“Are you fucking kidding?! You want us to give up our week off?!” shouted an enraged Snow Lion at the three third-tier trainees.
“Yes, and there’s no need for profanity,” replied a serious and straight-faced Castor, causing more than half of the one hundred and four assembled Snow Lions to groan or make some other noise to express their disagreement.
“No damned way!” shouted another Snow Lion. “We’ve all busted our asses in training, and once we finally get some real time off, you’re trying to take it away?!”
“We’re not asking for all of it, only the five weekdays. Both weekends can be spent in the capital,” added Alphonsus, trying and failing to quench the anger of the Snow Lions.
“You’re still taking nine days off and making them four! And for what?! So we can go back to sleeping in a cave?!” asked another trainee that Leon recognized from the start of the training cycle, a young first-tier mage named Theoderic who had gotten on the Senior Instructor’s bad side in the first few days of the training cycle.
Not even Leon’s friends could keep silent. Matthew stepped forward and said in a more composed but still angry tone, “We followed you nobles out into the western mountains so we could train better. We understand that that was something we needed to do to grow stronger. However, we’ve earned this week, and I for one am not giving it up!” He sent an apologetic look to Leon, but he stood his ground in front of Castor and Alphonsus. His position was bolstered by a chorus of support from a growing number of Snow Lions. Even a few of the second-tier trainees were making their voices heard, though none of them were nobles who followed Castor or Alphonsus.
The expression on Castor’s face was as stoic as it could be under the weight of so much pushback, but those who knew him could plainly see his displeasure. Alphonsus’ expression wasn’t any better; if anything, it was worse, as he wasn’t able to conceal his own anger quite as well as Castor was. Both third-tier nobles were clearly not expecting such vehement protest to their decision after almost nine months of relative deference among the commoners.
Castor raised his hands, quieting down the Snow Lions so he could speak. “I get your anger, believe me. I’m giving up my own week for this. But, this is something that we need to do, to maximize our chances of coming out of the FTX with the most banners!”
“Who gives a fuck about banners?!” shouted Theoderic. “You obviously don’t, otherwise you would’ve had us attacking the other units before this!”
“I actually do,” responded Castor, his voice taking on a hint of steel that silenced Theoderic, “otherwise why would I have ordered the reclamation of our banner after it was stolen from us?”
“Indeed. Plus, seizing more is only more honor and glory for us!” added Alphonsus, though the commoners cared so little for those concepts that they hardly spared him a glance.
“This plan will help us to win in the FTX!” shouted Castor again, but this time he sent a meaningful look to the second-tier nobles that followed him, which Alphonsus mirrored to his own subordinates when he saw Castor’s people start to move. The second-tier nobles were preparing to drag the most vocal dissenters out of the common room for their insubordination, thus forcing the unit to follow Castor’s orders. But, before they could do so, Leon stepped forward and silenced the entire room by unleashing all of his tempestuous killing intent.
It only froze the trainees for a handful of seconds before they could unleash their own magical auras to protect themselves, though a few of the first-tier commoners had to pick themselves off the floor from their knees giving out. Despite regaining their mobility, none of the nobles moved and none of the commoners continued to shout; instead, they all stared at Leon.
“First of all,” he began, using a quiet but serious tone, “to shit with honor and glory! Such esoteric things are worthless!” His words caused Alphonsus to frown, but the third-tier noble held his tongue for the time being as Leon was far more respected among the commoners than the rest of the nobles. He didn’t carry the same arrogance around that most of the nobles did; he was quiet, and he avenged them when the Deathbringers had attacked them in the streets, something the nobles had initially refused to do. His words carried more weight among the first-tier trainees than Castor’s, even though it was the latter who was technically in charge of the Snow Lions.
Leon continued, “But! The Academy places great emphasis on these banners! So much so that they encourage their trainees to fight and beat each other for these big strips of cloth!” The entire unit could hear the scorn in Leon’s voice as he said these words.
“Seems stupid to me, who grew up having to hunt down my own food in the Northern Vales, but the fact is that the banners have importance! The unit that seizes the most by the end of the FTX will be honored as the best trainees in the entire training cycle! Important knights from all over the Bull Kingdom will vie with each other to be sent squires from the Academy’s best training unit!” As he spoke, the trainees began to visibly calm down, to the surprise of the nobles.
“I don’t know about all of you, but I for one want to land myself as respectable a squireship as I can! This is, after all, something which will dictate the course of our lives for years! If I have to sacrifice five days to ensure that I’m sent to a Legion fortress under a Legate rather than to some tiny insignificant camp on the border under a Centurion, spending my days fighting petty bandits and stone giants, than I’ll gladly give up those days!
“The more important and powerful the knight we are sent to serve, the more important and powerful we will be! But all of you want to throw that away for five days in the capital!” Leon’s eyes scanned the room, and none of the trainees could meet his gaze. This wasn’t necessarily because of how persuasive Leon was trying to be, it was also because no one wanted to oppose him.
Regardless, no one spoke up, despite Leon taking a long enough pause for anyone to speak their mind if they were so inclined.
“We’re heading out into the mountains to prepare for the FTX next week! You’ll still have both weekends off, but those five days will be spent getting our fortifications back into shape, as they’ve been no doubt fallen into disrepair in the months since we left! Our futures depend on this FTX! We must take it seriously and take the time to prepare as best we can! Are there any objections to this plan?”
Again, none could speak after Leon finished.
“No one? Good.”
With that settled, the nobles returned upstairs, and the third-tier mages made their way back up to the top floor for one last meeting.
“Hey, thanks for that,” Castor said to Leon. “That might’ve gotten ugly had you not stepped in.”
“Yeah… that was… well done…” Alphonsus said, though it seemed to Leon that that short sentence was quite the struggle for the noble.
In response to the two, Leon just nodded his head; he felt like he had used all his words in that speech and now he could barely bring himself to utter one more sentence.
“But anyway, what was wrong with everyone?! I wasn’t expecting such intense pushback!” said Castor in frustration.
“I know!” agreed Alphonsus, “I thought they had accepted us as their leaders! I mean, before this, they haven’t made so much as a single complaint about the extra training or any other aspect of our leadership style since we retrieved the banner!”
“Oh, if only everyone else could have been so devoid of complaints during that time…” Castor said sarcastically while giving Alphonsus a cheeky smile. Alphonsus clenched his teeth and frowned, but he didn’t say a word. He and Castor had made their peace after returning to the tower, though Alphonsus was still having some trouble accepting Leon as an equal.
“They understood the need for the extra training, and they could also see the benefits that training would bring them; more than ten of them have ascended to the second-tier now, after all,” Leon whispered. His quiet voice sounded exhausted and he had slumped down into a chair in front of the fire like the only thing he wanted to do was to pass out. Speaking so much in front of such a large crowd had sapped all the energy from him, though for all his exhaustion he took comfort in seeing that he was at least capable of such a performance, which was a far cry from where his social capabilities had been only a year before.
“That was why you both failed, I think,” Leon continued. “They don’t respond well to orders that take something away from them, or to concepts that are more abstract, like ‘glory’ and ‘honor’.”
“So you emphasized the practical benefits…” Castor whispered. Even after ten months of being technically in charge of the Snow Lions, Castor was still terrible at dealing with commoners who disagreed with him. He was used to dealing with nobles who respected the hierarchy of nobility; lesser nobles would fall in line behind the higher nobles with little question.
The commoners, however, had little respect for the rights of birth as such rights didn’t afford them much, if anything. Compounding this were the reforms made in recent times that expanded upon the rights of the commoners at the expense of the nobility. As they gained rights, the common people held less respect for and fear of the nobility. Castor, having grown up all his life as a rich noble with servants and knights that would always respond immediately to his commands, was still coming to grips with the fact that commoners could—and as he had just seen in the common room, would—question his decisions.
‘I’ll remember this,’ he thought to himself. ‘If I am to be a great leader in my own right someday, I must learn to get commoners to follow me, not only the knights…’
At the same time the three third-tier Snow Lions were having their meeting, Gaius had arrived at the Administration Building, having been called there by his brother, Nicomedes.
“Little brother,” Nicomedes said in greeting as Gaius entered his office.
“Nico,” Gaius said back, “how’s everyth-“
“Let’s skip the pleasantries, with the FTX just around the corner I have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it in.”
“Good. Have a seat, Gaius. I’ve given Father an update on your progress, and he’s not particularly happy…” Nicomedes let his sentence hang for several seconds while Gaius sat and nervously stared at him. “… However, he’s not disappointed either. You’ve done well since our last chat; though you haven’t managed to seize a banner, you’ve acquitted yourself well. Both Father and I are confident that you’ll do just fine in the FTX without our intervention.”
“But… you are still planning on intervening?” Gaius asked, picking up on the intention behind Nicomedes’ last sentence.
“… We are. I’m not too happy about it, but Father insisted on providing you with help. So as to not embarrass the family…”
“N-No!” Gaius said emphatically while rising from his seat. “I don’t need your help!”
“I know you don’t need it, but Father insisted,” Nicomedes repeated.
“But-“ Gaius tried to argue, but Nicomedes interrupted him.
“Gaius! The help we are providing doesn’t necessarily have to be used, but you are not allowed to turn it down!”
Nicomedes stared at Gaius until the younger man sat back down, though Gaius had to clench his teeth to stop himself from making an angry outburst.
“What kind of help is this?” he asked through his gritted teeth.
In response, Nicomedes took out a wooden box from his desk and handed it to Gaius.
“Open it,” he said.
Gaius complied. Within was a bracer, no different from what he had been issued as part of his armor set.
“What is this?” Gaius asked, his anger lessening due to his confusion.
“It’s a bracer, genius,” Nicomedes said with a sarcastic smile.
Gaius rolled his eyes and shot back, “I know what it is, but what makes it so special that you’re giving it to me with such seriousness?”
“Take a good look at it.”
Gaius picked up the bracer and turned it over in his hands several times. He examined every inch of the exterior, and after not seeing anything noteworthy about it, he looked back at his brother. Nicomedes only stared back until Gaius took another look. And on that second time, Gaius found exactly what had been done to the bracer: his father’s Mana Glyph had been inscribed on the inside!
Gaius recognized it immediately, a spruce tree made of thousands of tiny runes. His father had shown him his Mana Glyph before when Gaius was young, but he hadn’t let Gaius examine it too closely. Despite this, Gaius still had no trouble recognizing the Mana Glyph for what it was.
“With that bracer, Father has effectively loaned you some of his power. When you wear it, you should be able to fire off about a dozen wind blades or use any other wind attack of comparable magic cost,” Nicomedes said in a relatively light tone, but as he continued, he turned deadly serious. “I have to warn you, always keep that bracer safe. Since Father inscribed his Mana Glyph upon it, the bracer has become linked to his soul realm. If any of his enemies got ahold of it, they could curse him in a multitude of ways.”
Gaius frowned. His father was showing him a great deal of trust in giving him the bracer, but he didn’t feel the slightest bit of happiness. It wasn’t the kind of trust he wanted, the trust to win on his own merits, though he couldn’t honestly tell himself that he deserved that level of confidence. He slowly placed the bracer back into its box and closed the lid.
“You want me to cheat?” he asked bitterly.
“No, Father and I want you to win, using any means available to you. Support from your family is just as important as personal skill.”
“… Thank you, brother,” he said impassively after a long silence. “If there isn’t anything else, I will take my leave.”
“… Go ahead,” Nicomedes said after a brief moment. Gaius’ strange tone gave him pause but he knew that his little brother wouldn’t tell him why, so he didn’t ask. However, as Gaius was approaching the door, Nicomedes continued, “Good luck, little brother. I have every confidence in you.”
“Thank you,” Gaius said quietly, not quite believing what Nicomedes said—he was so confident that he gave Gaius the bracer, which was hardly a sign of his trust in his little brother’s skill.
After thanking Nicomedes, Gaius left, to take the next week to ready himself for the FTX.
This is it, we’re in the home stretch of this arc now!
Thank you to my Sixth-tier patrons:
I Dewa Bagus