Not as much of a wait as chapter 7 was, but still a fairly long one, sorry about that! As some of you may have seen in the preview, we're getting some new characters... I'll be starting Chapter 9 right after posting this, I managed to get ahead with my coursework so I have more time than expected this week. Enjoy the chapter! * KINGSGUARD Chapter 8: Reunion June 23rd, 2252. 1:45pm. Owl King’s Academy: Main Building, Combat Training Hall 1. A first-year class is taking place. The students are receiving hand-to-hand combat training. “You’re wide open!” Fourth shouted, as he guided his fist towards the opening in Chirch’s guard. Motivated by his loss in the showcase, he had been partnering Chirch in combat training from the moment they started their specialist training three weeks ago. He enjoyed partnering her; having someone at a similar level to him had pushed him to new heights. As Fourth’s fist glided towards her, Chirch smirked. “Gotcha.” Fourth’s expression changed, as Chirch grabbed his outstretched arm and tossed him to the floor. As her partner dusted himself off, she began to laugh. “Oh man, I got you good, huh?” “Sh-shut up…” Fourth whimpered, as he stood back up. After cracking his neck, he once again assumed his guard. “Let’s keep going.” Accepting Fourth’s invitation, Chirch once again lunged in, this time making use of a series of high kicks to push Fourth back. In an attempt to make space for himself, Fourth ducked under Chirch’s leg, and used a backspring to briefly take him out of Chirch’s range. As she closed the gap, launching yet another fierce kick, Fourth blocked her with a spinning kick. Placing his kicking foot back on the ground, he leapt backwards once again, leaving his torso open. Anticipating Chirch’s kick, he readied himself to catch her leg, and follow up by sweeping her other leg from underneath her. However, as he braced for impact, Chirch stopped, a confident smirk once again covering her face. “Come on, you really think I’d fall for my own trick?” Fourth cursed under his breath, and readied himself for the sparring match to continue. * 3.00pm – After Class Wiping the sweat from her brow with a towel, Chirch walked out of the training hall, closely followed by Fourth. As the pair rehydrated, they chatted, walking down the hallway: “How do you do it?” Fourth asked, a hint of jealousy in his voice. “Do what?” Chirch responded, confused. “Get so much stronger every week. When we first started sparring together, I had the advantage more often than not, but in just three weeks, you’ve flipped that advantage on its head. It’s not like I’m slacking off either, in fact I’ve been training harder than ever before… But I can tell that sooner or later, I won’t be able to keep up…” Scratching her head, Chirch did her best to come up with an answer. “I dunno, I guess I’ve just had a good month… But you shouldn’t be so down on yourself, I think we’re pretty even still.” Fourth simply shrugged, and continued to drink his water. “I won’t fall behind you just yet, Chirch” Chirch let out a nervous laugh, before falling silent. As the pair continued to walk down the hall, Chirch’s phone vibrated in her pocket. It was a message from Eve: Meet me at the subway station at 4.30 - Eve * 2:45pm. Owl King’s Academy: Training Facility, Third Floor: Simulation Room 2. Exercise will begin in 3… 2… 1… Begin exercise: Evasion Drill. Rose, eyes closed, took a deep breath, and focused her thoughts. Arrows began to fire from holes in the walls, directly towards her. Opening her eyes, Rose tilted her head to the right, the first arrow flying right by her head. As more arrows flew towards her from all directions, she danced effortlessly around each one, seemingly untiring as the drill continued. She continued, fully focused, until the drill ended. Drill complete. Evasion score: 100%. Rose stood in the center of the room for a moment, reflecting on her performance. Her body felt much lighter and more flexible, and her response time was quicker than it had ever been. Somehow, this drill felt all too easy for her, especially compared to the times Chirch had fired arrows at her for the same purpose. Smiling to herself, she picked up her belongings and walked out of the room, filled with confidence. As she entered the hallway, she saw a tall, silver-haired figure stood by the simulation room window. Without turning to face her, he spoke. “You’ve gotten faster, Rose.” Rose, continuing to walk, responded. “Maybe I’ll be able to keep up with you now.” The figure paused for a second. Smirking to himself, he replied: “Let’s find out. Ten days from now, at 8:00pm, on the outdoor training ground. I’ll be waiting.” Rose smiled. “And here I thought I’d have to challenge you. I’ll see you then.” As Rose walked down the corridor to the locker room, her hands began to tremble with excitement. The rematch she’d been waiting for was finally about to happen. Opening her locker, she saw her phone had a notification. She picked it up, and checked the message. * 4:35pm. Outside the Owl King’s Academy – Subway station. Chirch and Rose walked towards the stairs leading to the subway station. Standing under the station’s signpost, the pair looked around, as if they were expecting someone. Chirch opened her phone, and messaged Eve. “We’re here, where are you?” Just as she pressed “send”, two people ran towards them. It was Eve and XO. “Glad you could make it!” Eve beamed. “S-sure, no problem,” Chirch replied, “But where are we going?” Eve smiled. “We’re going to Kingston.” “Town? On a school night?” Chirch asked, a little shocked, “What are we doing there?” Eve laughed, before gesturing towards XO. “A couple of our old friends are coming by, we thought you’d enjoy meeting them.” Chirch and Rose looked at each other, both shrugging, as if to say “might as well”. The pair then followed Eve and XO down into the station, before getting on the train. * 5.10pm. Kingston: City Centre. The city nearest to the Academy, it was formerly the capital until a previous Owl King decided to relocate to the city of Adamine in the north. Now a popular hangout for younger people, the area has recently experienced a rebirth of sorts, with several new restaurants, bars and clubs opening up over the past decade. Chirch, Rose, Eve and XO emerge from the station, and are greeted by two young men. “Well, well, well, if it isn’t Miss Evangeline Jackson.” Eve smiled, and walked over to the young man who had just greeted her. Giving him a friendly hug, she looked him up and down, before commenting: “Well, well, well, if it isn’t Mister Darion “Kai” Kaiser. You’ve bulked up a bit, haven’t you?” Grinning, Kai replied, “They keep us busy down at the Kingsguard.” Turning to his partner, a tall, blonde haired man, he smirked. “Ain’t that right, Pragma?” “This is the first day off we’ve had in weeks, and there hasn’t been a major attack in months,” Pragma responded. Walking over to XO, he pulled him into a bromantic embrace. “How’s drinking alone going for yah, Belgien?” he asked, a hint of sarcasm in his voice. XO answered, a grin on his face, “It’s not the same, but hopefully I’ll be able to have a few with you tonight” As XO and Pragma began to chat away, Eve signaled Chirch and Rose to come forward. Getting Pragma’s attention, she introduced the pair to Pragma and Kai: “Guys, this is Chirch, and I’m sure you guys recognize Shiira.” Turning to the girls, she pointed at Pragma and Kai. “The blonde one’s Pragma, the black-haired one’s Kai.” Chirch and Rose nodded, and greeted the pair with a firm handshake and a smile. “Man, I’m hungry”, Pragma announced, “Let’s go get something to eat!” * 6:30pm. An empty rooftop. Chirch, Rose, Eve, XO, Pragma and Kai sit, looking out over the city. Boxes of takeaway and empty beer cans adorn the rooftop. “… So Zak Niklaus challenged you, huh?” Pragma asked Rose, in between drags from his cigarette. Rose nodded. “I’m not really sure why, but yes, he did.” Pragma smiled. “I guess it means you’re pretty strong. Even in the Kingsguard, there’s only a handful of guys that would be able to handle a guy like Zak. Even I struggled against him.” Kai, face red due to intoxication, giggled: “That’s not saying a lot though is it, Mr. Got Fined For Breaking His Helmet On His Second Outing.” Pragma, amused at Kai’s drunken attempts at banter, simply laughed it off. “I guess it isn’t.” An awkward silence followed Kai’s comments, a silence which was eventually broken by Pragma. “So, Shiira, I hear you’re going to apply for early entry in to the guard?” Pragma asked. Rose nodded. Pragma paused for a moment, his expression turning a little more serious. “Well, based on what I’ve heard about you, you should be a sure thing, but…” Rose, a little tense, quickly asked: “But what?” Pragma answered, a hint of melancholy in his voice. “They’re sending down two of the Kingsguard’s Elite for recruitment.” “Who are they sending?” Rose asked, curious as to why Pragma’s tone had changed so suddenly. “Captain Marko and Commander Grinnington,” Pragma answered. Before Rose could respond, Eve interjected: “Captain Marko… You mean the Kingsguard’s strongest soldier Marko?” Pragma nodded. “And Commander Grinnington, as in Arthur Grinnington, the only engineer in the history of the Academy to be selected early?” Pragma nodded once again. “Yup.” Eve, confused as to why this was such bad news, asked Pragma: “So what? Surely they have to follow the same selection criteria any other recruiter would?” Pragma shook his head. “In theory, yes, but those two are a law unto themselves. Even the Owl King himself has a hard time getting them to do what he wants.” Rose, who had been deep in thought as Pragma spoke about this terrifying twosome, responded: “Well, I guess I’ll just have to keep improving, so they can’t possibly refuse me.” Hearing her resolve, Pragma smiled. “I’m rooting for you.” * July 3rd, 2252: 6:55am. A train from Adamine to Kingston. Two men sit opposite each other in the private carriage. Arthur Grinnington took a sip from his coffee cup as he scrolled through news articles on his tablet. Aside from a few pieces which had been written for the sole purpose of causing regular citizens to be even more afraid of robots than they already were, he was disinterested by the rest of the articles, which were either a series of pictures of cute cats or celebrity gossip pieces. He turned off his tablet, and finished his coffee. Looking at the man sat opposite him, who seemed to be playing a mobile game of some kind, he decided to try and spark conversation. “Oi. Marko.” No response. “Marko.” No response. “Maaaarko.” Marko, no longer able to ignore Grinnington’s cries for attention, stopped his game. Despite having only been with him for roughly half an hour, his expression was more akin to a parent who had been stuck with a noisy child for a weekend. Begrudgingly, he engaged Grinnington in conversation. “What now?” “Are you going to drink that coffee I got for you?” “… Nope. Take it.” Marko resumed his game, as Grinnington reached over and took the coffee cup from his side of the table. However, Grinnington, who was dissatisfied with the length of the conversation, continued to speak. “Marko.” No response from Marko, who began to grit his teeth. “Marko.” Marko tried his best to block out Grinnington’s voice, in the hopes that he would stop. “Maaaarko.” Visibly annoyed, Marko once again stopped his game to engage his persistent partner in conversation. “What now, Grinnington?” “D’you think we’ll see some interesting students this week?” “… Dunno.” Despite Marko’s obvious reluctance to have any form of dialogue at such an early hour of the day, Grinnington persevered. “We’d better do. It’s not like I don’t have important projects to be working on, or anything. And it’s not like the Owl King doesn’t know that. Yet he still sends me, of all people, to go and look at some high-schooler’s science projects.” Marko, who had not been paying heed to Grinnington’s rants, simply stood up and walked over to another table further down the carriage. “I’m going to sleep.” END Characters Debuted: @Grin as Arthur Grinnington, the genius engineer with projects to work on @Marco Polo as Marko, who just wants to sleep?