The pristine white walls were blackened and scorched by lightning, the furniture had been burned and shattered by Leon’s power, and Leon himself was lying down on the pile of dust and splinters that had been, only a few moments before, his hospital bed. And yet, Leon opened his eyes with an almost paradoxical serenity. It took him a moment or two to truly begin to see his surroundings, and once he did, he barely even took notice of the scorch marks on the walls and ceiling, the flickering magic lanterns, or the alarms screaming in his room.
Rather, what caught his attention was a terrified-looking Alix and Anzu, both of whom were peeking around the door. Seeing that he was awake, Alix cautiously entered the room with a quiet and hesitant “Sir?” Or at least, as quiet as the ear-piercing alarms would allow.
Leon smiled in response and was about to assure her that he was all right and that he wasn’t going to burst into lightning again, but a team of nurses rushed into the room, pushing Alix and Anzu outside.
What followed was a series of tests and checks to Leon’s vitals while he was moved into another hospital bed and wheeled to another room. It was more than a little humiliating, as he felt just fine, but the trip at least gave him a few moments to think and put his thoughts in order. For the most part, this meant thinking about what the Thunderbird had said and trying to push the illusion he had seen into the back of his mind.
By the time the nurses finished their job and left him alone in his new room, his smile had disappeared and his mind was dominated by a single thought: ‘I have to get stronger! I have to reach the sixth-tier!”
It seemed to him that the lightning he could call upon wasn’t so simple as to be just a little more potent than regular lightning if it was able to so easily dispel the darkness in his mind. He wanted to know what that power was capable of, but more than that, he wanted to get strong enough to drive his sword into Bran’s chest and fill the vampire with enough lightning as to render him into nothing more than ash on the wind.
Once the nurses had left Leon to fetch a healer, Alix and Anzu hesitantly walked in—or rather, Alix was hesitant, while Anzu was practically overjoyed to see Leon awake and almost jumped up onto his bed with him.
“Are you… good, Sir?” Alix asked, her apprehension at his state only growing the more she stared at his troublingly dark expression.
Leon’s only response was to nod. Alix continued to awkwardly stand there for several more minutes while Anzu tried to get Leon out of bed by nuzzling the latter’s hand, but eventually, Leon said, “Think you two could give me some time alone?”
Alix wanted to ask why, but the look in Leon’s eye made it clear that he wasn’t asking her as a friend to give him some space, he was telling her as her knight to leave.
With a bitter smile, she nodded and walked forward to grab Anzu. The griffin clearly didn’t appreciate her wrapping her arms around him, and he appreciated it even less when she started pulling him out of the room, but with a single look from Leon, Anzu stopped fighting her and allowed himself to be dragged out, leaving Leon alone in his hospital room.
Leon quickly arranged himself in a comfortable position and began to channel his magic into his bones. However, instead of letting his magic flow freely through his skeleton as he did during the brief time he was training to ascend to the third-tier, he trapped his magic within his bones. This was the way his magic body would be created, by keeping his magic within an individual body part until it was essentially copied, at which point his magic body would grow. He was somewhere close to halfway at this point if the glimpse of his magic body in his soul realm was anything to go by.
He could see a long road of training ahead of him, and with the Talfar army assembling near the horns, he didn’t think he’d get much time to devote to it in the near future. To that end, he wanted to get as much training in as he could while everyone was still leaving him alone in the hospital. Unknown to him, though, was that the hospital had already sent a runner to Trajan informing him that Leon had just woken up.
Trajan pushed open the door to Leon’s hospital room with a look of great apprehension at what he was about to see. He half expected Leon to be strapped into his bed and raving like a lunatic given the way that everyone had been dancing around the issue of his current state, but instead, he found Leon sitting up in bed with his legs crossed in a meditative pose. He appeared to be completely in control of himself.
His meditation clearly wasn’t that profound, though, as Leon’s eyes opened as soon as the door opened.
Trajan waved him down when it appeared that he was going to rise and bow, and said, “Please, Leon, stay where you are.”
The two stared at each for a long moment, and Trajan came to understand what the others had seemingly failed to articulate, probably because their senses weren’t quite sharp enough to consciously pick up on the clues. Leon’s aura was heavy and carried with it a sense of deep killing intent that was subdued enough that even Trajan had a hard time identifying it.
Leon was obviously enraged, but that wasn’t all that Trajan could see. If the younger knight were only angry at what he had been subjected to, then the Prince would’ve expected him to show restless energy, a powerful desire to find Bran and make him pay. Instead, Trajan found Leon diligently training.
The Prince slowly crossed the room and quietly sat down in one of the chairs next to the bed. “How are you doing?” he softly asked.
Leon didn’t respond immediately. He turned his golden eyes from Trajan to the wall, though it seemed to the Prince that he was staring at something thousands of miles away.
Finally, after the silence had become excruciating, Leon answered with, “I’m doing well.”
“You don’t seem yourself,” Trajan observed. In the year and change that they’d been acquainted, Trajan had never seen the young eighteen-year-old as anything but calm in temperament, diligent when assigned tasks, and not prone to any sort of outburst or attention-seeking stunt, in stark contrast to the picture of the reckless child that had fallen into a great deal of power that he’d initially feared Leon would be after receiving the report of what had happened at the Cradle.
Leon sighed and said with that same thousand-yard-stare, “I’m as well as I can be, right now.”
“Feel free to elaborate on that,” Trajan said, staring at his young subordinate.
Again, Leon was silent for a long time as he thought about what he should and shouldn’t say.
“I… Did you see anything in that cloud?” he suddenly asked, his voice dropping so low that the old Prince had to strain a little bit to hear it.
Trajan slowly nodded. “I saw my father and brother dead, all of my brother’s children dead, and Ariminium burning,” he said. “It was a little over the top, really. What did you see, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Leon frowned a little. The ease with which Trajan spoke made it clear that he wasn’t nearly so affected by Bran’s attack as Leon had been. But still, that illusion was only part of the reason for Leon’s current behavior.
“Are there any lightning fields nearby?” Leon asked, changing the subject again. Trajan raised an eyebrow in mild displeasure, but he answered anyway.
“There’re a few lightning rods in the Southern Horn, I wouldn’t recommend them, though. Only your ancestors ever really knew how to make those things. Lightning mages in these parts don’t have much equipment to use to train with…”
“That doesn’t matter,” Leon quickly said. “I just need to be able to use one or two…”
“It isn’t good to rely on outside help for training, Leon,” Trajan responded, trying to explain what he meant. “It’s always best to do what you can without the use of equipment or potions or anything else of that sort. Your own body can regulate how fast you gain power, but if you push yourself too far, then you’ll get hurt!”
Trajan’s words clearly didn’t have much of an effect on Leon, who simply said, “I need to reach the sixth-tier…”
“Is that all?” Trajan sarcastically asked, leaning back in his chair and running his hand through his salt-and-pepper hair. Ascension to the sixth-tier marked that person as one of the strongest mages in the Bull Kingdom, and to hear Leon speak of it so casually was something that Trajan found both frustrating and amusing.
“No,” Leon calmly replied. “I also want to make that vampire shorter by a head…”
“The way you’re acting, you’re not going anywhere near the frontlines,” Trajan replied. “You need to get your head on straight! Whatever you saw is your own business, but I can’t have you putting yourself and others in danger!”
Leon’s face widened in a thin and bitter smile. “I’m not planning on doing anything reckless,” he said, “I just… have reasons to ascend to the sixth-tier.”
Trajan stared at Leon without saying a word for more than a minute. Leon even started to feel a bit of pressure coming from the Prince as he thought about what to do, and that tightness in his chest seemed to bring him back a little; he made eye contact with Trajan again and lost that thousand-yard-stare.
“You’re fine, physically,” Trajan observed, “so I’m sending you home for now. You’re to stay there until you’re summoned, got it?”
“Yes, Your Highness,” Leon swiftly answered.
“Good. You take some time to get your head right. That Talfar army is going to still be trickling in over the next few days, anyway, so I doubt there’s going to be much going on here other than preparations for a siege.”
Trajan rose from his seat and left without another word. He had to make sure the defense of the Horns was being properly coordinated, and he couldn’t do that and worry about Leon’s current mental state at the same time. He could only hope that a little bit of time off would help Leon recover.
A few minutes after Trajan departed, Leon rose to his own feet and, with only a small amount of unsteadiness, grabbed the bag with his sword and armor that had been left in the corner and walked to the door where Alix and Anzu were waiting. The two were overjoyed to see Leon on his feet, and Anzu almost knocked Leon over by eagerly rubbing himself against Leon’s legs. The griffin was still growing quickly, and his expression of affection for Leon was starting to become excessive.
“You good now?” Alix asked.
“Yeah,” Leon said with as reassuring a smile as he could plaster onto his face. “Let’s go home.”
Alix smiled brightly and nodded, falling in beside Leon as he made his way toward the hospital entrance.
‘Fortunately, I didn’t see anything about her,’ Leon thought. The looks of accusation, hatred, and derision on Artorias’, Valeria’s, and Elise’s faces weren’t something he believed he’d forget anytime soon. If he had seen her or Trajan in the illusion as well… He actively pushed that thought of his mind and kept walking.
When Leon emerged from the hospital, the morning sun was just starting to break over the horizon, but before Leon’s eyes could adjust, a huge shadow covered it up. Leon’s adrenaline briefly spiked and his hand went for where his sword was supposed to be, but when he glanced up, he relaxed. The shadow was only Lapis.
“It’s good to see the Divine One on his feet,” the giant rumbled, it’s blue streaks that covered its body sparkling in the morning light. Leon could almost feel the stone bricks beneath his feet shake in time with its voice.
“And I’m told I have you to thank for that,” Leon replied. “Thank you.”
Alix thanked Lapis as well, but since she didn’t speak the language of the stone giants, that was about as much as she could participate in the conversation, much to her consternation.
“Please, no need for that,” Lapis said in a tone that implied it was smiling, though it had no lips to do so. “To protect the Divine One is my purpose here.”
“Dedicated to that, aren’t you?” Leon said. The last time Lapis had said this, he had been annoyed, but now he didn’t mind so much. “How did you find us, by the way?”
“I heard the sounds of war and confronted the Diplomat.”
“Aquillius?” Leon asked.
“Yes, that one,” Lapis confirmed. “That one told me that there was a battle going on, and I assumed the Divine One would participate. The Divine One has been fighting much, recently, but I have not been able to perform my function and provide protection…”
“Yeah…” Leon said with an awkward chuckle. “We, uh, we don’t like to involve others in things that we consider our business… It would feel like we were imposing…”
Lapis was silent for a moment, then said, “I think I understand… But please, to protect the Divine One is no imposition, it is my purpose. If there is ever any need for me, then I will be there!”
“Thank you, again,” Leon said, a genuine smile breaking out over his face.
“I mean it, if there is a need, don’t hesitate!”
“I will! I’ll call on you if the need arises!” Leon responded. And he actually meant it a little.
He couldn’t help but smile the entire way back to his and Alix’s barracks. He’d never forget that illusion, but it helped greatly that she, Trajan, and Lapis were there. There weren’t many people that he trusted, but he felt comfortable placing his limited trust in them.
Once he got home, however, his smile disappeared. Alix washed up and went to bed, but for Leon, his day was only getting started. He needed to speak with the Thunderbird, and to do that, he needed his magic body. It was time to train.
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Efflorescence - Kyle J Smith
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