Fifteen Going on Sixty
by Lucathia
The secret behind the Pope’s youth is no small secret.

Part 1: Secret

When my door flew open, I immediately readied my magic, about to blast the intruder. Whoever had just disturbed me was either very daring to brave my magic traps, or they were just plain dense for not even noticing them or realizing the possibility that they’d be there. As the intruder was trapped in the spells I’d set, I’d say that the intruder belonged to the latter category and lacked a bit in the intelligence department.

With a head of blazing red hair, Fahr’s brash student stood frozen before me, trapped by my magic. Only his eyes were capable of moving, and they were wide with shock. I didn’t have to glance behind me to know that he’d seen what was in my room, and that really wouldn’t do. I’d guarded my secret for way too many years to have a bumbling Blaze Knight-in-training unveil me in such a way.

“Child, you must not remember what you’ve seen in my room!” I said, and without the least bit of hesitation, I reached out with my magic to erase the last hour of his memories.

This wasn’t the first time I had to do something like this to guard my secret, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last. I might have hesitated at one point about the lengths I went through to protect myself, but I was in too deep to change. I was a coward, but if being one meant I could keep my promise, I didn’t mind.

I carefully guided Fahr’s student back to the hallways of the Sanctuary of Light. When he shook himself out of his daze, wondering what he was doing here, I nearly thought he would decide to kick my door again. Thankfully, he seemed to recall that he wanted to kick Grisia’s door.

From afar, I watched him bounce off. I shook my head, his brashness making me feel nostalgic. Would he never learn that some doors just can’t be kicked? Some secrets are better kept hidden…

Mine was one such secret, though I really should have expected that the Blaze Knights would always be the ones closest to uncovering me.

I returned to my room and strengthened the traps on my door.

I’ll have to deduct Fahr’s pay once again…

By the fireside, he sits, cooking a pot of stew. When he notices that I’m watching him, he looks up, briefly startled, but then he smiles at me, his smile reaching his clear blue eyes. As he offers me a bowl, the clouds part just in time for the sun to shine down on him, glittering off his golden hair. It’s a sight that she would have scoffed at, but I can’t say I wasn’t spellbound.

I really wanted to rub my eyes to make sure I was seeing right — who glitters like this anyway? — but I’m hungry. I take the bowl.

I’ll never forget the taste of that stew.

“Thanks,” I say in a small voice. I was so sure that I’d get chased away, but instead, he offered me kindness. I look up at him questioningly. “Why would you help a stranger?” I ask.

Right after my question, he blurts his name out, claiming that we’re no longer strangers now that I know his name, but oh wait, he still doesn’t know mine. If I didn’t mind sharing, would I let him know my name?

His rambling thoughts put me at ease. I open my mouth. “I’m–“

“Pope! It’s an emergency!”

Abruptly, my eyes shot open, the scene by the campfire dissolving into the dreamscape. Reality slammed back into place.

I stumbled out of bed.

Don’t you dare die, Sun!

I hurried inside, so hastily woken that I hadn’t even had time to change out of my pajamas. Half of me was still back in the dream, mind not quite caught up.

Neo Sun sat on the bed with a scowl on his face.

I let myself relax.

He looked fine. This wasn’t going to turn out like that time, when even the amazing recovery abilities of my Sun wasn’t enough to save his life. Short of receiving eight slashes from countless bandits again, Neo Sun would always be fine. For that, I was grateful. It meant one less generation of Sun Knights I needed to worry about coming to me at death’s door. Sun Knights may be resilient, but they weren’t the best at staying uninjured. Trouble had a way of finding them.

“Have your old bones given up on you?” I quipped. Even as I talked, I gathered holy element to cast healing spells on him.

Neo’s scowl darkened. “I’m way younger than you, you old coot.”

If only he knew.

I pouted. “Tsk tsk, you shouldn’t be so disrespectful to your elder!”

“Oh, I’m sorry, dear Pope. I really shouldn’t be so disrespectful to such a cute, little elder.”

If there was anything I hated in this world more than having the treasury run out, it was getting called old and cute. Neo often did both, rubbing in my two most detested terms.

I bristled. “Well, if you’re healthy enough to throw barbs at me, you’re completely fine then.”

“That’s what I’ve been telling Chasel,” Neo grumbled and pushed his hair out of his eyes. Having my door kicked tonight had brought my past to the forefront of my mind. I glanced over, unable to prevent myself from recalling the blond haired, blue eyed man who had shared his stew with me by the campfire. Neo bore the same blond hair and blue eyes, as did every generation that came before him. I’d seen my share of Sun Knights in my time as the Pope, and each time, I wondered…

Could this be him? Is it him?

But no matter how closely they resemble his appearance or even his personality, none of them are ever him. None of them have the memories we shared, of adventuring and stumbling upon our companions one by one.

Neo, I was sure, was definitely not him. They were as different as different could be. After all, the man who had saved my life couldn’t even hold a sword correctly. Despite that, we had all chosen for him to become our leader, for we could think of no better person we would rather follow. He was one of a kind, someone who made us believe in the goodness of the world. I was a cynic, but in his presence, even a cynic could turn into an optimist.

However… Despite his charisma… I wished we had never pushed him to become our leader.

He hadn’t been ready for it.

He had never been a fighter.

Sun, you better open your eyes! Damn you! Open your eyes already!

Neo was definitely not him. Neo was strong, the strongest Sun Knight I’ve seen.

He was not him.

I cast one last healing spell over Neo, satisfied that he would be okay.

“Huh, I’m taller than you now!”

I looked up from behind my veil. Before me stood Neo’s student, Grisia. It was vexing that even Grisia, one of the shortest among the thirty-eighth generation of the Twelve Holy Knights, was taller than me now.

“Why’d you choose the appearance of a fifteen year old? You’re such a… shrimp.” Grisia wrinkled his nose. He had his arms on his hips, and just because he was a little taller than me now, he thought he should bend down, leaning forward to talk to me.

Despite the prickling feeling in my chest, I brought up my fingers to poke at my cheeks. I’d been letting myself slip too much, the dream affecting me more than I thought. In a singsong, I said, “You’re just jealous you’re not as cute as me~.”

It was a well practiced routine of mine, enough to make everyone think I enjoyed looking cute and being short. After all, who wouldn’t enjoy everlasting youth?

Grisia, like everyone else, took my words at face-value, never stopping to wonder why I always bristled upon being called cute yet turned around in the very next second to use the word myself.

If I said it enough, maybe one day I’d be able to convince myself.

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