Several minutes after the Steel Century—Marcus and Alcander’s unit—arrived at the dining hall, a number of servants entered from the serving area with heavenly looking food. Every cut of steak was cooked and seasoned to perfection, every leaf of lettuce was crisp and cool, every potato baked to beautiful golden brown. No matter what the food was, whether it was a salad or just plain fries, everything about it looked immaculate, and the mouth-watering aroma reached everyone in the room.
The eyes of the envious first-tier trainees followed those servants as they brought this food to the center of the room. Even Leon paused to watch them for a moment. The servants quickly and professionally distributed the third-tier nobles their plates and loaded them up for a small feast.
There was some confusion, though, once the servants were done. They had one set of dishes and silverware left over, and another portion of food they still had to give out. The servants’ supervisor began panicking a little as he silently counted the third-tier trainees and realized there was one missing! He absolutely couldn’t afford it if he accidentally spurned someone in that group! If that trainee complained, or his own bosses heard that he brought some food back to the kitchen and skipped over that trainee, he would probably be fired on the spot!
The supervisor had never encountered something like this before. The third-tier trainees had always sat together in the center section of the dining hall, so it never crossed his mind that Leon would be sitting with the lowly first-tier plebeians. He frantically scanned the center section again, looking for the final third-tier trainee they had to bring food to.
The other servants were also standing there at a loss of what they were now supposed to be doing. After a few more moments of this, some of the other nobles started getting a little impatient with the servants who were still in their space. Fortunately, the supervisor’s panicking eyes met those of the brown-haired Snow Lion’s. The brown-haired noble pointed over his shoulder directly at Leon.
The supervisor was a little confused as to what the noble was trying to tell him, but as he was just barely a second-tier mage, he was able to identify Leon after several confused seconds. His face burned in embarrassment at having not expanded his search, otherwise he would’ve been able to identify Leon given that he would’ve been the only other trainee in the room whose power was unknown to him.
“I’m terribly sorry for the wait, Young Lord, we weren’t expecting you to be sitting with these people.” The servants hurriedly brought the last of the food to Leon, who was so nervous at being stared at by the entire table and the numerous first-tier trainees around them that he was unable to talk. But when the food was placed before him, his eyes almost grew as wide as the dinner plate.
Charles, Henry, and Alain glared at the supervisor for his snobbish and derisive comment, but the food the servants brought quickly took their attention. Even these three stared in envy at Leon, let alone the hundreds of other first-tier trainees around.
Their envy only grew as Leon started to dig in. He had already eaten a delicious meal, but that didn’t stop him from tearing through what the servants brought over. Over the course of the first three bites, his face lit up with joy. No one at the table disturbed him this time.
About half an hour after the Snow Lions arrived, their Senior Instructor burst in and shouted, “Snow Lions! You’re done! Let’s get going!”
The two units who had arrived before them had already left several minutes before. The first-tier trainees all rose quickly and hurried outside. The second-tier trainees were a little more leisurely, but they didn’t waste time either. The two third-tier noblemen took their time, making sure to say goodbye to the other nobles in the dining hall. Leon didn’t bother with them; he had left with those at his table.
The Senior Instructor led them on a run back to the tower. After bringing them inside, most of the first-tier trainees were about to head for their rooms, but the Senior Instructor stopped them.
“Hold on there, who said you all could sleep now?” His sharp tone and slight emanations of killing intent froze them all in their tracks. Even the second and third-tier nobles backed away from the stairs.
“We still have some business to discuss, then we’re going over what the schedule will look like for the next few weeks.”
The unit shuffled around until they were all gathered around the Senior Instructor, while the other two instructors just stood by the door and waited for it to be over, so they could go home.
“Here at the Knight Academy, we will train you all to be leaders! If you graduate, you will be placed in charge of a ten-man squad! However, before we teach you to lead, you must learn to follow!” The Senior Instructor was looking directly at the first-tier trainees as he said this. He didn’t bother looking at the others because they likely already knew what he was going to say, especially since they seemed to hardly be paying any attention.
“In every unit, the rank and file soldiers follow the lead of the men-at-arms! All of you first-tier trainees are those soldiers!” He raised his voice a little and looked over at the nobles who were still looking towards the stairs. He waited a moment for them to turn back around, which they fortunately did because otherwise he would’ve had them running laps around the tower all night.
Well, the second-tier trainees would’ve been running laps at least.
“You second-tier trainees will be the men-at-arms! It is your duty to watch out for your men, got it?!” He glared at each one in turn, until they all slowly nodded in acknowledgment. “… We’ll see if you do or not later…” he added ominously.
Then, he turned his eyes towards Leon and the final two nobles. “You three will lead this unit. You are in charge of your men-at-arms, and you are responsible for every single man in this room. If any of them antagonize the other units, you will be partially responsible. If any of the other units attack this tower, you will lead the defense. If you decide to attack the other units, you will lead your men into battle. Don’t let them down.” He didn’t ask them if they understood. At their social rank, he had little doubt that they wouldn’t bother answering him.
Regardless, he moved on.
“Tomorrow, you will be assembled back here at seven in the morning, then we’re off to basic combat training! We’ll eat breakfast at the training field! Dress appropriately and bring at least one of your training swords! After that, we’re off to lunch, and then you’ll go to class!”
The first bit was expected from the Knight Academy; after all, knights have to be able to fight, but the bit about classes clearly confused some of the trainees.
“There are a number of electives that you all can choose to partake in. From poetry to painting to history, there are a large number of courses available to you! However, you first-tier trainees are required to take Magical Theory for one of your electives, where you will learn the basics of what magic is and how to gain magical strength!” The Senior Instructor looked around at the first-tier trainees. Most of them looked thrilled to finally gain access to the basic knowledge of magic, but the second and third-tier trainees were about as enthused about this class as he expected them to be, which is to say not at all.
“You second-tier trainees are also encouraged to sign up for that class as well! Don’t forget that ascending to the third-tier may not be required to become a knight, but it absolutely required to graduate from this Academy! And don’t expect to become a knight if you find yourself failing to graduate!” A few of the second-tier trainees were a little displeased at his words and he could tell that very few of them would actually follow his suggestion.
Leon had no intention of taking this class, though. He guessed that he already knew all he needed to about the basics of magic, and the books he retrieved from his family’s Archives had given him some very useful tips and techniques to train that he was excited to start trying out after he finished reading up on them, even though almost all of them required greater strength than he currently possessed.
“Now then, any questions?” asked the Senior Instructor, surveying the room.
“Will we get a list of our possible electives?” asked one bold-looking first-tier trainee. The Senior Instructor’s eyes immediately locked onto him like a shark eyeing its prey.
“What did you just say?! I am a knight! Is that how you speak to a knight?!” His tone was harsh but quiet, giving a very sinister feeling and turning the trainee he was reprimanding meek as a mouse.
“I… uh… I don’t…”
“Speak up! How do you refer to a knight?!”
“Holy fucking shit! You actually got it right! What’s your name?” The Senior Instructor’s tone shifted to an amazed bewilderment, and the trainee relaxed a little.
Leon facepalmed at Theoderic’s response. He had just made the same mistake as before!
The Senior Instructor didn’t bat an eye, though, and proceeded in a congratulatory tone.
“Well Theoderic, since you answered correctly, I’ll only make you run around the tower two hundred times tomorrow! One hundred for the first time you forgot ‘Sir’, and another hundred for the second!”
Theoderic immediately stiffened. His face fell, and he audibly gulped. He hadn’t made the time hack before, so he knew exactly how grueling running around the tower with those heavy logs was.
“To make something clear, all of us Instructors are knights! We have earned our titles, and we expect you all to use them! Understand?!” shouted the Senior Instructor angrily at the first-tier trainees. As the other trainees were nobles, he fully expected that they would never forget to use his title, so he didn’t bother looking in their direction.
“Yes, Sir!” shouted all the first-tier trainees.
“Good! To answer this genius’ question, you will receive a list of your choices for other electives tomorrow, when you are choosing them! Any other questions?!” The Senior Instructor waited a moment, but the nobles had no questions to ask and the commoners had been too intimidated to speak up, so he continued.
“If that’s it, then the rest of the day is yours! And just so you are aware, you are only permitted to leave the Academy on designated off days! Most weekends are off days, but there are also a few others that we’ll inform you of as they approach! Other than these specific days, you are not allowed to leave the grounds of the Academy! You are, however, allowed to explore the forest if you so desire, so long as you aren’t late to training!”
Leon’s eyes lit up at his last sentence. He greatly desired to go out and spend some time alone in the forest, to get away from all the people that he had been surrounded by ever since he arrived in Teira, and now that he knew it was permitted, he would definitely do so. He still had some training he wanted to do, so it wouldn’t be this night, but soon.
“I’ll be back here at seven!” With that, the three instructors left the Snow Lions in the tower. The nobles wasted no time heading for the stairs, and the trainees who had to run around the tower immediately made for bed. Everybody was fairly exhausted with the move to a new place, but a few trainees stayed awake for a while longer.
Henry and Alain went to their room, but Charles stayed in the nearly deserted common room to meditate. He had no intention of slacking in his breathing exercises, not when he had reaped such valuable rewards from them already.
Leon climbed up to the top floor. He saw the second-tier trainees socializing with each other, forging closer bonds with their fellow nobles. When he got to the top floor, the other two third-tier nobles didn’t even look at him. As he walked to his room, the little bits of their conversation that he caught indicated that they were deciding who would be in charge of the entire unit and who would be second in command.
The only thing Leon wanted out of the Knight Academy right now was power, so who was in charge didn’t matter to him. He just entered his room and locked the door behind him. He used a runic circle on the wall next to the door to turn off the magic lanterns, then drew the heavy dark red curtains across the window, plunging the room into almost total darkness.
Leon channeled a little magic into his eyes and returned to the center of the room. He removed his clothes and sat down on the thick carpet. For a moment, he allowed himself to enjoy how comfortable the carpet was, but then it was on to business.
He began meditating and pulled as much magic out of his soul realm as he could handle. His heart fused it with his blood, and the resulting mana filled his body with magical power. He channeled as much of it as he could into his head and into his core, saturating his brain and organs with power.
For the first fifteen minutes or so, that’s all he did. He allowed his organs to soak in the magic power until he felt they had reached their limit. Normally, this would be all he would need to do, allowing his magic to permeate throughout the last corners of his body that still had to adapt to it, but tonight would be different.
There was a certain technique described in his books for training, and though it stated that only fourth-tier mages could manage it, he wanted to try it anyway. If all went well, this would allow him to hurl bolts of lightning as if they were spears once it had been sufficiently practiced and he had ascended to the fifth-tier. The technique even seemed quite easy, all he would have to do is try and compress some of his magic power and send it surging through his arms as fast as he could, forming something like a constant stream of lightning.
He ran into problems immediately. While he could manipulate his magic power fairly easy, he found that he couldn’t compress it very well. It felt like trying to squeeze air; every time he tried, it would slip out of his grasp.
Artorias had taught him that when his brain fully adapted to magic, he would gain an extremely fine control over his magic, and after half an hour of failing to compress his own power, he felt that that control was what he needed to perform this technique.
He sighed. Regardless of the results, his magic power was flooding his brain and organs, so his time was still very productive. After several more hours of meditation and an hour or so after the sun went down, Leon climbed into bed and quickly fell asleep.
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