The court and palaces of His Highness were never quite the places for idealism and romantic fantasies. They were places of politics, of lies, of cruelty. Suffice to say, I was not brought up on Robin Hood and Cinderella. But who needs fairytales of Robin Hood when you meet her in person?
I must've been seven or eight when I first heard of her. It was all over the news, that it was the first time a woman was piloting a Knightmare Frame. She was some sort of commoner who enlisted, and managed to rise up through the ranks. This was during the second generation of Knightmare Frames, back when they weren't being mass produced yet. Being allowed to pilot a Frame was like being personally knighted by His Majesty.
But His Majesty does not appoint people to high positions to dissuade discrimination. It was, of course, because only the fit survive and become Knightmare pilots. But I had never thought too much of her until His Majesty ordered a demonstration from her for the whole royal family. My mother didn't want me to go because she was afraid it would be dangerous. But I wanted to. Not to see Marianne, but my first Knightmare.
I was so disappointed seeing it. It looked terrible. A huge, blocky mass of metal. I was about to leave when it started whirring. I stood there with my mouth hanging open. To my young mind, there was something fantastic about scrap metal making noise.
It stood there for a while, warming up. I finally found enough consciousness thought to sit down.
Then, she danced. She danced a dance of fire and steel, a dance I've been trying to learn for almost twenty years now.
I hardly remember it now. All I remember is how beautiful it was. No, I'm lying. I do remember a few choice moments. The machine stood there warming up for half an hour. I was bored out of my mind and began chatting away with Schneizel. He was a flatterer even then, and his words came faster than my composure even then. And then, it suddenly came to life. With a bang, it went around the arena at top speed, zigging and zagging through tiny cones placed on the ground that even I could barely see, sitting on the bleachers twenty feet below the cockpit. I would swear it broke the sound barrier, except I know it didn't because even the Lancelot can't do that, five generations of Frames later.
And I remember her shooting targets moving too fast for me to follow without getting a migraine. She moved faster than them all and shot all a hundred of them, right in the bull's-eye, within ten seconds. And the finale. I remember the finale. A thousand missiles aimed right for her. She shot and cut them all down without even a scratch on her armor.
The Knightmare kneeled down and powered off. His Highness walked out to speak with her, and I wanted to follow, but my mother wouldn't let me. She told me it was dangerous. Seeing what my job is right now, she wasn't exactly too far off.
So I settled for simply following her on the news. Cheering at her victories, booing at the men who challenged her position. I went on the internet, researching the military and the technology of the Knightmare Frames. I argued with grown men about machine specs, about individual pilots like they were baseball players. Marianne was, of course, Babe Ruth. And, my dream was, of course, to be a Knightmare pilot just like her.
I only met her in person a year later. It was at her knighting ceremony, performed by His Majesty himself. Once the ceremony was over, I ran over to talk to her. Not even my mother could convince me to stay then, when my idol was there in person, right before my eyes. Thinking back, it must've been hilarious. I must've seemed like a rabid fan asking for an autograph. I guess I was.
"Marianne Lamperogue!" I ran up to her. She turned around to look at me, and I was suddenly speechless.
"I, uh..." I don't think I ever felt as embarrassed in my life as that I did that moment. I didn't have a clue what to say. 'You're really amazing on the battlefield'? She already knew. 'I've always been a big fan'? Even at that age, I knew that sounded pathetic. So, I settled for "It's nice to meet you."
With a smile, and no intention of ridiculing me for sounding like an idiot, she held her hand out, "It's nice to meet you too. I'm Marianne. You are...?"
"Cornelia li—Cornelia." I took her hand to shake it. I was still a child then, and her hand almost completely enveloped mine. In fact, I don't think I was much taller than her stomach then.
"Well, then, Cornelia li Cornelia, it's a pleasure to meet you." I opened my mouth to protest, but she had a kind smile on and I knew she was joking. "But, unfortunately, I have some business to attend to. I'm sure we'll meet again, though." With that, she walked out of my sight into the crowd of people.
She was right. About meeting again. She moved into the Aries Palace only two months later, as a Knight of the Round. His Highness' personally chosen knights. I took to visiting her whenever my mother was out.
She taught me everything I know now. She taught me about Alexander the Great and Salah al Din. About Robin Hood and Buddha. Everything that wasn't about the glory of Britannia and the survival of the fittest. She taught me how to be a person.
The only thing she wouldn't teach me was how to be a Knightmare pilot. I told her one day that I wanted to be just like her. She jokingly replied that it was ten years too late for me to be born as a cashier's daughter. I persisted, though, saying that I wanted to be a Knightmare pilot like her. I was going to be like Robin Hood and Alexander, to go around helping people, to be merciful even to my enemies. I wanted to be a hero. She then told me, and I'll never forget those words, "there's a reason why all the heroes I tell you about are either fake or dead". I didn't understand her back then, but I remembered her words anyways. Because I knew they meant something important. It wasn't really until she died that I understood her words. Really understood them, and everything they entailed.
But I went ahead with being a pilot anyways. Because I didn't believe her, because I didn't want to believe her. My debut followed in her footsteps well enough. A princess becoming a Knightmare pilot; it was almost as ridiculous as a common girl becoming a knight.
And as it turns out, I'm not right very often.
It's nostalgic and depressing; the blood and the screams and the begging for mercy. And the fact that I'm sitting up at night, plotting strategies against Zero, plotting the death of Robin Hood.
Mine has already passed away a long time ago, but for Euphie's sake, I almost want Zero to live, to succeed. It's times like this that I wish Marianne was still here, was still my mentor. But the trouble is that they call her Marianne the Flash for a reason. Flashes are much too brilliant for too short a time, and they leave you wishing you could see it again, just once more.