“Roland! Please, come on in,” Prince August said with a good-natured smile when his friend arrived.
“Your Highness,” Roland said as he walked into the Prince’s office. The Prince looked even more tired than usual, with his face more pale and the bags under his eyes more pronounced, but he still moved with the same energy as he had three years ago, when he had first started more of an active role in political affairs. Despite this, it was obvious to Roland that serving as regent was getting to August; the Prince needed, but couldn’t afford, a break.
“What brings you here today?” August asked.
“I’ve been looking into something for a little while, and I’ve been getting delayed or stonewalled in my attempts,” Roland explained.
“Maybe I can help,” August generously offered. “What have you been looking into, and what can I help with?”
Roland had been thinking about how much he should say to August ever since he’d read the Consul of the North’s letter the night before, but he still needed a moment of silence to work up the courage. He was betraying his word, after all, and that wasn’t something that he found natural to do.
“When I was in the Northern Vales last year,” the Paladin hesitantly began, “I met a man. This man was exceptionally powerful, and he guided us to the grove of Heartwood Trees where we found that chunk of Heartwood Amber.”
“Yes, I remember you telling me about him. A Valeman of that level of power is certainly something to take note of, isn’t it?” August said with a tired smile.
“I… didn’t tell you everything, Your Highness,” Roland admitted. August’s smile faltered a little, but he remained silent, letting Roland explain himself. “This man swore me to secrecy, but I believe that it’s something you need to be aware of before I explain my purpose in coming here.”
Roland paused until August nodded to him to continue.
“Your Highness, that man was Artorias Raime.”
August’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when Roland said that, so surprised was he. “A scion of House Raime is still alive?” he wondered out loud. Out of curiosity, when he assumed the position of regent, he’d read the reports of what had happened when the local Legion arrived at Artorias’ villa after it had been attacked. No bodies had been found, but the villa had been nearly burned to the ground. After they’d been missing for a year, it had just been assumed that Artorias and his family had been killed in the battle that had obviously taken place.
“Artorias fled to the Northern Vales, Your Highness. From what I gathered, his wife was missing, but his son was present. He accompanied us through the Vales and to the Heartwood Grove,” Roland said.
“Why are you telling me all of this now?” August asked with a tightly controlled tone. “I assume Sir Artorias was the one to swear you to secrecy once he was identified…”
“That was indeed the case, Your Highness. He didn’t want me to inform anyone about his location and status.”
“Yet here you are, breaking that oath.”
“I believe it’s necessary, Your Highness.”
“Because I think that Artorias’ son, Leon, has come south and joined the Royal Legions!” Roland quickly walked Prince August through the, admittedly light and circumstantial, evidence he’d collected that supported his belief, how Luke thought he’d seen Leon, Roland’s discovery of a Valeman on the list of trainees with Leon’s name, and then about how he’d been jerked around by Nicomedes and the Consul of the North.
“So, you want to go to the Northern Territories and look into this ‘Leon Ursus’, to see if he’s actually Leon Raime?” August asked, to which Roland nodded in confirmation. “Well, my friend, this is a lot you’ve thrown at me. There was a Valeman incursion into Count Whitefield’s lands only a few weeks ago. It was relatively small and easily dealt with, but it has ignited a feud between Count Whitefield and his vassals and allies, and the Royal Legions. I’ve been in constant communication with both Sir Clovis and Count Whitefield, and I can tell you that things up there are complicated right now—it’s all I can do to prevent another battle from taking place.”
“I understand, Your Highness, and I wouldn’t ask to continue this investigation in the Northern Territories unless I thought it was required.”
August sighed, then said, “I will send you to Sir Clovis, in an official capacity. I will give you a missive that makes it clear that his rank as a Consul is lower to mine as both Prince and Regent. He will assist your investigation, or his rank will be forfeit.”
“Thank you, Your Highness.”
“And if you can, try to cool things between him and Count Whitefield. I don’t need a small civil war in the North right now.”
“I’ll do what I can, Your Highness.”
“If this boy really is who you say he is, then make sure to bring him back here. I’m sure those that destroyed his family are still out there, so we must protect him. Plus, when he grows older, we can return the Great Plateau to him, and cement the Northern Territories as loyal to the crown, as they were when Archduke Kyros was still around.”
‘… and make the Northern Territories loyal to me, or at least, keep them away from Octavius…’ August thought to himself.
Roland frowned a little, and asked, “Your Highness, that sounds a bit like you want to use him as a political pawn…”
August glanced at Roland and sighed. “Octavius has been spending the last few years drumming up support from the West and the South, while I’ve been stuck in the capital trying to keep the peace. I’ve made some progress with the nobles in the Eastern Territories, but I need the support of the North. If Father dies before I’m able to collect all the ingredients for the potion that will wake him up, then I’m afraid Octavius will run right over us. I’ll find myself upon the headsman’s block, my mother will be exiled, and my sister will likely be married off to one of Octavius’ supporters—assuming both of them don’t join me in death, that is.
“I can’t afford to lose to Octavius, my friend. If this boy you’re seeking can help me win, then I won’t hesitate to use him. But, I’m not Octavius; I won’t force him to do anything he doesn’t want to do. But, can you think of any greater reward for assisting a Prince than being granted the only Archduchy in the entire Kingdom?”
“That would mean going public with his identity,” Roland said quietly.
“And we’ll protect him. He’ll have my full support.”
Roland sat there in awkward silence for a little longer. After a minute or so, Prince August wrote up his missive granting Roland all the authority he needed to investigate Leon’s whereabouts, and then Roland was dismissed to organize his journey to the Northern Territories.
Aside from the time he spent training with Alix and the time he was with Elise, Leon focused on his enchantment work. Specifically, he and Xaphan were working on crafting the fire enchantments Leon wanted to carve into his armor.
[… and three more focusing runes near the edges, and that should do it,] Xaphan said.
Leon carefully wrote the last three runes onto the large sheet of paper in front of him and sat back to examine his work. It was a sprawling mess of runes emanating from the central glyph, five interconnected runic circles formed by more than fifty fire runes, fourteen light runes, and eight air runes. Around this central glyph, Leon added a large runic circle with fifty lightning runes. Spiraling out from there was a web of additional runes that controlled, amplified, focused, and otherwise altered the magic power that flowed through the enchantment.
Xaphan gave a deep sigh from within Leon’s soul realm. The fire enchantments were perfectly functional, he was certain, but the lightning additions that Leon had made were outside of his wheelhouse, and he had no idea if the overall enchantment was going to work.
[It’s fine,] Leon said confidently.
[And if it isn’t?] Xaphan asked.
[Then we’ll keep working on it until it’s fine,] Leon answered.
Xaphan took a deep breath, then said, [Then let’s hope it’s fine. Why don’t you activate it and see what you can see?]
Leon complied, pressing his palm into the central glyph and channeling some of his magic power into the enchantment. For a moment, nothing happened.
[… It’s not working,] Xaphan observed.
[I can see that,] Leon said. [I’m just not channeling enough power…]
Leon concentrated more; he wanted to see if the enchantment worked, but if he used too much power, he could destroy the spell paper it was written on. Fortunately, he had written down extensive notes as he crafted this enchantment, so he could recreate it if something went wrong, though it would be a time-consuming process.
But, Leon didn’t destroy the spell paper. The enhanced control over mana and magic power he acquired from ascending to the fourth-tier made it almost easy for him to adjust his magical output, so he slowly increased the amount of magic flowing into the enchantment. The central glyph began to glow, followed by the circle of lightning runes, and then the rest of the enchantment.
[It’s working,] Leon said.
[It’s glowing,] Xaphan corrected.
[That means the enchantment is working,] Leon countered.
[That means that the magic power is flowing to every rune,] Xaphan responded. [We won’t know if the enchantment works until we enchant something with it.]
Just at that moment, Leon heard a voice from behind say, “What have you been working on while I’ve been gone?”
Leon couldn’t help but smile, as he recognized the voice as coming from Elise. He turned and saw his lover standing in the doorway of the small enchantment workshop adjacent to her garden that he was working in.
“I’ve been writing down the first of the enchantments I’ve been planning on inscribing onto my armor,” he answered.
“Oooh, can I see?” Elise asked with an expectant smile.
“Of course,” Leon answered, and Elise almost bounced forward to examine the paper in front of him. She had just returned from a meeting with some of the merchants in the Heaven’s Eye Tower. They had wanted to arrange for some new supply lines to be established from the coastal cities along the western coast of Aeterna, and Emilie had thrust the responsibility for dealing with it onto Elise.
Elise suspected this was payback for turning down her mother’s invitation for dinner, but she considered it a small price to pay to avoid the awkwardness of introducing Leon to Emilie. Still, she hurriedly dealt with the merchants and came back as quickly as her formal business dress would allow. In fact, so eager was she, that she didn’t even change when she came back home, going instead straight to where Leon was working.
After a few moments, Elise looked over to Leon with a quizzical look. “Where did you learn these kinds of enchantments?” she asked. “I can barely tell what it’s supposed to do…”
“It’s designed to amplify and strengthen the fire and lightning magic that passes through it, as well as granting much finer control over it,” Leon answered. “I just don’t know how well it works. Having two separate enchantments for both elements would’ve been a simpler solution, but there’s limited space on my gauntlets, and I wanted to be as efficient as possible.”
“Want to test it?” Elise asked, giving Leon a proud smile.
“I assume you’re asking because you have a way?” Leon inquired. Elise nodded, so he said, “Of course!”
“Wonderful!” Elise said, almost jumping for joy at being able to show off. She hurried over to a cabinet and pulled out a sheet of ash-grey paper. “Copy your enchantment onto this, I’ll be right back!”
Leon nodded and got to work. The paper wasn’t that big, so he had to be incredibly careful; however, he’d practiced his enchanting skills enough that he had finished the core glyph by the time Elise returned. She’d swapped her tight black dress for loose-fitting white training clothes and had pulled her hair back into a loose ponytail.
“How’s it going?” she asked.
“Give me another ten or fifteen minutes,” Leon answered.
When he was done, Elise held out a cheap leather bracer. It was obviously old leather and wasn’t made from any magical creature, so the only use it could have would be for testing enchantments.
“Wrap this in that paper,” Elise instructed. “That paper will then burn the enchantment into the bracer, so you won’t have to carve or inscribe it yourself!”
Leon raised his eyebrows in surprise. He’d been assuming he’d have to use a small hammer and chisel to get his enchantments onto his armor and had been dreading it. But, if this paper could be used on the Magmic Steel his armor was made of, then he wouldn’t have to stress about making a mistake.
He hurriedly did as instructed and wrapped the bracer in the paper. The runes on the paper briefly glowed red-hot, and when he unwrapped the bracer, the runes had been burned into it. Running his fingers along the bracer revealed to Leon that the runes were slightly indented, meaning that they were far more than just burns that could be polished off.
Smiling, Leon put on the bracer, and he called forth a tiny fraction of Xaphan’s power. Elise already knew that he had some command of fire despite only being a fourth-tier mage, so she wasn’t surprised when a tiny flame no larger than a candle appeared in Leon’s palm.
[It seems to be working fine on my end, how’s it going with you?] Xaphan asked.
Leon’s smile almost split his face in half. [It seems to be working perfectly, though we’ll still need some testing to be sure.]
He quickly explained as much to Elise, but just as she was about to offer to escort him to her training room, a servant appeared in the garden just outside the workshop.
Alix had left after morning training to spend the day in the capital, so Elise had thought she and Leon would be able to be alone for a long while; she wasn’t thrilled to be interrupted. However, when she went to speak with the servant, Leon noticed a look of excitement on her face as the servant handed her a message before leaving to wait outside the garden.
Elise hurriedly read the message. It was only a single short paragraph, but Elise went from happy and excited to confused, and then to furious. As she scanned the message again, her fury only grew, and she began to emit killing intent, something which Leon didn’t think he’d seen her do before.
“That bastard!” she screamed.
“What is it?” he asked as he pulled her into a hug from behind.
“That animal!” she roared.
“What is it?” Leon asked again, with much more insistence.
“This,” Elise said, brandishing the message as if it were a thing profane, “is the conclusion reached from analyzing the invisibility enchantment you gave to us!”
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