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Most of the people who lived on the north side of Teira were commoners of lesser means. All the nobility and wealthier folk lived to the south, as Teira was a very large city, and living on the south side meant almost an entire day could be shaved off when they journeyed to the capital or one of the southern trade cities.
But, despite the north side being commonly considered the ‘slums’ of Teira, it wasn’t without its charms and creature comforts. The roads were paved, if somewhat more run-down and cracked than further into the city. The houses weren’t falling apart, the people looked well-fed, and there wasn’t any sign of gang activity. All-in-all, a fine, if somewhat impoverished, place to live.
But, no matter where the city is, or how safe it might be, there are always assholes. Leon had barely walked five hundred feet into the city before he heard the sounds of fighting, or rather, the sounds of someone getting beaten several streets over.
Following the sounds, Leon found himself staring down an alleyway between a house and a butcher shop where he saw three large men, roughly early-to-mid-twenties, kicking a younger man in the stomach. The young man, who looked about Leon’s age, was already curled up on the ground, shielding his head from their strikes.
“Hahaha, this little weakling thought he was so tough!”
“Yeah, maybe if he weren’t so stupid, knew his own limits, and just coughed up the money, this wouldn’t be happening!”
“Gah! Stop, please!”
“What’s that, little baby? You want us to stop? Maybe you should empty those pockets, first!”
The young man looked up and saw Leon looking curiously back, at the far end of the alley.
“Help me, please!”
His cry for aid caused the three older men to notice Leon.
“Hey! Fuck off, kid!” shouted the biggest one.
“Yeah, you want to join this little bastard?” asked the thinnest one.
The third man didn’t say a word. He was far more observant, though that isn’t saying much, and noticed the sword Leon was carrying. He also saw Leon not batting an eye at the threat his friend made. He was a second-tier mage, a veteran soldier who had fought against Valeman raids before while he was serving in the Northern Legions, and he could tell just by looking at him that Leon was trouble.
Leon, for his part, didn’t say a word. He simply looked back at each of the four men, then turned and walked away.
The veteran thug smiled and turned back to the young man on the ground.
“Look at that, no one’s going to save you! No one cares about you, so just give us your money, and maybe we’ll only break one leg.”
The victim just curled back into a ball, shivering and trying his best to ignore the kicks.
Leon heard every hit as he walked away. Every little cry and whimper from the young man, every snort of glee from the thugs.
‘Not my problem.’ he told himself.
There weren’t many citizens around. Even for a mostly residential area, the street was oddly devoid of people given how loud these thugs were being. Even the few people who were around seemed to be staring at the ground as they went about their business, or else looking anywhere but towards the alley.
‘Well, not my problem.’ he told himself again, but he had stopped walking. ‘Keep walking. Just ignore it, like everyone else.’
He heard one of the thugs laugh as another kick fell upon the young man. He clenched his teeth, his hands balled up into fists, and he sighed. Then, he turned back around.
The thugs didn’t even hear him approach before he was upon them. Leon’s potent killing intent froze them in place through sheer terror, and before they could process what was happening, Leon’s fist had already slammed into the side of the thin thug’s face. The thin man’s body whipped around from the force, hit the wall of the butcher shop, and slid to the ground. He was barely a first-tier mage, and Leon’s punch had knocked him out almost instantly.
The large thug fared a little better, as he had almost entered the second-tier, but only one punch to the gut from Leon was needed to incapacitate him. He fell, clutching his stomach and retching uncontrollably.
Despite his own battle experiences, and what he thought was a powerfully honed killing intent, the veteran thug was about as much a match for Leon as his buddies were. He had barely regained control over himself when Leon pressed his hand against his face, swept his leg out from under him, and slammed the back of his head into the ground. This would’ve been a fatal injury to a mortal, but fortunately for him, the thug was a second-tier mage, and so merely fell unconscious.
‘He’ll probably live…’ thought Leon.
The young man on the ground was stunned. The thugs tormenting him had been taken down in seconds, and couldn’t even fight back! He looked up at Leon with a look of both terror and thanks. Leon hardly spared him another glance before turning around and walking back towards the main street.
The young man scrambled to his feet, and ignoring his injuries, ran to catch up with Leon.
“Wait! Please don’t go, let me have the opportunity to thank you properly!”
Leon ignored him, wishing he would just go away and leave him alone. The young man wasn’t deterred, however.
“My name is Charles, you really saved me, there. Those thugs tried to rob me, and when I tried to fight back, they dragged me into that alley. I don’t even want to think about what they might have done if you hadn’t shown up!”
Leon still didn’t say a word. Charles was very loud, and Leon wasn’t good with people, so he had no idea how to handle him.
“But, if there’s anything I can do for you, just say it! You don’t look like you’re from these parts, if you need a guide, please allow me the honor of showing you around!”
This finally got Leon’s attention. He had a map of the city, but it was decades out of date. The city had grown immensely since Archduke Kyros had been assassinated, what with many competing nobles moving themselves and their households to the capital of the Great Plateau to try and seize any power they could. Large swathes of the south side’s residential sectors had been demolished to make room for the noble estates, with many of those citizens moving to the apartments of the inner city, the townhouses of the east side, or into the northern slums. In fact, according to Leon’s map, he wasn’t even in the city yet, since the slums had expanded so much in recent years.
With all that being said, he could still find the major landmarks. The palace ruins were in the very center of the city, the main street from Clear Ice lead straight to it. Or, rather, it cut straight through the city, continuing on all the way to the capital, only diverting to go around the palace, but Leon could still take the street to reach it.
There were also four immense streets forming an elongated diamond around the palace ruins, with Konstantine’s Dome at the easternmost point, and the Heaven’s Eye Tower at the westernmost point. The land in the center of the diamond used to be the palace estate, but the King had decreed that it would be turned into a forest, in memory of his closest friend.
Leon was fine with finding his destinations, but he could still use some help finding an inn and a place to eat. In fact, as soon as he thought of finding some food, his belly grumbled. He turned over to Charles, and reluctantly said, “I could use a guide.”
“Wonderful!” Charles’ bruised face brightened up into a smile. Leon also finally gave the young man a good look. Charles was fairly short, more than half a foot shorter than Leon, and had brown hair, brown eyes, and a very thin and lean build. He was fairly good-looking, but no one would call him handsome. His clothes were dirty, and not just from the fight, though they seemed to be of fine make. They weren’t anything fancy, but certainly enough for those thugs to think he had money.
“So, my friend, where do you want to go?” Charles stared expectantly at Leon, not noticing, or maybe not caring, about Leon’s slightly hostile look. He leaned in, waiting for Leon’s response. Leon took a few steps away from the overly familiar Charles before answering.
“I need some food. Somewhere cheap will do.”
“Oh! I know the perfect place, not too far from here!” Charles clapped Leon on the shoulder, oblivious to the other man's discomfort, and led him down the street.
Leon was a little put off by Charles’ enthusiasm and thought it prudent to mention something. “I’m not going to buy you anything, I don’t have the money for that…” Leon did have the three hundred silver coins buried under the obelisk, but he wasn’t too sure how much that actually was just yet, so he had no intention of wasting this money until he went to the bank.
Charles was unperturbed by Leon’s statement. “Oh, don’t worry, you really helped me out, I wouldn’t dream of asking you for a meal as well!”
There was a forum less than half a mile away, with dozens of small shops and had several food stalls in the center. The smell wafted over the entire forum, and Leon caught a whiff of it several streets over. His eyes lit up, and his irritation at Charles’ presence nearly vanished.
“The stalls here are great, especially for the price, but my favorite is the noodle stand, over there.” Charles gestured toward one of the stalls, a place with only a single wall and roof, with curtains drawn between the ends of the wall and the two columns at the other end holding up the ceiling, and Leon eagerly approached. There weren’t many people by the food stalls, as it was past lunchtime but before dinner, so the middle-aged stall owner was just sitting behind the counter waiting for a customer. When Leon and Charles approached, he put on a smile and stood to greet the young men.
“Welcome! What can I get for you two gentlemen?”
Leon looked to Charles, as he knew this place.
“A bowl of noodles is a single silver. Toppings are an extra silver, you can see over there.” Charles pointed to a sign on the wall behind the counter. Leon gave it a quick once-over, and immediately saw something that piqued his interest.
“One bowl for me, with steak.”
“Coming right up!” The owner smiled at Leon, and after Charles shook his head to indicate he didn’t want anything, he began his prep work. He had a metal plate behind the counter, carved into which were several fire runes. He put the noodles and steak into a pan with butter and seasonings and cooked them over the fire runes.
While they waited, Charles tried asking Leon a few questions but had to get his attention first, as Leon had been watching the stall owner cook with extreme interest.
“So… It occurs to me that I never asked for your name. Do you mind if I ask you for it now?”
“Ah. Where do you come from? Your clothes don’t seem to be like anyone else’s that I’ve seen before.”
Leon thought for a moment, before responding. “I’m from Vale Town, in the north.”
Charles was taken aback, Leon didn’t seem at all like the stories he had heard of the northern barbarians. No beard, no giant ax, no wild and criminal look in his eye. In fact, Charles had thought Leon to be a young noble from some distant house who had gone adventuring. But, he recovered quickly. Barbarian or not, Leon had saved him, and he intended to at least make friends with him.
“Oh… Well, what brings you so far south, then?”
Leon took another moment to think, covering it by staring longingly at the cooking food.
“Your kingdom’s alliance with the Brown Bears was effectively renewed. Thus, I came south to see the sights, and join the Knight Academy.”
“Wow. Lofty ambitions, though I’d say you must have the power for it if you could beat those thugs from earlier. You know, I was toying with the idea of joining the legion myself, though not as a knight, obviously. I could use the silver. Anyway, you said you came here to see the sights? Any in particular you want to visit? I could show you around.”
“I… was thinking about seeing the palace ruins.”
Charles frowned. “Oh… Well, I’m sorry to say that you can’t. Everything in the old palace estate is off-limits, by order of the king. Anyone caught trying to loot the old palace, or even anyone caught trying to trespass, is killed on the spot as a traitor to the crown.”
Leon joined Charles in frowning at that news. He wasn’t too deterred, though, as he still had the map of Teira, and thus knew a few secret entrances that he intended to check out, once he got away from Charles, of course.
“Hmm, other than that, just the Heaven’s Eye Bank, and an inn to sleep in for a few days. After that, I’ll be heading for the capital.”
“Ah, well I can help you there. I am, myself, staying at an inn a few streets over, I’d highly recommend it. It’s clean, the owners are very nice, and no one makes too much trouble.”
“Sounds good. Bank, then inn. But first…” Leon got a huge smile as the stall owner finally put a steaming hot bowl of noodles and steak chunks in front of him. He picked up the provided fork, and immediately tore into it.
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