Chapter 35 - Burial

The rain beat down upon the fort.  Wind buffeted the trees in the forest and the walls creaked incessantly.  Lightning flashed across the sky and its thunder was heard far and wide.

But Leon barely acknowledged any of it.  He still sat slumped against the obelisk, not caring about the rain that soaked his clothes or the wind that howled in his ears.

His father had died.  Leon didn’t need to see him to know; he could feel it.  He didn’t cry or curse his enemies.  He just sat there, unmoving.

The storm eventually passed, Leon didn’t notice when.  He must’ve fallen asleep at some point because suddenly the sun was shining down on his face.

He was still holding the heartwood seeds.  The golden seed pulsed with light and heat, while the black seed felt cold and icy.  Leon gripped the seeds tighter, turned his eyes towards the door to Artorias’ house, and steeled himself for what he now had to do.

He began moving his stiff body, struggled to his feet, and shook his limbs awake.  He slowly walked to Artorias’ house, stopping just before the door.  He took a deep breath, pushed the door open, then walked inside.

Unlike Leon’s house, Artorias’ bedroom and living room weren’t separated, so Leon saw his father immediately.  Artorias was still lying in bed, looking almost like he was peacefully sleeping if it weren’t for the grayish tone his skin had taken on.

Leon knew he was gone, but just to be sure, he checked Artorias’ pulse and made sure he wasn’t breathing.  Then, he carefully removed the fur blanket covering him and gingerly picked his father up, hooking his arm around Artorias’ cold back and legs.

Leon carried Artorias back outside and laid him down on the stone slab that Artorias used to cook on.  Leon had no intention of ever using the slab for cooking again, so he didn’t much care about keeping it clean.

He retrieved his hunting knife from his house and came back outside, looking like he was sharpening it on a whetstone.  He walked back to the slab and continued to sharpen his knife.  Leon’s face was stony and detached, but the irregular clinking of the knife against the stone betrayed his agitation; he was going through the motions of sharpening the knife, but his hands were shaking.

He stood there, pretending to sharpen his knife for several more minutes, but he couldn’t stall forever.  Eventually, he put the whetstone down and took a deep breath.

Leon had no experience cutting open a person, but he had skinned many an animal in his years of hunting, so he had some confidence he could do this.  He placed the blade of his knife against Artorias’ abdomen, just under the sternum, bit the inside of his cheek to banish the last of his reluctance, and put pressure down on the knife.  The blade slowly sank into Artorias’ skin and Leon carefully sliced downward, until he had enough room to reach his hand in.

As Leon began reaching his knife hand into Artorias’ chest, slowly moving organs and cutting through muscle, he didn’t realize he was being watched.  Deep within his soul realm, his ancestor observed everything.  The Thunderbird seethed and stewed in its anger, flying in tight circles around that tiny island in the mist.  It had been watching the decline of its clan for years beyond counting and seeing one of the last of its descendants fall destroyed its usually aloof nature.  Lightning arced throughout Leon’s soul realm as the Thunderbird watched Leon prepare Artorias for burial.

After a few more laps around the island and watching Leon fumble uncertainly with his knife, the Thunderbird finally lost its last tiny reserve of patience and landed on top of the throne.  It stared down at the figure of Leon sitting on the throne with his eyes closed, and lightning began surging out from its feathers and into the young man.

Outside of his soul realm, Leon grew momentarily nauseous and he stumbled back a little.  Then, his eyes glazed over and the shaking in his hands stopped.  Just as reached back towards Artorias, he heard a voice.

[Don’t remove his heart.  Cut it open and place the heartwood seed within.]

The voice was incredibly deep and inhumanely resonant.  Leon was sure without a shadow of a doubt that he’d never heard it before.  But, he implicitly trusted it.  He could feel that it meant him no harm and that it knew far more about this matter than he did.  But, the Thunderbird would take measures to ensure Leon forgot the voice once he was done.  It had a reputation to maintain, after all.

Leon hadn’t created a magic body yet; the type of artificial magic body he currently possessed was just a weak thing many ancestors would often create for their descendants, so they could access their soul realms during bloodline awakenings.  Only an exceptionally powerful soul residing within a weaker soul realm can create something like this, and it allows the one who made it certain advantages.

For instance, the Thunderbird was currently using this direct connection between it and Leon’s mind to suppress Leon’s emotions, allowing the young mage to work without the sorrow and anger he felt affecting him.  This connection also allowed it to speak to Leon.  The old legends Leon was familiar with had changed throughout the millennia, and the information presented within wasn’t quite accurate.  The Thunderbird corrected Leon, as the heart should never be removed when burying someone with a heartwood seed.  The proper ceremony was for the seed to take root within the heart, not replace it.

With the help of his ancestor, Leon’s work rapidly sped up.  He quickly located Artorias’ heart and made a small incision with his knife.  Then, he removed his hand, put down the knife, and grabbed the golden heartwood seed.  He supposed that the black seed would’ve worked, too, but he wouldn’t feel right using it.  The golden seed was for more appropriate for a burial worthy of divinity.

With the utmost care, Leon slid the heartwood seed into the hole he’d cut into Artorias’ heart and removed his hand for the final time.

With that, the most uncomfortable part was over.  Leon went back into Artorias’ house, grabbed a shirt, and pulled it over his father.  For a brief moment, Leon contemplated making a casket with some of the scrap wood, but then he heard that deep voice from within again.

[The aura of the seed will surround him.  He will be untouched by decay.]

So, without a need for a casket, Leon moved on to the last item on the agenda: where to lay Artorias to rest.  And he knew exactly where.

He walked right up to the obelisk and located a runic circle near the bottom that was on the opposite side from the others that controlled the obelisk’s functions.  Leon placed his hand within and began channeling his magic into it, causing it to activate.  There was a slight delay of about five seconds, enough to make sure that the activation wasn’t by accident, and then Leon removed his hand.

The circle glowed a dark red, and after a few seconds, cracks rapidly spread out from it and spiderwebbed all over the obelisk, shattering it into countless pieces.  The heightened magic density in the air due to the obelisk immediately rushed outwards now that the obelisk was gone, and Leon could sense that the aura chasing away the forest monsters was now coming solely from the wards in the walls.

Leon began kicking and throwing away the shards and chunks of the obelisk, and after grabbing a shovel from the remnants of the storage shed plus ten minutes of digging, he found a large wooden box beneath the remains of the obelisk’s stone base.  He pulled the box out of the seven-foot-deep hole he was in and set it aside for the moment.

This was it, right in the center of the fort was where he would bury his father.  Leon cleared away a few more bits of stone, making enough room for Artorias, and he respectfully placed his father within.  Half an hour with a shovel got him enough dirt to cover the grave, and for a finishing touch, Leon used the loose rocks and broken stones from the obelisk to construct a small cairn above the grave.

With the deed done, Leon finally internalized that it had happened.  Since the day before, there had been a large part of him that wasn’t quite accepting the events of the past couple of days, but now he was coming to terms with reality.

Within his soul realm, the Thunderbird stopped suppressing Leon’s emotions, but it wasn’t done exerting its influence over its descendant.  The bright mists surrounding the island darkened in an instant, causing rain to fall and wind to pick up.  But, most startling of all was that lightning began to strike the throne, and more importantly, Leon.

The young man himself didn’t realize it in the state he was in, barely registering anything outside of staring at the cairn, but his body became flooded with magic power, far more than when the obelisk was increasing magic density in the area.  This magic spread throughout his body, fusing with his blood and coursing through his veins.  It was absorbed by his internal organs and much of it was even stored in his heart.  But, most critically, it was seeping into his bones.

After the ritual, Leon was well on his way to becoming a third-tier mage, he just needed a bit more time to allow his bones to adapt to his magic.  But now, with the help of the Thunderbird, his body was overflowing with magic and a great deal of that magic was being consciously directed by the Thunderbird into Leon’s bones.

The Thunderbird had taken off and was flying around the island again, but it was still very easily controlling its magic, using it to benefit its descendant.  But, for the briefest of moments, a reddish-orange light pierced through the storm clouds, bathing the island in light, then disappeared as fast as it had come.

The Thunderbird lazily turned its head in the direction the light had come from, but nothing could be seen.  The dark clouds were thick, and no more light was shining through.  But, the Thunderbird could still vaguely sense it, the other in the mists.

[Finally feel like joining us?] the Thunderbird asked, its voice casually booming and echoing throughout Leon’s soul realm, but its question was met with silence.

[I guess not.  Does it truly mar your pride so much that our descendants actually produced such a miracle?  How many childless marriages have our lines had?]  The Thunderbird waited for an answer it knew wasn’t going to come before continuing.

[Shall I take this as you not knowing?  Well, well, well, look who isn’t so infallible now.]  It chuckled to itself, though its avian face couldn’t smile or make anything resembling human emotion.

[Well I know how rare such a child is.  And he needs some help.  I will show him my favor and promote him to the third-tier of the magic realm.]  The Thunderbird once again glanced out into the distance, towards the eyes it knew were closed.

[You should do something, as well.  He awakened his blood, that you now deny him his own power actually sickens me a little.  Ah, well.  Not like I can force you to do anything.  But I will continue watching over this growing lion.  I must do this, he is my last descendant.  Or the last with awakened blood and thus the only one that matters, anyway.  All my other branches have seen too many dormant generations to awaken their power, now…]  It morbidly laughed to itself at the capriciousness of the universe and calmly watched the lightning fall upon Leon.

[My last true descendant.  And to think, my clan was once one of the mightiest in existence, ruling great swathes of the Nexus and had subjugated entire planes!  They even outnumbered your clan at their peak.  And now this young man is all that’s left.]

As the Thunderbird immersed itself in memories of a more glorious time, the lightning stopped crashing down upon the throne, the rain stopped pouring, and the wind died down.  The Thunderbird had stopped flooding Leon’s body with magic.  It no longer needed to, given what it could sense coming from Leon’s bones.

It took one last look in the direction that light had come from, but after seeing nothing, the Thunderbird flew back out into the mists.

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And so Artorias is gone, leaving Leon all alone.

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Chapter 36 - Ambition

Chapter 34 - Artorias' Last Breath