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Three days after it left Cyrene, the river galley Leon and Alix were aboard smoothly coasted into the Legion docks of the capital city. It was a large galley, about half again as large as the boat Leon took north, so once it was safely moored the galley became a frantic hub of activity. About one hundred and fifty soldiers made their way ashore while hundreds of dock workers moved aboard to load and unload the galley’s cargo.
Leon and Alix were the first passengers to disembark, as Leon was the highest ranked knight aboard who wasn’t a crew member.
Much like when they were in Cyrene, Alix’s eyes were darting around everywhere, taking in all the sights she possibly could. The monuments in the distance, and magic in the air, the smells from nearby bakeries, and the bright colors from the flowers and other flora that decorated much of the city, she was trying to experience all of it at once.
“Let’s keep moving,” Leon said quietly as Alix slowed down from the overwhelming stimulation, “there’ll be time enough for sightseeing when we get our paperwork taken care of.”
“Right!” Alix replied, refocusing her attention on the task at hand.
The two made their way through the harbor to the central administration area to check in. All they really had to do was wait in line for a little over an hour after Leon handed over their orders while the bureaucrats got to work. When it was over, they were instructed to return in two weeks and board a new ship that would take them south to the Gulf of Discord, then east to the Bull’s Horns, and then they were dismissed.
Leon sighed as they left the administration building. He found that getting paperwork done was almost as exhausting as the battle at the fort, and he was ready to shake off the fatigue of the journey.
“So, what should we do first?” Alix asked excitedly as she stared at Leon in expectation.
‘Clearly someone’s not tired in the least,’ he thought with a little bit of jealousy and bitterness.
“For now,” Leon answered out loud, “we should nail down lodgings. We can also get something to eat at the same time.”
“Where are we going?” Alix inquired.
“Just follow me,” Leon said with a smile. He began walking west, toward the Heaven’s Eye Tower.
When Leon left the capital, Elise had planned to focus on her work with nature magic. Unfortunately for her, her mother had insisted that she take a more active role in Heaven’s Eye affairs. So, on the day Leon arrived back in the capital, Elise found herself in a meeting with three men representing the six merchant cities on the southern coast of the Bull Kingdom.
“… and we can make some very generous concessions to your organization, assuming you commit to a closer relationship,” said one of the representatives. He was the junior negotiator, though he was old enough to have lost most of his hair. Still, he was dressed in fine silk clothes that did little to hide his large gut, and he wore expensive perfumes that were so pungent they almost burned Elise’s nose, and she had to concentrate on not scrunching up her face in displeasure.
“Very generous terms, such as land grants and favored status with our ships. We’ll prioritize cargo coming and going from your towers, and ensure that wherever our ships can be found, there will always be friends of your organization,” the senior negotiator added. He was quite different from his partner, in that he was slim and had a full head of black hair. However, his hair had been heavily oiled and slicked back, while his clothes were an almost fluorescent array of yellows, greens, and blues.
This pair of negotiators gave Elise the unpleasant sense of snake oil salesmen, with the perfumes and colorful clothing seemingly meant to overwhelm her senses and distract her. However, she was dressed to the nines, and her choice of attire seemed to have a greater impact upon them than theirs had upon her. Elise was clad in a tight and low-cut black silk dress that extended all the way down to her ankles and left her arms bare. Her hair had been pulled up into a stylish ponytail that highlighted her necklace, made of silver links set with an alternating pattern of red and black onyx.
Given the way their eyes roamed over her body, her wardrobe was doing much better at distraction than theirs was to her. In fact, their attire was little more than an annoyance to her.
“This will be a fantastic deal, we’re going to make each other so much money!” the junior negotiator said enthusiastically.
“Indeed, setting up a tower in the Southern Territories will bring nothing but benefits to all parties,” the senior negotiator said with what he thought was a dignified smile, but it seemed more like a dismissive leer to Elise.
She had said little during their meeting, barely sparing the two negotiators and their page more than a few cursory glances the entire time. ‘It seems my attempt to be obviously disinterested has given them the wrong impression. I guess they think me struck dumb with this idiocy…’ she thought to herself.
Elise finally broke her silence with a glare and a look of derision that immediately shut up both of the negotiators.
“Heaven’s Eye is not interested in building a new tower in any of the cities you represent,” she said bluntly. “If we were, we’d have built one by now. However, it isn’t worth building a new tower in the Southern Territories, so you’ll have to make do with the banks, smiths, and merchant hubs that Heaven’s Eye already operates in those areas.”
“But, my lady-“ the senior negotiator began with a startled look on his face.
“There will be no tower built, and that’s final,” Elise said, forcefully shutting the man up. “No amount of ‘concessions’ on your part could ever make establishing such an operation down there worth the effort, even if you offered real concessions rather than the bare minimum the Bull King would give us freely if we were to indicate interest. You have entered into this negotiation and offered nothing of substance, while assuming we would simply move in and help you run your businesses. We will not do this.”
Just as the junior negotiator was going to try to argue with Elise, the door opened and a gorgeous attendant walked in. Elise glared at her for interrupting, but she gave the Tower Lord’s daughter a graceful bow before approaching and whispering into her ear. Elise’s annoyed expression immediately disappeared, and she looked back at the attendant with an expression of pleasant surprise, who emphatically nodded to her.
“My lady, please, if you could simply look at what we’re offering again…” sputtered the senior negotiator as panic seeped into his voice.
However, Elise didn’t let him finish, bluntly interrupting with, “Something important has come up. You three know the position of Heaven’s Eye, so please don’t continue to bother us with your frequent and irritating proposals. Good day.” She then stood up and immediately made for the door, walking as fast as she could without impacting her noble demeanor.
“If I may be so bold as to ask, what has come up?” the junior negotiator asked, angrily rising to his feet.
“Something important…” Elise repeated as the attendant opened the door for her. Left unsaid was what she really meant: ‘Something more important than you’. The negotiators were left alone in the room, having gained nothing but anger from the meeting.
Outside, Elise turned to the attendant as they walked to the magic lift and asked, “How long ago did he arrive?”
“Young Lord Leon Ursus arrived not even five minutes ago, my lady,” the attendant respectfully answered.
“Have any other attendants seen to him?” Elise inquired.
“No, my lady. The chief attendant this shift immediately sent me to inform you…”
Elise frowned. “Next time, make sure he’s seen to as soon as he walks in. To not see to any guest, no matter who they are, is incredibly rude.”
“Yes, my lady,” the attendant replied, her pretty face growing slightly pale from Elise’s subdued anger.
As the lift neared the ground floor, the attendant informed Elise of Leon’s seating location, so when the doors opened, Elise could walk straight to where Leon was without any hesitation or having to search for him herself. However, what did give Elise some slight hesitation was, upon noticing Leon at his booth, seeing another young woman sitting with him.
But, that hesitation lasted less than a heartbeat, and she hurried forward…
When Leon led Alix into the Heaven’s Eye Tower, she was as dumbstruck at the opulence and wealth on display as just about every other commoner that enters the Tower. Everywhere were splendidly dressed nobles, knights, and high officials, and the sights and smells of the extravagantly decorated lounge and its accompanying restaurant were incredible.
“We’re eating here?” Alix asked hesitantly.
“Yes,” Leon replied. He was too busy looking around to give more complex an answer, but he quickly frowned when he didn’t see who he was looking for. No other attendants came up to them to help them, so Leon’s frown grew slightly deeper, and he took it upon himself to lead Alix over to an empty booth.
“So…” Alix began after they had been seated for several minutes, “what do we do now? Do we just wait?”
“Normally, an attendant should’ve approached us, but I guess not today… Oh well, it shouldn’t be too long before someone comes…”
The two sat there for a few more minutes in silence. Then, Leon noticed Alix staring at something over his shoulder, and her eyes grew wider and wider as he heard footsteps behind him coming closer.
[She’s here,] Xaphan told him, confirming what he already knew. He didn’t even need to turn around, and already a smile appeared on Leon’s face, which only grew wider when a pair of familiar arms wrapped around his neck and shoulders from behind.
Elise pulled him into her embrace from behind, and Leon responded by leaning his head to the side and affectionately pressing his forehead against her cheek.
When the brief hug was over, Elise slid into the seat next to Leon with a happy smile and angry eyes. However, before she addressed her anger, she turned to Alix to introduce herself.
“My name is Elise, I’m the daughter of the Tower Lord in charge of this division of Heaven’s Eye, and it’s my pleasure to meet you.”
“… A-Alix,” Alix sputtered. She was so taken with Elise’s aura, noble demeanor, beauty, and obviously expensive clothing that she couldn’t formulate too many thoughts. Elise giggled at Alix’s nervousness, bringing a tinge of red to the latter’s cheeks.
“Now then,” Elise said, turning her sharp green eyes to Leon, “It’s been a month and a half, and I have not received a single word from you. Yet, here you are, waltzing into my Tower accompanied by a pretty girl as if nothing were wrong. I wonder how I ought to take this?”
Alix’s blush grew brighter when Elise called her pretty, while Leon’s face grew slightly paler.
“The place I was sent to was a backwater, to the point that there was no way to send you a letter in a timely fashion. By the time I found myself in a place where I could, I was already heading back south…” Leon explained.
“Is that so?” Elise asked, arching one of her eyebrows as she did. She remained silent and stared at Leon, while the attendant that had been almost entirely ignored anxiously came forward and took Leon and Alix’s food orders.
Under her silent gaze, Leon couldn’t help but wilt a little, but eventually, she leaned forward and whispered, “I know a way you can make it up to me…”
Leon turned to her, his nervous gold eyes meeting her mischievous emerald eyes. From within his soul realm, he could hear Xaphan begin to chuckle. [You’re fucked,] the demon choked out between his laughs.
It took Leon a few seconds to work up the nerve to ask, “What is it?”
From the other side of the table, Alix watched in fascination as Elise did little more than glare at Leon to make him flustered and tense. In the entire time they had been together in the Northern Territories, she hadn’t yet seen this side of Leon, and she couldn’t help but unknowingly join Xaphan in chuckling at Leon’s expense.
“Lift your arm,” Elise commanded.
Leon didn’t know what she was getting at, but he complied, slowly lifting his left arm into the air. As soon as there was enough room, Elise darted in and leaned against him, then said, “Now put your arm down!”
Understanding what she wanted, Leon smiled and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her in a little closer.
Noticing his smile, Elise whispered, “Oh, don’t think you’re entirely off the hook. Just you wait until tonight…”
Of course, this only made Leon smile more. Xaphan, however, wasn’t amused.
[IS THAT IT?! THAT’S ALL?] he cried. [Might as well not have been angry in the first place…]
“So, how did you manage to come back so early?” Elise asked. The question immediately wiped the smiles off both Leon and Alix’s faces. Slowly, Leon began to explain what happened at the fort.
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