So, when I told all of you about the bad ratings on Royal Road I've gotten in the past weeks, I was honestly not expecting the response you all gave. I thought, maybe 5, maybe 10 ratings, but instead you've given me almost 50! I'm almost speechless with gratitude. I don't know what else to say, other than thank you for the support! All of you are the best! =D
The galley Leon had to take north was slow and cramped. Two hundred fresh soldiers were being taken to Cyrene, a fortress city in the royal demesne situated along the Naga River, and they were packed into the hold as tightly as possible; they had to share space with dozens of the galley’s crew members, too. Leon, however, as both a third-tier mage and someone associated with the Knight Academy, was given a tiny cabin all to himself that was separated from the main hold.
Leon was grateful for the small amount of privacy this afforded him, but it still did little to mitigate the unpleasantness of the journey. This was the first time he had ever been on a ship of any size, and even on the calm waters of the Naga River, the galley rocked and shook enough to make him feel nauseous. As an irritating addition, the galley was old and made disquieting creaking noises that kept Leon on edge for the entire first day—he knew the ship was fine, but he still had an irrational fear that every creak meant the ship was about to sink.
Consequently, Leon spent most of the next day on the deck, where he could get plenty of fresh air and he could easily swim to the riverbank if the need arose.
“Ugggh, I hate boats. Fuck boats,” he quietly groaned as he leaned over the edge of the galley’s railing. He hadn’t vomited since he was a young child, but he felt closer to breaking that streak than he had in years.
[You’re certainly having fun,] said Xaphan amusedly.
[Shush, demon, I don’t want to hear it from someone that doesn’t have to experience it…]
[Well, alright then. I was going to tell you a little trick to dealing with motion sickness, but I guess I’ll just ‘shush’ now.]
[… Please tell me…] Leon asked quietly.
[That’s a hell of an apology. Truly, you are the picture of repentance. A symbol of penitence and purity for all the world to marvel at,] Xaphan said, his words dripping with as much sarcasm as he could pack into them.
[I’m sorry, partner. I shouldn’t have snapped at you. Please tell me the secret to surviving this nightmare!]
[That’s better. I’ve heard better, but it’s a far sight better than it was.]
While Xaphan was speaking, Leon felt his stomach churn and saliva fill his mouth. He was about to chunder, he could feel it.
[Just circulate your mana around your stomach. Do it slowly, like one revolution every two seconds,] Xaphan quickly said.
Leon immediately did as Xaphan said and, apart from a few little chunks, managed to hold in his breakfast.
[Hey, proud of you,] the demon said with a hint of mockery. [Now, have your magic power ‘massage’ your stomach. You should start feeling better in a few minutes…]
After a few minutes of silence, color started to return to Leon’s face and his strength returned to his jittery legs.
[This is overwhelmingly awful,] he moaned.
[That particular technique helps you to hold onto your food, but if you perform the same technique around your ears, then it ought to help your issues with nausea and balance,] Xaphan stated.
As Leon tried out the technique, circulating his mana and magic power around his ear canals, he rapidly recovered.
After a few deep breaths, he said, [Thank you, Xaphan. That helps immensely.]
[No problem. I can hardly be associated with someone who empties his stomach from such light travel.]
[Where did you learn these techniques, anyway?]
[This tub’s swaying is nothing; a demon’s summoning ritual, from the demon’s perspective at least, is a thousand times worse, and it can last for up to an hour. So, there have been techniques invented to assist with the accompanying nausea, and as a Lord of Flame, these techniques have naturally fallen into my hands.]
[A ‘Lord of Flame’, huh? You know, I’ve heard you mention that title before, but you’ve never really explained what exactly it means.]
[What do you think it means?]
[That you’re good at fire? I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking you!]
There was a long few moments of silence while Xaphan thought of a response. Finally, he decided to be as impersonal as possible. He didn’t want to talk about his own Lordship, but he could at least answer Leon’s question.
[… In demon society, there are seven Princes, one for each magical element. They are invariably the strongest demons in existence, and each Prince is acknowledged to be the most powerful in their respective element. A Lord, meanwhile, is one that is appointed by a Prince, and there are up to seven per element at a time,] Xaphan explained.
[Are there any power requirements to being made a Lord?] Leon asked.
[Not technically, but it is considered poor form to elevate someone considered weak or undeserving of the title, even though the ritual that accompanies the title’s bestowment grants the demon in question all the power of a Lord.]
[So demons have a ritual that can grant power? How does it work?]
[With a lot of blood sacrifices,] Xaphan said. Leon could hear the disgust in his voice plain as day.
[Fortunately, I earned my Lordship through strength, the Prince of Flame had no need to bestow such tainted power upon me.]
[About that, is there some reason that you don’t like blood sacrifices?]
[Why, young mage, are you considering sacrificing to me? Aren’t you afraid of turning into some blood-crazed vampire?]
[I am not considering that, I’m just curious!]
[Well, it’s probably the same reason you wouldn’t want to rely upon my power. To receive a blood sacrifice is to take someone else’s power into yourself. For a demon, this isn’t so bad; we can make that power into our own easily enough. However, I would never consider that strength to be my own. I want to gain my own power using my own means, not by relying upon the worship and sacrifices of fanatical mages.]
[Makes sense to me,] Leon responded.
As the two were talking, Leon finally fully fought off the effects of his motion sickness, and as a result, he remembered just how little he had eaten that morning and the day before. He had been running almost entirely on the breakfast he had eaten with Elise before setting out, as he didn’t think he’d have been able to hold down a large lunch or dinner. However, with Xaphan’s technique in hand, Leon figured he was now able to keep food down. Consequently, he made for the mess hall, a tiny and crowded room where sea rations were handed out.
Leon wasn’t given any rations that were different than the rest of the soldiers aboard, despite his status, so he had to content himself with a bit of stew and a few pieces of bread. As he was eating, he attracted quite a few stares. He was the young mage who was of sufficient rank to be afforded his own cabin, after all.
As he was eating, Xaphan said with a wary tone, [Hey, Leon… Do you-]
[Yes, I can feel it,] Leon responded. There was an undercurrent of killing intent in the air. No one else in the mess hall was sensitive or powerful enough to pick up on it—or at least, no one else seemed to care. But Leon certainly cared, as the killing intent seemed to be directed toward him.
Leon continued to eat, but he surreptitiously took a few more minutes than he needed to, so he could look around. There were about fifty soldiers in the mess hall, and there were more than a few who seemed to be staring at him. Too many, in fact, for him to really identify who was emitting the killing intent at him, especially since none of them seemed to be staring intently enough to be suspicious.
With that in mind, Leon hurriedly finished after a few more minutes and quickly made his way back to his cabin. He didn’t want to be wandering around the galley with someone who clearly wanted to do him harm walking around as well.
When he returned to the cabin, he immediately started putting on his armor. It would take him about fifteen minutes to do so by himself, and that would be infinitely too long if someone were to try and attack him during the night. Once he’d donned everything save for his helmet and gauntlets, he started checking the rest of his gear, namely his weapons. His family’s sword was at his hip, as always, so he really only needed to check his bow. Fortunately, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
[After you’re done checking your stuff, maybe look around and see if someone was in here while you were on deck,] Xaphan suggested.
[You think someone might have broken in?] Leon asked.
[You never know, and it pays to be both thorough and cautious.]
Leon didn’t have that much stuff and the cabin was barely large enough for his bed and a small desk, so it didn’t take long to search. He found no sign of any break-ins, or that anyone had been in the cabin while he was gone.
[That’s only slightly comforting,] Xaphan mumbled.
[Indeed,] agreed Leon. He quickly made sure his cabin door was locked, then continued, [I’m going to get some shut-eye right now. I have a bad feeling that I’ll be in for a long night…]
[You’re probably right about that,] said Xaphan. [My power will be ready, should you have need of it.]
[Hopefully I won’t,] Leon replied. He started smiling, despite the shady circumstances he found himself in. After Xaphan’s statement, he actually rather hoped someone would try and attack him, if only so he could have an excuse to use his demon fire.
By midnight, nearly everyone on the galley was asleep. Since it was designed as a riverboat, it only had a single sail. That meant that it was primarily driven with several dozen oars, but with all the oarsmen asleep, the galley had stopped at a tiny port town for the night.
Out of the three hundred or so people on board, all but a dozen were asleep. Those crew members who weren’t amounted to a mere eight guards watching the deck. The rest of those awake consisted of Leon waiting patiently in his room, and the three men he was waiting for who were silently creeping through the interior of the galley toward his cabin.
These three didn’t say a word. They understood the need to be quiet; they had done this sort of thing far too many times to count. They were former pirates based out of the Serpentine Isles, but the subjugation of the isles by the Bull Kingdom brought an end to their piratical lifestyle. Instead, they became freelance sailors, and took to robbing people who were on the same ship as them.
This time, however, was no robbery. Just before the galley had set out from the capital, they were approached by a man in nondescript clothes who had a lot of money. They had each received ten thousand silver coins and would receive another forty thousand upon the completion of their job. And for that money, all they had to do was kill Leon.
The man had made no stipulations about how to do the deed. There weren’t any requests for torture, or to draw out Leon’s death; rather, the man simply wanted Leon dead as quickly and cleanly as possible. As the men were all of the third-tier—despite pretending to only be of the second-tier—they were extraordinarily confident in the imminent completion of their task.
Finally, they reached the end of the passengers’ quarters and entered the section of the galley set aside for a dozen private cabins. Here, they stepped even lighter than they had been, as this was where the officers slept. The three cutthroats had faith in their ability to kill a sleeping Leon, but they had no desire to face all the ship’s officers at once.
Slowly, silently, they crept up to Leon’s door and twisted the handle…
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