Thanks to my supporters on Patreon, this will be the 2nd of 4 bonus chapters released today!
“Xaphan? Can you hear me?” Leon had felt Xaphan enter his soul realm, but he wasn’t clear as to how he could communicate with the demon. Artorias had told him that he would need to form his magic body before he could enter his soul realm with his own power, which meant he would need to be a sixth-tier mage. That would be a long time from now, Leon reckoned, longer than he was particularly willing to wait.
[I can hear you, young mage, but do me a favor, and don’t speak out loud when talking to me. You are my partner now, and if my partner looks insane, then that also reflects upon me.]
“Well, then how should I speak to you?” Leon demanded with a little frustration.
[You can direct your thoughts toward me.]
“You can read my mind?!”
[No. Perhaps you could think about what I just said, rather than immediately doing what I just asked you not to do? Now, direct your thoughts to me, and I shall hear them. Don’t focus your mind on speaking to me, and I won’t hear you. It’s that simple.]
Leon clenched his jaw in anger but forced himself to calm down.
[Can you hear me, you short-tempered demon?] Leon asked, within his mind.
[I can. Good job, you didn’t look so ridiculous that time.] Leon wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard the sound of condescending clapping.
‘Yeah, this is going to be a wonderful partnership. So glad I did this.’ Leon thought sarcastically to himself. He sighed, and walked out of Xaphan’s cell, with the distinct feeling of having made a terrible mistake.
He was immediately encouraged, though, when he saw the hallway had lit up with the same magical white flame in the bottom corners of the slanted walls that he’d seen in the prison lord’s chambers. These lights illuminated the entire hallway with a gentle indirect light that Leon quite liked. Now, he wouldn’t have to constantly direct mana towards his eyes.
[Looks like you were telling the truth, demon. Without the need to maintain the wards in your cell, this prison now has magic enough to turn on the lights.]
[Of course, I was telling the truth. I’m a demon, not some half-baked populist politician.]
[Damn, where is all this coming from?] Xaphan had been nothing but patient and courteous up till now, but he seemed to be growing more arrogant by the minute ever since forming that contract, leaving Leon a little taken aback.
[Perhaps it comes from being threatened and coerced into a contract during a moment of weakness by some little brat who hasn’t even seen two decades. And maybe you simply didn’t hear any of this while I was still guiding you towards the exit of this forsaken place using an exhausting communications technique.]
[Well, when you say it like that, I sound like an asshole.]
[You are an asshole.]
Leon frowned and continued to the lift in silence. The lift itself wasn’t damaged at all, despite its rough stop earlier, so Leon immediately activated it, and spent the time it was returning to the first floor allowing his magic power to course through his body.
He was a third-tier mage, which meant that the next step for him was for his organs and brain to adapt to magic. Having his mana constantly inundate his head and core with magic was the best way for him to train right now. Once he made it to the Bull Kingdom, he could look into finding some pills, potions, or spells that might accelerate the process, but for now, he was stuck with basically the same methods he’d been using since his father first had him begin his training.
Leon was also trying to get a feel for any power that Xaphan might have provided him with. And, at least in the time it took for the lift to arrive back at the first floor, he was unable to sense any changes to his power.
[Hey Xaphan, I thought I would gain some power by making a contract with you. In fact, providing me with power was one of the provisions of the contract.] He felt some irritation directed towards him coming from his soul realm before the flame demon answered.
[I can’t give you what I don’t have. How long do you think I have been stuck down there, wasting away? I have no power to give you, and I won’t until I’ve spent some time recovering. Until then, you will have to make do with my wise counsel.]
Leon sighed in dejection, something he felt he would be doing a lot more of now. But, he pushed that out of his mind. Since the exit was most likely unlocked, he could leave right now, but he doubted that he would make it very far before needing to stop. He wasn’t too sure what time it was, given how long he’d been down in these sunless caves and prison passageways, but he figured it was probably getting late. He was very tempted to simply return to the prison lord’s chambers and go back to sleep, to leave in the morning fresh and ready. A few minutes later, after his empty stomach started growling, he decided to indulge in that temptation and went directly back to the prison lord’s chambers.
Xaphan clearly wasn’t in a hurry, or possibly even paying attention, because the demon didn’t say a word even as Leon choked down some food and jumped back into that luxurious bed. The young man had lived a hard and rather solitary life, never knowing comfort that came even close to this, so he savored each minute until falling asleep.
It was only the prospect of leaving this prison that got him out of bed when he awoke. To his delight, he found that the bath was working again, so he took the opportunity to clean off the sweat, dirt, and grime that had accumulated since he had left the Forest of Black and White.
So, with breakfast in his belly, a clean body, and a rested and refreshed mind, Leon made for the exit.
On the way, he tried asking Xaphan a few questions, as there were things he was curious about. He also hoped that the demon would be in a better mood, and would be willing to answer them.
[Hey, Xaphan, I have a few questions, if you would indulge me.]
[*Sigh*… What is it?]
[What can you tell me about this ‘Storm King’? You’ve mentioned him several times, as did a note from the prison lord.]
[Well, I don’t know much, I barely interacted with humans even before his little minions summoned me.]
Leon’s face contorted in disbelief. [How could you be so strong that, according to you, one of the most powerful human mages ever wanted to forge a contract with you? Don’t demons gain most of their strength from blood sacrifices and human worshippers?]
[Of course not! We can certainly augment our powers with those things, but we grow and increase our strength and magic in much the same ways you humans do, through training and practice. And the odd spot of killing and devouring other demons and compatible elemental creatures. Besides, I’ve never been too keen on blood sacrifices.]
[You readily admit to violence and cannibalism, but draw the line at blood sacrifice? Good to know.]
Xaphan just ignored that comment and continued regardless. [To answer your question, the Storm King was an incredibly powerful mage who ruled basically this entire plane at one point. I couldn’t tell you how strong he was, as I never saw him in person, but if his subordinates were anything to go by, then he completely outclasses anything in this tiny corner of the universe by many orders of magnitude. Kind of weird that he’d actually conquer this plane of all places.]
[What do you mean by that?]
Xaphan paused, before asking a question of his own. [How much about the layout of this universe do you know? I’m guessing it isn’t that much, given how weak and alone you are…]
Leon grit his teeth in irritation. [Why don’t you just say it, then?]
[Hmph. There are countless billions of planes in this universe. Some are small, a few dozen miles across, just barely large enough to build a small city and have enough space to feed it. Some planes are much larger, hundreds of thousands or even millions of miles end to end. This plane is rather average, not even one hundred thousand miles in diameter.
[All the planes in the universe have at least one star and moon orbiting them, which are the stars you see at night. The climates of the planes themselves can vary wildly, with entire planes made up entirely of fire, water, or possibly light, in contrast to this one, which has a fairly even mix of just about every magical element.
[But, one thing they all have in common, despite their differences in size and elemental makeup, is that they all point towards the center of the universe. The brightest star in the very center of the sky, ‘up’ for every plane in existence, is the Nexus. That is the playground for the truly strong, that is the place the Storm King came from, without a doubt.]
Leon listened very attentively to Xaphan. This was all new to him, and he was fascinated. [So, then, you’ve been to this Nexus before, demon?]
[No. The Nexus is the realm of humanity, while demons inhabit the Void, the space between and outside of the planes.]
[And what’s that place like? You called yourself a ‘Lord of Fire’, so there must be some kind of civilization, right?]
Xaphan grew silent. Leon waited expectantly but grew rather awkward and embarrassed as the silence continued. After about fifteen seconds, Xaphan finally spoke again.
[The Storm King was not native to this plane. There’s no way he should have ever come here, but he did. And he summoned me. Or rather, he had his little butt boy Constans summon me for him, as well as four other demons.]
[Wait, four? I thought it was just you and two others?]
[I’d forgotten about them, as they were summoned before me. Two demons accepted the Storm King’s offer, but I and the two summoned after me refused. Many years after the Storm King’s warriors abandoned the prison, those two others managed to escape, but I have no idea what happened to the first two… I have no idea what happened that made those warriors abandon the prison either, come to think of it…]
[I found a note from the prison lord saying that the Storm King was killed, and his Princes recalled the warriors to exact vengeance.]
[Ha! Serves him right for trying to enslave me! It seems his dickhead sons are dead, too, given that their warriors never returned to the prison. Hehehehe… I wonder who got him. Probably the Realm Lord, or some other force that invaded this plane. I doubt anything else would’ve killed him; as I said, he was far too powerful to be here.]
[Realm Lord? Explain.]
[Maybe you could ask a little more politely and I’ll consider it.]
[Hmmmmm… No. If you want me to explain something, don’t be an ass about it.]
Leon sighed in anger again, but he had made it to the exit by now, so he couldn’t help but get excited.
[Well, look at that, demon, you were right.] In front of him, he could see the brightly shining runic circle on the door, just waiting for him to open it.
[Of course I was right. No enchantment here can escape my discerning gaze.] Xaphan said pridefully.
[…Except those enchantments trapping you, apparently, otherwise why would you have remained here for so long?] Leon shot back with a smile.
[Eh… Well, I did see through those damned wards, but how would I have removed them?! Did you see my restraints?!]
[Yeah, yeah, you’re a real genius, a demon of unparalleled strength and wisdom, a being that even a mighty king would consider lucky to have met. And also, someone who has spent the last who knows how long trapped like a dog in a kennel.]
[Watch it, boy.]
Leon chuckled, but both thought to themselves, ‘This damn guy…’ about the other. Leon didn’t let it get to him, though, as he confidently strode up to the runic circle, and activated it.
He was, admittedly, a little surprised when the door flashed and vanished. Not so much that he waited for it to close, though. He quickly crossed the prison’s threshold and walked out into the caves beyond.
Thank you to my Sixth-tier patrons:
Want to know what happens next? Head over to my Patreon, where you can not only read up to 5 chapters ahead, but also gain access to my Behind the Scenes posts where I talk about the inspirations and iterations the various elements of my story have gone through!
If you want to support this story further, please head over to Royal Road and leave a rating or review! It's free, and every one helps!