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“What’s your plan?” asked Leon.
[Come… closer… Then… explain…]
Leon frowned. Xaphan’s voice had been extremely weak from the start, but now he could barely hear him. He jogged back into the labyrinthine halls of the prison from the locked exit. He followed the flow of magic in the walls, and after about half an hour found himself again in front of the sealed door down which all the magic disappeared. He was almost certain that Xaphan was somewhere through this door, and that this was as close to him as he could get.
[Thank you… This communication technique… is exhausting…]
“Seems quite useful, though.”
[It is indeed… Perhaps I will teach it… to you… should you help release me…]
“Speaking of which, your plan?”
[You must go to… the central enchantment hub… There… you can unlock… these doors…]
“Why do these doors need to be unlocked? Couldn’t I just unlock the exit instead?”
[No… This prison was built… for me and those… like me… The exit… is locked… because all the magic here… is being used… to contain me… Release me… and the doors… will unlock…]
“Hmmmm.” Leon didn’t quite believe Xaphan, but his explanation did make sense. If the doors were simply locked, then there would still be runic circles on the inside of the exits. But, that still left something he was curious about.
“If there isn’t enough magic left powering these enchantments to open the doors, then how was I able to enter in the first place?”
[The enchantments outside… are for emergencies… like critical magic depletion… in the main magic crystal… powering this prison… The door still works… but the enchantments needed… to open from the inside… don’t…]
“What? Why the hell are the doors designed that way? Why aren’t there emergency door openers on the inside? Wouldn’t that make more sense?”
[This is a prison… not a fortress…]
Leon frowned. He had to admit that Xaphan had a point. A prison is supposed to keep something in, rather than everything else out. If a prisoner got loose, or the enchantments couldn’t be powered anymore, then the doors would lock and the prison lord could wait for reinforcements. He supposed he could understand that attitude, though it didn’t diminish his anger.
Leon sighed. No matter how angry he might be at the design choices the architects of this prison made, he couldn’t change them. He simply has to deal with what’s in front of him.
“So, this enchantment hub, where is it?”
Rather hearing a response from Xaphan, Leon felt the slight twinge of pain in-between his eyes again, and the map of the prison complex appeared before his eyes. He felt his attention being called towards a large circular room in the center of the bottom floor. With a quick scan through the map, Leon decided on the best route, bypassing a few nonfunctional gateways, and promptly turned around and started walking.
[Can I take this… to mean… you will help me?] Up until this point, Xaphan’s resonant voice had been largely emotionless, with an even tone and as measured a cadence as he could manage. In fact, if Leon had to describe Xaphan, he would’ve said he sounded defeated and resigned to his fate. But with this one question, Leon heard something a little different. He wasn’t too experienced dealing with other people, but he felt that it sounded a little hopeful now.
“Still thinking about it.” Leon was inclined to release Xaphan, but he wanted to save the final decision for when he could look Xaphan in the eye.
He continued walking through the seemingly endless hallways of the prison in silence. Xaphan didn’t disturb him, he needed to save his magic power.
As he walked, he analyzed the map Xaphan had given him. The top floor looked like offices and enough living quarters for thousands of people, while the second floor down held larger rooms, like meeting halls and the prison lord’s chambers. The third floor seemed to be the nerve center of the prison, with armories and the enchantment hub.
Leon was looking forward to exploring these armories, but when he arrived a while later, he found them all cleaned out. This made sense, as if even the living quarters were empty, then the weapons were most certainly gone.
The only place left for him to see was the enchantment hub. He quickly made his way there, and found himself in front of an intimidating door, with a bright flashing red runic circle at chest level. Leon tapped the circle, which promptly vanished with a short arcane ring.
Leon waited in front of the door long enough to start getting nervous, thinking that it wouldn’t open when he felt a rumbling beneath his feet. A crack appeared at the top of the door, releasing an incredibly bright light, and the door slowly sank into the floor.
The room beyond was so bright that Leon had to close his eyes and stop magically enhancing his eyes in order to not be blinded.
When he opened his eyes, he saw an enormous cavern, perhaps a quarter mile in diameter and perfectly spherical, with a comparatively small platform in the exact center. The walls were covered with bright glowing multicolored glyphs and magic formations, so many and so detailed that Leon was unable to focus on any one by itself. There were millions of runes that seemed to flow into each other and even seemed to be slowly moving, rotating on independent axes around the central platform.
In the center of that platform was a huge glowing dull orange spherical crystal and a number of magic control panels that lined the edges. Leon could sense an enormous amount of magic power contained within the crystal, with that power spiraling out and feeding the countless enchantments that covered the walls.
He felt momentarily nauseous, as the magical aura of the room was overwhelming to his third-tier senses. After a few moments of weakness, however, he steeled himself and walked into the room.
The walkway leading to the central platform was wide and sturdy, made of the same dark grey metal as the rest of the prison. There weren’t any railings, but Leon could see small holes on the edges of the walkway as if railings had existed at one point but were now missing.
He hurriedly crossed the platform, consciously blocking out as much of the magical stimuli that surrounded him as he could so as to not vomit and reached the platform.
He had intended to examine the enchantments in the hub, but the map given to him by Xaphan was clearly not to scale, as he could barely lift his head to see the titanic dome covered in so many runes that he could barely make out even a single recognizable enchantment. Instead, he took a deep breath and turned his attention to the crystal. He had no idea where else to start, but this seemed as good a place as any.
Now that he was closer, he could see tiny runic circles placed at regular intervals all along the surface of the crystal. All the magic emitted by it was flowing out through these runic circles. Leon guessed this was to control the amount of magic being emitted by the crystal, but there was something odd here.
He examined the first runic circle closer and determined to the best of his third-tier senses that the circle could handle far more magic than was currently flowing through it. This crystal was absolutely on its last legs, that much was becoming clearer the more Leon studied it. The sickly orange hue it had taken on was proof enough that it was dying.
But, that being said, there was still a gargantuan amount of power left in the crystal, more than enough to power the main enchantments locking Xaphan away for far longer than Leon could estimate.
Leon then turned his attention to the control panels on the edge of the circular platform. He didn’t have the slightest idea what anything did, as there were no instructions or labels with the runic circles and magic glyphs covering the panels. He only had a very basic understanding of enchantments, so trying to decipher them was out of the question as well.
He sighed and decided to ask for help. “Xaphan, I don’t suppose you know what controls I need to open those doors?”
Xaphan didn’t answer verbally, but he sent a vision to Leon of the correct runic circles and glyphs to activate. After one last moment of hesitation, Leon followed the instructions then hurriedly walked out of the room. The door rose up, sealing the hub immediately after Leon left.
Leon took a minute to recover from how overwhelming that room was, then didn’t waste any more time returning to the door leading to Xaphan.
“So, Xaphan, what exactly did I just do?” Leon asked on the way.
[You initiated my release…. Well… you are unlocking… all the cells… But I am alone… down here…]
“Just initiated? What are the other steps?”
[There is another… enchantment control hub… down here… You need to input… the same commands there… that you just did…]
“And that’s it? You’ll be free?”
[No… You will need… to release my final chains… in person…]
Leon nodded, confident that Xaphan could see him, and hurried along.
When he arrived at the large door leading to the cells, he was quite happy to find that the instructions Xaphan gave him were correct; he opened the door with a simple tap on the runic circle.
The door glowed with a bright white light, then vanished in an instant. Beyond was a large octagonal chamber, about half as large as the enchantment hub. The only thing within was a console in the very center with a single magic glyph glowing brightly on it. Leon already knew from the map that the entire floor of this chamber was a magic lift that would take him down to the cells, so he didn’t hesitate to walk over and activate the glyph.
There was a slight tremor in the floor in response. The tremor didn’t fade, however, and the entire floor began to descend. The descent started slowly, but rapidly gained speed, until Leon started feeling slightly unsteady and had to grab onto the console to maintain his balance.
He descended for what seemed like ten minutes, but eventually, the lift slowed down. The enchantments powering it seemed to be a little faulty, however, as it didn’t slow down fast enough, and slammed into the ground, throwing Leon to the floor. Fortunately, he wasn’t injured, but he rose to his feet a little angered and embarrassed.
He didn’t dwell on it, though, and after checking to make sure the lift was still functional, he made for the only door he could see. His map showed five cells, and the secondary enchantment hub directly before. To get there, he needed to make his way through a two-hundred-foot-long tunnel with five more security doors. The doors were unlocked, though, only serving to slow him down a little.
Something he did notice that had him a little concerned, though, was the temperature. The entire prison complex was already quite warm, warm enough that Leon had taken off his lion’s coat, but now it was getting to be very hot. Leon even noticed that he was starting to sweat, something that rarely happens to mages past the first-tier.
“Xaphan, what’s up with the heat in this place? Do you have any idea?”
[That… will become clear soon.] Leon was very close to Xaphan now, close enough to know that that pause was due to hesitation, not the exertion of mental communication. That certainly felt off to him, but he was very impatient to leave this place and continue heading south. He was already rather behind schedule on that front, so he just wiped the sweat from his forehead, frowned, and pushed on.
The secondary enchantment hub wasn’t nearly as large as the previous one and didn’t have an enormous crystal in the center. Consequently, Leon wasn’t hampered in the slightest when he arrived. He quickly repeated the same runic circles and glyphs he had before and made for the cells. It was time to meet Xaphan face to face.
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