The Knight Academy encompassed a great deal of land and many buildings. There were dorms for recruits, libraries, lecture halls, training fields, and sparring platforms. Everything that was needed to quarter and train the recruits was found in abundance at the Knight Academy.
The building that Leon and Charles stepped into was the Central Administration building, where most of the bureaucratic needs of the Academy were met. Just on the other side of the doors were a number of desks and receptionists, as well as chairs and tables for people to wait and relax in.
“How may we help you gentlemen?” one of the receptionists asked.
There was a moment of silence before Leon realized that Charles was a little too nervous to answer. “… Here to sign up for the enrollment test.”
“Of course, just follow me please.”
What followed was a flurry of checking ID’s, paperwork, and cursory physical and magical tests. There were a few strange looks thrown Leon’s way when he said he was from the Northern Vales, but his Heaven’s Eye ID was genuine, and thus, effectively beyond reproach. Ajax had neglected to mention to Leon that Heaven’s Eye very rarely issued their own ID’s, and so the identities of those who possessed them were hardly, if ever, questioned. Charles’ process was a lot less straightforward. His background was heavily scrutinized, and he was questioned intensely before he was cleared for the enrollment test.
They emerged from the building several hours later, feeling like interacting with those bureaucrats and filling out all those papers had shaved a few years off their lives. Charles greedily inhaled the fresh air, while Leon stared hollow-eyed into the distance, absentmindedly gripping his sword.
They only recovered when they had stumbled their way to the first place that had hot food. A few streets over, there was a small restaurant that served some fairly mediocre burgers, but those burgers tasted like ambrosia after the soul-crushing experience they had just gone through.
“Just signed up at the Knight Academy, eh?” the owner asked, seeing the familiar looks of unmitigated joy on Leon and Charles’ faces as they wolfed down their food. Leon didn’t stop, but Charles at least had the decency to nod to him between bites. “Yeah, all commoners have that same look when they leave that place. A shame they don’t do the same to the nobles, but I guess it makes sense, they have names that are much easier to verify.”
When the owner left to check on his other customers, Leon examined the documents they left the Academy with. They didn’t walk away with many papers, and most of them were instructions for when and where the enrollment test would take place. They would have to go to a training field a mile south of the administration building in fifteen days, and there they would take a power test, a written test, and a combat test. There weren’t any details about what these tests would actually entail, but their names gave a few clues. Essentially, they would be tested on their knowledge about culture and magic, and their magic power would be confirmed.
That combat test was a little ambiguous, though. Leon could think of quite a few things it might refer to, but he had no real idea.
‘I'll find out soon enough, no use pondering it now.’
Once they were done, Leon and Charles paid for their food and left, hurrying back to the inn.
“So, what kind of training did you have in mind?” Charles asked Leon, somewhat nervously.
“Every day, you’ll allocate at least three hours for breathing exercises. You’ll also accompany me for another two hours for physical exercise. Another couple of hours for combat training.” Leon responded. When he said that last sentence, Charles was sure that a tiny smile flickered across Leon’s face, but he blinked, and it was gone. He felt a shiver run down his spine.
“Ok, that sounds… good. What should we do now?”
“Change into looser clothing. Something easy to move in.”
They went back to their rooms and did just that, though Charles had to do his best, as he didn’t have a whole lot of clothes to choose from. Leon, on the other hand, was dressed in sandals, leather shorts, and a loose green shirt, the same training attire he wore back home. He still had his sword, but it was secured onto his back, rather than around his waist. It would be much less intrusive there.
“So, what now?” Charles asked, trying to sound eager but unable to suppress his anxiety.
“Do you know where the largest public park in the area is? There should be some in the city…”
“Hold on, let me find out!” Charles knew that Leon wanted to talk to as few people as possible, so he happily volunteered to speak with the inn manager. Leon had done so much for him in so little time, that he wasn’t bothered in the slightest at his companion’s reticence to speak to others.
“You know the way?” asked Leon when Charles walked back over.
“Good. Start running.” Leon said with a half-smile that terrified Charles.
“The park. Start. Running.” Leon let some of his potent killing intent spill out for a moment, and Charles had to suppress the urge to immediately vomit and pass out. Once the killing intent abated, he immediately turned around and sprinted out of the inn, with Leon in hot pursuit. Every time he slowed, Leon would be there, almost literally pushing him forward.
They ran past bewildered onlookers and pedestrians, dodging and weaving through the crowds. The sight of lower-tier mages out for physical training wasn’t a particularly rare sight but seeing one running with such a look of terror and the other with a look of sadistic glee was definitely out of the ordinary.
Half an hour and half a dozen miles later, they arrived at a very large public park. The land near the edges was flat and cleared of all but grass, while the interior of the park was relatively well forested, and even contained some large ponds and a few tiny lakes. There were quite a few lower-tier mages training in the cleared area, most by sparring with friends or playing various sports. Most people around, however, were just common people who were out enjoying the warm sunny day.
Charles began slowing down to catch his breath when he stepped onto the open field at the edge, but Leon didn’t stop.
“Who said to slow down? Into the trees…” Leon hit Charles with another blast of killing intent, and Charles picked up the pace, running straight down one of the hiking trails of the woods. It was only when they reached a secluded clearing that Leon allowed them to stop. When he did, Charles collapsed, gasping for breath.
“Hmm. Can see now why you were so nervous. If you can’t even handle that little jog, then you wouldn’t make it very far in the Academy…” In contrast to Charles, Leon wasn’t even slightly winded, which given that he was in the third-tier, was to be expected.
“Uuuugh… That sucked, kill me now…”
“If you can talk, then get back up.”
Charles immediately held his tongue, and Leon waited a few more minutes before getting him on his feet.
“Alright, you ready now?” Leon asked. Charles nodded apprehensively. “Good. Then I’ll show you a few unarmed techniques that you ought to find some use for…”
“Just unarmed moves? I don’t think they’ll ask us to fight with fists…”
“These techniques are useful for defending yourself from weapons as well. First off, I want to you to try to punch me.”
“Punch me. Or, try to punch me.”
“Umm… ok…” Charles stepped forward, and after a little hesitation, he threw a half-hearted punch in Leon’s general direction. Leon rolled his eyes, side-stepped with ease, while also grabbing Charles’ outstretched arm. He pulled Charles forward while sweeping his leg out from under him. This all happened so fast that Charles barely had the time to process it before he found himself lying face down in the dirt.
“Don’t be so indecisive, it’s not like you’re going to hurt me. Now, get up and try again! And commit to the punch!”
Charles pushed himself up, and swung his fist at Leon again, with less hesitation, but he still wasn’t putting his full weight behind the strike. To Leon, this was still almost in slow-motion, and again, he dodged while pulling Charles forward and knocking him off balance.
“This move isn’t just for when someone tries to punch you. If they attack with a knife or sword, it still remains useful.” Charles struggled to his feet while Leon was speaking. “We’ll practice in stages. First, the dodge. When you see an attack coming, you need to step out of range and place all your weight on that foot…”
When Leon called it for the day, Charles was exhausted. Leon had him practice the dodge-grab-sweep move so much that he could barely stand. Leon had also demonstrated the move on him so much that Charles’ face had become quite familiar with the ground, but he had also managed to get Charles to commit to his punches.
They only had fifteen days; not enough time to really make Charles a good fighter, but plenty to make him a little stronger.
After Leon allowed Charles to rest for a few minutes, they started making their way back to the inn. Of course, Leon made Charles run, and the first-tier mage was almost crying in misery by the time they returned.
The night, when Leon was alone in his room, he remembered that Xaphan had something he had to say.
[What’s up Xaphan? You wanted to talk?]
[Yes, but it’s a little hard to admit…]
[No worries, take your time.]
[… Over the past month, I’ve determined that it will be… almost impossible for me to recover on my own. I’m going to need… your help.] Xaphan almost seemed to spit those last two words out.
[Oh really? Well what does the mighty ‘Lord of Flame’ need from little old me?]
Xaphan ignored Leon’s tone, focusing entirely on just saying the words he needed to. [I will need you to brew a potion for me. There are three ingredients needed: a feather from a bird strong in wind magic, preferably fourth-tier or higher, the bud of a Kagu Flower, try to find one that’s at least a century old, and the core of some kind of fire beast, fifth-tier or higher..]
[Ok. I need to focus on training until I get into the Knight Academy, after that, I’ll look into it. Probably going to need to stop by the Heaven’s Eye Merchant Guild, but I’ll see to it.]
Xaphan wasn’t that thrilled at Leon’s plan to wait, but he still said, [See that you do. I won’t be of much help to you until you reach the fifth-tier, otherwise. Don’t forget that the stronger I am, the more power you’ll be able to draw upon.]
[I won’t forget, you’re my partner after all.]
On that very same day, around midday, the personal yacht of the Exarch of Calabria arrived in the capital. As the three gigantic water runes on the back of the yacht pushed it towards the docks, dozens of servants and crew members scurried around on the decks making sure everything was ready for their Lord.
None of this was heard in the opulent living quarters, though. Here, sitting on one of the black couches was a gorgeous young woman in an elegant dark blue dress trimmed with gleaming silver. Despite reaching her ankles, the dress wasn’t particularly conservative, as it left her arms bare and had a low V shaped neckline. The young woman had long silver hair pulled into a loose ponytail, leaving enough to frame her beautiful face. Her cold and detached eyes glittered in the light like sapphires.
But, for all her beauty and elegance, her most striking feature was the strength and stability of her third-tier aura. She was only sixteen years old, but anyone who saw her would know she was already on the path to becoming a great mage.
The man who sat across from her on another couch of black leather was even more impressive. His aura dwarfed hers in its sheer strength and intensity, despite his serene and calm demeanor.
He was, of course, Lord Justin Isynos, the Exarch of Calabria, and the young woman was his daughter, Valeria.
“I’m sorry, my dear. We should’ve been home long before now, this place is far beneath you.”
“Don’t worry, Father. It doesn’t matter where you say ‘home’ is, I have only ever known the Bull Kingdom. Enrolling in the Knight Academy is just the logical choice for me.”
“I understand wanting to go out to see the world, but there are so many other ways to do that…”
“But my friends are here. Asiya is already in the city, and I recently heard that Elise has returned as well. So, don’t worry about me, I’ll be just fine. There’ll be plenty of time to go sightseeing when we finish our business here.” Valeria gave her father a brilliant smile, but it didn’t banish Lord Justin’s slightly guilty look.
“Right… Listen, Valeria, be careful, ok? I doubt there will be anyone in the academy that could, or would, harm you, but I can’t help but worry.”
“Yes, Father.” Valeria started sounding a little annoyed, but Lord Justin didn’t drop the matter.
“Look, we haven’t heard from Timotheos in over a month. Something went wrong, I know it, and we don’t have that many people we can rely on. This leaves us very short-handed, and…” Lord Justin would have continued, but his daughter interrupted.
“I’ll be fine! I’ll be with Asiya the entire time, nothing will happen here!”
“Ok, ok, I’ll drop it.”
Just at that moment, the yacht finally slid into the dock, and a servant opened the door.
“My lord, we have arrived.”
“Good. Make sure all of my daughter’s possessions are packed and get the carriage ready at once!”
The servant bowed and left.
“Well, this is it.” Lord Justin had a melancholic smile on his face, but his daughter banished it with a brief hug.
“Don’t worry, Father. We’ll get a few weeks off from time to time, and I’ll be sure to come home then.”
After their final goodbyes were said, Valeria boarded her luxurious carriage and departed the yacht, heading straight for the home of one her friends, a woman named Asiya Samarid. The two of them would begin enrollment in the Knight Academy the next day.
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