Leon woke up about an hour after sparring with Alix. He was still laying down next to Anzu, and when he realized that he had fallen asleep he quickly got to his feet and shambled into the bathroom. He wanted nothing more than to collapse into bed, but he couldn’t do so when he was still covered in the dust, dirt, and blood that had accumulated over the day.
He counted himself fortunate, at least, that as a fifth-tier mage, his body had much less cause to sweat, even in the conditions he’d been under earlier.
The hot shower felt incredible, but Leon didn’t linger; he nearly fell asleep standing up several times. When he got out and made his way to his bedroom, he found Anzu already there, having woken up just after Leon had and meandered on in. The griffin stared at Leon as he crawled into bed without even bothering to do more than pull off his shirt and socks. Once Leon got himself situated, Anzu lay down next to him, laying his head and front paws across Leon’s chest.
Leon then had to push one of Anzu’s wings out of his face, but once the two were comfortable, they passed out in minutes.
The next day was quiet. Leon and Alix had been given the day off by Trajan, so both slept in—though Leon did have to get Anzu outside for a little while in the backyard of the barracks building. He had been a little surprised that there even was a backyard when he and Alix first moved in, but Trajan explained that there were a fair number of knights with their own pets, so having such a place was necessary. The building’s janitors even made sure the yard was clean every day.
Still, just because Leon didn’t have any work or training to do, that didn’t mean he wasn’t busy. He needed at least half an hour to pull his sword back into his soul realm, and while he didn’t want to waste the entire day doing the same with his armor, he at least wanted to do so with his cuirass and helmet.
So, after Leon got out of bed in earnest around noon, he took a few minutes to eat and then went back into his room to begin. The only pause he had was for a moment when he sat down in a comfortable chair and frowned at the sword in his lap. He was still used to always having it on his hip, and its absence was taking some getting used to. That being said, he wholeheartedly agreed when Trajan mentioned that he should keep the weapon in his soul realm, as the Prince had recognized him in part because of how prominently Leon had worn it.
He took a few deep breaths, then channeled his magic out through his right arm and began to coat his sword in it. It took more than ten minutes for the sword to be sufficiently coated, at which point Leon began the more difficult process of pulling his magic back in with the sword included. The sword began to twitch, and then it began to slowly sink into Leon’s palm where it almost seemed to dissolve in flashes of light.
It took another fifteen minutes or so for the sword to be completely absorbed into Leon’s body. Within his soul realm, if Xaphan hadn’t been so focused on his healing process, he might’ve seen the sword appear near Leon’s granite throne. Right next to the sword was a satchel that contained the documents identifying Leon as a son of House Raime and the black Heartwood seed, a large bag containing about thirty thousand silver coins, Leon’s bow which had several softly glowing runes etched upon its surface, a few hundred arrows, and a large stack of explosive spells.
When he was finished, Leon leaned back in his armchair and breathed deeply, letting his magic flow through his body and re-energize him. Storing objects in his soul realm was a draining and uncomfortable technique, but the benefits were too good to ignore until he was stronger—and by the time he reached the sixth-tier, he’d be able to do what he had just done in a fraction of the time. He took a quick glance at his armor lazily laid in a corner of his room and sighed. It was time to get started on the rest. He couldn’t put it off, because if he were to be attacked for some reason in the streets, then he’d need at least some kind of protection.
He grabbed his helmet and cuirass. Both would be uncomfortable to wear without the Skyflax padding underneath—not to mention they would lack the lightning enchantments Leon had put on that part of his armor, as the Magmic Steel was only good for fire enchantments—but they were better than nothing. Besides, if he needed anything in his soul realm, it would only take a second or two to retrieve.
Leon took another deep breath and got started with his helmet.
Leon emerged from his room three hours later, completely exhausted. He found Alix in the center of the sandpit silently swinging her sword in moving meditation, while Anzu had practically draped himself over one of the couches. Alix nodded and smiled in greeting, which Leon returned, before returning to her quiet training.
Without much else to do, Leon grabbed a pen and a few sheets of paper to write a letter to Elise describing the situation in Ariminium. He briefly considered sending her the map he took from the Cradle, but as he had dozens of times before, decided against it; he didn’t want the letter to be intercepted and the map stolen. He would simply wait for them to see each other again before he asked her about the ruins in the nations to the south.
The two had taken to writing to each other at least once a week, but since it took a few days for the letters to be delivered and a few more days to receive a reply, both tried to hold off on writing more often than that. This also meant that the letters they did write were often quite lengthy, not that either minded. When Leon was finished describing his recent exploits, his letter was nearly ten pages long.
As neither he nor Alix wanted to do anything strenuous after the battle, they stayed in their room for the rest of the day, only leaving to let Anzu run around a little outside.
Leon and Alix got plenty of rest and woke up bright and early the next morning. They, along with Anzu, made their way over to Trajan’s personal wing of the keep, where the Prince was waiting in his training room.
Trajan liked to spar with the knights in his retinue as well as his immediate subordinates in the Legions. This included more than two hundred people, so he obviously had to divide his time as best he could. However, he made sure to train with Leon every morning, leaving his evening training for his time with other subordinates.
However, as they entered the keep, they were stopped in the entrance hall by none other than Lapis, the stone giant sent as a kind of ambassador by Rakos.
“Greetings, Divine One,” Lapis said in a low rumble.
Leon cringed a little, both at the giant’s loud voice and the embarrassing title. “I’ve said this before, but you really don’t have to call me that,” Leon said.
‘At least it's not shaking the whole keep with its voice anymore…’ Leon thought, though the curious glances he was being given by some of the soldiers walking through the long entrance hall kept that thought as only a small comfort.
Lapis straightened up a little, almost brushing its head against the vaulted ceiling as it did, and said, “Those with the Power of the Gods ought to be shown the proper respect!”
“Are the wishes of the person in question not taken into account?” Leon countered.
This seemed to give Lapis some pause, as the giant went silent for a long moment.
Leon felt a little awkward that the giant seemed to be caught up on his words, and he hurriedly tried to move the conversation along by saying, “So what do you need?”
This jerked Lapis back from wherever its mind had gone, and it said, “It is my understanding that there was a battle here the night before last, and that the Divine One took part in it…”
Again, Leon felt himself cringing at the use of the title, but he did his best to smile and say, “Your understanding is correct.”
“Is there some reason why I was not called to assist? I have been sent to provide what protection I can to the Divine One…”
“We… This was an internal matter, and we didn’t feel it necessary to bother you with our problems,” Leon quickly explained. What he certainly didn’t say was that the stone giant wasn’t trusted, even after a year of peace between the Bull Kingdom and the southern stone giant tribes.
“It wouldn’t have been a bother,” Lapis said. “I will not press the issue, but please keep in mind my purpose, Divine One. I am here and ready to assist the Divine One in battle should the need arise…”
With that, the giant knocked its fists together in what Leon had come to understand was a gesture of respect, and departed the hall, much to Leon’s relief.
“You’re looking a little pale there, Sir,” Alix quietly teased. She’d settled into her role as squire fairly well over the past year, and she knew that she shouldn’t openly tease her assigned knight, but in this case, she couldn’t help it.
“Can you blame me?” Leon retorted as he glanced around at the dozens of other knights walking through the hall, many of whom were shooting him extremely strange looks for speaking with Lapis. “Come on, His Highness is probably waiting on us,” Leon then said, hurrying them onward.
But Leon also looked over his shoulder at the departing giant and thought, ‘Its offer of assistance is appreciated, but I really don’t want to rely on it. If I ever find myself in a situation where I need that level of help, I’ll probably already be dead…’
About ten minutes later, Leon and Alix pushed open the door to Trajan’s training room and entered. The Prince was waiting for them in the sandpit wearing training clothes and wielding a training sword.
“Good, you all are here,” Trajan said.
“Your Highness,” Leon and Alix said respectfully, both giving short bows.
“Please, we’re not in public, that’s unnecessary,” Trajan responded with a smile and a dismissive wave. “Let’s just get started and ignore etiquette.”
“Sure thing,” Leon replied as his own normally-stoic face briefly cracked a thin smile.
Alix nodded and sat down at the edge of the sandpit; since she was technically Leon’s squire, she wasn’t Trajan’s responsibility. As a result, Leon always trained with the Prince first, though Trajan did spend a considerable amount of time training with her as well. It seemed obvious to anyone who knew about it that the Prince was gearing Alix up to join his retinue when she ascended to the third-tier and received her knighthood.
“You two did well in the battle last night,” Trajan began, “but there is always room for improvement. Leon, your magic seemed to hold out well, how did you feel afterward?”
“I was a little tired, but I think I could’ve continued at that pace for a while longer,” Leon answered.
“Wonderful! It goes to show you just how far you’ve come since you first entered my service, when you could barely summon three or four lightning bolts before hitting your limit. We’ll do some more endurance training, then, and after we break for the day, I want you to focus on the creation of your magic body.”
“Got it,” Leon said. The creation of his magic body would be the point at which he became a sixth-tier mage, and Leon was eagerly looking forward to it. Using his magic body, he’d be able to project himself outside of his body, though doing so would be dangerous; more importantly, he’d be able to consciously enter his soul realm. He greatly anticipated finally being able to look Xaphan in the eye and know that he’d passed the demon by in terms of power.
At this point, Leon had managed to use his magic power to construct about one third of his magic body. He’d need to let his magic flow into a bone or organ and trap it there until it effectively took on the structure of that body part, but this was a time-consuming process. Still, Leon was growing stronger at an exceptionally fast rate, especially since he had other things to focus on as well.
With that, he and Trajan began to spar—or rather, Leon began to call upon his magic as fast as he could, while Trajan summoned his own magic and took the younger mage’s attacks. From the sidelines, Alix watched Leon hurl lightning bolts and summon fire, neither of which did the Prince much harm. Not even when Leon switched over to channeling his magic through his sword, causing it to burst into flame or arc with lightning, did his magic penetrate the Prince’s iron-clad defense.
“Not bad…” Trajan said after about half an hour. His stoneskin was blackened and scorched in places, but not meaningfully damaged in any way; he was still in perfect condition to fight. Leon, on the other hand, was left panting and barely able to stand after continuously using his power for so long. “… But still not great. I think you still need to work on your endurance for a while yet…”
“I understand,” Leon whispered.
“Good. With every bone of your magic body you create, you’ll expand your mana reserves just a little bit. So why don’t you get some rest and then get a head start on the rest of your training?”
Leon nodded and went to sit down next to Alix. Anzu, who had been watching from behind the columns that separated the sandpit from the rest of the room, hurried forward and snuggled up next to Leon. The little griffin didn’t really need any training as he’d grow stronger just by literally growing.
Trajan then turned his attention to the sandpit. The heat from Leon’s lightning and fire had scorched the stone columns and melted some of the sand in the pit, but with a wave of his hand and a little bit of patience, Trajan erased the scorch marks on the columns and extracted every fragment of glass from the sandpit with practiced ease. There was still plenty of sand left to train in, and servants would come in during the night to clean up what he missed and refill the pit. After a year of training with Leon—and longer with the other higher-tiered knights that Trajan sparred with—the servants had grown accustomed to this process.
With that taken care of, Trajan looked at Alix and gracefully asked, “Care to join me, my lady?”
Alix smiled and jumped to her feet. She could only train with the Prince in martial arts rather than magical arts, but he still instructed her with as much patience as he had with Leon. She didn’t know why, and she certainly wasn’t going to be so rude as to ask, but she enormously appreciated it and frequently said so.
After an hour of sparring with Alix, Trajan called the training session to an end.
“I think that’s enough for today,” Trajan said, allowing an exhausted Alix to stumble back to the edge of the sandpit. “You two should get some rest, but don’t neglect your afternoon training! I don’t have anything else for you to do, so focus on that!”
“… Are you sure there’s no work you need us to do?” Leon hesitantly asked. The half-Legion that had retaken the guild district was still cleaning the place up and assisting with repair efforts, as were most of the other knights in the Prince’s retinue.
“No, there’re enough hands out there as it is,” Trajan replied, knowing what Leon was alluding to. “With all the soldiers, guild mages, and construction workers swarming the guild district, you two would get in the way more than you’d help. Of course, the same could be said for anyone else, so don’t pay it much mind. Besides, normally you’d get a week off for taking out a vampire, so don’t worry about it!”
“Then we’ll see you tomorrow morning,” Leon gratefully said. Trajan smiled and nodded, and Leon, Alix, and Anzu rose and made for the door.
“So, what now?” Alix asked once they were back out into the hallways.
“Want to get something to eat?” Leon asked. “I must admit that I worked up a bit of an appetite, but if you just want to head back home, then we can do that instead…”
“I’m actually quite hungry, myself,” Alix replied.
The two then spent the ten minutes it took to leave the keep debating what to grab for an early lunch.
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Efflorescence - Kyle J Smith
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