After taking a few minutes to catch his breath and to press some healing spells onto his left arm, Leon pushed himself back onto his feet. There wasn’t much left of the two men who he had just killed with demon fire, but he had to search them regardless.
Fortunately, the demon fire had dissipated mere seconds after its creation, since Leon didn’t continuously supply it with magic power—not that he was strong enough to do so. However, it soon became clear that if the two men were carrying anything incriminating, anything that might give a clue as to who they were or why they had made moves against him, then they were probably burned. But, Leon wasn’t too regretful. He believed that if he hadn’t used the demon fire, then he would’ve been in a terrible position. Plus, he suspected that neither of the men would’ve been carrying anything that could identify them or incriminate their boss to begin with.
But, just because Leon didn’t find any documents or other identifying materials didn’t mean he didn’t find anything at all. Both daggers used by the men were fairly generic, though of fine quality. Leon estimated that each would’ve sold for more than ten thousand silvers, even though they weren’t enchanted and lacked ornamentation. However, what really caught his eye wasn’t the weaponry; rather, it was a ring on the hand of the man who had been invisible.
After prying it off the man’s body, Leon gave it a good look. It was a simple gold band, set with a bright green emerald about half the size of his fingernail. The ring had been obviously enchanted, with the shining gem powering the enchantment, but Leon didn’t have the time to fully inspect the runes. Regardless, he felt it was obvious that the ring was what had made the man invisible, and he couldn’t help but smile as he slid the ring into his pocket.
Unfortunately, Leon’s harvest ended there. Apart from the two daggers and the ring, the men weren’t carrying anything of note. They weren’t even carrying any money.
[Hmm. They were professional,] Xaphan said. [I doubt local thugs would be so thorough in removing identifying documents and clothing, especially in this place…]
[I agree,] Leon said as he glanced out of a window at the tiny harbor town outside. He didn’t think that the town had more than a thousand residents, far too small a number to harbor professional assassins—especially not one that was of the fourth-tier.
[Thugs from such a small town wouldn’t attack a Legion galley, particularly not one with hundreds of soldiers aboard. And they certainly wouldn’t have the capability of putting the entire crew to sleep…] Leon muttered.
[It might be best to dispose of those bodies,] Xaphan suggested.
[Why?] asked Leon. [It’s possible a Blood Priest from Lineage Hall could identify them and get the noble House they served in a spot of hot water. Might even be public enough for me to hear about it and learn who sent them.]
[That’s something to consider,] admitted Xaphan, [but, any expert in demonology—such as any kind of blood mage—would be able to tell they were killed with demonic flame, which could out you as someone allied with me, a demon.]
Leon frowned. If that were to happen, he’d most certainly be executed without trial.
[So what are you suggesting?] he asked Xaphan.
[Destroy the bodies. Use a little more of my fire, but not so intense.]
Leon sighed. He wanted to know who sent these assassins—so he could add them to the list of people who wanted him dead and deal with them in a permanent fashion when he had the requisite power—but mitigating the risks to himself was far more important. After a few seconds of hesitation, he held out his right hand and conjured a small flame, barely bigger than a large candle, and set about burning the bodies.
Xaphan’s dark red demon fire was quite potent, and both bodies disappeared into piles of ash and bone fragments in a few minutes. Leon was left a little drained, as he had to continuously supply his magic power to keep them burning until the job was done, but it wasn’t nearly so tiring or damaging as using the fire for combat purposes. Plus, the demon fire wasn’t in any danger of spreading without additional supplied power from Leon, which was quite fortunate since he was below deck of a wooden ship—even more so for the sleeping crew and the two hundred soldiers, who wouldn’t have been able to evacuate had the ship caught fire.
When he was done, Leon kicked the ash around to try and cover up the obvious signs of a cremated body, which didn’t work very well at all. However, he found a broom after a little searching and did a much better job several minutes later, which he repeated for the ash piles of the first three thugs outside of his room.
Finally, he returned to his room and sat down on his bed, exhausted and in pain from the still unhealed burns, for which he immediately broke out a couple more healing spells. With Xaphan keeping an eye out for any more uninvited guests, Leon was able to relax for a little while.
He wasn’t quite able to sleep yet, though; he was still riding the high of surviving multiple attempts on his life and he didn’t think he’d be getting much, if any, sleep that night. To pass the time, he examined the spoils of his victory once more. He turned both daggers over in his hands a few times, but he didn’t discover anything new about them that he’d missed before. Instead, it was the ring he was most fascinated with, and consequently spent the most time examining.
[Hey Xaphan,] Leon began.
[What is it?] asked the demon.
[Have you ever heard of an enchantment that can track objects? Should I be worried about having this ring on me at all?]
[I think you’re fine. Tracking enchantments exist, but they take away power from the main enchantment, so they’re rarely placed on anything as small and single-purpose as that ring. Plus, they’d take away the limited space upon which to place that main enchantment. At least, that’s the way they work in my experience.]
[Thanks,] Leon said. He didn’t really think the ring was going to be tracked, but it suddenly occurred to him and he wanted to make sure. With his fears allayed—for the time being, at least—he began his examination in earnest.
The runes making up the enchantment on the ring were so tiny he had to squint if he was to make them out. To help himself, he dug out a few sheets of spell paper and began copying the enchantment down so he could see it without straining his eyes. This also made him vow to himself to redouble his efforts when it came to training; he felt that ascending to the fourth-tier would undoubtedly make his eyesight sharp enough to not have to bother copying down enchantments like that in the future.
It took Leon almost to the crack of dawn to finish copying. Upon being able to sit back and look at the entire enchantment, though, Leon was able to comprehend just a little bit more how far he had to go to truly be considered an enchanter; he couldn’t make much of the enchantment other than that the three core runic circles were made up entirely of light runes, which made sense to him.
However, around the same time as he finished his work, the galley’s crew began to stir. Leon was actually a little relieved when the ship’s alarms started going off, as he had been concerned that some of the sleeping crew wouldn’t wake up. But, after an exhaustive search of the ship that kept it in harbor for the entire day, the only Legion soldiers or crew members that were missing or dead were the three thugs who attacked Leon the night before.
Fortunately, no one asked Leon any questions that weren’t asked of anyone else, so he wasn’t bothered about the matter after the ship got moving again. There were still a couple knights who came aboard the ship to continue the investigation, but without bodies, it didn’t go very far. One of the cooks did end up being arrested, but he had no tangible information to give the knights, other than being paid a few thousand silvers to put an herb into the evening meal that put everyone to sleep.
So, Leon eventually arrived in Cyrene two days later. It wasn’t that remarkable of a city, with little in the way of things to do; no large parks, no historical monuments, and no arenas. The only thing of note was the enormous citadel in the center of the city, which was so big as to house an entire combat Legion of twenty thousand soldiers, plus another forty thousand soldiers involved in administration and logistics.
Leon’s business in Cyrene was with these latter soldiers. After disembarking the galley, Leon followed the other two hundred soldiers who had joined him on the ship and were also in need of station assignments. What followed was a mind-numbing six hours of paperwork, waiting in lines, and enduring odd looks from the people handling his forms. Bring a third-tier mage associated with the Knight Academy may have been enough to get him his own small cabin on the galley, but it wasn’t enough to skip the lines.
Compounding issues for him was the general confusion among the Legion bureaucrats about why such a promising young mage was only passing through on his way north. It would have been one thing if he had been sent to Cyrene to squire for the Legate commanding the local Legion, but instead they were to arrange transport for him to go to Fort 127. Many were baffled as to the orders, and Leon had been asked to wait more than once while some of the administrators debated amongst themselves about what to do.
Finally, Leon was called into a small cramped office by a fourth-tier Tribune who ran the processing battalion.
After a long few minutes of silence while the Tribune looked over Leon’s orders again and again, looking for any discrepancy he could use to avoid sending Leon where he had to go, the Tribune finally said, “You must have made some enemies, Ursus. Fort 127 is not exactly a prestigious post. It’s a tiny outpost on the northern frontier, watching over a pass into the Northern Vales.”
“Wouldn’t somewhere like that be an important position?” Leon asked, thinking of Clear Ice Fortress several hundred miles east on the Great Plateau.
“Normally, it would be. However, the land the outpost is built on is in the Whitefield County. The local Count and his ancestors have been incredibly stubborn with the Bull King’s attempts to secure the northern passes, saying that the Royal Family’s requests to build a fortress at the mouth of the pass is meant solely to station thousands of Royal soldiers in his lands for the purposes of extortion. The Royal Legions are only allowed to send five hundred soldiers, essentially a half-strength battalion, into the area, and even then, we’ve only been allowed to build a single wall.”
Leon frowned. If what this Tribune was saying was true, then he had been assigned to what was quite possibly the worst possible place, a fort so out of the way that he’d never gain the combat experience or political rank he had signed up for at the Knight Academy. He tried to keep an open mind, but if the posting was truly that bad, he figured he’d quit before his squireship was over and return to the capital to take Elise up on her offer to join Heaven’s Eye.
Eventually, the Tribune had to sigh and give up, putting Leon’s orders down. He could find no fault or loophole to exploit to keep Leon in Cyrene. For the time being, he had to send Leon off to Fort 127, but he certainly intended to take the matter up with the Legate in command of the citadel later. He figured that a seventeen-year-old third-tier mage from the Knight Academy was far too valuable to waste on some backwater fort, politics and noble machinations be damned.
Leon wasn’t aware of this, though, and he rode out of Cyrene on a large pony—the only mount that could be spared—with a first-tier mage acting as his escort. Neither of them spoke much over the following four-day journey, and the escort had to turn back at the last Legion posthouse on the ‘road’—more like a narrow dirt path on a barren rocky plain—and take Leon’s pony as well.
Leon was forced to walk the remaining twenty-four miles to Fort 127, alone and on foot.
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