Elise and Leon parted ways at the door of the Tower. As Leon walked away, he glanced backward and saw Elise still standing there, watching him leave. She dropped her seductive air and gave him a beautiful genuine smile, which Leon found himself quite captivated by. His cheeks went bright red, and he smiled back at her as best as he could in his embarrassment. Then, he turned and kept walking.
But that sight of Elise smiling at him stuck in his mind. He felt giddy from the excitement, and that made his hands start to shake. But, it was less than a minute after he left the Tower before a certain demon decided to try and ruin his mood.
[Can’t believe you didn’t make a move. Well, I take that back, a little cherry boy like you would never make a move. What I can’t believe is that you hardly spoke more than a few sentences to that girl.]
Leon didn’t respond. Xaphan was clearly trying to bait him into being mocked, but Leon refused to bite. Of course, Xaphan wasn’t going to stop with only a single attempt.
[I honestly don’t know what she sees in you. Some virginal weirdo who barely talks hardly meets my standards of attractiveness, but maybe I just have high standards. Hey, you’re incredibly lucky, meeting such a gorgeous woman with such unique tastes.]
Leon grit his teeth and kept quiet. His hands were no longer shaking with excitement, but rather from anger, and he unconsciously curled them into fists.
[Or, maybe she’s just into charity, right? She might see you, an obvious novice when it comes to women, and feel some kind of pity, and decide to at least give you a taste of what you’re too hopeless to get for yourself.]
One of Leon’s eyes began twitching in anger, but he held his tongue. Barely.
[… Really? Nothing? You’re not going to give me anything? Just going to sit there and take it? Fine, whatever, way to just suck the fun out of it.] Xaphan dejectedly sighed and stopped talking and turned his attention back to trying to recover his power. There still wasn’t much he could do right now, but he was getting rather bored watching Leon go about his day.
Leon relaxed now that Xaphan wasn’t talking, but his good mood had been nearly ruined. The memory of Elise’s smile put the spring back in his step, though, and he had an uncharacteristically broad smile on his face when he finally returned to the inn.
It was too early for dinner, but past when lunch was being served, so Leon made straight for his room. He didn’t see Charles around, so he lacked any desire to hang around.
Usually, Leon would’ve buried himself in the books he had brought, but he felt that he needed to spend some time meditating. He estimated that he was a long way off from advancing to the fourth-tier and every little bit would help.
He sat down on the floor and began to control his breathing. There wasn’t much practical use for breathing exercises once past the second-tier, but it helped him calm down and control his magic. His mana surged through his body, and he felt it begin to inundate his brain and internal organs. These were the last parts of his body that had yet to adapt to magic, and he needed to keep magic flowing through those areas as much as possible.
He stayed like this for several hours before meeting Charles for dinner. They made their plans for the next week during the meal, then went to their rooms. Charles continued his breathing exercises, and Leon dove into his books again.
The next week proceeded much like the previous two had gone. The two men would eat a hearty breakfast, then spend the morning and much of the afternoon doing physical training, with Leon helping Charles in some basic combat techniques. They would return to the inn and rest until dinner. Then, after eating, Charles would either spend time with Jeanne or meditate, and Leon would either read or meditate. A simple schedule, and soon enough, it was the day the results of the enrollment test would be posted.
They woke up that morning, packed their things, and left the inn. Charles did take a few minutes to say goodbye to Jeanne, which Leon was perfectly willing to wait for. Jeanne got a little teary-eyed, she and Charles had gotten to know each other very well over the past few weeks, and only calmed down a little when Charles promised to come back when he got some time.
For a moment, Leon was tempted to say something about how obvious it was that they liked each other beyond just physical attraction, but he decided not to very quickly. Xaphan was probably listening, and he got the feeling the demon wouldn’t let that go without saying something about Elise.
Charles felt himself getting a little nervous again as they walked to the Knight Academy, so he decided to try and strike up a conversation with his taciturn friend.
“Soooo, looking forward to seeing your score? How do you think you did?” Charles had asked the second question before, but he was just looking for something to talk about.
“Satisfactory,” Leon replied.
“… Right. I suppose a third-tier mage would have to actually try to fail for the Academy to not let them in…” Charles said, looking a little more nervous than before. A moment of silence followed before Leon glanced at Charles and decided to engage in the conversation a little.
“The written test was a little hard. Maybe not so satisfactory on that.”
Charles livened up a little at the chance to talk, and said, “What? There’s no way you didn’t get through that!”
“The Knight Academy expects their knights to not be just soldiers, but also have some knowledge of culture and history. I’m… not so good on that front.”
“… Huh. I didn’t get that feeling from the written test. It just asked us some basic questions about history and geography. Things like, ‘Name three Bull Kings who have reigned in the last millennium’, or ‘In which of the Five Territories is *whatever famous fortress or landmark*. A few history questions, but nothing I would classify as being ‘culture’.”
“Really… I had questions about works of art and literature, and very specific questions related to magical theory. Hmmm… Perhaps the written tests are different for every tier. Since third-tier applicants are almost universally the children of higher nobles, it makes some sense that there would be slightly more in-depth tests for them.”
“I guess…” Charles agreed with Leon’s reasoning, but the way it was phrased made it seem like the Valeman considered himself separate from that group. He was separate in a way since he came from the Northern Vales, but most everyone would now associate him with that group given his magical strength.
The two discussed some of the finer points of the written test for a while longer. Charles cheered up after finding something to talk about, and before long, they arrived at the main administration building of the Academy.
Just to the side of the walkway leading to the building was an enormous stone slab hovering several inches off the ground. Dozens of papers had been attached to it, and a table with several administrators had been set up next to it.
Leon and Charles walked up to examine the papers. The scores of every applicant had been written on them, but there were just under a thousand applicants who had passed the tests, so it took several minutes for them to find their scores.
Charles’ face lit up in surprise and delight when he saw his score. The first two weren’t a surprise, given that he’d been told what he had scored right after the tests, but now he saw a ‘53’ in the third slot next to his name. He only needed to score twenty points, so he passed the written test by a wide margin!
Leon was significantly more subdued, which didn’t surprise Charles in the slightest. What surprised him were Leon’s scores. The first two numbers were just as Charles expected, a pair of ‘100’s. The third number made him stop and stare for a moment in disbelief, though.
‘I scored better than Leon in something?’ he thought to himself, before looking at Leon in confusion. Sure, he was a Valeman, but it still beggared belief that he got a score so low, especially after maxing out the other two tests.
Leon didn’t much care. He passed, and that was what counted. Artorias had done his best, but what he could teach Leon would always have been limited by being so far away from civilization. Besides, such insignificant things like the names of every Bull King or the locations of every single castle in the kingdom took a back seat to fighting techniques and hunting. Artorias knew that the sooner his son learned to fight and kill, the better, and that these skills would suit him better than history and geography in the long run.
Given recent events, Leon agreed wholeheartedly with his father making combat and magic his priority when it came to teaching him.
Leon quickly scanned the scores of the rest of the third-tier applicants. Every one of them had perfect scores, ‘100’ in all three categories. He frowned a little when he saw that even Gaius had a perfect score, especially that big ‘100’ the nobleman had gotten for the combat test, despite his disastrous performance.
Leon just sighed and tried to put it out of his mind. Whether Gaius passed or failed had little to do with his own business, so it was best not to let it bother him. That was easier said than done, though, and Leon wasn’t about to forget it.
Just as the two were about to move on, Leon noticed another name: ‘Valeria Isynos’.
‘Isynos? Like Adrianos?’ Leon froze and stared at that name as he remembered the men who attacked his home and murdered his father. Intense waves of killing intent rolled off him, and Charles’ vision grew hazy and his stomach began turning. The nearby administrators weren’t unaffected either. They were sitting behind the table, which was lucky since their knees grew weak and they felt nauseous.
“Hey! Leon!” Charles’ shout brought Leon back to reality, and the killing intent abated. “What the hell was that?”
“Hmm?” asked Leon, who was so thrown off by Valeria’s name that he couldn’t say anything else for a moment.
“Relax, buddy, it’s just a score!”
It took a moment for Leon to realize what Charles was talking about. “… Right. Just a score.” He forced himself to calm down and regain his usual stoicism. Charles watched him with some concern before spurring them onwards, to try and take Leon’s mind off of whatever set him off.
“Come on, let’s move on.” Leon slowly nodded, and the two approached the administrators next to the stone slab. The administrators didn’t let what just happened go, however, and the supervisor spent a few minutes chastising Leon before letting them proceed.
After showing their ID’s, they were directed to the assembly field behind the building by the first administrator, who was still a little rattled from the earlier killing intent. The second administrator was a little more composed and gave them a stack of papers which assigned them to their training unit and corresponding dorm building.
There were ten groups in total, with about one hundred people in each. When Leon and Charles made their way over to the assembly field, they found that almost all of the applicants who passed the enrollment test were already present, including all the other third-tier nobles. They weren’t going to wait around as a show of authority, not on this day when they formally enter the Academy.
There were ten wooden signs posted around the small field, each with the name and sigil of one of the training units burned into them. Everyone had already grouped up in their assigned units in front of their signs.
Leon looked at the stack of papers in his hand. His training unit’s sigil was emblazoned on the very first page, and it made him smile, helping him take his mind off what he just learned. He had been assigned to the Snow Lions. He had half a mind to fish his coat out of his pack. A quick glance at Charles showed Leon that he had been assigned to the Snow Lions as well. Charles smiled at Leon, seeing that they had the same group, and they began walking over.
Leon noticed that they had drawn quite a bit of attention, and many eyes were following them as they went to join the Snow Lions. Most were from the third-tier mages, and they were concentrated on him, which he understood given how his combat test had gone. Two of those stares stood out to him because they carried a great deal of killing intent. The more intense one was from Gaius, while the other was from Tiberias.
‘I get why that one hates me, but what’s up with… was his name Tiberias?’ Leon thought to himself. He honestly had no idea how much Tiberias despised him after the latter saw how affectionate Elise had been with him.
As for the other stares, they were mostly just from those who were curious where this third-tier Valeman who had come out of nowhere would go. But, there were two that were genuinely pleased to see them, and they just happened to be in the Snow Lions as well; Henry and Alain came forward with big smiles welcoming Charles and Leon to the group. The other two third-tier nobles who were in the Snow Lions weren’t so thrilled at seeing Leon stop here.
While Charles began introducing himself to some of the others in the Snow Lions who came forward to greet them, Leon took a look around at who was in the other groups. The first he noticed was the smallest group and the only one with less than one hundred people, the all-female Crimson Tigresses, where Valeria and Asiya were. Valeria hardly glanced in his direction, but Asiya cheerfully waved to him. Much like when he was around Elise, having the attention of such a beautiful girl brought some red to his cheeks, and he almost froze, but after a few seconds, he was able to rather stiffly wave back. Asiya giggled, then turned back to Valeria.
Leon took a moment to watch Valeria. Having had a few minutes to think and completely regain control of himself, he was able to restrain any killing intent that may have otherwise been released. Given her youth, there was little chance Valeria was involved in the attack on his home in any way, but he was still alarmed and wary of her. There was little he could actually do with this new information, even if it was the same ‘Isynos’ as he had immediately assumed, so he bit the inside of his cheek to take his mind off her and moved on.
Marcus and Alcander had both been assigned to the same unit as each other, the Steel Century. Marcus had only watched Leon for as long as it took the latter to reach his unit, before turning away. Alcander, on the other hand, had been staring at Leon with a look of intense anticipation ever since the other man had arrived.
Leon’s eyes then turned to Gaius, who had lost the swagger he had before the test but made up for it with the ugliest and most hateful look Leon had ever received. Gaius had been assigned to the Deathbringers, a name so ridiculous that Leon couldn’t help but chuckle a little. He didn’t spare Gaius another look, which only made the arrogant noble furiously grind his teeth so hard that the other two third-tier nobles in his unit gave him some strange looks.
The last person Leon glanced at was Tiberias. Leon wouldn’t have bothered, but the other man had been glaring at Leon as if he wanted to murder him. Tiberias was assigned to the Black Vipers.
After getting the lay of the land, Leon turned back to the Snow Lions. The other two third-tier nobles in the unit deliberately ignored him, and Charles was already talking more than enough for the both of them, so Leon just relaxed and waited for whatever came next.
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