The Snow Lions didn’t turn up to breakfast on Sunday, either. This put the triumphant Deathbringers in an even better mood. They were in such a great mood, in fact, that their Senior Instructor had to reprimand them for getting too rowdy before dismissing them for the day.
Several of the third-tier nobles who doubted the cowardice of the Snow Lions were even starting to be convinced, leaving very few who held the Snow Lions in any esteem.
Marcus and Alcander were two of those few. The Snow Lions’ continued absence only piqued their curiosity rather than drawing their scorn and derision. Alcander even convinced Marcus to accompany him to the Snow Lions’ tower, ostensibly to challenge Leon to the duel Alcander desired, but they really just wanted to see what was going on.
When they arrived at the tower, Alcander approached the door and thundered, “Leon! I’m challenging you to a duel! Get out here and fight me!” After speaking his challenge, Alcander waited for several long minutes until it became obvious that Leon wasn’t coming.
While Alcander had been watching the door, Marcus had been standing behind him keeping an eye on the rest of the tower. He figured it would be natural for some of the Snow Lions to come to the windows to see what was going on, but he didn’t see hide nor hair from anyone within the tower. Just as Alcander readied himself to shout his challenge again, Marcus stopped him.
“Hang on, something’s off here…” Marcus began walking up to the door.
“You don’t want to wait for the traditional three challenges before knocking?” asked Alcander in mild surprise.
“… I don’t think waiting will change anything…” Marcus muttered, barely loud enough for Alcander to hear him without straining.
Marcus expected the door to be locked and tightly sealed given the previous day’s events, but it swung open with barely a single touch, leaving the third-tier noble standing in the doorway looking a little confused for a moment.
Alcander walked up behind him, staring into the empty entryway in front of them.
“Want to go see what’s up?” Marcus asked him.
“Sure,” he responded while readying his training ax with an enormous smile on his face.
‘I’m getting that duel, one way or another…’ he thought to himself.
The two nobles wasted no more time and burst into the first-tier common room. They didn’t quite know what to expect, but the empty room that greeted them certainly wasn’t it.
“Huh…” grunted Alcander in bewilderment. “Where the hell are they?”
Marcus didn’t respond verbally, instead quickly checking the rest of the floor. The bedrooms were locked up tight, but it was easy enough for the two third-tier mages to tell they were just as empty as the common room.
They checked the rest of the tower, or at least, whatever wasn’t locked. This basically meant just the second-tier common room, but it was enough to confirm that the tower was completely deserted.
When they returned to the first floor, they were quite taken aback when they found two people poking around in the first-tier common room. Marcus reached for his sword while Alcander did likewise with his ax, but they froze when they saw who these two people were: Asiya and Valeria.
These two ladies had come to the tower for the same reason Marcus and Alcander had, to try and figure out what was going on the with the Snow Lions. When they heard footsteps coming down the stairs, they had also reacted in the same way, by drawing their weapons. Asiya’s saber and Valeria’s glaive were pointing directly at Marcus and Alcander, and when the two men slowly let go of their weapons, the ladies did likewise.
After a moment of silence, Marcus said, “The tower’s empty. We just checked…”
“Huh…” answered Asiya.
A long awkward silence followed with the four staring each other down. Eventually, Valeria and Asiya glanced at each other, slightly nodded, then walked back out the door. Marcus and Alcander waited a few minutes for them to leave, then looked at each other and shrugged, fighting the urge to break out into laughter. They, too, made to leave the tower. They hadn’t learned much coming here, but they at least knew that the Snow Lions weren’t the cowards the Deathbringers claimed them to be. If they were, the tower wouldn’t be empty; rather it would be full of Snow Lions too scared to leave.
But that still left the question of just where the Snow Lions were hanging in the air. No one who visited that tower could do more than guess.
Dinner came and went with still no sign of the Snow Lions. The Deathbringers were still in celebratory moods, especially without their rival unit present, but a day in the capital had been enough for them to get the rowdiness out of their systems and keep things quiet and civil during the meal.
That quiet civility didn’t carry over to when they returned to their tower where they continued the party they had started the day before.
It wasn’t until Monday that the other units began to suspect that something was truly wrong with the Snow Lions, something more substantial than simple cowardice, as the unit didn’t appear for morning training.
None of the knights or instructors present seemed to care, proceeding with the first lesson in making sure the trainees knew how to use their medical gear. For several hours, the trainees’ heads were filled with nothing but bandages, tourniquets, and healing spells. This would be enough to stop bleeding and keep a fellow legionary alive if they were wounded, should a medic not be around to do the job.
The third-tier trainees were largely excluded from this training, though. As with Basic Combat, it was rightly assumed that they already knew far more than the instructors could teach them in only a week. Because of this, the instructors wanted them to help teach their fellow trainees, but there was still little for them to do during Monday’s First Aid class.
Naturally, this led the third-tier nobles to separate themselves from the group of a thousand or so trainees and talk amongst themselves. At first, they only spoke about what they had done over the past weekend, what they planned to do over the upcoming weekend, and jokingly threatened each other’s units with the seizure of their banners.
However, all the myriad conversations between the third-tier nobles eventually turned to the Snow Lions. It had been long enough that it was difficult to simply write it off as mere cowardice, as their Senior Instructor would’ve dragged them here to the class regardless of their own personal feelings or how ashamed they might be at the loss of their banner. Fueling the mystery, the empty tower found by Marcus, Alcander, Valeria, and Asiya became known to the rest of the nobles.
Of course, none of the other nobles could do anything more than speculate on the Snow Lions’ whereabouts. A few of them asked their Senior Instructors if they knew anything, but they found no answers with them.
‘Who cares where the Snow Lions are?!’ thought Gaius. ‘If they have any brains at all, they’ll never come back!’
Tiberias was quite relaxed about the entire affair; the disappearance of the Snow Lions didn’t concern him in the slightest. ‘Keep running, little barbarian. No matter where you go, you won’t escape me…’ he thought to himself with the assuredness of a man who felt that the capture of his prey to be inevitable.
Given how utterly unexpected a unit going missing was, especially with how completely unconcerned the instructors were, no one was surprised at how it caught the attention of the entire training battalion.
When afternoon classes started, no one expected the Snow Lions to show up, and for the most part, they were correct. In Leon’s enchanting class, Valeria had continued to sit in the back, but Gaius had made the decision to join her seeing as Leon wouldn’t be around to spoil his mood. He spent the minutes waiting for the enchanting instructor to show up boasting about the part he played in the assault on the Snow Lions’ tower.
“… and they were pushed all the way to the second floor! How pathetic is that? Well, in the end, Linus seized their banner, so we good-naturedly decided to call it quits. Beating them is one thing, after all, we didn’t want to completely obliterate them!” Gaius was so into telling the story that he didn’t notice how disinterested Valeria was. Granted, Valeria’s demeanor was just as stoic, icy, and detached as it nearly always was, so even if Gaius had been paying attention, he might not have noticed how little she cared anyway.
But then, something happened that caused Valeria to seemingly straighten up and almost jump out of her seat. No matter what Gaius was doing, it would’ve been impossible for him to miss that.
“Are you alright, my lady?” he asked. Valeria’s gorgeous blue eyes were staring at the front of the classroom, and when Gaius followed her gaze, his sight landed on Leon, calmly walking through the door and making his way to the back of the room. His movements were watched in stunned silence by all the other trainees in the room.
Gaius had taken Leon’s usual seat so he could sit next to Valeria, leading Leon to send him a momentary glare before taking a seat just across the central aisle. For several seconds, Gaius could only stare in shock at seeing Leon nonchalantly sit down and patiently wait for the instructor. When the shock wore off, though, his face contorted into a hideous scowl and he began to emit trace amounts of killing intent.
After a moment, Gaius immediately clamped down on his emotions and controlled his aura, restraining his killing intent, but it didn’t change anything. Every few seconds, Valeria would glance over at the as-usual stoic and dispassionate Leon. Eventually, her curiosity got the better of her and she decided to get up and move over to sit next to Leon.
“My lady, where are you going?” asked Gaius in a surprised and faintly dismayed voice. He knew that she was joining Leon at his table, but he held on to the slim hope that his voice would remind her of his presence and how rude it would be to walk away from him so abruptly—his own recent rude and inconsiderate behavior not once crossing his mind.
Valeria barely acknowledged his question, merely whispering “Good day…” to him without even slowing down and gracefully sliding into the seat right next to Leon.
Gaius clenched his teeth and curled his hands into fists, but he took a deep breath and suppressed his violent rage. Despite his attempted emotional control, his face still contorted in anger making his feelings on the matter quite evident.
Leon nodded to Valeria in greeting when she took her seat, which she stoically returned. After a moment of silence, and without allowing a single crack to appear in her own indifferent expression, she quietly asked, “And where have you been?”
Leon slightly raised an eyebrow in confusion at her question. It took him a moment to respond as he was caught completely off-guard; Valeria had barely ever spoken to him before, despite their frequent duels and near constant company during this class.
“Away,” he said.
Valeria quickly stole a glance at him with her eyes narrowed in displeasure. “’Away’?” she asked, clearly wanting more details.
“Away,” he repeated.
Knowing she probably wouldn’t get anything more out of him, she turned her head back to the front of the classroom with a “Hmph!” and neither spoke again during the rest of the class.
There were similar expressions of shock throughout the campus when the Snow Lions arrived, though only about a dozen of them had accompanied Leon to their afternoon classes—and none of them were of the first-tier. The most extreme reactions came from the classes where both Snow Lions and Deathbringers were enrolled, where a couple fights were almost started from glares alone.
But, everyone controlled themselves with the Academy’s Instructors present. Fighting wasn’t allowed in the classrooms, after all. And besides, nearly everyone involved was noble and had their reputations to consider, so the Snow Lions carried themselves with as much grace and dignity as they could muster in the face of the Deathbringers.
On the inside, most of them wanted nothing more than to tear into the Deathbringers in revenge, but Castor and Leon had made it abundantly clear how they ought to behave while they were far away from the majority of the unit who were spending the first few hours after lunch meditating in their camp.
The surprises continued that day, as once the afternoon classes were over and it was time for the trainees to eat dinner, the Snow Lions were absent again. A few curious souls, including Valeria and Alcander, investigated their tower that night and found that it was just as empty as it was the last time they had checked in with the Snow Lions.
The unit had disappeared again!
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