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Dinner that evening was a tremendously tense affair, but not for the reasons Elise envisioned. Things started off well when she, Leon, and Alix met up in her small dining room. It was a small and intimate room, one that Leon hadn’t really seen before as he and Elise would typically eat in her room or in the living room.
But, small as it was, it was still as lavishly decorated as the rest of the estate. It was a circular room, with the walls made up entirely of enchanted glass that gave a pleasant view of the gardens between the estate and the Heaven’s Eye Tower. It was lit with magic lanterns that gave off soft indirect light, and the domed ceiling had a colorful mural depicting an underwater reef. Along the bottom corner of the ceiling was a long frieze that extended all the way around, with images of dozens of different water beasts carved into it.
“So, are you ready for this?” Leon asked Elise.
Elise didn’t respond verbally, but she reassuringly entangled her fingers with Leon’s.
“Is it really all right for me to be here?” Alix asked nervously.
Before anyone could respond, they heard footsteps approaching the dining room from the hall outside.
“Too late to leave now,” Leon whispered.
Several seconds later, the door opened, and two people walked in. The first was a stunningly beautiful woman who looked like a slightly older version of Elise: red hair so bright it was almost luminescent, shining green eyes, and a body that would cause every lady-lover to stare. Even Leon was captivated for a moment before he was able to turn his eyes back to Elise.
Despite the dinner being informal, this woman was dressed to the nines, with a long black dress that had a plunging neckline and left her shoulders bare. It was a dress that seemed to Leon like it was made for the sole purpose of seduction.
[That woman is dangerous,] Xaphan warned.
[What can you tell about her?] Leon asked.
[It’s hard to for me to be certain, but I can say for sure that she’s strong. Easily the strongest mage we’ve met in this kingdom…] the demon answered apprehensively.
[… I’ll keep that in mind,] Leon said, vowing to himself to never underestimate this woman, especially if what Xaphan said wasn’t exaggerated and she was stronger than men like the Legate of the Knight Academy, the Consul of the North, and Ajax, the Tower Lord of Teira.
Walking into the dining room behind her was a tall and handsome man, with short brown hair, blue eyes, and an angular face covered in stylish stubble. The last detail was especially notable to Leon, as it was the fashion of the Bull Kingdom for men to be clean shaven.
This man was at least dressed for the event, with plain grey pants and a white shirt. His outfit almost matched Leon’s, with the only difference being in the materials their clothes were made of, creating slight variance in their appearance.
[How about this guy?] Leon asked Xaphan. [What can you tell me about him?]
[Sixth-tier would be my guess. No stronger than that Consul you met not too long ago. Although, he’s probably far more skilled and possessed of better gear than that knight, and thus far more dangerous. Still far outside your capabilities…]
[Well that’s encouraging,] Leon replied sarcastically.
“Dad. Mom,” Elise said, purposefully greeting Jordan first. She rose from her seat, prompting Leon and Alix to do likewise, and walked over to the two newcomers and giving them each a hug.
“Hey there, Butterfly,” Jordan said, giving Elise a warm smile.
“It’s good to see you, Elise,” Emilie said. Her smile was a little colder than Jordan’s was, but by no means was it fake; she was genuinely happy to see her daughter and to have the opportunity to meet Leon and Alix.
The latter two hovered off to the side until Elise made the introductions, “Leon, Alix, this is my father, Jordan, and my mother, Emilie. Mother, Father, this is Leon, my boyfriend, and Alix, his squire.”
“It’s wonderful to meet you, at last!” Emilie said as she rushed forward to pull Leon into a hug, causing the latter to freeze up from the sudden human contact.
“Indeed, it’s great to have a formal introduction,” Jordan said, extending his hand out to Alix, who nervously shook it. After a moment, they swapped, with Emilie wrapping her arms around Alix, and Jordan and Leon shaking hands. Leon was a little surprised to see that there wasn’t any hostility in Jordan’s eyes, or in his handshake. In fact, both he and Emilie seemed genuinely warm and welcoming, though he resolved to keep his defenses up for the time being, as Elise still hadn’t relaxed yet.
Everyone took their seats at the circular table, with Leon and Alix flanking Elise, while Jordan and Emilie sat roughly opposite to them. There was a short awkward silence as a few servants filed in with food and drinks, then left once the table had been set. For five long minutes, there was no sound except for the clinking of silverware.
It was Jordan who spoke up first, to try and alleviate the tense atmosphere. He said to Elise, “I noticed you’ve been getting more involved with Heaven’s Eye of late. How has that been going?”
“Fine,” Elise answered. “It would be going better if I didn’t have to deal with greedy merchants or arrogant nobles every single time it comes time to negotiate something.”
“Yes, that is always tiring,” Jordan said with a grimace. “I’ve never had much patience for that kind of deal-making, to be honest. I remember Emilie tried to have me sit in on a few of her meetings, and by the end of the last one I was in, I almost beat a man to death for his overly aggressive demeanor.”
“Really?” Elise asked, looking at her father in amazement. “I suppose that makes some sense, I never really pictured you as the negotiating type.”
“I think it was that particular experience that destroyed any career I may have had in negotiating contracts,” Jordan said with a laugh.
“That merchant he nearly killed was the Lord Mayor of one of the Six Great Cities on the southern coast. It caused no shortage of problems for us,” Emilie said, though she almost laughed as she did.
“Why did you do that? It can’t have been for just some combative language…” Elise asked.
“He assumed that he had enough power in his city to kick Heaven’s Eye out, and he made no secret of that belief by repeatedly insulting both your mother and Heaven’s Eye—though it was the former that truly set me off. In the end, he found that he did not, in fact, have the power to kick out Heaven’s Eye,” Jordan said with a vicious smile.
“Speaking of business,” Emilie began, “can you tell me why you’re suddenly issuing sanctions against House Decimius? I hope it isn’t because that Tiberias is continuing to try and court you, because what you ordered is incredibly excessive for sending a few gifts and not being able to take a hint…”
Elise didn’t hesitate with her response, stating matter-of-factly, “They tried to murder Leon.”
“They what?” Jordan asked, his gaze turning sharp. In less than a second, a slight undercurrent of killing intent started to permeate the room.
“They tried to kill me while I was taking a galley north,” Leon explained. He then told Jordan and Emilie everything he knew about the incident on the galley, finishing with the invisibility enchantment that led back to House Decimius.
“Hmm, I’ve heard rumors about Duke Euphemius’ Shadow Guards, but I didn’t put much stock in them. It’s hard to imagine someone who invests so heavily in public welfare programs and infrastructure having much need for assassins,” Jordan admitted.
“And yet, assassins who tried to kill Leon had a ring that was made specifically for his House!” Elise said angrily.
“Why would they do something like that? I mean no offense, but Leon is hardly a threat to one of the eminent Houses in the Kingdom,” Emilie wondered. “Unless they learned your true identity…”
Leon’s eyes narrowed and he and stared at Emilie, barely containing his killing intent.
“Oh, I suppose we should say that we know you’re the last surviving member of House Raime,” Emilie stated with a nonchalant smile.
Leon’s instinct to reach for and draw his sword was so strong that fighting it caused him to twitch. The fork in his hand was bent completely out of shape, he was so taken aback.
Of course, Emilie wasn’t nervous at all, as she didn’t believe that Leon had the capacity to harm her. Still, she felt the need to reassure both him and Elise, who was staring daggers at her.
“Oh, you needn’t worry about that. We know about you, but we won’t be telling anyone. Your identity is your own business, and we’re not going to interfere in that.”
Leon was hardly reassured, but he relaxed slightly, setting the deformed fork down on his plate—he’d quite lost his appetite.
On the other side of Elise, Alix was staring at him with wide eyes. She was a girl from the Northern Territories, and even though Archduke Kyros had been dead for most of her life, she knew all about how powerful and influential House Raime was.
“So your sanctions were for their attempted assassination and not for Tiberias’ inability to take ‘no’ for an answer?” Jordan asked, continuing as if what Emilie had just said hadn’t happened.
“… Yes,” Elise said, still not averting her glaring eyes from her mother.
“Well then I don’t see why we shouldn’t enact them,” Jordan said.
“I agree, those who attack my future son-in-law ought to be punished!” Emilie said with a wicked smile that was remarkably similar to Elise’s when she had come up with the sanctions only a few hours before.
With Emilie’s mention of ‘son-in-law’, both Leon and Elise turned bright red, their anger evaporating like a puddle in the way of a lava flow.
[Aww, you’re not embarrassed, are you?] Xaphan asked, not missing this opportunity to jab at Leon. [Look at you, blushing so hard you’ve turned almost as red as me!]
[Quiet, demon,] Leon growled.
“How do you know who I am?” Leon asked Emilie.
“Ajax sent us a letter describing you, and while he didn’t say who you were outright, he did give enough information that we were able to guess,” Emilie responded.
“… Right,” Leon said quietly.
“Leon and Alix,” Emilie said, calling out both of their guests, “I want the both of you to consider this place a home. You’re welcome here any time!”
“… Thank you…” Alix muttered. She was still too overwhelmed with being in the same room with such powerful people to say much.
Leon thanked Emilie as well, but he was even quieter than Alix.
“I think our guests are a little on edge,” Jordan observed. “How about we change topics to something that’s a little more relaxing?”
“Of course!” Emilie said as she turned her attention back to Elise and Leon’s relationship. “So, how often do you two sleep together? Are you remembering to use your contraception spells? Do you two need any advice?”
Elise turned bright red again and shrunk back into her chair. “I don’t forget to use the spells, Mother,” she mumbled.
“Good! Not, that I’m not interested in seeing my grandchildren, but you two clearly aren’t ready for that kind of responsibility!” Emilie stated.
Leon was mortified by the conversation and only grew more so as Emilie launched into a long explanation of her favorite sex positions.
[You know, I think I like this woman,] Xaphan said with admiration in his voice. [she’s completely comfortable talking about anything, isn’t she?]
[Yes, she’s certainly something,] Leon responded. It was only once the conversation shifted to sex that he truly began to understand Elise’s actions when they first met—if this was the woman who raised her, then it made a great deal of sense to him why she was so excessively physical.
[Anyway, next time you train, there’s something I want you to try,] Xaphan continued.
[What is it?]
[I want you to train in fire magic as well as lightning. I’ve already told you about your affinity for fire, and I absolutely refuse to have you ignore it!]
[Got it, just tell me what to do,] Leon agreed. He and his demon partner began talking about the specifics, and Leon threw himself completely into the discussion. It was an easy way to forget about the significantly more embarrassing conversation happening between Emilie and Elise.
“So, Sir Raime,” Alix said pointedly during their evening training.
Leon sighed, knowing that this was coming as soon as Emilie revealed who he was.
“It is Ursus, Alix, not Raime. Getting the two confused will lead to death and violence, and since you’re affiliated with me, much of that will be directed towards you as well.”
Alix frowned, but she pressed on, choosing not to interpret Leon’s statement as a threat. “Very well, Sir Ursus, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d wouldn’t mind hearing a story…”
For a long moment, Leon contemplated the wisdom of invoking his rank and ordering her to shut up, but he knew that wouldn’t be the best idea. Alix already knew, and if he were to order her to not ask for further information, then it would only breed resentment and mistrust between them. Besides, if he were to be straight up with her, Leon figured that Alix would be more likely to keep the secret from any other friends she might make in the Eastern Territories.
Reluctantly, Leon decided to give her some more information.
“I was raised in the Northern Vales by my father, Artorias Raime, second son of Archduke Kyros Raime,” he said.
Alix’s eyes immediately went wide, and she gleefully asked, “So you’re a noble?! You really don’t seem like it, but I guess if you were raised that far north than it makes sense… Is that why you’ve come south? To claim your birthright? Do you want to be the Archduke of the Great Plateau?”
“Fuck no!” Leon cried out. “There are many things that I want to do—and given my relative lack of strength, I can’t quite deal with them and they seem to just keep piling up—but to be tied down to that land in the Northern Territories is definitely not something I want!”
“Then why come here at all? I mean, I get not wanting to stay around Valemen…” Alix trailed off a little, suddenly remembering that Leon had told her that his father was dead.
“My father was killed by assassins, most likely sent by the same people who attacked my grandfather’s palace in Teira and killed him and my uncle,” Leon said with a carefully measured tone. “They’re still at large in this Kingdom, which is why I gave you that warning about keeping this a secret.”
Alix furiously nodded; she didn’t want to be targeted by anyone strong enough to wipe out the second most powerful noble family in the Bull Kingdom.
“That is the main reason why I’m focusing on gaining strength, not because I want to be worthy of inheriting my family’s Archduchy, but because I want to kill those who killed my father, who separated me from my mother, who destroyed my family.” Leon began to emit a considerable amount of killing intent, and the first-tier Alix felt her knees start to shake. What Leon had said about his mother raised more questions for her, but Leon seemed angry and worked up enough that she decided to bite her tongue for the time being.
“I… understand…” she said. “I won’t speak a word of this to anyone!”
“Good,” Leon replied, clamping down on his killing intent at the same time, “now let’s get back to training.”
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