It doesn't really get more awkward than having a small army squad stare at you blankly after confusing you with your travel partner. Actually, it could, especially if I mentioned how attractive a few of them appeared to me, but I'd rather it not get any worse.
Accelgor's husband continued to coddle her, and excitedly chattered over her showing up here. The rest of General Rhydon's troops seemed too stupefied to move, save for the large green and white knight, whose back shell armor made him appear to be hedgehog.
"So, uh, I'm Typhlosion," spoke up one of the knights, the yellow and blue fellow. "And honestly, I'm wondering how good you two actually are."
"Is that a challenge?" asked an intrigued Accelgor, as she pushed her husband back. Rhydon shook his head and pulled his hands over his face.
"Sure, if either of you are interested," chuckled Typhlosion. "What do you say, Scizor?"
"I'd say you're trying to drag me into a fight I'd rather not participate in," deadpanned the red, clawed mantis.
"Fine, Armaldo, then," huffed Typhlosion.
"Wait, what? Me?" questioned Armaldo.
"I'm not going through our whole roster, so yes, you," insisted Typhlosion. "You can take on Accelgor, I'll go against Greninja, and if we each have a winner, they can have a final face-off."
"Sounds fair to me," agreed Accelgor. She looked over to me, and I hesitated a moment before I nodded.
The other knights backed away as Accelgor and Armaldo took to two sides in the center of the courtyard. Typhlosion, General Rhydon, Accelgor's husband, and I waited on one side, while the others lined up on the opposite end. My eyes locked with the hedgehog's dark eyes again, but I shifted them away after a few seconds, back to Accelgor and Armaldo.
"Would you like to make the first move," inquired Accelgor, "or should I?"
"Um, w-well," stuttered Armaldo. "Ladies first. It is chivalrous, after all."
"How kind of you! Unlike my husband," mocked Accelgor, and her husband shuddered. "Escavalier, when are you giving me back my helmet?"
"Are you still on about that?" Escavalier snapped.
"Always," she winked to him. "Ready, Armaldo?"
"Whenever you are, sure," Armaldo answered.
She rushed over to him, without giving him any more time to think or act. Accelgor delivered few quick punches in succession: first to his exposed gut, then the claws, back to the gut, and then a harsh uppercut against his jaw.
It might have been shock, but Armaldo fell backward, and hit the ground hard. Accelgor raised a fist and waited for him to get back up.
"Ouch," moaned Armaldo.
"Is that it?" wondered Accelgor.
Typhlosion let out a nervous and awkward laugh. "Ah, that might be my fault. I did a number on him a bit ago. Too rough with our sparring, I guess."
"Right, if you say so," relented Accelgor. She helped Armaldo up from the ground and marched him over to the side. Meanwhile, Typhlosion and I walked to the middle of the courtyard for our match.
"Greninja, right?" he checked and I nodded. "Right, well, your partner may have been a little too quick for Armaldo, but you'll have much more of a challenge with me."
I tilted my head and looked him over a bit. He wore light chest armor and carried a short sword, but nothing more. His footing seemed less graceful and careful compared to mine. Typhlosion had a pretty face, but was maybe a bit too arrogant.
"Would you like the first move then?" I called out as we took our positions.
"Ha, you don't need to pull that one on me," laughed Typhlosion. "But if you'd like to lose faster, that's fine too."
Right. He was more than a bit arrogant.
Still, I shrugged and waited a moment. He readied himself into a running position and darted over to me. As soon as he was close enough, he rose up and made an attempt to strike me with the short sword.
Quickly, I locked my left leg under his and twisted my back around his. Too bad he didn't light his neck like before; I slid my right hand filled with water over the collar.
Typhlosion cried out in pain as it glided across his back and went around. As my hand reached his front, I compressed a dose of water into an aquatic blade of my own and held it to his throat.
"If I'm not mistaken, I believe you're dead to rights," I explained, and kept my voice leveled to avoid offense. "You're welcome to prove me wrong."
"N-No thanks," Typhlosion gave in and winced.
In a fluid motion, I unwrapped myself from around him and brushed off some of the water drops on his back. Everyone else came back to the center, with the knights in awe over how quickly we handled their colleagues.
"Well, that was…an excellent demonstration," Rhydon spoke up, with a bit of hesitation still in his voice. "Ah, how about I take you two to meet with the King?"
"Certainly," cheerfully answered Accelgor.
"Right. The rest of you," he turned his attention to the knights, a sharp sternness in his eye, "back to training."
The knights nodded and went right back to sparring with one another. Accelgor and I followed General Rhydon inside the stone castle.
To say the castle was an eye catch would be a severe understatement.
As we moved in, I observed the interior, which held hard, even marble tiling on the floor. The columns appeared to be verd antique, and were sturdier than they looked. Dark purple tapestries were hung neatly along the walls, with designs of kings and queens or wars from the past. Various brown desks and tables were pushed up along the sides, each with various types of flowers, such as violets and callas, resting in golden vases. Two staircases were further down the left and right sides of the room. A long and dark purple rug, with golden petal designs woven into it, paved the path to the throne room.
All around the halls, green banners were hung up. On each banner was a golden crest that featured a deer-like creature with curled horns that bowed low, a little hedgehog with a gracidea in front of it near the center, a similar creature with wing-like ears just above it, and a small pixie with a seed-shaped head above the others. Lines of trees surrounded the four on both sides.
Accelgor let out a low whistle. "My, this place is quite breathtaking."
"You could say something like that," chuckled a new voice.
"Earl Gallade, is that you?" called out Rhydon.
"Indeed," answered Gallade, who appeared from the left staircase. He wore a white uniform and a long green cape that billowed gently as he strolled over to us.
"If I may, I'd like to introduce the latest additions to the army," General Rhydon held his arm out to display us. "This is Accelgor, and this is Greninja," he indicated as he introduced us, and we bowed to him. "They come from the Stream Shinobi."
"Pleasure," Gallade smiled and bowed in return. We stood back up and Gallade returned his attention to Rhydon. "So, how are the knights performing?"
"Today's an off day," Rhydon sighed. "I'll need to whip them into shape, if war is truly coming."
"What, from the other three kingdoms?" questioned Gallade. "Doubtful. Those whispers of the ancient prophet have amounted to nothing."
The General shook his head. "Still, they've become rusty lately. They could use some stronger motivation."
"Well, I wouldn't know about motivating them," pondered Gallade, "but why not have that samurai help? Samurott, right?"
"Ah, I suppose that's a plausible idea," concurred Rhydon as he scratched his chin. "I should go find him."
"Leave that to me," insisted Gallade. "You haven't visited his Grace today, have you? I'm sure he'll look forward to seeing you."
Rhydon's face blushed a deep red color. "N-No, I haven't…I suppose—"
"Have you accepted the title of viceroy yet, General?" asked Gallade.
The General's face flushed a darker shade. "No," he snapped. "That's for royals that rule in place of another. Our King is very much present and with us."
"True, but he's not whom I was referring to," murmured Gallade.
"Yes, and I know very well who you are thinking of," growled Rhydon, "to which that term still doesn't apply."
Gallade closed his eyes and bowed. "My apologies, sire." He opened his eyes and rose again. "I'll see to Samurott aiding the other knights. Will that be all?"
"That's fine," grumbled Rhydon, and his face slowly drained the red away.
"Right. Well, if you'll excuse me, General. Shinobi," Gallade nodded and turned to leave, but paused. We pivoted around to see two mages in long and elegant purple robes make their way down from the right staircase. Gallade bowed and greeted the two, "My fairest Lady Gardevoir, hello. And to you too, Lady Delphox."
"Ah, Lord Gallade," laughed Gardevoir, and she curtseyed.
Delphox, however, folded her arms over. "Just who are you calling a 'lady,' sir?" asked a significantly more masculine voice.
"Oh! M-My apologies, Lord Delphox," Gallade stammered and bowed again. "I beg both of your pardons, but I must be going." And with that, we watched Gallade as he made his quick, yet mostly graceful, escape.
"That is the third time this week, Gardevoir," snapped Delphox as he grinded his teeth. "From Gallade alone! I can't even count everyone else's mistakes."
Gardevoir giggled. "It could be worse. Guys could have tried asking you out."
"They have," groaned Delphox. "I might as well start accepting at this point."
Rhydon cleared his throat and the two mages turned their attention to us.
"You rang, General?" teased Gardevoir.
"We have newcomers, milady," Rhydon gestured to the two of us. "I introduce to you Accelgor and Greninja of the Stream Shinobi."
"Welcome," Gardevoir took her robes and curtseyed as we bowed again.
Everyone waited a moment as Delphox tapped his fingers against his stick staff. "Oh fine," grumbled Delphox, as he curtseyed as well.
"Do forgive him," laughed Gardevoir as we rose up. "Societal standards are his bane."
"Oh, and you're 'princess perfection,'" sneered Delphox.
"No, just your spell casting superior," Gardevoir taunted with a wink.
"Do either of you have an appointment with the King?" interrupted Rhydon. "Or are you going to have another 'my spells are bigger' contest?"
Gardevoir grinned. "No, he's all yours. Unless Delphox would like to get outclassed once again."
"We ended in a draw, and you know it!" fumed Delphox.
"I definitely could have beaten you," snickered Gardevoir.
"This way," sighed Rhydon as he ushered us to the throne room, and we left the spell casters to continue their squabbles.
The throne room was quite spacious, with brighter marble patterns on the floor. A few portraits lined the walls, but I couldn't make them out from the distance. Royal banners were also hung in here, with a large one closer to the thrones. On one sat the King himself, wearing a large and dark green cape that could cover his royal uniform. The other, golden with dark purple cushions, was empty, save for a crown.
"Nidoking, Your Royal Grace," Rhydon announced and bowed after he closed the doors behind us. Accelgor and I followed suit.
"Rhydon, please don't bow," called Nidoking, with a hint of repetitive annoyance.
"It's customary, milord, for all subjects—"
"Well it's not for you!" barked Nidoking. He softened, and I could barely make out his whispered, "Not since…"
Rhydon sighed. "I do apologize, sire." He rose. "The two Shinobi have arrived."
"I can see that," deadpanned the King. Accelgor and I exchanged expressions as we slowly rose back up ourselves.
"Must you use royal titles?"
"Yes, my King, I must," persisted Rhydon. "Will you not greet the two ninjas that you requested to be sent here?"
"Maybe if they actually stood closer to me, I could," mocked Nidoking. Rhydon grinded his teeth and guided us up closer. We stopped in the center of the throne room and bowed again. Up closer, I could see his figure fit nicely into his clothes and began to envy Rhydon's closeness with him.
Nidoking rose from his throne. "Thank you both for coming," he spoke with more sincerity to us than to Rhydon. "I appreciate your, and your clan master's, haste."
"It's an honor, Your Grace," we voiced simultaneously.
"Probably more of surprise, I'd say," observed the King. "You were called away from home to become part of my army, and for that I apologize."
"Beg pardon, Your Majesty," interrupted Accelgor. "I'm afraid that there must have been some type of mix-up. My husband is here and already serves in your army."
"Perfect," Nidoking lightly cheered. "Nothing like the onset of potential war to bring people back together."
"Sir, isn't that against—?"
"Oh, I'm certain it's against several regulations," finished Nidoking for her. "You are, however, one of the finest from your clan. So long as you and your husband fight to the fullest for us, I don't give a damn how many rules need to be broken."
Accelgor waited a moment before she nodded. "O-Of course, sir. It will be a great honor for me, for both of us."
"I'd imagine it would be more gratifying to be with one another again," corrected Nidoking. "You two should have the time to treasure together, even if it's work."
"Thank you, Your Grace," Accelgor bowed again.
"Now, how about this silent and handsome fellow?" asked Nidoking as he raised an eyebrow, with a tone of suggestiveness in his voice. Oh my.
"I-I'm," was all I could manage at first, as my face burned up. "My name is—"
"Greninja, correct?" checked Nidoking. "Another superbly high ranked ninja from the Stream Shinobi."
Superbly? "Y-You flatter m-me, sire," I mumbled.
"Nonsense, you've earned your reputation," insisted Nidoking. "You're both masterful assassins, from what I've learned." He paused and our eyes locked onto one another for a while. After a minute, he laughed. "Forgive me, Greninja, I believe I'm staring."
"Oh, it's f-fine," I tried to reassure him. "After all, I-I did the same."
Accelgor stifled her laughter as Rhydon roughly cleared his throat.
"Yes, well, the short version," Nidoking refocused himself. "You were both asked here to expand my ranks and to assist in the war that could start over the return of the prophet. It is just speculation, but his or her reemergence could be bring about great prosperity or catastrophic doom upon all. And that relies on how each kingdom will choose to use this mystic. Since the prophet, however, has not been found nor sighted, we're still in peacetime."
He sat back in his throne. "We're one of four large kingdoms and we'll need to be prepared for the possibility of war to claim this seer. The two of you are meant to be representatives for greater potential alliances amongst my kingdom and the lands that I oversee."
Again, Accelgor and I glanced to one another briefly, before we returned attention to the King.
"It's a tactical sort of strategy, to include new methods that your army hasn't previously utilized," continued Nidoking. "Hopefully, should you two mesh well with the rest of the soldiers, you can help us claim an advantage in whatever comes our way." He shook his head. "But for now, the two of you should make yourselves at home, enjoy your time here. Supposedly, I've arranged for the two of you to stay for two years, and with any luck, there will be no wars that break out within that time."
We sat in silence for a moment, before Rhydon abruptly questioned, "That's the short version?"
"Actually, yes," answered Nidoking. "Without going into specifics or telling all of the mythology around this seer, that shortens things down immensely."
Rhydon opened his mouth to say something else, but shut it and shook his head.
"Well, I believe that's enough for now," Nidoking sat up from his throne. "Rhydon, show these two to their rooms, and then meet me on the balcony."
"Sir, it's quite early still," noted Rhydon. "Besides that, I need to practice with the knights—"
"The anniversary is coming," softly murmured Nidoking, a sorrowful weight now in his voice. "She would…I'd rather not…"
"I'll be there," Rhydon filled in Nidoking's sentence. "But if you intend to keep me, you're helping with my knights."
"Absolutely," consented Nidoking and he smiled. "Thank you."
"It is my duty," muttered Rhydon. Nidoking's smile dropped to a frown, as Rhydon guided us back out the door, but he stopped for a moment. "You know, we can't keep this up forever. They're trying to call me 'viceroy.'"
Nidoking stood up. "Let them."
"But…" Rhydon meant to protest, but fell silent again. Instead, he guided us back out of the throne room. From the silence alone, it was clear that two mages had already left the room. As he closed the doors behind us again, Accelgor decided she couldn't keep quiet any longer.
"Beg pardon, General, but I'm curious to know—"
"Save it for another day," cut off Rhydon.
"But how did she—?"
Rhydon looked sharply into Accelgor's eyes, and she nodded softly. He began to guide us toward the left staircase. I gazed up and studied the banners again. Before I could open up my mouth for a new line of discussion, something hard hit me and I fell backwards.
"Greninja!" gasped Accelgor.
"Chesnaught, what are you doing in here?" snapped Rhydon.
"Sorry, General, sir, I had to take care of, uh…well, you know."
Slowly, I tried to push myself back up from the floor, but felt a bit dizzy. Two firm hands clasped around my shoulders. I blinked and looked up at Chesnaught.
"Easy," he soothed as he kneeled down. "You went down a bit hard." Slowly, the knight helped me from the floor, with one arm under mine and around my back, and the other in my hand. Chesnaught tilted my body into his and slowly picked me up. "There we go. Sorry about that," he nervously chuckled.
My face burned and I didn't want to imagine how red I was, nor how hard my heart pounded. "It's fine," I mumbled.
Neither of us let go right away and instead made eye contact. His eyes were a very dark brown, almost black. He had them opened wide, like he wanted to take in everything he could see. They lowered a bit as he continued to stare into mine.
Rhydon coughed and suddenly, Chesnaught's arms slipped away from me. He backed up and gave me a small smile.
"I, uh, I should go," he walked backwards and waved, though he was reluctant to take his eyes off of me. "I'll see you two around." Two? I glanced over to the nearby Accelgor and my heartbeat slowed back to normal. Of course, he wasn't just gazing at me; we both fascinated him.
Strong, chivalrous, and sweet; now all I needed to find out was that he was straight and I could hopelessly pine over him like most others. And my self-loathing only increased as I watched him slip back outside.
"Are you all right, Greninja?" asked Accelgor, with a tone that seemed eager to pry.
"Mostly, yes," I nodded, and turned back to Rhydon, who watched me with a newfound curiosity. "You were guiding us upstairs?"
He blinked as if I broke him from a deep thought. "Right, of course. This way."
The General continued across the room and guided us to the dark purple, carpet-covered staircase. On either side were golden railings, with banisters that shaped into gracideas. Accelgor followed, but I lingered and stared toward the front doors. No one else would walk through, and I knew that. My eyes squeezed shut and I opened them as I turned to follow the others. Quickly, I caught up to Accelgor, who was a bit away from Rhydon.
"Greninja, are you sure you're fine?" she whispered to me.
I repeated myself, "Mostly, yes."
We continued to ascend the stairs behind General Rhydon, with a quiet air that had settled in. This castle was to become our new home, though I couldn't quite keep that settled in my mind. Accelgor wasn't the only one that stifled a number of questions to ask, and I had a feeling that Rhydon would like to learn more about us as well.
And yet, the quiet climb up the stairs was maintained for the rest of the way.