Classes began again the next morning. The Senior Instructor took the Snow Lions to the training field and separated them again into the usual groups. The trainees of the first two tiers began warming up for their morning training, while the Senior Instructor escorted Leon, Alphonsus, and Castor to the third-tiers dueling area.
The Snow Lions were the second-to-last to arrive and they drew quite a few stares upon their arrival. Many of those stares were concentrated on Leon and would flicker between him and Gaius.
The nobleman, for his part, ignored Leon’s presence as much as he could. Those paying attention—such as both Marcus and Leon—noticed the slight strain in his smile and the momentary curling of his hands into fists, though.
While the third-tier trainees were waiting for the last unit to arrive, Leon’s eyes happened to wander over to where Valeria and Asiya were standing. As he did so, he happened to notice that they had been staring at him. Leon raised an eyebrow in confusion and stared back. Valeria’s face immediately went a slightly red and she looked away, but Asiya flashed him a strange smile and only looked away after her eyes had curiously drifted down a little.
Their behavior utterly confounded him, causing him to anxiously check himself to what they had been staring at. His clothes were fine, his hair wasn’t particularly unusual, and there wasn’t anything on his face, so he was left confused and wondering what they had been staring at.
It took a few minutes before he remembered hearing what he had suspected were other people when he had been spending time in that hidden pool.
‘Could that have been them? No, Valeria at least seems too poised and proper to spend her time spying on people. Maybe I’m just being paranoid? That’s probably it. Nothing happened then, I’m just… yeah.’
Despite his self-reassurances, he still couldn’t get the possibility out of his mind. He grew more embarrassed the more he thought about the likelihood of having been seen at the pool, especially since the chance that it had been these two beautiful women was now in his head no matter how emphatically he denied it.
Needless to say, despite the two fighting the opening duel as usual, Valeria and Leon did not move as fluidly as they had the week before. Their attacks weren’t as fast, and they seemed a little less aggressive, hesitating slightly whenever their duel brought them a little closer. In the end, Leon disarmed Valeria, knocking her spear out of her hand for the victory. That was the only duel he won that week, though, as she returned the next day to beat him bloody, with the two fighting to a draw in their other three morning duels that week.
During the afternoon classes, Valeria continued to sit next to Leon, though she deliberately avoided looking at him as much as possible. She was tempted to find somewhere else to sit, but she eventually decided that being next to Leon and a little embarrassed was preferable to being next to Gaius and wanting to smash his teeth in.
To say that Gaius was less than enthused about the situation would be to put it mildly, but he managed to keep himself under control. Though he wanted to, he didn’t challenge Leon again. He forced himself to keep calm while watching Leon and Valeria spar every morning, enduring their increasingly obvious joy in testing themselves against an equal.
He drew a little comfort from seeing that they still weren’t speaking much during their enchanting classes, but that Valeria would rather sit in silence next to a barbarian than with him was an insult that cut Gaius exceedingly deep, and only cut deeper with each passing day.
As for the enchanting classes themselves, the instructor had finally gotten around to starting the lectures after having every trainee write out each of the seven basic elemental runes to prove they could do it in a reasonable time. He started with introducing the sixty other runes in the runic alphabet and giving a brief summary of basic glyph structure.
Essentially, one or more runic circles form the core of the glyph, which is where the power source of the enchantment is usually located. Additional runes are added in a myriad of other patterns around the core, modifying it as needed. The Art of Enchantment is often described among enchanters as the ‘Language of Magic’. From that perspective, a glyph is a sentence or paragraph made of runic letters, and the core is the first couple of words.
The entire week was spent memorizing the dozens of additional runes, with lecture time dedicated to basic glyph structure. It was a mentally taxing class, and Leon was grateful that the next class he had signed up for was spent quietly reading.
Over the entire week, everyone was watching the Snow Lions and Deathbringers. The trainees were waiting for the Deathbringers’ response to the ambush over the weekend. They all knew it was coming, but Gaius, Linus, and Actaeon had been strangely silent on the subject. They ignored the Snow Lions whenever they showed up and didn’t boast or threaten them in any way. Even the first-tier commoners in the Deathbringers were reserved and barely looked at the Snow Lions.
Things were so quiet, in fact, that by the end of Friday most of the trainees assumed that the conflict was over and the Deathbringers weren’t going to retaliate. They began to put the excitement of the first week out of their minds as they refocused on their classes.
But, neither Leon nor Castor were so convinced that the Deathbringers had let the matter drop. They didn’t really speak with each other, but they were both expecting something to happen over the upcoming weekend. That being said, there wasn’t much they could do to prepare, especially as they couldn’t just have the entire unit stay behind in the tower over the whole weekend just on a hunch. So, they both independently decided to simply wait and see what would happen.
“Oh, man! I’m exhausted!” uttered Charles as he collapsed onto a couch in the first-tier common room. “This week really dragged!”
“Really? You’re exhausted?” asked Henry incredulously. It was Friday and the usual group was training in the corner, plus the two new faces who had joined them since the beginning of the week.
“And why can’t I be exhausted?” Charles shot back.
“No reason you can’t be, I guess. I’ve never painted before, so it’s not like I know how draining it can be…” Henry responded sarcastically with a mocking smile.
Alain decided to get in on the mocking and said with excessive sarcasm, “Hey! Painting is real hard work, alright?! All that lifting of the paintbrush and running it along the paper—Charles, are you sure you’ve made it through this week’s classes without any permanent damage?”
“Oh, don’t start with this again…” said Charles in a tone that matched his exhaustion.
“What’s this about painting?” inquired Leon with a curious look.
“… Charles took painting as his elective course after Magical Theory…” answered Alain after a moment of faint confusion.
“You didn’t know that?” asked Henry. Leon didn’t respond verbally but shrugged his shoulders noncommittally. “How did you not know?! We’ve been giving him shit about it for the past week!”
“Must’ve been while I was meditating or something…” said Leon with a little embarrassment. “But why are you giving him shit for anyway? Nothing wrong with painting.”
“Indeed, painting is a pursuit worthy of the time spent on it,” added Matthew, one of the two new trainees in the group. He was born in one of the merchant cities along the coast of the Gulf of Discord in the south. He had gotten a job in a warehouse transporting crates of beast cores in and out of storage, and it was this constant proximity to magical items that allowed his body to adapt to magic fast enough to ascend to the first-tier before he turned twenty-one, becoming eligible to enroll in the Knight Academy.
“No, nothing’s wrong with painting itself. It’s just that he chose painting over learning something more practical, like horse riding or military history,” replied Alain.
“To each their own,” said Bohemond, the other trainee who recently joined them. He was from a village in the Eastern Territories and had advanced to the first-tier thanks to some instruction from a fourth-tier knight who had spent some time recuperating in their village after being wounded repelling a raid by the rock giants in the Eastern Border Mountains.
“And the fact that you’re in the same painting class as Charles has no bearing on you saying that, right?” said Henry in a teasing tone.
“Of course, not! Everyone ought to take the classes that most interest them, not simply take what is most practical. We all need some time to relax and learning about things we find interesting is one way to go about it,” Bohemond replied.
“He’s not wrong. I myself took a class where all I do is read old books. Hardly practical, but it helps me to relax after my enchantment class,” stated Leon.
“I guess…” said Henry.
“Although… I am a tad curious as to why you picked that particular class, Charles, you don’t really seem the sort that would be into painting…” Leon wondered aloud.
“Well thanks for that. Really appreciate the implication,” Charles responded with sarcasm. “Anyway, the late Michael of Vesontio was born in a village less than fifteen miles away from the mining town I grew up in.”
“Who’s that?” asked Bohemond.
“A famous painter…” answered Charles a little drily.
“He painted the portrait of King Julius Septimius, as well as directed the work decorating the new dome over the new Assembly Hall. Most of his private works go for hundreds of thousands of silvers if you can find the right collector,” added Matthew, drawing odd looks from the others. “What? I picked these things up in Palermo. We get a lot of cargo going through there, and people talk about it.”
After a brief moment of moderately stunned silence, Charles continued. “Well, every year around Michael’s birthday, we’d get a ton of traffic going through our town from art students and aficionados traveling to see the old master’s home village that inspired most of his early work. I never actually learned to paint, but I spent plenty of time around painters and always kinda wanted to learn.”
“Now’s as good a time as any,” said Bohemond in support of Charles, who nodded back appreciatively.
“Moving on, anyone got any plans for tomorrow?” asked Henry.
“I was going to see Jeanne a little after midday, but my morning’s open,” said Charles.
“Nah,” replied Matthew.
“Nope,” said Bohemond.
“I planned to go to the Heaven’s Eye Tower,” mentioned Leon, causing the other five to immediately go quiet and stare at him.
“Why… What do you need there?” asked Matthew, aware that Leon was from the Northern Vales. Those who aren’t noble aren’t typically welcome in the Heaven’s Eye Towers unless they possess extraordinary wealth.
“Was hoping to find a good bow.”
“A bow? You could find a good bow in just about any forum in the city. If you wanted a really good bow you could go to the Blasted Furnace,” added Bohemond.
“It’s fine. He’s been there before, I doubt there’ll be any problem if he goes there again,” said Charles. He wasn’t as shocked as the others, but he was still confused as to why Leon was going somewhere like the Heaven’s Eye Tower for something as simple as a bow. The others dropped the matter when he said his piece, but they still gave Leon a few more odd looks.
After they finished their training and made plans for what to do the next day, they all made for bed. Before they all parted ways, though, Leon did remind them to always stick together just in case the Deathbringers tried something similar to what they had done the previous weekend. Five guys are much harder to ambush than two or three, after all.
[So, out of curiosity, why’re you really going to the Heaven’s Eye Tower?] asked Xaphan as Leon closed the door to his room behind him.
[I didn’t take my bow when I left my home back in the north. I’ve come to regret that decision; I greatly miss shooting and hunting and want to get back into practice. Plus, I wanted to grab some good spell paper to practice writing runes,] replied Leon.
[That all? That Elise girl has nothing to do with it?]
[… No.] Leon’s voice trembled a little, something which didn’t go unnoticed.
[You don’t sound very convincing.]
[Don’t start with me, demon,] warned Leon.
[Alright, alright, fine. You’re not going there to see Elise. Why would you need to go and see her when you’re already spending so much time with… Valeria, was it?]
[Her name is Valeria, yes. And she has no bearing on this.]
[Mmmhmmm,] teased Xaphan.
Leon went silent, which Xaphan kept for a few seconds before continuing.
[Hey, didn’t you tell me once that she might’ve been related to someone who attacked your home? What’s with you getting so close with her anyway?]
[‘Getting close’ would imply that we’ve actually spoken with each other, which we really haven’t. And besides, I don’t know how ‘Adrianos Isynos’ is written. It could be completely different from Valeria’s name. It’s probably just a coincidence.]
[Right. Well, regardless, you’d better make a move, or at least do something other than stammer and blush when talking to a pretty girl, damnit. I’m bored out of my gourd in here!] the demon complained.
[That sounds like a ‘you’ problem to me. And I don’t blush!] Leon said, perhaps a little too insistently.
[Did your face go red and heat up?] asked Xaphan despite that fact that he already knew the answer.
Leon went silent again.
[It did, and we both know it. That means you fuckin’ blushed!] taunted Xaphan in a teasing tone.
[Whatever… I just need a bow… no other reason…] muttered Leon.
[Don’t say that! If you like a girl then make a damned move! Don’t just… You know what? You just do your own thing. I’m going to stay out of it. Of course, ‘your own thing’ won’t get you very far, but it’s your own life.]
[Hey, screw you too, demon!]
[Prove me wrong, kid. Prove me wrong.]
Thank you to my Sixth-tier patrons:
Want to know what happens next? Head over to my Patreon, where you can read up to 5 chapters ahead!
If you want to support this story further, please head over to Royal Road and leave a rating or review! It's free, and every rating helps!