“Those peasants should just do what they’re told. Who do they think they are to question our decisions?!” ranted Alphonsus in the third-tier common room.
“They’re angry. Some of them were assaulted today,” responded a much calmer Castor.
“And you said you’d take care of it! What more do they want?!” Alphonsus was almost shouting now, only kept in check by how composed Castor remained.
“I said I’d talk to Gaius. They don’t want to hear anything about ‘talking’, they just want their revenge. I understand that, but we’re one of the smallest units this cycle. I don’t want us to make enemies yet,” said Castor with a thoughtful look.
As Castor said this, a voice resounded through the common room. “Enemies aren’t always chosen. Regardless of what you want, the Snow Lions have enemies now.” Castor and Alphonsus glanced at Leon, the source of this voice, who had just come upstairs after organizing those trainees who were willing to follow him to retaliate against the Deathbringers.
Or, more accurately, watching Alain, Henry, and Charles organize the trainees, though his presence did lend those three some of his authority among the trainees as a third-tier mage.
“Shut up, savage. This is your fault, anyway, dragging our unit into your grievance with the Third Son of House Tullius!” shouted Alphonsus spitefully. He would’ve continued had Leon not shot him a glare filled with killing intent.
“Don’t blame me for this. I didn’t force the Deathbringers to do this! I’ve been trying to ignore Gaius and let this whole thing blow over!” retorted Leon in uncharacteristic anger.
Castor sighed and held up his hand, stopping Alphonsus from escalating the disagreement into a full-blown argument. “Indeed, the Deathbringers made the decision to attack our people, and only they can be blamed for that. But we should think carefully before we do anything to intensify this any further.”
“Intensify beyond attacking us in the streets?” asked Leon, his words dripping with sarcasm.
“And what would you have us do?” demanded Alphonsus.
“I’m going to do the same to them that they did to us: ambush them and leave them bleeding on the ground.”
“We can’t be fighting in the streets!” responded Castor emphatically.
“It won’t be in the streets. I’m going to hit them tomorrow morning before they leave the forest.”
Castor sighed again and leaned back in his chair. After a few more moments of thought, he said, “Whatever. Do what you will tomorrow. It’ll be easier to talk to the Deathbringers if they’ve been bloodied too.”
Leon smiled in anticipation, and after a moment of silence, turned around and went to his room.
Just before he entered his room, he turned around and said to Castor, “I suppose I can at least try to talk first. Probably won’t get far though…” He chuckled to himself as he stepped into his room, but Castor at least nodded in acknowledgment.
“What the hell are you doing?” inquired Alphonsus quietly once Leon’s door was closed. “You should’ve stuck to your decision! It isn’t his place to question you!”
“He’s a third-tier mage, Alphonsus, and technically our equal. He has every right to question me. Besides, even if I told him not to do anything tomorrow, do you think he’d listen?” Castor sounded exhausted from the day’s unexpected trouble. He closed his eyes and stretched, intending to make like Leon and go to his room.
He just so happened to miss Alphonsus looking at Leon’s door and making an ugly snarl.
The entire dining hall was very tense the next morning. The Snow Lions had to endure the smug faces of the Deathbringers staring at them from across the hall, though they returned every glare and scowl they received. The atmosphere grew so charged that even the third-tier nobles were affected, with eyes constantly flitting between the two Snow Lions and the three Deathbringers in the center section of the hall.
Few looks were spared for Leon, save for a few self-satisfied smirks from Gaius and some oddly embarrassed glances from Valeria. She couldn’t get the glimpse she had of Leon’s body back at the pool out her mind, and she found her gaze unconsciously wandering over in his direction every few minutes. Whenever she caught herself doing so, she’d hurriedly look away with her cheeks growing a little redder, despite her stoic and composed expression.
Everyone was so preoccupied with the conflict between the Snow Lions and the Deathbringers that Asiya was the only person who noticed Valeria’s strange behavior. She very pointedly stared at her friend and giggled. Valeria’s face burned with embarrassment and she stared down at the table.
The end of breakfast couldn’t come soon enough, and almost everyone in the hall was quite eager to leave as soon as their Senior Instructors ordered them to.
The Snow Lions’ Senior Instructor took them back to their tower and dismissed them, not bothering to repeat his safety speech from the day before.
The nobles immediately made their way to the stairs. Castor hesitated before heading up and looked back at Leon. Leon didn’t return the look, instead choosing to watch the first-tier trainees gather their weapons and make last-second preparations.
For a moment, Castor was tempted to join them. But that moment passed quickly. He shook his head and followed the nobles upstairs.
“Everybody ready?” asked Leon several minutes later. There were almost thirty first-tier trainees before him, including Charles, Alain, and Henry. After everyone nodded back at him, he simply said, “Then let’s get moving.”
He immediately led them out of the tower and turned north-east. He’d spent much of the previous night studying the maps that the Academy gave its trainees of the training grounds. The towers for the Deathbringers and the Snow Lions were relatively close, only about a mile apart.
But Leon wasn’t taking his group to the Deathbringer’s tower. Instead, he was taking them to a point he’d marked on the road that connected it to the training field. The road curved around a small hill at this point, which would allow Leon’s group to watch the road without being easily seen.
Having spent most of his life wandering around in a forest, Leon’s sense of direction was uncanny; the group arrived at the hill in less than fifteen minutes. They moved very quickly, and the weaker trainees needed a few minutes to catch their breath. Leon wasn’t too worried that they’d missed their targets, as they wouldn’t be in as great a hurry as the Snow Lions were, not to mention the nobles typically took longer to leave their towers than the commoners.
The group waited a couple hundred feet into the tree line while Leon sent Henry and two others to watch the road. After about twenty minutes, Henry ran back to Leon.
“You sure?” asked Leon.
“Absolutely,” replied Henry.
“All of them?”
“I recognized that noble who attacked me and Alain, and one of the others ID’d another second-tier noble.”
“How many do they have?”
“At least three second-tier nobles, including the two we’ve identified, plus about a dozen first-tier guys.”
Leon nodded to Henry, then called out to the rest of the group, “Alright! Let’s move up!”
The forest was thick enough that the Deathbringers didn’t notice a thing as the group moved forward.
The Snow Lions began bunching up as they followed Leon. The third-tier mage frowned and quietly got them to spread out a little more. Due to lack of materials, Artorias hadn’t been able to give him many formal lessons, but he did spend plenty of time on military tactics. Leon knew that spreading the trainees out would take better advantage of their numerical superiority.
When the Deathbringers finally came close to their hiding place, Leon emerged from the forest alone. He had the rest of the group wait in the meantime.
The group of Deathbringers stopped and stared at him for a moment before several of them broke out into smiles and began walking towards him. Leon, too, walked forward until they stopped and stared at each other just close enough to speak comfortably without shouting.
One of the second-tier nobles stepped forward and said, “You’d best make way for your betters, barbarian!”
“Or don’t, we don’t mind teaching you that being third-tier doesn’t make you invincible…” added a second noble with a savage smile.
Leon, ignoring their threats, said, “You all are the ones who attacked the Snow Lions yesterday, weren’t you?”
The nobles looked a little taken aback. They were a little surprised that he was here because of that rather than his public antipathy with Gaius.
“Yeah, that was us,” confessed the first noble without a hint of remorse in his voice.
“Who cares if it was?” said the third noble.
“What, did you come here to complain?” said the second noble with a mocking tone.
“No,” answered Leon immediately. “I’m here to get you all to publicly apologize and pay my people compensation, otherwise I’ll leave you just as battered and bloodied as you left my guys.”
The three Deathbringer nobles stared in shock at the completely serious Leon for a moment before bursting out into laughter. Their amusement spread to their first-tier underlings who also started chuckling at Leon.
“Hehehe… I don’t think you understand what position you’re in, you faithless animal!” said the second noble when he managed to stifle his laughter.
“Indeed! The standards of this Academy must be slipping if this fucking clown can manage to enroll!” shouted the third noble.
The first noble smiled derisively at Leon before adding, “It seems the accident that let this barbarian rise to the third-tier makes him think he’s better than us! Now, I realize that basic math may be a hard concept for your primitive brain to grasp, but we outnumber you fifteen to one! It doesn’t matter that you’re in the third-tier, we’re still going to break every bone in your body!”
Leon felt fury rising in his chest, a fury that he knew was coming from Xaphan. The demon had been quiet these past few days, but Leon knew he was occasionally watching what was happening outside. This short exchange had left the demon burning with a rage that made his own flames seem insignificant.
But for all the strength of his fury, it was dwarfed by Leon’s.
[Those ones need to die,] said the demon through clenched teeth.
[They won’t be dead when I’m through with them, but they’ll certainly wish they were…] responded a furious Leon.
The first noble made a quick gesture and the dozen first-tier underlings quickly spread out and surrounded Leon.
Taking on all twelve first-tier mages and the three second-tier mages was a fight that Leon didn’t think he would be able to win on his own. But he wasn’t alone.
Sending a mocking smile of his own to the three nobles, Leon waved over his shoulder at the waiting Snow Lions.
Before any of the Deathbringers could react, more than two dozen Snow Lions poured out of the forest and were upon them. The three Deathbringers closest to the tree line couldn’t even raise their training weapons quick enough to block; the Snow Lions cut them down in an instant with the stabs and slashes they’d learned during their Basic Combat classes.
Leon drew his own training sword and sliced through the two Deathbringers between him and the nobles in one quick motion. Leon surged forward and engaged the three second-tier nobles.
The fight was over in less than two minutes. The Snow Lions completely overwhelmed the surprised Deathbringers and left all twelve of the noble’s underlings stunned and unconscious from their training weapons. Leon, while all that had gone on, had disarmed the nobles so quickly that they hardly had a chance to draw their weapons, let alone use them.
Their ambush was so successful, in fact, that some of the Snow Lions were a little let down at the anti-climax and started staring at the three surrounded nobles.
“If you were smart, you’d make with that compensation…” said Leon with a sadistic smile as he threw their training swords into the forest.
“Ha! As if we would ever do something so shameful!” laughed the second noble.
“Indeed! If you intended to harm us, you would’ve done so by now!” shouted the third noble, who then chuckled at Leon in derision.
“We serve Gaius Caecilius Tullius! You swine wouldn’t dare to touch us! If you do, Young Lord Gaius would tear you apart!” boasted the first noble. “How about you apologize to us, clown, and provide our people with compensation? Maybe then we’ll keep this incident to ourselves…”
[Does this little shit actually think Gaius poses any kind of personal threat to you?] Xaphan wondered aloud.
[I doubt what happened during the combat test has leaked very far. Give it a few months and I doubt this deluded pissant will be throwing Gaius’ name around so readily,] replied Leon.
Leon slowly sheathed his training sword and stepped forward, to the delight of the nobles whose smiles grew even wider.
“I’m terribly sorry…” he started, to which the nobles started laughing. However, their laughter was smothered as he continued. “… because it seems that I’ve given you the impression that I was joking. That could not be further from the truth.”
Leon started walking forward with an ominous smile and emitting an ocean of killing intent. A few of the first-tier Deathbringers who were beginning to stir promptly slipped back into unconsciousness under its pressure.
“You seem to have found much of what I’ve said today funny. Do I really amuse you so much?” he asked as he neared the first noble. None of the nobles could muster the courage to speak under the weight of Leon’s killing intent that nearly drove them to their knees. Leon clenched his fist and drove it into the first noble’s cheek. The noble dropped like a bag of rocks and Leon followed up with a kick that made the noble fly over to the watching Snow Lions. They treated him about as gently as Leon just had.
Leon paused before moving on to the next noble. “You don’t seem to be that entertained anymore. Are my jokes no longer so delightful?” His tone started fairly playful and mock hurt but turned extremely menacing and disquieting by the end. Leon slammed his foot into the stomach of the second noble so hard that the noble threw up all over himself. Again, Leon punted the noble over to the waiting Snow Lions.
This was the same noble who had led the assault on Henry and Alain, and the two eagerly began paying him back in kind.
Leon finally turned to the final noble, who felt his hair stand on end. His arrogant demeanor had collapsed, and he couldn’t maintain a straight face, constantly twitching between various looks of fear and terror.
“Why aren’t you laughing? Hmm?” Leon’s words echoed in his ears and the noble found himself unable to form any words. Leon punched the noble in the face so hard that he was knocked flat on the ground. He didn’t try to get back up, so Leon contented himself with throwing a few kicks at him.
“You still don’t find this funny, huh? I’m suddenly not so hilarious?” Leon said with exceptional rage. He kicked the noble a few more times before stepping back to let the waiting Snow Lions tear into him.
“That’s a shame,” Leon said sarcastically as he calmly watched the Snow Lions rain blows down upon the nobles. “I thought I might’ve had a good future in comedy.”
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