The giants gathered around the platform of basalt pillars that held up the Cradle. Rakos stood in front, with Lapis and the chiefs of the subordinate tribes right behind it. When Aquillius and the other members of the party arrived, the giants were standing stock-still and silent as they seemed to stare at the Cradle.
Golden lightning continued to strike the top of the dome at least once a second, and the hundred or so humans were forced to be just as silent as the giants, as the thunder was so deafening that any attempt to speak would be pointless. Again and again, brilliant golden lightning bolts fell upon the dome. As everyone was transfixed, rain slowly began to pour.
‘What is this?’ Aquillius wondered, not caring at all about the rain soaking his clothes and flattening his hair. ‘No way this is natural, the storm appeared too quickly for that. And where is Sir Leon?! Not a damned chance he hasn’t noticed this phenomenon, so where is… No…’
Aquillius had a sudden idea, or rather, a suspicion, and his eyes turned from searching the crowd back to the Cradle.
‘If he’s in that damned building, and he’s putting three years of my hard work at risk … I’m going to skin him alive! He’s going to push so many papers the paper cuts will bleed him dry! I will drown him in the lowest reaches of bureaucracy!’
Leon had no idea any of this was going on outside, as the dome was effectively soundproofed and kept even the loudest blasts of thunder from reaching his ears. However, with every lightning strike, the diamond in the ceiling grew brighter and its aura grew greater, and he couldn’t help but watch it with increasing trepidation.
“I’m surprised that thing hasn’t exploded, yet…” Leon muttered out loud.
[That diamond is, without a doubt, the keystone for this entire training room, so of course it can handle the function it was designed for,] Xaphan said with a hint of scorn.
Leon frowned and was about to respond, when a blinding bolt of golden lightning erupted from the diamond in the ceiling, split into eight separate bolts only three or four feet above Leon’s head, and struck the gems in the eight rods. The bluish-white gems then glowed even brighter, and Leon could feel a huge amount of magic building up within them.
[I would recommend getting ready to train, this place isn’t going to wait around for you,] Xaphan warned.
[… Right…] Leon nervously responded. He then sat down in the center of the platform, but he continued to stare alternatively at the rods and the ceiling diamond.
After a few more minutes of waiting around, another bolt of lightning was discharged from the ceiling diamond into the rods. This bolt was more than twice as large as the first, and the rotunda shook from the ear-splitting roar of thunder. It was so loud, in fact, that Leon momentarily blacked out, and when he regained his sight and hearing he found that he’d collapsed on the platform, and had to push himself back into sitting position.
To prevent something like that from happening again, he channeled a significant amount of his magic power into his ears, which was fortuitously just in time for a third lightning bolt to fall from the ceiling and into the rods. Again, this bolt was stronger than the previous two, but Leon was ready and so he remained conscious.
‘How long is this going to take?!’ he thought as he stared at the rods. ‘This training can’t only consist of sitting here and enduring the light and sound of lightning, can it?!’
As if to answer his question, a fourth bolt of lightning exploded out of the ceiling diamond, finally providing enough power for the rods to perform their function. Leon could feel that the charge built up within had reached its tipping point, and he prepared himself as best he could without knowing exactly what would happen. He also began to nervously grasp the sword at his hip for comfort, which seemed to do the trick as his heart rate slowed and his muscles relaxed.
And then, arcing out of all the rods simultaneously, came eight small lightning bolts that struck Leon in various parts of his body. In that moment, Leon’s entire existence became pain, and all the muscles in his body seized up so tightly that he couldn’t even scream. It was with barely a whimper that he again collapsed on the platform and was so stiff that he resembled a toppled statue.
[Keep channeling your magic!] Xaphan shouted. Leon could barely hear the demon, but he did as instructed, and he circulated his magic power within his body as much as he could. Over the course of fifteen seconds, he slowly regained control of his body, starting with his left arm which was still gripping his sword.
[What kind of training is this?!] Leon said angrily through gritted teeth.
[It’s not uncommon,] Xaphan said, [my own personal training chamber back in the Void concentrated a large amount of magical fire and immersed me within it. Just try to absorb the lightning magic as best you can, and it’ll help you with changing your own element-less magic power into more lightning magic.]
With a resigned sigh, Leon pushed himself back into a sitting posture and waited for the next blast of lightning. He called forth as much magic power from his soul realm as he could and closed his eyes so as to try and keep himself as relaxed as possible. This was only moderately effective, as his body shook with anticipation.
It took more than two minutes, and three more bolts from the ceiling diamond, for the next round of lightning from the rods. Leon was ready for it—or at least, as ready as he could be—and he managed to stay in his sitting position this time. However, the lightning magic rampaged throughout his body, causing an indescribable amount of pain. He tried to channel his magic to fight against it, but his own magic was ripped out of his blood and melted away in the face of this tremendous power.
[Don’t fight against it! Absorb it!] Xaphan shouted. As he was in Leon’s soul realm, he could tell that the latter wasn’t absorbing any of the foreign magic power.
[How… do I… do that?!] Leon shouted. He was in so much pain that even those five words spoken in his head took titanic effort.
[Just as you would your own power: draw it into your chest and channel it into your soul realm!]
Leon clenched his jaw again and began to try and assert control over the lightning rampaging through his body. It took an enormous amount of willpower, as he couldn’t just gather all the power together with his hands, but he was just barely able to direct the lightning into his chest. He could feel his chest expand with all of the power gathering there, and much of it leaked out back into the rest of his body. With great effort, he grasped as much of the lightning magic as he could by wrapping it with his own power and started forcing it into his soul realm.
And then, Leon felt his heart stop. So much lightning was coursing through it so it could be absorbed, that it simply stopped beating. However, the pain of this happening paled in comparison to what he was already experiencing, and he just kept going.
It took thirty seconds of mind-bending agony, but Leon managed to absorb all of the lightning magic. When his body was free of the foreign magic, Leon felt the pressure in his chest dissipate and his heart began to beat again, and he took several deep breaths to steady himself.
[I have to be honest, demon, I never would’ve thought of absorbing this magic,] Leon said, trying to distract himself from the residual pain left over from the lightning bolts, and from the pain he knew he was still in for.
[This is a place for training, it wouldn’t make much sense if the magic couldn’t be absorbed,] Xaphan said.
[Yeah, I get that,] Leon replied, [but my father always taught me to avoid absorbing foreign magic if I could get away with it.]
[You’ve taken plenty of foreign magic into your body before, such as when you drank my potion, and even when you breathe in the air around you that’s filled with foreign magic. This isn’t that much different, fundamentally. You should only avoid magic absorption when that magic is still under the control of another mage. To take someone else’s power into your soul realm is indescribably dangerous, as they can then use that power to cause you horrific damage.]
The rods sparked, and more lightning struck Leon, cutting off the conversation.
Leon could feel every bolt rushing through his body, ravaging everything it touched. He could feel his body locking up, but he held on to his consciousness as tightly as he could and did everything within his power to direct that lightning magic into his soul realm.
Within Leon’s soul realm, Xaphan braced himself for another wave of lightning. The throne Leon’s pseudo-magic body was slumped over began to spark and glow, and immense bolts of golden lightning rushed out. These bolts arced out into the Mists of Chaos surrounding Leon’s small island, vanishing deep within. Still, Xaphan could feel the aura within Leon’s soul realm growing more violent and tempestuous, more akin to that of a lightning mage.
‘He’d better not slack off on training fire,’ the demon grumbled silently. ‘Too much more of this, and the magic I can siphon off will be much harder for me to train with, and this little kid actually will surpass me!’
Every time Leon was struck with lightning from the rods, he endured it. He eventually became so numb to the pain it caused that he stopped feeling it. Everything else faded from his mind, and the only thing he could think about was the lightning in his body.
However, the bolts that the rods launched at him weren’t static, they increased in potency with every round. Leon had to circulate his magic faster and faster to keep enough control of his body to channel all of this lightning into his soul realm. He didn’t even realize it, but he was instinctively compressing his own magic in order to make it move through his body faster.
By the thirtieth round of lightning, Leon countered one of the bolts rampaging through his body with magic of his own. His intent was to corral the lightning and move it toward his chest, as he’d been doing, but suddenly, his own highly compressed magic seemed to explode with speed and power. This magic glowed and sparked within him, and slammed into the lightning bolt, instantly canceling it out and dissipating both magics.
Leon’s eyes, closed in his meditative trance, snapped open. For a long moment, he contemplated what he had just done, but the rest of the lightning bolts jerked him back to reality, and he went back to channeling them into his soul realm. As he did, he consciously compressed his magic and allowed it to arc throughout his body, mimicking the very lightning he was trying to control. With thirty rounds of examples, Leon found it almost comically easy to do.
As his magic raced throughout his body, it underwent a radical transformation, taking on the power and characteristics of lightning. Leon realized then that his body was completely relaxed, and he didn’t feel any pain—in fact, he felt quite comfortable.
His magic did everything he wanted it to do. He compressed it until it violently exploded outward, arcing through his body exactly where he wanted it to go. He sent some power into his right arm, and he could see tiny sparks of lightning arc around his fingers. With the amount of magic he’d already absorbed fueling his growth, Leon felt like he could conjure a thousand lightning spears described in his family’s books of magic, and if he weren’t in the middle of the training platform, he’d put that feeling to the test.
[I daresay that you’ve ascended to the fifth-tier, boy,] Xaphan stated. The demon was rather conflicted at this turn of events, as on one hand, Leon was better able to protect both of them. On the other, the young man was rapidly catching up to him, and he wasn’t too comfortable with that.
Instead of responding to the jealous demon, Leon patiently waited for the next round of lightning. He sat there reveling in his power, building the ‘muscle memory’ he’d need to reliably call upon it in battle.
However, such a good thing couldn’t go on forever; Leon was only able to absorb three more rounds of lightning before the dome above him cracked from the strain of the storm outside. The building looked quite formidable, but it had endured for eighty-thousand years without meaningful maintenance and was far more fragile than it appeared. The amount of lightning striking the dome and the transfer of that magical power was eventually too much for the Cradle to bear, leading to the crack that interrupted Leon’s training.
This crack prevented more magic power from flowing into the diamond, which in turn meant no more power flowing into the rods. The gems in the rods and the diamond in the ceiling rapidly dimmed, while a few more cracks appeared in the dome above.
“Oh shit…” Leon muttered as the projected sky sputtered and blinked out of existence, showing him exactly how bad the damage was.
Small cracks and weaknesses in the concrete dome that had already been there, but hidden by the fake sky, turned into large cracks that snaked and spider-webbed all throughout the dome.
[That thing’s going to come down, get out of here!] Xaphan shouted.
Leon didn’t need any more encouragement, so he shot to his feet and sprinted off the platform. He didn’t even bother looking to make sure he was landing on one of the marble platforms, and he consequently landed in the pool. He couldn’t care less about the water that soaked his boots, because as soon as he leaped off the platform, the diamond in the ceiling came loose and fell. The platform fractured under the impact of the massive rock, and several of the rods were bent outward and discharged the last vestiges of their stored lightning magic, launching bolts of lightning at the walls.
“Of course it’s fucking broken!” Leon yelled in frustration.
[Whine about that later, for now, get out of here!] Xaphan responded.
The destruction of the dome didn’t stop with the fall of the diamond. It was an incredibly old structure, with only the enchantments in the building holding the structure together. With the diamond gone, the dome continued to crack, and tiny chunks of concrete were already starting to rain down into the rotunda.
With narrowed eyes and a determined look, Leon turned away from the platform and ran for the exit, but he didn’t get far before he came to halt—he couldn’t see Anzu, the griffin wasn’t waiting for him at the edge of the pool. He frantically scanned the room as a big chunk of concrete several times larger than his body detached itself from the ceiling and fell into the pool with a titanic crash.
“Anzu!” Leon shouted. He didn’t really expect the griffin to come running, as Anzu had only received the name earlier that day, but there wasn’t much else he could do. Fortunately, when he heard Leon’s slightly panicked cry, Anzu poked his tiny eagle’s head out of the bush he’d been hiding in near the outer edge of the rotunda. The griffin had been absolutely terrified of the massive amounts of lightning and thunder that had filled the rotunda, and when Leon didn’t move for a long while, he’d gone and hidden in fear.
Leon saw the little griffin appear from the bush, and he immediately sprinted over and scooped the beast into his arms, much to Anzu’s consternation. The griffin thrashed and fought to get out of Leon’s arms, and two more chunks of the dome collapsing during those few seconds didn’t help, making him that much more scared.
But, Leon ignored the griffin’s terrified struggles to get out of his arms, and he ran as fast as he could to the nearest great hall, leaving the dome to finish its collapse.
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