Leon spent most of the following morning with Charles and the others. He had quite a bit of fun running around the capital talking about nothing in particular and looking for good food. But, in the end, he had other business to take care of. They still had more than a week to spend in the capital before they had to leave for their squireships, so there was time enough to hang out later.
Instead, Leon felt that he to take care of something that he had been putting off, that being to clarify his relationship with Elise. So, he made the excuse that he had to pick up the armor he’d commissioned from Heaven’s Eye—which wasn’t actually a lie, his armor was likely done after more than four months—and left the others after lunch.
Over the entire walk to the Heaven’s Eye Tower, Leon couldn’t help but stress over what he would say. His anxiety grew until it felt like his heart was in his throat and his hands had started shaking. But, he clenched his teeth and kept walking. He couldn’t let a little nervousness stop him, not when he was about to leave the city for years.
Finally, after hundreds of agonizing steps, Leon found himself walking into the Heaven’s Eye Tower. Elise wasn’t there, but he only had to wait about ten minutes for her to arrive and make her way over to him with a glowing smile.
“Leon! I’m glad you finally stopped by, these past two months have been so boring without you! I didn’t even have Valeria or Asiya here to help me deal with the boredom!” she said as she wrapped her arms around him in an intimate hug.
“It’s good to see you, Elise,” Leon warmly responded while returning the hug.
“So what brings you here today?” she asked. Then, she continued with her eyes mischievously narrowed, “Assuming you’re not just here to see me…”
“Well,” Leon answered with a smile, “Seeing you is actually the main reason I came here.”
Elise’s face lit up in happiness, while a hint of red came to her cheeks. “Here I am,” she said.
“And you look amazing. Even just catching a glimpse of you makes coming here worthwhile,” Leon praised.
That was a little much for Elise, who averted her eyes in embarrassment and brought her hand up to her face in as seductive a manner as she could in order to try and hide both her bashful smile and her rapidly reddening cheeks. In fact, she was so embarrassed and happy from Leon’s compliments that she barely even thought about how uncharacteristic it was of him to say so much. He’d certainly complimented her before, but never so unprompted or for more than a few neutral and dispassionate words.
Had it been anyone else who complimented like that, Elise would’ve simply laughed it off and proceeded with her business, but since it was Leon, she froze up. It took Leon saying, “I’m also here to check up on the armor I commissioned a few months ago,” to bring her back to reality. With nothing more than a radiant smile, she took his arm and led him to the magic lifts.
The trip to the specific blacksmith Leon had commissioned was enough for Elise to recover her composure, though she still almost felt like skipping to the blacksmith’s forge, such was her joy.
[Hey, that wasn’t half-bad,] Xaphan said to Leon on the way.
[Thanks,] Leon responded, though he was barely able to hear the demon over the sound of his own frantic heartbeat. He hadn’t planned on saying what he did, but he was glad it seemed to work out.
[Keep that up and you might walk away from this Tower with a girl who is unambiguously your girlfriend,] Xaphan continued.
[That’s the plan. Just have to jump right in, don’t think so hard, and all that,] Leon said, though it was more to hype himself up than to respond to Xaphan.
[That is the way to do it. Don’t overthink things, just be yourself,] Xaphan encouraged.
When Leon and Elise arrived at the smith’s forge, the blacksmith Leon had commissioned recognized him.
“Ah! Ya’ must be here about your armor!” he said. When Leon nodded, the smith whispered a few things to one of his apprentices, who ran off to the nearby room where all the finished products were secured.
“I only just finished your order up a couple weeks ago! Came out lookin’ real good, if you ask me,” the smith continued. “Although, are ya’ sure you don’t want me to get some enchantments on the sucker? It took a lot of my time, I’d hate to see it fail in the face of a single enchanted blade…”
“No, thank you. I can take care of the enchantments myself,” Leon said confidently.
“Suit yourself,” the smith replied.
When Leon placed his order for the armor months before, he had specifically ordered it without enchantments. He only wanted the armor itself, as he intended to personally enchant it with all the knowledge he’d gained over the past year from the Knight Academy, Xaphan, and the books he’d brought from his family’s archives in Teira.
Several moments later, the assistant returned with a large wooden box. He placed the box upon a table, unlatched it, then stepped back, allowing Leon to open it himself.
Leon approached the box with some trepidation. He had spent a lot of his money on ordering this armor to be made despite the armors’ lack of enchantments, over seven hundred thousand silvers, and he was incredibly nervous about how it turned out. Even if it wasn’t what he wanted, even if it looked terrible or ridiculous, he wasn’t sure if he would be able to convince himself to order another armor set to be made, given the price.
He slowly opened the box. It had been lined with black cushions to keep everything inside clean and free of any unsightly blemishes. As he laid his eyes on the armor within, he couldn’t help but smile. At least visually, it was everything he had asked for: simple, and lacking in ostentatious decoration.
“The metal used is Magmic Steel, refined by fire mages from Mount Kazan in the Sakura Archipelago far to the east,” the smith began. “It can hold any fire enchantments you can envision. And only fire enchantments; Magmic Steel isn’t the most versatile material…”
“It’s fine,” Leon said as he ran his finger over the greaves, bracers, and cuirass. All were made of the same dull black metal. The armor itself resembled the standard equipment of a soldier in the Royal Legions, but the leather skirt was replaced with metal plates covering the legs, and the torso had added protection for the upper arms which would normally lack anything aside from light cloth gambeson.
The helmet, too, was different, with a closed off faceplate that left two slits for him to see out of. The forehead slightly protruded to keep the sun out of his eyes while he wore it, and there was a pair of stylized wings attached to the sides, like extended ears. The wings were the only consideration Leon made for aesthetics over practical design.
Additionally, the Magmic Steel cuirass had a slight impression of a heavily muscled torso, with a stylized silver lion decorating the center of the chest.
“How about the suit beneath the metal?” Leon asked, running his hands along the dark grey clothing meant to be worn under the armor, and the sashes for over the armor.
“Woven from several layers of Skyflax and the attached leather straps came from a mutated bull strong in lightning magic. The beast could’ve been a second Sacred Bull if I’m being honest, but its life was cut short by the Royal Legions at only the sixth-tier, one shy of potentially gaining sentience,” the smith explained.
“Was the bull grey?” Elise asked with her eyes narrowing in suspicion. She doubted that any animal with lightning powers would be grey.
“No, my lady, it was bright gold, but the Skyflax was grey. I only dyed the completed clothing dark grey to compliment the armor plates, to match the leather strips to the flax, and to comply with Good Sir Leon’s request for a more toned down design. Dark grey is far less ornate than gold, is it not?”
“It’s fine,” Leon said with a satisfied smile. He agreed with the smith that wearing that amount of gold would’ve been far too much, and since dying it grey wouldn’t compromise the defensive strength of either the Skyflax or the leather, Leon was glad the smith had made that decision.
He shut the box and the deal was concluded. Leon had already paid for the armor when he commissioned it, so he and Elise turned around and made their way back to the magic lift.
“So…” Leon hesitantly began. He knew this would probably be his last chance to have any kind of meaningful conversation with Elise, so he steeled himself and jumped right in after a moment of silence. “Are you busy right now?”
“No, why?” Elise asked with a smile.
“I was wondering if we could talk somewhere private.”
“Sure,” Elise said, her smile flickering a little as they took the magic lift up to a private room rather than back down to the lounge.
“So, what’s up?” Elise asked once they had closed the door and took their seats.
Again, Leon hesitated before beginning. His face grew red and he struggled to maintain his usual stoicism, with his face twisting out of embarrassment and anxiety.
“I… What do… What do you think about me?” he finally asked. He had to look away from her to choke out the words, but once they were out he turned his eyes back to hers.
“… What do you mean?” she inquired. She did a far better job than he did keeping a neutral expression, but inside her heart was racing. She was just as anxious about what Leon was asking as he was.
“We’ve gotten… close… over this past year. I just wanted to know where we stood. I-In no uncertain terms. Unambiguously.”
“A-Ah,” she said. She certainly liked Leon a lot, perhaps to the point of love, but she hesitated to say so out loud.
“Maybe it wasn’t the best thing for me to ask you first,” Leon said after seeing her hesitation. “Springing this on you out of the blue isn’t quite fair. So, how about I start?”
Leon took a deep breath, then turned his body to face Elise. His eyes locked onto hers, and now that it was time for absolute seriousness, he managed to control his face to convey just how serious he was.
“I like you. I think I might love you. I want you to be my woman, just as I want to be your man.”
He let that statement hang in the air. He had struggled mightily to muster the courage to admit it, so he understood her freezing up. After a long silence, his heart sank. He smiled sadly at her, taking her silence as evidence that she wasn’t as serious about him as he was about her.
“I’m being sent north for my squireship, so we likely won’t see each other for a couple years… I just wanted to get that out th-“
As Leon said this, Elise’s heart nearly stopped. ‘He’s leaving?!’ she thought in a panic; she’d been confident that he’d get a squireship in the Central Territories, not far from the capital. Before he could finish his last sentence, she stopped hesitating. She leaned forward and cut him off with a kiss.
The kiss was fast and juvenile, done on instinct. It was all lip, in stark contrast to what Elise’s mother had taught her about tongue-kissing. But, it did the job and effectively shut Leon up.
After parting with Leon, Elise leaned in even further, wrapping her arms around Leon’s neck and pulling him in closer; he had pulled away from her out of surprise. Then, she whispered into his ear, “I like you too, Leon. A lot.”
Once she said this, her mother’s lessons came flooding back to her. She kissed Leon again before he could respond, which surprised him into inaction. But, that inaction didn’t last long; not even half a second passed after Elise’s tongue had entered his mouth before he began to respond in kind.
Their hands drifted all over each other’s bodies. Leon’s found their way to Elise’s waist, then upward to her ample chest, while her hands did likewise, traveling all over his toned abs and well-built pecs. Eventually, both wrapped their arms around the other and pulled themselves in as close as they could feasibly to each other without being naked.
And Elise seemed quite willing to fix that last problem, as she mounted Leon and began pulling at his clothes. However, in the course of trying to take off his shirt, they had to stop kissing, and as soon as their lips separated, they each leaned back for a moment to stare at the other. Their gazes were feverish, and both of their faces were bright red from the rush of their confession and their subsequent actions.
Then, Elise got to work again trying to pull Leon’s shirt over his head.
“Are we really going to do this here?” Leon asked in surprise and confusion.
“You said it yourself,” Elise responded breathlessly, “We’re not going to see each other again for two years, at least. I just told you how I feel, and I’m not going to wait that long to show you.”
“I’m all for action over words, but are we really going to do this here?” Leon asked again.
Elise stopped and looked around. Their setting was hardly romantic. There was comfortable furniture, to be sure, but the private room was still one designed for financial transactions and was consequently cold and devoid of many personal comforts.
“You’re right,” she finally said. Then, she rose and shot him a look more seductive than any she had ever previously shown him, even during their initial meeting.
“Come with me,” she continued, then she sashayed toward the door. Leon wasted no time jumping to his feet and eagerly following her.
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