Leon returned to Kataigida in triumph. It had been a few weeks since the Sunlit Emperor abandoned the Sword, and in that time, Leon had done his best to consolidate his Kingdom’s hold over the island.
He supervised the construction of new fortifications to protect the island in case the Imperials returned, he consulted with the Jaguar about the assignment of various central army garrisons and their defensive policy, he resolved conflicts between the relatively thin native population of the island and his occupying force, and he oversaw the transfer of Imperial prisoners of war back to Kataigida—or rather, to several different locations, only a couple of which were actually on the Ten Tribes’ home island. Penal colonies were already being built on small but livable islands close to Kataigida on their side of the misty veil, and in remote locations deep in the Hawks’ mountains. He wanted to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of prisoners they’d taken were not held together in large numbers, were not mistreated, but were still secured. That was a colossal undertaking and a task that took up most of his time.
The last thing he took charge of was the return to Kataigida. After a few months of intense fighting on the Sword, the Tribal armies’ job was done, and the central army had grown enough to handle the occupation all on its own. So, Leon was leaving it entirely to them, with the Tribal armies following him back home.
And so, when Leon’s fleets began to cross the misty veil and emerge in Kataigida’s territorial waters, they filled both the sea and the sky. Ships, arks, and war beasts of all kinds, all heading for Raimondas. It would take a long time for everyone to disembark, but Leon didn’t have to wait that long. He, instead, came flying in while in his Thunderbird form, the skies darkening and glittering with distant lightning to announce his glorious return. Despite the darkness, the huge city erupted into cheers that drowned out even the sounds of the waves, the returning military forces, and Leon’s own thunder.
Leon smiled internally, reveling in the elation that his people felt in seeing him not just return, but return victorious, word having been sent back the very day that Leon took Sunlit’s base of operations.
As he flew over the city, a tiny knot of dread in his heart loosened and disappeared. He’d won his throne mostly by virtue of his lineage. He liked to imagine that his treatment of the Tribes had done most of the work, but he knew that were he not of the Thunderbird Clan, the elders would’ve laughed him off the island—if he were lucky.
Had he returned to Kataigida in shame, having been defeated, he felt like it would’ve been an indictment of his rule that he would never have recovered from. Iron-Striker had taken the Sword while the Jaguar sacked Argos and Solomon razed the cities of the Shield mountains in the east. They did that without a King. If his first real test as a King was a loss, he felt like it would’ve been enough for some in the Tribes to wonder if they had made the right choice, and perhaps to begin scheming against him.
He was quite happy that he didn’t have to face that possibility.
Flying over the city and basking in the adulation of his people was all well and good, but Leon didn’t let it go on for too long before he turned toward the Eagles’ Tribal gathering hall. As he did when he first arrived on Kataigida nearly a year ago, he flew over the pavilion in front of the hall—or more precisely, the Tribal Totem in the center of the immense forecourt—ten times, showing his respect for the Tribes before he alighted atop the totem, landing upon the icon of his Ancestor to show his place in their society.
The bottom of the totem pole, the icon bearing the image of the Tribe’s Ancestor, was the most important to them since it bore the weight of all the images above, but the Thunderbird’s place at the top was special, too, and Leon wanted to tap into that connotation as he filled the sky with earth-shaking lightning, capping off his dramatic return to the center of his Kingdom.
The people appeared to love his theatrics as the city descended into almost crazed partying, welcoming first their returning armies led by their elders with open arms, and then the other armies as they streamed into the city with less and less ceremony as the people grew drunker and rowdier.
Leon himself didn’t participate too much in the partying. He was attended by the elders of the Tribal armies as they held a solemn ceremony of remembrance for all those lost in the war, as well as honoring those who fell with stories of blood. Chrysi, the new Tribal Lawspeaker, and Ipatameni, the Tribe’s other ninth-tier mage who Leon appointed as his Steward, both formally thanked Leon for avenging Exallos with blood. Only then did Leon, dragged by Sar and Valeria, join the festivities.
He was a little overwhelmed by the attention as he went about his tour of the city’s largest impromptu parties to mingle with the common people, especially since he went nowhere without a strong escort of Tempest Knights, but everywhere he went, the people greeted him with jubilation, markedly raising his confidence and lowering his embarrassment. He felt like he would’ve been far more comfortable going around incognito and without such a massive escort, but by the end of the day, he was satisfied and could grudgingly admit that he’d had fun kicking back with many of the city’s inhabitants.
Inevitably, the next day came and he had to leave, despite the ongoing festivities. The other Tribal armies that accompanied him home scattered as they returned to their Tribal lands, and Leon’s party shrank considerably as he made his way back to Stormhollow.
When he finally returned to the city, he was somehow greeted with even greater enthusiasm, as well as a large delegation of elders and government officials. Most importantly, when he returned to the palace he’d been staying in, he was greeted by Elise and Cassandra.
Elise was positively glowing with joy at Leon’s return, rushing into his arms as soon as he landed in the palace’s central courtyard. He was only too happy to catch her as she leaped into his arms and to hold her tight and spin her around a few times as she peppered his face with kisses.
Cassandra was more subdued, greeting Leon with little more than a smile and a short embrace, at least while he still had to attend to the few hours of expected ceremony that accompanied his return to his Kingdom’s capital. Once his duties were finished, she showed him her true enthusiasm as she and Elise dragged him to bed, which he was only too happy to comply with. His only regret that night was that Maia didn’t join them, though that changed in the subsequent nights. Even Valeria joined in on their private festivities, though she only watched Leon take the other ladies and still insisted that she and Leon sleep together separate from the others, if only by the space of a few feet—she was, at the very least, less embarrassed about having the others watch her than she used to be, even if she didn’t want them participating when she and Leon had sex.
Fortunately, Elise, Maia, and Cassandra were happy enough to accommodate her, which Leon was happy to see. It was also fortunate that Valeria didn’t try to monopolize his time, which he assumed helped a lot with their willingness to oblige her in her desire to have him without them.
Almost as good as lavishing each other with their sexual attention, Leon found, was simply spending time with his ladies doing other things. He had some duties to see to, such as touring the city and attending the groundbreaking ceremony at the site where his new palace would be built, but he had plenty of leisure time thanks to the efforts Iron-Striker had put into building and expanding the Kingdom’s bureaucracy even before it was the Kingdom’s bureaucracy. He let his ladies monopolize as much of that leisure time as he could get away with without neglecting his training with Xaphan and the Thunderbird, or the enchanting lessons he insisted he and Nestor resume.
Those lessons, however, didn’t immediately begin since as soon as Leon returned, Nestor had practically dropped everything he’d been doing so that he could head into the Thunderbird destroyer and evaluate it independently of the Ravens that did the same thing. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to tour the second destroyer since it remained on the Sword, the damage it had taken in Leon’s last fight with the Sunlit Emperor ensuring that it wasn’t going anywhere until it had received some comprehensive repairs, but Leon considered even having the one destroyer to be an incredible win. He was hoping that Nestor would be able to bring the ark fully back online, though without additional wisps to aid in operating the ark, he didn’t hold out much hope.
Still, when Nestor met with the destroyer’s wisp and took his first tour of the destroyer, Leon couldn’t help but let his greed and imagination run wild as Nestor described the destroyer’s disabled main weapon: a massive cannon, larger even than the largest artillery piece that the Ravens had built, that fired a beam of light magic to obliterate everything it touched. It was a weapon of terrible power, and Leon wanted it terribly.
Nestor’s subsequent tours and evaluations, unfortunately, doused that fiery passion, much as it had when Leon had first expressed to Nestor his desire to learn how to build arks. The Ravens could build suitable arks for use on a plane, but the Thunderbird destroyer was built to cross the great empty expanse of the Void, and as such required materials that the Ten Tribes simply couldn’t provide. They had enough Titanstone for the purpose, but Aurichalcum and Lumenite were both needed to properly repair the destroyer and bring all of its disabled systems back online.
So, with some disappointment, Leon turned his attention to other things, such as planning the punitive expedition he still wanted to launch against the Sunlit Empire, as well as consulting with his allies about how that might go.
To that end, soon after returning to Stormhollow, he and Cassandra got back in touch with the Grand Druid and the Lord Protector. The two of them simply sitting out was a big enough boon to Leon’s forces that he wasn’t too critical of their relative inaction, but what they shared with him had him quietly seething.
The Keeper, they told him, was exerting his power and military and diplomatic might to keep them from attacking the Sunlit Emperor, despite Sunlit’s actions against Leon. With Sunlit’s losses on the Sword, Ilion and Evergold could likely win a war with both Thunderhaven and Memoria, but the costs would be so catastrophic that both Empires were simply ensuring their national defenses were raised and armies were mustered, but no more.
Leon honestly couldn’t blame them, but the fact that the Keeper was apparently throwing in with Sunlit had him concerned. Such an ally would imperil his planned punitive expedition, possibly preventing the Sunlit Emperor from meeting his deserved end. In fact, the more Leon thought of it as the days passed, the more he was convinced to put the date of that expedition off until the Ravens had completed their new arks.
Fortunately, Tikos had made contact with the local tree sprites native to Kataigida. There weren’t many remaining on the island, most having been hunted down and eradicated for the threat they posed to humanity, but Tikos had still managed to find several dozen and take them into its service—Tikos not finding much challenge in the endeavor given its power and relative intelligence. The other sprites were easily brought under its sway, allowing Tikos to essentially start its own tree sprite colony around the consequently rapidly expanding forest around the Hesperidic Apple trees. Already, production of thunder wood had grown by half compared to what Tikos had been able to do on its own, so Leon was only too happy to encourage Tikos to continue its efforts.
His visit to the grove, on the other hand, was a little more nerve-wracking. Tikos ensured that the other tree sprites didn’t attack him, but they were hardly ‘friendly’ to humans. As a result, Leon had to enter the forest bereft of escort—not even his family or retainers were allowed to join him. Tikos assured him that it would ‘only’ take a few hundred years for the tree sprites to adjust to not being hostile to humans, but until then, it would have to personally ensure the safety of those who visited the grove, which in turn meant that only Leon was allowed in.
Given the strategic value of the Hesperidic Apples and thunder wood, though, Leon, after taking some time to think about it, was perfectly fine with that concession. Besides, the grove was filled with a tantalizing and energizing aroma, a scent that lightened the burdens of the heart and mind, that felt like it nurtured and invigorated the body, which Leon interpreted as Tikos taking quite well to its new role as the center of this new tree sprite colony. And if it made his tree sprite retainer happy, then he, too, was happy with the arrangement.
On a more somber, though encouraging note, Leon also personally escorted Iron-Striker back to the city, where he was taken into the care of some of the best healers that the Ten Tribes had to offer. Despite Iron-Striker having been publicly displayed during the last battle, word of his condition hadn’t spread that far. Half of Leon’s force that had participated were from the Bear Tribe, and they weren’t keen on spreading the word of their losses and humiliations. The central army elements within that force were still on the Sword, so few people on Kataigida itself knew about Iron-Striker’s maiming.
And Leon intended to keep it that way. He didn’t want the morale boost of retaking the entirety of the Sword to fall any with it becoming widely known that the Tribes’ only tenth-tier mage had been so harshly treated. At the very least, Leon focused much of his training time on growing his soul realm so that his people could have at least one tenth-tier mage even if Iron-Striker didn’t recover.
Fortunately, the healers were confident that he would make a full recovery, and within a week of his return to Kataigida, one of Iron-Striker’s arms had been regenerated. That, however, didn’t seem to improve Iron-Striker’s aura that much. His power base remained incredibly damaged, and the healers repeated dire warnings that Iron-Striker probably wasn’t going to advance in magical strength for decades, if not longer, even when fully healed, and that if he ever wanted to advance further then he shouldn’t even try until he was fully healed.
At the very least, it meant that Iron-Striker wasn’t going to be joining Leon’s punitive expedition—or any other military expedition that may be called for, such as one against the Sentinels, for that matter. If Leon wanted to fight on an even field with Sunlit or the Keeper, he couldn’t rely on his Chancellor.
That left him only one option: ascend to the next tier himself. He was close, about nine-thousand and eight hundred miles, his soul realm having grown significantly from his exertions on the Sword. In fact, he was a little concerned that he had advanced too fast for how much he’d exerted himself during the campaign, but both the healers and the Thunderbird cleared him of any problems when he discretely had himself checked out.
But he was still convinced that something was going on. At first, he was convinced the Iron Needle had something to do with it, so he and Nestor inspected it not long after his return but found nothing unusual with the Universe Fragment. His suspicion thus turned to the staff of yellow lightning, which Leon hadn’t experimented much with since the initial tests. He knew it aroused in him sexual desires, but he wondered if it was playing around with his soul realm, too.
However, his subsequent inspections didn’t reveal anything that pointed to it influencing his soul realm. It did, however, pique Cassandra’s interest, to put it mildly. More accurately, when she walked in on him transcribing the patterns on the staff onto spell paper to see if they had any arcane significance, having run out of many other ideas other than taking it apart again, she shrieked in surprised delight.
The staff, she’d excitedly told him, bore markings that indicated it was from a civilization that predated the Thunderbird Clan’s conquest of the plane. It was an artifact that was older than most of Aeterna’s records, something that Cassandra had been trying to fix following her and Leon’s adventure into the Prota Forest years ago.
Leon was only too happy to study the staff with her, being quietly ecstatic that he and she could share something like this. Plus, when he demonstrated the arousing effects that the staff had on him, she was only too happy to take advantage, even later telling Elise about it. Naturally, Leon’s fire-haired wife started to get some ideas, but out of an abundance of caution, Leon decided not to incorporate the staff into his family’s sexual activities. The staff had, after all, defeated Iron-Striker in a single strike, and while it had a completely different effect on him, he didn’t want to take the chance that it was doing anything quietly harmful to him.
At the very least, after those few times that he’d been shocked by it, he didn’t notice it interacting with his soul realm—and besides, he had no problems performing in the bedroom, especially since his ladies were quite keen on continuing their efforts to have children.
So, he settled in for the near future in Stormhollow. The punitive expedition would have to be pushed back by months since the Keeper involved himself, but Leon had plenty to occupy himself with in the meantime. But when the time finally came to seek vengeance upon the Sunlit Empire, Leon was determined to end the line of their Emperors in recompense for the harm that Sunlit had done to his nascent Kingdom.