Chapter 40 - The Prison in the Mountains III

The being in the deepest reaches of the prison had been there for a great many centuries, since long before the prison had been abandoned.  In fact, the prison had been built for the specific purpose of containing it and some of its brethren.  The men who captured it had wanted something from it, they had wanted it so badly that they had imprisoned it in this remote place, but it had been so long that the being couldn’t quite recall what they had asked it for.

Perhaps its memory would return when it had shaken off the last bits of sleep.  But what had awoken it in the first place?

The being looked around in confusion.  Its surroundings were no different from when it had last opened its eyes over ten thousand years ago.  But it had definitely woken up for a reason, it was at least certain of that.

Several more groggy minutes passed while the thing analyzed its current situation until it finally found what had disturbed its sleep.

There was a faint clanging sound resounding throughout the room, that of a very distant sword striking against a wall, to the best of its knowledge.  The sound was nearly imperceptible, so much so that almost anyone else wouldn’t have heard a thing.

But this being’s senses were sharp indeed, and the millennia of silence and isolation had made it very sensitive to strange noises in the complex above.

It summoned all the power it still possessed and tried to peer through the wards holding it in place.  It didn’t have much power left, most of it had been sapped away by its restraints, but the wards were incredibly ancient and had long since begun to fail, so its magic senses slipped past with little difficulty.

Despite this, the being couldn’t help but sigh in dejection.  It had truly fallen far, as everything holding it down had decayed to the point that it would have been able to easily rip and tear it all apart if it were still in its prime.

Its magic senses shot through this lowest level and began rising up, permeating the entire prison complex.  It took some time, especially since the being was still so weak from its long slumber, but it eventually caught sight of Leon, following the flow of magic towards the first of the doors sealing off this level.

It didn’t believe its own magic senses, at first.  It had been down here so long that it no longer quite trusted itself to see the truth.  Hallucinations are rarely so obvious, after all.

It watched Leon try to open the door several times, to no avail, and turn around to search the rest of the prison’s living quarters.  Leon poked around the meeting halls, the cleaned-out library, the still and silent living spaces.  Leon was fairly thorough, stopping to check out every unlocked door he passed, but not exactly going through every deserted room with a fine-tooth comb, either.

Eventually, Leon arrived at the entrance to the prison lord’s chambers.  The opening of that door with the golden mural slightly altered the flow of magic within the prison.  It wasn’t enough for Leon to notice, but the being watching most certainly did.  It was left shocked, as it finally began to entertain the possibility that Leon wasn’t just a figment of its imagination.

It watched Leon closer, examining each and every wisp of magic that was emitted by the young man.  It was left exhausted from the exertion, but it considered it completely worth it, as it gave it a chance to finally escape from this accursed place.

[Someone… has found this place…] it said to itself.  Leon was real.  It doubted its senses no longer.  The strain of using its magic senses for so long and from such a distance had left it unable to communicate with Leon, but the last thing it saw before it needed to rest was Leon settling into the prison lord’s bed, so it knew it had some time.  It withdrew its magic senses and began to consciously build up its magic reserves, getting ready to speak with someone for the first time in dozens of millennia.

---

Leon slept wonderfully that night.  The prison lord had a taste for the finer things, and his bed was something he had particularly obsessed over.  It was so big that Leon almost lost himself in it and so soft that he sank down quite deep.

He had never been so comfortable in his entire life.  The soft sheets, the warm covers, and especially the fluffy pillows were all things he had never once thought about.  Artorias had told him so many things about the luxuries enjoyed by the rich south, but beds were never something he had spoken of, and consequently, were never something Leon had considered.  After a lifetime of sleeping in forests, or on hard wooden beds with naught but a few layers of fur, this bed felt almost life-changing.

Leon slept for a long time.  He badly needed the rest and despite how tense he had been the previous day, he now woke with a huge smile on his face.  He really needed to get a bed like this for himself as soon as he could.  That smile grew wider as he anticipated what new things he would find when he reached Teira.

His smile faltered a little when he remembered the maze he was currently trapped in, but he was confident he could find a way out.

Leon enjoyed laying there for a few more minutes, then pulled himself out of bed.  There was a bath in the corner, but he was very disappointed to find the enchantments powering it were too decayed to use.  He couldn’t see anything he could use to cook with, either, though he figured someone important enough to have a room like this would have had servants bring him food from a separate kitchen.  Thus, he could only snack on some bread and dried meat for breakfast.

Just as he finished eating and was about to continue going through the room, looking for a map of the prison or anything else useful, he froze.  He felt a shiver run down his spine and it felt like something was staring through him.  For a moment he hoped he was just being paranoid, but that moment passed when he heard a voice in his head.

[Hello…]

This voice was very peculiar.  Far too deep to be human, and slightly resonant, like there were one or two more people who were saying the same words very quietly at the same time.  One of these quieter voices sounded feminine, but the ‘main’ voice was quite masculine, so Leon assumed it to be male.

Leon spun around when he heard, his eyes darting around trying to find anything that might look like the thing speaking to him.  Of course, he saw nothing, and the voice continued.

[It seems… you can hear me… You needn’t… be afraid…]  The voice seemed oddly breathless as well as if speaking wasn’t something that came naturally, and it had to exert itself to form the words.

[I believe… that we can help… each other…  We are both… trapped…]

Leon relaxed a little, but still kept one hand on the sword at his waist and decided to try responding.

“Who are you?  Can you hear me?”

[Yes… I can… hear you…  My name… is Xaphan…]

“Xaphan… ok.  You said we could help each other, what did you mean?”  Leon knew that this ‘Xaphan’ was undoubtedly much stronger than he was if he could speak directly into his mind.  He didn’t think he could be of much help to someone strong enough to do that, but it would still be wise to step lightly.

[We are… trapped here… together…  I can’t move… but I know this place… You could free me… and yourself at… the same time… with my guidance…]

“Could you… be more specific when you say ‘trapped’?”  Leon still remembered that the rune used to describe this place was ‘prison’, and the skeleton in the corner had given his life to stay and maintain the enchantments in this place.

Of course, Xaphan knew this wasn’t going to be so easy.  But, he also wasn’t averse to telling the truth.  Or at least, he felt that lying wouldn’t do him much good in the long run.

[I am… imprisoned… here… in the lowest cells…]  Leon frowned slightly when he heard this.  Xaphan seemed to notice, though, and continued, [I understand… your hesitation…  I would hesitate… too… in your place…  So… I will offer… a token… of sincerity…]

Leon felt a slight pressure between his eyes and a very brief twinge of pain.  He almost shouted in anger, but then he felt like he could see all the rooms and hallways in the prison.  This only lasted a moment, but the layout of this place stayed lodged in his mind.

[I have… given you… the map of this… place…  In the very center… of the third floor… is the control room…  That is where… you will want… to go…]

Again, Leon frowned.  In that map given to him, he now knew where the exit was, assuming the map was correct.  It seemed to be accurate, from what little he could remember of how he had gotten here, and he could presumably just leave now if that were the case.  Of course, that would put him in a very awkward situation with Xaphan.  But, his frown didn’t escape Xaphan’s notice this time, either.

[You can’t leave…  You can see… the way out… but you can’t leave… yet…  See for… yourself…  I can wait…  I have waited… for so long… what’s a few… more hours?]

That certainly made Leon feel guilty, but he was absolutely going to check on this exit before doing anything else.  He grabbed all of his things, and very cautiously exited the room, casting one last look back at the bed as the door closed behind him.

Xaphan didn’t continue to speak as Leon made his way through the halls.  Leon felt that talking was very difficult for this guy, and he was more comfortable traveling in silence, so he didn’t press it.  Besides, if things turned out like Xaphan had said, they would have plenty of time to talk later.

It took a bit longer than the ‘few hours’ that Xaphan had predicted, as Leon was moving slowly and was constantly on the lookout for any potential traps, but he eventually arrived at the exit.  In the process, he decided to place at least some trust in the map Xaphan had given him.  It had led him to the door, after all.

Along the way, he had even learned why the halls were so confusing and seemed to loop back into each other without overlapping.  This complex used spatial gateway enchantments, essentially teleportation magic, in lieu of stairs or magic lifts, and they were set into the walls so subtly that Leon hadn’t noticed when he’d walked through them.  Unfortunately, with the state the complex was in, many of these gateways had ceased to function, leaving the hallways leading into them dead ends.

When Leon had concluded to the best of his ability that there were no traps waiting for him, he crept forward to examine the exit hallway.  He knew that this was indeed the exit, as it was incredibly similar to the way he had used to enter the prison.  The air was getting colder, returning to a more normal temperature, but Leon had adapted to the higher temperature inside the prison and shivered a little.

There was another door blocking the tunnel out and just like back at the other exit, it seemed like something had forced its way through in an effort to escape.  The difference here was that there was a clean hole like something had cut a perfect circle through the doorway rather than torn through like an animal.  Climbing through this hole, Leon found the piece that had been cut out still lying on the floor on the other side.

A quick jaunt down the long tunnel had Leon at an identical metal plate blocking him from leaving as the other exit.  Just like the day before, Leon searched high and low for a runic circle to open the door, but again, couldn’t find anything.  He gave the plate a few noncommittal pushes, but it was enough for him to know that he wasn’t going to get anywhere trying to force it open.

He sighed and turned around to head back inside.

“Hey Xaphan, can you hear me?” he called out.

[Yes…]

Perhaps he could find a way out on his own, but Leon decided to at least hear out what Xaphan had in mind when he’d said they could help each other.

“What’s your plan?”

---

---

So, now it's time to do one of the most nerve-wracking things I've ever done: Launch my Patreon.

By supporting me on Patreon, you can read up to 5 chapters ahead, plus gain access to my Behind the Scenes posts, where I talk about the inspirations and background for many of the elements of this story!

I've made my first BTS post free for anyone who wants to check it out!  I talk about the main character, Leon, and one specific iteration he (they) went through while I was planning out this story last year.  All subsequent BTS posts from here on out will be exclusive to the $3 donation tier on Patreon.

Update:  We've reached the first 2 goals already, meaning that there will be at least 3 chapters released on Wednesday!

Update 2:  We're up to the first 3 goals reached!  4 chapters will be released on Wednesday!

Update 4:  We've broken through the first 4 goals! WOOOOO!  5 chapters will be released on Wednesday!  You guys are the best =)

Chapter 41 - The Prison in the Mountains IV

Chapter 39 - The Prison in the Mountains II