*Disclaimer note: This is merely a translation of the original Chinese version. I do not claim any part in the creation of the original story.
Neo halted in his footsteps before turning around elegantly, a surprised cry on his lips. "Oh! Is this not the great exalted Pope?"
The Pope paused at that, staring warily at the Sun Knight before him who wore a brighter-than-usual smile. "Sun," he asked hesitatingly, "I haven't done anything to offend you recently, have I?"
"Hoho, how could the honoured Pope have offended this Sun? It is just that, there's been a rumour going around amongst my fellow holy knight brothers that I have been using magic to maintain my appearance at twenty years old?"
"…… Oh?" The Pope smiled sweetly. "Is that so? How ridiculous! Do they not know that the Sun Knight is naturally youthful even at the old age of thirty?"
"And you, my grace, are as young and cute as ever!"
They stood there, chuckling with each other good-naturedly.
Neo's face suddenly darkened as he drew his Holy Sun Blade threateningly and growled, "If you dare let out my real age next time, I will kill you."
"As if everyone doesn't know that the Sun Knight is hitting thirty this year!" The Pope pointed his staff at Neo and said in a seething voice, "And don't call me cute, or I'll kill you even if it's the last thing I do!"
As the tension between the two thickened, the sound of footsteps could be heard approaching.
They hastily kept away their weapons and put on a smile and a solemn expression respectively. The Pope asked with a curious expression, "Sun Knight, there are more or less ten competitors left in the selection for the next Sun Knight; I wonder if you have anyone in particular in mind?"
"Hmm……" hummed Neo thoughtfully. "There are many promising ones this year, so it is hard for me to say which one would be most suitable……"
"You guys can quit acting; it's me."
The newcomer was dressed in all black; even his eyes and hair were black. His brows were furrowed deeply, and overall he looked to be a very stern person. However at the moment, he was wearing an exasperated smile on his face as he walked up to them. "Sun, you may have many promising young ones in your selection, but my choices are rather limited. They're all some lousy, no good brats; a bad bunch overall. I'd probably be struck down by the God of Light Herself if I were to choose anyone other than the exception of the bunch – Leithe."
"Leithe?" Neo repeated, a question in his eyes.
The Pope rolled his eyes at him and prompted, "You know, the one who showed the best sword skills in the fencing round?"
"Ah! That one!" Neo nodded in comprehension.
"Oh, you! Can't you try to remember something other than things related to fencing?" Judge sighed exasperatedly, but he didn't bother continuing when he saw Neo's uncaring face. "You have quite a number of promising lads. Who are you going to choose? Roland? Lanceler? Ankesar?"
Judge wasn't the only curious one, for even the Pope was staring at Neo with undisguised curiosity. However, Neo merely blinked back at them.
A thought suddenly crept through Judge's mind, and he asked, "Don't tell me you don't remember even a single name?"
Neo shrugged nonchalantly. "I remember Roland. That boy's fencing is very good."
Neo suddenly remembered something. "Oh, and there's Creus."
"Creus?" Judged repeated, unable to put a face to the name.
"That boy with the amazing divine skills?!" The Pope shouted, forgetting himself. "No way! I want to recruit him into the Hall of Light; I forbid you from choosing him!"
"Did you remember Creus because of his good sword skills too?" Judge asked Neo curiously.
"No," Neo frowned. "I remembered him because his sword skills were so poor that I couldn't forget him!"
The Pope was immediately all smiles when he heard that. "If that is so then don't choose him. His divine skills were so amazing that he left a very deep impression on me. He is definitely priest material! Not a knight!"
'One only has eyes for fencing, while the other – divine skills. Neither of you are better than the other,' thought Judge wryly.
"So, you're choosing Roland?" Judge nodded in approval. "I remember that boy too. His fencing is indeed impressive, and he looks to be a very good boy too."
Neo thought it over in his mind, unable to find any fault with it. But then again, other than their fencing skills, he didn't seem to know much else about the boys, and the Sun Knight shouldn't be chosen based on their fencing skills, right?
"You don't agree?" asked Judge when he noticed Neo's hesitation.
Neo frowned and replied absentmindedly, "I need to think about it some more."
"Why do you wish to be the Sun Knight?"
In order to base the choice of his successor on something other than fencing skills, Neo decided to ask this question of every one of the participants.
"To uphold justice" was the most common answer. Neo smiled and then asked, "And what is justice?"
Most of the boys would pause at this next question.
'To uphold justice?' Neo thought mockingly. 'What would a twelve year old know of justice? Their answers were more or less some foolish half-assed idea that they heard from adults.'
"Why do you wish to be the Sun Knight?"
Neo looked at the brown haired boy before him intently, hoping for a different answer from this boy.
Why? Because this boy was Roland. And as can be expected from the one with the best fencing skills, his gaze remained calm and steady, showing years of discipline and hard work.
"I want to punish all criminals!" A glint of righteous hatred in his eyes as he answered the question.
Neo blinked at that in surprise, smiling wryly. This would probably have been Judge's ideal answer…… and yet it was coming from a competitor for the position of the next Sun Knight?
He thought about it before asking again, "And what would you sacrifice your life for?"
Roland answered firmly, "I would sacrifice my life to punish the evildoers!"
'You've entered the wrong selection, my boy. You should have gone and competed with that Leithe boy and give Judge another option to choose from,' Neo smiled wryly.
"Hey, have you made your choice yet?"
Neo turned around to see Judge jogging up to him. "I don't know," he replied.
"The selection's tomorrow already, and yet you still haven't decided?" Judge asked in disbelief.
Neo couldn't find a single thing to retort his friend, and so instead he asked him, "Judge, have you asked your little Judge Knight why he wants to become the Judge Knight?"
"Of course," answered Judge with a nod. "The Judge Knight have always had a rather poor reputation, and there are hardly any good selections in every generation's selections. But not only is Leithe good with a sword, he is also strong of character and is sure to do well in anything he choose, so I was curious as to his reason for choosing to be the next Judge Knight."
"Hold on!" Another thought struck Neo when he heard Judge's reply, "If that is so, then why did you choose to become the Judge Knight?"
Judge smiled at him. "You've known me close to twenty years, yet you're only asking me this now? I'll tell you if you tell me why you chose to become the next Sun Knight."
"I……" Neo blinked at that. "I forgot."
"That is so like you……"
"I really forgot! And I don't really need a reason, do I?" said Neo impatiently. "What twelve year old kid doesn't dream of becoming the next Sun Knight?"
"That's true. The Sun Knight has all the fame and glory; unlike the Judge Knight who is feared and avoided by everyone. "
Neo went silent at that and asked tentatively, "Do you ever regret it?"
"No! I never have and I never will!"
Judge turned to look at Sun and told his story.
"My father was a drunkard. Not only was he a drunkard, he was also abusive. Whenever he got drunk he would start hitting people, and my mother suffered the brunt of his attentions. My mother was the first to be killed, beaten to death by him. He threw her body into the river and told everyone that she had drowned, but I had seen everything. My sister was then next. He had beaten her to death when she was only three years old. I was twelve then, but I never said a word to him about it. I merely chose to join the selection for the next Judge Knight, and when I was selected, I told my teacher about my father and let him bring my father to justice."
Neo was speechless. Despite having worked alongside him for the past twenty years, he had had no idea about this part of Judge's past. Could he really have been too focused on his fencing?
"So when I asked Leithe why he wanted to be the Judge Knight, I had actually expected to have to throw another sinner into the Judgment cells," Judge continued on calmly. "But to my surprise, he refused to tell me the name of the person. He merely told me that he wished to become the next Judge Knight so that all sinners wouldn't get the chance to commit their second crime."
"And are you satisfied with this answer?"
"I have no right to say whether I am satisfied or not, for even I cannot give a better answer. So Neo, did you ask this question too?"
"Yeah." Neo frowned and said hesitatingly, "But it's different, you and I. I haven't found a satisfactory answer…… I-I don't even know what the right answer is. "
"You've asked all of the participants?"
"No……" Neo shook his head with a frown. "There's still that Creus, but his fencing skills……"
"Go and ask him," smiled Judge encouragingly. "If even I can find a satisfactory successor from that group of hooligan brats, surely you'll be able to find your little Sun Knight?"