“Leon!” Charles, who was still waiting outside of the bank, noticed Leon coming out. Leon saw Charles run up to him and collected himself. He had gone a little out of sorts after learning Adrianos’ name, so he clamped down on his fury and restrained his killing intent.
“So, did you get everything done that you needed to?” Charles was bursting with questions for Leon, especially about what business a Valeman could have with such a large bank, but he kept his mouth shut when he saw Leon again.
“Ok, on to the inn?”
Leon still had his five thousand silvers in his pack, and for a brief moment was tempted to find an inn somewhere other than in the slums, but he thought better of it. ‘Best not to make a scene, keep things low-key…’ he thought. So, he nodded to Charles, and they set off back to the slums.
Elise and the Tower Lord watched Leon walk down the street from a window in the Tower Lord’s office. The window hadn’t been there earlier, but the office had hundreds, perhaps even a few thousand convenience enchantments woven into it. Ajax could turn a wall in his office into a transparent window almost at will.
“You seem to have taken a liking for that one.” The Tower Lord said teasingly.
“Oh? What gave it away?” Elise asked, genuinely confused as to how he knew. All traces of seduction or coquettishness was gone.
“What didn’t give it away? You’re usually far more aloof to our guests, but you were all over him.”
“Well, it’s rare to see someone so young yet so strong.”
“Not for you. How many balls and parties did my sister throw for you back in the capital, trying to find you a match? I’m sure you’ve met at least half the nobles in the capital. Undoubtedly there were more than a few who were possessed of comparable strength.” Ajax glanced over at Elise.
“But there were none who also held a gold card,” she said with a mischievous smile. “Besides, all those boys my mother introduced me to were strong, impeccably dressed, well-mannered, and mind-numbingly boring. But Leon… I think I could have some fun with him…”
“Ha! Some fun, she says! As if she had any experience having fun!” The Tower Lord lost himself in raucous laughter, while Elise’ face flushed with embarrassment. She rarely spent time with people who were bold enough to actually call her out like this.
“Any-anyways, Uncle, I have decided to return to the capital.”
Ajax stifled his laughter and looked back at his niece. “Gotten bored of this place already, eh? Finally ready to go home? About damn time I say, my sister has been sending me messages almost weekly demanding that I give her news about you.”
Elise sighed. She loved her mother, but she could be a little stifling and overenthusiastic in her support of Elise. Case in point, the dozens of parties she threw for her daughter to meet the eligible men in the capital. It was too much, and by the time Elise was eighteen—two years after coming of age—she needed to get the hell out of the capital.
She was twenty now, but still not quite ready to go home. She glanced out the window again, but the reason she was going home had vanished from sight. As a sixteen-year-old third-tier mage with an illustrious name and a gold card, Leon was the first man she had met that she felt even came close to meeting her very high standards, so she wanted to keep an eye on him. He had great potential, and she intended to be as close to the action as possible. Not to mention, as the daughter of the capital city’s Tower Lord, she’d be able to watch much easier there than from here as an attendant.
“Oh, and by the way, you’ll be coming home to another step-father, my sister has taken another husband,” Ajax said with some slight embarrassment.
Elise resisted the urge to facepalm. As a Tower Lord, her mother was fully noble enough to have a harem, but she was always so flippant and casual about it. By Elise’ relatively outdated count, this would make her thirty-fifth step-father, not to mention her mother always takes three additional concubines for every new husband.
“Whatever. Let my mother do as she will, I’ll just get my own place. Leave the main estate to the lovebirds. The many many lovebirds…”
The inn Charles brought Leon to was about as Leon expected from seeing the rest of the slums. Made primarily of wood, but with a foundation of stone, and no enchantments that he could sense. Of course, the kitchen had an ice room, though it was so simple and cost so little magic power that it hardly counted as an enchantment. Ice rooms were basically the same as the ice shack Leon and Artorias had in the Forest of Black and White, just a large room with a few carved ice runes that kept the place below freezing.
The innkeeper behind the counter by the entrance was an older man, perhaps in his fifties, and barely a first-tier mage. Even without advanced breathing techniques, any commoner’s lungs will adapt to the magic in the environment given time. Most would never see the second-tier without proper instruction and training, though.
“Hey there, Pops, I found you a customer!” Charles’ unabashed sociability kicked in, talking loudly and waving to the surly innkeeper. The innkeeper himself just glared at Charles, but otherwise ignored him.
“What do you got?” Leon asked in a quiet tone.
“A bed in a group room for twenty silvers, or a room all to yourself for fifty,” the innkeeper replied, appreciating Leon’s quiet and businesslike demeanor, in extreme contrast to Charles.
“And food?” The first floor was taken up by a number of tables, chairs, and a bar, so Leon knew that this place would have something to eat.
“Dinner in an hour, breakfast around an hour after sunrise.”
“Got it.” Leon counted out fifty silvers, and the innkeeper gave him a key.
“Third floor, end of the hall.” Leon stoically nodded to the innkeeper, who stoically nodded back.
Leon made for the stairs, with Charles just behind.
“Nice, a single room! I have to make do with a bed in a group room, sharing with five other people!”
“Hey, Charles, how secure would you call this inn? Are there problems with theft and break-ins?”
“Oh, no, not at all! This place has some good beer for a very cheap price, so many of the younger guardsmen come here to drink and relax. No one messes with a bar favored by the Guard.”
Leon nodded in acknowledgment. The two soon climbed the stairs to the third floor, and Leon saw that there were only about ten rooms here, compared to the twenty he saw on the second floor.
When the two arrived at the door at the end of the hall, Leon turned to Charles and said, “It’s been a very long day. I’m going to rest for a bit here, but I’ll be down for dinner.”
“Alright! I’ll meet you there!” And with that, Charles went back down the stairs.
Leon unlocked the door and pushed it open. There wasn’t much to say about the room, a bed, a table, three chairs, a couch, and a fireplace. There was a door leading to a bathroom, and Leon found a toilet and shower with functioning water runes, and though they weren’t all that powerful, he was still very pleasantly surprised. He immediately dropped his pack on the bed, closed and locked the door, then took a shower.
Ice shacks and utilities powered with water and ice runes were required by the royal government, so even the most run-down inns and houses would have running water and a place to store and preserve food. But, of course, places like this inn wouldn’t have nearly the same level of care put into their construction as in the wealthier districts, so the shower Leon took was cold and the water pressure was lacking, but he got clean. Since he was a third-tier mage and had little reason to sweat, he didn’t stink, but he still felt dirty, and even a cold shower left him feeling refreshed.
After the shower, he rummaged around in his pack for a clean set of clothes, quickly changing before collapsing on the bed. He spent the next few minutes staring up at the ceiling, not doing anything. Dealing with so many people during the day, especially the seductive Elise, had left him feeling drained and exhausted. He stayed there for a long time, not doing anything, just decompressing and enjoying the relative silence.
Eventually, he rose and left the room. He kept all of his papers, bank cards, and IDs in his pockets, but left everything else locked away in his room. The door and lock were sturdy, so he wasn’t too concerned.
Charles was waiting for him down in the dining area. As usual, Charles talked Leon’s ear off with stories from the mining town he grew up in, and Leon just listened and watched the other two dozen or so people in the inn.
Something that interested Leon was a group of off-duty guards loudly complaining at the bar.
“Why do we have to help in this search?! It’s the paladin’s guy, let the damned paladin find him!” one man drunkenly shouted.
Another, slightly more sober guardsman responded. “It’s precisely because he’s the paladin’s man that everyone has to help. Besides, the paladin himself has other duties, so he can’t search with us.”
“Oh, bullshit! The fucker was last seen in the Exarch’s place, so he either went AWOL or he got snatched by some dickhead noble. No use haltin’ half the patrols in the city to find this guy, ‘specially when we got hundreds of other missin’ people to keep an eye out for.”
“Well, boss says jump, we gotta jump…”
“Damned assholes. All of ‘em, assholes…”
Leon soon stopped listening to them, as they just turned the focus of their complaints from the search for Adrianos to their boss. Leon didn’t really overhear much, anyways, but he was at least willing to bet on Roland not being involved in his father’s death.
After paying a few silvers each for dinner, Charles intended to talk to some of the ladies at the bar, but Leon stopped him first.
“Listen, think you could show me around a bit tomorrow?”
Charles looked a little hesitant. He guided Leon around today because he was grateful to him for saving his hide from the thugs, but he couldn’t just stop his job hunt for him. Fortunately, Leon noticed his hesitation.
“I can pay one hundred silvers for your time. I just need to find a good tailor and a barber.” Leon had been in the city for a while now, and he was well aware that he stuck out like a sore thumb thanks to his clothes and long hair, so he intended to change that.
Charles’ eyes lit up when Leon mentioned payment, but he restrained himself from immediately accepting. “A hundred coins for just that? Of course, but are you sure? You could buy a much better guide for that money.”
Leon frowned. Talking to Charles was difficult enough, he wasn’t willing to meet another new person. “Well, if you feel that I’m not asking enough, I suppose you could show me a bookstore or two, preferably those stocked with enchantment textbooks.”
The two made plans to head out again after breakfast, and Leon made for his room while Charles swaggered over to the bar.
When he returned to his room, Leon quickly locked the door behind him and barred it by jamming a chair under the doorknob. He then rummaged around in his pack for a minute or two and retrieved a pair of maps. One was the map of the city and the other was his map of the old palace. He may not have been able to visit the palace during the day since it was off-limits, but he still had methods to access the estate.
The map of the palace grounds had no less than five secret tunnels leading to various places around the city, with several access points per tunnel. Leon cross-referenced with the city map to find the closest access point and hoped that the tunnels hadn’t been discovered during the city’s recent renovations.
Leon glanced out of his window. The sun had fallen, so the sky was dark, but the main streets were still bright from the numerous magic lanterns that filled the city. There weren’t so many here in the slums, but he could see the luminous glow from the southern districts with ease. The city was still so bright, in fact, that Leon could only make out the brightest of the stars that he had been able to see up north.
Leon leaned back on the couch, intending to relax for several more hours, giving everyone still on the streets the chance to get tired and go home, when he heard a voice in his head.
[Xaphan! You’ve been pretty quiet, what’s up?]
[It looks like you’ve got some time, so let’s talk. There are some important things we should discuss…]
Leon sighed. He could tell from Xaphan’s serious tone that this was going to be a fairly serious chat, and he still had to find the palace archives tonight…
He glanced at the bed in his room. It wasn’t nearly so comfortable as the bed he slept in back in the prison, but it still called to him.
This was going to be a long night.
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