On the day that classes started for Leon and the other trainees, a man entered the capital on a small private yacht. This man—Nicomedes was his name—had extremely eye-catching golden hair and features that strongly resembled Gaius’. He was dressed in the dark green uniform of an officer in the Royal Legions. The golden insignia that decorated his shoulder indicated that he was a Tribune, a sufficient rank to command a battalion of one thousand soldiers and at least a fifth-tier mage.
The crew of his yacht skillfully brought it into port. The man walked off the yacht with all the grace and elegance that a noble of his rank and power possessed. Several of his subordinates and secretaries were waiting for him with a superbly enchanted carriage. When the Tribune joined them, they all entered the carriage and set off for the Knight Academy.
It took the carriage an hour to arrive at the Academy, during which time the men in the carriage brought Nicomedes up to speed on the work that had piled up during his absence.
Upon arriving at the Knight Academy, the Tribune’s men hurried towards his office while the Tribune himself wasted no time making his way to the office of the Legate. He was one of the Legate’s direct subordinates, so it was common courtesy for him to greet his boss on his return to the Academy.
The Legate’s office was surprisingly small, though it was still the largest office in the main administration building. There was a large desk of dark wood, expensive red carpets, and several chairs around a fireplace.
The Tribune bowed politely to the Legate when the secretary outside showed him in. The Legate gave him a respectful nod in return and waved him over to take a seat in front of the desk. They made some small talk about a policy the Legate was considering having removed, one where the Senior Instructors were allowed to completely revoke all privileges of a unit if they were to lose their banner.
The two spoke for a few minutes without the Legate really coming to a conclusion and Nicomedes excused himself. It was only some small talk anyway, and the Legate didn’t actually want his opinion; he simply wanted pay a little respect to a fellow nobleman by asking his opinion.
As he was exiting the Legate’s office, Nicomedes ran into another of the Legate’s subordinates, a man named Sabinus. He was a Tribune as well and greeted the Nicomedes on his way out.
“Hey there, Nico! Good to see you back in the capital!”
“Sabinus! It warms my heart to run into a friend so quickly upon my arrival.” The two friends clasped hands and gave each other a brief hug.
“How was the wedding? It must have been a sight to see; I heard even the Second Prince showed up for the ceremony!”
“His Highness did indeed grace my family with his presence. My father had sent him an invitation months ago, but we never expected he would actually attend!”
“Congratulations! And how is your elder brother dealing with the trials of marriage?”
“About as well as any other man who marries a young and beautiful woman! He and my new sister-in-law have been nearly inseparable these past couple weeks. My father even had to scold them for not leaving the bedroom long enough for the maids to properly clean up!”
“Ha! Sounds like everything went as well as it could have!”
“Yes, it was a splendid time. Unfortunately, my younger brother couldn’t attend as he was busy enrolling in this very Academy!”
Nicomedes’ face had lit up as he spoke about his family, but Sabinus’ face fell a little when Nicomedes brought up his younger brother. Nicomedes noticed and gave his friend a quizzical look.
“It sounds like your elder brother’s wedding was an incredible event. I’m afraid Gaius’ brief time here hasn’t been so stellar, though…” Sabinus quickly explained how badly Gaius had lost to Leon during the combat test, as well as the reports Sabinus had received from the Deathbringers’ Senior Instructor about Gaius’ recent behavior. This included his loss to Alcander that morning and his seeming fixation on his extreme and obvious loathing of Leon which was isolating him from his third-tier peers.
Nicomedes’ mood fell with every word. By the time Sabinus stopped talking, he had grown quite furious.
“Thank you for telling me all of this, my friend. This was a good chat, but we really should get to work.”
“Of course, I understand.” Sabinus smiled as Nicomedes turned around and walked away.
A couple minutes later, Nicomedes arrived at his own small office. It wasn’t lavishly decorated, but it was comfortable enough. It was also located in one of the most private areas of the administration building.
Nicomedes caught the attention of one of his secretaries and immediately said, “Send a message to my brother, I would like to see him when his classes are over.” The secretary nodded. Nicomedes was about to enter his office when he frowned and turned back around to address the secretary again. “And make sure he hurries. I’m… anxious to see my brother after so long.”
The Tribune tried to control his tone, but the secretary was still able to pick up on Nicomedes’ concealed fury.
“Yes, Sir!” he said.
Nicomedes nodded and entered his office. As soon as the door closed and no one could see him, his face contorted into an ugly snarl.
‘That damned moron! He’s tarnishing the image of our family!’ he thought.
The Deathbringers were brought back to their own tower after dinner. Their Senior Instructor gave them orders that were almost identical to those given by the Snow Lion’s Senior Instructor. Once he was done, he turned to leave. But, just as he reached out his hand to push open the door, the door opened and Nicomedes’ secretary entered.
The secretary whispered a few words to the Senior Instructor who turned back to his unit and yelled, “Gaius Tullius! Get over here!”
Gaius glanced over at them from the foot of the stairs and walked over a moment later. The secretary told him about Nicomedes’ summons and Gaius smiled. The two left the tower at a brisk jog and arrived at the main administration building ten minutes later.
Gaius was led through the halls until they reached a plain dark wood door labelled ‘Nicomedes Philocrates Tullius’. The secretary knocked and the two entered the office.
The first thing Gaius noticed was the lack of joy on Nicomedes’ face at their reunion. In fact, his older brother looked almost furious to see him. Gaius’ smile quickly disappeared.
Nicomedes nodded to the secretary, who slightly bowed and exited the office.
“Brother! It’s good to see you after these long weeks! How was our eldest bro-“
“Shut up, Gaius.” Nicomedes glared at his younger brother and Gaius shut his mouth instantly. Silence followed for several excruciatingly long minutes as Nicomedes glowered at Gaius.
Gaius almost jumped from the mounting anxiety when his older brother finally broke the silence.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, little brother?”
“… I don’t quite…” Gaius narrowed his eyes in confusion at Nicomedes’ ambiguous question.
“By the time he was your age, Gratian had already hunted and killed both a third-tier griffon and a fourth-tier manticore. Father heaped praise upon him and rewarded him with a barony on the Gallian river.
“I didn’t quite match up to our glorious elder brother, but I still graduated from this prestigious institution with great honors. I went on to rise to the rank of Tribune in less than two decades!
“When Father allowed you to enroll here, he was worried you were only doing so to pursue that daughter of Lord Justin. You allayed his fears by insisting you would eclipse both me and Gratian during your time in the Legion.”
Gaius didn’t know why his brother was bringing all of this up, but he had started to sweat. Nicomedes’ tone was growing angrier with every word.
“So, answer me Gaius, why did I hear a story about how you were beaten into unconsciousness in only three hits during the combat test?! By a barbarian, no less?! And why did you go on to humiliate yourself further by defecating in front of all the other high nobles in your class and the FUCKING LEGATE HIMSELF?!”
Gaius was stunned speechless. He had no answers for Nicomedes, or at least, none his brother would accept. He frantically searched for an excuse, but a humiliation like the one he suffered at Leon’s hands couldn’t be dismissed with only a few words.
“You what? What about you?”
Gaius frantically scoured his brain for anything to say, but Nicomedes wasn’t going to let up.
“Do you have any idea how hard I worked to secure this position? ANY IDEA?” asked Nicomedes. Gaius shook his head. He honestly had no idea what Nicomedes had to do to get stationed here, or even why he would want this post. After all, there was no practical chance he would ever see combat in this position, so there wasn’t much room for advancement through military achievements.
“You don’t even know how important my job is, do you?” Again, Gaius shook his head. “In my role here, I arrange for all the food to be delivered to the dining hall, all the class supplies to be taken to the appropriate classrooms, and make sure the instructors have everything they need to make knights out of those first-tier commoners. I’m basically the logistics officer for the entire Academy.”
Gaius frowned. This was hardly a position that had much glory or power that he could see. He knew that he would certainly never fight for his brother’s job. And Nicomedes saw Gaius’ obvious disdain for his work.
“*Sigh*. Think about what it means to be a logistics officer, little brother, before you go judging the position. My day job is just set dressing, busy work that I have to do before I get to do what is my most important job, which is to assign the trainees their squireships upon completion of their training cycle.”
Nicomedes let that sink in for Gaius. It took a moment, but when he realized the implications of Nicomedes’ position, Gaius’ eyes widened almost as far as they could go.
The Academy will always send out their squires for two years to be trained on the job by their assigned knights. After putting in so much time to train these young squires, their assigned knights will usually take them into their service after graduation.
Over ninety percent of all the fifth-tier or stronger mages in the Legions were trained at the Knight Academy. This is no guarantee that a Knight Academy graduate will rise so far, but there is usually fierce competition over the best squires because they will almost universally stay with their assigned knight long after they themselves have been knighted.
Gaius realized that because Nicomedes controlled where these squires go, it gave him a large amount of influence over both the squires and the knights they will be sent to study under. Everyone wants good teachers and subordinates, after all.
“His Highness Julius Octavius Taurus attended Gratian’s wedding. The future king himself showed his support for our family!” Nicomedes glared at Gaius again before continuing. “He and I spoke for a while about the Academy. He indicated to me that not only was he looking for a good squire, but both the Sapphire and Earthshaker Paladins were as well!”
Gaius’ expression turned ravenously hungry. If he could become a squire to the future king or one of the finest warriors in the entire kingdom, then he had little doubt he’d gain great power and prestige. Enough, perhaps, for him to formally ask Lord Justin for Valeria’s hand in marriage!
Nicomedes noticed Gaius’ look and scowled. “I was considering sending you to one of them, but that was before I heard about your abysmal performance!” Gaius’ face immediately fell again. “You said you’d excel here. Instead, you have been beaten down by some uncultured and unwashed barbarian! You’re lucky that word of this hasn’t spread very far. But it will, and when it does, you will be a laughingstock of the entire noble class!”
Gaius felt his face burn in shame and his stared at the floor.
“You are going to need to fix this, and soon! Crush that mongrel and regain your honor, then actually do what you told Father you’d do, and excel. Maybe if you lead your unit to victory during the ending Field Training Exercise, I’ll be able to send you somewhere respectable. Understand?”
Nicomedes now looked at Gaius with extreme seriousness. Gaius turned his eyes back to his brother and said, “I understand. I won’t fail like this again.”
“Good. Now get back to your unit and train. This isn’t Lentia, so don’t go throwing your weight around as if it were. Spend your time training so you don’t further embarrass the family.”
Nicomedes’ final words cut very deeply into Gaius. He left his older brother’s office shaking with shame and rage. His hatred of Leon reached new heights that he never thought possible. He despised that barbarian as much as a man could despise anything.
He had already decided to obliterate Leon as completely as possible ever since the wretch had humiliated him, but his desire had grown even stronger after that afternoon, when Valeria had willingly chosen to sit by him instead of Gaius. And now, he felt a creeping desperation brought on by Nicomedes.
Gaius clenched his fists and teeth. He silently vowed to never stop until he had done everything possible to stomp Leon down into the dirt so completely that the barbarian would never rise again.
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