The more content I post to this site, the more I’m coming to realize that Squarespace is just not built for long running serialized content. I don’t want to bore you with details, but suffice it to say that there’s probably going to be some changes coming to this website if I can’t find some solutions to problems that have been cropping up, and right now switching over to WordPress might just be the best option.
Leon and Alix decided to go to a restaurant in the fortress as there weren’t many in Ariminium that would allow Anzu to enter. The specific place they settled on was a well-known place that had everything from noodles to burgers and even served as a bar after sunset.
It was relatively early when the two walked in, with Anzu sticking to Leon’s heels as much as he was able. Most of the tables were clear and the bar area only had a few patrons, but Leon barely gave the few people who were there more than a cursory glance. Leon and Alix had come to this place so often that they didn’t even need to order, they just waved at the proprietress and took a seat at a booth in the corner.
The heavy-set mortal woman who owned the place knew them by sight and immediately began working on their usual orders, which were finished in less than five minutes.
“Good to see you two here again,” she said with a bright smile as she brought the food over.
“Good to be back,” Leon responded as his steak and cheese sandwich entered his vision.
“Indeed,” Alix added when the proprietress set her plate of shrimp and salmon in front of her.
“And here’s a little something for you, little one,” the woman whispered as she slipped Anzu almost an entire chicken breast, which the griffin tore into with gusto.
“You spoil him too much, Amalie,” Leon said teasingly.
“He’s a growing boy, he needs his meat!” the proprietress replied.
“Yeah, but he doesn’t need to be fattened up like a cow destined for slaughter,” Leon responded as he stroked the pristine white feathers on Anzu’s head. Alix, meanwhile, watched with no small amount of jealousy at Anzu devouring the food Amalie brought him; in fact, Amalie and her daughter were the only two people apart from Leon who Anzu would willingly take food from.
“Oh, nuts to that!” Amalie shouted with a full-bellied laugh. “It’s only a fraction of what that daughter of mine keeps giving him, and if he ain’t lookin’ pudgy from all that, then a little bit more from me ain’t gonna do a damned thing!”
Amalie’s casual attitude was something that kept many nobles away from her place, but Leon didn’t mind it in the slightest, despite being a fifth-tier knight himself. There were other noble-born knights around that enjoyed coming to her establishment, but generally speaking it was only commoners who frequented it. Nobles preferred to spend their time in a place where they would be treated with the ‘proper’ respect.
Leon, Alix, and Amalie chatted for another minute or so before the middle-aged woman left to tend to other customers, allowing Leon and Alix to dig in. However, they weren’t destined for a quiet meal, as two young men entered and began scanning the room for a suitable place to sit. When their eyes landed on the two sitting in the booth, they momentarily froze.
“Leon?” one of them called out.
Hearing his name, Leon glanced over at the two newcomers and his eyes widened in surprise. Quickly swallowing his mouthful of sandwich, he responded, “Charles? Henry?!”
“Hot damn! I knew it was you!” Charles almost shouted as he and Henry rushed over from the entrance.
“Hey man, it’s good to see you! How’ve you been?” Henry asked as he clapped Leon on the shoulder before he remembered how little Leon appreciated most physical contact.
“What are you two doing here?” Leon asked as his face broke out into a slight smile. “I thought you were sent to Fort Odo!”
Fort Odo was a large fortress built on a huge hill watching over the Gold Road between the capital and the Bull’s Horns. Three of Leon’s friends from the Knight Academy—Charles, Henry, and Alain—had all been sent to units based in Fort Odo after leaving the Academy.
“Our Legion was rotated here several weeks ago!” Charles cheerfully replied. “And you? I thought you went to the Northern Territories!”
“Ahh,” Leon said in understanding. Prince Trajan liked to make sure that all twelve Legions in the Eastern Territories had intimate knowledge of the entire region, and so every two years he had one Legion at the Horns swap stations with another Legion that wasn’t. This gave each Legion a handful of years of relative peace at the Horns and a couple decades of peacekeeping out in the Territories. About the only units that weren’t rotated were the personal knights and men-at-arms serving himself and his subordinates like Minerva, amounting to about five thousand combat soldiers that were stationed at the Horns permanently. “I was reassigned here last year.”
“And who is this?” Henry asked, shifting the conversation to Alix.
“This is Alix, my squire,” Leon said with a proud smile.
“Squire?” Charles asked in confusion. “Wait a minute, you’re a knight?!”
“He is, he was knighted by the Consul of the North,” Alix explained.
“Why don’t you two take a seat so we can catch up?” Leon asked.
“You’re going to have to go first,” Henry said.
“Right, it hasn’t even been two years! How is it that you’re a knight?!” Charles asked with bright expectant eyes.
Leon quickly began to fill his two friends in on what had happened over the past year and a half, though there were quite a few things that he left out. He told them about being sent to Fort 127 and the raid Hakon Fire-Beard launched, then about being reassigned to the Bull’s Horns with Alix as his squire, and then the diplomatic mission to the stone giants’ crater. He was fairly light on details, but Alix was willing to fill in where needed. He also didn’t say a single word about the men that Tiberias sent to kill him on the galley, or his invisibility ring. He didn’t even tell them what his current magical tier was.
“… and after coming back from killing that vampire, we found the city on fire,” Leon explained.
“We had to drop pretty much everything and help out,” Alix said.
“As did we,” Henry added. “Both of our knights were called into battle, and we, of course, had to follow.”
“Really? Who are your knights again?” Leon asked.
“Oh, mine’s Sir Quintus,” Charles said, “and Henry’s serving Dame Ateia.”
Leon almost face-palmed when Charles said this, as both of those knights were from the same battalion that followed Prince Trajan in retaking the guild district.
“So you two both helped in storming the Bluefire Guild?” Alix asked, picking up on the same familiar names that Leon had.
“We did!” Henry said.
Leon almost laughed at how close they were just a couple nights ago. He hadn’t been paying much attention to either of their knights, let alone their squires, but if he had been then their reunion might’ve happened a little earlier than this.
While they were chatting, Amalie came over to take Charles and Henry’s orders, making and bringing them over in short order.
“So, what have you two been doing in this past year and a half?” Leon asked.
“Well this guy has been doing nothing but paint and Alain has been busy taking care of his kids, so all in all, we haven’t done much of note,” Henry said. Charles gave him a dirty look at the snide comment about his chosen form of artistic expression, but he didn’t say anything. Instead, he busied himself trying to pet Anzu, but the griffin had barely taken his eyes off the two newcomers since their arrival, and he clearly wasn’t going to let them touch him; he eventually decided to hide between Leon’s legs and the bench Leon was sitting on, and when even that didn’t stop Charles, Anzu nipped at his hand the next time it came close.
“Ouch!” Charles said, drawing his hand back with a small cut on his index finger.
“Careful, Anzu doesn’t like being touched, especially by strangers,” Alix said with only a slight hint of the gratification she felt that she wasn’t the only one that Anzu refused to be touched by. She quickly pulled out a weak healing spell and gave it to Charles.
“Thank you,” Charles said as graciously as he could.
“So, Miss Alix, where are you from?” Henry asked, leaning in and trying to gaze flirtatiously at Alix.
“… The Northern Territories,” Alix replied with hesitation; she was getting a little creeped out from Henry’s body language.
“A Northern girl, huh?” Henry said. “I’m from the Eastern Territories, myself. Say, do you want to get a drink with me? Chuckles and I don’t have much else to do today-“
“I’m afraid I must decline,” Alix responded, cutting Henry off. She wasn’t attracted to him and didn’t want his flirtation to continue.
“Shot down again,” Charles said with a loud chuckle. “I think you need to work on your game, my friend.”
Henry stared at Alix in shock and disbelief; he wasn’t nearly as quick with the ladies as he pretended to be, but the speed at which Alix rejected him was certainly something to marvel at.
“Might want to close your mouth, you’re starting to drool,” Leon said.
Not thinking that Leon would tease him so overtly, Henry clamped his mouth shut and went to wipe his mouth, only to find nothing there.
Henry glared at Leon, but eager as he was to move on, he said, “Alain’s here too. He’s squiring for Dame Romania, I think.”
“Then where is he now?” Leon asked.
“With his ladies,” Charles said.
“Has he gotten married yet?”
“No, he still needs to be knighted first before he can legally take multiple wives.”
Leon nodded, and then for the first time that day, he took a good look at Charles and Henry. They were both obviously stronger than they were back in the Knight Academy, with solid second-tier auras. Their bodies were also a little fuller with muscle, and there was a certain look to them that gave Leon the impression that the battle they had seen in the guild district wasn’t their first.
“You know, I saw a griffin just like Anzu here during the battle…” Charles stated. “The knight it was following was one of the Prince’s men…”
“Yeah, that was us,” Leon casually said.
“What?!” Henry cried. “You’re directly serving Prince Trajan?! I thought you said you were in the Diplomatic Corps?!”
“… Yes…” Leon mumbled, feeling a little embarrassed due to Henry’s reaction.
“Sir Leon is a fifth-tier knight who negotiated peace with the stone giants in the southern half of the Border Mountains,” Alix said. “Prince Trajan took notice and transferred him into His Highness’ personal retinue.”
Charles and Henry stared at Leon, completely speechless.
After several minutes, Charles muttered, “Fi-fifth-tier… Fifth-tier…”
After another minute of stunned silence, Alix tried to alleviate the embarrassment Leon felt by changing the subject. She asked, “So, what all did you two do at Fort Odo?”
“Ah! Well, um, it was mostly just boring training,” Charles explained.
“Yeah, it was mostly just reinforcing stuff we learned at the Academy,” Henry added, looking a little disappointed.
“Still, we got plenty of time to train ourselves and increase our magical power,” Charles continued. “We even got taken out for a few patrols every now and then.”
“We, uh, even got attacked once…” Henry said, trailing off and shifting his gaze away from Leon and Alix, but not focusing on anything in particular.
After a few moments of waiting for additional information, Leon said, “You two both had to kill while you were there, didn’t you?”
“… Yes, we did,” Charles admitted.
“Good!” Alix said, reaching across the table to clap Charles on the shoulder. “A true knight has to be willing to fight to uphold the laws of his land!”
Both Charles and Henry looked a little pale at the memory of their first battle, but what Alix said seemed to work a little bit. Noticing how uncomfortable they still were, though, prompted Leon to say, “She’s not wrong, we have to be willing to kill if we are to do our jobs. Our willingness to kill and experience in killing gives us greater killing intent, which is always a useful weapon if properly utilized.”
“I guess…” Charles whispered.
“Did you two kill when retaking the guild district?” Leon asked.
“No, we were behind our knights almost the entire time,” Henry explained.
“Hmm, a shame,” Leon replied. “I think it would’ve been a good experience for you both, in the long run.”
“I’m not too upset at it, to be honest,” Charles said with a slightly haunted look.
“We are mages and knights, my friend,” Leon stated. “Killing the enemies of the Kingdom is our job. If you’re not comfortable with it now, don’t worry, I’m sure you’re going to get plenty of opportunities later.”
Leon’s reassurance really didn’t do much for Charles or Henry, who still looked more than a little nervous at the possibility of combat in the future. However, neither had any intention of shying away from it, no matter how apprehensive they were.
“Well, I’m certainly not looking forward to it, but I’m not going to run away just because I might have to spill a little blood,” Charles said, trying to put on a bold and confident air, but his pale face and nervous expression ruined it a little.
“That’s all that matters,” Alix responded. She had learned back at Fort 127 not to think too much about taking the lives of those that endangered her and others. Her killing intent wasn’t nearly as intense as Leon’s was when he was a second-tier mage, but it was a far sight greater than Charles and Henry’s combined.
“We don’t have to let all this talk get us down, we’re supposed to be eating and having a good time!” Henry suddenly said as he dug back into his food. Leon understood his intention to change the subject and started reminiscing with the two about the Knight Academy. Stories of their rivalry with the Deathbringers fascinated Alix, and the group had plenty to talk about for the rest of their meal.
When it was time to go, Leon and Alix walked with them out of the restaurant.
“Let’s do this again tomorrow,” Charles said happily.
“Yes, and let’s get Alain in on this as well,” Henry said.
“I’m looking forward to it, but where should we meet up?” Leon asked.
“How about this noodle stand I found a couple days ago?” Charles suggested, bringing a smile to Leon’s face.
“Sounds good!” Alix said, sealing the deal.
And with that, Leon and Alix made their way to their room to train, while Charles and Henry went back to their own barracks to do likewise.
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Efflorescence - Kyle J Smith
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