The Storm King-Chapter 1027 - Devilish Threat

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When Leon opened his eyes in his soul realm, he found the Thunderbird and Xaphan both waiting by his throne.

“So,” he said as he rose, “Primal Devils. How bad is it that one is now loose on the universe?”

“Spectacularly,” Xaphan immediately answered. “The Primal Devils were always crueler than the Primal Gods.”

“They created demons; that’s all the proof anyone needs of their malicious intent toward the universe,” the Thunderbird added. “In my day, I only rarely had any interactions with the Primal Devils. They aren’t social creatures, and this is practically a distinction without much difference for those beneath them, I would argue that they are more indifferent than they are malicious. They spare no thoughts for those caught in their power; only what use they can extract from others.”

Leon scowled. “That’s not encouraging to hear. Planerend seemed to take a personal interest in me, focusing on me instead of eleven Grave Wardens showering him in deadly magics.”

“Never a good thing to attract the attention of something with such an over-the-top name like ‘Planerend’,” Xaphan quipped.

“Right,” Leon agreed. “Where’s the Primal Devil named ‘Helper of Puppies’ or ‘Protector of all the Cute and Cuddly Things’?”

“Dead,” the Thunderbird said without a shred of irony. “Primal Devils who weren’t strong and willing to employ violence were killed during the final war.”

“Any idea why Planerend avoided that fate?” Leon asked.

“Power,” the Thunderbird simply stated. She gave Leon a deadly serious look and added, “As I’ve told you many times: power is the key to everything, whether you agree with that or not. Become strong, seek power, and all else will fall into place.”

“Have you seen me slacking in my training?”

“No, but I repeat myself to keep you from becoming complacent in the first place.”

Leon lightly frowned but stated without any sarcasm, “Thanks. I suppose it’s better to be annoyed than to fall behind.”

“That’s the attitude that’ll take you to the Nexus, my boy.” The Thunderbird reached out and ruffled his hair a bit with a silent laugh.

“You’ll need that strength,” Xaphan added, “for when Planerend comes for a second round.”

“You think he’ll make some move against me?”

Xaphan averted his gaze for a moment in favor of staring out into the Mists of Chaos. He stood there thinking for a long moment before turning back to Leon, his orange-yellowish eyes burning with deadly severity. “Yes. You will never be completely safe so long as Planerend yet exists. He took an interest in you once, and that interest will not go away.”

“Honestly kind of makes me wonder why he ran away,” Leon said leadingly. “If he’s so powerful as to present such a danger, how was it that he was fought off in the first place?”

“Don’t play dumb, boy, it’s unbecoming,” Xaphan crackled.

Leon shrugged. “I have my suspicions for why it left—mostly having to do with the Grave Wardens—but I find it difficult to believe I did anything at all that might’ve compounded that threat. Even… if my suspicions are correct, it would still be unbelievable.”

“Yes,” the Thunderbird agreed. “But unbelievable though they are, belief will not change reality. So let’s state it clearly: you utilized the power of the Great Black Dragon. Not black fire, but that old lizard’s destruction power.”

Silence fell upon the three as they contemplated what that meant. The red light emitted from the Great Black Dragon’s third eye was deadly, able to shred matter with extreme ease. It was the ultimate form of destruction, and in the public histories of the seven Dragon Clans, none but the Great Black Dragon himself was ever able to use it.

At least, not publicly.

And yet, Leon recalled a strange power welling up from within him as the Primal Devil turned its gaze upon him, and it had apparently left him without eyes.

“So it was this power that destroyed my eyes?” Leon asked.

“Yes,” the Thunderbird confirmed.

“I’d have thought that power I used, no matter how instinctual, wouldn’t have affected me like that.”

“Power without control is a dangerous thing; especially to the mage wielding that power.”

“A common mistake to make,” Xaphan mused. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the leading cause of death for powerful mages was overestimating their abilities and getting in over their heads. Arrogance, power, and age are quite the combination.”

“Case in point…” Leon murmured barely audibly, though Xaphan was more than close enough to hear him.

Fortunately, the comment went unremarked upon.

“This power,” Leon continued with greater gravity, “was strong enough to fight off Planerend despite the vast distance between us. Or was it just a distraction that Planerend couldn’t get through in time with the Grave Wardens applying pressure?”

“Both, in all likelihood,” the Thunderbird answered.

“And you’ll want to see if you can use that power again,” Xaphan advised. “Planerend took an interest in you once; he’ll do so again.”

“You don’t think the Grave Wardens are going to hunt it down and return him to his box?”

“Fuck no, boy; these Grave Wardens have, so far, proven themselves to be highly incompetent. Planerend may not wind up being our problem to deal with in the end, but he will certainly be a problem that the Grave Wardens struggle to deal with without abandoning their other duties. And since he took an interest in you, for some unfathomable reason—I mean, you do host a Lord of Flame, but other than that, why would a Primal Devil spare you so much as a single glance? You’re not powerful or threatening or interesting enough for that.”

“Thanks, demon,” Leon said, his words dripping with sarcasm.

“Please, boy, such thanks are not necessary, for I but speak the truth.”

“Enough, you two!” the Thunderbird interjected, which Leon found just a little uncharitable—it wasn’t like he was the one levying insults, good-natured though they may have been. “The fact of the matter, Leon, is that Planerend had many reasons to take an interest in you. Your attempted thwarting of his plans; your rather unique biology; your transformation… Thank all who will listen that you did not fall into his hands. You would’ve been ripped apart and put back together countless times to satisfy Planerend’s curiosity.”

“Or perhaps simply killed,” Xaphan countered. “The Primal Devils weren’t shy about getting rid of any perceived competition that wasn’t able to defend itself.”

The Thunderbird tilted her head in acknowledgment of the demon’s point.

“I’ll see if I can practice using that power,” Leon stated, “but I don’t have much hope. I don’t know how I used it and the circumstances were certainly extraordinary. And on top of that, let’s not forget that that power melted my fucking eyes. If the price of learning to use this power is my eyes every time I try practicing, I may just make do without it, as I have done until now.”

“I will try and find some way to help you practice safely, Leon,” the Thunderbird said.

Leon nodded to her in thanks. He then loudly exhaled and sat down on the steps in front of his throne. He ran his fingers through his hair with one hand while rubbing his eyes with the other.

“Fuuuuuuck,” he exhaled, his voice packed with all the frustration of the past few days.

“It’s over now,” the Thunderbird said as she sat down next to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “You’re safe, my boy.”

“No you’re not, and don’t delude yourself into thinking you are,” Xaphan responded, eliciting a reproachful glare from the Thunderbird. “Until Planerend has been found and captured, you will never be safe. Though your meager talent may make this goal unattainable… Leon, your first and highest priority from here on out should be to achieve Apotheosis. You need that power.”

“I would tentatively agree with Candle,” the Thunderbird added, “though making children with your women should still come first. Then training.”

Leon chuckled. “Here’s hoping. What are the chances that any of them are with child?”

“You’ll find out tomorrow,” the Thunderbird replied.

“Yeah… I suppose I will, won’t I? So long as Ambrose sends me directly home.”

“And so long as Planerend doesn’t hunt you down,” Xaphan stated.

“Not much I can do about that right now, is there?” Leon retorted, his tone only partially serious.

“Then train, you moronic fuckboy!”

“Getting quite passionate about this, aren’t you, Candle?”

Xaphan exhaled deeply, sounding to Leon like he was on the verge of losing his patience. “As you said, demons are the creations of the Primal Devils. We secured our freedom at the end of the Primal Age. While I hold no great love for many of my fellow demons, I do not wish to see my entire race enslaved again.”

“That’s an interesting thought,” Leon said as he fixed his eyes on Xaphan. “Might Planerend head out to the distant Void and try to seize control over the Elemental Planes?”

“To do so would provoke all the Lords, and might even get the Princes off their fat asses,” Xaphan crackled. “Planerend on his own might not be able to do so openly, but in secret…”

“He also probably has a Universe Fragment,” Leon mentioned.

“That too…” Xaphan whispered. “A tremendous amount of damage can be done in my home if Planerend were to visit…”

“That Devil will do damage no matter where he ends up,” the Thunderbird stated. “Leon. I agree with Xaphan that you must train, but dealing with Planerend is not your duty. Your duty—as much as it can be called such—ended the moment the Grave Wardens arrived to try and fail to clean up this mess. Let them deal with the mess of their own creation. Focus instead on your own family, on your own power, on your own people. If Planerend comes after you, then be ready.”

Leon sighed. “I get it. I get it. I’ll focus more on training when I get home. Might temporarily delegate some of my duties to the elders.” He paused, Tir’s face flashing through his mind. “A good King doesn’t abandon his people for personal power, though. I can’t just ignore my responsibilities.”

“A good King is strong,” the Thunderbird shot back. “Strength is the most important aspect a King can have. If a King is weak, then the Kingdom is weak.”

“I disagree with that,” Leon said.

“Ha!” Xaphan cried out. “You, a man so young you’re practically a newborn, have the temerity to disagree? Have you learned nothing in your four decades of life?”

“I’ve learned enough,” Leon testily stated. “I’ve learned that while strength is of great personal importance, a Kingdom is more than its King. A Kingdom can be strong without a strong King. The burden of strength would simply fall upon others in that case.”

“And those others would make for better Kings,” the Thunderbird said. “If they are strong, then they’ll act as Kings themselves, in the stead of the true monarch.”

“Has it not stood out to you, Leon,” Xaphan said, “that the rulers of Kingdoms are always the strongest in their Kingdom?”

“That makes a lot of sense, though,” Leon responded. “The ruler will have access to the best resources, and the personal power to kick anyone else down who tries to usurp them.”

“And if a successful usurpation takes place, it was because the King was too weak,” the Thunderbird added. “No usurpation would happen if the King was strong enough to prevent it.”

Leon scowled briefly. “The logical conclusion of that line of thinking is that the sun wouldn’t rise, the stars wouldn’t twinkle, and the Nexus wouldn’t explode every hundred thousand years if a King is strong enough to prevent it.”

“Like that, you prove my point. If you don’t want to worry about usurpations and challenges to your authority, your greatest protection will be personal strength. Don’t try and deny this, Leon: humans yearn to be ruled by the strong. If they believe you to be strong, then they won’t act against you. They want to follow the strong and will follow you if they perceive you to be strong. Simply being of my blood won’t avail you forever.”

“I have no intention of lazing around, as I feel like I’ve said a hundred times by now. I just disagree on a philosophical level that the King must be the strongest mage in his Kingdom. I’ll concede that it would certainly make his rule easier, but it’s not necessary.”

“And in that, you’re wrong,” Xaphan argued. “Strength is a King’s greatest virtue. Should he lack it, then the people he thinks to rule will replace him. His enemies will think him vulnerable. The shitbirds who covet his land and resources will feel emboldened to act against him.”

“And having a strong army doesn’t factor into any of this?” Leon asked with a roll of his eyes.

“Why would an army follow a weak King?” Xaphan asked.

“Bureaucracy?” Leon suggested. “Because they’re well-compensated?”

“Compensation does little to assuage the ambitions of powerful mages,” the Thunderbird cautioned. “It takes a certain amount of ambition for a mage to reach higher tiers. Those who reach those higher tiers you’ll be more inclined to place in positions of authority. But they’re also going to be the ones most disposed toward acting against you.”

Leon closed his eyes for a moment and thought over his passengers’ arguments. They weren’t wrong; he knew that. But… he also didn’t want to get into a long political and philosophical debate on the subject when, in the end, he’d just wind up agreeing with them that his position would only be strengthened if he grew stronger.

That much, at least, was not in doubt.

He said so aloud again, and then prepared himself to get some rest. It had been a long few months, and the rest he’d gotten in the wake of the escape from Tell Kirin was not nearly enough. So, with the events of that flight running through his mind, he returned to his throne and got ready to pass out. Even though he didn’t need sleep, sleep still sounded like just the thing he needed to properly rest his mind and pass some time before Ambrose would send him home.

The last thing he wondered before slipping into the land of dreams was what had happened to the ark that had gotten them off the plane…


Leon’s sleep was blissfully dream-free, though he didn’t get quite as much as he would’ve liked. He was awoken by a soft, though insistent, knock at his door. He rose from his bed, blinking sleep out of his eyes, and answered his door, finding Tir standing there looking apologetic.

“I hope I did not pull you from the embrace of Rethil, Bringer of Dreams,” the old monk said. “I only wished to inform you that Prince Ard’Nara, by the grace of the gods, has woken up.”

Leon’s eyes widened in surprise and relief; he’d wanted to speak with Nara before leaving, and he was happy he had the opportunity to do so. By his estimation, he’d been asleep for ten hours, so he still had many hours left until it was time to leave.

“Let’s go, then,” Leon said with a grin as he gestured to the hall behind Tir, and the old monk quietly escorted him back to the hospital hall.

When they entered, Leon found that Serena was gone, but Ard’Nara was propped up in his bed by what seemed to be dozens of pillows, his heterochromatic eyes only barely open. They did widen slightly when Leon and Tir walked in, though, showing that the Prince was at least aware of his surroundings.

Leon pulled up a chair to sit next to Nara and asked, “How are you doing?” Tir, on the other hand, bowed in their direction and then exited the hall, though after closing the door behind him, he merely stood next to it, clearly giving them some measure of privacy.

Nara groaned and said, his voice so weak that Leon had to strain to hear it, “Bad…”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Leon said. “I’d offer to try and help, but to be honest, I’m not sure what kind of help I could provide that hasn’t already been given.”

Nara summoned the energy to wave his hand dismissively before closing his eyes in concentration. Leon felt the Prince’s aura shift slightly as power raced through Nara’s body. After a moment, Nara opened his eyes, a bit more vim and vigor visible in the mismatched orbs.

“I’m… feeling better than I… was…” he gasped. “I’ll… recover…”

“Your determination does you great credit.”

“It had better,” Nara choked, “I don’t have many other virtues. Should’ve… shouldn’t have… jumped down there… Stupid…”

“You were thinking of your people,” Leon said consolingly. “As far as such mistakes go, I think this one is fairly reasonable. You’ll see your people again, you’ll get to go home.”

Nara closed his eyes and leaned back on his pillows. “That… sounds nice,” he whispered.

“I don’t envy the task you face: rebuilding a Kingdom. But if you keep your people in mind, you’ll do just fine.” Leon’s previous conversation flashed through his mind, and he gave the Prince a shallow smile. “Keep training. Ensure a disaster like this doesn’t happen again.”

“I’ll be cold and dead before I allow that…” Nara declared with a surprising amount of strength. His aura was continuing to stabilize, too, and Leon figured that if he continued like this, he might even be on his feet before Leon’s time to leave came.

“Speaking of rebuilding,” Leon said, “will there be any place for Tir’Anu in your Kingdom?”

An ugly snarl passed over Nara’s face, though it was gone almost as soon as it appeared, replaced by a look of subtle distaste.

“All who wish to help rebuild shall be welcomed,” he said. “Some… some though… will be watched. Exiles can be lifted, but forgiveness… trust… will be hard to come by. Tir’Anu will never have the influence over the Kingdom of the Blue Sky that he once did. But to turn down help… the gods would turn their backs upon me if I did this without reason.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Leon quietly said. “Personally, I think he’s an honorable man who deeply regrets the mistakes of the past. I think he’ll prove to be an asset for you going forward.”

“He’ll be useful. He won’t ever be allowed back into the halls of power.” Nara’s eyes closed and while his aura didn’t drop in intensity, Leon could sense that Nara’s attempts to aid his own recovery were starting to falter.

“It’s good to see you awake,” he said, “but don’t push yourself too hard. We’ll talk at least once more before I return to Aeterna, so get a bit more rest.” He smiled and stood up, intending to return to his bed and get at least a few more hours of shuteye.

Before he could do so, however, Nara grabbed his hand. His grip was fairly weak and Leon could’ve broken out of it easily, but he allowed the Prince to arrest his departure. “Thank you, Leon Raime,” Ard’Nara whispered.

Leon turned back and nodded to the Prince. “I’ll accept your thanks, though I think it’s better reserved for those who gave more than I did. I only wish that we’d succeeded in our objective and not had a Primal Devil wandering the universe, now…”

Nara paled and his grip strengthened. “What?” he croaked. “It… escaped?!”

“Ah, Tir’Anu hasn’t filled you in, then…?”

Nara shook his head. “By the gods, tell me! What… have I missed?!”

Leon gave him a pained grin before settling back into his seat. If Nara wanted to hear this instead of resting, Leon supposed he could oblige.

He launched into his second long explanation of the day, though he at least only had to start at the point of Nara jumping down the lift shaft leading to the passages beneath Tell Kirin and their subsequent separation. The rest, he figured, shouldn’t take too long.

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