Finally, it has arrived... Just in time for Christmas, but it's not a very Christmassy chapter. Oh well!
Chapter 9: Are You Ready?
November 3rd, 2252. 10. Kingsguard Academy Dormitories – Chirch’s Room. Chirch is with Bell, Fourth and Onato.
“Hah! I win!” Bell screamed, throwing her cards on to the table.
Chirch sighed, head in hands. “Agh… I was one card short.”
Chirch, Fourth and Onato handed their coins over to Bell, who had a wide grin on her face.
“I think that’s enough cards for tonight.” Onato said. “I can’t lose any more money to Bell.”
“I’ve lost my weekly allowance.” Fourth sighed.
“Ha ha… come to think of it, you didn’t win a single hand.” Chirch replied.
“So, what’s next on the agenda, Chirch? Since it’s your last night as an Academy student, after all.” Bell asked.
Chirch, a little saddened by this reality, paused for a second. “It’s not like I’m leaving straight away. And besides… who knows if I’ll even pass this test.”
Two months earlier – after the fight between Marko and Niklaus. Director Stickman’s Office. Marko has summoned Chirch and Rose.
“Please, take a seat.” Marko said, gesturing to the seats on the opposite sides of the Director’s desk. Chirch and Rose sat nervously. It was both of their first times in the Director’s office. They looked around nervously at the shelves and the seemingly endless number of files sitting on them.
“Shiira em Rose. Uhh… Do I call you Shiira?” Marko asked.
“U-uh! Most people call me Rose, Captain.” Rose answered nervously.
“Rose, then. I understand you had sights on graduating at the end of this year?” Marko asked.
Rose nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“And what would you rate your chances of success?”
“I… I don’t want to sound arrogant or anything, but if any of the third years have a chance of graduating early, it should be me. But I don’t know if that means I have a good chance or not.”
“I watched your fight against Zaklaus.”
Rose could feel her hands shaking. Despite her best efforts, she had lost that fight convincingly. And after seeing the way the Captain had just schooled Zak, she felt like there was only one way this could go.
“I was impressed with your performance.”
“I know what you’re thinking. You lost convincingly, even though you gave it your all. So why is he impressed?”
…Could the Captain read minds?
“Obviously, the result isn’t what you wanted. But I liked the way you fought. Your movement, technique and reflexes are all outstanding. And what’s more interesting… you fight nothing like your old man. I can tell a lot about you from that.”
Hearing this praise, the tension left Rose’s body. If the Kingsguard’s strongest acknowledged her like this, then…
“Of course, there’s a lot of things you need to work on. Your upper body is weak, you’re slow on the counter, you react badly under pressure…”
Each of these criticisms felt like an arrow straight through the young soldier’s heart.
“Ah. That doesn’t really matter, though. Nobody’s expecting you to be a perfect fighter yet.”
Rose breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
“I want to make you an offer, Rose.”
Rose gulped. “A-an offer?”
“Graduate from the Academy this year, and join the Kingsguard.”
Rose’s eyes lit up. “Really?!”
“On one condition.” Marko continued. “That condition being you let me train you.”
Rose was taken aback. That condition didn’t seem like a problem at all; if anything, it was better than just plain old graduation.
“Just so you know, I’m a pretty strict instructor.”
“I accept!” Rose shouted, her expression deadly serious. “I want to become the best soldier I can be. And if Captain Marko himself trained me, I think I’d become stronger than I ever thought I could be.”
“It’s not an overnight process.” Marko replied. “It’s going to be tough, and it might take a while before you feel the results for yourself.”
“My dad came to visit me this summer.” Rose said, calming down somewhat. “When he told me it was you coming for recruitment week, I was scared. I thought there’s no way I’d ever impress you enough to be recruited. But when I spoke to him some more, I got the sense that he really trusted you. And as much as I want to be my own fighter, I trust my dad more than anyone. So, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
“Heh. That’s good to hear.” Marko replied.
“Uh… Captain Marko? I’m really happy for Rose, but… why did you invite me here?” Chirch asked sheepishly.
“Ah, Chirch. You’re in your first year at the Academy, right?”
“How are you finding it so far?”
“I’m having a lot of fun.” Chirch replied. “I’ve made a lot of friends, and I’ve learnt a lot.”
“How would you feel if Rose left?” Marko asked.
Chirch, a little shocked by this question, looked at Rose and paused. “Well, I’m really happy for her, because she’s achieved what she wanted to. And it’s not like my only friend here is leaving, so I wouldn’t be alone.” Thinking for a few more seconds, she chose her next words carefully. “But… How do I say this…”
“You don’t feel like your classmates would be enough of a challenge.”
Chirch looked at the floor. “I don’t want to sound mean… because they’re really strong. Especially Fourth. But when I fight with them, I already feel like I’m stronger than them. The only person I fight at the moment who I don’t feel like that with is Rose. I don’t want to join her in the Kingsguard in a few years and she’s so far ahead of me that I can’t keep up any more.”
“It’s okay to feel that way.” Marko answered. “Besides, that’s how you’ve been fighting all this time.”
“I read your profile.” Marko explained. “You grew up hunting in the West Mountains. You’re used to fighting in eat or be eaten situations, and that’s where you learn the most. That’s why you’re worried about getting comfortable.”
“I never really thought about it until you asked me just now.” Chirch replied, laughing nervously.
“In less than a year at the Academy, you’ve gone from never having held a sword before to being the top ranked swordsman in your class. You’ve been training with one of the Academy’s Top 3 soldier prospects, and I’m sure she’d admit that you’re already giving her a run for her money. That kind of growth in a student is unprecedented.” Marko said calmly. “So, with that in mind… I want to make you the same offer as I made Rose.”
Rose, despite being shocked at Marko’s offer, wasn’t entirely surprised. Chirch, however, seemed to have been blindsided by this offer.
“You’re under no pressure to accept it now.” Marko replied, sensing her unease. “Even if you say no now, I’ll be back next year with the same offer.”
Chirch sat for what felt like hours weighing up her options. On one hand, she had a lot of fun with her classmates, and she knew that they’d get stronger with her. But on the other, she had a chance to do what she loved: fight. Being in the Kingsguard was a completely new pressure, but with Rose and the Captain’s help…
“I accept.” Chirch said confidently.
“You sure?” Marko asked.
Chirch nodded. “It’s just like you said. I want to get stronger. And the best way for me to get stronger is to come with you and Rose. If Rose and the General trust you, I trust you as well.”
“Good.” Marko replied. “It looks like I haven’t misjudged you at all, Chirch.”
“So… what now? Do we just finish this year and then join you in the New Year?” Rose asked.
“Not exactly.” Marko replied. “There’s one more test you have to pass.”
“Eh? But I thought fourth years already finished their exams in the summer?” Rose said.
“Ah. This exam is one that the Academy does its best to keep secret. It doesn’t take place here, after all. You’ll be going to a Kingsguard Research Facility just outside Kingston for this one.”
“That sounds creepy…” Chirch mumbled under her breath.
“I assure you, it’s not creepy.” Marko replied. “It’s your first real taste of what it takes to be a Kingsguard soldier.”
Chirch, a little creeped out that Marko had heard her, asked her next question awkwardly.“So… what do we do then?”
November 4th, 2252. 7. Kingsguard Academy – Car Park.
“This is our minibus, right?” Rose said, confirming one more time. “Nobody else is here yet.”
“Well, we are kinda early.” Chirch replied. “I guess the rest of our squad are still on the way.”
As the girls waited anxiously and silently for the next few minutes, three familiar faces walked up to them, each with a coffee cup in hand.
“Good morning crew…” XO yawned.
“Seriously, why did we wait for you to get out of bed.” Eve quipped. “Our team are waiting.”
“Hey, I made coffee for you, didn’t I?” XO retorted. “You should be thanking me.”
Tsubaki laughed. “Even at this time, you guys don’t stop.”
“If we’re with these guys, there’s no way we can lose.” Chirch thought. Of all of the fourth-years they could have been grouped with, these three were certainly the most reliable.
“Is everyone here, then?” Eve asked.
“We’re five right now. So one more is on the way.” Tsubaki answered, doing a quick headcount.
“Anyone heard from number six?” XO asked.
“I didn’t even recognise his name when I saw our team list.” Eve answered. “Must be a third year.”
Rose stayed quiet.
“But still… to think that shy kid we picked up from the train station at the start of the year could graduate with us. Life is crazy sometimes.” XO said, ruffling Chirch’s hair. Chirch grinned.
The group stood and talked for another few minutes, until they were interrupted by a not-so-familiar voice.
“Sorry I’m late, sorry I’m late…” A red-haired boy carrying an absurd amount of luggage headed over to them. Somehow, he managed to make space for a coffee in his hand. Putting his luggage on the floor, he sighed heavily. “I’ve been up all night working on this stupid thing. Didn’t mean to keep you waiting. I don’t think we’ve met before. The name’s Judge. Class 3-E. It’s good to finally put faces to names. Although…” he looked teasingly at Rose. “I think some of us have met before.”
“Wait, you’re an engineer?” Eve asked. “I thought I’d been assigned as the engineer for this team.”
“If you can’t tell by all this shit I’m lugging around, I’m an engineer by trade,” Judge answered. “But I’m going to be in the field today. A machina pilot of sorts. Though I won’t be in a machina per se.”
“If you’re an engineer, then I guess you can help me look after this thing.” Eve replied, patting her suitcase. “I wanted to try it out in battle today, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to.”
“Sure.” Judge replied. “Tell me more about it on the way there.”
“I guess that’s all of us now?” Rose asked.
“Looks like it.” Tsubaki answered.
“All the young geniuses on our team. This should be a good one.” XO said confidently.
As the squad got to talking, the bus driver opened the door.
“You kids gonna get on or not?”
10. Kingsguard Research Facility – Waiting Room 7.
As the group finished gearing up, they all took some time to admire the Kingsguard-issue gear.
“Even though these are prototypes, they really do look fancy.” Rose commented, admiring her battle armour.
“The all black is really sleek, too.” Tsubaki added.
“I feel like I’m wearing my training gear.” Chirch commented, jumping up and down to get a feel for the armour’s weight. “It’s super light.”
“The medic’s uniform isn’t too bad either. I could get used to the all white.” XO commented.
“Why have you got a gun, XO?” Chirch asked, pointing to the gun at XO’s hip.
“Oh, I have two.” XO replied, whipping out both the pistol Chirch pointed at and the pistol on his other hip. “Medics need to defend themselves, too.”
“Huh…” Chirch replied, still somewhat confused.
“Don’t look at me like that.” XO grumbled. “I’m a pretty good shot, you know.”
In the other corner of the room, Judge and Eve were comparing contraptions. Sitting quietly and patiently next to Eve was a mechanical wolf, making some oddly life-like panting noises.
“Still… even though I’m not an animal person, I gotta say this thing is pretty impressive.” Judge commented.
Eve grinned. “Hear that, Roda? Judge likes you.”
Roda, the mechanical wolf that Eve had spent the past few years developing, barked happily.
“I’m not sure that bark function is necessary, though.” Judge replied.
“Well, only having fight commands programmed in made him pretty angry, so I had to code this in to calm him down. Cost me an arm to figure that out, though.” Eve laughed, patting her mechanical arm.
“Ooh! Did I hear a dog?” Chirch said, running over. Seeing Roda, she got excited. “Oh! It’s a robot dog! That’s really cool!”
“He’s meant to be a wolf.” Eve replied. Chirch, however, was not listening, and wanted to play with the wolf dog.
“Who’s a good boy?”
Roda barked happily. Chirch crouched in front of him and began to pat his head.
“That’s a good boy…”
Roda, who was not programmed to enjoy petting, began to growl. This, however, did not concern Chirch.
“Hey, Eve! Do you have any robot dog treats?”
Before Eve could finish her sentence, Roda sunk his teeth into Chirch’s leg. Eve gasped, concerned for her junior. Judge winced, quietly hoping the Kingsguard armour would be strong enough to protect Chirch from any lasting damage. Chirch, however, smiled back at the angry robot, patting it on the head once more.
“Ok boy… let go…”
Using her hands to prise Roda’s jaw open, the wolf resisted. However, its strength was no match for the young huntress.
“That’s it, let go…”
As Chirch’s leg was freed from Roda’s grasp, her expression changed.
Chirch, punishing the young wolf for misbehaviour, connected with a powerful right hand that knocked him to the floor. As Roda let out a whimper, Chirch continued to pat his head.
Eve sighed. “Maybe I can’t test him out today after all.”
“Is your leg okay?” Judge asked. “It seemed like he was in there pretty deep.”
“Huh? No, I’m fine.” Chirch answered, “This armour is pretty tough. Besides, I’ve been bitten by way scarier animals.”
“What the hell kind of upbringing did you have…” Judge muttered to himself.
As Chirch continued to play with Roda, much to Eve’s dismay, the door to the waiting room opened.
The group quickly turned to the door to see Captain Marko poking his head around. Quickly standing to attention, they all faced him.
“Take a seat, everyone. There’s a quick presentation I have to give before you head out.”
The group got comfortable on the couch, as a projector dropped down from the ceiling. As they sat and waited, the Captain explained their mission for the day.
“As I’m sure you all know, Kingsguard soldiers operate in squads.” Marko explained. “These are usually made up mostly of foot soldiers and field medics. Squads can be as small as five people, and as large as twelve. Specialists like machina pilots and snipers are usually in squads of their own, but in some circumstances will join regular squads. The six of you will be working together as a squad today: five in the field, with Jackson providing backline support. Your mission is simple: protect the civilians in your area from attack, and clear the area of all enemies.”
“So we’re basically soldiers for the day.” XO said.
“Exactly.” Marko replied. “It’s going to be a lot harder than the training exercises you’ve been used to, and it’s not going to be something you can just blast your way through. Think of this as your first real battle.”
Hearing these words, the group collectively shifted into focus. They knew they were in for a challenge, but having a dry run of being a Kingsguard soldier was a chance they’d only get once in their lives. This was their greatest opportunity to learn and be able to grow from a mistake; from next year, a mistake could cost their life.
“Any questions?” Marko asked. The group were silent.
“Good. Now, the group of you heading for the frontlines just need to follow the corridor down to the end. Jackson, come with me to the control room.” Marko said, gesturing for Eve to follow him. As Chirch, Rose, Judge, Tsubaki and XO stepped out of the waiting room and headed to the large, metal door at the end of the hall, they heard final words of encouragement from the Captain.
“I don’t know if I’m supposed to do this, but… a piece of advice. Talk to each other.”
The five frontline soldiers nodded.
As Marko and Eve headed to the control room, the group gave each other a final pep talk.
“Let’s show these fake bots what we’re made of.” Judge said, a confident grin on his face.
“I’m excited.” Chirch said, pounding her fists together.
“I remember when you used to get nervous before fights.” Rose giggled.
“There’s no audience today, just us. This is totally different.” Chirch answered confidently.
XO, who had noticed Tsubaki being quieter than usual, turned to his comrade. He noticed her hands were shaking.
“Hey. You okay?” he asked gently.
“Oh! Of course.” she replied.
As the doors opened, the group were greeted by an eerily accurate recreation of Kingston’s city centre. However, this version was not as lively as the real thing; instead of streets heaving with people, they were mostly abandoned. The sounds of emergency sirens, shattering glass and panicked civilians filled the air. Judge, who had a pair of pistols attached to a very full and heavy-looking utility belt, flicked the visor on his helmet down.
His fellow soldiers followed suit, and charged into battle.
“We should keep a tight formation to start.” Rose instructed. “Chirch and I will take the front, and Tsubaki and Judge should look out for attacks from behind. XO, stay central and keep eyes out for anyone needing medical attention.”
“Got it.” the group replied in unison. As the group advanced, they kept eyes out for enemy bots. Seeing a group of six soldier-class bots out in front of them, Rose prepared to issue instructions. However, before she could, Chirch broke formation and headed towards them.
“Come on, Rose!”
“Did my instructions mean nothing to you?” she sighed. Resigned to defeat, she followed after Chirch. They unsheathed their swords, ready for their first taste of bot combat action.
“I wonder if these things are as strong as the real deal.” Chirch pondered. The bots, taking notice of her presence, took aim at her. Firing a series of lasers towards her, Chirch effortlessly parried them. Leaping upwards, she seemingly walked through the air towards the enemy, slicing two in half with powerful double-handed swings.
“Hey, Rose! These rocket boots are amazing!”
Rose, surprised at Chirch’s nonchalance towards the mission, had no choice but to match her energy. “Huh. I guess I should give them a try.”
Leaping forward, Rose felt herself being propelled towards the enemy at speed.
Without hesitation, Rose took out the remaining four enemies in a matter of seconds, each of her steps sending her zipping at speeds even Zak Niklaus would be jealous of. Having elegantly weaved through her opponent, she stopped to look back at her handiwork.
“Wow… Kingsguard technology really is something.” she said, doing her best to hold back a smile. No wonder her father’s battle highlights looked so impressive.
“Not to geek out mid-battle or anything, but those boots use two separate technologies. One is a basic power amplifier. It takes the kinetic energy your muscles generate when you lunge or jump and multiplies it. The faster and more powerful you are, the greater the amplification. The other is an anti-gravity device that allows you to walk on the air as if it were solid ground.” Judge explained. “Hopefully that’s useful information.”
“Ha ha ha! I’m jumping in midair.” Chirch, not paying attention to Judge’s explanation, then leapt several feet up, continuing until she had a birds-eye view of the area.
“Guys! There’s civilians under attack about 200 metres from here!” she shouted. Returning to the ground, she communicated the situation to her squad. “There’s a lot of enemies on the path there, too. We should hurry.”
The group then sprinted forwards, the three girls taking the lead this time. As they sliced through bots, XO and Judge drew their pistols, firing to help slow and weaken the enemies as they approached.
“You’re a pretty good shot, Doc.” Judge said, complimenting his squad-mate’s ability.
“Speak for yourself.” XO replied, smirking.
As the group reached the “civilians”, re-programmed training dummies dressed in human clothing, they decided their best course of action.
“I’ll head straight forwards to give medical aid.” XO shouted. “Judge, cover my back. Chirch, Rose, keep an eye out for attacks from all angles. Tsubaki, help me move the civilians to a safe spot.”
“Roger.” the team replied. As XO and Tsubaki made a direct beeline for the civilians, Judge covering their backs, Chirch and Rose stood either side, watching out for any stray enemies. As XO and Tsubaki reached the civilians, XO began to talk.
“Are you guys okay?” he asked.
One civilian, a young boy, looked up at XO.
“My mommy can’t get up.”
XO smiled at the young boy. “Don’t worry, kid. We’ll get you and your mom to safety, and get her fixed right up. Isn’t that right, Tsubaki?”
As XO turned to Tsubaki, he immediately sensed something wrong.
Tsubaki, eyes on the civilians, fell to her knees. Her entire body shaking, she began to sob uncontrollably. XO, confused and slightly shaken by his friend’s sudden breakdown, rushed to her.
“Hey… Can you hear me?”
“Mom?” XO looked over at the mother and child they were tending to, and back to Tsubaki. Quickly piecing the situation together, he called over to Judge.
“Judge. Get ahold of Jackson. We need an extraction.”
Judge, who was half-listening to the situation whilst covering Chirch and Rose, who were warding off the advancing enemy, continued looking forward. Speaking into the built-in communication system in his helmet, he tried to grasp what was happening.
“Yeah.” XO answered. “I don’t really know why, but... she’s having a panic attack.”
“Shit.” Judge replied. “I’ll see what I can do. See if you can calm her down any in the meantime.”
“Got it.” XO replied. As he lifted his and Tsubaki’s visors, he tried to talk to her.
“Jackson. Can you hear me?”
“I can see what’s going on, you know.” Eve replied. “Captain Marko’s on his way in to take her out.”
“Thanks.” Judge replied, breathing a small sigh of relief. “Oh, and while you’re there… you got that dog of yours sitting around?”
“He’s a wolf.” Eve grumbled.
“Whatever. Send him out with the Captain. We’re gonna need extra cover.”
“Are you sure?” Eve asked. “Even just now with Chirch…”
“Don’t worry. He should be fine in this situation.” Judge answered. “And if he does go berserk, I’ll stick a bullet through its head.”
“I know it’s just a mecha, but you’re saying that way too casually.” Eve retorted. “Backup should be there in five.”
The group held their position, waiting for an extraction for Tsubaki. As Captain Marko arrived, Roda in tow, they had managed to weather the worst of the onslaught.
“I’ll look after Tsubaki from here.” Marko said to XO. “Focus on the civilians now.”
“Roger, Captain.” XO replied. Roda, seemingly aware of who he was there to protect, sat near XO, covering his back as he resumed medical aid.
“Tsubaki. It’s Captain Marko. Can you breathe?”
Tsubaki nodded, her face slightly swollen from the crying.
“I’m going to take you to the infirmary to lay down. Can you walk?”
“Okay. Let’s go.”
2. Kingsguard Research Facility – Infirmary.
Tsubaki slowly opened her eyes, her head pounding. Where was she? What had just happened?
“Oh, you’re awake.”
Hearing Captain Marko’s voice from across the room, she sat bolt upright.
“The exam! I…”
Remembering where she was, the events of the morning quickly came back to her. “I failed, didn’t I?”
Marko, pausing for a few seconds, confirmed her fears. “Yes. Leaving the battlefield is an automatic fail.”
Somehow, Tsubaki didn’t have it in her to be angry.
“When I saw your name on the squad list this morning, Ithought it looked familiar.” Marko continued.
“So you remember me.” Tsubaki replied, looking down.
Marko, taking the chair next to Tsubaki’s bed, began to recall a painful memory.
“Kiyomi and Lucien Sheikah. Owners of a restaurant in the Far East District of Adamine. Both were severely injured while assisting an evacuation during a bot attack. Thanks to the efforts of their daughter, a Kingsguard Academy Student, they managed to get medical attention. Lucien is still in hospital, slowly recovering from severe third-degree burns. Unfortunately, Kiyomi…”
“Was pronounced dead on arrival to hospital.” Tsubaki answered, gripping the duvet tightly.
“That day, I…”
“If it weren’t for you, both my parents would be dead.” Tsubaki replied. “And so would I. Please, don’t even think about apologising. Besides, the Kingsguard lost a lot that day too.”
December 16th, 2251. 2. Adamine City Centre – Far East District.
Rain poured down from the sky. An area that, not too long ago, had been host to innocent citizens having a leisurely lunch, was now the scene of an almost apocalyptic-looking scenario. The streets lined with buildings wrapped in flame, the only sounds that could be heard were those of panic. Tsubaki Sheikah, a Kingsguard Academy student who had come home for the holidays, ran out into the middle of the road. She looked around frantically for any remaining signs of life. It seemed everyone had gotten to safety. Several hundred metres down the road, she could see a machine, larger than any that had attacked the city before, slowly making its way towards her. As she was about to run to safety, she spotted two bodies near a pile of burning debris. Heading towards them, she thought they looked oddly familiar. Feeling her heart beginning to race, she ran closer. As she inspected the bodies more closely, her worst fears were confirmed. Listening to their chests, she could hear the faintest signs of life. However, they both looked heavily wounded. Tears streaming down her face, she tried to rouse them back to consciousness.
“Mom! Dad! Please get up!”
Roda: sweetjacky 's robot wolf dog