The Thunderbird’s brilliant golden eyes glared down at Xaphan, shocking the demon to his core with mere eye contact.
Xaphan found himself completely overwhelmed in the Thunderbird’s presence, with its turbulent aura pressing down on him like a hundred mountains. There was no way Xaphan could withstand this crushing pressure, not in his current weakened state. He doubted he could even stand against it if he were in his prime.
The demon’s knees grew weak seconds after the Thunderbird arrived, and the pouring rain and fierce wind that accompanied it caused the flames that covered him to fizzle and die down. When Xaphan’s knees finally gave out, his fires were completely gone, leaving nothing but the dark figure of an enormous humanoid. He was shaped like a heavily muscled man with handsome features, only with skin like highly polished obsidian that sparkled in the lightning that surrounded the Thunderbird.
Xaphan turned his red-hot eyes—the only part of him that still burned—up to meet the Thunderbird’s golden avian irises. However, after the Thunderbird forced the demon to his knees, it hardly spared him another glance. Instead, its attention was focused on Leon, still sitting on his throne as if he was peacefully sleeping.
“Re-… Release m-me!” shouted Xaphan in rage, struggling under the Thunderbird’s aura to raise his voice loud enough to be heard over the tempest that raged around the island.
The Thunderbird glanced back at Xaphan, sending the demon’s mind into turmoil. Xaphan crumpled down onto all fours, barely able to hold himself up.
[Tell me, what’s a former Lord of Flame doing residing within my descendant’s soul realm?] asked the Thunderbird, its thunderous voice hitting Xaphan like hammer to the chest.
“Who… are you… calling ‘FORMER’!” roared Xaphan in response, though the effect was slightly tarnished as he could barely string the words together under the Thunderbird’s cataclysmic aura.
[I’m calling you ‘former’, because that is what you are. A Lord of Flame who has been absent from the Void for so long is no true Lord of Flame. Especially not one so diminished as you.] The Thunderbird’s words cut deep into Xaphan, who grit his teeth under the strain of trying to respond.
[But your status is not my concern,] continued the Thunderbird. [It is your presence that demands explanation, demon. What are you doing here?]
Though his fires had been almost completely extinguished, Xaphan’s eyes burned orange like a pair of hot coals as he called upon all of his strength to resist the Thunderbird’s aura. He pushed against the island with all of his might, just barely managing to rise before the Thunderbird appeared above him in a flash of lighting and stomped Xaphan back down into the ground.
Xaphan gave a cry of pain as his chest was pushed into the stone tiles that surrounded the throne and the Thunderbird’s talons dug into his back, preventing him from moving again.
[I will not repeat myself again…] it warned, while allowing the pressure on Xaphan to abate just enough for the demon to speak.
Xaphan was about to shout defiantly, but the Thunderbird’s talons twitched and allowed a few small lightning currents to pass through Xaphan’s body. The demon clenched his teeth but was unable to fully suppress his groan of pain.
“I am not trying to possess him, we are partners!” he growled, barely getting the words out through his gritted teeth.
[I saw you absorbing some of my descendant’s magic power,] responded the Thunderbird with an accusatory tone.
“I only took my share! We made a contract! I reside in his soul realm and use a tiny portion of his power to recover, while I give him counsel and some of my own power in return!”
The Thunderbird’s golden eyes seemed to bore holes through Xaphan’s shiny obsidian skin for a moment, before answering with: [A terrible lie, if you are indeed lying, for it is so easily verified…] The Thunderbird’s feathers rustled slightly, sending a pulse through its body and into Xaphan.
The demon’s ire grew, as this pulse seemed to open everything about his body to the Thunderbird. He felt like he had no secrets under its unyielding gaze.
Slowly, after several moments of waiting, a thick golden thread appeared, connecting Xaphan’s chest to Leon’s throne. Specifically, it ran from the demon’s heart straight to Leon’s mana glyph on the back of the throne.
The Thunderbird’s eyes swept over the entirety of the thread, reading the nigh-imperceptible information within as if it had been carved into the heavens for all the world to see.
Though its avian face couldn’t frown, the Thunderbird’s displeasure was plain as day on its face. It removed its talons from Xaphan’s back and moved about a dozen feet over with a flap of its wings, keeping itself between Xaphan and Leon. Additionally, it allowed its aura to abate just enough for Xaphan to catch his breath, but not enough for him to rise past a kneeling posture.
Xaphan pushed himself up as far as he could, then took a few moments to reignite his flames. They didn’t rise very high; in fact, they barely covered him at all, leaving most of his body exposed. Despite having some time to compose himself, he still couldn’t move from where he was kneeling.
The Thunderbird barely glanced at him again, seemingly purposefully ignoring him. It stood between Xaphan and Leon, running its beak through its feathers while keeping an eye on the lightning that surrounded its descendant.
The two maintained their silence for the next few minutes. This quiet atmosphere was only broken when the lightning that surrounded Leon suddenly started to grow far more intense. Where before it was only a few bolts here and there every few seconds, it had become a maelstrom of lightning, concentrating enough power around Leon to shock Xaphan.
“Hey, what’s happening to him?” asked Xaphan in concern, after working up the nerve. The Thunderbird didn’t reply; it only stared with increased interest at Leon.
“Don’t ignore me, damnit! What’s happening to him?!” Again, the Thunderbird didn’t even look at Xaphan. Seeing that he wasn’t going to get an answer, the demon took to shouting at Leon.
[Hey, Leon! Answer me, boy! What’s happening?!]
Xaphan got as many answers from Leon as he had from the Thunderbird, but he wasn’t dissuaded and continued to mentally shout at his partner.
After several minutes, the Thunderbird rolled its eyes and glared at Xaphan, instantly silencing the demon with its gaze.
[Did I not tell you that he can’t hear you, demon?]
“… You did, but there’s no harm in trying, is there?” responded Xaphan with a slightly flippant look.
[You’re disturbing my peace. That is harm enough.]
Xaphan shrunk back a little at the Thunderbird’s rebuke, but then he gathered himself and said: “Well, if you were only to tell me what is going on with all that lightning, maybe I wouldn’t be shouting, would I?”
The Thunderbird clicked its beak again, though it was in thought rather than amusement. After a moment of contemplation, it said, [This is the first natural storm he has been in since he awakened his Bloodline. My power that he has inherited is amplified during storms, and it can be extremely overwhelming. He’ll experience an overpowering urge to head out into the storm and seek the highest place he can.]
“You don’t seem to care that much about it. This isn’t dangerous, is it?” asked Xaphan with some uncertainty.
[It’s fine. In fact, this is very beneficial to the young boy. A few more thunderstorms and he might advance to the fourth-tier.]
“Is this something he’ll get used to? It wouldn’t be very convenient if he loses his head every time a few raindrops fall.”
[It takes an enormous storm to trigger this kind of reaction. If he experiences a few more, he’ll eventually grow accustomed to the surge in power.]
The two continued to watch Leon as he sprinted back outside of the tower and into the forest. They watched him race through the forest and dart up the side of the cliff. They quietly observed as he found a suitable place to meditate, then sit down and do just that.
After about fifteen minutes, Xaphan had become certain that the Thunderbird was telling the truth and Leon wasn’t in any danger, so his attention began to gradually turn to the Thunderbird.
‘It answered a few of my questions before, maybe it’ll continue,’ he thought as he summoned his courage again.
“How are you still here, if you don’t mind me asking? The universe thinks you dead, yet here you are right in front of me…”
The Thunderbird sent a dismissive look at Xaphan before turning back to Leon. However, to the demon’s surprise, the Thunderbird actually answered several seconds later.
[I am dead. What you see now is a fragment of consciousness that my descendants have kept within them for eons, a tiny remnant of what I once was.]
“A ‘tiny remnant’, huh?” said Xaphan, vividly remembering the Thunderbird smashing it into the ground. “How is something like this even possible?”
[A trick that I and several of my contemporaries discovered, an exploited quirk in the way our power is passed down in our descendants.]
Xaphan waited for the Thunderbird to elaborate, but when it remained silent he didn’t press his luck.
“I have to ask… Why did you even answer my questions? Your reputation would indicate that you wouldn’t even spare a Primal God a moment of your time, let alone me…”
The Thunderbird looked back at the demon and thought about it for almost an entire minute before answering. [Hmmm. Perhaps that is the way I would’ve behaved, once. But after dying and watching my clan effectively come to an end, perhaps I feel a little more chatty. Besides, as a former Lord of Flame, it’s not like speaking with you is a complete dishonor for me.]
“Don’t fall me ‘former’! I am a Lord of Flame!”
[You are not. About ten thousand years ago, another of my descendants entered the Void and became acquainted with several of the Demonic Lords. You were replaced a long time ago.]
“What?!” roared Xaphan in fury. The Thunderbird’s response left him stunned and infuriated. He hadn’t even been gone one hundred thousand years! It’s actually quite common for a Demonic Lord to go missing for millennia at a time before suddenly showing up again without warning, so one hundred thousand years is typically how long it takes the Demon Princes to appoint another Lord. He had been captured and held prisoner by the Storm King, but the traditional waiting time had yet to pass and the Prince of Flame had already replaced him!
“I don’t suppose you know who replaced me?” Xaphan asked, barely containing his rage.
[Which Lord of Flame were you, specifically?]
[Then it would’ve been a demon named Amon. Of course, my information is a little out-of-date; my descendant was killed not too long after arriving…]
“Amon…” spat Xaphan with more hatred than even he thought possible. “Of course, it would be that fucking one. When I return to the Void, I’m going to tear him apart…”
[‘When’? I doubt you’ll make it that far.]
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
[Before you were summoned, my clan was one of the strongest in all of the universe. They ruled a truly immense portion of the Nexus and were lords over dozens of planes. Yet now, in less than a hundred thousand years, my clan has been reduced to a single boy in the Divine Graveyard. A fall that sudden is impossible unless it was orchestrated by an enemy of comparable power. And they certainly haven’t given up.]
It was subtle, but Xaphan could pick up on the defeat in the Thunderbird’s voice.
“You think Leon is going to be killed by these enemies, then?”
The Thunderbird didn’t give Xaphan a verbal answer, but its silence was enough for the demon.
“If you have so little hope for Leon, why bother try and protect him from me? Why bother watching over him with so much concern? Why bother doing anything at all? I mean, these are hardly the actions of someone who has lost all hope.”
[Why shouldn’t I do these things, demon? It’s not in my nature to simply lie down and wait for death, no matter how inevitable his death may be. But, doomed though I’m sure he is, I will at least provide this young lion with what little help I can give him. It’s not like I can see the future. Not to mention... I do believe that he has the potential for greatness. He may beat the odds.]
The lightning surrounding Leon began to die down as the Thunderbird finished speaking. The storm had ended, and Leon was returning to lucidity.
The Thunderbird took another look at Leon, then took off from the island and flew back into the mists without so much as one more glance at Xaphan.
Xaphan watched the Thunderbird go and didn’t try and to stop it. A few seconds after Xaphan lost sight of the Thunderbird, the pressure that kept the demon down vanished. Xaphan slowly got to his feet while thinking over everything that the Thunderbird had just told him.
‘Should I tell Leon what the Thunderbird told me?’ he asked himself. After a few moments of thinking, he came to his answer.
[Leon,] he said to the young mage.
[Xaphan? What happened? Where the hell were you?!]
[Well…] he started hesitantly.
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