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“… and then… he just laid there! With a look… of utter confusion!” Alain recalled in between bouts of boisterous laughter.
“That horse was a nightmare,” Leon said defensively. “He wouldn’t do anything I told him to!”
“Yeah, buddy, it was entirely the horse’s fault!” Charles said with a wry smile.
It had been three weeks since the Bluefire riots, and Leon and Alix had spent most of that time training. However, when they had time, they spent much of it with Charles, Henry, and Alain, as they were now. The five had gathered in one of the small private lounge areas of the latter three’s barracks building and were busy regaling Alix with stories of when they were in the Knight Academy.
This would be something frowned upon by other knights, given that it might lead to Leon and Alix becoming too informal with each other, but Leon really didn’t care much about that. It had already been indicated to Alix that Trajan would accept her into his retinue when she reached the third-tier and Leon knighted her, so the two treated each other more like friends and comrades than leader and subordinate or teacher and student. Still, the biggest reason why they were meeting Charles, Henry, and Alain in their barracks was to get away from the disapproving looks of the knights in the barracks adjacent to the keep—not to mention the latter three flat out refusing to go anywhere near so many high-ranking knights who could make their lives difficult just for being there.
“I have to admit,” Alix said, “that it’s somewhat hard to imagine Sir Leon being that bad at anything. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you fail so completely at anything, Sir. Plus, you’ve obviously gotten better at horse riding from what I’ve seen.”
“Well I’m hardly going to advertise what I’m bad at for all the world to know,” Leon said with a wry smile. “And I think that horse was just not trained very well, those horses that we took on that vampire hunt were much… tamer, I guess is the word… More docile and much easier to handle.”
“You’re going to ride Anzu when he gets bigger, aren’t you?” Henry asked as if the answer weren’t obvious.
“Of course!” Leon replied, his smile growing wider from the pride he had in his little griffin.
“You’d have to be blind to not see that little thing’s going to be a real war machine when he gets older,” Charles noted.
Sensing everyone’s attention shifting to him, Anzu tried his best to melt away behind Leon’s legs. Leon reached down to try and comfort the griffin, but as he did so, he felt something that he hadn’t noticed much in the past year: Xaphan’s attention. Ever since he started training his magic sense, he started being able to perceive when Xaphan was awake or not, even when the demon wasn’t actively watching what he was doing, so he knew exactly how much Xaphan had been concentrating on his recovery in recent months; it was so much, in fact, that they’d barely had more than a single conversation with each other since coming back from the giant’s crater.
But now, Leon felt Xaphan not only wake up from his meditative trance but project his magic sense out of Leon’s soul realm to figure out what he was doing.
[Need something, demon?] Leon asked curiously.
[Felt that, did you?] Xaphan responded with both mockery and surprise as if he couldn’t decide which he wanted to convey. [I was only trying to figure out what you were doing and if this was a good time to talk.]
“Well, you’ll never catch my ass riding anything other than a horse! It’s practically asking for me to be eaten if I were to try anything more exotic!” Henry exclaimed.
[We’re clearly not talking about anything particularly important,] Leon observed. [I’m guessing that what you want to talk about is important, so why don’t you lay it on me?]
[I… I ha…] the demon began, but he cut himself off several times. It was clear to Leon that what Xaphan wanted to talk about wasn’t easy for him to say, and Leon felt certain that he knew why.
[Does this have anything to do with your not making much progress over the past year and a half?] Leon asked with a mocking tone that was much less ambiguous than Xaphan’s had been only a moment before.
As if through gritted teeth, Xaphan responded with a terse, [Yes…]
[And you need something from me in order to give you a kick in the pants, so to speak?]
[That’s a rather crude way of putting it.]
[Is it inaccurate?]
[I… suppose not…]
As Leon spoke with the demon, the conversation around him continued. Charles, Alain, and Henry seemed to be paying far more attention to Alix than they were to Leon, which he understood given Alix’s looks. Compounded with Leon’s usual taciturn nature, which the former three understood well enough from the Knight Academy, Leon felt comfortable completely tuning out of their conversation for a while.
[All right, demon, before we get started talking about what you need, I’ve a condition,] Leon said with a serious tone.
[And what might that be?] Xaphan asked with some apprehension.
[Back when we were in the cave hunting that vampire, you recognized the demon that appeared in the bonfire. I haven’t pressed you for much information in that regard, but I think it’s time that you told me a little something about this ‘Amon’ guy.]
Almost an entire minute followed without either Leon or Xaphan speaking. Leon was dead set on getting some answers out of Xaphan about his history with that other demon, and Xaphan could tell through their link that he wasn’t going to just let this go, even if Xaphan refused to speak.
Finally, Leon heard a long sigh and a sense of resignation coming from his soul realm.
[Very well, but I would prefer if we were to discuss what I need first,] Xaphan said.
[That’s fine,] Leon replied, [but don’t think that I’m going to let you off the hook.]
[Perish the thought,] the demon responded with sarcasm.
[So, what do you need? Another potion?]
[Not this time,] Xaphan said. [Since you’re now a fifth-tier mage, we don’t need to resort to such crude methods as you drinking a potion and forcing the magic down into your soul realm. No, now we can simply get materials and you can essentially deliver them to me directly by absorbing them into yourself.]
[Let’s get to specifics,] Leon suggested, wanting to hurry this along so he could get the answers to the questions that had been burning in his mind for weeks.
[You’re going to need a diamond about the size of your thumb and four sapphires each about half that size,] Xaphan informed.
After waiting a brief moment, Leon asked, [Is that it? Because I actually already have all of that in my vault back in Teira…]
[That’s right, you do,] Xaphan said as it dawned on him just how many gems Leon had that he’d completely forgotten about. [But, they’re way back in Teira, how are you going to get them here?]
[I’ll write to Elise and ask about policies in that regard,] Leon said. [Even if they’re not able to open the vault without my presence, I’m sure that Heaven’s Eye can loan me some sapphires and a diamond until I can get back up to Teira.]
[I don’t doubt that, sleeping with the daughter of the woman who’s in charge of their entire operation in this Kingdom probably helps,] Xaphan said with the smile on his face evident from his voice alone.
[So, is that it? Just the sapphires and the diamond?] Leon asked.
[You already have everything else that’s needed, which is to say spell paper and ink,] Xaphan said.
[Wonderful!] Leon exclaimed. [So now that that’s taken care of, let’s have a little chat…]
[You don’t want to know what the materials are used for?] Xaphan asked in what, to Leon at least, was an obvious attempt to delay talking about Amon.
[Nope,] Leon instantly replied. [You’ll tell me what to do when the time comes, so why waste time now?]
The demon sighed again. [Very well, might as well just jump right into it,] he said. [There isn’t that much to say, really; Amon and I were rivals that competed for the Lordship that I eventually won.]
[Right, I remember you saying something about there only being seven Lords for each magical element, and a single Prince for each element as well in demon society…] Leon said.
[Correct. The last Lord had been missing for one hundred and fifty thousand years, and so was pronounced dead by the Prince of Flame. This opened that Lord’s seat for any ambitious demon to take. Amon and I were the two who lasted the longest in the Prince’s challenges.]
[But I felt your anger and fury and hatred when you saw Amon in the bonfire, he couldn’t have just been some random demon you competed against one time,] Leon mentioned.
[… The tasks assigned by a Prince to determine a Lord aren’t quick and simple, especially if the Prince isn’t raising someone up to fill the seat. I don’t want to get too deep into the nitty gritty details, but suffice it to say that after five hundred years of fighting against each other in just about every manner conceivable, things between myself and Amon got bitter and personal.
[At first, things remained fairly cordial, and we even got somewhat friendly for a time after we began to respect each other’s power. However, as time went on, and it became increasingly clear that the battle for Lordship would come down to myself and him, we started attacking each other’s power bases. Our followers and our families died in droves. By the time I was declared Lord of Flame, Amon’s family had been devastated, and mine wasn’t much better.]
[You have a family?!] Leon asked incredulously.
[I did,] Xaphan corrected with the hate in his voice almost tangible. Leon wisely shut up to allow his partner to continue.
[When the competition was over, my power base had been ravaged. Still, in the end, I had won, I was the Lord and he was a corpse. I enjoyed my time as Lord, but that came to a swift end when the Storm King’s little bootlickers summoned me here.]
When Xaphan mentioned his summoning, Leon’s eyes perked up. He was a little confused as to how a Lord of Flame, one of the highest beings in demon society, could be summoned so easily. But, rather than interrupt, he filed that question away for later.
[You know that I’ve spoken to the Thunderbird before, don’t you, young mage?] Xaphan suddenly asked.
[You’ve told me that before, yes,] Leon answered.
[It told me that, despite only being gone for eighty thousand years—not even the traditional hundred thousand—Amon has usurped my title as Lord! Somehow, he survived even though I saw him dead at my feet! I ripped his core from his chest and threw his body into a star!]
Leon couldn’t help but be more than a little irked that the Thunderbird seemed so much more willing to speak with Xaphan than to him, but he held his tongue on that subject. He doubted that this was the time to bring it up.
[I see,] Leon said. [Well, that does make a lot of sense, then, that’s not the kind of overkill that I would expect anyone to return from…]
Xaphan furiously grumbled a little, but Leon couldn’t make out anything the demon said.
[Anyway, thanks for telling me something of your past,] Leon continued, [I’ll get right on those enchantment materials you want.]
[And who said they were for an enchantment?] Xaphan asked with forced mischievousness.
[What else could they be used for, especially at the power level we’re at?] Leon countered.
[A great many things, you’re just far too weak and limited in your knowledge to know about them!] Xaphan arrogantly retorted.
[Oh, but the great and mighty demon Lord Xaphan is enlightened in this subject?] Leon asked, playfully jabbing at his partner’s pride. [You sure have never indicated as such before and have even admitted that you know just about nothing if it doesn’t include fire.]
Xaphan understood that Leon was trying to get his mind off Amon, and he eagerly seized the chance. The two partners bickered back and forth like that for a while until it became inconvenient that Leon wasn’t participating in the conversation between his friends around him. However, Leon did have a few last words to share with Xaphan before he let the matter drop completely.
[One of these days, and that day may be far off, I’m going to want some specifics as to what exactly you and Amon did to each other,] Leon said. [We can drop it now, but know that I am expecting a story…]
Xaphan didn’t reply, and after several minutes, Leon felt the demon’s attention drift away until Xaphan fell back into his healing meditation.
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