‘First things first,’ Leon thought as he stared at his sword and armor. When he’d been taken to the hospital, most of it had been taken off, and he’d had to carry all of it home. Now, Leon had to decide what to do with all of it, which is to say whether to pull it into his soul realm or not.
In the end, he decided on only pulling his sword into his soul realm, and to just wear his armor in case Trajan sent word that he was needed. He didn’t actually think he would be needed, but it was always better to be prepared.
Leon quickly got to work cleaning his armor so that he could wear it without feeling utterly disgusting. Normally, this would be the job for a knight’s squire, but Leon actually enjoyed doing it himself, as it gave his hands something to do while he sat and thought about something else.
And so, with a clear to-do list, Leon got to work. The Skyflax padding he tossed into an enchanted wash bin in the bathroom which would clean it, and he got to work on wiping down the Magmic Steel parts of his armor before the dirt and grime could get too solidified on it. As he did so, he let his mind wander, but not long after finally putting his focus on something, he felt Xaphan’s attention.
[Need something, demon?] Leon asked, his tone neutral and dispassionate, giving off the feeling that he wasn’t in the mood for much talking.
[I just felt like checking in on my partner,] Xaphan replied. [That attack from that dark mage was quite… interesting, wasn’t it? It even invaded your soul realm and knocked me out of my meditations…]
Leon was about as in the mood for playing around as he was for conversation, so he bluntly asked, [Know something about it?]
[It had a familiar aura to it,] Xaphan answered. [That mage was a vampire, wasn’t he?]
[I believe I may have an idea of who he’s contracted with,] Xaphan said mysteriously, clearly angling for Leon to perk up and eagerly ask about what he knew. Instead, Leon remained stoically silent as he waited for Xaphan to continue. Hurriedly covering up his disappointment in Leon’s muted reaction, Xaphan explained, [I’m not overly familiar with darkness demons, but this one I think may have been held in that place where I had been imprisoned for so long…]
Leon’s hand paused as he wiped down his cuirass, his helmet already cleaned and polished to a near mirror shine. [You think this guy stayed in Aeterna after the fall of my clan?] he asked.
[Hard to say, really,] Xaphan replied. [That place held five demons. I and two others refused the contracts offered by your clan. The last two, however, agreed to the proposed contracts, leaving that place before I was summoned—though not before their auras had fully dissipated. I recognized that power, it was from one of the demons that had been subordinated to your clan!]
Leon frowned quite deeply. [That seems like an odd coincidence,] he said.
[Maybe, maybe not,] Xaphan replied. [He was summoned here once before, and like all powerful organizations, your clan had a strong and efficient bureaucracy, from what I could tell. I wouldn’t be surprised if records from this darkness demon’s summoning survived, and he has been summoned again— or at least contacted.] Xaphan’s tone was confident and didactic, like the demon was explaining something obvious to an ignorant child.
[This sort of thing happen often?] Leon asked.
[There are two ways to summon a demon,] Xaphan gleefully explained, [The first and most common way is to try and contact the Void without direction, a feat which requires no small amount of blood, in the hopes that a demon is paying attention. The more blood used, the greater the chance of attracting a powerful demon.]
[Ugh,] Leon groaned. The depths some would sink to for a quick boost in power… was something he felt that he couldn’t really judge, given his own demonic pact.
[The second method is a bit more involved. It requires knowledge of the demon’s name, and not the name we give to outsiders, but the one that we pick for ourselves, much like the human Mana Glyph. A demon can always hear you when you invoke their name.]
[You were summoned because my clan knew your name, right?] Leon asked.
[Indeed,] Xaphan answered, his tone a curious mix of pride, shame, and anger. [To be a Lord always has its perks and drawbacks, and the fame it brings sits in both camps. A clan as powerful as yours eighty-thousand years ago would have had no trouble finding the names of Demonic Lords to try and tempt into slavery…]
[About this shadow demon,] Leon said with a look of absolute death on his face, [do you have any tips for how to deal with it?]
[Looking for vengeance, huh?] Xaphan observed, noting the killing intent that had been slowly seeping into Leon’s aura since he had woken up and the look on Leon’s face when he asked the question.
[That thing and the rotten leech that bears its power poked at things they shouldn’t have,] Leon said. He only had to remember the illusion within the darkness and his heart rate would spike. He put so much strength into his hands that it was as if the rag he was using to wipe down his armor were Bran’s throat and the pressure that created made his cuirass slide right out of his grip. Leon took a deep breath to calm himself, then said, [I would very much like to be the end of them, or the vampire, at least.]
[I suppose that depends,] said Xaphan, [how are you doing on finding that diamond and those sapphires?]
[I received a reply from Elise a week or so ago,] Leon explained. [She’s going to arrange for the documents to be sent to me from Teira authorizing Ajax to enter my vault and retrieve the gems. He’ll then send them to me.]
[And how long will that take?]
[A matter of weeks,] Leon informed.
[Not too bad,] Xaphan said before descending into a frustratingly long silence.
This silence was long enough for Leon to finish with his cuirass and move on to his gauntlets. [And the shadow demon?] he demanded, his tone sounding far more angry than he intended it to; his anger wasn’t directed at Xaphan, after all.
[Ah, right. Well, to combat one Heavenly Element without power of comparable strength, then you’d need another Heavenly Element, don’t you?] Xaphan said. [Of course, my fire would be all you need, but I suppose I can understand your reluctance to use it when amidst your comrades—wouldn’t want them struck blind at the sight of the magnificent power I’ve bestowed upon you, after all.]
[Lightning is a Heavenly Element,] Leon said, picking up on Xaphan’s obvious lead.
[Indeed it is,] Xaphan replied. [Sounds like you have all you need, then.]
[I was hoping for something a little more specific than, ‘Just use your magic!’] Leon said, putting on his best slow-witted dunce voice for his Xaphan impression.
[There isn’t a hell of a lot else to it,] Xaphan insisted, [You have to use the power you possess to resist the power that is used against you! With the strength of the Thunderbird, there shouldn’t be any power that can ensnare your mind for long!]
Leon sighed in exasperation. [No enchantments you can give me? Defensive wards? Not even the tiniest little spell that might help?]
Xaphan went silent for a long moment, and Leon could almost hear the demon’s mouth turning down into a profound frown.
[I guess not,] Leon said provocatively. [I guess shadow demons are the be-all and end-all power, greater even than fire, if an exalted Lord of Flame can’t even figure out a way to counter their magic…]
[Oh, don’t even start with me, boy,] Xaphan said through gritted teeth. [I have left beings of such power that you would worship the ground they spat on lying dead at my feet! This shadow demon is nothing to me!]
[You sure about that, demon? From the way you’ve just been talking, it seems like you can’t think of anything that could harm this thing…]
[Your damned clan tried for years to break me!] Xaphan furiously roared. [Through all the tortures, indignities, and other such persuasions they subjected me to, they never broke me! But that creature whose pawn you now face prostrated himself before the Storm King and swore himself to your clan! Such a petty and low creature isn’t even worthy of comparison to me!]
Leon smiled and whispered, [Then prove it.]
There came a sound from his soul realm, a deep and guttural rumbling, almost as if Xaphan were growling at him like an animal. Leon could feel the demon’s rage and knew that he’d at least succeeded in that goal.
Several seconds later, he felt a familiar pain between his eyes as knowledge of three different enchantments and one spell were forcibly implanted into his mind.
It took a few moments for the pain to recede, and once it did, Xaphan snarled, [These will break the dark power of that vampire, assuming, of course, that you don’t fuck them up when copying them down…]
And with that, the demon fell back into silent meditation. But Leon wasn’t concerned about that; he gleefully closed his eyes and began to examine the enormous glyphs that were now fixed into his mind, setting aside the few pieces of armor that he had yet to completely clean for the time being.
Alix woke up not long after noon, and when she left her room, she found Leon hunched over the table in the living area with hundreds of sheets of spell paper all around—some of which practically buried Anzu who was asleep next to Leon on the couch. So transfixed was he in his work that Leon didn’t even notice Alix exit her room.
The squire walked over to her knight, not making any attempt to keep quiet in the process, and looked over Leon’s shoulder to see what he was doing. Upon every sheet of spell paper, like the ramblings of a madman, were drawings of the same runic glyphs over and over again. Alix might have thought this odd had she not seen this sort of thing when Leon practiced his enchanting skills and worked on growing his supply of fire spells.
What she did find odd, however, was the look of utter concentration on Leon’s face. Even when he studied other enchantments or when he was immersed in his training, he wouldn’t be so taken with his work that he’d fail to realize that she’d approached.
So, looking to make sure Leon was all right, Alix bent over the couch, resting her hands on the back cushions to make a depression that she didn’t think Leon would be capable of missing, and asked, “How’s it going?”
Leon just about leaped out of his skin he was so startled. He didn’t cry out, at least, but he did turn and glare at Alix and said, “Would it kill you to make some noise?”
Alix smiled cheekily back at him and said, “It might, best not to take the chance!”
Leon sat back into the couch to calm his racing heart and to comfort Anzu who had bolted upright when Leon jumped and thrown sheets of spell paper everywhere.
“So, everything good?” Alix asked again.
“Everything is fine,” Leon said.
“Been doing this since we got back?” Alix curiously inquired. The sheets of enchantments and spells were dense with runes, and she couldn’t make heads or tails of any of them.
“I have,” Leon affirmed. “These are going to be my weapons, should that vampire come back…”
From his tone, Alix felt like Leon fully expected and even anticipated Bran attacking again.
“He’s a seventh-tier mage,” she said in a flat tone. “He almost took you, His Highness, and over a dozen other knights apart the last time you all fought!”
“Next time will be different,” Leon said with a dark look. “Next time, I’ll be ready.”
Alix shivered when Leon said that, as a wave of killing intent washed over her. She knew that it wasn’t directed at her, but it still felt like she had been dunked into a barrel of ice, and her hair stood on end.
“Do you think you could take your mind off of it for a while?” she asked, quickly composing herself.
“This is important,” Leon said, turning back to the sheet of spell paper that was in front of him.
“So is food and rest,” Alix shot back. “You need time for recuperation!”
“That vampire won’t wait,” Leon responded.
“And you’ll be killed in an instant should you be dead on your feet when he comes back,” Alix responded.
Leon sighed and sat back. He’d been training for more than six hours straight, and he’d been concurrently practicing the enchantments Xaphan had given him for about half of that time.
“Besides,” Alix mentioned, “you should give your hand a bit of a rest, let your muscles relax, and come back ready to write more!”
Now that she mentioned it, Leon did notice now that his work-trance was broken that his writing hand was remarkably sore.
“You… may have a point,” he conceded. He released as much magic power as he could to relieve the pain, but that didn’t amount to much since he’d trapped the lion’s share of his power in his bones. Even hours spent writing hundreds of magic glyphs wasn’t going to stop him from attempting to ascend to the sixth-tier as soon as possible.
But that also didn’t mean he didn’t need some rest. In fact, this brief lull in his work was helping him to realize just how tired he truly was.
Leon glanced up at Alix, who was standing over him with her hands on her hips and staring at him like he was an obstinate little brother, not her direct superior. “I suppose I can catch a bit of rest,” Leon reluctantly said, almost all of his killing intent vanishing under Alix’s chastising gaze.
‘But not for long…’ he thought as a flash of that demonic illusion passed through his mind. ‘I’ll be ready for you, Bran, and next time you’re not walking away, no matter what magical tier you may be…’
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