No one had significant injuries, except for Luna and Ella, both having self-inflicted themselves by misusing their abilities.
Nick had voiced that the Sally and Stein, those who had never encountered a darkling until today, shouldn’t sleep. He and Tom agreed to stay awake with them, since the umbra and mage had to rest. Lawrence replaced the former, saying that he had to do cleaning.
Once he was gone Tom was reminded of this scene, only now two sleepless teenagers accompanied him. Lawrence had very deftly retrieved a large box of cake mix, easily enough for all of them.
Sally did not want to keep quiet, or else she would drift off into dangerous fresh slumber. “Why are you making cake like that?” she said as it was a very critical question.
“I feel a chef shouldn’t always have to make difficult things.”
“Do you really see yourself as a chef and not a knight?”
He realized he said something strange and took time to think. After all, they had would still have an opportunity to sleep. Very thoughtfully, and suavely, he spoke, “I think it is an honor and duty to get knights nice foods. Don’t you think that it makes their jobs easier?”
Tom and Stein nodded in agreement. They had no problem with luxury foods, that is, whenever he would decide to make them.
“That’s fine, but why are you using instant cake mix?”
“I’m tired, so I think it really is fine if I can make things you’ll enjoy without effort. Or would you not enjoy this cake?”
She was tired of that conversation. So far he hadn’t quite made anything too difficult, except that novel omelet.
Lawrence said, “One day, when everything is a little less hectic, I’ll show you a cookbook I’ve written and you can choose anything from that. It’s not done yet, though.”
“That answered my concern,” she said gratefully.
“Anyway, and you too Stein, how are you feeling.”
Sally decided it was fine to say that she was afraid of going to sleep. Stein only said it was the same for him, but in this he told everyone that his was little different.
“At any rate I don’t expect you to go to bed. Tom, you can go now.”
When he didn’t answer Lawrence knew his misspoke again. It wouldn’t be nice for him to leave his friend and sister. For whatever reason he either didn’t show his fear or didn’t feel it as intensely.
“Hey, Tom. Where have you seen a darkling before?”
“At Oakwood Academy, but there was a knight nearby and it was after sunrise,” he left out the part that he actively sought to fight one.
“Just curious, but what method did you learn to mitigate the fear?”
“It was a third method that the instructor didn’t like. I found it anyway in a manual in the school library.”
“I’ve never heard of that. Do you remember his or her name?”
“No, I’m sorry.”
“It’s quite alright. You do seem to have a higher tolerance than your peers. In fact, it’s more than any trainee that’s passed through Zero Squad. There were more before you but all three of you have done well,” he finished with Tom and called out to Stein, “Ella told me that you defeated a powerful darkling with ease.”
“Well, y-you see, she had weak. Excuse, me: She had already weakened it with her magic. I-I could not hit it otherwise.”
“That may be true, but you skewered it by throwing your weapon. I used to be an expert in all types of weaponry and I could never do that.”
Sally talked now, “I want to hear the full story. That’s neat, Stein.”
She put her hand to her cheek as Lawrence interrupted. His voice was excited and some of its grandeur was overshadowed by Stein’s, “So, Ella had already used some magic on healing Luna and she planned to use very little until we regrouped. Ella had all but wasted her chances, but some of her magic worked so that the large avian darkling flinched, and the light from it allowed Stein to aim. On his first and only shot he threw his lance like a javelin and got square down the middle.”
“Wow,” Sally said.
Stein didn’t believe that Ella would honor him that much, “I guess, guess it was beginner’s luck.”
Lawrence went on and on about how he did not really know about the whole situation. “That darkling was a double-headed eagle. Think. A darkling chooses the most frightening form because it creates more despair it needs. Only a robust individual chooses a mythological beast because more nonmatter is needed to create that image. It’s actually amazing that you defeated it before it even got a chance to attack. And you didn’t even use an actual throwing weapon.”
Everyone felt better after he said that. On the other hand, however, Sally and Tom felt a little let down by the fact that even together they could not defeat one normal darkling, and ever more so because Lawrence didn’t comment on that.
Lawrence had a plan for that too. He asked the three to come to the training room, and asked Tom, who was more attentive at this time to fence with him. The fencing was not very important itself, and Tom already felt comfortable with swordplay. He would only allow Tom to attack, to prepare for later. When Luna felt in control he would pass Tom down to her, since Sally was already skillful enough to go straight to meet a mercurial form.
Whatever the result, he was also supervising Stein and Sally and the repetition would eventually bore them to true sleep. But actively trying to engage a student was more tiresome than sitting in a room. Tom was also pretty good, and then he judged Sally to be even better. Both had the unique talents, but he could not really think much about them at the moment, because he was rather mentally busy.
All had gone exactly to plan and he found himself asleep before he knew it. All except that he only had fifteen minutes worth of material to teach and everyone else had gone to bed anyway. Not many things go as they seem in the magical knights’ world. He also forgot to tell them that the Emperor would arrive to meet with the crown prince. Well, it wasn’t very important and it didn’t concern them. The actual date was lost to him too.
The next morning Ella still had strained eyes and body, and judged that Luna was in a better condition. Sally, nor Tom, could easily discern their conditions. She watched Stein, who was strangely sleepy, to learn finally whether he had any of the traits needed to discern others’ conditions. He did not. After all, except for a small puncture on Luna’s palm, the damage was not physical.
Luna did not eat, but somewhat enjoyed explaining her version of what happened, “The manifestation of my mercurial form goes through my arm. Last night, there was quite literally something in the air to make my tendril too big,” but then she took a moment to think whether she should really say all of the stuff. It was vulgar but she talked anyway, “So it ripped into my arm even though it should normally just pass through without cutting too deep.”
Sally felt both enlightened and distracted by her story, “Did it hurt?”
“Plenty, so I had to be taken home before it got worse,” She spoke seriously, but it was still not enough considering that her friends’ lives were put it danger for it. It was actually a strategy to make them at the very least forget about it. Ashamed, once she said it she did not mention it, and went off to ‘meditation’. She willed more than anything else at the current moment to learn better control, as she was a pretty much a novice as well. At the very least she would try not to incapacitate herself. It would have been fine too, if was any other night. Things rarely turn out how they seem in a knight’s world, she thought.
If it was problem of overloading her body, maybe she could make more than one tendril. She’d spend the day after tomorrow on that, since she’d be stuck since, thanks to Ella, she knew the emperor would visit Nicholas like an old friend. In all her years of service outside of Zero Squad she never actually asked him how they became friends.
She asked him in front of everyone, so it was an announcement and coercion all in one. She could always apologize later, and it capitalized on the fact it was a normal question to act, except maybe to your prince.
Nicholas’s response did not make sense, so she and everyone else felt varying degrees of pride in their lord, which could stand on equal footing with the strongest single man in the world.
Any enthusiasm anticipating the Emperor of Susanoo was extinguished when on the next night, they found only a single darkling.