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Leon felt a little conflicted when he didn’t see Elise in the Heaven’s Eye Tower’s lounge when he first entered. He honestly couldn’t really tell if he was grateful or disappointed, but Xaphan certainly seemed to think it was the latter.
[Well that girl doesn’t seem to be here, isn’t that a shame…]
Leon could tell the demon was trying to provoke a reaction, so he didn’t respond.
As he took a few more steps into the lounge, a beautiful attendant approached him and bowed. Like all the other attendants, she had a gorgeous face, a great body, and a very expensive black dress that showed it off.
“Welcome, Good Sir, to this Heaven’s Eye Tower. Is there something I can help you with?” She gave him a seductive look and purposefully pushed out her chest, but Leon found her actions quite tame compared to Elise. Of course, that isn’t to say that he had an easier time talking to her—she was still a stranger after all.
“I-I was… I’m looking for…” He meant to ask about finding some spell paper and a new bow—and had even been rehearsing how best to ask the entire way over from the Academy’s training grounds—but he was thrown off a little when he discovered that Elise didn’t seem to be in the Tower and was now scrambling to find his words.
It was subtle, but the attendant clearly gave him a look of annoyance, so Leon cleared his throat and tried again. Before he could, though, a tantalizing aroma wafted over to him, drawing his eyes over to the dining area.
“I hope it’s no trouble, Good Sir, but may I see your account card?” the attendant asked, carefully keeping any exasperation out of her voice. This Heaven’s Eye Tower was meant to cater to wealth and nobility, and those who possessed neither were to be escorted off the premises. The attendant clearly thought Leon didn’t belong here, given his nervous attitude and plain black clothing which completely lacked the ornamentation that usually adorned the clothes of those with money.
Fortunately, Leon was still able to pick up on the derision in the question, which helped him to find his tongue.
“It is a trouble, so how about you instead take me to find some of whatever they’re eating over there?” Leon responded with an unexpectedly forceful tone and a nod to some of the other patrons in the restaurant. Leon was himself quite surprised by his outburst and his cheeks went a little red, but the attendant was even more taken aback. She froze as she tried to decide on a course of action. After a few long moments, she decided to drop her previous request and lead Leon over to an empty table, though she certainly didn’t look very enthusiastic. Whether he had the means to stay or not would become obvious soon, anyway.
Leon ate relatively slowly, savoring the food that was so delicious it nearly brought a tear to his eye. He was so taken with his meal that he ignored everything else, even Elise’s entrance ten or so minutes later and the stunned silence she left in her wake.
Leon didn’t notice her until her arms wrapped around his neck and her lips brushed against his ear, whispering “It’s good to see you again, Young Lord!” She didn’t linger in that position, withdrawing her arms and elegantly taking a seat across the small table from Leon.
Leon froze, though it wasn’t from the killing intent directed towards him from the watching patrons of the Tower, but rather from Elise’s ravishing smile and her completely different look compared to how he had seen her previously.
“Um… Hi… You, uh, you look good,” was all he was able to say with his heart nervously beating so fast after Elise’s sudden appearance that he could hear the blood rushing through his head.
“Really?” she asked with a little uncertainty, “I threw this outfit together pretty quick…”
“It suits you,” said Leon with a slight nod. Her outfit was indeed significantly less overtly sexy than what she had worn when they had met previously, but he quite liked the significantly more casual look she had now.
“Thank you!” responded Elise, giving him a glowing smile.
Leon felt the undercurrent of killing intent in the air that was directed toward him intensify a little. He glanced around, partially in embarrassment from receiving Elise’s dazzling smile and partially to see where the killing intent was coming from.
A good portion of the nobles in the lounge were giving Leon faintly murderous looks, though there was so little killing intent coming from them that none of them concerned him. However, he did notice Tiberias with a small group of other nobles—three of whom Leon recognized as leading the Black Vipers training unit with Tiberias—over in a private booth, and the man seemed frozen in anger. The nobleman’s fist was clenched around his steak knife so tightly it seemed like the metal was about to bend, and he glared at Leon so harshly that if looks could kill then Leon would cease to exist under his withering gaze.
Needless to say, it was from Tiberias that Leon felt the most killing intent despite the nobleman having a fine degree of control over his aura.
“I should probably hurry up and finish…” Leon absent-mindedly said aloud.
“Please, take your time!” said Elise, still over the moon from Leon’s unexpected compliment.
In spite of Elise’s slight reassurance, Leon still finished his meal in short order. Elise quietly watched him as his usually stoic face gave way to pure joy despite his haste, smiling all the while.
However, while she was enjoying that sight, she did make a subtle gesture to the attendant who was dutifully standing off to the side of Leon’s table, and the young woman paled and silently walked away. Elise could tell from the attendant’s attitude that the woman didn’t have a good impression of Leon. She found it hard to blame the attendant as Leon wasn’t dressed like a man of means and certainly didn’t act like one, but Elise still felt an anger in her chest at seeing the attendant’s obvious disdain for Leon that was ruining her good mood.
After another minute or so, Leon was finished with his food. His dishes were practically clean, and it was less than ten seconds before a busboy appeared to take them away.
When Leon looked up at his table companion, he found that Elise was still watching him and serenely smiling. His cheeks reddened but the rest of his face settled back into its usual stoicism.
“So, what brings you here today, Young Lord?” asked Elise, her captivating voice bringing Leon back to his senses.
“Well… uh… first, you could stop calling me ‘Young Lord’. Not too fond of that form of address… And I’m looking for a good bow to hunt with, and some cheap enchanting materials to practice with…”
“Of course! Let’s head upstairs and see what we can find!”
Elise almost jumped out of her seat before taking Leon’s arm. However, she didn’t press herself against him and even seemed to be trying to give him a little more space. It was a minute difference in her behavior, but one that Leon noticed and appreciated. It seemed that the more familiar Elise was with his muted personality, the more space she gave him, and he was quite grateful. It would’ve been almost impossible for him to come here repeatedly if she had continued to act the way she had when they had first met.
The two made their way to the magic lift and rose to the second floor. Along the way, Elise decided to strike up a conversation, since she was fairly sure that Leon wasn’t going to do so himself.
“So, how has it been, your time so far in the Knight Academy?” She kept her tone light and inquisitive, making sure not be too pushy.
Leon thought for a moment before answering. “It… It has been quite exhilarating…”
“Really? How so?”
“Well, there are plenty of strong people giving me ample opportunity to test myself. Plus, I’ve always been fascinated with enchanting, and being at the Academy is my first opportunity to learn.”
“I can understand the second reason—learning about something you enjoy is always fun—but you find testing yourself against strong opponents to be exhilarating?” Elise asked with an amused smile.
“I guess… I learned how to fight from my father, and in all the time he was teaching me, I never won once against him. He was a very strong fighter, but sparring with him never brought me the same excitement I’ve found in fighting other people, especially after coming here. In the Academy, there are people that can match me for every one of my moves but aren’t so much stronger than me that it’s clear they’re going easy and could effortlessly break me if they tried…” As he spoke, Valeria appeared in his mind with her glaive and cold attitude, and Leon couldn’t help but smile a little in fulfillment. “…though there are also a few… irritating individuals…” The image of Gaius replaced Valeria’s in his head, causing his smile to disappear.
As he was speaking, they arrived on the second floor of the Tower where the merchants were based. Leon could find his enchantment supplies here, as well as a good bow if he wasn’t looking for something custom made. If that were the case, then Elise would simply take him to the third floor with the blacksmiths and enchanters.
“So, you’re having fun?” Elise asked as she led Leon to a respected merchant well-known for representing reliable manufacturers of spell paper and specialized ink.
“Yes,” Leon answered with a simple smile.
“That’s great to hear,” she said. There was something more she wanted to ask, but she hesitated a little which lead to a momentary silence between the two of them. Before that silence could be broken, they arrived at the desk of the merchant Elise sought, and after a few minutes of talking and a few hundred silver coins changing hands, Leon had acquired enough cheap spell paper to last him for the foreseeable future.
As they made their way to the merchant Leon would need for his bow, Elise made up her mind to ask Leon what she had been thinking about.
“Have you ever considered other paths than the Knight Academy?” After she asked this, her hold on Leon’s arm unconsciously tightened just a bit, but neither of them noticed.
“I did, though not for long…”
“My father told me stories about the knights of the Bull Kingdom, and I guess I just always kind of wanted to be one…” Leon had finally managed to relax around Elise, due in no small part to her slightly more distant behavior, but as he spoke his face went a little red again.
“I see…” Elise responded. “I… Is there…” She tried to continue on to the point of her asking that question, but the words stuck in her throat.
‘Come on, say it! Say it! You’re the daughter of the great Tower Lord, asking him this question should be the easiest thing in the world!’
But, as much as she wanted to ask Leon to join Heaven’s Eye instead of continuing on to become a knight of the Bull King, the words just wouldn’t come. Leon glanced at her and waited patiently, but they arrived at the bow merchant Elise had picked out for Leon before she could proceed.
There was a short back and forth with the merchant to find Leon what he was looking for: a simple but well-made bow with minimal enchantments. The bow he used in the Northern Vales had a crude enchantment carved by Artorias that would speed up the arrow as it left the bowstring. However, Leon now intended to practice hunting to keep his skills sharp. As he had no intention of relying on his kills to eat, he decided against buying an overly fancy bow, instead choosing a relatively short recurve bow made of a beautiful dark red wood that had been polished to a near mirror shine. The bow had little in the way of ornamentation, but Leon quite liked its clean aesthetic.
It would suit his purposes quite fine, though it wouldn’t be of much use in fighting something of the third-tier or higher unless he got lucky and hit the beast in a weak point, as he had done when he fired an arrow into the mouth of the snow lion back in the Forest of Black and White. Arrows fired from it would also struggle to penetrate even poor-quality armor, but Leon didn’t intend to use the bow in actual combat. That being said, these weaknesses also had the effect of making the bow far cheaper than many other bows that Leon could see.
In addition, he bought a quiver and two bundles of thirty arrows. Unfortunately, even with the relative cheapness of the bow, the price still cleaned out all but a small handful of the silver coins Leon had.
When Leon brought that up with Elise, she smiled at him and took his gold account card over to a floor runner waiting nearby for precisely this sort of thing, spoke a few words, and the runner scurried off. Elise did this with a subtle touch, ensuring that none of the merchants or other patrons of the Heaven’s Eye Guild around saw the card and that the runner didn’t know who the card came from. The runner returned not even five minutes later and handed Elise two thousand silver coins and the gold card, who then gave them to Leon a few seconds later after leaving the sight of the runner.
“So, withdrawing money is just that easy?” Leon asked.
“Withdrawing money is just that easy for gold card holders,” responded Elise with a smile. “You get a lot of credit for having that card. It’s just assumed that you have the money you request, and an invoice will be sent to Teira where your records are stored. They’ll take care of everything.”
“Well, that’s certainly convenient… Are these cards particularly rare?”
Elise smiled at Leon’s question. “Oh, yes! Most nobles can’t ever hope to get one! They’re typically only reserved for royalty… Didn’t my uncle tell that to you back in Teira?”
“I don’t think so…” replied Leon, a little quieter than usual. It made a certain kind of sense to him that House Raime would’ve had a gold card in the past, as they were kings in their own right before the First Bull King built the kingdom by subjugating or conquering his neighbors.
With Leon’s business finished, the two walked back to the magic lift in silence. Elise was unable to ask Leon to stay in the Tower, so she stayed quiet, though her cheeks did become quite red.
As for Leon, he wanted to ask her if there was anything she wanted to do during the day, but due to his own embarrassment, what came out was quite different.
“So, um… Would you… T-thanks for accompanying me to buy these things…”
“Of course, Young Lo-… Leon… Remember, whenever you come back, look for me!”
“I’ll do that…” he replied.
“Wonderful! Oh, I almost forgot, we’re making some progress with those ingredients you commissioned us to find. Hopefully, it shouldn’t be too long, a matter of months at the most!”
Leon nodded appreciatively to her as the magic lift arrived at the ground floor.
Elise escorted Leon back to the door and saw him off with a brilliant smile. The smile he returned wasn’t nearly so breath-taking, but it was still a far cry from his usual impassive demeanor.
After walking a dozen steps, Leon glanced back at the Tower and saw Elise still standing by the door. When they locked eyes, she gave him a short wave, then walked back inside. Leon’s mouth turned into a brief bitter smile before resettling back into his usual dispassionate expression.
And then Xaphan spoke up.
[Don’t fuckin- don’t start with me, demon!]
[Whoa, no need to jump down my throat! I was just going to say that I was a little impressed with you. You just spoke more to that girl than I think you have to anyone else, at least since we signed our contract. I mean, it’s not quite asking her out, but at least I’m not completely mortified at my partner’s behavior this time.]
[Right…] Leon responded without much enthusiasm. Xaphan had started off fairly complimentary, but then his last sentence didn’t continue the trend.
[Oh, and by the way,] the demon continued, [I may have mentioned this before, but ‘Xaphan’ is a good name for a kid, just saying. But I suppose if your and Elise’s first kid is a girl then she might need something a little different. How about ‘Xaphina’? Or maybe ‘Xaphira’?]
Leon quietly groaned in exasperation and had to fight the urge to facepalm. He tuned Xaphan out and began making his way back to the Snow Lion’s tower.
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