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A note from warden1207

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Leon could hardly believe what he was seeing. Eleven suits of armor were in front of him, each one tailored specifically to a member of his retinue. And only a little over a month had passed since he’d convinced Sid to help him with their forging.

“So,” Sid asked as Leon stood there, staring in bewilderment, “what do you think?”

Leon slowly blinked as his mind processed what he was seeing. He then looked up at her, and a wide smile broke out across his face. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “I could never have done this on my own—at least, not so quickly!”

Sid walked over and lightly socked him in the shoulder. “Get better with earth magic and you’ll get faster! Hammering and casting aren’t quite so time-intensive when you can use magic to manipulate the metal as is needed!”

Leon nodded, understanding what she was saying without her even needing to say the words. “I won’t neglect my practice,” he assured her. “Being able to wave my hand and make a suit of armor is the dream.”

Sid sighed, then turned back to the armor before them. “So, what do you think?” she repeated.

Leon glanced back at the armor. Each one was primarily made of extremely high-quality steel personally smelted by Sid. With her knowledge of magical forging techniques, this steel was extremely receptive to any kind of magic that Leon might’ve wanted to enchant the suits with. Making each suit even sturdier were the wyvern scales that each was adorned with; Leon had used a significant number of the scales he’d acquired during the wyvern hunt in the creation of these suits, especially those from the black wyvern.

A wyvern’s scales had certain anti-magic properties, which was one of the reasons why the beasts were so tough. However, most of these properties were lost when the wyvern was killed and the scales removed. Even then, they were still extremely hard, tough, and receptive to enchantment. They were also extremely stylish, glittering in the light of Sid’s workshop.

Leon had spent more than a week with Sid designing these suits. While he’d left much of the more practical armor features to her given her expertise, he’d used his own skill in enchanting to optimize each suit for his purposes. As a result, he had more than enough room on each suit to work his enchantments.

“They’re perfect,” he said, meaning every word. The suits wouldn’t quite stand up to his pseudo-Adamant, but in every objective sense, they were of extremely high-quality.

“That’s wonderful!” Sid exclaimed as she held up a breastplate for him to inspect. It glittered mostly with black wyvern scales in a roughly hyper-masculine shape, with red wyvern scales interspersed throughout to outline where muscles would be. Even if he hadn’t sat down with his retinue to go over their specific desired styles, Leon wouldn’t have had to guess to know that this was Alcander’s suit.

Leon took the breastplate and looked it over. It was huge, but perfectly tailored to his tallest and most heavily muscled retainer. He could find no flaw within it.

Sid did likewise for every piece of armor she’d forged, not letting him get away with a mere cursory inspection. But what he was unable to find on his quicker inspections eluded him still in closer inspections; these suits were, as far as he could tell, without flaw.

When he was done, he pulled all of the suits into his soul realm, already looking forward to the process of enchanting every piece. It would be strange, but when he was finished, his retinue would have something of a unified style amongst them, clearly identifiable as belonging to the same faction. They’d also be as heavily protected as he could possibly make them, alleviating some of his anxieties when it came to their protection.

“Thank you, Sid,” Leon said once the inspection was finished. There was nothing else he felt like he could say.

“You want to thank me?” Sid rhetorically asked. “You can do so by showing me that you can at least use the basics of earth magic when you get back.”

“I can use the basics, though!” Leon protested. As proof, he extended his hand and called on his meager mastery of earth magic and causing some of the stone floor to vibrate. “See?”

Sid smiled condescendingly at him. “Keep working on it, kid. Keep working on it.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

As Leon turned around to leave, Sid stopped him.

“By the way,” she said, “what’s going on with the vampire situation?”

Leon frowned. “Not much, honestly. I’m keeping my people on guard, but unless I decide to go to the Director personally, I’m unsure what he might be doing. So, I’m content to make connections within Heaven’s Eye and confront him when I return from the north.”

Sid nodded, her smile falling into a light frown. “Well, when push comes to shove, I’ll be there for you, Leon. Just say the word.”

“Thank you, Sid. I’ll talk to you soon.”

“Yeah.”

With that, Leon left her workshop and set out for home.

---

“So this is our new armor?” Valeria asked as Leon showed her the work he and Sid had done.

“It is,” Leon said.

Valeria couldn’t stop grinning as she went over the suits, stopping once she reached the armor that had been made for her. It was a little slenderer than most of the other suits, but no less protective. She hadn’t gone with a complex design for her armor as Alcander had done with the muscle pattern, but instead asked simply that her armor be split between black and blue wyvern scales. The right half of her armor was blue, while the left half was black.

“What do you want to start with?” she asked, indicating the enchantments that the two had spent the past month or so laboring over.

There were strengthening enchantments, some designed to increase speed, others to try and use Leon’s newfound experience in anti-magic to add additional protection against hostile magic. On more offensive notes, while he wasn’t planning on adding any weapons into his retainers’ armor, he did have quite a few potent enchantments designed to amplify their own magic, hopefully increasing not only their potency, but efficiency as well, allowing them to fight stronger, faster, and for longer than they would with their current gear.

Despite the lack of weapons, though, there were a few utility enchantments that he planned on adding, such as a version of his darkness enchantment that could make him invisible, as well as enchantments within each helmet to ward away mental attacks. Every suit would have integrated flight and light shield enchantments, too.

Leon quickly made his decision, and he and Valeria spent the next few hours applying the enchantments to the armor. It was fairly tedious, but the two spent their time chatting about training and discussing Leon’s plans for a new Lightning Lance, which was still in the design phase. Leon even shared a few stray thoughts he’d been having about golem design, and so excited did it make Valeria that they had to pause their work so that Leon could summon a labor golem and a librarian golem for them to use as visual aids in their discussion.

Both were extremely careful not to actually disturb any of the enchantments that either golem had, however, for though their discussions on the topic were steadily growing more and more advanced, they still lacked the requisite skills to fix all but the smallest of issues that any of the golems might have.

Eventually, they returned to their enchanting work, but it wasn’t until a week later that they were finally finished.

---

“By my Ancestors!” Alcander loudly exclaimed as he saw his completed armor for the first time. “Leon! This is incredible!”

“It really is,” Gaius agreed. “This is the sort of thing that I never would’ve imagined I’d ever wear!”

“Really?” Alix skeptically asked. “Fancy noble like you with your nose in the sky to better look down upon all of us lesser mortals?”

Gaius grinned back at her, this not being the first time she’d teased him like this in the years since they’d left the Bull Kingdom. “Maybe I dreamed about it, but never seriously thought it would happen.”

Leon beamed with pride as his retainers slowly inspected the armor he, Sid, and Valeria had made. Most of his attention, however, was reserved for Elise. She was looking at her suit, made of black and red scales in spiraling patterns. Unlike the others, she’d never really needed armor before, but now, after having been present for the wyvern hunt and with his retinue having been attacked, Leon had insisted to her that she swap the silk for steel in at least some circumstances. She’d agreed, though only with great reluctance.

Despite that reluctance, now that the armor was before her, her eyes seemed ablaze as she took it all in. It was designed to be a very slim fit, and one that emphasized her sizable bust and slender waist. If it hadn’t been Sid working on it, Leon might’ve feared that Elise’s chosen design was emphasizing the aesthetics a little too much at the expense of practicality, but as it was, even her aesthetic choices didn’t compromise the armor in any meaningful way.

Elise held the suit up to the light, casting her face in sparkling red light as the magic lights in the villa reflected off the polished wyvern scales, a look of wonder on her face. As much as Leon knew she didn’t like using violence, he also knew that she greatly appreciated fine things, and that armor was about as fine as they could make for the time being.

Most of his retinue left to change into the armor, but those who were stronger—essentially just Anna and Anshu—remained, simply pulling the armor into their soul realms, then directly donning it.

Anna twirled around as her armor appeared on her body, fitting quite snugly against her lithe body, her armored wyvern leather skirt rising just a bit and exposing some of the mail chausses beneath that the wyvern leather and scales mostly covered.

Anshu’s armor was almost as slim as hers, without much of the almost exaggerated masculine shape that Alcander had gone for. This was because almost as soon as his armor was on, he then conjured the golden brocade coat that he’d always worn over his armor, and it fit perfectly over his new wyvern scale armor.

Both then donned their accompanying helmets. Anna’s roughly matched Leon’s, though was a little more curved and feminine, with slightly smaller ‘wings’ on the side. Anshu’s meanwhile, bore little resemblance to Leon’s helmet, featuring a closed face design with only a pair of thin, angry-looking eye slits. The whole helmet was conical, with his requested geometric patterns covering several areas of the helmet.

However, where their armors differed in design, they were both made of white wyvern scales, with some of the black wyvern’s scales serving to highlight their joints and edges. Both were light mages, and both had decided to lean into the usual aesthetic that light mages tended to employ.

Still, as the rest of Leon’s retainers filed back out, their armor now on and ready to test, Leon couldn’t help but frown whenever his eyes drifted in Anshu’s direction. Everyone else roughly matched in general armor design—especially when it came to the helmet—but he stood out like a sore thumb, and Leon couldn’t help but wonder if that was intentional. The man, even after more than ten years in Leon’s service, was still incredibly quiet and reserved and didn’t interact much with the rest of the retinue. Leon couldn’t help but speculate that he didn’t see himself as one of them, and this was reflected in his armor.

But rather than bring all of that up right now, Leon led his people toward his workshop and the area where he typically tested his enchantments and let them put their new armor through its paces. He didn’t think for a moment that their upcoming journey to the Sacred Golden Empire was going to go smoothly, and he needed to make sure that his people were comfortable with their new gear. Their lives might depend on it.

Fortunately, it seemed that not only did Sid do wonderful work—not that Leon ever doubted her skills—but he and Valeria had done well in inscribing the enchantments upon their armors. All of them could fly perfectly well with Leon’s latest flight enchantments, all of them could become invisible without relying on Helen’s invisibility salves, their armor could project thin, but powerful, shields of translucent white light, and a few more in-depth testing confirmed that all of them were much stronger and faster, now.

Thus encouraged, Leon turned his attention back to the upcoming journey. He’d allocated about three months to plan and prepare, but now that his people had their armor and Anshu and Talal had arranged the purchase of a small yacht for only about twenty million silvers, it was time to make their final preparations. He still wanted to make a few alterations to the yacht’s warding scheme, but apart from that, Leon was about certain that they were ready to go, and he was eager to get underway.

---

Less than two months had passed since Marcus and Alcander’s kidnapping, and Leon found himself reflecting on how things now threatened to fall apart as his yacht cut through the Scamander River toward the Central Sea on its way out of Occulara. Not even three months ago, his position within Heaven’s Eye had seemed completely secure, and he didn’t feel at all that they were operating under any kind of pressure. But so much in that time had changed, even if only in the way he saw things.

Vampires were revealed within Heaven’s Eye, the Director was shown to not be operating with Leon’s interests in mind, and he learned that just about all of the Empires knew that he was of the Thunderbird Clan. All of that was true prior to his learning about it, of course, and nothing had practically changed, but now that he was aware of it all, everything seemed so different.

He took some comfort in the fact that none of the Empires had made any overt moves against him, but he wondered what he might be missing behind the scenes. Penelope, at the very least, had told him before they left the Scorched Fields that there were accusations that the Empires were spying on Heaven’s Eye, and he couldn’t help but wonder if that was about him, or just more standard efforts to keep an eye on the largest merchant guild on the plane, the institution that practically controlled the entire plane’s economy.

He wasn’t sure if he would be insulted or relieved if it turned out to be more practical monitoring designed to check Heaven’s Eye’s power rather than something to do with him.

Regardless, it was just one more thing that needed to be addressed, and yet here he was, sailing out of Occulara and leaving these problems behind.

There was a not-so-insignificant part of him that was demanding he turn around, return to Occulara, and deal with the Imperial and vampiric threats before leaving, but in the end, he chose not to. More than anything else, he wanted to know what was in his Clan’s research facility, and why the forest that contained it was considered so dangerous that even the Sacred Golden Empire itself was unable to exert much control over it.

The Empires, he reasoned, had been waiting for ten years, so he could afford the distraction. The vampires, meanwhile, hadn’t acted against him with any kind of threatening force for years, with this latest kidnapping of his retainers being done with little in the way of magical power. That gave him the impression that those in charge weren’t quite willing to stand against him, for whatever reason, and that they weren’t going to break that streak now that he and his entire retinue were all together and leaving Occulara with little forewarning.

The Director was his greatest concern, but he took some comfort in knowing that whatever the man as planning, he was integral to it. The Director needed him for something; most likely, at least in Leon’s mind, that something had to do with the Thunderbird Clan’s arsenal, but he didn’t know for sure. In this case, he figured it was best to leave Occulara for a while and let the two of them have some space to consider their options. For all that he now had cause to dislike and distrust the Director, Leon didn’t want to depose him. He just wanted Heaven’s Eye’s resources, and he hoped that he and the Director could come to some kind of peaceful arrangement that would ensure they could both get what they wanted.

After all, a Heaven’s Eye wracked by infighting and corruption from the loss of an effective and respected Director was worth less to him than it was now.

As the yacht sped down the river, it made great time, and soon enough, Occulara became indistinguishable from the rest of the urban sprawl that lined both sides of the river. Leon consequently put the Director out of his mind and went back inside. The upcoming journey was going to be stressful enough, he imagined; an Imperial power couldn’t tame this forest, and yet he was heading into it with a retinue primarily composed of fifth and sixth-tier mages.

[How are you doing, Xaphan?] Leon whispered into his soul realm as he crossed into the yacht.

[Impatient,] the demon replied. [I was hoping that we would’ve seen more progress on that shit-eating Director’s part by now, but what else can we do? Oh wait, I know what we can do, we can storm his fucking office and roast him over an open spit until he tells us where Amon’s peons are!]

[Glad to hear you’re doing so well,] Leon quipped. [I might need your help for this thing coming up, but I think I’ll definitely need your fire when I return.]

[You have that much faith in that old bastard, do you?]

[I’m surprised you’re calling him old when you’re older than him by at least two orders of magnitude.]

[Age is relative. And don’t think I noticed you didn’t answer my question!]

[I wasn’t aware it needed answering. Well, I suppose it’s easy enough for me to say that I’d rather expect the Director to betray us to the vampires when we return than to expect him to side with us and be horribly surprised and disappointed.]

[Makes sense.]

[So, yeah. Are you, at least, ready for that, Xaphan?]

[I’m almost insulted that you need to ask.]

Leon smiled. [Good,] he replied, and he cast one last look back in the direction of Occulara before turning his attention back to the journey ahead. Things back in Occulara would come to a head when he returned, but for now, he needed to focus on what was immediately in front of him.

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A note from warden1207

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warden1207

Bio: An aspiring writer, currently writing 'The Storm King' on RR and my own personal website, wardenreading.com

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