"Hey Dar." [Sara]
"What is it?"
Sitting at its usual place, Dar'ith was scribbling on its diary while studying a slowly dying leaf.
"Me and sis are going to gather herbs for the medicines, do you want to come?" [Sara]
"Why do you sound so shocked?"
"Because you never accept anything I say!" [Sara]
"That is because you always propose useless things to do. This outing will help me with my current research and your sister's knowledge on medicines and plants is quite compelling."
"Then, are you really coming?" [Sara]
"Have I not answered already?"
"Yay! Let's go right now, I'll call sis, wait here." [Sara]
Running at full force, Sara dashed out the store.
After a small sigh, Dar'ith resumed its research. Staring at the leaf, it began to once again writhe and die. Pure mana flowing out of the object, collecting in a small invisible sphere in front of the undead. As the leaf crumpled into dust, Dar'ith casted a spell using the life it sapped from it.
Firstly using alteration magic to change the mana type and then summoning a small floating fire with the results.
This is promising, I'm going to need some living subjects for the next test...
After walking for a while in the forest, Maria turned to her followers and started explaining the items they were searching for.
"Sara, you already know what we need so you can start the moment we get there. As for you Dar'ith, if you see any of the plants I taught you feel free to gather them, but the one we need the most right now is the faenia. It looks like a blade of grass with dozens of small flowers growing on it and it has a silvery color." [Maria]
"What are its properties?"
"That would be for another lesson, but the short answer is that they react strongly to magic and seem to be really good at improving health in general." [Maria]
"I'll teach you another time, first you need to get down the basics." [Maria]
Reluctantly accepting the answer, Dar'ith began searching for herbs.
With a bit of trouble, it finally managed to find its objecive. The discovery left it in awe for a few seconds: the plants were actively absorbing and exchanging pure mana. Almost forgetting its goal, the skeleton took out its diary before putting it back in its place.
It could study these later, for now it needed to gather them. Perhaps Maria would teach it something more about them beforehand if it managed to do a reasonably good job.
Something strange happened when Dar'ith tried to grab the flowers: as the skeleton got closer to them, they seemed to face toward it and began releasing and reabsorbing mana quicker and more intensely. Slowly, across almost a minute, the mana took the shape of a globe surrounding the plants.
Mentally clapping its hands, Dar'ith effortlessly tore through the shield and gently picked up the flowers.
I will enjoy studying you, but right now I have a job to do.
With a satisfying amount of materials, the skeleton began searching for the rest of the group. After a few minutes of wandering around, it searched the mana for signs of life. As the air rippled with its will, more and more living beings appeared in its mind.
Transparent light bluish flames took the shapes of rabbits, deers, birds, trees, flowers and eventually human. Dar'ith found Maria, before heading to her position, the skeleton looked around with magic for a little more time.
There were some strange pockets of concentrated formless mana around the forest, these were groups of faenias. The undead took note of their position, it would study them later that night. Many meters to the south was an especially dense pocket of them slowly absorbing the remaining soul of a deceased beast.
Oh, these don't make distinctions. I should be more careful, my soul could be absorbed as well.
Dar'ith reunited with Maria and presented its spoils.
"Is this enough?"
"Yes, thank you. Now we only need to wait for Sara." [Maria]
"By the way, these have quite the interesting ability. Absorbing and releasing mana, they even seem to move in reaction to dangers."
"Really? I didn't know that." [Maria]
"Really? Even though the mana moved that way?"
"Well, the thing is, I can't see it. I heard that mages or really skilled people can. But unfortunately I'm not one of them." [Maria]
"Oh, that would explain many of the weird looks your village gives me."
Their little chat was interrupted by a child running out of a bush toward them. It was Sara holding a bag full of many different herbs escaping from something.
"I made a mistake!" [Sara]
"What happened?" [Maria]
Before getting an answer, a loud roar resounded from the direction she came from and dozens of rock spikes shot out toward them.
"Worlds apart, divided by void"
In a split second a magic circle appeared and made way for a crystally wall that absorbed all the remaining hits before breaking off.
"Magic beast! We have to run, it's dange-" [Maria]
Without breaking its momentum, the skeleton grabbed some of the still flying shards and, with the help of a bit of mana, it threw them at the creature that just appeared from the bushes.
Even with the speed granted by magic, the moment they hit their target, the shards shattered and bounced off of the beast's fur. A thick layer of magic was all over the being.
Quite the skillful use of still mana.
With another roar, another magic circle appeared at Dar'ith's feet. The moment it collapsed, part of the sky darkened and lightning struck the skeleton's position. With another quick chant, the attack was effortlessly nullified.
"Reality breaks, disappears, the world splits"
This magic formation acted differently from the others: this one flattened itself enough to become a barely visible line in between the beast and Dar'ith. In the next instance, a large amount of pure and still mana gathered inside it. The amount was considerable enough to send shivers down all the beings in the near vicinity.
When the animal realized the danger it was too late: from the skeleton's perspective the "upper part" of the scene slowly slid across the inexistent diagonal line, leaving tree stumps severed to perfection and bushes that looked like drawings cut into two with scissors.
The beast that was in the middle of dodging when the phenomenon happened, split cleanly into a mess of organs and blood the moment it touched the ground.
"...rous. What was that!?" [Maria]
"That's not what I meant. I just witnessed a picture getting cut in half, what spell was that?" [Maria]
"The only reality bending magic I know how to cast as of now."
"Reality bending?" [Maria]
"Magic that can overwrite the world's law. Spells like [Teleport] that changes your position or [Rot] that ages something to inexistence. This one basically deletes anything in a straight line."
"Yes. To be more specific the pure mana removes the materials from this plane leaving a rapidly filling void in their place and the still mana keeps the severed parts from flying everywhere because of the reaction."
"But how!? No, wait, nevermind. I'll just be thankful for what you just did. Just, how far does it reach?" [Maria]
"Theoretically across the whole dimention, unfortunately there isn't enough mana in existence to do it."
"That's good to hear..." [Maria]
Shaking away her headache, the two searched for Sara before returning to Laria.
The next days were calm. Between reading, researching and attending Maria's lessons, the time passed without any noticeable happenings. Except for a minor commotion in the plaza.
Every once in a while, Dar'ith would go out and wander the village to study human lives and customs. That day it happened to stumble into a sort of assembly in the town center. Many of the village's hunters were speaking of strange sights inside the forest with Gherman.
"Is there something wrong?"
Its voice caused some of the less trusting hunters to jolt. Even after having spent months in the village, the undead never really tried to befriend ony of the villagers.
"Maimed corpses of animals and magic beasts are appearing throughout the forest as of lately." [Gherman]
"Is that not normal?"
"In small amounts yes, it makes sense for animals to leave behind inedible remains of their preys." [Hunter]
"Yes, but this is different than the usual." [Gherman]
"In what way?"
"First off the amount of corpses is way too high. Secondly most of the meat is still on the bodies. And lastly, the damage on them is exaggerated." [Hunter]
"Limbs ripped off, bodies smashed to a pulp, spread across trees as if to show a painting, impaled multiple times and others." [Hunter]
"That's the gist of it, do you know something about it?" [Gherman]
"No, this is the first time I heard of this."
"That's a shame. Tharret, tell the other hunters and gatherers to be careful and not stray too far when they enter the forest today, in fact, tell them to go out in pairs. For you who are present right now, try to find leads on what might be causing this. The same applies to you, stay in groups of at least two. Whatever is out there doing this, it's strong enough to use a magic beast as a tree decoration. Have I been clear?" [Gherman]
"Then you're dismissed." [Gherman]
The crowd dispersed, leaving the skeleton and the old man alone. After a bit of a groan, Gherman headed back to the book store.
"Do you have any idea of what it might be?"
"Not really, magic beasts don't usually kill that brutally, and predators usually only hunt for food. So it might be anything really." [Gherman]
"Yeah, hopefully it's nothing too troublesome... Would you help us with it?" [Gherman]
"No, that is not my problem."
"You can learn about the forest's fauna and the magic beasts anatomy, the hunters are very knowledgeable about them." [Gherman]
"I already researched them in great detail before entering your village. I don't believe your hunters can add to my studies."
"Ha... it was worth a try." [Gherman]
The next day arrived and with it Gherman did not. A weird occurence for the old man as he always arrived on time. Watching outside, the skeleton noticed a few villagers running to the village center. Something had happened.
Dar'ith got up and headed to the plaza.
Just like yesterday, a crowd was gathered but this time it was larger: almost all the village's gatherers, hunters, lumberjacks, all of the people that worked in the forest were gathered.
Unrest was visible on their faces, two shapes covered by a blanket were in the middle of the crowd before Gherman. Their form didn't resemble anything it knew or ever seen, but from the blood staining the blankets, it was easy to assume what was under them.
"This morning the bodies of Johna and Raul were found deep into the forest badly maimed." [Gherman]
Confusion and fear swept the crowd as they began to understand what the formless shapes on the ground were.
"Please be quiet, something is in our forest right now and until we discover what is it, access to the forest is forbidden. Anyone who wants to enter will have to speak with me first. If any of you has any information that might help, please share it right now, otherwise you're dismissed. Tonight we shall hold a funeral for our brothers." [Gherman]
After the old man ended his speech, the crowd burst out into more agitation asking for details on the happenings and the way the two men died.
A bit curious of the creature that caused this, Dar'ith looked through the mana in search of anything that could resemble a danger. As its vision expanded, nothing more dangerous than the average magic beast appeared. Nothing was out of the ordinary, the forest was calm. acting the same way it always did.
Then a blank spot on its mental image appeared, originating from a particularly dense bed of faenias, the hole rapidly expanded removing its vision on the place. Dar'ith recognized the movements of the expanding void, someone or something else was manipulating the mana, taking away its control on it in order to search like the skeleton did.
"Your reign crumbles, your hold on reality weakens and under my domain, your powers fade"
Swallowing the pain from the burning sensation and cursing the lenght of the chant, the undead put into action the light magic it practised, summoning an expanding light globe that dispersed the invisible wave of mana approaching it.
Dispelling the barrier, Dar'ith took back its control on the mana and searched for the enemy once again. It found nothing, and even worse, the dense concentration of mana it mistook for faenias earlier was gone.
"What is the meaning of this!? Why do you have Sanctus' magic!" [Villager]
Ignoring the shouting man and the sudden uproar in the crowd, the undead turned to Gherman with whatever serious expression could be made with its face.
"Did you sense something?" [Gherman]
"Yes. I don't know what it is, it doesn't seem to have a form and it seems to be skilled in mana manipulation."
"It doesn't have form? It might be a slime, and a magical one at that. This still doesn't explain the killings but the monster might be related to the problem, slimes are unusual this far from the inlands." [Gherman]
"Mm... Gherman, I want to study this creature. I'll help you with your problem."
The declaration made the old man smile.
"Hmph, good to know. Then let us waste no time, we need a plan, let's meet at my house in a few hours. To any hunter or warrior willing to come with us, go fetch your equipment and think of a plan. We'll strike as soon as possible, I'll also ready my weapons." [Gherman]
"I'm going now."
Without waiting for a response, Dar'ith walked out the village, into the forest. Something interesting was in it right now and any moment of hesitation would mean the possibility of it running away.
Whatever the creature was, it was smart: ever since the previous events, any time the undead used the mana to search for it, nothing out of the ordinary would come out, except for some rare cases where dense pockets of pure mana assumed to be the results of groups of faenias would disappear or appear out of nowhere.
The monster knew how to reduce its magic power and used it to look like beds of the magical flowers. Even more astonishing was the fact that some of the disappearing pockets of mana were actual faenias which the mana was absorbed from, and the same with the randomly appearing ones, they were flowers in which magic was injected to look like it materialized out of nowhere.
Whatever the being was, it knew that Dar'ith was a mage and it was trying to misdirect the skeleton. But it didn't know that the flowers could turn around to "face" any danger close to them. Just by looking at the direction the faenias were facing, a trail could be made.
The more the beast tried, the easier it would be for the undead to find it.
And so, Dar'ith stalked through the forest gradually getting closer to its next prey.
"I will enjoy the spoils of this hunt."