[Well…] Xaphan started hesitantly.
Leon staggered to his feet. He was still in the artificial mountains in the western third of the training grounds. His body was filled to the brim with magic power, but the wonderful and energetic feeling that brought was dampened from Xaphan seeming refusal to speak with him during the storm.
[‘Well’, what?] asked a livid Leon when Xaphan paused. [Wasn’t part of the contract that you would provide me with your counsel in exchange for residing in my soul realm? Wher-] Leon suddenly stopped and took a deep breath.
[What just happened to me?] he asked with a tone that he was forcing to remain calm.
[That was a side-effect of possessing the Thunderbird’s power. Keep that in mind; whenever a storm gathers, you will probably enter a similar state,] answered Xaphan.
[There any reason you couldn’t tell me this as it was happening?]
[I haven’t been able to speak with you all day. I noticed lightning gathering in your soul realm hours before the storm began in earnest, but it seemed to prevent mental communication.]
Leon took another deep breath. He tried to remain calm, but the sheer amount of energy that came with his current overabundance of magic power was making it difficult. After a few moments, he did feel his anger fade, though he still felt like crushing a few boulders to let off some steam.
[Listen, Leon, there are some other things we should discuss. I know what happened to you not because it was something I already knew, but because I was just told.]
[Told? By who?!] asked Leon as his face slightly contorted in shock.
[While you were out of it, the Thunderbird showed up to watch.]
[WHAT?! And it spoke to you?!]
[Why… It’s never even spoken to me before…]
Xaphan rolled his eyes at that. [And why should it speak to you? You are only a third-tier human, not even two decades old!]
[I’m still its descendant!]
Despite Leon’s attitude, Xaphan didn’t actually think he was wrong, especially with what the Thunderbird had told him. It said that Leon was its last descendant, so why hadn’t it spoken to him? Sure, it had sounded crushed and hopeless, but it had also attempted to protect Leon from him before it knew he was no threat to the young mage.
[Well… perhaps that’s something to keep in mind for when you make it to the sixth-tier. You’ll have created your magic body by then and will be able to access your soul realm. I’m sure you’ll get the opportunity to speak with your ancestor then…]
[Yeah, maybe… did it say anything else other than explain what happened to me?]
[… Not really. It did attack me, though, before it learned we had made a contract.] Xaphan decided not to tell Leon the rest for now. There was no need to tell him about Amon, and certainly no need to tell him what the Thunderbird thinks about his odds of survival in the long run.
[Huh. That’s a shame, but not really a surprise. Especially about him attacking you.]
[I’m just saying, I would be suspicious as hell if a shady character like you showed up where you weren’t expected.]
[And with that, I will leave you to your own devices. Good day.]
[Oh, come on, demon! Don’t be so sensitive!] Leon chuckled a little. Xaphan seemed to enjoy poking fun at him, so he decided to do likewise.
Xaphan didn’t respond, though Leon didn’t think he was particularly angry. Whatever the case, he still started descending from the mountains and heading back to the Snow Lion’s tower.
Gaius stared at the three nobles who had been ambushed by the Snow Lions. They were in quite the sorry state, with bruises, cuts, and slightly swollen eyes or lips. None of their injuries were particularly serious, as they had been mostly inflicted by first-tier mages armed only with training weapons, and they had been taken care of with healing spells for the most part. They’d return to normal in another day or two, but that didn’t dampen their anger in the slightest.
“We need to get them back for this act of barbarism!” shouted one of the nobles. His face was red from fury, and it only grew redder when he remembered how Leon’s kick made him throw up all over himself.
“They fucking dare to attack us only a day after we punished them for their arrogance?!” shouted another one of them.
Gaius raised his hand just as the last noble was about to share his opinion. Based on his enraged expression, Gaius was perfectly aware of what it would be, so he didn’t need to hear it. The noble immediately shut his mouth and waited for Gaius to speak his piece.
“Indeed, our actions yesterday were only meant to chastise them for that barbarian’s arrogance and blatant disregard for his betters, and that they would seek to retaliate against us for attempting to correct them is an act worthy of an extreme response. However, I don’t want any of you to do anything stupid. Classes resume tomorrow, so focus on those. I’ll speak with Linus and Actaeon and we’ll determine the correct course of action.” Gaius spoke with a calm and poised demeanor, but inside he was absolutely ecstatic.
He controlled himself as much as he was able on his way back to the top floor of the Deathbringers’ tower, just barely holding his smile back until he left the second floor behind.
‘They did it! They really did it! It’s going to be the easiest thing in the world to get all of this unit behind me now!’ he thought. Contrary to what he had told Tiberias the day before, his two fellow third-tier nobles hadn’t actually agreed to help so soon.
Had he asked them for something before the combat test, they would’ve undoubtedly jumped at the chance to help out the son of a Duke; their own parents were only Counts, after all. However, Gaius had lost a lot of respect and prestige when he allowed himself to be thrashed by Leon so completely; so much so that most of the other nobles who knew about the incident now felt comfortable ignoring him.
His undignified behavior after the fact didn’t help matters, either.
However, his chat with his brother brought reality crashing back in on him, forcing him to realize just what was at stake. His family’s honor and reputation—as well as his own future—were at risk due to recent events, and he couldn’t jeopardize that by continuing to give Leon opportunities to make a fool out of him.
Just as he was about to push open the door to the third floor, he paused for a moment. He wiped the unseemly smile from his face and took a moment to compose himself. He was almost jittery from excitement as he entered the third-tier common room, but his expression was sober and serious.
Linus and Actaeon were waiting for him there, quietly discussing something around the central fireplace. They glanced at Gaius as he entered the room, ceasing their conversation until he walked over.
“You two have heard about this morning’s incident?” Gaius asked in a solemn tone.
“Of course, we have. The entire training battalion would’ve heard about this by now,” responded Linus, a thin man with black hair and features sharp enough to cut glass.
“We were just talking about what do in response. We can’t let such an attack go unchallenged,” said Actaeon, a short and stocky man not even five and a half feet tall with brown hair and a full face.
“I told you two the Snow Lions would be trouble. The barbarian was only the beginning. It’s clear that Alphonsus and Castor can’t control their own unit,” Gaius said.
“Cut the shit, Gaius. I doubt they would’ve been this bold so early without your personal conflict with the savage.” Gaius’ eyes narrowed in response to Linus’ words, but just as he was about to interrupt, Linus continued. “That being said, it doesn’t really matter at this point. What’s done is done. We can only deal with what’s in front of us, and what’s in front of us is another unit who brazenly assaulted our own people less than half a mile from our own tower!”
“Indeed, we need to take our vengeance. However…” added Actaeon, looking over to Linus as he trailed off.
“We’ve been talking. We want to wait at least another week or two until the Basic Combat classes come to an end,” said Linus, finishing Actaeon’s thought.
“Why?” asked Gaius as politely as he could, though he couldn’t completely hide the anger in his voice. When the other two gave him slightly weird looks he hurriedly added, “It’s just that the longer we sit on this, the less anyone’s going to take us seriously.”
“I spoke with your guys when they returned, and they told me the whole story. The part that stuck out the most to me was the complete uselessness of the first-tier trainees in that fight. The barbarian’s lackeys overwhelmed our guys with numbers, but even then, they hardly acquitted themselves well. I want them to have at least some level of competence when we pay the Snow Lion’s back.”
Gaius unconsciously frowned slightly. He quickly forced it off his face, but the other two had already seen it. However, neither of them addressed Gaius’ obvious desire to act quicker than they were willing.
He couldn’t really fault their logic, though. Waiting to move against the Snow Lions until they were ready was a hard idea to argue against.
“Every day we spend preparing is another day they’ll spend getting ready for us,” said Gaius.
“We know. But this is still the best plan,” Actaeon replied with a serious expression.
‘We’ll see how they feel after dinner tonight…’ he thought.
Dinner that evening was tense, to say the least. Every trainee had heard about the Snow Lion’s ambush by then, and even if they hadn’t, the Snow Lions who laughed and jeered at the Deathbringers made it perfectly clear what had happened.
The Deathbringers’ significantly more subdued response was a little surprising, though, given they were the ones laughing and jeering the day before. A few of more emotional first-tier trainees shouted back insults in response, but they were swiftly silenced by glares from their second-tier trainees.
The Deathbringers made their way back to their tower quiet, angry, and humiliated. Linus and Actaeon didn’t change their minds, though, insisting to Gaius that they needed to wait until all their trainees could fight.
Gaius accepted their decision in a calm and measured way, but he showed just how livid he was when he was finally alone in his own room. His face twisted in rage and he had to struggle to prevent himself from breaking things out of frustration.
The Snow Lions, conversely, returned to their tower in quite the celebratory mood. They were feeling exceptionally jubilant, especially when compared to the previous day. Even the second-tier nobles had smiles on their faces and looked at Leon with less dismissiveness than they had before.
Alphonsus wasn’t too thrilled, though, and went to his room early. Castor was a little more conflicted. On the one hand, Leon had taken revenge for their own humiliation, but on the other hand, the Deathbringers were not going to take this lying down.
Castor paused and glanced at Leon before following Alphonsus to the top floor but decided against speaking to him.
For his part, Leon was sitting with Henry, Alain, and Charles, watching them practice what they had learned in their Basic Combat classes. After about half an hour, Leon stepped in to show them a few blocks and counters to what they had learned.
As he was doing so, a couple of the trainees who had accompanied them during the ambush approached.
“Hey, um, we couldn’t help but notice you all practicing…” one of them began.
“… Yeah, do you think we could join you?” the other finished, looking directly at Leon with shining expectant eyes.
Leon was about to immediately answer no, but he caught himself. He knew that if he was to rise through the ranks he would need to vastly improve his people skills, but he still hesitated; he still didn’t particularly like being social.
“Sure! Come on over!” said Henry before Leon could make up his mind. The two trainees looked a little uncertain, even with Henry’s assent. But, when they looked over at Leon, the young man finally made a decision and slowly nodded to them.
They then happily joined the four in their training, but Leon ended it a little earlier than he had the previous week due to the unexpected prolonged interaction.
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