Chapter 17 - Demonic Energy
"You don't know about Demonic Energy?" She looked surprised at him, revealing her teary face.
Most people knew very little about anything related to demons and he had never even heard about Demonic Energy. Knowledge of demonic things was so controlled in fact that even the Eminence he killed hadn't known much about it. The only reason Sara was better informed was that as an intelligence agent she had to be able to identify all of the family enemies.
Moreover, he was kept even more in the dark because he had been suspected of being a demon himself. If demons became aware of everything humanity knew about them, it would allow them to hide better.
"Would you tell me about it?" He asked softly, unsure if she was that cool with him yet.
She nodded once and looked back at the monkey on the trees. "Demons live in the Depths, sealed away from the world, rightfully sentenced to endure suffering for eternity." He knew that part, although no one seemed to have any idea about what they had done to deserve this. "They can't use mana and so it should be impossible for them to leave the Depths, but they found a way. They use life itself, theirs and others', to do their magic. This perversion leaves distinctive traces that we call Demonic Energy."
Aaron's excitement at finding a new kind of energy disappeared at those words. Using one's own lifeforce to do magic was common knowledge in his old universe. However, the conversion rate was too wasteful and, in this world, the resulting energy couldn't be directly used in spells. He knew it for he had tried doing so before. It was a roundabout way of doing magic, as effective as using chopsticks to hold a hammer to forge.
Another method of using lifeforce, the best and most popular one, was using it to increase one's level, but it required too much energy and thus, other people's lifeforce too, the more the better. He, for instance, could use lifeforce to increase his level from 7 to 8, but he estimated that becoming level 8 for a mere few minutes would require the lifeforce of at least a million klutzes, leaving them dead or close enough in the process. To make the level up permanent, the lifeforce of billions of klutzes would be required. It simply wasn't worth it.
Even if he was willing to do so, convincing billions to give up their lifeforce for him would require a lot of time which he could use to level up by himself. The other options were mind controlling everyone or using force, neither of which he would consider, for those were evil actions that he would not abide by.
The evilness of those acts was evident in calling the resulting lifeforce 'Demonic Energy.' Lifeforce was so deeply connected to people's inner selves that forcibly taking it changed it in a fundamental way, making it hold negative emotions and become even less effective than willingly given lifeforce.
However, no matter how ineffective it was, it made sense for demons to use such energy. If the demons, whoever they were, had really been banished and sealed away, it wasn't a gap of logic to guess that they had been denied the gene that would allow them to use mana. When the desperation of facing an eternity in prison hit them, it was a matter of course for them to act against their brethren and use forcibly taken lifeforce — Demonic Energy — to allow their souls to bypass the seal and leave the Depths, then getting inside a person's body. And naturally, getting into a mage's body would allow them to control mana and pursue their objectives in the world from an advantageous position.
The catch was that their knowledge of magic wouldn't be greater than any other person unless they had already possessed other mages before and had learned magic at the time. If a demon's magical growth was too slow and it felt too impatient to further its own agenda, it would end up using Demonic Energy, which it was more familiar with, to increase its power, which in turn would sooner or later lead to it being discovered.
"Oh," Aaron said, disappointed at the 'revelation' of Demonic Energy, and changed the subject. "I'm glad you're back to yourself for now. Just so you know, the only way to revert what they did to you for good is to change your name through some unknown mean. Either that or keep using soul-protecting treasures."
She looked distressed at him. "What do you mean? Am I not free already?"
He shook his head. "Sadly, the ring I gave you can only protect you for one year, tops. Until you change your name, you can only use similar treasures. Any idea where to find those?"
Her answer to that question was to look in despair at him.
He smiled weakly. "You can keep following me if you want. As long as you do so, I'll not allow you to become a slave."
He had already temporarily healed her. If she wanted more of his help or not depended on her. As for offering to help her, it was only natural to do it when it was within his means and doing so didn't take him away from his path of saving the world. He wouldn't go out of his way to individually help everyone he met, but he also wasn't a psychopath who couldn't empathize with others.
Even considering how powerful he had been in the past, getting completely rid of empathy was too dangerous a route that almost always led to either eternal slumber since nothing mattered, suicide because there was no meaning to life, or great tragedies because if others' lives didn't matter, there were no limits to what one would do to others in their pursuit of power.
After taking a moment to process his words, she immediately dropped to her knees and kowtowed. "Master!" She almost yelled, making Mark twist a little in his sleep.
Aaron smiled. "I don't require that to help you but I guess you also want to be taught magic."
"Only if Master would be willing to teach this lowly one, who dared to try to harm Master before!" She said submissively.
However, despite her tone, Aaron became even more impressed with her. She was willing to serve him, but she also had the ambition to hope for his teachings. Sara was made of even tougher stuff than he would have imagined.
"Stand up," he said as he removed the Mana Lockdown from her mana pool.
The moment she became his Disciple, it was for real. He wouldn't accept anyone he didn't trust enough to even keep their own magic. Of course, her change was sudden and she might be faking it, so he would be on guard at all times.
And if she ended up betraying him after calling him Master, she would suffer a fate oh-much-worse than death. Oh, she would!
"I understand that you were misguided," he continued, "and I won't hold onto you for that, but it would be unfair to Mark if he started being taught after you. After all, he pledged loyalty to me before you did. Your lessons will have to wait until he can receive his first lesson, too."
"This one understands, Master!" She said while getting up as ordered and raising her teary face that was dirty from touching the ground.
Aaron nodded and looked ahead, ignoring her looks. "I don't require such deep level of subservience, so you can refer to yourself as 'I.' Now that you're not a slave of the family's Ancestors anymore, I bet you have a lot of things to think about. We'll have breakfast as soon as Mark awakens." He said, dismissing her.
"Yes, Master," she said with a bow and left Aaron alone.
He wondered if Sara would come to hate the Ancestors since she wasn't under the influence of the poisonous Prime Energy anymore thanks to the ring containing his soul. He didn't want to take her revenge from her if she so wished, but he also didn't want for his potential allies to suffer for a mistake they had felt regretful about and had done their best to fix.
He would let her get to her own conclusions and then talk to her about it in a few months, but he wasn't sure what he would do if she became someone who wanted revenge at all. She was his Disciple, and he shouldn't stand on the way of her retribution.
He sighed. He would cross that bridge when it came to it.
Putting such matters to the back of his mind, he resumed improving his spells.
Duke Eminence Ninefingers, wearing his war armor, was filled with pride as he watched over his army of ten thousand klutzes, a thousand warriors up to the Four Stars level, and a hundred mages up to the Notable level.
He had built his army from scratch over the last fifty years and today they would serve the best purpose yet: they would die to strengthen his daughter. She required the nourishment, for only after she became an Eminent Beast could the demonic ritual be used to restore her body.
"March!" He ordered, and they all obeyed.
Aaron heard Sara cooking, a grin coming to his face as he felt the smell of eggs and bacon in the air. His father had loved to cook it for him back on Earth.
Most mages didn't waste their time eating, but Major Notable Firebringer, Aaron's father, had been different, having three meals a day. The man had picked up the habit from his klutz wife and had likely kept it as a memento of her.
The boy turned to see Sara cooking on a floating frying pan that was kept hot with magic. The smell awoke Mark, who looked at the pan like a famished homeless child. He got up and approached Sara shamelessly.
"I didn't know mages could cook," he said provokingly.
Sara looked annoyed at him, but it was Aaron who replied. "I didn't know you were so thick-skinned. You do know she can kill you with a single thought, don't you?"
Mark paled instantly, all sleepiness gone from him, and his reasoning back to work. He wasn't provoking a fellow warrior in an army camp but a violent mage instead! And now that he thought about it, it was obvious by the magic-fueled cooking that she wasn't affected by the Mana Lockdown anymore. With him currently being as was as weak as a klutz, even a sneeze from her could kill him!
He might not know why she was let free, but since his master seemed to be on good terms with her, the fear towards mages that had been deeply ingrained on him forced him to bow her direction.
"Please, forgive me!" He said loudly, not even feeling ashamed. Mage politics was too complex to follow and it was common for a warrior like him to be forced to act friendly with those whom he had been ordered to kill just a few days earlier. Warriors lives didn't matter one bit when mages wanted to play war against each other, and while he hated them for it and wanted things to change, he also wanted to be alive when the change came, not die before that because of a minor offense.
Sara didn't reply, which made Mark's face twist in anxiety. Aaron laughed and interjected. "Don't worry, she's my maid and you're my butler. If she does anything to you, I won't be happy and she knows that."
Mark relaxed a little at those words, but Aaron wasn't done teasing the warrior. "But, of course, there are plenty of ways she could inconvenience you without me caring one bit about it. Mages can be very creative when they want, and very petty when holding grudges." Aaron shook his head. "If she'll forgive you for this slight in manners or not, that's between you and her."
Mark paled again.
Completely ignoring the warrior, Sara finished making breakfast and took three silver plates from her ring. She was practiced in her moves, clearly having received maid training before, which wasn't a surprise considering she as a secret agent. When given his plate, Mark ate in silence.
"This tastes good," Aaron said. "Thanks."
"Thanks, Master," she replied with a polite smile, but he could see that her eyes were still haunted by her past.
Aaron decided to give her some time before talking to her, and they broke off camp after breakfast.
Their journey continued.
Queen Overlord Bloodvine was training in the Valdian Martial Arts when a shadow materialized in front of her, soon turning into the Ascender that had been dispatched to check on the boy.
"My Queen," the shadow said bowing, its voice genderless.
She didn't stop. The instructions given by the boy were clear: failing to complete the set of movements called 'martial forms' by lack of strength or ability wasn't harmful, but forcibly stopping an ongoing set might bring harm to the body due to the way mana circulated during the practice.
After about five minutes, when she was done and had already used a spell to clear her sweat, she was happy to see the World's Writ appear in front of her.
Attribute: Resistance (Body)
Grade: 1 > 2
A coldness ran through her entire body, making her feel as if she could take any hit and survive. It was opposite to the warmth she felt when an attribute leveled up as a mage, one of the things she didn't understand about warriors.
But then again, it was also beyond her understanding how practicing the martial forms could improve her bodily resistance, even though the movements had pulled mana from her pool into her body and used it somehow. The warrior path felt much more mystical to her than the mage path.
Nevertheless, she felt elated! She had never known working the body could be so pleasurable. The boy had said a few things about rewarding chemicals in the brain, but the books on the topic that she had ordered had yet to arrive.
Now, she was only missing increasing her speed to grade 2 to become as powerful as a Two Stars Warrior!
The Queen laughed in delight. The thought of her, an exalted Overlord Mage, Warden of the West of the Immortal Crusade becoming a Two Stars Warrior was so ridiculous it was funny. Alas, it was the truth!
Finally, she turned to the Ascender. "Report."
"The boy disappeared," the Ascender said, and threw a small metal cube on the ground. A hologram appeared from it, showing a blackened area that had been completely obliterated by explosions. "I found this crater at the place where the tracking devices on him sent their last signal."
"This is not a simple crater," Bloodvine said as she moved towards her throne. "Someone used very strong spells to destroy everything in there and cover their tracks."
"That's not all. My scrying spells failed."
The Queen raised an eyebrow while climbing the dais. "Which scrying spell?"
"All of them," the shadow said. "Name Scries using the true names provided by Quasi-Overlord Firestar allowed me to determine that the two people sent with the boy are alive, but not where they are. All tracking items Quasi-Overlord Firestar informed me about were destroyed, thus rendering my Object Scrying useless. Past Scrying didn't work in the area, which I gather to mean that time was shattered in there, and I know no spell to fix it. When I used Past Scrying around the affected area, it showed the boy entering the area, but I could only see the horses leaving, and they only went back to their stables due to their training."
"Someone shattered time?" Bloodvine sat on her throne, putting on a pensive expression. "The Timelords, the Heavenly Artificers, and the Temple of Time; only they are known to develop enough mastery over the Time Laws to do it. And yet, none of them have any reason to meddle in the Crusade's business this time around. Is the boy a demon, after all, using his demonic arts to do things he isn't supposed to be able to?"
"He might be, but I detected no traces of Demonic Energy in the area."
"The boy is known to possess keen insights on magic, and I suspect Firestar even underplayed how much of a genius the boy was. Who knows, he might have a way to mask Demonic Energy. Either way, he can't leave the country in just a few days. Contact the Timelords and officially ask for their help in fixing time in the crater. Use the Immortal Crusade's name if they refuse."
"What if they still refuse after hearing the Crusade's name?"
Queen Overlord Bloodvine smiled wickedly. "Then, my darling, we go to war! They wouldn't dare to fight against every Overlord and Ascender in the continent, and if they do, we'll get rid of the festering wound that is the Timelords. Who knows, maybe the Temple of Time will join them and we can get rid of both. Go, I'm getting curious about this boy. Is he really a demon or is he the greatest genius ever born? Or maybe both?"
"At once," the shadow said and disappeared.
She snapped her fingers and a new shadow appeared, just like the one that had left.
"Yes, my Queen?" The shadow had the same voice as the first.
"Put observers on Firestar and the boy's immediate family. Order everyone to keep a lookout for groups of three traveling together, especially those in the cities close to the crater. Let them know that the Crusade is willing to go to war against even the Timelords if they refuse to cooperate, much less anyone else who interferes with the investigation. And spread the word that whoever gives us information that leads to the boy's capture will receive a nomination to the Three Towers. That way, they gain the same thing as capturing the boy if they cooperate with us and lose everything if they interfere in our business. Go."
"At once," the second shadow said and disappeared just like the first.
The Queen put two fingers to her chin, in deep thought. If the boy could evade even such search for a week, she would have to act personally.
For his own good, he better not make her do it.
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I'm Ed, a writer of GameLit. So far I have released only two books, but I'm working on increasing this number by tens! No, by hundreds! Maybe thousands! xP
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