The Snow Lions didn’t stay long after ambushing the Deathbringers. All told, the entire fight lasted barely ten minutes, and that’s counting the few minutes the Snow Lions spent taking their revenge after the Deathbringers had already been beaten.
It might’ve gone on longer, but Leon heard a few more Deathbringers walking down the road who would soon come into sight of the ambush point. The Snow Lions hurried back into the forest, but it took Leon falling back past the tree line for most of them—who were riding high on their victory—to get the picture and follow him.
They left the Deathbringers there in the dirt. Their first-tier trainees had gotten off easy and only been knocked unconscious with the Snow Lion’s training weapons. The second-tier nobles weren’t so lucky, as all the Snow Lions got in at least one punch or kick on them. But, as only Leon was stronger than the first-tier among the Snow Lions, the nobles were barely left more injured than they had left Alain and Henry the day before. They’d all be fixed right up with a few healing spells.
But, inflicting permanent damage wasn’t the point. If it had been, the Snow Lion’s wouldn’t have used training weapons. Getting revenge for their friends and fellow trainees was the reason they had sprang the ambush, and in attacking and humiliating this group of Deathbringers, they felt that they had achieved that goal.
“HAHA! We did it!” shouted Alain in triumph as soon as they were out of earshot of the Deathbringers. His shout was echoed by the victorious Snow Lions, who joked and celebrated all the way back to their tower.
Leon wasn’t in such a celebratory mood. Instead, he felt an odd tingle in his bones and an itch at the back of his head. His eyes turned skyward and he noticed that, despite most of the morning having been clear and sunny, the sky had become completely filled with light grey clouds.
The Snow Lions burst in through their tower’s front door, loudly making plans with each other to head into the city to celebrate. Some of the trainees glanced over at Leon with the intent to invite him as well, but Leon was clearly uncomfortable with the attention and the restless feeling that had suddenly come over him.
“Leon!” called out Charles. “We’re heading into the city, want to come with?” Henry, Alain, and half a dozen other trainees were with him, and they also nodded to Leon, silently inviting him along.
For a moment, Leon just stared at him. His heart was racing and there was a loud buzzing in his ears. He took a deep breath, intending to give Charles an answer, but he couldn’t bring himself to form any words. He slowly shook his head, to Charles’ disappointment.
“Well… alright then! We’ll be carousing around the clubs and bars in the western districts if you change your mind!”
The first-tier trainees gathered their silver, put away their training weapons, and filed out of the tower.
As they were doing so, Leon stumbled over to the stairs and started making his way up. He started shivering like he was a mortal in a snowstorm. Fortunately, both the second and third-tier Snow Lions were already in the city enjoying their day off, so no one was around to see Leon struggle to climb the stairs. He almost felt like his own body was resisting him climbing the stairs for some reason.
After several minutes, Leon made it to the top floor and collapsed onto the closest couch to the door.
He desperately tried to make sense of what was happening. He tried to steady his breathing and meditate to calm himself down, but his heart beat refused to slow and his shivering only intensified.
Leon lay there for almost fifteen minutes failing to meditate. From what he was able to tell in that time, he wasn’t shivering from cold. In fact, his body felt like it was burning up, and that heat was coming from his heart—his soul realm!
[Xaphan, what’s happening?] asked Leon. He waited a moment, but there was no answer. [Can you hear me, demon?] Again, his question was met with silence.
Leon grew angry and shouted in his mind, [You worthless demon, answer me!] When that, too, failed to elicit a response, Leon decided to give it a rest. He decided to keep trying in half an hour or so, when he’d hopefully be a bit calmer.
Leon had no earthly idea that Xaphan was in no position to even try and reply.
The young mage tried to get comfortable, but he found it was impossible. Outside, the light grey clouds grew dark, and it began to gently rain.
As soon as the first drops hit the windows of the tower, Leon catapulted upright. He had started to realize that something was making him restless, and he felt that this rain was surely a part of it. He pushed himself to his feet and hurried over to the window, throwing it open and letting the rain rush in.
Leon breathed in the earthy scent of the raindrops hitting the dry ground. He stood at the open window for several more seconds before he realized that the noise in his ears had receded and his heart was beating a little slower now.
He immediately turned around and sprinted for the stairs. His mind was filled with nothing but the smell of the rain and the sound of distant thunder. In seconds, he burst out from the tower with nothing but the clothes on his back, his training sword, and his family’s sword.
As soon as the rain hit his skin, he stopped shivering. His heart was still racing, but he felt a little better. He took a few minutes to stand under those storm clouds and enjoy the rain; he had always felt a little more relaxed when a storm rolled around, and this was the first storm he had been in since he left the Northern Vales.
But, simply standing there in front of the tower wasn’t enough. Leon hardly knew what he was doing, but he took off running as fast as he could sustain into the forest, making for the western mountains.
When he had gone up to the top of the tower, it had felt like he was struggling against his own body. Taking every step had been an arduous task, as if there was a part of him that had been resisting. But now, he felt liberated, as if he had become as light as a feather. He sped across the ground so fast that he almost felt like he was flying.
Soon enough, he found himself at the base of the cliff near the pool he found the day before. But this time, he barely stopped long enough to locate a suitable spot to climb. He scrambled up the cliff almost like it wasn’t even there.
The higher he went—the more the rain washed over him—the better he felt. The wind picked up speed, howling in his ears. The thunder he heard grew louder, and occasionally he saw a brief flash of remote lightning strikes.
But even this wasn’t enough for Leon. Something spurred him onwards, and he frantically searched for a taller mountain.
At this point, Leon was effectively unconscious, operating purely on instinct. Magic power flooded into his body and his mind wrestled with keeping all of it in check.
After scanning the horizon, Leon sprinted for the tallest mountain he could see. He climbed with the same mindless speed he had the cliff, and he had arrived at the flat top in minutes. The mountain top was just barely big enough for him to kneel down comfortably, which is exactly what he did.
He closed his eyes and fell into a motionless trance-like meditative state, allowing all the magic kicked up by the storm to flow into his body.
Leon didn’t regain control over himself until several hours later, when the storm started dying down. He was soaked by then, but his body was filled to the brim with magic power. In fact, the first thing that Leon noticed as he opened his eyes was just how incredible he felt.
He knelt there for a while enjoying the rush this abundance of magic gave him. Eventually, his mind turned to trying to make sense of what had just happened. The last thing he remembered was zoning out in the third-tier common room, then just enough flashes of him sprinting outside and through the forest for him to know that he had done those things. He had no reason for why he had done them, but given how spectacular he felt, he wasn’t too upset that he had.
He was still firmly in the third-tier, but he felt that he had made great progress this day. In fact, as he thought about it, he remembered that Artorias would do something similar whenever a storm blew in back in the Vales. He would vanish from their fort at the first sign of rain, making his way—as Leon had found out just before the ritual that awakened his Inherited Bloodline—to that mountain platform he had made.
Leon was certain what he had just experienced was related.
He was soon yanked out of his thoughts by Xaphan’s voice resounding through his mind.
[Xaphan? What happened? Where the hell were you?!] Leon responded with some anger.
[Well…] he began, uncertainty creeping into his voice.
Just after the ambush, Xaphan went back to quietly sitting on the red and white tiles not too far from the small throne in Leon’s soul realm. The pseudo-magic body that the Thunderbird had created for Leon was sitting in the throne with its eyes closed.
The demon had been spending his days absorbing some of the magic power that Leon’s bone marrow constantly supplied his soul realm with. Xaphan could theoretically recover his power by relying on the meager amounts of magic that Leon possessed, but it would be a painfully and highly impractical process without the potion he’d told Leon about. But, there was little else for him to do on that tiny barren island in the Mists of Chaos other than watch Leon’s daily life, so he quietly sat and absorbed magic power.
If Leon could see him, he wouldn’t see any changes in the demon. His fires still burned all over his body, obscuring whatever might be within, but not so completely that a shadow couldn’t be seen. If Xaphan had recovered his power as fast as he had hoped, his flames would have burned much brighter, so much so that he would’ve appeared to be nothing but an enormous brightly burning flame.
As the demon was sitting there trying to pass the time after watching Leon carry out his ambush, he heard a quiet rumble in the mists. For a moment, he thought he had misheard; he knew of nothing that could exist out there, after all.
His eyes burned a bright orange within the red flames as they darted around, searching for the source of the sound. When he failed to see anything, he turned back to absorbing magic power. And then he heard the rumble again, but louder than before.
This time the demon was certain he heard correctly. He scrambled to his feet and searched his surroundings again. This time, he saw something. It was a tiny dark speck in the bright grey mist, and it was growing very rapidly.
In seconds, that dark speck had grown to encompass the entire horizon, which Xaphan realized to be immense storm clouds. These storm clouds were upon the island before the demon could react and began pouring rain down upon it.
[Leon, what is this?] he asked in a panicky voice, but he received no reply. He turned to look at the magic body on the throne and saw that it had been encased in a cage made entirely of lightning.
[The boy cannot hear you, former Lord of Flame.]
When Xaphan heard that deep voice that seemed to shake all in existence, he froze. Slowly, he turned to see what had spoken, and saw a towering bird standing behind him. This bird had gorgeous brown feathers flecked with gold that sparked with lightning magic. No matter how hard it was raining, not a single drop of water landed upon those feathers.
Xaphan had just come face-to-face with the Thunderbird.
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