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The southern side of the prison was pretty much identical to the northern side. The door closed a few seconds after Leon had stepped through, leaving the caves pitch-black, but for the door’s glowing red runic circle. Leon immediately went back to channeling magic into his eyes in order to see, and quickly put some distance between himself and the prison.
As he walked through the cave tunnels, the air grew much colder. The extremely warm prison had been cooling down ever since Xaphan had moved to Leon’s soul realm, but only now did it get to the point that Leon needed to put his coat back on.
Less than a mile down the immense tunnel, Leon felt the ground angle upwards, and he began ascending towards the surface. As he continued, he grew nervous about what he might find. The tunnel that bypassed the prison had collapsed, showcasing the instability of the caves, and Leon hoped that the cave-in didn’t stretch all the way to the southern exit.
He was in luck in that regard, as he soon found himself at the fork shown on his map, where the bypass met the tunnel back to the prison. Leon smiled in relief, checked the map, and kept going.
Xaphan didn’t disturb Leon, but the young man could feel a subdued sense of excitement from his connection with the flame demon, in anticipation of finally seeing the outside again. Leon hadn’t been down there for very long, but the feeling he got from Xaphan was infectious, and he started to feel the same overpowering need to leave this place that Xaphan did.
But, Leon’s pace was steady and unwavering. He kept calm and just walked forward until he felt a slight breeze from ahead. He could no longer contain himself, and sped up, walking faster and faster until he broke out into a full-on sprint. He was a third-tier mage, so his sprint was quite fast, and he reached the exit in no time.
He did slow down at the end, though. He remembered from when Artorias had taken him through these caves that this tunnel exited onto another small platform, similar to what was on the north side, and Leon wasn’t too keen on running straight off the cliff.
The sun was still out when Leon burst out from the cave mouth. He stopped just before plummeting over the cliff edge, and stood there, basking in the sun. He was like that for several minutes, enjoying the feeling of the sun on his skin and the wind in his hair. Xaphan kept his silence, but Leon could tell that the flame demon was beyond ecstatic to be experiencing fresh air again, even if it was through their magical connection. In fact, the demon’s influence was why Leon was so happy to be out of the caves.
But, when Leon came to, he noticed that the sun had only just begun to fall. It was hardly past noon, so he had plenty of time to continue on his journey and put this prison far behind him.
He glanced down the cliff. It was just as tall and sheer as the north side, but Leon was undaunted. He was a third-tier mage, after all, and while he wouldn’t willingly jump off this cliff onto the unstable-looking rocks below, climbing down posed no problem for him.
Once on the ground, he put his map with the cave system into his pack and retrieved the map of the Great Plateau. Clear Ice Fortress actually wasn’t too far away, only a few dozen miles to the west, but that wasn’t his destination. There wasn’t much to the south of Clear Ice, a few scattered farming villages and mining towns, but close to the western edge of the Plateau was a huge dot. Leon knew that that was Teira, the capital of the three duchies of the Great Plateau, the seat of the old Archdukes that ruled them, and his current destination.
He went due south for several miles, keeping to the cold and rocky slopes of the Frozen Mountains. Perhaps Xaphan was curious about his new partner, perhaps he was in a talkative mood after leaving the prison, or maybe he was just bored, but he broke the silence with a question after only an hour.
[So… What are your plans, young mage?] The demon chose a bad time to finally speak up, as Leon was climbing over a large frozen boulder that blocked his way. Hearing the demon’s voice in his head startled the young man, and he lost his grip, sliding down the icy boulder and back to the ground. Leon sighed in frustration and at Xaphan’s lack of apology before answering.
[I am going south, to Teira.] Leon steadied himself on the loose stones beneath his feet, then jumped clean over the boulder. The boulder wasn’t something that really needed the jump, but Leon was now self-conscious about having fallen off after being startled by Xaphan.
[… And then?]
[I’ll be checking out my family’s old home, then seeing what is in their vault in the city’s central bank.]
[Your family was rich, then? You don’t plan on living on inherited wealth to do nothing but sit in a room and cultivate your magic day-in and day-out, do you? That would get boring quite fast…]
[No, I’m just curious as to what was in the vault. My family has been the ruler of this Great Plateau for millennia, so there must be something. After that, I’ll probably head south. I want to enroll in the Knight Academy.]
[Not a magic guild? There should be plenty of schools and organizations willing to take you in, probably in exchange for less work than being a knight.]
[And what would you know about it, having seen nothing but the inside of that cell for longer than this kingdom has existed?]
[I have lived for a very long time, boy, and have seen a great many things. I doubt this Knight Academy is anything new. The only thing you should worry about is your own power, your own journey. Don’t waste your time serving some lord or king who will never acknowledge you.]
[My own power is why I want to become a knight. A decade or two spent fighting against the enemies of the kingdom sounds like a far better path to power than signing up for some mage guild. Besides, most mage guilds don’t teach combat magic, which is what I’m interested in.]
[Well, your choice.]
Xaphan returned to silence, and Leon pushed on. There was a sparse forest on the edge of the mountains, which Leon quickly entered after leaving the rocky slopes. He traveled directly south-west, towards the road connecting Teira and Clear Ice Fortress, and Leon intended to follow that road straight to the city.
The sky grew dark before he arrived, though. For a moment, Leon’s heart began to race, and he had to force himself to calm down after seeing the sunset, as he was in no danger of ice wraiths here. He decided to make camp, and continue in the morning.
When leaving Vale Town, Torfinn had given him one of the best steaks the market had. Leon intended to cook it up for dinner, and gathered some firewood. As he was gathering up the twigs and leaves to start the fire, Xaphan spoke up.
[Are you not going to use magic to light this fire?]
[Wasn’t intending on it. I could make a fire rune, but it would probably take half an hour and several tries. Quicker just to make a fire by hand.] Leon felt some slight disapproval coming from Xaphan, but he ignored it and reached for a flint and steel.
Xaphan tried to ignore Leon’s actions, but in the end, he couldn’t. Leon had gotten the twigs and leaves to begin burning from a few sparks and was now blowing on the tiny flame to get it to grow. Xaphan watched in disgust, eventually interrupting the young man.
[I can’t watch this. Stop this immediately.]
[Can’t. Just got the fire started.] Leon started stacking a few small branches and logs around the tiny fire.
[STOP THIS AT ONCE!] Xaphan let his fury out in an immense shout, startling Leon and making him freeze in place. But, it was only for a moment.
[What is your problem?!]
[YOU! DOING THIS RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! CEASE THIS FOOLISHNESS AT ONCE!]
[Well then how the hell do you expect me to get this fire going?!]
Xaphan was quiet for a moment. [You might be able to call upon some of my power. Not much, but certainly enough to stop this idiotic act.]
[What? I thought you said you had no power to give me?]
[I assumed you meant for battle. Using my power for battle would be quite impossible… or at least, absurdly inefficient.]
[*Sigh*. All right, what do I do?]
[Hold out your hand towards the firewood. Usually, you would call upon your own magic from within your blood and your soul realm, but you won’t do that this time. Instead, try to sense our connection. You can use that to call forth some of my power.]
Leon felt like asking for more specifics, but he found that he didn’t need to. If he had to put it into words, it was like pulling on a thread, one that connected him to Xaphan. It was actually startlingly effortless! He felt an intense, but comforting, heat erupt in his chest, then flow through his outstretched arm. A tiny flame appeared in his palm, no bigger than that of a candle.
“Well, would you look at that…” Leon muttered to himself.
[Don’t talk to yourself. It's a bad look.]
Leon ignored Xaphan. He was far more concerned with examining the flame in his hand. He tried to call up more of Xaphan’s power, but no matter how hard he pulled that thread, he couldn’t feel anything more.
[Don’t waste your time, there is no more to call upon.] Xaphan said bitterly.
‘Although, that was far quicker than it should have been…’ the demon thought to himself. Xaphan went quiet, resolving to investigate a suspicion he had.
Leon happily used this fire to set the gathered wood alight and took a package out from his pack. This was the steak Torfinn had given him, about twice the size of his palm, lightly salted and wrapped in leaves enchanted by the Greenhand farmers of the vale. The leaves would help keep the meat fresh for a few weeks.
Leon also grabbed a small iron spike, just large enough to stab the steak and roast it over the fire. He smiled as he remembered his father’s insistence on always keeping a few cooking utensils whenever they went out into the Forest of Black and White to hunt. ‘Essential to life’, he’d called them. Along with the iron spike, Leon also had a spare knife and a small set of tongs.
When he felt that the meat was thoroughly cooked, he held it between the spike and the tongs, and happily ate it like corn. When he was done, he fell asleep, feeling rather content.
Leon got moving early in the morning. He had a very quick breakfast of bread and fruit and got moving less than an hour after the sun came up. He made very good time, finding the road to Teira in less than three hours. He didn’t leave the forest but stayed close enough to the road to follow it straight south.
Occasionally, he would see a few people going about their business, walking along the smooth stone road, usually heading south just as he was, and he never let these people see him. He would occasionally leave the trees and walk along the road, but only when he encountered a farming town, and the wide-open fields were too big for him to justify going around.
Not too long after midday, Leon finally saw the first few buildings on the outskirts of Teira. They were only small houses, made of wood and stone and lacking any enchantments, but he could finally say that he had arrived in Teira.
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