The best thing Sol could have said about the ceremony was that at least they'd had the sense to keep it short. He'd spent most of it half-expecting – maybe even hoping – it was going to be interrupted by a panicked runner bursting in with news of a major Gear attack and remind all those twits how this sorry excuse for an army was meant to be spending its time and effort. No-one with the basic awareness to remember how to hold up a sword could have been surprised by the choice of new Commander to replace the retiring Kliff Undersn; it had been common knowledge to everyone from the airship maintenance staff to Ky himself for months. They might as well have just sent the kid a memo telling him to move all his stuff to his new office and been done with it, but oh no – they just couldn't appoint a new Commander without some kind of song and dance routine – to say nothing of the decision to mark the occasion by bestowing what anyone but Sol would have thought of as one of the Order's holiest treasures on the young knight. As if half the Order didn't already think the sun shone out of the kid's ass.
It would have been interesting to see what any of those lines of star-struck knights who'd witnessed the solemnity with which Ky had accepted the Fuuraiken at the ceremony might have made of the scene Sol found in one of the training arenas late that night. Long after even the unofficial celebrations were over, here was the Commander himself, experimenting with his new sword like a kid with a new toy. It might have started off with the usual drill he put himself through daily – simple exercises to let himself learn the feel and weight of his new weapon, all the ways of channelling power that he'd never had available before – but there was a playfulness to his actions, a half-smile that flickered over his lips as he danced through the new moves he was practicing against his imaginary opponent. It would've embarrassed him terribly to discover anyone was watching him like this.
For all that he might have been carrying on like the kid he so hated being reminded he was, Sol had to admit it was eerie just how well the Fuuraiken suited him. You could have been forgiven for thinking the Jinki had been made with its future owner specifically in mind. Just how often did the world turn out a gifted swordsman with a penchant for the most obscure and difficult schools of offensive magic out there? Sol couldn't think of any, and he'd been around since magic was something for children's stories and obscure theoretical discussions that no reputable scientist would be caught dead getting involved in. The punch line where the truth was that Sol had made the thing himself nearly a hundred years previously, and even he couldn't remember why he'd made a piece quite like the Fuuraiken anymore (not that it felt much like his own making – that had been Frederick's work, maybe the last of it) should only have made it all the more irritating trying to figure out where that moment of precognitive insight could ever have come from or what deity up there was finding this funny. In fact, there was something strangely satisfying about seeing the way Ky was handling the thing.
Time to embarrass the kid a little.
Sol's first footsteps into the arena echoed loudly around the room, making Ky freeze comically mid-swing as realisation dawned on him that he hadn't been as alone as he'd thought he was. His head whipped around guiltily to see who was there. Hard to tell from his expression whether he was more or less embarrassed to discover he'd been caught out by the one man who could scarcely think less of him for it, but the discovery that it was Sol didn't look to surprise him much.
"Sol?" he exclaimed, voice cautious, probably wondering whether this was about to lead into another argument about the sanity of someone his age being given a command rank.
"Little late for training, isn't it?" Sol commented, wandering up.
"You were watching?" Ky asked nervously. So lost had he been in his own little world that Sol could've been joined by a small audience and he might not have noticed.
"Maybe. Enjoying your new toy?" Sol grinned at him.
Ky glanced at the Fuuraiken, still raised comically in the air since he'd frozen, and remembered to lower it at last. "Ah, well. It's not going to be of much use to me if I haven't learnt to handle it before I'm next called on to fight," he said, smiling sheepishly.
Sol came to a stop in front of him. "Hand it over," he instructed.
"Eh?" Ky started, frowning suspiciously. Sol jerked his hand impatiently. Still frowning, clearly unsure about what Sol might be getting at, Ky flicked the Fuuraiken around in his grasp and passed it over, hilt first.
Sol hefted it easily, remembering the feel of the weapon after so many years, then swung it upwards with a flick of his wrist. The motion sent a powerful charge of electricity leaping from the blade, effortless even without a grain of natural lighting affinity to his name.
Ky watched, wide-eyed in amazement. "H… how did you…?"
"What, you've been at this all night and you hadn't even figured that out yet?" Sol grumbled dismissively, handing the weapon back.
Ky was still looking at Sol suspiciously as he accepted the weapon back, but within a couple of tries of his own, to his obvious pleasure, he'd managed to duplicate the effect.
Sol quirked an eyebrow at him when the boy looked back at last. Remembering himself, he said, "Ah… thank you for demonstrating that for me."
Sol shrugged and passed his own weapon back to his favoured hand. On a whim, he asked, "Wanna try it out properly?"
Ky's eyes flickered from the distraction of that movement back to Sol's face again with a look of surprise. A small but very genuine smile quirked across his lips. "You're actually volunteering? I never though I'd see the day."
"Don't get used to it," Sol muttered, but in fairly good humour. Taking an attack stance, he added, "Ready?"
Ky took a stance of his own, still almost grinning at the older man he faced. "Any time you are."
"Well? This is your show," Sol prompted after a moment.
Ky didn't need further encouragement. He glanced at the Fuuraiken one more time, weighing the options for opening moves, another small smile flickering over his lips. In the next moment he'd swung his sword down in a motion that was practically a signature move to send a crescent shaped bolt of lightning arcing toward Sol. By the time Sol had his weapon raised to deflect it there was a second Stun Edge to follow, and a third, faster than he'd ever seen the boy pull off that move before. Through the electric crackle of the third shot Sol caught a view of Ky's face, the smile still very much in place, pleased with how much easier this became with the amplification of the Fuuraiken to support it. As the last static cleared he took off at a run, tracing a wide arc around Sol's position, loosing another Stun Edge on his third pace without missing a step; quickly proving the challenges of aiming rapid fire on the move beneath him as the next three charges went straight for their mark, deflected only by the way Sol swung his weapon to meet them coming. Something like a compressed thunderbolt with enough power to really sting emerged from behind the last one, coming at Sol just when he'd been swinging through the easy part of the curve. Sol snarled and ducked sideways in time to feel the charged Stun Edge whistle past his ear in a trail of residual static that made his hair cling to his neck in a mildly annoying way.
He heard laughter that could only have been Ky. Partially vindictive – a moment when he'd even so much as startled Sol was rare enough to savour – but mostly just having fun. "Too much?" he teased.
Sol sent a fireball back at him before he could think of a snappier retort. Ky did not so much as flinch. He could have knocked it from the air with another counter blast, could have easily deflected or dodged it, but no such move was forthcoming. He stood his ground, focused in the way he sometimes used to stare down Gears four times his size, raised his sword and, on the last millisecond, sliced it clean out of the air, not even blinking.
Nice, Sol might've caught himself thinking, though the full shape of that thought would have been much more complicated to verbalise.
They met halfway in a shower of sparks; metal on metal, fire and lightning. From there it was all melee – the familiar old pattern of move and counter-move they'd rehearsed enough times over the last year to have down to an art. With the Fuuraiken in Ky's hands today it all became that little bit different. Moves Sol had seen him do a hundred times had to be adapted in dozens of minutely crucial ways to fit the new weapon's length and weight, but Ky hadn't let those hours he'd spent training here go to waste. With every exchange he only refined it further – learning what old habits he'd have to break, what new advantages were there to be taken. It wasn't perfect, not yet – there were distracted moments when outdated reflexes took over and left blows to connect at not quite the right angle or with his balance that little bit off, mistakes that could have cost him a real match. But Sol – just this once keeping with the spirit of the exercise – had a lot of uncharacteristic attacks of blindness in that match; grinned as Ky stumbled and stood ready to take the next blow when the boy righted himself again. Few such blunders happened twice. By the end of this he might well be handling that sword as though he'd wielded it for years; if anything, Sol had more reason to be put off his stride by the intrusion of the Fuuraiken into the familiar routine than Ky did. (And if there were a few moments when his own lazy habits cut in and he found himself startled by some move of Ky's that didn't work now quite how it always used to, a smirk from Ky was as much advantage as was ever taken of the fact.)
It never was the same twice when he fought the boy. Ky fought smart and had the kind of stoic determination you could use to prop up mountains, and he improved so fast you could see it happening from day to day. Sol wasn't stupid, but fighting wasn't rocket science, not when he had Gear strength to do most of the work. He should have been able to take the kid on without breaking a sweat anytime, given he could beat Ky with a blow or could drive him into such a furious rage with a few words that it was no challenge, but even for Sol that got old fast, and with any other tactics Ky never made it that easy. Let him see a move once or twice and by the end of the week – by their very next match sometimes – he'd be coming up with some tricky little way to avoid it next time around. All that usually achieved was to keep him from being pounded into the floor until the next move, but it was enough to draw things out to the point of frustration, and if Sol did lose it after that and unleased something that would take a Gear down in a blow to settle the match, it was fifty-fifty the kid would've found a way to get past that too by the end of the month. Sol might've been stronger and faster and had a hundred odd years more combat experience up his sleeve to boot, but a sparing match against Ky forced him to concentrate, which was the kind of irritation Sol hadn't had to deal with in longer than he could remember. Given enough time at that rate and he really might start closing in on Sol some day.
(Yeah, a hundred years or so would probably about do the trick.)
It was almost starting to make Sol see combat differently – break habits of a lifetime and stop and think out there on the battlefields once in a while, and that got to him in a whole other way. Staring at him with all that intensity every damn time, never backing down – it was more than any man should have to take. Damn brat could never learn to relax and enjoy a good fight for once.
This now – this was more like it. They knew each other – the way the other moved and even thought every moment on the battlefield – far too well to always take these fights so seriously. There was no need for the vindictiveness to pounce on every opening, and if Ky was so convinced that was the only way to learn even after he'd spent all his memorable years training in one place or another then either he needed his head examined or a whole lot of his instructors did. You've spent all that time and effort learning the steps, kid, now just forget technique for a day and enjoy the dance for once.
Ky probably didn't even realise that was what he was doing today, the edge of laughter in every move, but then, not thinking was pretty much the whole damn point.
With every swing now there was the flicker of lightning – low charges but very much present – running down the Fuuraiken's blade like rainwater. Showy more than useful, just a reminder to both of them how easy this was, that all it took was a thought now and there could be currents that would've drained the boy considerably a day or so ago arcing clear across the room. Sol could see from the timing of every flicker just what openings the boy would've been aiming for, and he answered them with fire.
So it went, magic to counter magic, starting as little more than the this-is-what-I-could-do kind of placeholder, but before long Sol was getting tired of that game and escalating every other move just to see how much the kid could take. Ky didn't disappoint him – not while Sol was giving him plenty of warning each time he raised the stakes – and he was ready to meet every new blast. Close quarters combat began breaking up every few blows as great blasts of magical energy forced them apart, or met in the middle in showers of flames. No-one in their right mind would ever really fight this way, it was far too wasteful, too much power where a simple sidestep could have sufficed, but it was exactly the christening the Fuuraiken deserved. He'd never been able to fight half this seriously against the boy before without having to worry about overdoing it. It was exhilarating.
And then one of Sol's own fire blasts was exploding right in his face, intercepted by one of those Stun Edges too fast and too close right at the incendiary point – typical sort of trick for the kid when he got cocky – and the only way to answer that was to up the ante again and see how Ky took a Tyrant Rave to the face. Sol didn't get to see what Ky did when he saw all that coming towards him over the cover of his own attack, but however much power it had cost him to hold his ground he was right there when Sol burst through the last dissipating sparks and swung at the boy while he was still recovering, caught the edge of the too-slowly raised Fuuraiken almost on the hilt and sent him practically flying back, stumbling badly then turning the stumble into an elegant recovery that must have defied gravity and running back in low, and if Sol still had him off balance he was doing a damn fine job of hiding it. Lightning crackled harmlessly off the flat of Sol's blade, an obvious distraction when the real attack was Ky going for somewhere around his kneecaps, and the only thought in Sol's head in that millisecond was that if he could take all of that and come out smiling and still wanted to risk getting in that close, they could see how well he could take it at point blank range.
The idea that might have been overdoing it didn't cross Sol's mind until several minutes later, but it was a moot point by then.
The first thing that became visible under all the smoke that clogged up that corner of the arena for the next few minutes was the white tip of the Fuuraiken, lying discarded a handful of paces away. But a second later there was a hand emerging to grab for the hilt, the rest of Ky Kiske right behind, frazzled and dusted with soot but still holding to his feet to the very last moment. Sol was ready well before the blade swung back to meet him, blocked it once low and again up high, the last so close he was caught grinning right into Ky's face inches away, and this time when a shock of high voltage current came his way he took it head on without blocking or hardly flinching and lashed back at the boy before he could register what Sol had done, forcing him back a pace on to the defensive. Caught in an ugly stance with a crucial second before he could right his balance enough to bring the Fuuraiken around for the next shot – and damn if Sol wasn't going to feel this one if he tried anything that boneheaded again – he lashed out a weak kick instead which Sol couldn't have said why he'd even bothered to dodge properly. The upshot left him inside Ky's guard, closer together than either were expecting, Ky caught trying to flinch away from a blow Sol hadn't made and attack all in the same movement that turned into nothing more graceful than a forward stumble just as it dawned on Sol that this was it, and they both went down in a tangle, Ky on top, the Fuuraiken burying itself point down into the floor not two inches away from Sol's head.
For a long moment that was where they stayed while the world caught up again, the only movement in the way their chests rose and fell, the drop of a few beads of sweat from Ky's face to Sol's neck.
"Still… holding back against me… Sol?" Ky breathed in his ear after a while – barely, in between louder pants as he worked to get his breath back. Only once they'd stopped had the evening's exhaustion overtaken him. It was a traditional question.
Asked like that, maybe it deserved a bit more honesty than usual. "Kid, the day I stop holding back against you, you won't know what hit you," Sol murmured, savouring the taste of the words, the arrangement in which they'd fallen bringing his mouth as close to Ky's ear as Ky's was to his.
There was a sharp exhale of breath from Ky in response, not quite a cough and not quite a laugh either, and an admission Sol might never hear again. "Well, I suppose you'd know best." Arm tightening on the Fuuraiken's hilt again he levered himself back to a kneel, and from there – a little less steadily – back to his feet. His whole posture was the picture of satisfied fatigue.
Apparently finding something amiss, he pronounced, "Thank you for the match," – traditional nonsense, probably some habit from his student days. "It was most instructive."
"Don't get used to it," Sol mumbled at him, getting back to his own feet, realised he'd said that back at the start and had to settle for hoping the kid wouldn't notice.
"Ah. Then, all the more reason to for me to be grateful," said Ky, apparently oblivious. His attention wavered for a moment. "What time is it?"
"Couple of hours to dawn?" Sol hazarded.
Ky gave a faint, self-deprecating chuckle. "No wonder. I should get some sleep."
"Mm, won't look good if the Commander sleeps in on his first day."
Ky shrugged, no reminder of responsibility about to take the edge off his good mood. "If the Commander can't decide to sleep in once in a while, I don't know who can," he declared lightly, and Sol had to face the unusual fact the kid had just made a joke.
Ky glanced back around the hall as though making sure he hadn't forgotten something, or more, as though too tired to remember what it was he was wondering if he'd forgotten. Sol took that as a cue to put a hand on his shoulder and steer him gently towards the doorway. The Fuuraiken bumped clumsily against his leg once before Ky shifted to carry it more carefully, eyes flickering downwards. Admiring his new toy hadn't gotten old yet, but it was hard to begrudge him that.
It really did suit him a little too well for comfort.
"Not bad for your first try," Sol offered at the doorway. "Few more years, maybe… you'll actually be making me pay attention."
Ky's clear laughter was the last noise heard in the training hall that night.