Chapter 14:

A Brush With the Best

Adventures of Zeleon

Tomorrow arrived faster than Leon had hoped, his thoughts churned like a nonstop blender the night before. This caused him to only have a few hours of sleep before his alarm cruelly woke him up from his slumber. As he went through his usual exercises, he was noticeably out of it. Katrina saw him exit the training room, shaking the cobwebs off, or at least trying to.

"This isn't my place really...but are you ok? You look like a zombie."

"I slept like hell, some things happened yesterday, and they kept me up thinking half the night."

"Then go take a nap after breakfast Leon, if someone saw you like this they'd be wondering if you were sick or worse."

"Fine, fine. I'll take a nap later. Though it's a different side of you. I thought you'd at least insult me about it or something."

Katrina gave him a dirty glance after his comment. "I may not like you, but your health shouldn't be ignored. When you fail you should go back home in one piece."

"Ahhhh, that's more like you, but after yesterday...not only won't I fail, I CAN'T fail."

Leon walked past her as he went into the kitchen and made his own breakfast with the aid of the chef on staff, a surprisingly younger guy who looked like he was in his early twenties.

"Sir Leon, you look exhausted. May I suggest some milk along with your pepper stuffed omelet to aid in some rest?"

Leon looked up at him with a gentle smile as he was hunched over the counter. "That's actually a good idea. But please drop the Sir, I'm not much into honorifics."

"Ah, my apologies Leon, I'll remember that in the future."

Leon shook his head with a gentle smile. "No apologies needed. Thank you for this."

Leon went to the dining area and ate his breakfast in peace, with thoughts of him and his mom eating breakfast together every morning. It was a small sign he was homesick, but he knew, somehow, some way, she'd understand his actions. But...home was the ultimate goal after the craziness of Zeleon.

Leon finished his breakfast, cleaning his dishes afterwards. He headed upstairs to his room and crashed the moment he hit the bed.

Several hours passed before he woke up to Courtney standing over him, her expression was one of concern as Leon wasn't usually passed out in the later part of the morning.

"Leon, are you ok? Are you getting worked too hard?" Her cold, but soft hands touched his hand as he yawned, lifting his head up a bit off the pillow.

"I'm fine, I just didn't sleep very well last night."

"Oh, I see. Did you meet…her? Her scent is on you." Courtney hesitated as if she wanted to say her name but refrained from doing so. Leon sat himself up as she sat on his bedside, letting out a soft sigh.

"Yes...and in doing so I found my job is going to be harder. Not because she's stronger than expected, but because she's not a bad person."

"I should've known. But, I'm glad you were able to get along."

"She wants you to meet her." Leon stated swiftly before he forgot.

The vampire's face twisted into a look of despair as she pointed her head down. "I will...eventually. I need a bit more time is all."

Serena interrupted the conversation as soon as she opened the door to Leon's room. "Ah, you're up now. Katrina told me you didn't look very good this morning so you'd likely be in here." Courtney looked up to her, managing a smile, as Serena shut the door behind her. "Are you playing nurse for him now Courtney?"

Her face showed an obvious amount of embarrassment as she turned away. "I was just checking up on him, especially since he had...her scent."

"I see, well they both got along, and nothing happened outside of the gnats making their presence known."

Leon looked between the two and could feel a bit of tension, so he quickly redirected the conversation. "What brings you here to me Serena?"

Thankfully, Leon's idea worked to keep them at bay, at least for now. "I have a surprise guest I want you to have a battle with. We'll leave here as soon as you feel awake enough to do so."

Serena left the room quietly leaving Courtney and Leon alone once again.

Leon yawned as he tried to wake himself up. "Are you ok enough to do this today Leon?" Leon nodded, holding the vampire's cold hand in his to try to relax her.

"I'll be fine. You need to really take a breath today, every time she's brought up you're really tense."

"I'll try….I'm sorry for how I'm acting. I just...feel like Serena forced the issue." Leon released her hand as he rolled out of bed on the opposite side. "There's a reason. That reason kept me up half the night. I don't fear confronting her like I used to, in fact...there must be something wrong with me, because I welcome it now."

His words were boldly spoken, anyone could feel the spark out of them, especially when he focused his gaze into your eyes. Courtney felt this very feeling. "Is he...more confident somehow?" She smacked her cheeks firmly before jumping to her feet. "I shouldn't be making you worry. As much as I hate it, I'm a vampire. I need to be protecting you, not the other way around. You're the last piece, not the entire puzzle. From now on, I won't let myself fall into the deep, unless it's to pull others out of it."

Leon tried to hold back laughter as she was speaking, her sudden inspirational speech was amusing to him, but it was obvious she needed to pep herself up. "You're so funny to me sometimes. I'm glad you are being you. But...can you vacate so I can get ready for yet another unknown?"

She cocked her head at him staring him in the eyes creepily, like something from a horror movie. "Trying to get rid of me so soon? Leeeeoooonn?"

Her voice matched her demeanor, Leon just blankly stared at her. "You know it's not like that."

She popped her head back upright and gave him a big fangy smile. "I know! I just wanted to mess with you a bit. Good luck with whatever Serena has planned for you, knowing her it's something extreme." She gave a soft wave as she hopped off the balcony outside.

Leon quickly changed into his outfit he wore the day before, heading down to meet Serena who was at the door.

"We're leaving the capital today, Gwilym is going to meet us at the southern gate."

"The southern gate? That's in the direction of the wilds isn't it?"

"Always so cautious about your surroundings aren't you? But yes it is, we're headed there for a very special reason. We'll be safe, trust me."

Leon sighed as he was brought along on yet another misadventure, being whisked along quietly as the Queen wore a cloak and a mask, with more commoner clothes to not get too much attention.

"I miss the days of being anonymous, now I can't even go outside without wearing things like this."

"If all goes accordingly, I'll be in the same boat as you, not that I wasn't on Earth. Being recognized there was awful, and everyone would pick a fight with me just cause they thought they could."

"Life just isn't fair is it? Getting a celebrity status for a bad event, or in my case to help my own people."

The two pressed onward before connecting with Gwilym, where they continued to trek on foot for hours until they entered the south wilds, a heavily forested area that the sun struggles to break through. Leon's head was on a swivel, unsure of what creatures lurked around them.

Gwilym looked at Leon and saw how cautious he was, compared to his much more relaxed state. "It's fine Leon, a lot of ground floor creatures are fairly harmless here. Just relax a bit."

He looked at Gwilym, almost with a glare. He continued to trudge along before he finally spoke. "Why are we out here?"

"Questions are always answered in due time Leon." Serena responded with her typical nonchalant tone whenever he wanted a straight answer.

There was suddenly a rustling that moved all around them up high in the trees that caught Leon's attention. The other two also looked up as he fixed his gaze, catching a singular shadow. The shadow stopped on a tree branch and hopped down to the forest floor. Leon drew his sword and readied himself, with the two ignoring it as a threat as the shadow moved into a break in the trees.

What emerged was a woman, roughly a bit taller than Serena but shorter than Leon. She wore a green cloak that laid around her green hair that looked parted at the scalp. Her clothing was tight, having on black tights with a thicker leather forest green top that covered her chest and cut off at her shoulder, her forearms were covered with a similar material, with tied boots on just under the knee. As she spoke, her voice carried a softness to it. "Well. It's nice to see you all got here safe, I was a bit worried for a moment. Seems I startled my future competition, haven't I? My apologies Leon."

Leon was confused as to who she was, though she obviously knew him. "Um, who are you?"

She pulled her cloak off showing her face more clearly, her eyes were a deep green like her outfit while her fair skin showed out much more than before. "My name is Maeva Alderwood, and I hope to be your opponent in the Guardian Tournament."

"This was the surprise you wanted to know Leon, you'll have a best two out of three mock battle with each other today." Serena spoke with a bit of cheer to her voice, possibly because she was relieved to not be the one practicing against Leon.

"Wait….is this the betting favorite Maeva Alderwood?!" Leon was both in shock and nerves came over him, she has projected three to one odds to be the next Guardian amongst bettors.

"Eheheh...I don't like that being out there but yes I am her. Serena asked if I would face you to test how much you've improved. I accepted because I'll be the only one to know what you can do to an extent." She smiled nervously, gently twirling her hair.

Leon noticed her nervous twitches and was a bit confused. He expected her to be an outward personality with her prowess. He sheathed his sword and walked a few feet away from her. "I guess this gives me a chance to see what a true fight is like."

Maeva smiled as she walked several paces away, as both Serena and Gwilym moved off to the side as well. Maeva turned back to Leon as her soft eyes were focused, and her nervous expression was gone, it was like she was a different person, as she drew out two outwardly curved blades that she held with a reverse grip. Leon drew his blade holding it tight with both hands knowing he was in for it.

"The rules are simple, no lethal force and the winner is determined by a forfeit, a successful blade to the throat or if I deem one of you unable to continue. Now, if you are both ready, nod your head." Serena stated aloud. They both nodded their heads without breaking their gaze. "Begin!"

As her voice sounded off Maeva boldly made the first move, charging at Leon head on. He held his feet firmly under him and watched her close, preparing for the toughest fight of his life. 

Maeva was fast, closing the distance between herself and Leon within a few heartbeats, striking at his blade with her twin weapons aggressively. The clanging of the weapons filled the otherwise quiet forest. Leon was forced to backpedal almost immediately; her strikes were fast like a swift breeze, faster than any movement he could make than to just continue focusing on blocking each strike that she threw at him. "I'm completely overwhelmed right now, where was the thought process of I'm definitely not ready for someone like her! I need to watch my feet, a misstep over a branch and I'm down a loss already.

A tree was nearby where he was forced to keep moving, Leon waited for the opportunity between her strikes and pressed his blade with both his hands into her weapons and charged, maneuvering her back into the tree using his raw strength. Maeva simply smiled at him, as she tried to find an escape from the predicament. "Quite the desperation move you made, but I don't hate it." Her voice lacked the timidness it had previously, making Leon wonder what she was really like.

He shook those thoughts quickly and struck her in the gut with his knee, making her cough and gasp being pinned to the tree still. "I was waiting to see if he'd follow up with something more flashy and I paid for it. He may be new to proper fighting, but a fight fight…" Her thoughts were cut off as Leon used the opportunity as much as possible, repeatedly giving her knee strikes in the gut before she consciously slid down the tree, left coughing and having the wind knocked out of her. Leon backed away about 10 paces afterwards since they weren't allowed to use lethal force.

"Yeah, he was definitely in street fights because he didn't hesitate. In an actual fight that would've been it. I need to tighten it up if I don't want to get shown up." Maeva made it back to her feet after catching her breath, holding her stomach a bit. "I thought holding back against you would've been the best action but that was a wake up call." She gripped her blades and charged at Leon's left, he stood his ground and blocked her strike. He moved to his left to avoid her getting behind him, but she planned on him to do that, as she was on top of him already.

Maeva kicked out his right leg and jumped to grab his arm as he fell to his back with a hard thud. She pulled back on his arm putting him in an arm bar, cranking back on it a bit. The pain was excruciating even without a full pullback and Leon had no way of freeing his arm, he did the only thing he could do. Her legs were laid over him and her tights were skin tight; he bit her in the thigh as hard as he could. Maeva was both in shock and so completely embarrassed that her face turned tomato red, she had to hold in a squeal and let him go before she did.

"H-hey! You can't just do something like that to a girl!" She squealed at him as she put distance between them as she skittered across the ground. Leon quickly hopped to his feet as he took a deep breath. "In a real fight that could've been a broken arm."

"Ugh. Courtney, what did you teach him?!"

"You think Courtney taught him to do that? That seems like a stretch."

"I know she did. She probably told him to eye scratch and other things too…"

"In a desperate situation of life and death Serena, one must do whatever necessary to survive. It saved him from a guaranteed loss."

"You're right. I just hope he didn't spark bad blood by doing that."

Leon charged at her while she was down, and she barely got to her feet and blocked his strikes. Now he was on the offensive, in spite of their skill gap, one missed block and she'd be down a quick one to nothing. He swung aggressively, with loud spark laiden clashes between their weapons as he pushed her into a tree.

With an almost lightning quick move, she jumped back into the tree and kicked off with ease. Leon managed to see enough to sidestep her aerial assault, leaving her exposed with her back to him as she landed. She turned with her guard up for his next attack, but he slammed her with his perfected power swing, it knocked her blades out of her hands and off her balance from pure sheer force. Leon moved into her, pointing his blade at her throat. He let out a massive breath as he did, he was sweating not just from the fight, but his own nerves.

"Leon takes the first win! One more and he wins this mock battle!" Serena said aloud like a proud mother.

Gwilym shook his head. "Your bias is showing so obviously….."

" surprised me." Maeva walked to her blades after Leon lowered his blade, a bit shocked. "I thought I had you right there. You've had street fights back home haven't you?"

Leon nodded. "I did. But, they weren't high skill or proper like this. I was really nervous."

She giggled at him softly. "Proper is overrated. When you fight just anywhere there's no rules, reaction and survival take priority, making your true instinct get trained. But, I assure you this. You've won your last match today." She spoke with utmost confidence as she walked back to their initial starting point.

"Great, I inspired her now. Though I went into this not expecting to win once. I have to try my hardest to win now."

As they set themselves back up again, the pair looked at each other with more intensity. It's become Leon's match to lose and Maeva's to win. Both learned a bit about each other, and what the best way of winning over each other is. "Are both of you ready?" Serena stated. They both nodded without breaking a gaze. "Begin!"

With that mark Maeva rushed Leon once again, this time coming off his left flank. This was his off hand side, forcing him to pivot and move back from her. This movement was his own doom, her movements were as graceful as a ballerina when she got close. His sword was pointed out leaning to his right; she took advantage by spinning with her blades out in her reverse grip, forcing him to hold his spot, leaving him open at his back. Maeva jumped on his back and swapped her grip, getting one blade at his throat in a very sudden few moments.

"I told you. You're not winning another match." She said with a strong tone in her voice right before she got off of him.

Gwilym and Serena were taken by surprise by the sudden win, not expecting the skill gap to come into play the way it did. "Maeva takes the second round! The final round determines the winner!"

"What the fuck just happened?! I moved once and she blindsided me! Ugh...I think I feel my competitive spirit coming into play. It's like playing a fighting game and grinding the first win just to get destroyed in the second by a big combo and a super move. I NEED to give her a fight this time, fuck the skill gap."

Leon marched to his spot as he was more intense, his focus on the final round heightened. There's no more nerves, no more pressure of taking a single loss. He's ready to lay it all out and put up a fight win or lose. Maeva felt his energy change as she looked at him. "He looks more determined than last round. I need to be more careful and not let it become a fist fight."

"Are you both ready for the final round?"

They both nodded.


Leon ran away immediately, forcing Maeva to chase after him. In a foot race she was no match for him, he left her in the dust as he went way ahead into the foliage. Maeva caught up to where he went but had no visual on him, making her exceedingly cautious, being unsure of his strategy. She soon saw his blade pointing out of a patch of bushes, without hesitation she attacked to only find the blade there. Leon bum rushed her while her guard was down, giving a powerful shoulder tackle knocking her clear out of the bush, going over 10 feet backwards across the ground. He picked up his blade but sheathed it, he was going to make this a brawl over a technical fight.

By the time Maeva processed what happened and got back to a vertical base, Leon used his long leg and Spartan kicked her chest, then proceeded to chain it into a jumping knee strike that caught her chin cleanly, jacking her jaw as she fell back off her feet once again. He pulled his blade out and almost got it to her throat before she rolled under a bush quickly. "She's not done after that?" He thought, moving slowly to the bush she went under.

Maeva sprung out with a vengeance, using her graceful but deadly movements as her blades clashed with his sword again, while incorporating low kicks to keep him honest. Leon countered her barrage with small parries that pushed back against her, while making a failed sweep attempt that she avoided with her fancy feet. The clash of their weapons was counter after counter, each trying to gain ground over the other.

Leon pushed her back harder, knocking her backwards to set her up for his swing. She caught onto him and attempted to flank him on his left, only to be forced to block a reverse swing with his off hand. Maeva was duped, and Leon had positioning as he got her throat in his blade's range. She ducked as soon as he did and used his height against him to slip under right into his body pressing her blade to his throat.

As soon as he realized what happened, he laughed. He had her movements down except for this one escape route of using his own frame against him.

"I've never heard opposition of mine laugh so much. Heh, it's kind of refreshing." Maeva smiled as she slid out from under Leon's arms.

He sheathed his sword before letting out a deep breath. "I lost this completely in the end, over something so minor.."

Maeva flicked his cheek. "Don't kick yourself over it. That comes with experience Leon. You did incredibly well for a newbie, in fact, I need to put more effort in. I plan on facing you, I hope you plan the same." Leon nodded and let out a small sigh as she continued. "All my life, I've wanted to be the Guardian and protect the integrity of this place. Now, I feel it in my hands already, and no one will stop me from that end. If you want it Leon, you're going to have to take it from me, remember that."

He looked down at her deep green eyes and saw the intensity in her gaze. He smiled as he looked forward. "Mountain peaks are one of the hardest places to breathe above ground. To survive there you must be a combination of tough and crazy, and ever since I've arrived here, I've felt like I've sat idly at the peaks. I look to climb higher, because I can't allow myself to break, I can't allow myself to fail. At the highest peak, I look to see you across from me, and give a fight of the ages."

"Pretty philosophical aren't you?" She asked him with a sly smile.

"You tend to learn a lot more without distractions from others for several years." As they met back up with Serena and Gwilym, Leon took a step back, notifying who won between them.

"It's alright, Leon. I know you did your absolute best. But you've made significant strides, I know exactly how to push you more."

Maeva spoke first aloud. "Leon, don't stand behind me, it was close." He stepped up next to her as she waited for him to do so. "He held his own very well, his technique still needs a lot of work, but if he turns it into a brawl, I'd give him the advantage against most anyone."

"That was to be expected, I already have an idea in place of what to do. But I sincerely appreciate your time and input."

"Heh. Not a problem my Queen." Her voice came out shyly again, Leon caught that and wondered if she was nervous speaking to royalty? "I got valuable information on Leon today, if I hadn't, I might've underestimated him. But I should be going." She turned to Leon with a sly smirk. "Next time, I will put in a hundred and ten percent, so be prepared Leon." She said before she ran off and swiftly jumped from tree to tree with ease.

Gwilym shook his head towards Leon. "You have your work cut out for you. That girl has begged me to have herself tested. She may not look it, but she's 26 and held off having a family for this purpose, something her husband has supported her whole heartedly."

Leon's face turned grim for a brief moment. "I bit a married woman's thigh…?"

Serena tried not to laugh as she responded. "You...hmhm..did indeed Leon."

"What the hell is funny about that I actually feel bad now damn it! I gotta apologize the next time I see her." Leon hung his head down with a sigh as he began walking back.

The pair followed in after him as the late afternoon came on the long trip back to Zelenia on foot. "Leon. I've got a couple of ideas left to get you rolling fast. We have four and a half months yet, and we're going to really push to get improvement."

"I'm really going to be in for it aren't I?"

"Indeed you will be."