Chapter 65 - Tension in the Dining Hall

With the exception of the top floor, which only had four bedrooms reserved for the third-tier mages, the other four floors each had eight bedrooms.  This left the seventy-six first-tier commoners to have five or six trainees per bedroom, while the twenty-five second-tier nobles only had to have two at most per bedroom.  Some of the second-tier trainees were the direct followers of the third-tier nobles, and they used their positions among the second-tier trainees to get their own rooms.

Charles, Henry, and Alain were all getting settled into a room on the first floor.  There were five beds in the room with a set of drawers and a footlocker each.  There were also weapon racks with ten training swords upon them by the door and a magic lantern above each bed.  The window on the opposite side of the room from the door didn’t have that great a view, just looking at the tall grass and trees that surrounded the tower, but it was welcome regardless.

“So Charles, what was up with Leon on the run over?  I didn’t think he had that kind of killing intent… oh, they even gave us clothes!” asked Henry as he was rifling through his drawers and examining the training gear the Academy had provided them with.

“I’m not sure.  He’s had that strong killing intent from the moment I first met him.  He used it on some thugs who were attacking me… damn, these are nice!” responded Charles as he pulled out a grey shirt from his drawers and held it up for examination.

“Makes sense to me why he’d have such killing intent.  He’s a barbarian,” said Alain as he walked over to the weapon racks.

“No need to be a dick, buddy.  Leon seems nice enough, if taciturn.  Hell, if he weren’t there, I probably would’ve fallen out from that run…”  Henry sat down his bed and absentmindedly massaged his legs while looking at Alain with a reproachful look.  Charles was about to say something as well, but Alain beat him to it.

“Wasn’t trying to be rude, just being honest.  Besides, the fact that he’s a barbarian raises some interesting implications, like what he would’ve had to endure to gain third-tier strength.  My father always told me that exercise was the best way to peacefully gain not only physical strength but also magical strength.  However, no matter how much I would work out, I never would’ve caught up with those high nobles, who could afford potions and better instructors than I could ever dream of.”

Henry and Charles frowned.  Alain had a good point, how Leon gained his power was certainly an enticing mystery.

“But,” Alain continued, “given the strength of his killing intent, I would definitely say that he’s killed people before, which isn’t that surprising given his background.  This also lends some explanation as to how he got that power because my father also said that nothing beats actual combat for getting stronger, not even intense exercise.  Assuming you survive it, of course.”  Alain removed one of the swords from the rack and gave it a few test swings.

“Whatever.  Everyone has their secrets, no use speculating about Leon’s.” Henry said.  He rose from his bed and walked over to join Alain at the weapon racks.

Charles continued sifting through his new clothes.  He had some doubts as to who Leon said he was, which stemmed from his visit to the Heaven’s Eye Tower in Teira.  No Valeman should have business there immediately after entering the city.

Suddenly, several people ran by the window, startling the three in the bedroom.  Charles, Henry, and Alain quickly exchanged confused looks before hurrying over to the window to see what was up.

They saw the sixty-four first-tier trainees running around the tower with enormous logs on their shoulders.  The three Snow Lion instructors were among them, shouting and berating them to move faster.  Some of the trainees looked ready to die, and they were inevitably the ones that attracted the attention of the instructors, who descended on them like jackals on a rotting carcass.

“…  Hey, remind me to thank Leon for keeping us moving and sparing us from that,” said Henry.  The three exchanged another look, but this one was ninety-five percent nervousness at how closely they’d dodged this punishment and five percent schadenfreude at watching those who didn’t.

But, that punishment couldn’t last forever.  The instructors let them finally enter the tower after a couple hours and gave them the same spiel they had the others.  They then allowed the latecomers half an hour of rest before it was time to reassemble for dinner.

The latecomers were a truly haggard looking bunch; even the strongest of them looked half dead.  Even with the relief of being given some time to rest they went to claim their beds with sluggish steps and glazed eyes.  The two who came to Charles, Henry, and Alain’s room didn’t speak to them.  They only put their things down and collapsed into bed.  When it came time to reassemble in the common area, Charles was forced to wake them up so they wouldn’t miss it.

The seventy-six first-tier commoners were all in their common room at the appointed time.  The twenty-five second-tier nobles sauntered down the stairs just as the Instructors walked in through the entrance.

“Everyone here?!  Where’s those third-tiers?!” shouted the Senior Instructor as his eyes swept over the assembled Snow Lions.

“We’re right here!”  A voice came from the stairs not a second later.  The beautiful black-haired noble nonchalantly waved to the Senior Instructor while the brown-haired noble respectfully nodded.  Leon trailed a few steps behind them.

The Senior Instructor slightly frowned, but it was generally better to not make enemies of the higher nobility, so he kept his admonishments to himself.  He didn’t shut his mouth entirely, though.

“Well hurry up!  I’m sure most of these guys are hungry!”

“Right!”

The two third-tier nobles hurried over to the front of the group, while Leon followed, feeling significantly less than enthused about his place of prominence.

The Senior Instructor did a quick count and after arriving at one hundred and four trainees, the group set out.  Immediately after leaving the tower, he broke out into a run, causing the group to take off after him, much to the consternation of the tired first-tier trainees.  The other two instructors took up positions behind the group to catch stragglers just like the run from the assembly field, but it wouldn’t be necessary this time as the Senior Instructor took a much more forgiving pace and the Snow Lions arrived at the dining hall without a single trainee falling out.

The dining hall was a long rectangular building made of white stone and red roof tiles, like just about all the other higher quality buildings in the capital.  Its surroundings took away from the pure and stainless look, though, as it was in the same forest as the unit towers.  It was built in an artificial clearing located at the end of a dirt road.  The nearby trees brushed against the roof and blocked the sunlight from reaching the windows, while the long unkempt grass grew so high as to brush the bottom windowsills.

As they arrived, the Senior Instructor turned back to the trainees and said, “You all have half an hour.”  He then pushed open the doors and led them inside.

The giant building was almost one entire room, filled with polished granite columns and bright magic lanterns.  It was packed with tables and chairs enough to seat the trainees from all the units, though there were only two other units present when they arrived, so it seemed quiet and empty.

The area closest to the doors were dedicated to serving the food, and there were a dozen servants behind counters ready to load up plates.

The section of the building in the very center was the most eye-catching, though.  Rather than stone floor tiles on the ground like the rest of the dining hall, it was made of dirt.  Vivid green grass grew on that dirt, as did numerous flowers that formed a wide spectrum of colors, all of which was illuminated by a radiant magic lantern that made the area look just as bright as if it were outside on a sunny day.  There were only a dozen small tables in that section, and the two third-tier nobles from the Snow Lions made for one of those empty tables as soon as they walked in.  They didn’t even stop to grab food on the way because they knew food would be brought to them instead.

Two other tables in that area were taken by the six other third-tier nobles from the other two units that beat the Snow Lions to the dining hall.  Leon also noticed that the trainees closest to that section were of the second-tier, while those closer to the walls were of the first-tier.

The two third-tier Snow Lions politely greeted the other six nobles and took a seat, not even bothering to see if Leon would join them.

Leon, of course, had no intention of joining them.  However, as he was looking around the room, the other Snow Lions wasted no time getting in line for their food.  When Leon turned back to them, it was already too late to capitalize on having been first through the doors.

A thought crossed his mind.  ‘I could probably just cut the line…  Doubt anyone would make a fuss…’  He shook his head and banished that thought, though, and calmly walked to the back of the line.

The Senior Instructor stuck around just long enough to see that, and another hint of a smile appeared on his lips.  ‘I think I might like this one…’ he thought.  With that, he left the other two instructors in the hall and walked out.

It took about ten minutes for the entire unit to file through.  Charles, Henry, and Alain had already grabbed a table, so Leon made his way over.  Going to join the third-tier nobles never crossed his mind, but he still had to ignore the odd looks he drew from the first-tier trainees as he walked over, especially from the other four trainees at the table.

Charles nodded in greeting, which Leon returned.

There was an extraordinarily tantalizing smell coming from his dinner, a grilled chicken breast with potatoes and an assortment of carrots and green beans.  Leon took a deep breath, savoring the smell before digging in.  He’d never eaten carrots or green beans before, so that’s where he started.  The others watched in amazement as the stoicism melted away and an unapologetic smile that nearly split Leon’s face in half grew wider with every bite.

‘Is his food really that good?’ was the question on all their minds.  They were so amazed at the change they saw in Leon that they didn’t give voice to their question.  Even Charles, who was a little more used to seeing this trait in Leon, was affected by the quiet atmosphere.

One of the other first-tier trainees at the table who wasn’t so familiar with Leon didn’t pick up on this social cue and directly asked Leon, “Why are you sitting here?  Shouldn’t you be with the other third-tier mages?”

Leon’s face immediately reverted back to its usual stony and expressionless appearance and he had to force himself not to immediately erupt with killing intent.  For him, a meal was sacred, and a man was not to be disturbed when eating.

With as much patience as he could muster, he responded, “Not noble.  Don’t want to sit with them.”  Then, he went back to eating, though with less obvious glee than before.

His blunt reply and the reproachful looks from the others at the table shut the mouth of the man who spoke.

The rest of the meal wasn’t going to be eaten in peace, though, as the other units began to arrive.  The first after the Snow Lions were the Deathbringers, Gaius’ unit.

As seemed to be the custom for the third-tier nobles, Gaius immediately made for the center of the dining hall, but as he was about to take his seat, he noticed Leon and froze in anger.  His killing intent burst forth, though Leon was unaffected.  In fact, only the weakest of the first-tier mages who felt that killing intent felt the slightest bit of fear from Gaius.

The nobleman retracted his killing intent in a hurry anyway and quickly sat down, though he frequently glared in Leon’s direction.  Notably, the other third-tier nobles seemed to be ignoring him, which was most certainly not normal for the son of a Duke, though nobles of such lofty stations were rarely so humiliated as Gaius had been by Leon.

Leon ignored him and continued eating.  He was almost done when the next unit arrived, the Black Vipers, Tiberias’ unit.  As with Gaius, as soon as Tiberias saw Leon his fury and killing intent were obvious for all to see.

“What’s up, man, you got a problem with that guy?” asked one of the other third-tier nobles from his unit.

“…  No…” responded Tiberias, clearly lying through his gritted teeth.

“Right.  Well whatever your problem with him is, he knocked Gaius down a few pegs, which is alright in my book.”

Gaius had no problem hearing that as his third-tier senses were very sharp, and that noble wasn’t even trying to be subtle, eyeing Gaius out of the corner of his eye.  His face grew red with fury, and he thought, ‘I need to get my revenge on that worthless barbarian!  My prestige will never recover if I don’t, and I’ll never be able to look her in the eye!’

These hotheads cooled a little when the next unit arrived, the Crimson Tigresses led by their beautiful female instructors and the even more gorgeous Asiya and Valeria.  No one wanted to make fools of themselves in front of them, and even Gaius’ mood improved as his gaze found itself on Valeria.  He was about to get up and greet her, but then his gaze wandered to Leon again and he remembered the humiliation he suffered in front of her, and he remained in his seat.  His seething hatred for Leon only grew more intense.

Asiya happily greeted the others and even politely waved to Leon, which caused the jaws of everyone else at his table drop in surprise.  Leon was able to nod back at her, but as usual, his cheeks went red.  Asiya smiled and went to her seat.

Valeria barely looked at anyone in the room.  She radiated a cold aura which was barely stifled by the auras of the other third-tier nobles in the room.  But, it was plain as day to Leon that she was very strong.  She was an exceptionally skilled fighter if the combat test was anything to go by, and with her obvious magical strength and last name…  Leon was growing more and more wary of her by the minute.

The other units gradually arrived, and the Steel Century, the unit with Marcus and Alcander, arrived last.  Marcus was calm and rather indifferent to the room, but Alcander’s eyes immediately searched the third-tier area looking for Leon.  He looked a little confused when he didn’t see the other man until he expanded his search and saw him with some of the first-tier Snow Lions.

Alcander stared at Leon with so much fire in his eyes and such a wide smile of anticipation that Leon couldn’t help but grow a little uncomfortable.  In fact, his entire table had grown quiet and fidgety now that Alcander, Tiberias, and Gaius were all staring in this direction creating a palpable killing aura.  Alcander wasn’t emitting any killing intent, but he certainly wasn’t helping matters by so obviously wanting to fight.  The trainees in between the tables had it even worse than Leon’s table, being closer to the sources of this aura.

The aura gradually spread throughout the entire dining hall, and everyone could see that there were three third-tier nobles who seemed to have some kind of antipathy towards Leon.  The Snow Lion trainees could feel their hearts sink, as this could potentially pit them against three other units!

Fortunately, the situation didn’t escalate beyond simply emitting killing intent.

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A small building had been quite expertly hidden several hundred feet into the forest.  Here, the ten Senior Instructors sat down to have a meal with the Legate of the Knight Academy.  This meeting was only a formality, so the Legate wasn’t paying any attention to the Senior Instructors, who were busy exchanging tales of how they punished their first-tier trainees for not reaching their towers on time.

Rather than those conversations, what interested the Legate more was what was going on in the trainee’s dining hall.  He had spread his magic senses over the building so he could see everything that was happening within, and he smiled a little.

The Senior Instructor for the Crimson Tigresses noticed his weird expression and gave him an odd look.

He smiled, and asked her, “When do the fights between the units typically start?”

As soon as he started speaking, the other Senior Instructors respectfully quieted down so they could hear what he had to say.

“Usually after the first month.  There needs to be some time for them to build a little enmity first, and even then, there will only be a few small fights, maybe even just a duel or two.  But, things will escalate from there, and they will put their training weapons to use.” responded the Crimson Tigresses’ Senior Instructor.

“Hmm.  I get the feeling that things will start a little earlier this cycle than usual.  What’s first on the schedule for training?”

“First aid.”

“Replace it with basic combat.”

The Senior Instructors looked a little confused, but they all answered with a resounding “Yes Sir!”

The Legate smiled.  There would definitely be some conflict between the units soon, and Leon was undoubtedly going to be right in the center of it.

‘Seeing what this son of House Rai- … what this Valeman will do is going to be quite entertaining…’

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Chapter 66 - Rules and Structure

Chapter 64 - Their Fortress