Neo was sure- damn sure, Chasel, don't scoff!- that he was cursed. Absolutely certain. If there was anything Neo could pride himself on (besides his luxurious hair and invincible swordplay, of course) it was his conviction in his opinions. Neo Sun, noble leader of the 37th generation of the Twelve Holy Knights and the strongest Sun Knight in history, was completely and utterly convinced that some jackass had waved their magic wand for the sole purpose of ruining his life. (Neo had never done anything to deserve it either, nevermind what his insubordinate holy knights thought.)

This terrible, horrible, no good, very bad curse came upon him in the form of two small children.

Curses and hexes and the like weren't exactly his area of expertise, but Neo was pretty sure he knew them when he saw them. After ten years of fighting every manner of monster necromancers could whip up, he could recognise the signs. The children weren't discolored, or rotting, or on fire, but there was still something unmistakably Bad about them.

The moment the first one- Neo later learned from Kleenly that his name was Roland- stepped through the gates of the church, Neo felt a chill run up his spine. The Divine Sun Sword was already halfway out of its sheath by the time Neo realised that the unnerving atmosphere was coming from a kid. (The one thing he couldn't reasonably expect to get away with attacking, dammit.) Upon closer inspection, it was obvious by the determined look in his eye and the certificate in his hand that the boy was here for the selections. Being the Sun Knight, Neo was of course willing to direct the boy to the hall where the other early applicants had gathered, silently praying to the God of Light that this boy- this boy who wasn't as he seemed- was trying out for one of the other positions. Any of the other positions.

(The fact that even the God of Light couldn't prevent Roland from entering the Sun Knight trials goes to show just how unspeakably awful this curse of Neo's was.)

The second boy, shuffled in with a crowd of his fellow orphans, gave Neo the same nauseous feeling as the first one. Even without looking at him, Neo could tell he was there, lurking among the other children like a beast in the shadows. Again, Neo had clumsily stopped himself from drawing his sword on a child- this time in front of a crowd of twenty-odd more children who would be under his care for the next two months. It was a close one, even for him, and Neo had a sinking feeling that this particular kid would be responsible for a lot more close calls than that. (He didn't have to ask Kleenly for a name this time around. Neo asked the kid himself after witnessing just what kind of horrors he could perform with a blade in hand; Grisia, he'd been told. No last name.)

Aside from their disquieting auras, the kids didn't display any obvious symptoms of dark magic. They didn't have horns, or wings, or wickedly sharp teeth. They couldn't spin their heads around like owls, not that Neo was very interested in testing for that particular symptom. (Either it worked, and he would have to deal with a demon child, or it wouldn't, and he would have to deal with a dead child. Explaining a broken neck to Chasel would not be pleasant.) Frankly, as far as dark creatures went, the kids were a little pathetic.

It soon occurred to Neo, however, that the children didn't need any of those things to make his life miserable.

Shenanigans before dawn. Mischief in the morning. Troublemaking in the afternoon, a quick break for dinner, and suspicious behavior in the evening, followed by bedtime. (Neo's favorite part of the day quickly became bedtime.) Every day was a non-stop circus, and duty-bound as he was to choose a student, Neo couldn't dump the kids on his men and flee into the mountains to 'train'. The boys were every bit the troublemakers he had pegged them to be.

At any given moment, they were up to something. It could be sneaking into the kitchens (forbidden,) it could be climbing over the church wall (also forbidden,) it could be infiltrating the Pope's office to shift all his furniture two inches to the left (probably forbidden, but since Neo was a little curious himself how the old fart would react, he wasn't going to say anything.) Grisia didn't pay attention to any warnings that he would be kicked out, and seemed to be competing only for fun, while Roland clearly took the selections more seriously. In the end, however, he would still go along with all of his buddy's crazy schemes.

That was the worst part; they were buddies.

Maybe if they had remained rivals, like all the other boys, he would have some time to breathe. Instead they were inseparable, and thus several times worse than they would have been. (It was just Neo's luck that the power of teamwork was working against him this time around!)

Neo could almost believe they weren't doing it all on purpose. Roland never picked fights, and Grisia only picked them on those not-so-rare occasions that his opponents were 'asking for it.' Usually, they asked for it by teasing him for his height, his hair, his swordplay, his friendship with Roland, his lisp (as induced by several missing teeth,) or anything else the kids could think of. Part of him was a little suspicious as to why the other kids hated Grisia so much; he certainly wasn't a threat to their chances of becoming the Sun Knight-in-training. He didn't walk around with a 'fight me' sign stuck to him, either. (Neo ignored the quiet voice that suggested that maybe, just maybe, the other kids could tell that something was a little wrong with Grisia, something in his voice or his eyes or the way he moved. Surely, no matter how striking Grisia's dark aura was, those brats trying out for selections wouldn't be able to sense it. No way!)

If he absolutely had to choose he'd say that Roland was the worse of the two. Even though Grisia could be a real pain in the ass, he seemed to be completely oblivious to his dark nature.

Roland wasn't.

Occasionally, Neo would turn around to find Roland staring blankly at him, his dark aura simmering with malice. With great effort, he would ignore his sword and reach for Roland with his bare hands- he was the Strongest Sun Knight in History, a 10-year-old brat wouldn't really be able to hurt him- and Roland would always snap out of it as soon as Neo touched him. Luckily, whatever sinuous connection he held with dark magic was easily broken by the Holy Light coursing through Neo's veins.

But even when he wasn't being directly influenced by the dark element, there was something about Roland that couldn't be explained, little holes in his memory that Grisia always managed to work around, but Neo could tell it bothered them both. (Hell, it bothered him, and he was deliberately trying the ignore them!) These flaws were painfully apparent when Neo compared him to Grisia, whose dark element was suffocating but steady, as though asleep. (Neo wasn't sure it this meant Grisia's dark element was much weaker than Roland's, or much more powerful. He didn't want to find out.)

Days turned into weeks, and Neo gradually got used to the presence of the two boys. Their disquieting aura was easily ignored, remaining instead a constant buzz in the background as he pushed them to their limits again and again. For a while, Neo was nearly convinced that he'd dreamed up how awful the first few weeks were; surely, no matter how scheming those brats were, they couldn't have had such an impact on him. No! He was the strongest Sun Knight in history, and there was no way they could pull one over on him. Maybe Chasel was right, and he wasn't cursed. Neo resolved to go a little easier on the kids, just to show how gracious and benevolent he was.

This resolve lasted about an hour, until he walked into the meeting hall and was greeted by a bucket of red paint and the sight of his fellow Twelve Holy Knights, all looking defeated as they sat coated in bright paint as well.

(He didn't care if those two brats really were evil! They could both be Demon Kings for all he cared! They were both grounded 'til he retired!)

(At least Chasel finally admitted that yes, Neo was definitely cursed.)


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