On the morning of the Deathbringers’ assault on the Snow Lions’ tower, Leon was holed up in his room on the top floor, practicing a fairly simple enchantment given to him by Xaphan. The demon himself oversaw Leon’s work and provided some criticism wherever he saw necessary, as well as few times when he didn’t.
“No no no no!” Leon said in frustration as another sheet of enchantment paper started burning on the table he was working at.
[Hehehe, maybe take a little more time and draw the fire rune with more care next time…] said Xaphan, taking immense glee in seeing Leon’s growing frustration.
“Grahh! The fire rune was fine! It was that damned modifier that set it off!” Leon crumpled up the half-burnt paper and threw it into the trash bin, where almost a dozen more sheets of enchantment paper could be seen, burnt and blackened by improperly drawn fire runes.
[No, you actually drew that modifier branch quite well, it simply didn’t mesh well with the slightly less-good fire rune.]
Leon sighed, then reached for another sheet of paper. He dipped his pen in the ink that was specially prepared for enchantment work, then got started again. First came the core of the enchantment, a runic circle made of one fire rune and a pair of light runes connected with lines as perfectly round as he could make them.
Leon took extra care with the fire rune, drawing it almost excruciatingly slow over several minutes.
[Hey Leon,] said Xaphan suddenly, moments before Leon was finished with the rune. Fortunately, while Leon did jump reflexively at the unexpected distraction, he managed to yank the pen back from the paper so it wouldn’t mar his work.
[Yes, demon?] Leon asked in a slow, exasperated tone.
[… Don’t screw this up,] Xaphan said mischievously, before breaking out into uproarious laughter when Leon’s face struggled to maintain its impassive look under his resulting anger.
[You’re hilarious, truly the greatest comedian of our age…] Leon responded sarcastically. He ignored the rest of Xaphan’s laughter and turned his attention back to the fire rune.
[Oh, come on! Don’t sulk! I was just having a bit of fun! Not like there’s anything else to do in here, at least not until you get those potion ingredients…]
Leon continued to ignore Xaphan and went back to painstakingly drawing the enchantment. He finished up about fifteen minutes later. The enchantment was made up of the central runic circle, then four additional lines of modifier runes forming a thin horizontal ‘X’ shape. The final touch was a pair of runes to connect the ends of the modifier branches into two rough triangle shapes. He then activated the enchantment by placing a finger in the center of the runic circle and channeling his magic into it.
[Hey, it isn’t burning up! Not bad! And it only took you twelve tries!] mocked Xaphan.
Leon didn’t respond, choosing instead to take a deep breath and wave his hand over the runes. As soon as the shadow of his hand passed over the enchantment, a tiny flame started flickering in the center of the runic circle, conjured by the fire rune. After half a second, it shot up about five feet into the air and became so bright that Leon felt himself squinting a little until he channeled some magic into his eyes.
[Well look at that, a completed Flare Enchantment…] admired Xaphan. As soon as he finished speaking, the minuscule flame vanished with a flash of light. [… but you’ve still got some practice ahead of you. That flare should’ve lasted for half a minute, not three seconds.]
Leon still had a huge smile on his face despite the demon’s criticism, and just as he was about to respond, he heard an odd muffled sound from below him. A mortal would never have been able to hear it, but Leon was a third-tier mage and he heard it almost as plain as day.
“What is that so-“
Just as Leon was trying to identify what he was hearing, a voice boomed through the tower. It said, “WE”RE UNDER ATTACK! EVERYONE GET YOUR WEAPONS AND GET OUT HERE!”
“The fuck?!” he said, before immediately reaching for his swords. As the reality of what was happening sank in and he could finally identify that what he was hearing was the sounds of fighting, he burst out of his room and into the third-tier common room to see that Castor had done the same. The two men glanced at each other before drawing their swords and running for the stairs. Leon took one stairway while Castor took the other.
As they raced downstairs, the sounds of fighting grew louder and fiercer; it was clear that whoever had attacked them had pushed their guys at least to the bottom of the stairways.
They hurtled down those stairs so fast they arrived at the second floor before ten seconds had passed. There, they saw a couple second-tier trainees waiting at the top of the stairs.
“Castor!” shouted one of them who Leon recognized as Aemilius, the man who carried the Snow Lion banner whenever the unit left the tower for training.
“What’s happening?!” asked an angry and confused Castor.
“It’s the Deathbringers! They barged in and attacked us!” answered Aemilius in a panicky voice.
When Leon heard this, all he could think was ‘That fucking bastard!’ He wasted no more time and barreled through the second-tier nobles in his way, drawing his sword as he went.
The stairs were only wide enough for three people to get through comfortably, but Leon managed to get through without too much fuss. As soon as the second-tier trainees saw it was a third-tier mage trying to get past, they would move to get out of his way.
The first Deathbringer Leon saw was Actaeon, fighting against two second-tier Snow Lions at the same time. The size of the stairway worked against both sides, preventing them from going all out. However, this also gave an advantage to the stronger Actaeon, and the higher position the second-tier Snow Lions held only helped to keep them from being immediately overpowered. With every swing of his sword, Actaeon was forcing them back step by step.
Leon unleashed his killing intent directly at Actaeon and the five Deathbringers behind him. Unfortunately, the second-tier Snow Lions were also caught in it and so couldn’t capitalize on Actaeon’s momentary freezing as they were just as frozen. In fact, Actaeon recovered first, but by then Leon had already appeared in front of him and he hadn’t waited to go on the attack.
Actaeon just barely managed to raise his own blade in time to block Leon’s first strike, but it knocked his sword away and almost knocked him off balance. When Leon followed up with a slash from below, Actaeon had to block with his arm. The force of the blow knocked Actaeon backward and the third-tier nobleman was sent rolling down the stairs into his own followers.
Leon lunged forward to take advantage of the Deathbringers losing their footing on the stairs, but his attack was just barely blocked by the second-tier trainees. As Leon prepared another slash, he felt some killing intent that dwarfed the auras of the other Deathbringers. It didn’t hold a candle to his own, but he could tell that it was potent enough that its possessor wouldn’t be adversely affected by Leon’s killing intent.
He only needed to wait a few seconds before learning the source of that killing intent: Gaius, who had just charged into the stairway, pushing past the second-tier nobles in his way until he stood in front of Leon.
“YOU FUCKING BARBA-“ the nobleman started, but Leon wasn’t the type to give his opponents the chance to speak; he wasted no time seizing the initiative and striking down at Gaius, putting all of his weight and considerable third-tier strength behind his sword.
“DISHONORABLE SCUM!” shouted Gaius as he raised his blade to block. When Leon’s sword crashed into his, Gaius felt his sword shake as the tremendous force behind the blow was transferred to him. In fact, his hand almost went numb, but Gaius held his ground.
Leon frowned a little but didn’t let up. He pushed down on Gaius, trying to force the nobleman back down the stairs. However, behind Gaius were half a dozen relatively strong mages, and they all supported him, keeping him upright and helping to give him the ground he needed to push against Leon.
Leon only relented and pulled his sword back when he noticed that Actaeon had gotten back to his feet and was rushing to assist Gaius. Leon nimbly retreated a few steps while Gaius floundered a little after the surprising release of pressure. Leon might’ve considered attacking again during this moment of weakness, but by then Actaeon had made it to Gaius’ side and the two Deathbringers immediately pressed forward.
Tactical options were extremely limited in such tight spaces; Leon could barely dodge, which severely hampered his fighting style, while Gaius and Actaeon couldn’t use their full strength fighting at an upward angle. Leon continuously tried to take back the initiative and get back on the attack, but he was time and time again forced to block and go on the defense. He couldn’t exploit any of the openings he saw in his opponents because he was too busy blocking the other.
He decided to try something new. Over the course of about thirty seconds, he allowed his killing intent to slowly fade. This change was gradual enough that Gaius and Actaeon failed to notice the lessened pressure. Once Leon’s killing intent faded, he suddenly allowed it to explode just as he blocked one of Gaius’ attacks and Actaeon was trying to use the opening that had been created.
With their own auras soaring, neither Gaius nor Actaeon froze this time, but they were taken off guard just enough to stumble. In that one instant, Leon made a snap decision. There was only enough time to attack one of them one time. He chose to attack Actaeon as he already had one disabled arm; Leon was all but guaranteed to take him out, whereas attacking Gaius had a lower chance of success.
Leon’s sword was brought down square on Actaeon’s shoulder and upper chest, knocking the nobleman out completely.
“YOU SON OF A WHORE!” bellowed Gaius as he watched Actaeon fall back into the second-tier trainees behind them. He went on the attack again, slashing and stabbing at Leon like a frenzied beast. Gaius lost any remaining shreds of his sense of dignity and started screaming with every attack. That he could barely hit Leon only made things worse.
Leon himself was hardly doing much better. If they were to have this fight in a tight hallway with even footing, he guessed that he might quickly lose to the raging Gaius. However, he still had the height advantage which kept him in the game.
The second-tier trainees behind both fighters could only watch in awe at the strength and speed of their senior mages. Gaius’ attacks were so fast they could barely be seen, but Leon’s own sword would appear just in time to block or deflect.
However, Leon’s defense was a lot weaker than the Snow Lions had hoped. Without the initiative, without being able to effectively dodge and go on the attack, he was being pushed back a step at a time.
Things were hardly looking good in the other stairway. Tiberias was fairly low-key about it—typically only fighting opponents who were far inferior to him and never showing his true skills even during the Basic Combat duels—but he was easily one of the strongest fighters in the entire training cycle. Castor was as strong and capable a fighter as anyone would expect given he was a third-tier mage, but he just wasn’t up to the task of holding Tiberias off. Even with the height advantage and fighting alongside several second-tier Snow Lions, with more ready to take their place if they were to fall, he just couldn’t stand firm against Tiberias.
This made a certain degree of sense. Tiberias’ fighting style relied on having a rock-solid defense and using quick and deadly stabs to do damage. Castor’s fighting style was closer to Leon’s, focusing on quicker movement, dodging, and using wider and more powerful strikes. The cramped space they found themselves in was the perfect place for Tiberias’ style to shine, while also stifling Castor and keeping him in Tiberias’ range.
“Why are you attacking us?!” demanded Castor of Tiberias, however the Black Viper remained silent, merely smiling at the Snow Lion and pushing him back another step.
Things took a turn for the worse when Linus shouted loud enough for the entire tower to hear, “I’ve got their banner!” Almost all the Deathbringers roared in triumph, but Gaius and Tiberias ignored them and continued their advance.
Leon and Castor grit their teeth, but they still found themselves powerless to change the situation. At least the second-tier Deathbringers were a little confused as to why Gaius and Tiberias weren’t falling back. Humiliating the Snow Lions by seizing their banner was the whole point, so they couldn’t help but frown as the two third-tier nobles kept pressing on.
After a few more minutes, Leon and Castor were forced out of the stairs and into the second-floor hallway. The hallway was a little wider and afforded more room to move than the stairs, but not so much that the Snow Lions could turn the tides. In fact, the only thing this extra room really allowed was for the second-tier trainees to start fighting.
Even though their third-tier mages were tied down, the Snow Lions fought magnificently. They were almost literally fighting back-to-back, so they used every ounce of strength and vigor they had in them to fight against the Deathbringers. This didn’t stop them from losing a few second-tier trainees during the next minute or two, but they caused several more Deathbringer casualties than they endured.
Eventually, Linus got fed up with waiting at the bottom of the stairs and followed the others to the second floor with the rest of the first and second-tier Deathbringers at his back.
“What’s going on?! Why haven’t you all pulled back yet!” he demanded of a nearby second-tier Deathbringer who was still too far back to fight the Snow Lions.
“Tiberias and Gaius wouldn’t stop!” the second-tier noble answered.
Linus grimaced, then glanced at Castor, Leon, and the remainder of the Snow Lions. All were nobles at least of the second-tier, with the exception of Leon. To push fellow nobles like this was incredibly petty and vindictive, and the other Deathbringers knew that; they looked to Tiberias and Gaius with increasingly disapproving gazes. A few also looked to Linus to join them, to use his strength to break the stalemate in the third-tier battles and deal the final blow to the Snow Lions
Complicating matters, Linus knew both Castor and Alphonsus personally, with all three nobles hailing from neighboring counties in the Southern Territories. Their fathers frequently collaborated on public works projects to bring prosperity to all of their lands and had strong friendships and economic ties. For most of the nobles who attend the Knight Academy, the inter-unit battles were little more than a game they played amongst themselves. What Gaius and Tiberias were now doing went far beyond that.
After another moment of thought, Linus came to a decision of what to do.
“Deathbringers! Fall back!” he shouted.
“What the fuck are you saying! We’ve almost won!” Gaius shrieked in rage.
“We have the banner! We have what we came for! We’ve already won!” Linus roared back. Indeed, there had been several conversations between them when they promised to prioritize the banner.
Gaius was about to argue the point, but the second-tier trainees at his sides listened to Linus and fell back without even waiting for him to speak his piece. Gaius howled in fury, then he took a few steps back.
Tiberias rolled his eyes at Gaius’ undignified display before silently following suit.
While the Deathbringers fell back to the stairs, Leon made to follow them. Now that the pressure was off, he could go on the attack now, an idea that several of the Snow Lions seemed to share as they followed him. However, they were stopped by a shout from Castor.
“No! Let them go!”
Linus respectfully nodded to Castor, then led the Deathbringers back downstairs to collect their casualties and leave. Tiberias didn’t waste time there and went downstairs as well, but Gaius took the time to send one more hateful glare towards Leon before doing likewise.
It only took the Deathbringers a few minutes to gather their people and leave, waving the Snow Lions’ banner all the way back to their tower. They had taken about fifty casualties during the assault.
“Remember this, savage! You are only still standing because I allow it!” shouted Gaius on the way out of the door.
Leon, Castor, and the remaining half dozen second-tier nobles could do nothing but watch and glare as they left, with the sound of Gaius’ forced laughter ringing in their ears. The Snow Lions had been completely beaten.
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