Fifteen minutes after they sat down in the lounge with a couple of snacks, one of Aquillius’ assistants approached Leon and Alix and, after identifying them, curtly said, “Follow me.”
The assistant was a gruff and serious man, but neither Leon nor Alix minded. They immediately rose from their seats, grabbed their bags, and made to follow the assistant.
They ended up going back into the magic lift, returning to the ground floor and making their way toward a back door to the building. It was a big building, so it took a few minutes to get there, during which the assistant didn’t offer a single word. He did, however, in his own terse manner, answer their questions.
“Where are we going?” Alix asked after they got off the lift.
“The neighboring building houses all the diplomats,” the assistant replied.
“What’s your name?” Leon inquired.
“Why do you want to know?” the assistant defensively shot back. He was only a second-tier mage, so Leon was almost taken aback at how confrontational he was in the face of a fourth-tier mage.
“… Because I’m curious,” Leon said with some confusion, but not backing down and even glaring at the assistant a little.
[This guy’s an asshole,] Xaphan muttered. [If he gives you any more sass, I’ll expect you to straighten him out!]
[I’m not going to get violent in the headquarters for diplomats!] Leon retorted.
[And I’m not suggesting you get violent! I’m saying you should straighten him out, in any way you deem most appropriate!] Xaphan responded. [Although, if you did beat the living hell out of him, I certainly wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.]
“Over-privileged lordlings don’t need to know my name,” the assistant venomously spat.
“Who are you calling an over-privileged lordling?!” Leon demanded, grabbing the assistant’s arm and forcing the group to a halt.
“Get your hands off me, rich boy!” the assistant shouted, attempting to wrench his arm free of Leon’s grip. However, Leon’s grip was like steel, and the second-tier assistant couldn’t break free.
“You will explain your attitude to me,” Leon ordered, “and you will tell me your name!”
For the first time, Leon began to emit a degree of killing intent, and the assistant froze in fear. Glaring at him, Alix coldly said, “You’re speaking to a knight and a fourth-tier mage. He’s a Valeman, not a spoiled son of a lord.”
“I don’t need to justify myself to this guy,” Leon said quietly, cutting Alix off before she could continue. “However, you need to justify yourself to me.”
The attendant glared at them, then cast his gaze around at their surroundings. They were in a nondescript hallway in the back of the diplomatic corps’ building, and there wasn’t anyone else around that he could see.
“I’ll drag you back to the reception desk to make a formal complaint, if you would prefer,” Leon threatened.
Seeing no other way to get out of this, the assistant reluctantly said, “… Gerold.”
“Is that it? Just Gerold?” Leon pressed.
“Gerold Abramson!” the assistant shouted.
Though he had no way to verify it, Leon now had the assistant’s name, so he released his arm. The assistant jerked back from the pair and glowered at them, but he remained silent.
“By the Ancestors, man! Was that so damned hard?” Alix asked. “Sir Leon was only asking for your name!”
“Whatever…” Gerold growled. “I have to take you to the residential building. Follow me.”
The rest of the walk was quiet, as neither Leon nor Alix had any questions that they needed answering so badly as to ask Gerold, and Gerold certainly wasn’t speaking, either. In fact, the latter was pointedly not looking at either of them, and his face burned in anger and humiliation.
[You’d better watch this guy,] Xaphan warned. [He has it out for you, for some reason.]
[Might as well try finding out what for,] Leon responded.
Finally breaking the silence once the three were outside and moving toward the residential building, Leon asked, “What’s your problem with me?”
Gerold was quiet for a while, long enough that Leon was about to impatiently ask his question again. However, just as he was opening his mouth, the assistant said, “You’re an asshole.”
“Is that why? You just met me!” Leon indignantly replied.
“You walk into the diplomatic corps like you owned the place, wearing inappropriate armor, lording your superiority over the rest of us! I don’t need to meet the seventeen-year-old knight wearing your fucking armor to know you’re a waste of life!”
Leon hopelessly glanced over to Alix, who quietly said, “Wow, you’re just digging yourself deeper, aren’t you? That’s some strong language that you can’t back down from, guy.”
“And you’re a knight who parades around your beautiful concubine and making her carry your shit for you! Forcing the entire world to stare as you abuse this girl!” Gerold said intensely, prompting Leon and Alix to stare at each other in confusion again—especially since they were both carrying their own bags.
“You already knew who I was when I arrived, did you not know who Alix was?” Leon asked in disbelief. “She’s my squire! Not my concubine!”
“Sure, like I believe that!” Gerold replied.
“You’re making a lot of assumptions, Gerold,” Alix whispered in a dangerous voice. “You work for diplomats, have they never taught you that assumptions and preconceptions are incredibly dangerous?”
Gerold turned and glared at Alix and was about to try and use his aura to apply pressure to her, but he could still see Leon in the corner of his eye, and he didn’t dare try it.
“This is as far as I’m going to take you,” the assistant said once they had pushed open the heavy oak door of the neighboring building and walked inside. “Go talk to the people up front, they’ll get you sorted out.”
With that, he immediately turned and left out the door they had just walked in from.
After few moments of Leon and Alix left standing in the small entry hall in quiet disbelief, they turned to each other and Alix said, “What was that all about?!”
“No idea, but he’s got a weird head on him,” Leon replied while shaking his head. “Whatever, let’s just try and forget about him, and get our room.”
As the two started exploring the building, trying to find the main reception desk, Alix suddenly asked, “Wasn’t he supposed to tell us what our duties were supposed to be over the next few days?”
Leon frowned and said, “That’s what Sir Aquillius said…”
“Should we go back…?” Alix asked with uncertainty in her voice.
“… Let’s get our sleeping arrangements made, first,” Leon said, pointedly adjusting the pack on his shoulders as he did.
After a few more minutes of wandering, the pair managed to find the front desk. The two first-tier mages behind it were a little surprised to see the two of them come in through the back but were nonetheless accommodating.
“Hey, we could use a little help,” Leon said to the receptionists.
“What do you need, Good Sir?” one of the receptionists asked.
“We just transferred into the Diplomatic Corps, and were told that is where we go to get assigned our quarters,” Alix said.
There was a short back and forth with the receptionists getting their identities straightened out, but it turned out that they had been told that Leon and Alix would be assigned their room today, so everything worked out after a few minutes.
Leon and Alix’s quarters were on the fifth floor, in a building almost twenty floors tall. One of the receptionists led them to their room and gave them their keys, but as the young man was about to leave, Leon said, “Can you wait a moment?”
“Are you concerned something might be wrong with your quarters?” the receptionist asked.
“No, I’d just like to send a message to Sir Aquillius, and I was wondering if you could arrange for it.”
“I can, indeed, Sir Ursus. We can’t transmit spoken messages, but if you were to write it down, seal it, and bring it to the front desk, we’ll have it delivered once Sir Aquillius arrives.”
“Thank you,” Leon replied, dismissing the receptionist.
He and Alix then turned their attention to their quarters. Leon unlocked the door and pushed it open, but he didn’t make it far in before he was stunned motionless; the quarters they were assigned were gorgeous!
The floor was tiled in white marble, streaked with an artfully asymmetrical black pattern, though much of it was covered in a rich dark red rug so thick and high-quality that Leon almost felt like he was bouncing off it. The walls were painted in a bright red, matching the carpet, and much of the furniture was made from a dark red wood and covered in bright red velvet.
In the center of the spacious main room was a section cordoned off by a rectangular row of white granite columns. This section was lower than the floor by two steps and filled with sand. It was closer to the back of the room than the front, where the living area and the kitchen were located—to the right and left of the door, respectively. There were two more doorways, one on either side of the room that led to the bathroom and bedrooms.
Leon’s bedroom had the same style of furnishings as the main room, with a huge bed and more than enough storage space for all of his clothes and books. There was even a small office space in one corner. Alix’s room was slightly smaller, as it lacked the office space, but still had plenty of room for her to feel almost too comfortable.
The bathroom, too, was quite well appointed. It lacked the carpets the other rooms had but retained the clean white marble for its giant bath, sink, and toilet.
“Is this really our place?” Alix asked in wonder. She had gotten somewhat used to luxury in Elise’s estate, but she had never once thought that she would live in a place like this.
“I guess…” Leon muttered. “Perhaps we ought to take Sir Aquillius at his word and not get too comfortable for the time being…”
“… That’s for the best…” Alix responded. They were both stunned at the opulence of their quarters, and neither thought for a moment that it would last, as it was just too good.
After placing his things down in his room, Leon removed his armor and started writing a quick letter to Aquillius detailing what had happened with Gerold. As he wrote, he reflected on his own actions and admitted that he didn’t think he handled the situation well—particularly, his grabbing Gerold’s arm was something that Leon regretted. He laid it out as truthfully as he could, asked as respectfully as he could for further instructions, then left to return to the front desk.
When he got there, the receptionists didn’t look busy, so he walked up and asked, “Are you guys sure we got the right room?”
The receptionists looked at each other in slight confusion, but they nodded, and the man in charge asked, “Is there something wrong with the place you’ve been assigned, Sir?”
“No, nothing!” Leon hurriedly said. “If anything, it’s almost too much! It’s certainly not what I was expecting to be assigned when I arrived…”
“All the diplomats live here in this building, and all of their rooms are of similar quality, or better,” the lead receptionist informed. “While it’s true that you’re new, Sir, you’re still a knight, so of course we weren’t going to put you up in some sty.”
Leon frowned a little, but he quietly accepted it. He didn’t object to it, but he still wasn’t used to being treated as a knight.
“Did you bring your message?” the other receptionist helpfully asked.
“I did,” Leon said as he turned it over.
“We’ll hand it over once Sir Aquillius returns,” the lead receptionist said. Leon quickly thanked him and went back to his and Alix’s room.
“Looks like this is indeed our place,” he said.
“You won’t hear me complain,” Alix responded, a big smile breaking out over her face. She was already changed into some clean clothes and was lounging out in one of the comfortable looking couches with a book in hand. “So, do we have the rest of the night to ourselves?” she asked.
It was clear to Leon that she wanted to relax and keep reading, so he said, “I suppose we can do some light training in a couple hours, but other than that, I think we’re on our own until someone comes to get us…”
It had been a long day, from the galley, though all the paperwork in the port, to the Diplomatic Corps, and finally to their rooms. It wasn’t quite dinner time yet, but it was already late afternoon, and both of them needed their rest. To that end, Leon made like Alix and broke out a book to relax with.
But, their relaxation was interrupted only a few minutes before they began their training by the sound of knocking at their door. When Leon walked over and opened it, he found Marcus Aquillius staring back at him.
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