The owner of the noodle stall really knew his stuff. Leon smiled, savoring the last few bites of steak in the bowl. The stall owner was very pleased with Leon’s obvious satisfaction and enjoyment of the meal, but he was even more pleased when Leon tossed him a pair of silver coins.
It hadn’t even been five minutes, but Leon had almost inhaled the entire bowl in that time! Charles was quietly impressed.
“You must have been hungry indeed, to eat so fast!” he said to Leon.
Leon nodded in response. “There aren’t many spices up north. Most things are eaten without anything more than a little bit of salt, and some butter if you have the coin for it, so this was… well, I’ve never tasted anything quite like it.” Leon’s face was almost split in half from his unabashed smile, a far cry away from the stoic and serious young man from just a few minutes before.
But, a few moments later, he remembered what he had come to Teira for, and the smile disappeared.
“Well, with that done, let’s make for the bank.”
Charles was a little taken aback at how quickly Leon switched back into seriousness, but he smiled and nodded.
“Right! Just this way!”
The bank was several miles away, a good distance to walk in the city. Along the way, Charles kept talking, but Leon kept quiet. He was busy looking at all the shops he was seeing around. They weren’t much to look at since they were still in the slums, but he saw blacksmiths, tailors, cobblers, enchanters, and so much more that he would never have seen even in Vale Town.
But the real surprises for him were still to come.
Teira had no city walls, but there were some ‘gates’ that one needed to pass in order to enter the inner city. The one in the north was an immense triumphal gate, made entirely of gleaming white marble, glittering silver, and expertly carved ivory. There were statues and sculpted reliefs that depicted a great victory by a past Thunder King, a victory that was long forgotten these days, but for this arch that spanned the entire road.
Passing through the arch, Leon frowned at something he noticed. “Hey, Charles.”
“There any reason I haven’t seen any guards since arriving in the city? Would’ve thought they’d be guarding that gate.”
“Oh yeah, all the guards in the city have been combing through the city in the past week or so. They don’t have enough people to search the entire city, so most of the guards in the slums were called into Teira proper to aid in the search.”
“What could be so important for them to do that?”
“We had a paladin come through here recently, and one of his men-at-arms went missing. I heard he almost tore apart the south side looking for his guy. The paladin had to leave a few days ago, but most of the guards that can be spared are still involved in the search.”
“Hmm.” Leon knew exactly what happened to that man-at-arms, though he’d never say. At least it looked like Roland wasn’t to blame for the attack, but he still wasn’t going to take any chances.
The main boulevard through the city was quite wide, enough to fit four large carriages side-by-side going in both directions. The street itself was far better than in the slums, with no cracks or pits. The median in the boulevard was filled with bushes, trees, and colorful flowers, and the buildings were all made of beautiful polished enchanted stone. It was quite the contrast compared to the other side of the triumphal arch.
The boulevard was straight as an arrow, and Leon could catch a few glimpses of the palace ruins in the distance in between the carriages, wagons, and pedestrians. It was actually quite easy to reach the bank from here, Leon and Charles simply walked to the edge of the palace ruins, then turn south-west towards the giant tower at the western point of the diamond-shaped estate.
Along the way, Charles asked what the Northern Vales were like, but Leon didn’t say much in response, so Charles began talking about where he grew up. His family was from the Serpentine Isles, a tributary state to the west of the Bull Kingdom, several hundred miles out into the Endless Ocean. They had immigrated to the Bull Kingdom looking for work and ended up running a small mine to the east of Teira. Charles had left the tiny mining town for the big city when he was eighteen, but in the months that followed, he hadn’t made much of himself. He was still living in an inn, and could barely scrape together the money to eat.
Leon frowned a bit when he brought up his financial situation, prompting Charles to insist that he wasn’t looking for charity or sympathy.
It wasn’t long before they arrived at the Heaven’s Eye Tower. It was twenty stories tall, though it only had nine floors. It appeared to be made entirely of the same polished white stone seen everywhere in the Bull Kingdom and topped with a shallow dome of blue tiles.
The immense dark wood doors opened at Leon and Charles’ approach, behind which was a lavishly decorated atrium and enormous lounge. Leon took it all in, the painted marble statues, spotless furniture, an enormous crystal chandelier, and almost blindingly beautiful attendants.
“Hey, so since you’ve got business here, I’ll just wait outside for you to be done, then I can show you the inn.” Charles was clearly uncomfortable and very out of place in such an opulent setting, and after Leon nodded in acknowledgment, he left the tower as fast as he could without looking foolish.
Leon didn’t quite know where to begin, as there didn’t seem to be any receptionist, but a gorgeous red-haired attendant soon approached him. She looked to be in her early twenties and wore a beautiful black dress that, despite not exposing much skin, still hugged her body in just the right places to seem designed to inflame desire. She gave Leon a sultry smile, before bowing slightly and asking, “Welcome to Heaven’s Eye, how may our guild assist you today?”
Leon had barely spoken to anyone in his life, let alone a woman as beautiful as this, so he was a little stunned for a moment. Her attitude wasn’t as blatant as Freya’s had been back in Vale Town but was far more unexpected and difficult to deal with. His face went red with embarrassment, and the woman’s smile grew wider. She wasn’t as tall as Leon, but she was just tall enough to bring her face in close to whisper in his ear after raising her feet a little. She paused for a moment, to let her expensive perfume wash over him before speaking.
“Surely we can help you with something? Shall we discuss accounts? Do you wish to see a merchant? Or, perhaps, is there something else we can help you with here?” She gently reached out, took Leon’s hand, and looked deep into his eyes so seductively that the young man almost lost his mind. She even took another step forward, completely disregarding the dust and dirt from the road that was still on Leon’s clothes, and pressed her voluptuous body against his. But, if there were any hidden meanings in her question, they were lost on Leon, as he could barely think anymore.
“I, um… I… Here!” Unable to properly form words, Leon simply pulled something out of an inner pocket in his coat and passed it to the attendant. She graciously accepted it with a smile, but almost froze when she took a look at the golden card he’d given her. The attendant was very professional, she maintained her seductive atmosphere, but her thoughts were thrown into complete disarray.
‘This guy has a gold card? How did he get one? He doesn’t look like royalty…’ She surreptitiously took another look at him, while he was nervously glancing around, and she was pretending to examine the card. His lion’s fur coat was beautiful and eye-catching, but fur wasn’t in style at the moment, and the rest of him wasn’t so immediately impressive. His plain green tunic wasn’t much to look at, but the attendant was startled to see that it was made entirely of silkgrass! What surprised her the most, was that despite his young age, his aura was completely incomprehensible to her own early second-tier senses, an obvious indication that he was much stronger than she was.
She smiled to herself. She knew she had found someone to keep an eye on. Her interest had been piqued when he had first walked in, and where the other idle attendants just saw his simple clothes and the messy hair that hung over his eyes, she had seen the grace and fluidity with which he moved that came naturally to strong mages and those raised by the nobility. She was certain that with that magical strength at his age, he was either a high noble or would soon be raised to nobility in the next few years.
But the gold card, that was a pleasant surprise, as was his innocence. She smiled to herself, pulled his arm into her chest, and steered him towards a magic lift just off the lounge area.
“Come with me, Young Lord, it would be my honor to serve you.”
Leon had taken that moment of silence to calm down a little, but after that statement, his heart rate skyrocketed. He probably would have left in embarrassment were it not for the other people in the lounge showing him that his treatment wasn’t special. There were about a dozen other people there, each with an alluring attendant of their own dressed in very tight black clothing and acting very intimate. He even saw one of these people, a magnificently dressed woman who cared not a whit that she was in full view of everyone else, getting a little handsy with her rugged and muscular male attendant, who was eagerly responding in kind.
A few of these other patrons glanced back at Leon, not bothering to hide their looks of disgust at this unkempt young man intruding upon what they thought of as their domain. Maybe they would have even castigated him for appearing so barbaric in such an exalted place, but the sword at his hip and the attention of their own attendants quickly drove such thoughts from their minds.
After entering the lift and activating it, Leon tried to subtly take a few steps away from the attendant, but she stubbornly pulled him back towards her. She cast her clear green eyes towards Leon while the lift rose up the tower, bit her lower lip, and wiggled her body ever so slightly closer to him.
“Young Lord, I’m afraid I must beg for your forgiveness, I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Elise…” The lift rose with utter silence, so Elise spoke in a seductive whisper, leaving Leon even more flustered and unable to organize his thoughts. “Young Lord surely wouldn’t mind if I humbly asked for his honored name, would he?” She kept Leon’s arm tucked into the deep valley of her chest while pressing his hand against her abdomen and slowly pushing it lower. She timed it perfectly so that just before Leon’s hand reached the obvious destination, the lift arrived at the seventh floor and the doors opened.
Elise didn’t move, though. Leon had been completely overwhelmed by her, but he still had enough self-control to pull his arm away. She let him pull back, but then gave him a radiant smile, and asked again, “Young Lord, your name please?”
“Le… Leon…” He just barely managed to speak his own name, and she lightly grabbed his hand again and led him down the hall.
The hallway had a simple décor, with black granite floors, white stone walls, and a thick grey carpet. The magic lights in the building were soft and indirect, giving the entire tower a very calming air.
But Leon was anything but calm.
Elise led him straight to the only other door in the hallway, at the other end. The room on the other side appeared to be a private lounge, with several luxurious chairs and couches around a glass table, a minibar in the corner stocked with all manner of multicolored drinks, and a sliding door to a bathroom.
Elise took Leon to the largest of the couches and let him sit down.
“I’ll be right back with an account manager, you won’t go anywhere, will you?” She looked at him with a pleading gaze, to which he slowly shook his head. She gave him another smile, and sashayed back to the door, deliberately putting on a show for him.
But, as soon as she closed the door behind her, her seductive aura vanished, as if it had never been there. It was replaced with a business-like stoicism, and she quickly walked back to the magic lift. She took another look at the gold card in her hand, wondering again who Leon was and where he was from, while calmly waiting for the lift to descend to the sixth floor.
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