That Saturday was a bright and beautiful day, perfect for exploring the city and seeing the sights. The weather in the capital was perfect and the forums, pools, and bathhouses were crowded with the city’s occupants. The many parks, bars, and restaurants were just as packed.
Most of the third-tier trainees who had taken their time off to venture into the city didn’t see any of this, though. A few of the nobles had estates in the capital, so that was where they spent their time, but Gaius and Tiberias—though possessing large estates—weren’t among them. They and about twenty other third-tier trainees were relaxing in the lavish lounge on the first floor of the Heaven’s Eye Tower.
There were a couple hundred other nobles, knights, and public officials who were in the lounge as well, so none of the trainees stood out.
Gaius and Tiberias were in a private booth in a slightly more secluded part of the lounge. When they had entered, Gaius had immediately drawn the curtain so they wouldn’t be seen.
“Well that was dramatic,” said Tiberias with a slightly amused smile. Gaius had invited him to speak here, otherwise he would probably be either trying to spend time with Elise or browsing the merchants’ wares on the upper floors or at the Blasted Furnace.
“Well, I’d rather not draw too much attention right now. I saw both Alphonsus and Castor here,” Gaius said as he took a seat opposite Tiberias.
“I suppose the reason you don’t want them to see you is the same reason you asked me here? You’re acting against the Snow Lions, aren’t you?”
“Of course I am! Every second that goes by before I gain my revenge against that miserable barbarian, my prestige takes another hit! I’m going to crush him! I’m going to tear him limb from wretched limb!”
“Calm down there, buddy. No need to get so worked up here.”
Gaius was still fuming, but Tiberias stuck his head out of the curtain and waved to an attendant. He spoke a few words to the alluring woman, then turned back to Gaius.
“We’ll get some good food and drink, you’ll calm down, and then we’ll have a nice and coherent chat. Sound good?” Gaius slowly nodded in agreement.
They sat and chatted for a few minutes before the attendant returned with some potatoes, perfectly grilled steaks, and some crisp and colorful salad. After serving the two, she poured out some expensive red wine into crystal wine glasses and took her leave.
“Now, do you think you can speak about these matters without flying into a rage?” asked Tiberias after the two had taken several bites.
“Don’t treat me like a fuckin’ child,” growled Gaius. Tiberias only rolled his eyes in response, which Gaius ignored. “So, listen. I had my guys recruit about thirty of the first-tier trainees in my unit over the past few days. I’m having them scour this city looking for those Snow Lions…”
Henry and Alain spent most of their day walking around the various merchant forums in the city. They never bought anything, but they did stop for a bite to eat at a rotisserie stall.
“So what now?” asked a bored Alain. The one hundred silver coins they received as a stipend couldn’t buy them very much, so there wasn’t a whole lot for them to do.
“Hmmm…” thought Henry. “Maybe we could hit up the beach. Might be some cute girls there to talk to.”
“As tempting as that is, I’d better not.”
“… Right, you already have three kids on the way. Best not to add to that number until you graduate, at least,” responded Henry while throwing his friend a mocking look.
Alain, for his part, ignored it. “Want to go hang out with Charles?” he asked.
“Sure. Not a lot else to do without coin, anyway.”
The two started walking east, toward the lower end districts. They exchanged a few jokes and jabs at each other’s expense, but before they had even left the Western Districts, they rounded a corner and almost ran into another first-tier trainee. This startled trainee almost jumped out of his skin when he saw these two and immediately turned around and ran off.
“Whoa, what the hell was that?” asked Alain.
“Not a clue…” said Henry.
They both vaguely recognized this trainee, but he wasn’t in the Snow Lions, so they hadn’t paid much attention to him. If they had, they might’ve known that he was in the Deathbringers, Gaius’ unit.
Henry and Alain put this seemingly minor incident out of their minds, but that trainee sprinted half a dozen blocks to the west. He arrived at a small square with several cafés and a large fountain in the center. Three of Gaius’ second-tier subordinates were calmly drinking tea and waiting at a table in front of the nicest café in the square.
The trainee approached and whispered a few sentences to one of the second-tier nobles.
“You sure?” the noble whispered back. The trainee hurriedly nodded, and the noble stood up. He gestured to five other first-tier trainees who were waiting by the fountain, and they started running after Henry and Alain.
“I’ll take care of these little pests,” he said confidently to the two other nobles. They nodded and continued waiting for other trainees who were out looking for Snow Lions to show up.
Henry and Alain weren’t hurrying, so this group of Deathbringers caught sight of them in less than five minutes. There weren’t many people around on these streets, but the noble still gave the order to drag the two they were following into a nearby alley where he would be waiting.
“Man, I would literally kill for some of Old Salem’s mead,” said Henry.
Alain was about to mutter his agreement, but four young men—who they also recognized from the Academy—grabbed their arms and quite roughly started hauling them into the alley.
“What the hell are you doing?! Let go of me!” shouted Henry while wildly attempting to shake his arms free.
Alain didn’t say anything, preferring instead to use his own prodigious strength of try and break the hold the two Deathbringers had on him. He managed to throw one of them off of him, but a fifth Deathbringer sprang out from the alley and swung his fist into the side of Alain’s head. The man he threw off wasted no time grabbing his arm again and the two Snow Lions were dragged into the alley.
The Deathbringers didn’t say a word to them, only taking turns kicking and punching the two. The noble calmly watched for several moments before moving forward and waving off his first-tier underlings.
Henry and Alain pushed themselves to their feet with this respite. Henry’s nose was bleeding and he had numerous bruises forming on his face. Alain was much worse, as he was barely able to stand and had one eye already starting to swell.
“You fucking bast-“ started Henry, but the second-tier noble darted forward and drove his fist in Henry’s stomach. The young Snow Lion was lifted off his feet and thrown into the wall behind him. He tried to catch himself when he fell, but his legs gave out and he collapsed.
Alain lunged forward at the noble. He kept Leon’s few lessons from the past week in mind; he struck fast to try and put his opponent on the defense while targeting what seemed to be the noble’s weakest point. He kept his fist loose and put all of his weight behind it, using his legs and hips as much as his arm and shoulder. Even with the pain he was in from the beating he had just taken, his fist rocketed toward the noble with startling speed.
The noble hadn’t expected Alain to go on the offensive and just barely managed to raise his own arm to block Alain’s fist mere inches from his face. The noble’s arm shook and went slightly numb from Alain’s hit. Alain’s punch was so forceful, in fact, that the surprised noble had almost lost his footing.
But he didn’t. He gave Alain a withering glare and roundhouse kicked the Snow Lion in the side of the waist.
Alain wasn’t able to block or dodge, so his stomach took the full force of the kick. He fell to the ground and threw up everything he’d eaten for lunch.
The noble didn’t give Alain any time to recover; that punch had really angered him. He kicked Alain down into his own vomit. He then kicked Alain a few more times until his momentary anger had abated.
“All right. Fuck these guys, let’s head back to the others,” spat the noble. He led the other trainees out of the alley and left Henry and Alain there on the ground.
“Ugggh…” Henry groaned.
Alain could only cough and retch.
It took the two Snow Lions half an hour for the pain to die down long enough for them to struggle to their feet. They were battered, bruised, and bleeding. Their faces were swelling in several places and Alain walked with a noticeable limp. They scrapped all plans to meet with Charles and instead made their way back to the Snow Lion’s tower.
Despite their injuries, they were still first-tier mages, so there was no question in their minds about whether they would make it, but they still kept on a constant look-out for any other trainees they might encounter on the way.
“So that’s why you’ve been restraining yourself around the barbarian? You had something in motion and that satisfied your anger?” asked Tiberias.
Gaius smiled. He despised Leon as much as he could despise anything, but with him and Valeria constantly fighting first in the morning duels, Gaius couldn’t make his own challenge.
After a couple days, something occurred to him.
‘The units are supposed to be fighting each other. If I can’t fight that filthy savage, then I’ll just break his friends into little pieces. Let’s see how he reacts then…’
“Satisfied? No, my anger certainly isn’t satisfied. I want to humiliate that little shit as much as a man can be humiliated!”
“So then what’s your next move? You’re not going to get very many Snow Lions today, maybe half a dozen at most. You’ll need more than this…”
“That is something I won’t let you in on, not unless you commit to helping me.”
Tiberias frowned. “And why would I help you?”
“You made it abundantly clear on the first day to everyone with the gift of sight that you hate that barbarian! You should help me!”
Tiberias’ frown grew a little deeper. Indeed, his first reaction to seeing Elise on Leon’s arm was blinding rage, but in the past two weeks, he’d cooled his head. He had been thinking about what he should do about the barbarian, but he didn’t particularly want Gaius’ involvement—not when the memory of the combat test was still fresh in everyone’s mind. And besides, he wasn’t thrilled about taking such actions out in public.
“Why don’t you ask the other two in your unit? What were their names again?”
“Actaeon and Linus. And they’ve already agreed to help.”
“Really? Really?” asked Tiberias with extreme skepticism.
Gaius wasn’t lying, but he was certainly omitting a few key details. For instance, Actaeon and Linus didn’t really want to start the usual inter-unit conflict this soon, not when their first-tier trainees still barely knew which end of a sword to hold. But, Gaius had still managed to win their support by promising to prioritize seizing the Snow Lion’s banner above his own revenge. That being said, there hadn’t been any discussions between them about how and when to act, and Gaius certainly hadn’t consulted with either of his fellow third-tier Deathbringers before ordering these attacks on the Snow Lions.
Tiberias continued to think about it for several more moments. Gaius grew a little impatient and said, “I won’t ask too much of you. You won’t need to bring your own subordinates, you just need to follow us and help us fight when we enact our next plan.”
Tiberias still didn’t look convinced, so Gaius added, “And I’ll be in your debt. You’ll be doing me a favor, one which I will be sure to repay!” Gaius held his breath and waited for the answer. He didn’t specifically need Tiberias, but no other noble would ally with him so soon into the Academy’ training cycle. Tiberias was the only one who shared Gaius’ hatred for Leon, so he was essentially the only support Gaius could find outside of the Deathbringers.
Slowly, Tiberias’ frown lessened. He looked Gaius in the eye and gave him a slight nod.
“Good! Now, our next move will depend on how the Snow Lions respond. Basically, we just need to keep an eye on Alphonsus and Castor. I don’t expect much from them, though. Regardless, we’ll probably make our next move next week.”
Thank you to my Sixth-tier patrons:
Want to know what happens next? Head over to my Patreon, where you can not only read up to 5 chapters ahead, but also gain access to my Behind the Scenes posts where I talk about the inspirations and iterations the various elements of my story have gone through!
If you want to support this story further, please head over to Royal Road and leave a rating or review! It's free, and every rating helps!