Leon, Alix, and an ecstatic Anzu returned to their room and immediately began preparations to train. Or at least, Leon and Alix did, Anzu just followed Leon around so closely that Leon almost tripped over him several times. Alix changed into loose clothes and grabbed a training sword while Leon moved the metal pieces of his armor out to the edge of the sandpit so that he could clean them up while watching his squire’s training—his Skyflax padding was put into the same enchanted box as his clothes so that it would be washed automatically.
“Tighten your stance a little,” Leon said as he wiped down his cuirass. “It’s good to keep your center of gravity low, but you don’t want to be so close to the ground that your balance is off.”
“Right!” Alix said as she corrected her stance and kept moving through a series of slashes, stabs, and blocks, all the while flooding her body with as much magic as she could muster. Leon could sense that she was close to the third-tier, and with Anzu’s ascension, she was training even harder than usual to reach that point.
When she did, Leon fully intended to knight her. He felt she’d earned it simply by putting up with his surly ass, let alone her own accomplishments on the battlefield. When he did, they would be friends and colleagues, as she would more likely than not join Trajan’s retinue, and then they could do away with the formalities of knight and squire.
“So, Henry and Alain made it to the third-tier,” Alix mentioned as she paused for a breather. “And from what I could tell, Charles is pretty close to ascension as well.”
“That so? That’s good to hear,” Leon said with a smile. He was proud in the accomplishments of his friends, but he was even more happy by the simple fact that his friends had survived the assault on the walls; he knew that their Legion was stationed on the main walls between the Horns, so they would’ve been right in the thick of things. “We’ll have to celebrate when this is over. Hopefully, we’ll be celebrating more than just their ascension, though…”
Taking Leon’s hint, Alix wiped the sweat from her brow and quickly got back to the business at hand while Leon pulled his cuirass into his soul realm.
For the next few hours, they worked in silence, Leon maintaining his armor and sending it to his soul realm, Alix training in the sandpit, and Anzu curled up beside Leon.
When he was done, Leon remembered one more thing that he had to do: deliver the gems to Xaphan. It felt like he hadn’t spoken to the demon in a while, though it had only been a little over a week. Still, he was surprised that Xaphan hadn’t spoken up and demanded that the gems be delivered to him as soon as Elise handed them over to Leon.
Leon continued to watch Alix train, but as he coated the box of gems in his hand with his magic power to begin the relatively lengthy process of pulling them into his soul realm, he said to his demonic partner, [Hey demon!]
There was no response, though.
[Xaphan! Demon!] Leon shouted in his mind.
Again, silence was his only reply.
[Heeeey! Demon!] Leon repeated. [Lightning is better than fire in every way! In fact, there is no power in the entire universe that is weaker than fire! Such a feeble and paltry strength isn’t worthy of even the most pathetic of mages!]
[WHAT?! What do you WANT?!] the demon roared from within, shaking Leon so much that his storing of the gems was almost disrupted and he just about burst out laughing at what he had to say to get Xaphan’s attention.
[I wanted to tell you that I have a present for you, but you were so absorbed in whatever it is that you do that my words were falling on deaf ears,] Leon shot back, his trolling smile evident in his tone even through his mental link with the fire demon.
[Then spit it out,] Xaphan growled, clearly annoyed at Leon’s interruption of his healing meditations.
[Calm down, I just wanted to let you know that I finally got those gems you wanted,] Leon cheekily responded.
[You did?! Then bring them in here!] Xaphan shouted, all traces of annoyance vanishing from his voice.
Leon had, of course, already started the process to bring Xaphan his diamond and sapphires, but he wanted to poke fun at his demonic partner, so he said, [Hmm, I don’t know, you were quite rude to me for someone who’s staying in my soul realm…]
[And what of it?] Xaphan retorted. [I’m a demon and you’re human. The only proper relationship that ought to exist between those like us is one of master and slave, but in my generosity, I have bestowed upon you the status of junior partner. You can put up with a little rudeness, surely, or are you too emotionally fragile to take it?]
Despite Xaphan’s caustic tongue and inflated ego, Leon couldn’t help but chuckle. He found that he had genuinely missed the demon’s advice and presence.
[Relax, oh Lord of Cinders, Candles, and other tiny, tiny flames,] Leon countered, [the gems that you’re so helpless without are on their way.]
Leon could almost hear Xaphan’s teeth grinding in anger at the glaringly diminutive title he gave the demon, which was exactly what he wanted.
Forcing himself to move on, Xaphan suddenly said, [Why do I feel another’s presence here?]
Leon froze in fear before his mind suddenly turned to Naiad. [What do you mean?] he asked with concern.
[There’s another being’s power in your soul realm!] Xaphan shouted in alarm. [It feels… like water…]
Leon nodded, knowing exactly what it was that Xaphan was sensing. He quickly explained his pact with Naiad.
[What?! How did I miss all of this?!] Xaphan cried in sarcastic, exaggerated anguish. [Ahh, this is truly a failing on my part, how could I have not witnessed such a humiliation heaped upon you!]
[Thanks, friend, you’re really making it better,] Leon said bitterly. He was only half-joking, though, Xaphan making light of his situation somehow brought him a certain confidence, as if it weren’t as serious an issue as he had thought it was. [I don’t suppose you know of any way out of this pact?] Leon asked.
[Nope,] Xaphan instantly responded.
[Really?] Leon pressed. [Not even a mighty Lord of Flame knows of a way to get around this?]
[You made a pact with your Mana Glyph!] Xaphan explained. [When you do something like that, there is no possible way around fulfilling the terms of the pact. If you do, your soul realm will be severely injured, possibly even ending your life, but certainly doing irreparable harm to your magical foundation.]
[Well… Shit…] Leon responded.
[Describe this nymph, is she pretty?] Xaphan asked.
Leon complied, describing to the best of ability—and desire—to recall, from Naiad’s bronze skin, her lake-blue eyes, dark hair, and well-endowed figure.
[Yeah, you sound like you’re in for a real world of hurt,] Xaphan said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
[I already have Elise,] Leon responded.
[And how much of a difference does that make? Just take them both as wives!]
Leon fought the urge to facepalm, but his face did grow red from the prospect Xaphan casually brought up. He doubted that Elise would allow him to have multiple wives, and neither did he particularly want to share her. Perhaps a little greedy, he had to admit, but the idea of letting another man touch his lady wasn’t something he was willing to abide.
So, he had consigned himself to the idea of monogamy, despite not having spoken with Elise at length about it. He supposed she might think the same, but at the moment, polyamory wasn’t something he wanted to bring up with her when she was so obviously angry.
Leon sighed, then said, [I suppose that’s just a bridge I’ll have to cross when I come to it.]
[The coward’s choice.] Xaphan taunted. [Not surprising, although, at the very least you don’t have to worry about this power affecting you negatively. Now that I look at it closer, it shouldn’t do anything other than vaguely track your movements.]
[Good to know,] Leon drily stated.
It took a few more minutes, but the gems were eventually absorbed into Leon’s soul realm, appearing in a flash of light at the foot of the throne in the middle of the island. Xaphan immediately waved his hand and caused them to fly into his hand. The orange flames of his body incinerated the box, leaving only the four sapphires and one diamond.
[Perfect… perfect…] the demon cooed as he examined the stones.
[Are you going to use them or are you going to fuck them? Because you sound like you intend to do the latter,] Leon quipped.
[I’m going to use them in a magical formation that should speed up my recovery quite a bit,] Xaphan replied. He was far too happy with the gems in hand to care what Leon said to him right then.
On the ground around the demon, thousands of fire runes appeared, connected by thin lines made up of thousands of more runes, forming more than a hundred separate circular glyphs intersecting with each other. Xaphan’s eternal fire was at the center, and right in front of him, he placed the diamond. Then, in the four outer-most glyphs, he placed the sapphires.
[Here we go…] the demon muttered in glee as he called upon his fifth-tier power and activated the enchantment.
Instantly, great clouds of the luminescent mist that surrounded the island began to swirl around and concentrate above the demon, then descended upon the sapphires. The sapphires glowed a brilliant blue, and then the runes began to glow, starting a massive fire that submerged Xaphan in a massive bright red bonfire. At his feet, Xaphan could see the power flowing from the sapphires, through the enchantment, and into the diamond, causing the pale white gemstone to glow a vivid gold.
The demon sat down in front of this glowing diamond and reached out to touch it with his glossy obsidian hand. Knowing what was about to happen, he hesitated just before his finger touched the stone, but it was only for a moment; the allure of regaining the power he lost during his imprisonment was too strong, and he quickly made contact with the diamond.
Xaphan almost exploded with power. The enchantment channeled the Mists of Chaos around the island into the demon, purifying the magical power and making it much easier for the demon to absorb. It wasn’t too much power, but from the way his body creaked and the tiny cracks that spread out along his limbs, Xaphan knew that his body was only a few tiny wisps of power away from shattering under this tremendous pressure.
And yet, through the intense pain of his body nearly exploding under the pressure of the Mists of Chaos Xaphan could feel his demonic core in the center of his chest swell like a withered plant suddenly being given all the water it needed. He endured for minutes without end, vaguely aware that Leon attempted to ask what was happening a few times before going silent, and letting the power that surrounded Leon’s soul realm surge through him.
For his part, Leon felt a strange hollow feeling in his chest, but he wasn’t overly concerned. He could tell that Xaphan was doing something in his soul realm and that it undoubtedly required his undivided attention, but he still felt a little miffed that everything wasn’t explained to him. At the very least, Leon wasn’t in pain and he didn’t notice any drop in his magic power, so he let it go for the time being.
But Leon expected answers from Xaphan just as soon as the demon was done with whatever he was doing.
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