was it different in your previous school?”
“Yes, sir. The first exam tackle our basic knowledge first. Actually, the first trimester focuses on that. We never get to learn combat until the second. And by the third, we…”
As Erian droned on about his previous school’s curriculum, Estella noticed how Nox had grown utterly silent. “Nox, is there a problem?” she asked, concerned. His expression was blank, but she could tell that something was bothering him.
Then he inhaled deeply and released it. “I, uh, may or may not have been studying any other subject except for combat and magic.”
Estella blinked. And blinked again.
Thank you for reading the fourth chapter of PoLKoS. If you like the story so far, don’t hesitate to leave a like and a review!