(this chapter contains mentions of suicide, which as we all know is a terrific sign that everything is going well)
Attempting to take down a small, straw-stuffed training dummy, a young child swings a lance about with no efficiency whatsoever.
“Aye, kid.” A scruffy-looking man behind the child looks on with absolute shame in his eyes. “You, uh, know you ain’t supposed to use it like that, right?”
“But that’s how you did it, Sunny!” The child turns around, looking confused. “I wanna do it like that!”
The man wipes his face, having already known full well that this was his fault. In his defense, he didn’t mean to use a lance like that, because he didn’t mean to reach for someone else’s lance; it was in the heat of battle, and some bastard happened to strike his axe out of his hands, so he scrambled to find something with a handle and swung. As much as it made him look like an absolute geek to the enemy, some big buff asshole trying to use a steel lance like it’s a combat staff from an opera play made for a hell of a distraction, so the rest of his crew cleaned up well for what it was.
“The way I did it was like a worse kinda axe, you realize.” He tries his best not to groan out of his own embarrassment. “You don’t wanna use a worse kinda axe, do ya?”
The child attempts to pout, failing. “But I wanna be like you.”
“Kid, we’ve been through this before.” He sighs. “You really don’t, trust me.”
“But Sunnyyyyyyyy, you’re so cool!”
“Sure am, but, think about it.” He crouches down to meet the child face-to-face. “You plan on lifting weights every day to get these muscles?”
The child thinks. “Sounds like a lot of effort.”
“Do you wanna get a diet of meat on meat to bulk all of it up?”
“But the cake that chef guy bakes are so nice!”
“Nope, no sweets for me.” He chuckles internally at how the kid always calls the cook ‘chef guy’. “And, do you want this luxuriously scruffy beard on top of that?”
“You need that to use axes?”
“It’s the most important part, kid. Makes the whole intimidating factor add up.”
The child looks down for a moment, before making a face of confused disgust. “Ew, gross.”
The man bellows out laughing in response. “Exactly! You can’t be like me all the time, you know.”
“But, um, Sunny.” The child looks back up in a worried smile. “Who do I be, then?”
“Well, you’ve asked me that before.” He looks down into their eyes. “Remember the dress thing?”
“Oh, like that one time I told you I wanted to wear a dress when I was little.” The child thinks, making faces that the poor guy still can’t help but respond with a snicker. “But then my mom said I wasn’t allowed to ’cus other folks like me won’t do that and everyone got all upset.”
“And what did I tell you?”
“That it’s no good to try and be like other folks if it don’t make sense, even if people keep telling me to.” The child looks deep in thought, eyes slowly widening. “And… that if I wanna do good, the only kind of folk I can be is myself.”
“So!” The man claps in emphasis. “What do you know you’re good at?”
“Well, I can do some acrobatics good.” The kid beams up, eyes beaming with ideas. “I did ballet a whole lot ’cus my mom thought it’d make me look more fancy! Can I use that, Sunny?”
“Why don’tcha try?”
The child looks off into the distance for but a moment, before suddenly turning around back to the dummy. They look to the ground, seemingly drawing a path between them and the target, left foot dug into the ground and preparing to be on their toes. The old man isn’t sure of the specifics of what they’re thinking, but he’s got an idea—
“Sword coming from the right, kid! Go for the throat!”
—and just like that, the child spins counter-clockwise away from the imaginary blade, almost instantly from the moment he said the word ‘right’. The sheer grace of it is almost incomprehensible to him, completely unlike even the usual fancy-pants noble lance fighters he’s seen over the years, and without even a second after the other sentence, the kid thrusts forward right out of the motion, using the momentum to push the lance through.
When he realizes what the kid managed, all he can say is holy shit.
“Sunny!” Only a few minutes after this child flailed about like they had never seen a weapon before, the dummy now has a puncture wound, right in the throat, as they pipe up in raw celebration. “Sunny, Sunny, I did it!”
“Kid, I knew you had it in ya to do good and all, but…” He’s genuinely dumbfounded by what he just witnessed, with the raw accuracy of a lance thrust he’s pretty sure the kid had never tried before. “That was somethin’ else.”
Nearby, next to the makeshift campfire where the rest of his folks are eating and drinking the night away, a big fella near the front caught the action long enough for him to holler with the force of a screaming crow in excitement, before everyone else piped in like they all just witnessed a miracle. And, hell, given how bright this kid looks just from doing one good shot, maybe it was, like the gleam of a shooting star that dropped right on this funny little mercenary group’s collective laps.
“You know what? Let’s get you a training partner.” The man points to his top swordsman in the cheering group. “If you’re sober enough, get a cheap stick and train with ’em for a bit. Let’s see how far we can make this work!”
“Yessir!” The swordsman runs off to the crew’s small armory.
“Kid, you’ve got a hell of an idea going on here.” The old man grins, the toothless, goofy open-mouth grin he’s known for. “Keep at it, yeah!”
“Okay! Thanks, Sunny!” The kid grins back a mile wide, and that’s enough for the man to know he did his job.
He walks off into the crowd, satisfied with his work, and finally getting to sit down with a nice slab of cooked meat and booze. That kid’s not the first one he’s picked up, given that bringing the homeless to a safe place and a tent to hide under has effectively become the group’s side gig, but they’ve definitely been the most interesting; when one of his brawlers found them while doing escorting for some nobles, they were starving to death, hadn’t drank water in two days, and seemed to have bruises every place the healers could find, and yet the kid still smiled through all of it.
It’s almost befitting that they came here. The Shining Sun, traveling with the most shining smile a child could have. Ain’t that just some storybook stuff.
“You know, boss, you’re gonna need to come up with a name for ’em fast if they hate the one they got.” The big guy prods at him with an elbow, sitting right next to him on the log. “If you ain’t careful, the kid might take yours while you aren’t looking!”
The rest cackle with the joke, but they might have a point. The Shining Sun might be a guy known to laugh and live, but he’s been broken down and sick before and he can’t recall smiling the way they have. Goddess forbid ’em, kid might take his place in the world.
“Hmmm.” The old man considers hard, taking swigs of ale between name choices. “Idea: Janetty, what was that one rich people bubbly you gave me last month that sparkled a whole lot?”
“Hold up, we’re gonna name the kid after booze?” The lanky man in question pipes up across the campfire. “I know we’re sloshed an’ all, but that seems a bit off.”
“It’s extravagant booze, Janetty, c’mon!” He raises his mug up when yelling. “Kid wants to wear hip bone dresses with a lance strapped to the back, that screams fancy-pants bubbly!”
The crowd looks back at the child, currently in the midst of doing pirouettes with the spear held high in the air, before tossing it right into the dummy’s chest, which elicits another cheer from the dozens at the campfire.
“You know what, maybe they are fancy-pants bubbly.” Janetty tilts his head. “Uh, think it was something like Pearease Eyelon, or something or other.”
“Yeah, yeah, that one!” The old man points at him sloppily and excited. “Kid looks like a, uh, Parys, or whatever you just said! Perfect name!”
The big guy scratches the back of his head. “Does anyone know how that bubbly was spelled, though?”
“Like hell I’m buying that stuff again to check.” Janetty crosses his arms. “Damn thing costed a fortune, it did.”
“Ahhhh whatever, we’ll wing it, who cares.”
He takes another swig, and gets one last glance at the kid, who could almost count as their own fireplace with the amount of light they’re eminating. The old man’s never been one for caring too much about having much future planning, and especially with all the enemies he’s made over the years of going by his own rules, he’s expecting to be dead any day now. While he’s made peace with it, seeing this child’s energy is making him rethink some stuff, like maybe he shouldn’t just throw everyone else’s life away alongside his own. Maybe he should do more than just plop these kids down wherever they call home and call it a day. Maybe he oughta set up some proper plans for this, a real big house they can all live in, well past his demise.
He’s too far in to back out now, he knows that and all, but, shit, that kid deserves a better chance. If there really is a goddess out there, and she’s not a fan of tragedy, maybe they’ll get it.
Limping out into the forest, the child keeps the lance close. They aren’t certain if what they had done was the best thing to do, but it’s not like there were many other options; to go anywhere else atop the cliff was to accept defeat from intruders, having ambushed the entire crew in the middle of the night.
They’re alone now. They’re very confident Sunny’s not around, not anymore. He was one of the first ones to approach them, after they got Janetty. Taking a gulp, they aren’t certain they’d want to see him go away like that. Not while they’re still there to hear it, there to see it.
They’ve already seen so many dead bodies before. They don’t want to know what it looks like when he’s not smiling.
“Parys?” A voice calls from above, the audible noises of a wyvern’s wings following. “Where’d you hop off to?”
Their leg hurts. It didn’t hurt too much a minute ago, and they could still put their foot down hard enough to walk, but something about it is off. If it weren’t so dark, they would realize how a bone has put itself well outside where it should be, but everything is dark, and they aren’t sure they feel anything enough to feel the wind blowing directly into its wound.
They hear footsteps. That’s not good, there’s not supposed to have been anyone else coming down with them.
“Alright, I know you of all people would love to try and make that jump work the second time around, but—” Claude? What is Claude doing here? Why did he interrupt himself? “Oh no.”
Oh no no no no no there’s not supposed to anyone here.
“C’mon, hop up here.” Parys feels a hand. “Marianne’s not far behind, you just need to stay alive.”
They can’t outrun them. They did not know this, but they also couldn’t run, or actually stay standing for another ten seconds, because the moment they even begun to try they had crashed to the ground a second time, nose bleeding and head spinning.
“Look, teach already dealt with it, okay? Bandits are dead and everything. Let’s just keep you steady, alright?”
Where could they even go? Will anyone even be left alive to know?
“Uh, hey, you’re kind of scaring me with that stare. You still conscious in there?”
They can’t go back again. They want to see Sunny, they want to laugh and feel free and not taste acid in their mouth from panic whenever their mother catches wind that they had another dress in the house.
“What are you doing with that lance.”
They would rather die here.
“H-hang on, don’t hold it up like that.”
Flat on their back,
“Parys, put it down.”
there’s only one thing left to do.
“I swear, don’t make me take that from you—”
Readying their weapon one last time,
the child prepares their final stand.