Darkness and pain. That was Leon’s entire world. Artorias, Elise, and Valeria had all disappeared, and his home dissolved away, leaving him curled up on the ground in an enormous black void.
By this point, he had become vaguely aware that what he was seeing wasn’t real, but his mind was so taken up with the regrets and insecurities that Bran’s demonic power had poked that he barely even cared.
He’d buried his father after mutilating his corpse. He’d gotten far closer to Valeria than he ever should have despite knowing that she was, in all likelihood, his enemy. He was nothing more than a fallen noble raised in the wild, yet he was in a romantic relationship with one of the most important young women in the entire Kingdom.
Leon’s powers of reason kept telling him that he wasn’t responsible for Artorias’ death and that he’d buried his father according to Artorias’ own wishes. His reason kept telling him that Valeria was the same age as he was and that made it incredibly unlikely that she was involved in the specific actions against his family. His reason kept telling him that Elise had made it quite clear that she was just as into him as he was into her.
But reason and emotion are typically regarded as complete opposites, and not without cause. His reason could tell him all these things, but in the end, he still heard Elise telling him that he was nothing, he still felt it when Valeria made the still-bleeding gash in his chest, and he saw the ugly and ignoble tree growing out of Artorias that defiled and corrupted his body.
These successive shocks to his system left Leon borderline catatonic. He couldn’t wake up even if he realized he was still unconscious.
He could only lay there and-
“WHAT IS THIS?” boomed a thunderous voice that seemed to come from everywhere. “ONE LITTLE UPSETTING VISION AND YOU SHUT DOWN? IS THIS THE EXTENT OF YOUR DRIVE AND AMBITION?! IS THIS THE REMAINS OF MY CLAN, THE FOUNDATIONS UPON WHICH IT IS TO BE REBUILT?!”
This voice shook Leon to his core, and for the first time in hours, his eyes began to do more than erratically twitch. After a few moments of confusion, he lifted his head and started looking around him for the source of that voice, but all he saw was darkness.
And then, so suddenly it was as if it were there all along, the Thunderbird was towering over him. Its yellow avian eyes glared down at him, still curled up on the ground, and its brown and gold feathers sparked and flashed with bright golden lightning. The Thunderbird flapped its wings and the darkness was instantly illuminated with silver lightning, driving back the darkness and bringing some measure of clarity to Leon’s mind. Its aura was majestic, yet overbearing, and Leon felt simultaneous awe and dread at the sight of such magnificent power.
“ON YOUR FEET, BOY,” it demanded.
Leon was hardly in any shape to stand, but he was in even less shape to spurn the Thunderbird, so he began to struggle and thrash around, digging deep within himself to find the strength to at least push himself to his knees, if not his feet. The Thunderbird silently watched, the impatience both obvious and growing on its eagle-like face. But it didn’t provide Leon any assistance, it just watched him as he slowly got his feet under him and, with an almost comically embarrassing amount of wobbling and unsteady rocking, manage to rise.
“YOU ARE OF MY BLOOD,” the Thunderbird reminded Leon, “AND I HAVE COME TO EXPECT THINGS OF YOU. STRIVE TO FINISH YOUR MAGIC BODY, COME AND MEET ME HERE IN YOUR SOUL REALM, AND LEARN WHAT IT MEANS TO BE THE KING OF THE HEAVENS!”
For a moment, Leon’s face flushed red at the memory of the creation of his mana glyph. He identified himself, then irrevocably declared that he was the future King of the Heavens. It was meant only as a statement of commitment to gaining strength, as a way to keep himself growing in power until he could take revenge, but it seemed that the Thunderbird took that declaration a hell of a lot more seriously. Leon tried to open his mouth to speak, to ask the Thunderbird questions, to say anything at all, but the words wouldn’t come. It felt like his vocal cords were completely paralyzed.
“YOU MUST SEEK STRENGTH,” the Thunderbird continued, “YOU MUST SEEK ME! BUT FIRST, YOU MUST WAKE UP!”
The reality of what had happened suddenly and painfully crashed back down into Leon’s mind.
‘The battle… Bran… the Prince… I was enveloped in a cloud of darkness…’
Seeing the young man’s mind begin to finally turn and piece together his situation, the Thunderbird couldn’t help feeling some small amount of satisfaction. The illusions inflicted by a darkness demon weren’t easy to shake off. The other knights woke so early because they weren’t the real intended targets of the attack, and so were only shown visions of fear and terror.
Leon, however, was made to confront old regrets while insecurities were forcibly driven into his mind, both far more powerful than something so simple and primal as fear. After all, fear is destroyed with familiarity, and the longer a vision of fear continues, the less power it has. Not to mention, the knights affected by Bran’s demonic power were all combat soldiers, men and women who regularly train to kill and had great experience in dealing and surviving death. Fear could be a potent weapon, but it was blunted against people such as them.
‘What… what do I do?’ Leon wondered. ‘How do I wake up? How do I get out of here?’
“THERE IS NO FORCE THAT CAN AFFECT THE MIND OF ONE THAT BEARS MY BLOOD FOR LONG! YOU HAVE THE POWER TO LEAVE, YOU NEED ONLY TO USE IT!” the Thunderbird roared, and more silver lightning flashed throughout the abyss, but this time, there was a hint of blue at the edges of the bolts.
Instantly understanding, Leon called upon his power. Lightning began to surge through his body, and within the abyss, Leon began to glow with a radiant silver-blue aura, and the darkness around him began to melt and dissolve away.
Beneath his feet appeared floor tiles arranged in a checkerboard pattern, and as the darkness was pushed back even further, he saw an orange glow in the distance, which he quickly realized to be Xaphan the more the darkness receded.
Leon knew exactly where he was now: his soul realm. The Thunderbird had essentially said as much before, but it was something else entirely to see it materialize out of the nightmarish shadows that Bran had afflicted him with.
The darkness continued to be forced backward, inch by inch, until finally, light returned to Leon’s soul realm. It was just as he’d left it, a tiny island floating in a sea of mist, a mist that seemed to emit soft light. At the center of his island, in the center of the white and red floor tiles, was a slab of white marble and a black granite throne atop it. Seated upon that throne was Leon… sort of. What Leon could see of the body sitting in that chair was his head, most of his torso, and his right arm. The rest was missing.
This was his incomplete magic body.
Resisting the urge to immediately go and examine it, Leon turned again toward Xaphan and met the demon’s blazing yellow eyes. The two stared at each other in silence for a short minute, until Xaphan broke it by simply saying, “It took you long enough to finally break yourself out of that.”
Leon smiled bitterly and said, “Well, I’m back now. Time to get back to work.”
And he opened his eyes.
There were many hospitals within Ariminium, as befitting a city of over a million citizens, with at least one major hospital per island in the Tyrrhenian River delta. There was also one more in each of the Horns, which were mostly reserved for injured Legion soldiers. After the evacuation of Florentia, most of the injured soldiers were taken to the hospital nearest to the docks for immediate care. In Leon’s case, however, since he wasn’t in any need for swift medical attention, Trajan had him taken to the hospital in the Southern Horn.
Like all hospitals in Ariminium, it was fairly lavishly appointed, with smooth floors of white stone, thick cream-colored carpets, and plenty of comfortable furniture, though the actual architecture of the place was bland and monolithic. That being said, it had an extremely skilled staff of healers and nurses and more than enough equipment to see to just about any injury a Legion soldier could sustain.
When Trajan and his small detail of assistants and guards arrived at the hospital, he vaguely registered that Lapis was standing outside, but he didn’t stop to think about it. It wouldn’t have mattered much if he had, as he was duly grateful to the stone giant for coming when it did; the giant saved not only Trajan but all of the knights with him as well, including Leon.
Trajan hurried into the atrium where the young nurses behind the counter almost jumped out of their skin.
“Y-Your Highness!” the one in charge said in shock before quickly bowing, followed quickly by her coworkers.
Trajan didn’t want to waste time on pleasantries when his protégé had just woken up, but he was still a Prince and he took a moment to stop and let the three nurses behind the front desk straighten up before asking, “To what room was Sir Ursus taken?”
The head nurse said, “I think he was taken to room 212 in the western wing…”
“He was moved since then,” one of the other nurses quickly added before Trajan bolted toward room 212.
“Where and why?” the head nurses asked, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at the subordinate for interrupting her.
“I’m not sure why, ma’am, but he was taken to 325 in the northern wing…” the subordinate nurse hurriedly replied after shuffling through papers in front of him to confirm the report.
“Then that’s where I’m going,” Trajan stated, walking down the hall behind the nurses toward the northern wing.
It was easy enough to find Leon’s room, as Alix and Anzu were waiting outside of it. Alix had a look of concern on her face, but it was a far sight better than the worry that had been there only a few hours before on the ship cruising back into Ariminium’s port.
Alix bowed as Trajan approached.
“He’s awake?” Trajan asked.
“Yes, Your Highness,” Alix replied. “But he’s a little… I don’t know, I was told that physically he’s fine, but a healer has yet to give him a full check-up…”
Trajan frowned a little, but he nodded gratefully to Alix.
“If he’s fine, then you should get some rest, it’s been a long night. If Sir Ursus isn’t back by this morning, then he’ll still be here.”
It was Alix’s turn to frown, but she couldn’t just tell the Prince no, so she asked, “What about Anzu?”
Trajan glanced down at the griffin. Anzu was staring at the door between him and Leon, and Trajan was under no illusions about whether or not the griffin was going to follow his orders.
“I suppose you can wait with him, then,” the Prince said, seeing through Alix’s subtle request to stay.
“Thank you, Your Highness,” Alix respectfully responded.
Trajan was about to push open the door, but he stopped and turned back to Alix.
“Out of curiosity,” he started, “why was Leon moved?”
Trajan immediately regretted asking, because as soon as he did, Alix’s face drained of all color.
Before he could apologize or otherwise try and walk back his question, Alix answered, “Just before he woke up, his body started to spark. It was clear that he was somehow calling upon his lightning power, and this is what seemed to wake him up. It’s just that the lightning he summoned nearly obliterated the room he was in; he had to be moved because all of the furniture in his old room had been destroyed…”
“… I see,” Trajan whispered. It made a certain degree of sense that Leon needed to call upon his magic in order to wake up, and that doing so would put a lot of the healers in the hospital on edge, but it still didn’t explain why everyone was being so damned cryptic about his current state.
But instead of continuing to ask Alix when Leon himself was mere feet away, Trajan sighed and, steeling himself for whatever was behind it, pushed the door open.
Thank you to my Seventh-tier patrons:
Efflorescence - Kyle J Smith
Please visit Royal Road and leave a rating or review!
Patreon (Up to 30 chapters ahead)