“Are you alright, Young Lord?”
Tiberias had grown so furious at seeing Elise and Leon together and acting so intimate that the other nobles at his table couldn’t help but say something. Normally if something like this happened, the noble who gets angry will bottle it up until they’re out of the public eye, but Tiberias was so obviously pissed that it compelled his tablemates to speak up and try to remind him of his dignity and image.
Tiberias glared at the man who spoke, a third-tier knight in service to his father, the Duke of Aurelianorum, an extravagantly wealthy region along the western coast of the Endless Ocean.
The veteran knight shut his mouth under Tiberias’ intense gaze and nearly jumped out of his own skin when Tiberias responded with a curt “I’m fine!”
However, barely five minutes passed before Tiberias suddenly rose from the table, dropped a roll of silvers on the table, and left without another word. Those he was eating with were left flabbergasted, but none followed him to see what was going on. Given how much difficulty he seemed to have maintaining his noble bearing, everyone else at his table silently agreed that his departure was for the best.
Before too much longer, Tiberias found himself passing the lavish estate of the Duke of Lentia. Gaius—the Duke’s third son—was undoubtedly here, spending his off-time partying with a few of his close friends.
‘Might as well stop here for a while… It’s as good a place as any to cool my head,’ he thought to himself.
Tiberias identified himself to the guards at the gate of the estate and was shown inside in short order. He was led through halls of pure white stone and marble extravagantly decorated with gorgeous mosaics, masterfully crafted statues, and magnificent paintings. However, none of the decorations made any impression on Tiberias, as the wealth and luxury of Aurelianorum far outstripped that of Lentia several times over.
Regardless of its effect—or rather the lack thereof—on Tiberias, the estate was still quite extensive, so it took a fair amount of walking to arrive in the brightly lit hall where Gaius, Actaeon, and Linus were spending their time with several beautiful women.
“Tiberias!” exclaimed Gaius. He hurriedly moved the woman on his lap so he could rise and greet his fellow noble. “I wasn’t expecting you to come here today! You there, bring my friend some wine!” Gaius waved at a nearby attendant who dutifully presented Tiberias with a full cup.
Actaeon and Linus also rose to greet Tiberias, though they let Gaius go first as he was the host. Tiberias simply accepted their hospitality in silence. He was searching for the right words to say, but his seemingly stoic face masked a pitch-black killing intent that clouded his mind.
“So, what brings you over here, Tiberias?” asked Gaius as the four sat down. Gaius and Linus put their arms around the attendants serving them, while Actaeon went a little further and ran his hands over his attendant’s body a few times.
After taking a long moment to think, Tiberias said as casually as he was able, “Do you actually plan on retaliating against the Snow Lions?”
His question took the other three by surprise, so much so that they were stunned into a brief silence.
“Of course we are…” said Actaeon a little hesitantly, as he was concerned that he had misheard Tiberias’ question due to being slightly preoccupied with his attendant.
“Obviously…” added Linus, confused as he was as to why Tiberias was bringing this up completely out of the blue.
“Yeah, we were planning on waiting until after our first-tier guys had completed their Basic Combat training. Why do you ask? Did something happen?” Gaius responded.
“No, nothing at all…” said Tiberias, though a subtle clenching and unclenching of his fist made it clear how truthful he was being.
“Well, alright then! We’ll strike back against them at the end of the upcoming week when we finish our Basic Combat classes,” said Gaius with a smile of anticipation.
“Not to be rude, but why do you care?” asked Actaeon to Tiberias.
“Oh, I asked him to join us during our attack,” responded Gaius.
“You didn’t tell them?” Tiberias growled in obvious displeasure.
Gaius gave him a playful look and said, “I wanted it to be a pleasant surprise.”
“Ancestors damn it…” muttered Linus, quite cleanly summarizing the other three’s feeling towards Gaius’ decision.
“Well, since we’re all here, let’s hammer out the specific schedule,” suggested Gaius.
“Yeah, wouldn’t do for any of us to be late,” Actaeon said sarcastically.
Gaius sent an angry look his way and asked, “You got a problem?”
“So long as you’re not keeping any more secrets, then no.”
Gaius stared at Actaeon for a long few seconds before smiling at him and saying, “Good, then there’s no problem…”
They spent the next fifteen minutes debating exactly when to attack, where to attack from, and what specific day and time to meet up. When their plan was over, Tiberias immediately rose to leave. Gaius invited him to stay, but Tiberias refused and made to leave the estate. He had regained his usual calm, but his wrath still lingered deep inside of him.
‘I only need to hold back for a few more days…’ he thought to himself, forcing his face into a bright and noble smile.
When Leon returned to the Snow Lion’s tower, he dropped off most of what he had just bought in his room and ventured back out into the forest to try out his new hunting bow. The only other things he brought with him were his family’s sword, a one-handed training short sword, and a dozen arrows.
He wasn’t really intent on hunting, he only wanted to get used to the new bow. He strolled into the forest until he found a clearing. It was reasonably quiet there, so there was where he stopped. The clearing wasn’t that large, barely more than half the range of Leon’s bow even if it hadn’t been enchanted. Still, Leon missed a target he carved into a tree with his first round of arrows.
He sighed as he went to retrieve them. He was out of practice and the new bow just felt a little weird in his hand. He had used his old bow for so long that the grip had been slowly molded into the perfect shape for his fingers, and this new bow just couldn’t match up, even with its more well-crafted enchantment.
Leon spent hours shooting at his target and when the time came for him to return to the tower, he felt that he had hit the mark more times than he had missed, though it wasn’t by much.
He spent almost the entire Sunday in that clearing as well, shooting at the tree until, by the end of the day, he could consistently hit it ten or eleven times out every dozen shots. But that wasn’t enough for him, and he intended to keep practicing when he had the time.
The following week proceeded much the same as the previous had. The trainees were now familiar with the routine, so their Senior Instructors led them to the training field without any fuss.
The third-tier trainees had gotten bored of sparring with each other, so they all but stopped by the end of the week. The Senior Instructors didn’t press them to continue, allowing them to chat and build connections with each other for the last two days.
However, the same complacency was not found in Valeria or Leon, as the two battled each other five times during that week and each time was just as spirited and vigorous as their first few bouts. Their record barely budged, though, with Leon winning twice, Valeria winning twice, and their Friday fight ending in another draw.
With the exception of the duels between Valeria and Leon, the third-tiers breezed through the rest of the Basic Combat classes with remarkably little effort. The same could not be said for the second and first-tier trainees, who were drilled in the basic fighting style of the Royal Legions almost to the point of exhaustion.
Furthermore, the first-tier trainees had started to bicker amongst themselves, especially the Snow Lions and Deathbringers who nearly started fighting in the middle of class over a few muttered insults. Normally, the instructors teaching the classes would have the first-tier trainees spar against each other and deliberately feed these little conflicts, but the tension between these two units convinced them that the usual tactics used to encourage the battles between units weren’t necessary, so the units were made to spar amongst themselves for the last few days.
Thanks to the additional instruction given to them by Leon, Charles, Henry, and Alain performed admirably during these sparring sessions, quickly gaining a reputation as some of the strongest first-tier fighters in the Snow Lions. Bohemond and Matthew also acquitted themselves well, though they’d only been training with the others for less than two weeks.
The afternoon classes were just as uneventful as the morning classes were. Since the trainees were split up into dozens of different classes, there weren’t as many Snow Lions and Deathbringers in the same place, not to mention the Senior Instructors made sure to keep the peace among the first-tier trainees during their Magical Theory classes.
The Senior Instructor had more than usual to say to the Snow Lions at the end of Friday. “Basic Combat is over! You’re all at least mildly competent with the standard Legion sword! First-Aid will take up all of next week, and then it’s on to Light Infantry classes!”
The trainees began to excitedly chat amongst themselves. The start of Light Infantry classes was when they would be issued their armor as well as when they would start learning how to fight as the smallest standard group in the Legion—squads of ten or so trainees, each containing seven or eight first-tier trainees and two or three second-tier trainees. The third-tier trainees would be free to choose which group they wanted to join.
The Senior Instructor wasn’t done talking, though, and he angrily shouted at the chatting trainees, “Shut the fuck up! Those who speak before I’m finished will run the circuit a few hundred times!” Running the circuit was to run around the tower with increasingly large logs and stones. All three instructors had made enough people run the circuit in the past few weeks for everyone to know that the Senior Instructor wasn’t playing around when he ordered them to be quiet.
The room fell silent in seconds, with no one willing to break it.
“Good. First-Aid training will be fairly straightforward, you’ll learn all about how to activate and utilize low-grade healing spells, as well as how to apply tourniquets, bandages, and splints! After that will be a couple days of drills until you can all save your buddies if they get hurt in combat!”
The Senior Instructor glanced over at the second and third-tier trainees before continuing. “All of you will be expected to step up and fulfill your duties as the leaders of this unit next week! Do not fuck this up!”
With those words said, the Senior Instructor turned around and left the tower, dismissing the trainees.
Leon and the usual group got together for some additional training. Everyone, that is, except Henry, who slumped down onto a chair nearby with a long sigh.
“What’s wrong with you?” asked Charles, sensing a possible moment of weakness to exploit in revenge for Henry poking fun at his chosen elective.
“Haaaaaaah, I... need to get laid,” replied Henry.
“What?” asked Charles in confusion, while Bohemond nodded in understanding and Matthew just laughed.
“It has been more than a month since I last touched a woman!” complained Henry while adjusting his pants. “Gragh! It’s getting so bad I’m growing a damn third leg!”
“Then go out and find a willing girl and get it on… with… her…” said Charles, leaving the others to give him odd looks as he trailed off. Charles only paused for a couple seconds before continuing with a mocking tone like he’d just solved the mysteries of life, the universe, and everything. “Oh, wait! I know exactly why you’re not getting any ladies, it’s because none of them can stand to be in your presence for more than a few seconds at a time!”
“Oh ho, you want to get personal, huh?” said Henry with a grin as he stood up.
“So what if I do?” asked Charles.
The two men started approaching each other as if they were about to fight, but the barely concealed grins on their faces betrayed just how serious this little back-and-forth was. They stared each other down for a moment, then laughed and went back to what they were doing.
Henry returned to his seat and asked, “But seriously, I’m hitting up the beach tomorrow. Anyone want to come with? Matty? Bo?”
“Nah, I’ve got a fiancé,” responded Matthew.
Bohemond also refused, saying “Same here. Well, not a fiancé, but a girl I’ve been seeing for a long time back home.”
Henry was left staring at them in equal parts dejection, admiration, and surprise.
“Seriously?! How is it that all of you have girlfriends or fiancés and I don’t?!” He paused for a moment before turning to Leon, who was quietly moving through a few sword forms that Artorias had taught him years ago and listening to the group’s conversation with a slight smile.
“Hey, Leon!” In response, Leon glanced over at Henry but didn’t stop moving. “You want to go to the beach with me tomorrow? Come on, the only two single guys here!”
Leon chuckled a little but politely shook his head. “I plan on staying here over the weekend brushing up on my knowledge of fire enchantments…”
[.. and I’ll be expecting your help, demon,] he added in his mind.
[Huh? What?] asked a slightly taken aback Xaphan.
[You promised to provide me with ‘power, wisdom, and knowledge’. I’ve given you plenty of time, now you’ve got to deliver.]
[… So be it.]
“You know what?” Henry asked Leon rhetorically after a bit of thought. “It’s probably better you don’t go with me. As you’re a third-tier mage, you could probably just stand there looking as sharp as a sphere and you’d still have better game than everyone else here, without a doubt.”
“I… don’t know about that…” Leon responded bashfully. He knew he wasn’t that great with people in general—and women in particular—and if it wasn’t for Elise constantly approaching him, he doubted that he would be able to speak more than a few sentences to a woman before locking up.
“Whatever, I’m going to bed. I’m going to need to be in peak condition tomorrow…” Henry said as he rose and made for his bed.
The rest of the group wasn’t that far behind, only staying up for another hour before turning in as well.
However, not everyone in the Academy was turning in early. A second-tier trainee ran out of the Deathbringer’s tower not long after sundown bearing a message for Tiberias. The message was a short and simple reminder: tomorrow morning.
When he received the message about half an hour later, Tiberias merely nodded and smiled. He’d calmed down significantly over the week and no longer particularly cared about Gaius’ attack itself, but still looked forward to it as a pleasant distraction while he contemplated less petty and far more permanent ways to get rid of Leon.
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