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Within the secondary enchantment hub were five doors, all leading to separate cells according to the map. Two of the doors were open, showing short tunnels and empty cells several hundred feet away.
Two more doors were destroyed, matching the damage Leon had seen by the exits, with one rent and torn apart, and the other with a perfectly round hole knocked out of it. Leon could see that those cells, too, were empty.
That left the last cell, the one in the middle.
Leon walked over to the runic circle in the center of the door and activated it. The door descended into the ground, and Leon walked through.
The temperature grew hotter and hotter the farther Leon went into this tunnel, and he grew more and more anxious along with it. His left hand went to rest on the sword at his belt. His hand was shocked when it touched the metal pommel. Just static, Leon figured. He paid it no more mind but was strangely comforted by it.
He arrived at the last door, the final obstacle between him and Xaphan, and hopefully the final obstacle between him and continuing south. He reached out his right hand, keeping his left on his sword, and opened the door.
He was blasted with hot air as the large door opened, and he squinted from the sudden onrush of tears it brought. He could hear the crackling of flames, and he could sense that all the magic flowing through this prison was concentrating here. After an almost painful few seconds, the door finally fully opened, allowing Leon to see inside the cell, and he was left staring in awe and fear.
The octagonal cell wasn’t too large, barely taller and wider than the passageway. It had a row of magic panels off to the side, and a raised platform in the center. From the ceiling came half a dozen massive tree roots, each thicker than Leon was tall, and several rows of magic barriers between the walls and the platform.
But, above all, what drew Leon’s attention was what was on the platform. It looked vaguely like a human body, but easily twelve feet tall, and completely enveloped in flame. This fire was thick, and radiated an intimidating power, while also obscuring most of the details Leon might’ve been able to discern about the figure within. What he could see, however, were the tree roots, impaling the figure and forcing it into a kneeling position.
Artorias had told Leon stories about beings like this before, but not even he had ever seen one. He had taught Leon enough to identify it, though.
“You’re… a demon.”
“Indeed I am.” Xaphan no longer needed to speak with Leon mentally, as the young man was now in the same room as him. His voice was still incredibly deep, but it had lost its remarkable resonance. “Does this change anything, young warrior? Does seeing me now like this terrify you so much, that you will give up on leaving this prison?”
Leon shook himself a little. He was a little ashamed, one look and he had lost his reason. He attempted to discern Xaphan’s power, but he couldn’t quite make it out. Leon slowly walked forward, trying to get a better read on Xaphan. The demon himself just patiently waited for Leon to finish, as it wasn’t like he was going anywhere.
As Leon approached, he was able to see through Xaphan’s aura a little easier. He felt that the demon was stronger than he was, to be sure, but still weaker than the fourth-tier. But, that made Leon frown in confusion. Whoever built this prison had invested a great many resources into it, far too many for just a single third-tier demon.
“You seem too weak, barely above me in raw power. Yet, you are imprisoned here and are in possession of at least one very advanced communication technique. I have a few guesses that would explain this, but I’d rather just ask you: Why are you here?”
“I wasn’t so weak when I was summoned and captured. In fact, my strength is what led the Storm King’s mages to summon me. They wanted to force me into a contract, to add my power to theirs. I refused.” Xaphan was very proud once, but he had been locked in place in this prison for far too long to retain any arrogance. If Leon asked, he would answer as best he could.
“But if you were so strong, then why weren’t you able to escape? It looks like the mages who summoned you held two others, but they managed to break out.”
“I was the strongest, and so the strongest enchantments held me. I never knew my fellow inmates, but even when my restraints were new and well-maintained, I could vaguely sense their power. And I wasn’t impressed. My bonds have lasted far longer than theirs, and have taken far more from me. You see these roots, they have leeched almost all of my power. I have been left with barely enough to communicate with you while you’re still in the prison complex.”
Silence followed. Leon wasn’t sure what to do, and Xaphan let him think. Neither spoke for several minutes.
“Should I remove your restraints, there will be enough magic in this complex for me to open the doors?”
“But what will you do if I do decide to release you? What’s to stop you from trying to kill me?”
“I will not attempt to harm you,” Xaphan immediately replied. Leon didn’t seem convinced and looked at Xaphan skeptically. “I am a demon; my word is my bond.”
Xaphan had been helpful so far, but Leon barely knew him, they had only met less than a day ago. Artorias had some choice words for those who study demonology, and none were polite, so Leon wasn’t too keen on releasing Xaphan now.
However, the memory of being thrown across his house, of being helpless while his father fought off those invaders, of being powerless to save him, Leon would never forget these things. He needed power, he needed to get south. To that end, an idea occurred to him.
“Make a contract with me,” he said.
Xaphan was stunned. He was about to immediately answer no, but he stopped himself. He’d been trapped for so long, this might be his only way out. But, he was firmly against lowering himself to accepting a contract from a mere third-tier mage.
“The Storm King himself, one of the most powerful human mages in all of history, wanted to forge a contract with me. I refused him…” said Xaphan.
“…And look where that got you, locked far beneath the earth for, how long exactly?” Leon interrupted, to Xaphan’s annoyance. The demon glared at the young man but continued regardless.
“… What could you possibly offer that would be of worth to me, in exchange for my service?”
“You will never leave this prison without my help. Judging by your current strength, compared to what you claim it once was, you have fallen a long way. You’ll eventually waste away to nothing if you don’t find a way out. You’ve helped me thus far, so I don’t think you’re confident that you can escape with your own power.”
Xaphan couldn’t really deny anything Leon just said. He had largely accepted that he would die down here until this young brat had arrived. He didn’t want to die, especially not when a chance to live was right in front of him. But, he still couldn’t quite accept it.
“Where would you go if you are released? You were summoned, but could you return home from here with your power? Even if you did, could you still live as broken and feeble as you are?” Leon wasn’t going to let up on him, though. He kept pressing, waiting for Xaphan to answer. “I don’t claim to know much about demon culture, but I have heard of their insatiable demands for blood sacrifices, for the worship and adulation of human thralls, of the enmities between various demon-worshipping cults. I have also heard of the antipathy most of humanity has towards demons, thanks to the actions of their followers. If you did escape under your own power, how long would you last without support?
“I am offering you something, Xaphan. I am offering you a chance to recover your lost power, I am offering you my support and help, and most of all, I am offering to take you away from this prison.”
Leon let his words sink into the demon. He hardly noticed the sweat on his brow or the extreme heat of the flames on the raised platform. He just stared at Xaphan, subtly tightening his grip on his sword. But, after half a minute of waiting, Leon spoke up again.
“I suppose you won’t accept, then? Perhaps I should just kill you right here.” Leon drew his sword, and let his killing intent spill out. His aura spiked and hit Xaphan. The demon barely moved in response—not that the roots allowed for much movement—easily dissipating Leon’s killing intent with his own potent aura.
“You think you can harm me? I could tear you to pieces, boy.” The flames surrounding Xaphan intensified, completely obscuring the vague shadow within.
“Really? Would you care to put that to the test from all the way over there? Your current strength isn’t so far removed from my own that you would walk away unscathed even if you won, and then where would you be? All alone in this world, wounded, and surrounded by humans who would gladly end your life in a heartbeat.”
Xaphan glared at Leon, but the young man smiled back, clearly anticipating a fight. They stayed like this for another minute, before Xaphan’s flames died down to their previous intensity. He clearly lacked the power to sustain them and Leon smugly smiled even wider.
The flame demon hated this. He had denied his own summoners, but this boy would think to command him? But, try as he might, he knew that everything Leon had said was accurate. He didn’t have much choice. He could either live, or he could enter a fight that he had a good chance of losing.
Xaphan grit his teeth, and asked, “And the terms of this contract?”
Leon lowered his sword, but he didn’t sheathe it. “You will provide me with some of your power, teach me what you know about magic, and advise me to the best of your ability. In return, I will allow you to rest and heal within my soul realm and will do my best to provide you with the resources you need to regain your strength. We will never betray each other, and we will be full partners, acting in the other’s best interest in addition to our own. What do you say?”
Xaphan had to admit, it wasn’t that bad of a deal, especially in his current situation. Leon stating that they would be full partners was definitely an unexpected plus, and one that Xaphan appreciated.
“… Very well. However, I must first know your name if we are to be partners.”
Leon sheathed his blade and restrained his killing intent. “My name is Leon. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Xaphan.”
Xaphan ground his teeth in annoyance, but he continued anyway. “I, Xaphan, Lord of Fire and Prince of Demons, accept the contract proposed by Leon. I will support him to the best of my abilities, with power, wisdom, and knowledge.”
“And I, Leon of House Raime, accept the fire demon Xaphan as my partner and will support him in regaining his former strength and power. No blood sacrifices though. Anything overly ‘demonic’ will probably end with me, and you by extension, killed. This is a partnership for mutual benefit, so we should refrain from such unappealing methods.”
“I would not ask you for blood sacrifice, anyway. I understand the need for discretion, especially while you are still so weak, and I regain my power.”
The contract was complete. A bright golden thread shot out from the shadow in the flames, and sped into Leon’s chest, forging a connection between the young man and the demon. Leon could sense Xaphan through this connection, and Xaphan could sense Leon.
Due to this connection, Leon immediately felt the heat recede, even though he knew that it didn’t. He simply had an immunity to Xaphan’s power now, and the heat from the demon’s flames could no longer touch him.
He smiled and walked over to the enchantment control consoles by the door. Xaphan easily instructed him on removing the restraints, and the roots impaling Xaphan and keeping him pinned down withdrew. For the first time in a very long time, Xaphan was finally able to move again. He struggled to his feet and watched the tattered remains of the other wards and enchantments that imprisoned him on the platform fade away.
He felt elation, and quickly jumped down, landing directly in front of Leon. His landing wasn’t all that graceful, given his relative weakness, but neither minded. They just looked each other in the eye, and then Xaphan disappeared in a rapidly shrinking ball of fire. This fireball shrunk down to the size of a fingernail and shot into Leon’s chest.
Leon felt an incredible burning sensation, but it was oddly pleasant. It faded as quickly as it came, and he knew that Xaphan was now taking up residence within his soul realm.
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