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“So, you’re all right with this?” Lucilius asked Aquillius in the latter’s office.
Aquillius leaned back in his chair and gazed out of the window behind his desk. After a few seconds, he responded, “… Yes, it’s for the best that Sir Leon not stay with us. I’d have to punish him somehow for going against orders. It’s easier for everyone for him to simply not be with us.”
“A shame. I think he might’ve been a great diplomat, given a decade or two of experience.”
“You can say that about a lot of people—we didn’t specifically need him,” Aquillius said as he turned back around to look at his friend.
“True. Still, we might have a bit of trouble with that giant that came out of the mountains with us…” Lucilius mentioned with a frown.
“Sir Leon is still around, he’s just not in the Diplomatic Corps anymore. I made sure Prince Trajan knows about that particular circumstance, and if Lapis needs to speak with Sir Leon for any reason, then we can simply direct the giant to the main keep.”
“I see… I suppose we’d better get started working on a trade agreement with the Crater Tribe in the morning.”
“That we should. We’ve gone so far out of our way to gain access to the Border Mountain’s rich mineral resources, we can’t screw things up now just for a single knight’s lucky mistake…”
Lucilius sighed as he stood up and made his way over to a small bar in the corner of Aquillius’ office.
“Want anything while I’m up?” he asked the senior diplomat.
“Get me something strong,” Aquillius said. “It’s been a long day.”
One of Trajan’s assistants came and picked Leon and Alix up exactly at the appointed time and escorted them to the keep.
“His Highness is awaiting you in his training chamber,” the assistant informed them.
“Do you know why?” Leon asked.
“His Highness didn’t deign to inform me, and it’s not my place to assume,” the assistant said with all the haughtiness of a man that thought himself too good to answer questions.
‘Got the feeling that this ass is telling me that it isn’t my place to ask in the first place,’ Leon thought, his mouth slowly curving into a low frown.
The assistant’s attitude didn’t change while the three were walking, so Leon and Alix quickly stopped trying to speak with him. He was only a third-tier mage, but Leon hadn’t any interest in making a big deal out of something so inconsequential, especially since the assistant wasn’t directly insulting him or Alix, unlike Gerold, Aquillius’ assistant that had escorted them to their room in the diplomatic residence when they first arrived at the Bull’s Horns.
The Prince’s training chamber was located in his private tower, on the lowest of his three residential floors. It was a large circular chamber, with a round sandpit in the center separated from the rest of the chamber by white granite columns and thick black curtains. There were a few chairs to rest in and sinks to clean up at near the door, but for the most part, the only pieces of furniture in the outer section of the chamber were weapon racks; Leon estimated that there were several hundred training weapons of all kinds lining the walls.
“Your guests have arrived,” the assistant loudly said, bowing as low as he could without kneeling.
“Good, you may leave us,” the Prince said, his voice coming from within the sandpit. All of the curtains were drawn, so neither Leon nor Alix could see him. Leon projected his rudimentary magic sense at the curtains, hoping to see through them, but he found that the curtains even blocked that.
The assistant left the room, loudly closing the door to make it clear that he was following the Prince’s orders.
“Grab a training weapon, you two, then join me in here,” the Prince called out.
Alix looked to Leon for confirmation, as Prince or not she was Leon’s squire, not Trajan’s. Leon nodded to her, though, so they both grabbed training swords and walked through the nearest curtain.
In the center of the large sandpit stood Prince Trajan, waiting for them. He had a huge training spear in one hand, a sword at his waist, and deadly serious look on his face.
“Sir Leon, I would evaluate the skills of my newest knight personally. Your squire can do separate training if you or she chooses to do so, but you will be sparring with me today.”
The Prince made it clear with his tone and expression that there was to be no argument. Still, Alix looked to Leon for what she should be doing.
“Meditate for now,” Leon told her, “focus on ascending to the second-tier.”
“Got it,” Alix replied. She then took a seat on the shallow steps at the edge of the sandpit and closed her eyes. She wasn’t able to immediately enter her meditative zone, given the circumstances, but it was enough for both Leon and Trajan.
“Come at me,” Trajan ordered, pointing his spear at Leon in an obvious challenge.
Leon responded with a subdued smile and he charged at the Prince. His first strike was a stab toward Trajan’s stomach, but he was under no illusions about whether or not it would connect. His doubt was proven justified when Trajan’s spear appeared seemingly out of nowhere, deflecting Leon’s sword upward and following through by slamming the pommel into Leon’s midsection, driving all the air out of his lungs.
The younger mage was thrown backward, and he gasped from the pain and lack of air. Leon ignored the pain and attacked again, raising his sword and slashing down at the Prince as fast as he could. Unfortunately for him, the Prince’s spear materialized just in time to block his sword, and the Prince twisted, sending Leon reeling. Trajan then took a step forward and shoulder checked Leon, throwing him down into the sand.
Again, Leon found himself knocked breathless, and it took him a moment to struggle back to his feet. He summoned his magic, augmenting himself as much as he could, and threw himself at Trajan once more, making it look like it was going to strike low, but instead swung high.
The feint didn’t work, however, as the Prince saw right through it and easily blocked his attack.
“You’re going to need to do better than that,” Trajan taunted.
With a clenched jaw, Leon pressed forward, staying on the offense as much as he could. None of his attacks penetrated the Prince’s defense, however. Making things worse, he could tell that the Prince was going easy on him, as Trajan never once took the initiative to attack, even when Leon was made vulnerable from his own many failed attacks; the Prince simply stood there and waited for Leon to come to him, countering only when he felt like it.
The younger mage wasn’t discouraged, though. In fact, he felt more than a little nostalgic, as it reminded him of when he used to spar with Artorias. He had never once managed to beat his father in a duel, and Artorias had usually acted the same way, waiting for Leon to attack then countering in response.
“That isn’t all you have,” Trajan stated as he knocked Leon back again. “You have magic, so why aren’t you using it?”
Leon paused, giving the Prince a strange look.
“In battle, you won’t just be using your blade, you’ll be using your magic as well. Show me what you can do!”
For one hesitant moment, Leon stared at the Prince. He quickly transferred his weapon to his off-hand, though, and started channeling his magic power into his right arm.
“Hurry up! You’re taking too long! No enemy worth their salt would ever wait around for you to finish preparing your attack!” Trajan shouted, angrily pointing his spear at Leon.
The younger mage responded by raising his fist up by his ear, which began to spark and crackle with lightning magic. In less than a second, a six-foot-long bolt of silver-blue lightning burst out of his hand, and he hurled it with all of his strength at the Prince.
Trajan raised his left arm to defend himself, smiling the whole time. In the split-second before the lightning bolt reached him, his arm hardened and turned a mottled grey. The bolt exploded on his arm, showering him in sparks and small arcs of lightning, but the Prince stood firm upon the sand. After a brief second or two, the lightning cleared up, revealing Trajan standing there, still smiling, and looking hale and hearty with a completely unblemished arm.
“Try again,” he said with a hint of mockery.
Leon clenched his jaw and called forth his magic power once more. He raised his arm again, and a bolt of silver-blue lightning appeared in his hand. He launched the bolt at Trajan, but once again, the Prince blocked it—and made it look easy.
“Again!” Trajan shouted.
In less than two seconds, Leon hurled one more lightning bolt at the Prince, to the same effect—or rather, the lack thereof—as the two previous.
“ONCE MORE!” Trajan thundered.
Summoning up as much power as he could, Leon conjured one more lightning bolt and cast it at the Prince. To his complete lack of surprise, the Prince blocked the bolt with little visible effort.
Leon stared at the Prince, panting from the exhaustion of four successive lightning bolts.
‘I think I get why my family’s lightning magic revolved around using swords… This is tiring,’ he thought.
“Is that it?!” Trajan loudly asked. “Is that all you have?! If you were to face any battle-hardened fifth-tier mage on the battlefield, I’d put money on you losing! I suppose that’s where we can start then, on endurance.”
Two hours later, when the two were done sparring, Leon all but collapsed into one of the chairs by the doors. He’d washed his face and arms with the sinks, so he felt at least a little clean from the sweat, sand, and the small amount of blood that he was covered in after the training session.
“You really need to work on increasing your mana reserves and the size of your soul realm,” Trajan said as he took a seat next to Leon.
Alix was still meditating next to the sandpit—she was close enough to ascension to the second-tier that Leon wanted her to be training as much as possible.
“You know, I never met your father, but your grandfather and I were quite well acquainted,” Trajan mentioned. Leon gave him a curious look, silently asking him what his point was. “I’m saying old Kyros and I sparred more than a few times—though he and my little brother were always a lot closer. Your family’s martial and magical arts are powerful, but they rely on speed and explosive power. That’s all well and good in a duel, but battles are tests of endurance. If you blow your load ten minutes into a ten-hour long battle, then you’re going to be of little use to the men you lead.”
“I understand, Your Highness,” Leon replied.
With a wave, Trajan said, “You can drop that ‘Your Highness’ shit when we’re alone. If I were that keen on titles, then I wouldn’t have renounced my claim to the throne.”
“Then what should I call you, if not ‘Your Highness’?” Leon asked, seeking clarification.
“Trajan is fine, though you’re going to have to stick with ‘Your Highness’ when in public, as some appearances must be maintained.”
“I don’t exactly know how to increase the size of my soul realm, Trajan,” Leon said, quickly taking to the lack of formal address the Prince asked for, “but I do have some thoughts as to how I can use my magic for longer…”
“Oh? Well, why don’t we start with your ideas, and then we can work out a training schedule.”
Leon stared at the Prince for a moment. “Do you personally train all of your knights like this?” he asked.
“I try to make some time to spar with all the knights under my command, but I rarely spend so much time with any,” Trajan responded. “However, you are not just any of my knights—you are a son of House Raime! And an absurdly young fifth-tier mage to boot! Your age gives you some advantages, but it also means you’re not that experienced, and what is an old man like me to do if he doesn’t pass on his own experiences to promising young people when he can?”
“… Thank you…” Leon said quietly.
“Don’t mention it! I expect you to become a great knight someday, and to do your best to protect the people of this Kingdom. Helping you get to that point is not something that deserves thanks!”
Leon nodded and smiled gratefully anyway, and he launched into his explanation of his ideas to extend his use of magic, which amounted mostly to more practice with lightning and creating more complex enchantments for his armor. That being said, he refrained from telling the Prince about both Xaphan and his affinity for fire magic. He wanted those, and especially the first, kept under wraps for the time being.
When he was done, Trajan explained his own ideas for expanding Leon’s soul realm, which also meant a great deal of training. Leon quickly came to grips with the fact that his life for the foreseeable future would be spent in this room, letting the Prince beat the hell out of him in the sandpit, or training with Alix when the Prince was attending to his other duties.
After a little bit more rest, the conversation took a slight turn.
“So, out of curiosity, do you ever put that sword away?” Trajan asked Leon, nodding to the latter’s family sword that was always at his side.
“I… I’m never going to leave this sword anywhere else,” Leon answered. “It belonged to my family, and I don’t have much else of theirs left, so I want to always keep an eye on it. Besides, aside from maybe my armor, it’s the most valuable thing I own…”
“I understand,” Trajan replied, “but why don’t you keep it in your soul realm instead? You’ll be able to pull it out in an instant, and it keeps an heirloom of House Raime out of sight. If you hadn’t been wearing that sword, then there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t have recognized you. Actually, now that I think about it, you really weren’t taking too many precautions in regard to your identity…”
“I can’t pull things into my soul realm, yet,” Leon said, moving on from the last thing the Prince said for the time being.
“Then I suppose that just means more training!” Trajan said enthusiastically. “As a matter of fact, let’s get back in there!” The Prince rose to his feet and led Leon back to the sandpit, where they continued their sparring for a little while longer.
Afterward, Leon and Alix left to retrieve Anzu, who had received a clean bill of health, and to get the meal plan for the griffin. Once they were done, however, they returned to the Prince’s training chamber, where servants had just left them food.
Leon sighed, knowing how hard the upcoming training was going to be. He was, however, ecstatic at the thought of Prince Trajan training him personally, as it would mean that he would have a proper instructor in magical arts as opposed to just a sarcastic and mocking demon in his soul realm—though he knew that this kind of training wouldn’t last long, as the Prince had many duties to stay on top of.
Eager to make the most of this time, Leon quickly finished his food and returned to the sandpit, with Anzu hot on his heels.
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