Chapter 223 - Trajan's Retinue

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Leon didn’t know what to expect when he, Alix, and Anzu walked into Trajan’s training chamber, but since the Prince had hinted at having something special in mind, he was a little cautious and apprehensive.  He most certainly didn’t expect to see about a dozen other knights he’d become acquainted with over the last year in Trajan’s retinue, the three Legates that led the Legions stationed at the Horns, and several of the Tribunes within those Legions.  He paused a moment as he stepped into the chamber, as every eye instinctively turned in his direction when the door was opened.

Alix had a similar if much stronger reaction; she almost completely froze when all the other knights looked in their direction.  So many relatively powerful mages with their attention on her was incredibly intimidating.

“Sir Ursus!” shouted the booming voice of Trajan from within the sandpit.  The Prince waved at his youngest knight to join the rest of the knights in his retinue, to which Leon complied.  Alix, however, walked over to join the squires who lined the walls of the chamber.  Leon noticed that Charles, Henry, and Alain were all in that group of squires, so he nodded to them in greeting as he joined the knights.

For their part, Leon’s three friends were more than a little stunned to see Leon doing so.  They knew that he was a fifth-tier mage and served the Prince, but to see him actually stand among the older higher-ranked knights and be called out personally by Trajan was something else entirely.  They were so taken aback that they didn’t pick their jaws up off the floor until Alix slid into the group to stand beside them.

“Hey, I think you’re going to get dehydrated if you don’t tighten up those slack jaws of yours,” Alix playfully poked at them.

Alain maintained a dignified silence, Charles smiled at her in greeting, and Henry gave a few embarrassed chuckles, but they all quickly composed themselves and turned their attention back to the sandpit in the center of the training chamber.  They didn’t make any more conversation, though; the presence of so many high-ranked knights, and even a member of royalty, ensured that even the noblest of squires among their group kept their quiet.

That being said, there wasn’t much going on in the sandpit, either.  Trajan was there having a quiet conversation with Minerva and the three Legates who led the Legions, but the rest of the knights were simply hanging out between the pillars of the peristyle around the pit waiting for whatever the Prince had in mind to start.  Fortunately, they only had to wait about five minutes for the last couple knights to arrive before Trajan broke off the conversation he was having with the Legates, and the four sixth-tier mages joined the rest leaving Trajan alone in the sandpit.

“Good morning, everyone!” the Prince loudly exclaimed, instantly quieting the entire chamber.  “I doubt there’s any need for it, but just in case, I’ll introduce myself.  I am Trajan Anastasius Taurus, Prince of the Bull Kingdom!”

Trajan paused a moment for the traditional bowing of all the surrounding knights.

“I’ve assembled this group as part of a little tradition I enjoy,” the Prince continued.  “Every time a new Legion is transferred in, I like to have some of the highest ranked knights in all three Legions and a handful of the knights in my retinue participate in a little competition—all in good fun and to welcome the incoming Legion, so we won’t be competing for anything substantial, only your pride and honor as knights.

“Under normal circumstances, I would’ve called you all here much sooner, but the recent riots and the clean-up associated with that have postponed this little get-together.  However, with the city and fortress calming down, I thought it was time for us to welcome the 23rd Legion to our humble abode!”

Leon began to smile as he glanced around the room.  There were several dozen Tribunes in every Legion, but since the Legates only brought a few Tribunes with them, they made sure to bring the best.  To be fair and ensure that his side had equal numbers, Trajan only invited Minerva and a couple of his own Tribunes, in addition to Leon.

“Here’s how this is going to work,” Trajan explained, “as is tradition, one of the incoming Legions’ Tribunes must fight first!  They can call out any knight in any other unit that they wish to, but if they don’t, then any other knight may volunteer to spar with their new comrade!  And I do mean ‘spar’, there is to be no spilling of blood here!  We’re here to promote trust and cooperation, not to dishonor and humiliate any of our fellow knights!”

Trajan punctuated his explanation by looking around the room, making eye contact with everyone present, including the first and second-tier squires.  His body radiated power, enough to ensure that the knights took him seriously, but also enough for him to leave unsaid the threat of what would happen to them if they caused any substantial damage to their opponent during their spar.

After using his aura to impress his seriousness upon everyone present, Trajan continued, “After the first spar, the victorious unit will send another knight into the ring!  The Legate may choose to send another Tribune, or they may decide to venture out into the sand themselves!  At that point, the knight sent out will either challenge another from a different unit or wait for a challenge to come to them!  After that sparring match is finished, the victor’s unit will send out another knight, and so on!

“I authorize the use of elemental magic, but be sure to control yourselves!  Everyone will fight!  The squires will fight as well, but only once the knights have finished!  No one may fight battles consecutively!  They must take at least one round to rest!

“Everyone understand?!”  Again, Trajan cast his gaze around the room, almost as if he were challenging anyone to argue with the rules.  Instead, all he saw were the eager faces of knights looking forward to challenging each other.  Already, he could see several of the knights eyeing up those they wished to challenge.  He noted that many of the knights were staring at Leon in challenges of various subtlety.

This wasn’t lost on Leon, who made sure to answer with stares of his own.  Most of the knights who so clearly wanted to challenge him were those who had been around the Bull’s Horns since before his arrival, and they wanted to see first-hand exactly what the eighteen-year-old Tribune could do.  Some of them were jealous of his youth or position of favor with the Prince, some simply wanted to fight a strong opponent, but regardless of their specific motivations, Leon welcomed any and all of their challenges.  And his opportunity to showcase that willingness came quickly.

The first person to be sent out into the sand was Dame Ateia, Henry’s knight.  She was a tall woman, with a heavy tan and long black hair tied into a tight bun.  Her full lips were perpetually turned upwards in a smile as if she were chuckling at a private joke, and her deep brown eyes projected a sense of warmth and security.  She was in her mid-fifties, but as a fifth-tier mage, she barely looked to be in her late-twenties.

Ateia stood in the center of the sandpit, bowed to Prince Trajan, then began to almost theatrically scan the small crowd of knights.  She spun around once, looking each possible challenger in the eye before she turned her mirthful gaze to Leon.  She lowered the spear in her hand until the spearhead pointed directly at him in a direct challenge.

Leon smiled and grabbed a training sword from Trajan’s collection, from which Ateia had also gotten her spear, and jumped out into the pit.  From the sidelines, many of the knights began to whisper amongst themselves as the two fighters prepared themselves for their duel.  Trajan’s knights and those from Ateia’s Legion, however, weren’t so subtle as they called out for their person to win.

“Show him the strength of the Twenty-third!”

“Get her!”

“Don’t go easy on him just because he’s young!”

“You’ve got this, Ursus!”

Leon and Ateia each nodded gratefully to their respective sides before turning to face a smiling Prince Trajan.

“You two ready?” the Prince softly asked.

“Yes, Your Highness,” Ateia immediately replied.

“As am I, Your Highness,” Leon said.

“Good!” Trajan said as he moved to the edge of the sandpit.  “Then you may begin!”

Leon didn’t need any more encouragement; as soon as he could, he summoned his power and launched into a blistering assault on his opponent.  His goal was to win before Ateia could set up a proper defense, and with the enhanced speed he gained from lightning magic surging through his body, he felt that he had a damned good chance at doing so.

Unfortunately for him, while Ateia wasn’t as quick to move, she was fast enough at summoning her own power.  Leon’s strikes aimed at her vitals—her torso and midsection—were blocked by a swiftly summoned layer of thick ice.

Leon rolled with the setback and kept pushing against Ateia.  The latter had a spear and he a sword, so he was determined to stay close enough that she couldn’t bring her weapon around.  Ateia, however, had other plans, and summoned an ice spike out of her shoulder right in front of Leon’s face, startling him and forcing an instinctive step backward.

Ateia took full advantage of the interruption in Leon’s assault and gained some distance, covering her movements over the sand with ice and keeping Leon from pressing again without fear of slipping and losing his footing.  Ateia expanded on this by stabbing her spear into the sand, causing the ice on the ground to thicken.

Leon could tell that she was preparing to launch much thicker spikes at him, so he called upon his magic again and felt his chest heat up.  That heat spread from his chest into his left arm, and from his left hand sprang a bright red-orange flame.

The eyes of the entire group of spectating knights widened in surprise.  It was common knowledge that Leon was a lightning mage, and though he’d made no real attempt to prevent knowledge of it spreading, few people knew that he was a fire mage as well.

Ateia, however, was one person who knew about his fire, as she had seen Leon use his fire magic before when retaking the guild district.  Knowing what was coming, she flicked her fingers and conjured a wall of ice in front of her just as Leon extended his hand and let loose with his fire.

The battle between fire and ice raged for what seemed like hours for the two combatants but was in actuality only about five seconds.  In the end, Leon was forced to stifle off his magic power to take a momentary break, while Ateia was knocked off balance with the destruction of her ice wall.

Still, Ateia had come out a little further ahead, as even though her wall was destroyed, it had done its job.  And she didn’t intend to let that slight advantage slip by; while Leon was preparing himself to conjure more fire, Ateia suddenly rushed forward straight over the ice she’d summoned and stabbed toward Leon with her spear.

Leon was a little taken aback, but lightning magic still coursed through his veins, so he just barely managed to dodge out of the way in time.  Leon raised his blade and knocked Ateia’s spear away from him, allowing him to take a couple steps toward her and get in close.  Leon didn’t think he’d be able to penetrate Ateia’s icy armor with his weapon, as nothing had meaningfully changed since he had failed to do so previously, so instead, he lowered his weapon and charged with all the speed he could muster.

Ateia knew he was going to try and close the distance, to get in close where her spear couldn’t help, but she didn’t expect this.  Before she could conjure an ice spike out of her body, Leon crashed into her, almost knocking her to the ground.  As it was, he still got her off balance and might have managed to tip her over and win the duel if another wall of ice hadn’t sprung out of the ground behind Ateia, giving her something to brace against.

Ateia pushed back against Leon, dropping her spear in the process to get both arms in play.  Leon lost a little ground as she pushed back until they both found a kind of equilibrium with both pushing against each other to no avail.

Leon found her surprisingly strong—though as she was a fifth-tier mage, he by no means expected her to be weak in any sense of the word.  Rather, she was strong even for an average fifth-tier mage, who was already almost guaranteed to be in peak physical condition.  It was hard to see through her loose training clothing as her outfit didn’t expose much skin, but Leon had been able to feel before he was pushed back Ateia’s extraordinarily muscled body.

The two fighters were left there in a stalemate for a couple seconds, staring at each other with less than a single foot between them, feet planted and arms pushing against each other as they jockeyed for position.  In the end, though, they both realized in the same instant that the battle could only be decided with magic, not with raw strength or skill with their dropped weapons.

Leon once more summoned his fire, while ice burst forth from Ateia’s forearms like gauntlets.  However, before either could make another move, Trajan waved his hand and broke the stalemate by causing the sand beneath them to shoot up and knock them away from each other.

While they were reeling back, both thought to keep attacking each other, but the sand solidified and formed a wall separating them.

“I think that’s enough,” Trajan said with an amused tone.  “As I said before, we’re not trying to kill each other…”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Leon and Ateia said in unison.  They both reluctantly lowered their arms and allowed their magic to recede back into their blood and soul realms.

“We’ll call that a draw!” Trajan boomed.

The watching knights were a little disappointed, but the battle had been fast, intense, and flashy, and everyone had gotten a good idea of what each was capable of.

“That was a good fight,” Ateia said with a grateful smile as she took a few steps toward Leon after Trajan dissipated his wall of sand.

“It was indeed,” Leon said with a matching smile on his own face.

As the two warriors clasped each other’s hand in the center of the sandpit, to the muted and dignified cheers of the others in their units, they could see in each other’s eyes the desire to continue.

“We ought to finish this fight, one day,” Leon whispered, squeezing Ateia’s hand.

“I look forward to it,” Ateia responded, her face breaking out into a look of great expectation.  She squeezed Leon’s hand back and pulled him a little closer.  “When we do, I’m going to win.”

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As you can see, every tier will be increasing, though the lower tiers are definitely getting more for their money. I will be increasing these rewards again on June 1st to fix this, bringing every tier up to the standard of $1 = 2 chapters, so while it might not seem fair right now, it eventually will be ;)

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Chapter 224 - Alix v Henry

Chapter 222 - Decimius' Losses