Chapter 73 - The Pool

The events of the first two days in the Academy set the precedent for the next few days.  In the morning, Leon would wake early and meditate to mentally prepare himself for the day.  Following that, he would meet up with his three ‘friends’ Charles, Henry, and Alain.

He wasn’t quite sure if he should use the term ‘friend’, but he decided to go with it for now as he lacked a better word.  He never had a friend before, after all, so this was all new to him.

The unit would run to the training field for their Basic Combat lesson when the Senior Instructor arrived.  Breakfast would be waiting for them, as would several hours of practicing basic stabs and slashes.

Leon, Castor, and Alphonsus would split off to join the other third-tier trainees in their sparring.

After Valeria beat him on the second day, Leon challenged her again before anyone could move.  She accepted with a slight smile, as they each had one win and one loss.  Her own sense of pride wouldn’t allow for such a stalemate.

Leon beat her on the third day.  He adopted a slightly different form of House Raime’s fighting style which incorporated the entire body, rather than relying solely on the sword.  After several minutes of exchanging blows, Leon brought the blade down in an overhand swing, forcing Valeria to block.  He then followed up with a shoulder check, knocking her to the ground and winning the duel.

On the fourth day, Valeria evened out the score again by focusing entirely on defense.  She tanked Leon’s attacks until he over-committed to a strike at her leg and she disarmed him with a blindingly quick swish of her glaive.

On the fifth day, they ended up with a tie.  They fought for almost twenty straight minutes until both were almost completely out of magic power.  They had exhausted their mana and their soul realms were nearly bereft of magic power to replenish their reserves.  Despite this, they still showed every sign of continuing, but the supervising Senior Instructor had to force them to stop lest they run so low on power that they couldn’t activate their weapons’ enchantments and accidently injure the other.

The other trainees witnessed the two fighting each other with such fervor that not even Alcander bothered trying to challenge Leon again.  It was clear to all of them that neither intended to stop challenging each other.

What Leon found a little surprising during this time was the indifference that Gaius was now showing him.  Starting on the third day, Gaius hardly so much as glanced in his direction and Leon didn’t feel even the slightest ripple of killing intent emanate from him.  The noble just ignored Leon as best as he could.

This would carry over into the afternoon classes, where Gaius would sit with several of the second-tier nobles, almost blatantly ignoring Leon and Valeria who continued to sit next to each other in the back.  It was no longer in complete silence, though, as they would give each other very terse greetings when the class began.

The class was still nothing but endlessly drawing and redrawing the seven elemental runes.  The class instructor took to occasionally wandering around the class and pointing out the errors the trainees made.

By the end of class on the fifth day, Leon found that he could draw each rune perfectly more than ninety percent of the time.

From what he could tell, Valeria could draw them perfectly every time without exception, and with such natural grace that he couldn’t help but marvel at her obvious skill.

Leon’s second course of the day was simply quiet reading.  Nothing of note happened during that time of the day.

Following dinner, the Snow Lions would return to their tower and Leon would provide a little instruction for his three comrades.  They would practice what they learned throughout the day, though there wasn’t any sparring like when Leon was instructing Charles before the enrollment test.  When not watching them and giving some critique, Leon would concentrate on inundating his brain and organs with mana.

Leon did notice several other first-tier trainees watching them curiously during this time, but they didn’t disturb the four, so he paid them little mind.

On the fifth day, things were a little different.  The Academy gave them the weekends off and even provided a small weekly stipend of one hundred silvers to each first-tier trainee, five hundred to the second-tier trainees, and two thousand to the third-tier trainees.

Henry and Alain made plans to wander around a few of the merchant forums while Charles intended to visit Jeanne during his time off.  The former two invited Leon to join them, but he declined.  Over the past few months, he found himself craving some time alone, far away from anyone else.  He planned to spend Saturday and Sunday exploring the forest.

When Saturday morning came around, the Senior Instructors took their units to breakfast at the dining hall, then brought them back to their towers.

The Snow Lion’s Senior Instructor gave them a fifteen-minute speech about safety and personal conduct which could be summed up as ‘Don’t be a dick and be back here by dinnertime’.  When he was done, the other two instructors handed out the stipends and the trainees were dismissed.

Henry and Alain left immediately while Charles only waited long enough to give Leon a quick nod before he made for Jeanne’s inn.

Leon went back to his room to pack a satchel with a couple books and a map of the training grounds.  He waited a few minutes for the other trainees to clear out, then left the tower.

The surrounding forest wasn’t nearly as beautiful as the Forest of Black and White which, despite its name, was actually awash with a wide gradient of bright and vibrant colors.  The forest Leon found himself in was mostly just the greens and browns that could be seen in just about every other forest, with only the occasional wild flower to break the monotony.

Despite this, Leon found the forest to be incredibly peaceful and relaxing.  Unlike where he grew up, he didn’t need to rely on Artorias to feel safe here.  He didn’t need to keep alert for tree sprites, the occasional streams he encountered weren’t filled with river nymphs, and there was no danger of running into a sleeping ice wraith.

The environment still reminded him of his father and their home back north, though.  Leon frowned for a little while before he managed to push it out of his mind.

He wandered around the forest for almost an hour before finding a place to relax.  He had followed a small river upstream until he arrived at a huge rock wall.  This was the border between the forest and the artificial mountains in the west of the training grounds.  The river flowed from a waterfall that had carved a wide recess in the cliff and left a small pool at the bottom.

This recess at the bottom was quite a bit wider at the bottom than it was at the top; Leon guessed an earth mage must have carved this extra space out from the cliff.

As he explored this place, Leon felt a profound sense of seclusion and isolation.  The cliff boxed the pool in on three sides and the forest obscured much of the fourth.  After spending so much time around other people, a place like this was exactly what he wanted.

On the wall behind the waterfall, Leon found a small raised tablet inscribed with three runic circles.  Out of curiosity, he activated one of them.  Immediately, he felt the ambient magic in the area flow into the pool, and the water became as clear and pure as his bath back at the Snow Lion’s tower.

Leon smiled in excitement as he activated the second runic circle.  Again, he felt the magic in his surroundings flow into the pool, though he didn’t see anything happen immediately.  After a minute of slight confusion, he noticed that the pool had begun to steam; it had been turned into an artificial hot spring!

He hurriedly activated the last runic circle.  Over the course of ten seconds, the roar of the waterfall died down.  Nothing else about the waterfall changed, but the loud noise of the water falling off the cliff and hitting the pool had been silenced.

He put his satchel down and began taking off his clothes.  He hesitated a little before removing his pants.  He had always bathed outside when he lived in the Vales, but this time was a little different, and he couldn’t help but be nervous that someone might come and see him.  After a few moments, he decided not to remove his undergarments, then slid into the pool.

The water was hot, but not unbearably so.  A mortal might have been a little uncomfortable by the temperature, but Leon enjoyed it immensely.  He spent the next few minutes happily swimming around.

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“Ooooooh, this is going to be sooo relaxing!” said Asiya.  She and Valeria were walking along the base of a cliff while carrying a couple of small packs.  They were following the directions that one of the knights serving Asiya’s house had given them that was leading them directly to the pool that Leon had stumbled upon.

“I’m sure it will be, but why did you have to bring me along?” asked Valeria.

“I couldn’t leave you all alone in that tower!  You need to get out and see the sun!  Besides, if anyone needs some time to relax, it’s you.  Those morning duels you have with… what was his name again?”

“Leon.”

“Right!  That guy!  You two go at each other like you’re out for blood!  That has to be tiring!”

“… Well, I must admit that it has been thrilling.  It’s rare to find someone who can fight me on equal terms without being of the fourth or fifth-tier…”  Valeria looked a little pensive as she said this, staring out into the forest but not actually looking at anything.  Asiya didn’t care to hear it, though, as her beautiful face scrunched up in mock anger.

“So training with me isn’t thrilling?”

“It is!” Valeria said emphatically after realizing how insulting what she said could be.

“But not as much as that ‘Leon’ guy?”

Valeria frowned a bit before answering.  “You two have very different fighting styles.  His is almost animalistic, completely forgoing defense.  I’ve never fought anyone like that before.  It’s very hard to attack him when he’s constantly putting pressure on me.”

“But you have beaten him twice…”

Valeria’s frown turned into a smile of pride.

“Do you liiiike him?”

Valeria’s face froze in shock at her friend’s question and teasing expression.  Asiya smiled mischievously at her.  She knew Valeria was weak to this kind of question, even if she actually hated the person they were talking about.

“Ooooh?  You do, don’t you?”

“No!”

“That seems a little too emphatic… are you suuure?”

“I don’t like him!  Besides, I think Elise already has her eye on him.”

“Right, she does, doesn’t she…”  For a moment, Asiya looked thoughtful, then she began looking around.  “It should be around here somewhere.  It’s at the bottom of a waterfall, so we should be able to hear it.”

“Hey, look at that!”  Valeria pointed several hundred feet further on.  The two women could see mist wafting out from the cliff.

“Is someone already there?  I didn’t think anyone would know about this place!  Let’s go see who it is!”  Asiya darted out and made for the pool.

“No wai-“  Valeria tried to stop her, but Asiya had already taken off.  She sighed and ran after her friend.

The two women curiously peeked around the corner when they arrived at the recess in the cliff.  Leon was no longer swimming, but had taken to reading some of his books by the edge of the pool.  Asiya’s eyes widened in excitement when she saw that he was almost naked, but Valeria’s face immediately went scarlet and she ducked back around the corner.

Asiya hardly noticed Valeria’s reaction; she was far too busy checking out Leon’s fit and muscular body.  It was clear to her that the physical benefits of magic were not wasted on Leon.  She was only jolted back to reality when Valeria pulled her back.

“What are you doing?!”  Valeria had to hold herself back from shouting, but Asiya would’ve had to be deaf to miss her disapproving tone.

“I’m only taking a look.  I’ve never seen a guy without clothes before.  Besides, it’s not like he’s trying to hide, so why shouldn’t I enjoy the view?”  Asiya peeked back around the corner just in time to see Leon lean back, putting his taut chest and abs on display.  Asiya’s eyes nearly popped out of her head as she took in the sight.

Valeria pulled Asiya back again.  “Stop that!  You shouldn’t be so crude!”

“Oh, come on, Val!  Don’t tell me you’re not curious too?  Don’t you want to see what he’s got?  I mean, he’s not the most handsome guy ever, but he’s still pretty cute.  And being a third-tier mage doesn’t hurt, hehehe.”  Asiya gave Valeria a lecherous smile and went back to stealthily staring at Leon.

Valeria stared at Asiya in disbelief.  She never expected her friend to be so obscene!  But Valeria found her eyes drawn to the corner, just past which lay a fit third-tier mage practically putting himself on display.  She tried to banish her lascivious thoughts, but the quick glance she already had at Leon was stuck in her mind.

Valeria quietly sighed and slowly joined Asiya in furtively staring at Leon.  When Asiya saw what Valeria was doing, she giggled and pulled back a little, making some room for her friend.  She gave Valeria a few seconds to get an eyeful before loudly whistling.

Valeria immediately jerked her head back and glared at a grinning Asiya.  Leon had thought he’d misheard for a moment before looking in their direction, so he didn’t see either one of them.

“You bitch,” whispered Valeria to Asiya, who could barely hold in her laughter.  “Come on, we’re leaving.”  She grabbed Asiya’s arm and almost dragged her away.

Leon, being on edge after hearing Asiya’s whistle, heard the two of them leaving from the rustling of the leaves under their feet, but by the time he had hurriedly dressed himself and went out to see what was going on, they were long gone.

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Chapter 74 - A Battered Pride

Chapter 72 - Her Challenge