Chapter 184 - The Map

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By the time Anzu had finished off the food Leon had laid out for him, his caution was long gone.  He immediately bounded forward and rubbed up against Leon’s leg.  Leon chuckled and pulled out a few more strips of dried meat and Anzu began eating them out of his hand.

Alix watched this with a gleeful smile, and she extended a hand down to try and pet Anzu.  However, the griffin clearly wasn’t nearly so comfortable with her, as he darted out of the way of her hand and squeezed himself between one of Leon’s legs and the rock he was sitting on.  Alix frowned and retracted her hand, but Leon subtly took out one more piece of dried meat and gave it to her; Anzu wasn’t able to see it as he was still hiding behind Leon’s leg.

He did, however, see Alix lowering her hand down with the piece of meat.  It took another few minutes, but Alix managed to coax him out from behind Leon’s leg and take the food.  But, he immediately returned to press himself against Leon’s legs once he was done, to Alix’s slight dismay.

“I don’t think he likes me…” she said dejectedly.

“He spent the entire night alone after his mother abandoned it.  I can’t fault him for being slow to approach someone new,” Leon said quietly.  “As a matter of fact, I doubt he would approach me so readily if I hadn’t been there when he opened his eyes or if I hadn’t left it food last night.”

Leon slowly lowered his hand down and laid it upon Anzu’s head.  The griffin froze, but he still allowed Leon to touch him.

“I would be a little more worried and disappointed if he was still reluctant to let you pet him after a few weeks,” Leon reassured Alix.

“I hope so,” Alix said hopefully as she stared at Anzu.  “What kind of creature would abandon a cutie like that?!”

“A wild beast would.  Anzu probably had two or three other siblings born at the same time, and his mother decided that her time would be better spent on keeping them alive than watching out for an albino.  It’s actually a fairly common thing for animals to do, in my experience.”

“It’s still monstrous,” Alix spat bitterly.

“That’s the way of the world,” Leon said quietly.  The conversation reminded him of Artorias and what he’d been told of Serana.  It was easy for him to empathize with Anzu’s lack of parents, even if the reasons for his own being absent weren’t exactly the same.

There was a short period of silence while Leon smiled down at Anzu and softly rubbed the griffin’s head.  A few minutes later, Anzu laid down over Leon’s feet and looked like he was getting ready to sleep.

“What are you going to do with him?” Alix asked.  “Are you going to try and take him back to the Horns?”

“If I can, then I certainly will,” Leon answered.  “Although, I’m sure there’s plenty of regulations that will make that difficult, let alone whether or not Anzu will actually cooperate and come with us.”

“Well, you should absolutely try!” Alix insisted.  “I say we’re not leaving this little guy alone!  We’re bringing him back with us!”

Leon chuckled a little at her definitive tone, and he glanced at her with a cocked eyebrow.

Instantly realizing what she had just done, Alix stiffened and nervously added, “… Sir!”

“Relax,” Leon said.  “I’ll bring it up with Sir Aquillius when I get back.”

The two spent about an hour with Anzu, who fell asleep draped over Leon’s feet.  Leon decided to get in a little training so as not to waste the time, and he had Alix meditate as well.  When that hour was up, Leon stood up, waking Anzu and disturbing Alix’s meditation.

“What’s up?” Alix asked.

Leon thought for a moment, as he still didn’t quite know what to say that would let him get back to the Cradle without Alix.  After a few seconds, he said, “… I’m craving some solitude…”

Alix gave him a strange and slightly offended look.

“I don’t mean anything against you, Alix, but I just don’t get a lot of opportunities for seclusion, so I’m sorry for being rude, but I’m taking this chance to head into the maze for a few hours.”

“How long will you be in there?” Alix inquired as politely as she could, but she still couldn’t help but frown.

“A few hours probably,” Leon answered.  “I’ll be back by nightfall at the very latest.”

Alix grumbled under her breath a bit, but she didn’t stop Leon from walking into the maze.  Leon still felt her eyes boring holes into his back, though, and he felt every bit the asshole he knew he was being by leaving her behind.  Anzu, meanwhile, had gotten to his feet and scampered off after Leon, leaving Alix to sigh and resume meditating all by herself.

As soon as he was out of sight of Alix, Leon started running through the maze with Anzu hot on his heels.  Leon had to slow himself down a little so as to not lose the baby griffin, but he didn’t lose too much time.  Soon enough, the pair arrived at the edge of the maze, with nothing between them and the Cradle except five intimidating Giants.

[How do you plan on getting past those things?] Xaphan asked curiously.  [I doubt they’ll let you or your new pet pass without trying to turn you both into bloody smears on the ground.]

[I have an idea…] Leon said.  He then crouched down without elaborating, much to Xaphan’s annoyance.

“Now, let’s see if this will work…” Leon muttered as he gently picked up Anzu.  The griffin didn’t seem too thrilled at being held, but he didn’t struggle against Leon, either.  Leon then began channeling his magic into his invisibility ring, and to his relief, both he and Anzu disappeared.

[Ahh, so you’re going to carry him inside rather than leave him outside…  Not a bad idea, that didn’t even occur to me,] Xaphan said.

[I’m a little paranoid about leaving him out alone again, so I’d like to stay as close as possible,] Leon explained.  [But, if I were to pick him up after turning invisible, I’d probably instantly become visible again.  However, since my sword and armor don’t seem to interfere with the ring when I have them equipped, I figured Anzu would turn invisible with me so long as I was holding him.  I’m glad to be proven right.]

[… I can tell you weren’t too confident in your plan,] Xaphan said teasingly.  [You’re taking pride in it, but if you really felt like it would work, you would’ve told me.]

[And why would I do that, demon?]

[To gloat.]

Leon scowled, but fortunately, his face was too transparent for Xaphan to notice.

So, while holding Anzu to his chest, Leon silently slipped past the Giant guards again, and he hurried back into the Cradle.

This time, the inside of the building looked a little different.  As it was daytime, the projection on the ceiling changed to match, showing a perfect blue sky and a handful of fluffy white clouds.  And, just like the moon the night before, there was no sun in the projected sky.

Leon didn’t linger in the great hall, choosing to instead hurry back to the central dome.  He let Anzu down by the door, and the griffin cub eagerly followed him as fast as his baby lion legs could carry him.

Everything within the main chamber was exactly as Leon had left it the night before, save for the ceiling which had changed to a daytime scene just like the previous hall.  Leon immediately made for the central pool with Anzu sticking to his heels.  However, as soon as he began to cross the pool, Anzu halted at the water’s edge.  Looking back, Leon saw the griffin constantly looking between him and the water, as if he were unsure what he should do.

‘I think this one’s instincts are more feline than avian…’ Leon thought, Anzu’s behavior reminding him of a few wild cats he’d seen that were reluctant to get too close to water.  He shrugged and continued on, while Anzu decided that he didn’t want to cross the water, so he sat down at the edge and stared at Leon.

Once on the platform, Leon looked down to examine the runes beneath the reflective surface.  Many of the individual glyphs spun and rotated around, making it difficult to concentrate on any one single aspect of the enchantment, so Leon sighed and took a seat, resigning himself to a long period of study.

More than two hours passed before he moved again.  Sitting still and concentrating for so long made him a little stiff and tired, so he rose to his feet and started walking back across the pool.

[Did you make any progress?] Xaphan asked him.

[No.  Did you?]

[Nope, these enchantments are completely new to me.]

[Yeah… Yeah… I don’t think we’re going to figure this out in the few days we’re going to be staying in the crater…] Leon said desolately.

[I’m sure there will be opportunities to come back, especially with the peace agreement that Aquillius guy is working on.  I’m sure even you will have time enough to figure this out eventually,] Xaphan responded with a teasing tone.

Ignoring the obvious jab, Leon stated, [We don’t even know what these rods do, or the purpose of this place, since it doesn’t look like to me like a place where Stone Giants might have been built.]

[Don’t forget that there’s still a collapsed hall, and besides, the Giants may have been brought from elsewhere as laborers, they don’t necessarily have to have been born here.]

[And yet, they still call this place ‘the Cradle’.]

[A lot of people call a lot of things by weird names, doesn’t mean those things are what they’re called.]

Leon sighed; he couldn’t really argue that point.  The Cradle was obviously built by the Thunderbird Clan, judging by the familiar architecture and the numerous statues of Thunderbirds around, and Leon just wanted to know what this place had been built for.

Once he crossed the pool, Leon started to walk around the chamber with Anzu close behind.  The chamber was quite spacious, being completely devoid of any furniture or decorations, except for the small gardens along the edges of the room and the murals of projected light behind them.  Leon paced around the chamber thinking and ruminating on the enchantment, while he stared at the murals out of a lack of other places to look.

And then, he suddenly stopped and stared at one particular section of the mural, with his eyes widening and his jaw opening in shock.

[Is that… what I think it is?] Leon asked Xaphan as his eyes scanned the entire section of the mural that had caught his eyes.

[What is it?] Xaphan asked as he, too, started to pay attention to the mural.

The part that had drawn Leon’s eye was actually three small sections in sequence.  The first section showed a humanoid figure sitting cross-legged between two grey rods tipped with red diamond shapes—clearly rubies.  The second section showed a cross-shaped building being struck by lightning.  The third section showed a nearly identical copy of the first section, only with lightning arcing out of the rods and into the sitting figure.

[Are these murals… instructions?] Leon asked.  [I thought they were just decorations, but this bit looks like the central platform, that building is clearly this building, and I think that last bit is what the rods are supposed to do!]

[Huh…] was the only thing that Xaphan could utter in his own annoyance at missing something so obvious.

Leon quickly scanned the entire mural along the walls of the dome.  Most of it was hidden behind the trees, and when he squeezed himself between the trees and the walls, he judged that those sections were only as decorative as he’d first assumed.  But, there were five sections where the trees left a big gap, and these parts of the mural Leon realized weren’t simply decorative.  The one that had drawn his eye seemed to show what the purpose of the central rotunda was, while the other four, Leon guessed, showed what had gone on in the four great halls.

[So, what do you make of it?] Xaphan asked.

[I think that this was a place for young mages to train,] Leon answered.  [It looks like they’d sit in the center of the platform during a storm, and somehow train their lightning magic.]

[That… actually makes a lot of sense,] Xaphan said.  [I’ve heard that that’s how many lightning demons train, by directing lightning into their residences.  Places rich in ambient lightning magic are rare, after all, so it’s understandable in my eyes that places like this would be constructed—assuming you’re not misinterpreting anything, of course.]

[Of course,] Leon answered with a large amount of sarcasm.  [It’s just a shame there’s no storm out right now, otherwise we could put it to a test.]

Leon frowned, disappointed in his own interpretation of the mural, and moved on to the next mural.  This depicted a handful of figures bowing and maybe worshipping one large figure in the center.  This was also just outside the hall where Leon had found the door inscribed with ‘Prince Nestor’, so he guessed that that hall was simply the residence for the Prince and his retainers.

The next mural was cut into two sections, with one showing half a dozen figures hunched over a table or a desk, and the other with those same figures stacked horizontally on top of one another.

‘Offices and common residences?’ Leon guessed.  He had no way to know for sure, so he decided to go with his guess and move on to the next mural.

The fourth mural—next to the destroyed hall—showed two figures with their arms raised aloft, commanding a dozen much larger figures.  Leon could see the smaller ones that seemed to be in charge weren’t any different to the figures in the other murals, but the larger figures were a monochrome grey—Stone Giants.

[I suppose that’s proof the Giants come from the Thunderbird Clan…] Leon muttered.

[Fuckin’ called it,] Xaphan gloated.

Leon moved on to the final mural.  All it appeared to be was a map, but it was easily the mural that affected Leon the most.  It showed the entire plane of Aeterna, from the most distant coasts in the south all the way to the mountains in the deepest parts of the Frozen Mountain Range.  What interested Leon the most, however, were about three dozen golden lights that were spread out around the entire plane.

It took a few seconds for Leon to understand what he was looking at, given that Aeterna under the Thunderbird Clan was a completely different political entity than what existed now, and the mural’s stylization and lack of political borders had thrown him off a little.  Once he got his bearings, though, his eyes wandered the map, scanning over every golden light.  It wasn’t until he got to the north where the Bull Kingdom now stood that he fully understood what the lights meant, though.

First, he saw a golden light approximately where the Cradle was located.  There was another light in the same location as Teira, as well as one more about where Leon knew the prison to be located.  Finally, there was one more light in the least likely place Leon expected: the northeastern corner of the Forest of Black and White.

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Chapter 185 - An Unexpected Storm

Chapter 183 - Anzu