Chapter 135 - Blood on the Naga

[They’re here,] said Xaphan.  It was much easier for him to use his magic senses outside of his body since regaining a small portion of his power, and he made sure to keep an eye out during the night for the men who intended to harm Leon.

Leon looked up from his work.  He was fully armored and had been working on the enchantments he intended to place on his armor to pass the time.

[How much time?] he asked Xaphan.

[About five minutes.  They’re currently sneaking through the halls of the ship, which is slowing them down.]

[Thanks.]

Leon immediately rolled up the spell paper he was writing on and slipped it underneath his bed, right next to the rest of his stuff, then he drew his sword, sat down on the bed facing the door, and waited.

He didn’t have to wait long, as Xaphan’s estimate was a little off; Leon heard the handle twist ever so slightly.  It was just enough that, if Leon were asleep he never would’ve heard, but the assassins also figured out the door was locked.  Then came the muffled clinking of someone with a lockpick getting to work.

[I don’t suppose there’s the possibility that these people only want to rob me, rather than killing me?] Leon wondered to Xaphan.

[They’re far too heavily armed for that, and they passed by all the other cabins on the ship to come straight to yours.  There’s no way they’re not here for violence,] Xaphan answered.

[That’s a shame.  I thought I might get away with not killing them,] Leon replied, his face twisting into a vicious smile.

[You might want to try to keep one of them alive, assuming that’s even feasible,] Xaphan said.  [They don’t seem particularly powerful, so you shouldn’t have any trouble with them, but still, they might pose enough of a threat that you’ll have no choice but to kill all of them.]

[I’ll see what I can do.  It’s not like I don’t want to know who sent them, after all…]

With a near-silent ping, Leon’s door was unlocked.  He quietly stood up and slid into a strong offensive position.

On the other side of the door, the man who had been picking the lock shuffled away, then nodded to the assassin in charge.  That man then cautiously tapped the third man on the shoulder, telling him to open the door.  There had been one time when, as part of a raiding party attacking a noble’s transport ship under the last Serpentine King, he had been in this same position.  He had opened the door and been almost instantly killed with a wind blade from a fifth-tier mage hiding within the cabin.  He’d obviously survived, but the memory still haunted him, so he had someone else open the door.

His caution turned out to be well-founded, because as soon as the door swung inward, Leon lunged forward and skewered the unprepared assassin in the doorway upon his sword, killing him instantly.

The other two assassins were caught completely off-guard; they had assumed that Leon would be sleeping, that he would be easy prey.  But, the intense burst of killing intent that now emanated from him showed them exactly how wrong they were.

Leon glanced to the assassins at his right and left.  This cursory look was all he needed to decide on his next target, the man to his left.  He was a third-tier mage, while the other man’s aura was harder to make out, but Leon could still tell he was also of the third-tier.  Leon didn’t want to be caught in between two assassins, even if one of them seemed far weaker than he was, so he went for the surer kill.

His killing intent nearly paralyzed the weaker assassin from fear, but he was still barely able to raise his dagger to meet Leon’s sword.  Unfortunately for him, Leon’s strength overpowered his own, and Leon’s blade was hardly hampered by the cheap dagger the assassin brought to bear.  The sword Leon inherited from Artorias sank deep into the assassin’s shoulder, not killing him immediately, but it was most certainly a mortal wound if the assassin didn’t receive intense healing in the next couple of minutes.

Regardless, the assassin was out of the fight, so Leon spun to face the last man.

The stronger assassin had been so surprised by Leon’s actions that he hadn’t been able to move at all during Leon’s attacks; it had been a long time since he had tried to kill anyone who had the capacity to fight back, after all.  However, by the time Leon finished off both of his underlings, the assassin had fought off Leon’s killing intent and lunged forward with his dagger.

Leon easily side-stepped and brought his sword down on the assassin’s outstretched hand, severing it at the wrist in an instant.

“GRAAHH!” the assassin bellowed in pain, his voice carrying through the entire back section of the galley.

Leon lunged forward and knocked the man to the ground, then with his sword at the assassin’s throat, he demanded, “Who are you?!  Why did you try to attack me?!”

He expected the rest of the cabin doors to spring open in only a few seconds, at which point the assassin would be taken to the brig and he would lose any chance to interrogate him himself, so he wanted answers right that very second.

However, the assassin remained silent, and the doors remained closed.  In fact, Leon couldn’t hear a single creak coming from the neighboring cabins, even after the assassin’s painful roar.

“Speak, damn you!” Leon demanded again.  The assassin opened his mouth to say something, to which Leon leaned forward a little to hear better, but a red rune suddenly illuminate itself on the assassin’s clothes.  Recognizing it as a fire rune, Leon immediately took his foot off the assassin and hurried back a few steps, watching as the assassin was engulfed in flame.

The fire didn’t spread, fortunately, but the assassin was killed instantly.

[Looks like someone didn’t want him to speak,] Xaphan observed.

[I guess this wasn’t just a simple robbery after all,] Leon added, the last of his doubts vanishing.  A brigand might try to steal from wealthy passengers if they share a ship, but they would never set themselves on fire if caught.  That was a terrible way to die, after all, and even though he didn’t scream, the assassin’s face had contorted in obvious pain as the rune had activated.

[There’s still one more…] reminded Xaphan.

Leon turned to the last remaining assassin, the man he had mortally wounded.  The man was still alive, but he was unconscious and rapidly bleeding out.

[He won’t live long enough for me to question him,] Leon said, noticing that his blade his sliced one of the man’s lungs in half.  He had no healing spells capable of saving the man’s life at that point.

Despite this, another fire rune lit up on both of the fallen assassins’ bodies, rendering them nothing but ash in seconds right before Leon’s eyes.

Leon sighed, then said, [I doubt they would’ve had any useful information, anyway.  They didn’t seem the sort to be anything more than hired thugs…]

[Indeed,] Xaphan agreed.

[Now, then, what in the hell is wrong with the crew?] Leon wondered, glancing around at the rest of the cabins.  He didn’t hear a single member of the galley’s crew stirring, not even the guards up on deck.  He was sure they would’ve heard that commotion and come to investigate, but no one came.  Leon still stood alone.

He quickly rose to bang on the nearest door and yell, “HEY!  SOMEONE TRIED TO ATTACK ME!  SOMEONE HELP!”

But nothing changed; he didn’t hear a peep from any of the other cabins.

[Something is very wrong,] Leon said to Xaphan.

[Keep your wits about you, young mage, those who arranged this might still be around…] the demon replied.

---

In an abandoned building just down the street from the port Leon’s galley was anchored at, a man waited for news of the assassination.  He was the one who had paid the thugs to attack Leon and had gone out of his way to do everything he could to ensure their job was a success.  He had bribed the kitchen staff to drug the crew’s evening meal—a meal which Leon hadn’t eaten—and had surreptitiously carved a few enchantments into the hull only a few hours before to keep everyone asleep.  He’d even tossed a few small pouches of herbs onto the deck that, once the pouch’s enchantments activated, knocked out the entire guard detail with sleeping gas.

He was cautious by nature, and the failures in his early career had only made him more so, which was why he had wanted some local thugs to kill Leon rather than do it personally.  He had done what he could to guarantee the success of their job, then stepped back to let them commit the actual murder.

Then, once the thugs finished the job, they would’ve been permanently silenced via the hidden fire enchantments on their clothes.  For all intents and purposes, it would’ve appeared they had killed Leon in the course of robbing him, then disappeared, and the guard detail would’ve only looked incompetent for letting them escape.  It wasn’t uncommon for the entire guard shift to fall asleep, after all, as it was unheard of for a ship carrying hundreds of Legion soldiers to be attacked—especially while in port, where the local militia could be called up if need be.

While this man was waiting, the door to the building opened, then seemingly closed by itself a couple seconds later.  He didn’t bat an eye at the strange sight.  Neither did he react when, mere feet in front of him, light bent and wavered, until another man appeared as if from nowhere.  This newcomer had in his possession a ring that, when enough magic was channeled into it, turned the wearer almost completely invisible.

The effect wasn’t perfect, the man couldn’t move quickly or attack anyone while the effect was active without becoming visible, but it still gave him an enormous advantage in his job as a spy.

“Is it done?” the waiting man asked.  He had a slightly worried tone as he knew that the thugs would’ve come to the building if Leon were dead, rather than the spy.

“No.  The boy is still alive, and all the cutthroats are dead.”

“All of them?” the waiting man asked, wondering if he misheard the newcomer.

“All of them,” the newcomer confirmed.

The waiting man sighed.  Even though his assassins failed, he couldn’t give up.

“What happened?” he inquired.  The newcomer quickly filled him in.  “Well,” he continued, “since everyone else on that boat is still sleeping, we should be able to finish the job.  Our target is only a single third-tier mage, after all.”

“But, wasn’t the whole point of getting those brigands to do the dirty work so we wouldn’t have to do it ourselves?” the newcomer asked.

“No, it was so if anything went wrong, we wouldn’t implicate the House.  We’ve already sterilized ourselves of—or at least I’ve sterilized myself of anything incriminating…” the waiting man said, glaring at the newcomer.

“A-as have I!” the newcomer hurriedly answered.

“Good.  Then we can move out.  We’ll get this done and be gone by the time anyone wakes up.  It’s not like we can return and simply tell the Young Lord that a few thugs failed to kill the boy; he ordered us to take care of it, after all.”

The waiting man made for the door.

“Wait!  I need at least five minutes for my ring to turn me invisible again!”

The waiting man scowled; he wanted to get this done, but he also didn’t want to rush and botch the job.  He glared at the newcomer and waited for the man to turn invisible again.

---

[Leon,] began Xaphan.

[What is it?]

[Someone else just boarded the ship.  They don’t seem surprised at the unconscious guards, so get ready for a fight.]

[Shit… Thanks for the heads up.]

After dealing with the three assassins, Leon had searched the galley as quickly as he could, and none of the people he came across could be woken.  He’d even investigated the deck and found all eight guards unconscious and unresponsive.  So, he’d taken to resting in the galley’s small common room in the center of the ship.  From there, Xaphan could spread his magic senses over the entire galley, to keep an eye out for anyone who woke up.

But instead, he saw a new interloper.

[Do you have any idea what magical tier they are?] Leon asked.

[Looks like the fourth-tier,] Xaphan said grimly.

‘Damnit,’ Leon thought.  His face turned grim and he drew his sword again, then moved to the shadows of the lounge and froze, melting into the darkness.  The galley wasn’t even close to a forest—Leon’s preferred terrain—but Leon could still make use of some of his hunting skills.

[He’s coming down the main stairs.  Hmm, looks like his destination is your room because he’s coming this way…] Xaphan said, keeping Leon updated on the interloper’s movements.

Leon took a few deep, silent breaths.

‘A fourth-tier mage… My surprise attack can’t miss, or else I’ll probably lose once this devolves into a direct fight…  I’d definitely need Xaphan’s fire in that case…’

As Leon thought about how he was going to get out of this, the door to the lounge opened without a sound, and Leon saw the interloper.  He was dressed all in black, had a drawn dagger, and moved with a grace that suggested a noble upbringing.  His footsteps were slow, silent, and measured.  His head turned on a swivel, with every detail of his surroundings falling into his view.

But, Leon had hidden in a dark corner behind the door, which gave him a few seconds of time before the man saw him.  And Leon wasn’t about to let that advantage go to waste.  He lunged forward and stabbed with all of his power, trying to end things in one blow.

“Watch out!” came a shout from seemingly nowhere, and Leon’s sword halted in mid-air.  Then, right before his eyes, a second man materialized, with his arm raised and his hand grasped firmly on the blade of Leon’s sword.

Leon’s eyes widened in surprise and he jerked himself back, slicing clean through all of the invisible man’s fingers in the process.

The invisible man grimaced in pain, but he drew a dagger and lunged forward at Leon.  The first interloper took this ambush completely in stride; he showed no surprise or hesitation as he wheeled around a table on Leon’s left and tried to flank him.

With one man attacking from the front and one from the side, Leon did the only thing he could do in that situation: he called forth Xaphan’s power.  If he did anything else, such as try to block one of the incoming attacks, the other would certainly connect and do catastrophic damage to him.  Plus, with the knowledge that the first man was a fourth-tier mage, Leon was already nervous enough to resort to his borrowed demonic power.

Leon raised his left hand to the first interloper and felt a scorching power flowing through his arm.  It built up in his palm, then after a split second, exploded outward in a gout of flame that caught the man completely by surprise.  The fourth-tier mage tried to stop his attack, but he had been too confident and rushed in to attack Leon; he took the full force of Xaphan’s demon fire and was hurled backward.

Leon didn’t have time to follow through, as he had to block the invisible man’s attack at the same time.  However, the invisible man was so taken aback by a third-tier mage wielding elemental magic that his attack lost all power.  In fact, he tried to take a few steps back to get out of range of a likely second blast of flame.

He moved quickly, but he didn’t move fast enough; Leon had deflected his first attack and lunged forward to stab him in the chest.  The invisible man managed to block with his dagger, but Leon raised his left hand and, to the horror of the invisible man, conjured another burst of fire. 

As the demon fire washed over his torso, the man gave a horrifying scream, fell to the ground, and began to writhe in pain.  He was desperate to put out the fire, but demon flame wasn’t so easily extinguished.

While he was doing that, Leon turned back to the first man.  Despite being hit by the same fire attack, he hadn’t made a sound.  His tolerance for pain prevented him from making noise, but nevertheless, the first interloper had already succumbed to the unexpected elemental attack.  He was lying motionless on the ground, everything above his navel blackened and only vaguely recognizable as human.

Leon turned back to the invisible man, whose cries of pain had ended startingly quickly.  He, too, was left dead on the floor, his body horribly burned.

Despite both assailants being quite obviously dead, Leon moved forward and gave their corpses a few kicks, just to make sure.  Then, as his adrenaline from the brief fight wore off and the pain from using Xaphan’s fire settled in, Leon collapsed backward into the waiting cushions of a nearby couch.

—-

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Chapter 136 - Cyrene

Chapter 134 - The Galley