It took less than fifteen minutes for the potion to wear off. Every last speck of magic power had flowed into Leon’s soul realm, where it was drawn to the fire demon waiting for it. Where before Xaphan was like a bonfire, with the power of the Kagu flower and salamander core—plus the Eskellion Dove’s wind magic fueling his flames—he became like a tornado of fire.
Xaphan himself was in an inordinate amount of pain, but he didn’t have the luxury of passing out as Leon did. He channeled the fire magic into his demonic core and compressed it as far as he could. After five minutes, it felt like his core would explode; after ten, he felt so much pain that for a moment he was sure it had. The fire magic spread throughout his body, feeding his malnourished body but wreaking havoc at the same time. His bones cracked and his hard obsidian skin glowed red hot.
But after five more minutes, the pain faded. The fire tornado died down and the wind stopped blowing. Xaphan took a few minutes to catch his breath and collect himself, then cast his magic senses inward to inspect the state of his body.
Eighty-thousand years of immobility in a prison that sapped his magic power had left his core as dry as a desert. It had been so malnourished that he could barely generate any magic power at all. Leon had taken the demon into his soul realm and Xaphan had tried to use the young man’s own power to feed his core and recover, but Leon was just too weak. He didn’t possess enough magic for Xaphan’s core to heal in any reasonable amount of time. For all intents and purposes, the demon had been forced back to being a third-tier demon, even if the physical foundation he had laid during his rise to demonic Lordship was still there.
But the potion had been like a heavy downpour refilling a dry oasis. His powers hadn’t returned completely, but he could feel his core outputting roughly the same amount of power as he had when he was the equivalent of a fifth-tier mage.
[Good, I can work with this,] Xaphan muttered. He could’ve made due even if his core could only produce the same power as a fourth-tier mage, but he theoretically could’ve risen back to the sixth-tier from the potion so he couldn’t help but feel a modicum of disappointment. Still, with his core now given the kickstart it needed to recover, he was a happy demon.
Leon, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly so happy when he woke up. His entire body was sore and stiff, though the burns and cuts from the feather and potion had been healed.
[Did it work?] he asked, rolling over onto his back and not intending to bother getting off the floor.
[It did,] Xaphan said.
[Good,] Leon whispered before closing his eyes and taking a few deep breaths. [So, what now?]
[I’ll need a few days, maybe a week to take stock of my new situation.]
[More waiting, then.]
[These things take time, young mage. Just because the potion worked doesn’t mean everything’s immediately peachy. As I said, a week at most and we’ll know where we stand.]
Leon sighed and struggled to his feet. It was getting close to dinner time, so he made his way down to the first-tier common room. Upon reaching it, he saw the usual group chatting in the corner, so he walked over and joined them.
“Leon!” shouted Henry as soon as he saw him. “Leon… Leon….”
“What?” Leon asked, seeing Henry stare at him with an absolutely stupefied look on his face.
“I… I was at the arena today. Who was that girl that was all over you?!” Henry stared at Leon with a look of confusion that someone as unsociable as Leon could find a girlfriend and awe that said girl was so beautiful.
“Yeah, how could you keep this a secret from your buddies!” Charles said, throwing his arm around Leon’s shoulders in a brotherly manner. Alain, Bohemond, and Matthew also stared expectantly at Leon.
For his part, Leon froze up while his face rapidly turned red and his face twitched, not quite knowing what expression to settle on in his surprise and embarrassment.
After a moment of silence, Alain decided to give Leon a little help and ask a few simple questions to get the ball rolling.
“So, what’s her name?”
“… Elise,” Leon whispered, the gears in his brain finally turning again.
“A beautiful name for someone we’ve been told is more than beautiful enough to deserve it,” Alain said, glancing at Henry. “Why don’t you tell us a little about her, Leon? What’s she like?”
“And how did you meet her? And when?! And can you introduce us?! And-“ Henry wasn’t even close to being done with his barrage of questions, but Alain slapped the back of his head and shut him up.
“We understand if you don’t want to talk about this lady friend of yours,” Alain added, giving Leon a reassuring smile.
“No, it’s fine,” Leon said, giving Alain a look of gratitude for giving him some time to think and process the surprise. “I met Elise in the Heaven’s Eye Tower in Teira about eight months ago.”
“That long ago?” Charles asked in disbelief.
“Yeah…” Leon responded with a bashful look, causing Charles to facepalm.
“Come on, man! How long were you going to let this go on without telling your buddies about this girl?” Bohemond asked in slight frustration.
“Whoa there, let’s not go making a big deal out of this,” said Matthew. “It’s not as if Leon is particularly talkative to begin with. If he wants to see a lady in private, that’s his choice.”
“Indeed, there’s no need for him to say anything,” added Alain.
“Well,” Leon began, “I suppose I find it hard to say definitively that we’re even ‘together’.”
“The fuck does that mean?!” demanded Henry. “I saw how she was acting in the arena, if you two aren’t together then why in the name of all the Ancestors would she have been so intimate with you?! Unless you’re saying you paid her, in which case you must be broke because no way any man could afford her…”
Upon Henry’s not particularly serious insinuation of Elise being a prostitute, Leon’s killing intent momentarily spiked, leaving Henry frozen in terror and sweating through his clothes.
“I did not pay her,” Leon said with a quiet and grim severity that drained all the blood from Henry’s face.
“Right… Sorry,” Henry squeaked.
“So then what do you mean by ‘hard to say you’re together’?” Alain asked, quickly moving on.
What followed was a moment of silence while Leon carefully chose what words to say. He’d been troubled by this very problem for a while, but he never thought he would ever bring it up with these guys. But the guys waited patiently for him, having come to a reasonable understanding of Leon and how reluctant he typically was about sharing personal details.
“When… When we first met, she came off… she was very direct. I don’t really know what she saw in me, why she approached me to begin with, but… I walked into the Tower and then, without any warning, she was there, talking and smiling and… She’s given me a bit more space ever since, but with the context of how forward she was with me before we had even properly met makes it hard for me to see what’s genuine…” Leon babbled a little and wasn’t too detailed, but the others didn’t press him for too many specifics despite their burning curiosity. Well, most of the others didn’t; Henry was still too overcome with jealousy to pick up on the fact that Leon wasn’t too keen on providing those details.
“’Forward’, huh? So how good in bed is she? ‘Cause today she looked like she knows exactly what to do… Come on, man, I need details!”
Again, what Henry said infuriated Leon, but he refrained from releasing his killing intent a second time. Instead, he decided to clear the air, to correct any misconceptions his vagueness may have made.
“No, I’ve never- we never did that.”
The other five young men heard the second part of Leon’s statement, but it was the first part that made them all stare at him in shock. Leon felt incredibly awkward about how intently they stared at him, so he didn’t say a word either, leading to a long moment of silence.
“So,” Matthew said, being the first to recover, “you’re a third-tier mage, barely seventeen, but you’ve never had sex?”
“I haven’t,” Leon said quietly. He’d never been very concerned about being a virgin until leaving the Northern Vales and hearing how often these guys would discuss it. Over the course of the seven months in the Academy, he had grown self-conscious that he’d never been so intimate with a woman because it meant that it was something he couldn’t relate to and talk about with his friends.
“That’s… very surprising,” Matthew said in wonder.
“Yeah,” added Bohemond thoughtfully, “most of the girls I’ve seen have been incredibly attracted to just first and second-tier mages, even if they were ugly or middle-aged. Power is incredibly attractive, especially when it comes from a very young man who is already a third-tier mage and still has enormous potential…”
“This… this cannot stand!” Henry said loudly, finally finding his tongue. “Leon! If you’re not going out with that girl, then you have to come with me tomorrow! We need to get you laid!”
“No, no, that’s fine. We don’t have to do that…” Leon whispered. Ever since the conversation had taken this turn, Xaphan had started to laugh uproariously from his soul realm and he was trying to block it out. This wasn’t easy, as Xaphan’s hysterics were only growing louder.
[Shouldn’t you be busy evaluating your current power?] Leon asked angrily.
[Yes! But how… can I not… appreciate… this…?] Xaphan choked out between laughing fits.
“Yes, come on buddy! All you’d have to do is let your third-tier aura do its thing and you’ll have any number of ladies you want!”
“No!” Leon said again, with more emphasis and a hint of killing intent. Henry wisely closed his mouth and let his invitation drop.
“Nothing wrong with virginity,” Alain said.
“Well, maybe a little,” Charles added, exchanging a knowing look with Alain. “Leon, you like Elise, right?”
Leon slowly nodded, not quite sure what Charles was getting at.
“Well, if what Henry has told us—and if what you said about how forward she is—then you’re going probably going to be completely overwhelmed by her if you ever manage to seal the deal and get into her bedroom…”
Leon couldn’t really argue with Charles there. In fact, he started sweating from panic now that Charles had mentioned this problem that he had overlooked.
‘I wouldn’t be surprised if she has experience, there’s no way I’d satisfy her! I’d be fucked, literally! I’d last all of ten seconds, and then she’d probably leave in disappoi-‘
“But don’t worry!” Charles said, cutting off Leon’s line of thought after seeing panic breaking through Leon’s normally stoic exterior. “We’re here, and we’ve got the all the advice you need!”
“Anything you want to know, we’ll do our best to tell you,” said Matthew.
“Indeed. You’re our friend, we’ll help as best we can,” Bohemond added, giving Leon a nod of solidarity.
“We’ve got your back,” Alain said with a smile.
“You’ve taught us about fighting, so let’s repay the favor!” Henry added. However, as soon as he said that, he launched into a story about how he slept with both of a noble’s daughters and his wife all on the same night, a tale that was doubtlessly highly exaggerated if it was even remotely true. Since no one really believed him, everyone else chose to ignore him.
“So listen,” began Alain. He already had three fiancés, so his words and advice on this subject carried a great deal of weight and authority. “We should start with the single most important part of this for a virgin who might not be too confident in his abilities: foreplay. Trust me, my friend, your fingers and tongue can carry you through any deficiencies in other areas, such as a virgin’s lack of stamina…”
The group spent the forty-five minutes they had until dinner giving Leon various sex tips. Alain and Charles were particularly detailed in their descriptions of what they found worked. In fact, none of them had ever gone into so much detail before, and the conversation turned into everyone sharing tips for the benefit of all the others, not just Leon.
Leon himself didn’t talk much; the immense sense of privacy he had built up during his isolated childhood making him far too embarrassed to participate in the conversation. He did eventually relax after a while, but not so much as to ask many questions. Still, he did his best to absorb what everyone else had said.
That night, after dinner was over and Leon had gone to his room for his nightly training before bed, Xaphan spoke up.
[Leon, I need a favor.]
[What kind of favor?]
[I want you to try and use some of my power. It will help me understand how much I can give you, which in turn will help me realize my own output.]
[Alright, what do I do?]
[Remember how you did it last time? You only need to pull on the connection between us to summon my power, then you can manipulate it as if it were your own power.]
Leon took a deep breath and, just like when Xaphan had first taught him how to use his demonic flame on the journey between the prison and Teira, carefully located the connection between himself and Xaphan. He couldn’t really feel it unless he was looking for it, but now that he was aware of it, the connection felt like a string connected to his heart that he could tug at will. As he did so, power flowed out of his soul realm and into his body, but unlike his own power, this magic felt foreign and faintly unsettling.
[Careful, don’t go summoning too much, wouldn’t want you bursting into flame,] Xaphan said, the caution in his voice readily apparent.
Leon directed the demon’s power into his arm as best he could, but his face began to scrunch up from the strain. A third-tier mage trying to control the strength of a fifth-tier mage-equivalent wasn’t easy in the slightest.
But, soon enough, the power flowed into Leon’s left hand and it appeared to him that he was literally holding fire! A deep red flame had appeared in his hand!
And then things went wrong. Leon didn’t stop channeling Xaphan’s power, and the sense of discomfort he had quickly turned to pain, which then escalated into far more extreme pain. The flame in his hand winked out and he collapsed, barely holding in a scream.
[Stop! That’s enough!] Xaphan shouted, but Leon couldn’t stop the flow of magic stemming from the demon.
Before his eyes, Leon’s arm turned red from heat as it burned from the inside. Leon’s teeth clenched together so tightly from the pain that he couldn’t speak even if he wanted to. After a few more seconds, Xaphan managed to cut the flow of magic into Leon, but by then the skin on Leon’s arm had started to peel and bubble up; the burns Leon sustained all over and within his left arm were profound.
Leon sat in the center of his room barely holding back the tears and cries of pain.
[I’m sorry, I didn’t think things would be that bad! I thought your innate affinity for fire and the contract we forged would be enough to protect you!] Xaphan quickly said.
[Did… did you at least get the information you needed?]
[Yes, but… Yes, I did.]
[What was that ‘but’?]
[It was nothing,] Xaphan said. Leon was in too much pain to pursue his doubt, so he let the matter slide.
Xaphan had only asked him that favor to satisfy his own curiosity. He did learn a little, but he didn’t think it was worth the price Leon paid for it—but he refrained from telling that to the young man himself. The demon doubted that that would help the situation in any way.
After a few more minutes of channeling his magic into his arm to dull the pain, which had been so severely burnt that he could barely move it, Leon staggered to his feet and made for the bathroom where his first-aid kit and the healing spells it contained were located.
Thank you to my Sixth-tier patrons:
I Dewa Bagus