Traveling between Cyrene and Fort 127 was long and boring, but it gave Leon more time to experiment with his new ring and to study its enchantment—especially after his escort returned to Cyrene with his pony. It took him a couple days to actually put the ring on, as he used that time to study the copied enchantment and ensure there weren’t going to be any magical shenanigans with him using a piece of magical gear he pillaged from a fallen enemy.
After two days of not finding anything, he finally put the ring on and held his breath. Nothing happened, so what few minutes of rest he managed to get over the next few days were devoted to experimentation. He couldn’t wait to test out the limits of the ring, as he could think of a great many uses for even limited invisibility.
Through this experimentation, he found a few limitations the ring had. First, he needed five minutes of channeling his magic power into the ring before the invisibility enchantment would work. After that, it required a relatively enormous amount of magic power to continue functioning; he wouldn’t be using the ring for very long, or at least, not until he gained a couple more tiers.
Secondly, and perhaps far more importantly, he couldn’t come into contact with anything magical he wasn’t already in contact with when the enchantment activated. This meant that though he could still hold his sword while invisible, if it wasn’t on his person when he activated the ring and he grabbed it, he would become visible again. In fact, doing such a thing was exactly how he came to the discovery in the first place.
Taking this discovery further, he guessed that even a casual brush against the clothes of another mage—even if they were only of the first-tier—would be enough to break the effect. If he were to try to use the ring for combat purposes, he would need to activate it before the fight began, and then he’d only have one surprise attack before he’d be revealed.
Still, Leon smiled when he thought of the possibilities. If he were to be chased or attacked, he could simply disappear. If he ever needed to spy on someone, he had the perfect tool for the job. And, with his heavily hunting-dependent background, Leon knew the advantages of gaining the first hit in a fight, especially if that attack were to come as a surprise.
But, for all the use he could envision the ring having, it was still just a distraction for Leon on the road to Fort 127. He doubted he would find much use for it in a backwater Legion fort, but like Xaphan’s fire, it was still a useful and comforting tool to have in his wheelhouse should he ever have an unexpected need for it. Thus, after his escort left, Leon started the habit of wearing the ring at all times—but underneath a glove. He didn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention with the shiny gold band and the bright, lustrous, and prominent emerald set into it.
Finally, Leon arrived at Fort 127 in the early afternoon, five days after leaving Cyrene. When he saw it for the first time, he was hardly impressed. The ‘fort’ consisted of a single wall, not even twenty feet tall, behind which were dozens of tents, and only three single-story wooden structures.
The wall was made of heavy timber and reinforced with enchanted stone. It stretched over two miles of hills, completely blocking the gap between two of the largest mountains in the entire Frozen Mountain Range. The gap the fort was meant to protect formed a pathway north, into the wilder and significantly more violent world of the Valemen.
Leon sighed, then proceeded onward. The fort had few actual fortifications apart from the one wall and accompanying towers, but it did have a small checkpoint on the road just in case someone came along. Leon didn’t think people often came along, because he saw the two sentries on duty hurriedly get up from the table they had been playing cards at and take their positions, glaring at him menacingly.
Leon hardly felt threatened by a pair of first-tier soldiers and glared right back. Besides, given that it took them until he had almost walked past them to notice his arrival, he didn’t think they would pose much of a threat even if they were stronger.
“Who the fuck are you?!” one of them rudely demanded. The other didn’t say a word, he only cautiously took a defensive stance and slightly raised his spear.
“I’m a new transfer. I was sent to squire for a knight assigned to this fort,” Leon calmly answered.
“Bullshit! This ain’t transfer day! We ain’t supposed t’ get new fuckers for least ‘nother few months!” the sentry shouted.
“My paperwork is in order,” said Leon, “I was sent here by the brass in the capital, and it was confirmed by the guys in Cyrene. Now how about you tell me who I should be speaking to? Unless you plan to use that spear you’re grasping so tightly…” He spoke with a hint of killing intent backed by his third-tier aura that was clearly felt by both guards, as their faces went slightly pale—though they at least didn’t flinch or start shaking.
The three stood there for a few seconds, while the sentries thought this over and Leon waited for their answer. Of course, he intended to enter the fort and find someone with authority to speak with; it was down to the sentries themselves to decide if he would be knocking them senseless first.
Eventually, the sentry who had been speaking said, “Fine, go on through. Head to the main building at the end of the road.”
Leon nodded, then silently walked right past the two sentries. For a moment, it seemed like the silent sentry was about to stop him, but Leon gave the man a petrifying glare, and the man abandoned any thought of getting in his way.
The building at the end of the dirt road looked terrible when Leon got up close. Much of the timber was rotting and the roof seemed like it was one gentle breeze away from collapsing. Frowning, Leon approached the door. He didn’t have any idea what the standard for etiquette was in this situation, whether he should simply walk right in or not. He hesitated at the door for a few seconds before loudly knocking several times then slowly opening the door.
The door hadn’t even been opened halfway before it was wrenched open from the inside, revealing a half-confused and half-angry man standing just beyond the door frame. He was dirty, smelled terrible, and appeared as if he hadn’t shaved or washed in weeks. But, judging from his aura, Leon could tell he was solidly in the third-tier.
“Who the fuck are you, and why are you bangin’ on my door?!” he growled, glaring down at the slightly shorter Leon.
“I was transferred here from the Knight Academy, the sentries told me to come here,” Leon responded, not bothered at all by the man’s extremely disheveled appearance and apparent disregard for hygiene; he’d seen much worse in Valetown and had even personally been worse on some of the longer hunting trips he’d taken with Artorias.
For a moment, the man stared at him in bewilderment. ‘No fuckin’ way some fancy shit-eating noble is going to send their cherry kid to the Knight Academy, only for that kid to be sent here of all places!’ he thought.
But, before he could say anything, Leon pulled out his transfer papers and showed them to the man. He had started to think the sentries were screwing with him, but then the man rolled his eyes and waved him into the building.
“Sit down,” he said gruffly, pointing to a chair in front of a desk. “I’m fetchin’ the commander, you don’ move.”
Leon nodded, took a seat, then started looking around the room. The entire building was a one-room armory, with about a dozen locked wooden cages filled with spears, arrows, and all sorts of other necessary equipment for the fort. Other than the cages, the desk and handful of chairs that surrounded it were the only other features of the room; there wasn’t even a window to air the place out, and even after only a few seconds with the door closed, the stench of mold was starting to get to Leon.
After about fifteen minutes, the man returned with another Legion officer who appeared far more presentable. He was clean, didn’t stink, and stared at Leon as if the young mage was a specimen to be studied rather than a Legion squire.
After a few moments of silence, the knight asked, “How about those transfer papers?”
Leon immediately handed them over. The knight took a few minutes to look them over, then said, “You must have pissed someone important off real bad to be sent all the way out here.” He walked over to the seat next to Leon and gracefully sat down, while the other man went to the other side of the desk, spat on the floor, scratched his balls, then threw himself into his chair and propped his feet up on the desk.
Leon watched this strange juxtaposition of behaviors, but he didn’t say a word. He simply waited for the officer to speak again.
“So here’s the thing,” the officer said after a few minutes of thought, “your paperwork is in order, but it still seems like some kind of mistake to me—one that’s probably going to get fixed sometime soon. I can’t possibly believe that a seventeen-year-old third-tier mage would be assigned all the way up here, even if their last name is ‘Ursus’. I wouldn’t be surprised if a messenger comes running here in a few months to take you away somewhere else. However, until that time, I’ll have you join one of my knights leading a patrol squad. They’re short-staffed—as are most of our squads, if I’m being honest—and I’m not in a position to let any Legion soldier stationed here go to waste.”
The officer waited a moment for Leon’s response, proceeding once Leon nodded in acknowledgment of what he had said so far.
“This knight I’m going to send you to is only a third-tier mage, the same as you, but I don’t want to hear a single damned word from him about insubordination, got it?” the officer asked.
“Yes, Sir,” Leon responded.
“Good. You and he may be the same magical tier, but he’s older and has far more experience. You will defer to him, and if I hear that you haven’t, I will personally see to it that your life becomes a living hell. Now come with me.”
The officer rose from his chair and made for the door, with Leon doing likewise just behind him. The other man didn’t bother to follow, choosing to stay seated behind his desk and settle in for a nap.
“Sir, may I ask the name of the knight you’re assigning me to?” asked Leon.
“Sir Samuel,” the officer replied, “one of the finest men I’ve had the pleasure of fighting with. I knighted him myself once he ascended to the third-tier.”
“… And may I ask your name, Sir?” Leon asked hesitantly. He could tell this officer was probably in charge of the entire battalion stationed at the fort and was undoubtedly much stronger than he was.
“I’m called Jean, I’m the Tribune in command here. Everyone in this fort is my responsibility, and that includes you, now. If you have any specific questions, though, you can save them for Sam.”
Leon nodded, then proceeded to follow Jean in silence.
Eventually, they arrived at one of the larger tents and walked right on in.
“Hey, Sam!” Jean called out.
“Sir Jean!” responded a tall and lean man with blonde hair and a short, well-trimmed beard.
“Good news! You’re getting a squire today!” Jean said.
“I already have a squire, Sir!” Samuel responded.
“Well this one won’t be needing much attention, I’d wager. You can treat him like any other guy in your squad. Put him to good use, for as long as we’re able to keep him.”
With that said, Jean turned around and left the tent. Leon stood alone in front of Sir Samuel, as well as seven other men and one young woman, obviously Samuel’s squad.
“Well, this ought to be interesting,” Samuel said after inspecting Leon’s aura.
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