Chapter 51 - The Estate

[Alright, Xaphan, I’ve got somewhere to be tonight, but let’s talk.]

[Do you possess an Inherited Bloodline?]

Leon was a little surprised at this question, but he answered immediately.  [Yes.]

[What was your ancestor?]

[The Thunderbird… probably…]

[Probably?]

[We don’t know for certain, and our ancestor hasn’t been too chatty in recent millennia.]

[Hmmmm…]  Xaphan went silent for a few moments, long enough for Leon to get a little worried.

[Is this a problem?]

[No…  No problem…  But I suppose it would figure that you have that bloodline, the same bloodline as the Storm King.  I guess he got his way eventually, I forged a contract with his clan.]  Xaphan spoke with noticeable bitterness, but he didn’t seem particularly angry to Leon.

[Wait, what?!  The Storm King was a descendant of the Thunderbird!?]

[Yes.  This was, in part, what gave him his titanic strength.]

[So then, the mage who you described as being one of the strongest humans ever, might be my ancestor?]

[I sincerely doubt it.  If that note you found was accurate, then he and his children died not too long after summoning me.  You are probably descended from one of the branch families of the clan, from one of the Storm King’s distant cousins.  If you’re lucky, then maybe one of his uncles or aunts started your clan.]

[Why would I be lucky in that case?]

[The closer you are to the main family, the purer your bloodline will usually be, and the easier you will use your signature elemental magic.  Of course, this means that you will have a lower affinity for other elements, and you…]  Again, Xaphan went quiet, as if he was specifically trying to test Leon’s patience.

[I… what?]

[You used my power with ease.  Far too easily, in fact.  Over the past day, I’ve been investigating your body as much as I could-]

[-YOU WHAT?!]

[Relax, it isn’t as bad as what you think.  I’ve just been letting what little magic I have circulate through your body, so I can see how well it flows.  If your ancestor truly was the Thunderbird, then my power shouldn’t flow so easily through your body, as it’s of the fire element, not lightning.]

Leon frowned.  He had no answers for Xaphan, and he hoped the demon was wrong, if only because he already stated in his mana glyph that he was a descendant of the Thunderbird.  If this was proved to be wrong, he didn’t think he could stomach the embarrassment.

But then, something occurred to him.

[Are there any exceptions?  Possibly inheriting an elemental affinity from both parents?]

[I’ve… never heard about something like that, but my knowledge of humans is admittedly fairly lacking compared some others of my kind.  Why do you ask?]

[I never knew my mother.  She was taken away from my family when I was too young to remember, but my father did tell me some things about her.  For instance, she—and at least one other member of her clan—used fire magic.]

[Hmmm…]  Xaphan went silent as he thought.  There wasn’t much he could say, as despite how confident he sounded when he started this conversation, he was really stretching his knowledge of humanity here.  [That…  Maybe.  Well, whatever the truth is, the real point I’m trying to make before getting sidetracked is that you have an incredible affinity for fire magic.  In fact, before you said ‘Thunderbird’, I was expecting you to say some kind of flame creature rather than lightning.]

[Really…  Well that is something to consider, isn’t it?]  Leon narrowed his eyes in thought.  He had never considered using any kind of fire magic outside of runes before, but Xaphan seemed to think that he had some talent for it…

[It is something to think about.  It’s not terribly useful information at the moment, but once you get strong enough to use elemental magic, or once I get strong enough for you to use my fire, then we will have to speak of this again.  My little test today wasn’t the most accurate thing in the world, but I have faith that I’m right, and thus I can’t let someone like you with such a high affinity for fire simply ignore it.]

[Really?  Well aren’t you just the sweetest thing, demon.]

[Don’t give me that, boy.  It would offend my pride as a Lord of Flame if my partner wasn’t a fire mage.  This just works out in both our favors.]

Leon glanced outside, and seeing that the nighttime crowds had largely dispersed, he decided to set out.  Xaphan wasn’t quite done talking, though, as he had one more thing to say.

[Oh, and by the way, it was incredibly negligent of you not to mention your Bloodline when making the contract.]

[How so?]

[Don’t you think I should have been informed that I would be sharing space within your soul realm with your ancestor?]

[You make a good point.  It probably should have occurred to me then.  Oh well.]

[I’m glad you can be so flippant about it.]

[So am I.]

[You’re an ass.]

Leon smiled in a way that infuriated Xaphan, but the conversation ended there, with the demon returning his attention back to recovering his power and letting the young mage make his final preparations.  For his part, Leon worked quickly, making sure that the door was locked and barred, then opening the window.  He trusted Charles enough to believe him when he said the inn was quite safe and secure, but he wasn’t going to take any chances.  He’d learned from Artorias that he should always prepare as best he could for everything.

In this case, there was little else Leon could do other than locking and barring the door, so that’s all he did.  As for leaving, that was what the open window was for.  His room was on the third floor, but as a third-tier mage, he could easily jump out and land completely unharmed, then jump back in when he returned.  He was also lucky that the window was on the side of the inn, opening out into the alley between the inn and its neighbor.

Leon took one more moment to recheck the location of the tunnel access point he wanted and the route to get there, then took the jump.  He landed surprisingly quietly, then took off into the night.

This part of the slums wasn’t well lit and had few guard patrols at night, but Leon wasn’t too concerned with running into any shady characters.  Any he did run into would undoubtedly go the same way as the thugs he’d run into earlier in the day when he saved Charles.  No, it was the guards that he wanted to avoid.  To that end, he’d left his Snow Lion coat back in the room and kept to the side streets.

His goal was a small mausoleum near the edge of the old city, now in between the slums and the city proper.  It was easy enough for Leon to find, as it wasn’t too far off the main street, so Leon just stayed one street over from the very brightly lit main street and followed it south.  He turned west when he saw the gate archway and kept going for another mile or so.

He moved very quickly and stuck to the darker streets enough that he didn’t run into anyone the whole way.  There was one near-encounter with a pair of drunks stumbling home that he almost ran into, but fortunately, they were too drunk to notice him.

Only half an hour after leaving the inn, he found the mausoleum.  It had been supposedly built to honor a knight and his retinue who fell in the service of House Raime, but there was an odd lack of writing within, so the truth was a mystery to most everyone.  At least, it would be, if anyone actually cared about the place.  This mausoleum had been there for so long that no one paid it any mind, and it had only been kept relatively clean by a public service funded by the Archdukes that maintained many of the landmarks around the city.  Unfortunately, when Archduke Kyros was killed and an Exarch was dispatched to administer the city, this service was axed so quickly that the mausoleum hadn’t even been properly sealed.  It was only visited by rats and the occasional horny or rebellious teenager looking to evade parental eyes.

The mausoleum itself wasn’t much to look at, just a simple circular building topped with a dome with three tiny tombs just big enough to inter a single person each jutting out from the main chamber.

Leon pushed open the stone door and walked in.  The chamber itself was empty, save for a single stone stele near the entrance.  Leon could see the three stone slabs covering the entrances to the three tombs, but that wasn’t what he was looking for, so he walked straight to the stele.

The instructions for opening the tunnel were written in very small letters on his map, just barely legible.  Leon pulled the map back out to check it again after glancing over his shoulder to ensure he had closed the door.

The stele itself was so old that anything that may have been written on it had long since faded, as it seems it may have been painted rather than carved.  Many archaeologists that visited this mausoleum had left disappointed at that fact, not realizing that the choice to use paint rather than carved letters was deliberate, to ensure the mausoleum would fade into obscurity.

Leon placed his hand upon the face of the stele and channeled his magic into his palm.  He controlled his magic power as much as he could, allowing it to slowly seep out from his palm and into the stele, then revolving around in a very specific pattern within the stone.  He did this for almost a whole minute when he heard a quiet arcane pinging sound come from the floor, then stumbled back from the stele.  Controlling his magic with such precision was incredibly straining, but he was lucky he pulled it off at all.  He reckoned that were he of the fourth-tier, were his brain adapted to magic, then such control would come very easily, and he’d be able to open this door in seconds.

 Leon took a moment to breathe, slowing his rapid heartbeat, then walked to the very center of the chamber.  There, he found a very dimly pulsing runic circle in the floor, which he quickly activated, causing the stone slab covering the tomb directly opposite the door to slide open.  Rather than revealing a coffin or sarcophagus, what Leon saw was a staircase leading far down into the ground.  He smiled and immediately ran into the tomb and vanished into the darkness.  After several seconds more, the runic circle disappeared, and the stone slab slid shut.

Leon was left near blind, but he simply did the same as when he was moving through the prison, channeling magic into his eyes.  This allowed him to see with little difficulty.

He spent the next few minutes descending down the stairs, then running along in a dark and otherwise unremarkable tunnel straight towards the palace.  On the way, he passed two other flights of stairs, leading to the tunnel’s other access points.  Leon paid them no mind and continued.

He was in something of a hurry and kept running through the tunnel, eventually reaching a large open chamber about the same size as the mausoleum.  He knew from the map that he was now underneath one of the residences of the ruined palace.  The only thing within the chamber was a spiral staircase around the edge of the chamber leading up, so Leon wasted no time in ascending back towards the surface.

At the top of the staircase was a platform with a slight recess in the ceiling by the wall, with a ladder carved out of the wall allowing easy access to it.  Leon could tell that this recess was a stone hatch that led out into the palace ruins, but unfortunately, the enchantments that opened the door had been destroyed along with the palace.  However, this also meant that the enchantments keeping the hatch closed were also broken, so after a little experimenting, Leon was able to brace himself against the ladder in the wall and push the hatch open.  This proved to be a challenge even to his superhuman third-tier strength, but he got the hatch open, pulled himself out of the tunnel, and took a look around.

The old palace had been well and truly destroyed, as most of it had been rendered into indistinct piles of stone, several broken walls, and a few lonely pillars.  There wasn’t so much as a single intact room.  Seeing the ruins up close, Leon hoped the Archives were still intact.  No more time was spent looking around, as even though the wild forest that was allowed to spread over the once immaculately well-tended estate, he was able to see the lights of the city, and he knew that at least a couple of those lights were from the guard posts along the perimeter of the estate.

Each of the hidden tunnels had been built underneath the five main residences of the palace.  The one he emerged from was the home of the Archduke’s heir.  His uncle Alexander would’ve been the last inhabitant, but as much as Leon wanted to look around, he needed to make his way towards the Archduke’s residence about half a mile to the south.

Perhaps it was due to his haste, but he didn’t encounter a single patrolling guard as he made his way past the shattered husks of once glorious palatial monuments and overgrown gardens.  It seemed obvious to him that the Bull King didn’t know about those tunnels and placed a great degree of trust in the enchantments placed upon the iron fence that surrounded the estate, so there weren’t many guards within the estate itself.

Finally, he arrived at his goal, though it was somewhat hard to tell, as the small mountain of scorched and broken stone was nearly identical to the other small mountains of scorched and broken stone in the area.  But, Leon had his map, so he knew exactly where he was.  Behind the residence was what he was looking for, the Archduke’s private training courtyard.  In the center of the courtyard was a mosaic of House Raime’s family crest made of shiny polished stone tiles, though many had shattered and blown away.

When he had to force his way through the tunnel’s secret entrance at the other residence, he was worried that he might have to do the same here, but he still followed the instructions on the map to open it, and to his pleasant surprise, he found that the enchantment was damaged, but still functional!  The mosaic sank about half a foot into the ground and slid to the side so slowly it was almost painful, but at least Leon wouldn’t have to force it open.  He doubted he would even be able to if he really needed to.

But, the door finally opened to reveal cracked marble stairs leading down to the hidden escape tunnel and House Raime’s private Archives.  Leon smiled, and happily descended into the ground.

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The guard post at the southern corner of the diamond shaped estate was the largest of all the guard posts that watched the palace ruins.  It also contained the central hub and power source for all the enchantments that protected the ruins.  It wasn’t anything fancy, just a glowing emerald the size of a quail’s egg and four enchantment control consoles that was each staffed with a single guard.

When Leon opened the door leading to the Archives, one of the guards manning the consoles noticed a small rune in the corner of his console light up.  His eyes widened, and he stared in disbelief for a second before he turned to the only knight in the room, a man who looked to be struggling to stay awake as he read a book behind his desk.

“Captain!  I’m picking up some kind of magical presence within the ruins!”

For a moment, the captain looked extremely annoyed at the disturbance, but then the implication sank in, and he turned to another of the guards, and said, “Do a sweep for anyone within.”

The guard immediately complied, tapping a very complicated looking glyph on his console.  A nearly imperceptible pulse was emitted from the iron fence, covering the entire estate in the blink of an eye.  Fortunately, Leon had already made it below ground by this point, so the glyph then flashed red.

“No signs of life within, Sir.”

“Hmmm…”  The captain frowned.  The enchantment that detected magic wasn’t too reliable, given the ubiquity of enchantments and strong mages within the city, but he wasn’t about to take any chances with this particular assignment.  He stood up and called over the few men-at-arms in his service.  He was going to alert the other guard posts and make sure the estate was locked down, then organize a patrol to sweep through the estate, just in case.

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Chapter 52 - The Door

Chapter 50 - On to the Inn