Leon stared at the light in the Northeastern corner of the Northern Vale he’d grown up in.
“What is that doing there?” he muttered incredulously.
[What is it?] Xaphan asked.
[I grew up here,] Leon replied, pointing to the relatively tiny Forest of Black and White on the map.
[Oh? Then what’s that light represent? It looks like the Cradle, your archives, and that place are marked, so it should be a location of some importance to the Thunderbird Clan.]
[I have no idea what’s there,] Leon said truthfully. [Not in all the years my father and I lived there did we go so far to the east.]
[Why not? I’d figure that anyone who spends so much time in so small a place would know everything there is to know about it…] Xaphan responded disbelievingly.
[Well, my father certainly went farther east than I did, but he always told me that there were far more dangerous creatures in the eastern-most reaches of the vale, and to stay away from there.]
[Dangerous for you, or for him?] Xaphan asked.
Leon thought for a moment, then said, [… Hard to say for sure. Too dangerous for me, who was barely a first-tier mage back then? For sure. But for him, a powerful seventh-tier mage… I honestly don’t know.]
[Don’t wait too long to see for yourself,] the demon said with some impatience.
[I know…] Leon muttered. [It’s just another damned thing I’m going to have to keep in mind. How many things am I going to have to revisit when I’m stronger?! This had better be the last one!]
[You say that as if you have any power to change things,] Xaphan said teasingly. [How about you simply copy down that map, and we can visit every light on it as we find the time. I must admit, exploring more Thunderbird Clan ruins is an enticing prospect, even if I can’t stand their architecture.]
[I know,] Leon said, resigning himself to adding this to his laundry list of things he had to do when he became strong enough to do so.
He pulled out some paper from his satchel and hurriedly copied the map as best as he could. It took about half an hour for him to be satisfied with the quality and accuracy of his map sketch, and he double and triple-checked to make sure he wasn’t missing anything important.
[I wonder if Heaven’s Eye has any information on any ruins at these sites?] Leon wondered.
[Ask your girlfriend, I’m sure she’ll have some useful information.]
[I don’t doubt that; Heaven’s Eye is too powerful not to have at least some knowledge of these sites. Besides, I’m sure that many of these ruins have already been explored and pillaged, so that should narrow down at least a handful of these lights.]
[Makes sense,] Xaphan agreed.
[In the meantime…] Leon said, pausing for a moment as he turned his attention back to the platform in the center of the rotunda, [… I suppose we ought to get back to figuring out how this thing works.]
[Did you already forget what you figured out only a moment ago? I can’t say I’m surprised, but if you’re truly so absent-minded, I suppose I can deign to remind you,] Xaphan said with sarcasm almost dripping from his words.
[I know I said this place seemed to be a training ground, but that mural was hardly very specific about how to use those damned rods!] Leon retorted. He walked back over to the mural, and all it showed was a figure sitting cross-legged in the center of the platform, something which he’d already done. [This middle mural seems to indicate that a storm is needed, so it’s possible I won’t be able to make use of this thing at all…]
[Just the kind of defeatist attitude I expect from a human,] Xaphan teased.
[And what is your interpretation of this? If you have some nuggets of wisdom to drop on me, then please don’t be shy!] Leon shouted back.
[Look, waiting for storms to come around is hardly efficient, is it?] Xaphan asked. Leon couldn’t disagree, as in the past year or so since he experienced the first thunderstorm that left him dazed, he’d only seen about half a dozen more, including when he had ascended to the fourth-tier. In fact, he hadn’t even seen any storms since then.
[I guess…] Leon agreed.
[Then I would hazard a guess and say that there’s something around here that’s been storing magic power in order for whoever might make use of this facility to train as they pleased—or, if not that, then with slightly more reliability than only during storms. Since many of the enchantments in this place still function, then there’s definitely still magic power left in the building.]
Leon’s eyes widened in realization, and he turned his gaze up toward the diamond in the center of the dome, shining a bright gold like a fake sun. With a smile, he hurried back to the platform, leaving Anzu at the edge of the pool. However, once he got there, he didn’t have much of an idea of what to do next, so he sat down and crossed his legs in the center of the platform, just like the figure in the mural had done.
And nothing happened.
[You… didn’t really expect something to happen just with that?] Xaphan asked derisively after several minutes. [You’ve already done that, and nothing happened! Looking at a mural won’t change that!]
[I know,] Leon said quietly. [I’m just thinking. And examining the enchantment again.]
Half an hour of silence passed while Leon continued to study the spiraling enchantment. He managed to at least isolate and identify more than ten thousand runes making up around twenty glyphs, but with all of them rotating and circling independently, it was difficult for him to be certain of the exact number. Making matters more complicated, every five minutes, one of the glyphs would dissolve, and the runes would either form a new glyph or join existing ones.
‘So there’s constant maintenance going on, with glyphs being created and destroyed within the enchantment as needed…’ Leon thought to himself. He was absolutely fascinated with the construction of the enchantment, and the more progress he made, the more he wanted to study it.
[Hmmm,] Leon said so Xaphan could hear, [there’s far more than just lightning runes within. I count at least five hundred lightning runes, but there are also more than one hundred air runes, and at least thirty water runes…]
[If the enchantment controls and channels the magic of a storm, then wouldn’t there have to be more than just lightning runes?] Xaphan asked.
[I guess…] Leon responded. Xaphan wasn’t too much help with this particular enchantment, given that there wasn’t a single fire rune to be seen within, but he’d hoped that the demon would be able to at least provide some assistance with the overall structure of the enchantment and its glyphs.
[Maybe you’re getting too caught up in the enchantment itself. Perhaps you could try examining the rods?] Xaphan suggested.
[Huh. Good idea, why didn’t I think of that?] Leon wondered aloud.
[Because you’re only a young dumb human, as you admitted last night after realizing you missed the perfect symbol for your armor,] Xaphan smugly replied.
Leon clenched his jaw and forced himself not to respond, then approached one of the metal rods for a closer examination.
He found that, although they looked simple from far away, they had extremely faint etchings creating a design that made it look like the rods were made of thousands of different-sized needles. The etchings on the top face of the rod created a similar segmented pattern, with a ruby the size of Leon’s palm glittering in the center.
Leon analyzed the rod as best he could, but he wasn’t able to get far. The etchings seemed decorative, the ruby was dazzling but magically inert, and he couldn’t sense even the slightest trace of magic within the rod itself. Disappointed, Leon moved on to the next rod, and the next, until he had examined all eight. None of them were meaningfully different from the first.
[Well, I’ll admit that I’m stumped. We don’t have the time to properly analyze the enchantment, and the rods are a dead end…] Leon said with obvious dejection.
[Are they?] Xaphan asked mischievously.
[Aren’t they?] Leon countered.
[You didn’t touch them, so can you really say that you examined them properly?]
[What good will touching them do?]
[Probably none—especially not with your pathetic lack of magic senses—but it never hurts to try.]
Leon was silent for a long moment, squinting at the closest rod. [Did you sense something, demon?]
Xaphan didn’t respond, but Leon took his silence as confirmation that he did. He sighed, but it came out more like a low growl, and he approached the rod he was staring at. With a great deal of hesitation, he slowly extended his hand and brushed the tips of his fingers against the body of the rod.
And he didn’t sense anything.
Leon frowned and started to brush his fingers more deliberately against the rod, feeling every shallow etching in the otherwise smooth metal. And yet, he still felt nothing.
[What did you sense, demon?] Leon demanded.
[Try examining the gem a little closer…] Xaphan said with his air of mystery that Leon was finding increasingly irritating.
With his frown deepening, Leon gently reached out for the ruby. As soon as his fingertips made contact with the ruby, he felt a sharp shock journey through his entire arm, and he let out a cry of pain as his arm fell to his side completely numb.
“AAARGH! Fucking Ancestors damn it!” he bellowed. Anzu, waiting patiently by the edge of the pool, shot to his paws and stared at Leon. The griffin made a low whining noise and started to shift his focus between Leon and the water in the pool again. He wanted to join Leon on the platform, but he still couldn’t get past his antipathy toward the water.
Xaphan’s reaction, however, was to laugh uproariously. In between great guffaws, he managed to gasp out a few words, [HAHAHA… you’ll need… more magic… in your… arm… to stop that!]
With his fury mounting, Leon clenched his teeth to prevent himself from screaming in frustration at Xaphan’s lack of answers, and he flexed his shocked arm, quickly regaining feeling in it. His left arm, meanwhile, instinctively went down to grip the handle of his sword. Leon was too angry to make the connection, but his arm immediately started to feel better as soon as his hand touched the weapon.
With his right arm rapidly recovering, Leon channeled a fair portion of his magic into it and reached out for the ruby again.
[I swear, demon, if this damned thing shocks me again you and I are going to have words!] he snarled.
[Well excuse me while I shake in my boots!] Xaphan said sarcastically.
[You’re a dick…] Leon muttered just as his fingers made contact with the ruby again.
This time, Leon prepared for the shock, and when it came, his magic was there to fight it. His power easily dissipated the foreign lightning magic, and Leon didn’t feel more than a few brief seconds of discomfort.
But, once the shock was over, and Leon’s fingers lingered on the ruby, something strange began to happen: the ruby began to glow and change colors. In fact, Leon immediately started to doubt whether it was actually a ruby, as it’s bright red shifted to a shining orange, then to brilliant gold, and finally settling on a gleaming silver-blue.
[What… is this?] he asked.
[Some kind of diamond specifically used to channel and store magic power,] Xaphan answered. [I’m going to guess that once you activate all of the gems on the rods, the platform should activate. Should.]
Biting his tongue, as he didn’t want to say something that could later be used to embarrass him, Leon began to activate the other seven rods. Each one would give him the same shock the first had, but as he had prepared his magic beforehand, none did anything more than sting a little.
Unknown to Leon was that these shocks were also having a great effect on his soul realm. Xaphan watched as bluish-white lightning arced around the tiny island every time Leon touched one of the diamonds. This lightning possessed a terrifying aura, one that even Xaphan was apprehensive of, despite the front he showed to his partner.
‘If anyone except one of the Thunderbird Clan touched one of these rods, they’d probably be turned to ash…’ the demon thought, wincing slightly with every blast of thunder that accompanied these lightning bolts.
As soon as Leon finished with the last diamond, he returned to the center of the platform.
[What now?] he asked as he looked around at the glimmering silver diamonds. [I’ve changed the color of the gems, but that seems to be it…]
[This place hasn’t been used for millennia, give it some time,] Xaphan said.
Alix was quietly meditating in the maze, pouting and more than a little offended that Leon had abandoned her to gallivant around the maze. However, she felt the crater’s shallow breeze start to pick up, and she suddenly smelled rain in the air. Her eyes snapped open, and she saw deep black storm clouds materialize over the entire crater. She leaped to her feet, as it was obvious to anyone with the power of sight that this wasn’t natural.
The wind continued to pick up, and more and more clouds began to coalesce over the crater. Alix didn’t know what to do, whether she should wait for Leon or to hurry back to Rakos’ hall. In the end, her loyalty to her knight and her desire to live up to her own knightly ideals kept her feet planted.
However, the now-dark sky began to light up with bolts of lightning and the crater resounded with booming thunder. The ground shook, and Alix thought for a moment that this lightning was so powerful that it was shaking the ground, but several seconds later she saw the real reason: every Stone Giant in the crater had abandoned their halls and began sprinting toward the Cradle, where the clouds were thickest.
“Miss Alix!” came a shout from just outside the maze. Alix spun around and saw Aquillius coming to a halt just behind her. “What’s going on?!” he demanded.
“These clouds just appeared!” she shouted.
“Where’s Sir Leon?”
“He went to do some solitary training somewhere in these pillars!” she answered.
“Shit…” the diplomat whispered.
The two waited there for several minutes as the rest of the diplomatic party and their Legion escorts hurried over. Even those who had gone to explore the Crater arrived in short order.
“Well, let’s go see what the fuss is a-“ Aquillius began, but he was interrupted when a blinding bolt of golden lightning fell upon the top of the Cradle’s dome and filled with the Crater with a deafening clap of thunder.
Before Aquillius could repeat himself, another bolt fell onto the Cradle, followed by a third and fourth, and in seconds, dozens of lightning bolts were striking the top of the Cradle’s dome.
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