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It was a titanic effort to rise out of bed the morning after Leon and Elise’s first night together, and it weren’t for his insistence on not missing a single day of training, Leon wouldn’t have bothered to try. Elise pouted a little when her attempts to get him to stick around for a little while longer failed, but Leon was still intent on gaining enough power to find whoever had attacked his family and gain his vengeance.
Plus, he could feel himself growing closer to the edge of the fourth-tier, and promise of gaining magical strength was too attractive to ignore. His thoughts were noticeably faster than they were only a year before, and his control of magic had reached such a degree that he could almost start practicing some of his family’s magical techniques. Every time he tried to start, however, his magic would always fly out of his control before he could complete the steps a technique required.
While Leon trained, Elise contented herself with watching him for a while. It was exciting watching him practice his fighting skills, but when he sat down to meditate and flood his body with magic it grew much more tedious. Consequently, Elise then began her own training. She didn’t practice fighting skills, but she kept herself fit with various other kinds of physical exercise—usually dancing.
Physical condition was an important part in advancing through the magical tiers, as mana can’t circulate through an unfit body nearly so well as a fit one. So, Elise may have been a little unhappy that Leon left her bed to train, but she understood the necessity of it and didn’t slack off in her own training. She still made Leon pay by taking a bath with her, though he hardly considered that a punishment.
When they left Elise’s bath—without bothering to put their clothes back on—they returned to her bedroom where they found that the estate’s servants had swapped out her dirty sheets for clean ones, which the two young mages immediately went about dirtying.
Across the estate in another private wing, Elise’s mother, Emilie, watched her daughter with a smile on her lips. She didn’t watch for long, but she was just so excited that Elise had finally found herself a partner that she couldn’t help but take a quick peek. Emilie was a little disappointed that it wasn’t one of the young men she had picked out for her daughter, though.
Leon and Elise couldn’t spend the last two weeks Leon had in the capital in Elise’s bedroom, though they certainly tried. After three days, Leon had to leave to spend some time with and say goodbye to Charles, Henry, and Alain, so Elise went to her private garden. That was where Leon found her when he returned four hours later.
Elise had personally planted and grown every plant and flower in her garden, and every single one had flourished under her careful attention. This left the garden in a state of extreme beauty, so awash with color that when Leon walked through the door into it, he almost felt like he had been transported back to the Forest of Black and White.
Leaning over a planting bed a couple dozen feet away he saw Elise, dressed in drab brown pants and a tight matching shirt, with her bright red hair pulled back in a loose bun. She was so enthralled with what she was doing, staring at a tiny sprout barely poking above the soil with her emerald eyes narrowed and her lips pursed in thought, that she didn’t notice him enter. Leon smiled and silently snuck up on her, then wrapped his arms around her waist from behind and pulled her into a hug.
“I’m back,” he whispered into her ear. She had been surprised when his arms suddenly appeared and enveloped her, but as soon as she heard his voice she relaxed and leaned back into Leon’s chest.
“It’s about time,” she said with a cute pout.
“So what are you doing, that you’re too distracted to notice someone’s arrival?” Leon asked with a smile.
Elise responded with a wide smile of her own, and eagerly explained, “I’m trying to get this medicinal herb to grow here. It’s called Meligaent’s Obsession, after Meligaent the Fair-Minded’s fixation on proving its existence.”
“Seems like he succeeded,” Leon commented.
“He didn’t. Someone else did, a decade after Meligaent’s death. Anyway, it supposedly has extreme healing capabilities, to the point of being capable of regenerating lost limbs!” Elise passionately said.
“Is that true?” Leon asked with an amazed look.
“I… don’t know,” Elise admitted. “I bought the seed for almost half a million silvers five months ago, but the thing has only grown this much.” She indicated the tiny sprout not even an inch long in her garden.
Elise continued, “I’ve been trying find a nature spell that will help to accelerate the herb’s growth, but nothing has worked so far…”
“Mind if I have a look?” Leon asked. Nature magic was just a specialized use of earth, light, and water enchantments, so he figured he could provide some small help to Elise. Unfortunately, when Elise showed him the nature enchantment she had been working on, Leon didn’t have anything to say. The complexity of the enchantments and the way the runes spiraled into each other were beyond anything he had learned over the past year.
“Oh well,” Elise said good-naturedly when Leon admitted he couldn’t make heads or tails of the enchantment, “that can wait, the herb isn’t in any danger of dying—it’s just not growing! I can come back to it. In the meantime…” A wicked grin appeared on her face and she turned around in Leon’s arms and kissed him.
“Come with me,” she said after separating. Over the next hour, she led Leon around her garden, showing him all the fruit of her labors. There were over a hundred different plants in her garden, each with a specific alchemical use from simple healing to extreme combustion, from aiding relaxation to inducing a state of hyper-awareness. Her garden was truly diverse, with extraordinarily expensive plants and flowers from all over Aeterna, and her grasp of nature magic greatly aided her efforts to help them thrive.
“That was incredibly impressive,” Leon said when the tour was over, and they began walking back to Elise’s bedroom hand-in-hand.
“A plant will grow if you stick it in the ground and give it enough water, generally speaking, so what I’ve done isn’t that great,” Elise said with a grateful chuckle. “Instead, what I want to do is to splice some of those plants together with nature magic, to combine or amplify their effects!”
“That can be done?” Leon asked in wonder. Elise was revealing to him that his knowledge of nature magic was truly lacking. He figured it was probably because he had been focusing almost exclusively on fire and lightning in his studies, as opposed to the elements crucial for plant manipulation.
“It can,” Elise affirmed.
The two continued their discussion of plants, alchemy, and nature magic for another few minutes until they arrived at Elise’s bedroom. They immediately threw off all of their clothes and jumped onto the bed. They had loved each other for months, and it was only their anxiety about confession that prevented their relationship from advancing. Now that it had, they were making up not only for those months they had lost, but also for the two years they were about to lose with Leon leaving the capital.
That night, as both Elise and Leon were lying in bed, Elise turned over to Leon and, after resting her arms on his chest and her chin on her arms, she asked, “Can I ask you something?”
Leon opened his eyes and with a smile of amusement at Elise asking if she could ask something, he nodded.
“Why did you sign up at the Knight Academy? Did you just want to be a knight or join the Royal Legions that badly?”
Leon’s smile faltered a little.
“The reasons why aren’t happy…” he said quietly.
“You can tell me, can’t you?” Elise inquired.
“I…” Leon hesitantly began. Elise’s eyes were bright and comforting, and Leon certainly trusted her, but it was also a sensitive topic for him. He’d never spoken about these things to anyone else after he’d had the time to fully process everything. Torfinn knew, but Leon was still in shock when he told the Brown Bear chief, and Xaphan knew, but the connection between him and Leon made talking—even about sensitive matters—quite easy.
“My father always told me stories about knights as I was growing up. I fantasized a lot about being one. Now that I’m a little older, I had the opportunity to fulfill those fantasies, while also working towards another goal.”
“What other goal is that?” Elise asked curiously.
Leon hesitated again, but he knew that Elise was aware that Artorias had died, so he took a deep breath and said, “I want to find those who killed my father. To do that, I need to gain both political rank and magical power. I can do both of those things in the Royal Legions, though it will take a while before I can start in earnest.”
“… What about your mother?” Elise asked after a moment of thought.
Her question threw Leon for a loop. He hadn’t put much thought into what happened with Serana, despite naming her in his Mana Glyph.
“… I want to find her too… But, I never knew her. It’s hard to be emotional about someone I’ve never met. On an intellectual level, knowing the reasons why I’ve never seen her makes me angry, but as for my feelings about my mother herself, I’ve never known her, and I could probably go the rest of my life without our meeting.
“That being said, I’ve decided that I want to find her as well, if only to satisfy my own curiosity. Though, the details behind her disappearance make me think that might not be possible…”
“Why do you say that?”
Leon averted his eyes from Elise. He hesitated for a third time, but this time was a little different. He had no real fear of talking about what his father had relayed to him about Serana, but the look of utter grief on his father’s face was still vivid in Leon’s mind. Remembering that sight made Leon shut his mouth, but when he looked back to his girlfriend, smiling at him and waiting patiently for his answer, he couldn’t stay silent.
He slowly, with several hesitant pauses, told her what Artorias told him had happened, about Ryker and Fain, about the men who attacked the villa, and about how Serana was taken away by her cousins. When he was done, Elise was stunned into silence. She had no idea how to respond.
Finally, she said, “Thank you for trusting me with this information, my love.”
“Anything for you,” Leon whispered back to her.
“Well, if you mean anything…” she said suggestively as she got on top of him. She traced the center of his chest with her finger, then leaned down to whisper into his ear, “There is something I want to ask…”
“Wh-what is it?” Leon asked, stuttering a little over his words from both the residual anger he had when remembering Artorias’ death, and from arousal at Elise’s actions.
“What you said you wanted from the Royal Legions—magical strength and political power—can both be gained in Heaven’s Eye, too. Why don’t you join us? You’ll be well compensated for time, and we’d help you find your enemies…”
“That’s… certainly a tempting offer,” Leon answered with a thoughtful look.
Elise smiled at him in response and pushed away the sheets covering their lower halves, making sure that Leon could see all of her.
“… And only getting more tempting all the time,” Leon said as he put his hands on Elise’s hips. “However, I’m going to have to decline. For now, at least.”
“I don’t want to be dependent on you, just as I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be dependent on me. So, for the time being, I’ll stay with the Royal Legions. If your offer stands in a few years, then I think I’d find it a lot harder to decline again.”
“How many years are ‘a few’?”
“My father said that most people stay with the Legions for ten years, though that doesn’t include knights…”
“That’s only a traditional time limit. You could technically quit right now if you wanted…”
“I only just joined, I’d rather stay a little longer than a single year in the Knight Academy,” Leon said. Elise wasn’t happy with his decision, but she was at least content. So, to change topics, she began to move her hips on top of Leon, eliciting moans of pleasure from both.
The day Leon had to leave came quickly, far quicker than either he or Elise wanted. Charles, Henry, Alain, and all the other Snow Lions had already left for their posts in the Eastern and Central Territories. In fact, apart from a few other select trainees who had been sent to serve knights in the capital, Leon was the only member of his training cycle still in the city.
Those select few other members included Valeria and Asiya, who had been assigned to the Princess’ Guard, a subunit of the Bull King’s Praetorian Guard. The ladies who were assigned to this unit had the job of protecting the wives, concubines, daughters, and other young female relatives of the reigning Bull King. Because of that duty, the unit was entirely made up of noblewomen—which also meant they typically didn’t have the number of members as they needed. Every second and third-tier noblewoman who went through the Knight Academy was assigned to this unit.
As for Leon, he still had no idea where he was going other than some fort in the Northern Territories. He had to make his way down to the military port on the central lake and take a galley that was heading north along the Naga River. He would be joined by over two hundred other men of the Royal Legion, but they would stop at Cyrene whereas he would merely be stopping long enough to get some directions to Fort 127, wherever that was.
Elise walked with him down to the port. Unlike the previous two weeks, Leon tried to keep a certain distance from her, as he was still uncomfortable with public displays of affection. Elise, however, wasn’t so bothered by them, so she clung to his arm and gave him a hug and a kiss at the gates to the Legion port. The gates were as far as she could go.
“Two years, then you come back to me. You will not stay in the Northern Territories!” she whispered into Leon’s ear. For his part, Leon had all but frozen in embarrassment from the looks people were giving the two of them, but he managed to smile and nod.
“Good,” Elise continued, “and don’t forget to write to me once you reach your destination. I want to know where you are…”
“I’ll make sure to do that,” Leon replied.
With that, the two of them said their goodbyes and Leon turned to enter the Legion port while Elise started making her way back to her family’s estate. As she walked, the gentle smile she had with Leon disappeared, to be replaced with a noble seriousness that masked the profound sense of loss that Leon’s departure filled her with.
‘Two years,’ she thought to herself. ‘Two years, and he’ll be back…’
She decided to throw herself into her work with nature magic as well as her personal training. She was at the edge of the third-tier, she could feel it, so she at least felt confident that she could pass the time until Leon returned.
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