Leon breathed deep, allowing his magic to flow unimpeded throughout his body. He’d been a fourth-tier mage now for over a month, but he still reveled in the feeling of control over the magic power he now had—he could feel every single drop of mana within him and knew that he could manipulate it in ways that he never could have when he was only a third-tier mage.
After separating from Lucilius, Leon and Alix returned to their rooms and spent some time in combat training. Alix was growing quite proficient with her sword, and with her diligent use of the breathing techniques Leon taught her, she was getting closer to ascending to the second-tier.
Leon himself could feel the progress he was making, as the amount he could compress his magic power was growing at an almost noticeable rate. He called forth his power to do so again, letting it fill his chest until it felt like he was about to burst, then he began to compress. He’d learned in the past couple of weeks that compressing his magic was far more about control than it was about strength, so he tried to compress as fast as he could without straining himself. It was still difficult, and the more he compressed, the wilder and more uncontrollable the ball of magic became, but he held on as long as he could.
Finally, when he could take the pressure no longer, he allowed the compressed magic to burst out of his chest. However, he didn’t just let it go wherever it pleased, he sent it hurtling down his arms as fast as it could. His muscles bulged and his veins and arteries almost glowed from the magic power, but it still wasn’t enough to conjure lightning.
Looking up at a nearby clock in his bedroom, Leon noted that he had been practicing his lightning techniques for about an hour and a half, so he switched over to practicing fire. He gathered as much of his power as he could, compressing it as needed to fit more in his chest, then he allowed it to slowly leak out and fill his body. Xaphan had told him that the magic in his chest was like an inner fire, and the magic should leak out like heat radiating from that fire, to slowly fill his body. Again, Leon wasn’t able to conjure any fire, but after another hour and a half of training, he was satisfied with his results.
[Xaphan, I’m ready now,] Leon said after a ten-minute water break.
[Finally!] the demon exclaimed. [I’ve been sitting here bored as hell!]
[Sorry to hear that, but there isn’t much I can do about your boredom,] Leon replied.
[You can hurry up to the sixth-tier, so you can start building your mind palace! At least then I won’t have to sit here like an ass on your diminutive little rock!]
[I’ll have my proper magic body then, too, so I’ll be able to enter my soul realm and give you a few good hits for your disparaging remarks,] Leon said, relishing every word as he thought about the possibilities.
[Your empty threat is empty,] Xaphan drily remarked. [Form your magic body first, and then maybe I’ll take you seriously.]
[To that end, I think it’s about time we got started on magic senses, no?] Leon said.
[Right. Get yourself situated, this’ll be easier for the time being if you’re not moving. You’ll need to learn how to project your magic senses when moving, but for now, sitting down is fine.]
Leon was already sitting down, so he said, [I get that, so let’s just get on with it.]
[Patience is a virtue, young mage,] Xaphan said with a mocking sage-like tone.
[I prefer brevity,] Leon countered.
Xaphan sighed, then continued, [All right, so the key to magic senses is to understand that they’re an active power, not a passive power—you must consciously use them, they’re not like your eyes or ears that are always on.]
[So, summon up your magic power, and channel it into your brain and spine. Do it slowly, straining something in either of those places would mean suffering a nightmarish injury. Show a little patience and keep a tight control over your power.]
Leon did as instructed, allowing his power to slowly pour into his head and back. He’d done this sort of thing often enough when training to ascend to the fourth-tier, but now that he had, he could do significantly more damage to himself if he wasn’t careful and re-learned the process.
[What’s next?] Leon asked as he continued to concentrate his magic power in the key areas.
[This will be incredibly difficult for you, as a fourth-tier mage, so temper any expectations you might have,] Xaphan reminded.
[I’m hoping for at least five feet—if I’m able to get a handle on this technique before I ascend to the fifth-tier…] Leon responded.
[Not an unrealistic expectation,] Xaphan admitted.
[Moving on…] Leon said, urging Xaphan onward.
[Moving on, then. On a fundamental level, magic senses aren’t that different from your aura; the key here is that your aura—the magic you emit unconsciously—is something that you have to actively hold in, and once emitted it’s essentially out of your control.]
[So I have to project my aura?] Leon asked.
[Yes, but in a controlled way. Project your magic, let it slowly pulse, and you should feel what I can only describe as ‘resonance’ with the power within your spine.]
Leon did as instructed and tried to push his magic out of his body. This wasn’t nearly as easy as Xaphan made it sound, and after several minutes, Leon hadn’t managed it at all.
[This is something that tends to come naturally to fifth-tier mages, though their range will rarely grow beyond forty or fifty feet,] Xaphan explained. [You’ll get a hold over this power eventually.]
[You say that as if I was about to give up,] Leon said. [I’ve only given this a few minutes of effort, I’m not done yet!]
Leon spent the next hour or so attempting to project his magic senses, but if it were so easy to do, it wouldn’t be a power associated with fifth-tier mages; he was unsuccessful in his efforts, but he at least had an idea of what to train and how.
[Oh, what a shock, you couldn’t manage to pull it off,] Xaphan sarcastically mocked.
[Funny, I don’t recall ever saying I would,] Leon calmly replied. [I’ve been practicing for an hour! I’ll get it down eventually, no doubt in my mind about that, I just have to keep working at it.]
Xaphan was quiet for a moment, eventually saying, [… You know, young human, it’s not satisfying mocking you when that’s how you react…]
Leon burst out with a few laughs so strong that he almost snorted. [You know, demon, there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while, now.]
[What is it?]
[Are all demons like you?]
[‘Like me’ can mean quite a few things; be more specific,] Xaphan demanded.
[Well, the stories my father told me, and from what I could glean from books, demons are hardly the most friendly of creatures. And yet, you don’t really treat me that bad, you’re plenty willing to talk to me, and not just about things that concern you. You don’t fit into the mold of what I’ve been taught, and I’m wondering if what I was taught was wrong.]
[Well, that makes me curious, young mage; according to your own preconceptions, how am I, a demon of flame revered as a mighty Lord of Flame, supposed to act?]
[I guess, aloof? Distant, not speaking much, always trying to impress your will upon others. Oh, and haughty beyond measure, along with a tremendous helping of pride and arrogance—though, I’d say you have the latter parts down pat.]
[Hmm,] Xaphan murmured. He took a few moments to think a while before he gave his answer. [… No, most demons are nothing like me. In fact, you’re not too far off the mark, especially with the haughty and arrogant parts. Most demons are incredibly prideful, and why shouldn’t they be? Humans kill each other in droves just to obtain fragments of our power! Arrogance and a sense of entitlement is, I think, something to be expected from a demon when so pursued.]
[You can add a certain amount of self-awareness to the list of traits I didn’t think a demon would possess,] Leon quietly added.
[I’ve had a long time to think about these things, young mage. I’m old enough that those eighty thousand years I spent in that prison was hardly much compared to the entire breadth of my life, but I would never call it an insignificant amount of time. Other demons are arrogant, but most demons don’t spend eighty thousand years trapped by those who summoned them. They don’t spend millennia humiliated by members of one of the most powerful Nexus clans in existence! They don’t have to suffer the indignity of having your life and liberty demanded as payment to be free of your restraints!]
Leon’s eyes widened in slight alarm, as he could feel Xaphan’s mounting rage. He had no idea what he was unleashing when he asked his question, but he also felt like this might have been something that his demonic partner might have been holding in. And now that he had started to release some of his frustration, Xaphan wasn’t stopping.
[I was imprisoned! Forced to kneel to my captors! Deprived of all movement! My power was leeched away to help power the prison’s enchantments, so that I was still useful to them, even in my refusal! And, because I continued to reject their contract demands, they abandoned me! They forgot about me!]
Xaphan seemed to stop for breath here, and Leon didn’t even try to interrupt.
[I’m different, young mage, because I have had a long time to reflect on my life. What once interested me, the dogged pursuit of power at all costs, no longer holds the same charms. I will regain my old strength, and I will reclaim my Lordship, but it will be at my own pace! No one will ever dictate to me how I should live! I will take life as it comes and enjoy it when it does. I’m different, young mage, because there are things I want to enjoy. I will not take what few freedoms I still possess for granted ever again.]
Silence fell between the two after Xaphan’s rant. The demon’s words gave Leon some things to think about, and drove all thoughts of training from his head.
[Well, I think that certainly answers my question,] Leon muttered.
[I guess,] Xaphan said. [Also, don’t forget that we forged a bond, formally acknowledging the other as our equal. With that bond comes understanding, and with understanding, a feeling of familiarity. With that familiarity comes more understanding, and it makes relaxation around each other easy. For as long as this contract remains to bind us together, Leon, I will always know you better than anyone else, just as you will know me better than anyone.]
[I don’t really know that much about you, though,] Leon responded.
[I’m not talking about personal history, or the names of our parents, or other asinine facts like that. What I am talking about are emotions, what we feel, when we feel, and why. If something makes us happy, then we both experience it, to a degree. If something infuriates one of us, then the other will feel that anger and fury as our own. That makes it hard to not be familiar with each other.]
[Makes sense,] Leon said. He’d certainly felt more than a few of Xaphan’s emotions on multiple occasions, and it was easy for him to guess that Xaphan felt some of his. [Out of curiosity, demon, how is the recovery of your power going? Need any terrible and painful potions?]
[Not at the moment, but that could change,] Xaphan answered. [For now, just continue to gain power in your own right. I’m rebuilding my own power base, and the more power you have, the more I can use to heal.]
[A candid answer, as expected,] Leon said with a chuckle. And with his questions answered, he and Xaphan fell back into silence. Leon continued to sit there not doing anything for a few more minutes before he turned his attention back to his training.
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