Chapter 16 - Night at the Unleaving Forest
Hours came and went.
Aaron heard Sara's heartbeat increase and her eyes open. She didn't leave the sleeping bag though, so he just let her be. She certainly was confused and had to get her bearings before interacting with other people.
The night was going by uneventfully. When his mana recovered enough, he cast a simple smelling spell to make nearby beasts think a powerful beast had laid claim to the area he was camped at, thus making them too fearful to approach. It wasn't a long-term solution but it would do just nicely for a single night.
Then, around midnight, he heard the infuriated screech. It was acute and piercing, just like something out of a horror movie.
The scream tried to affect his mind but was brushed off without an issue due to his max grade soul resistance. Mark woke up, his and Sara's minds also unaffected thanks to the soul-protecting rings they were wearing.
Simultaneously to the mind attack, Aaron felt Space mana lock the forest not too far away, caging the three of them inside. He looked at the direction the screech had come from and saw the heat signature of a huge swarm of flies a moment before he could see them in the dark.
He snorted at such a weak attack.
Myriad Arts — Spellcasting — Double Elements: Fire, Air — Seventh Burning Barrier!
The air distorted right in front of the swarm and alighted in fire. The swarm hit it head on and it was like an iceberg hitting the surface of the sun. It didn't matter how big the iceberg might be, the heat from the sun was absolute, disintegrating all that dared near it. Likewise, it was already a miracle that some of the flies even flew close enough to touch the flaming wall before being incinerated to dust.
Similar swarms of insects came from all around him and he dealt with them all the same way, soon finding himself surrounded by a circle of flaming walls.
The smell of burnt flies covered the place, followed by a new screech coming from the distance, even angrier and much closer this time.
"M- Master! Let's leave!" Mark yelled in fright.
"We can't," Aaron said calmly as he made the fire walls disappear.
"This is the scream of a wraith," Sara spoke with a helpful tone to it, to the surprise of Mark, who didn't expect her to be helpful. "Wraiths can create illusions around their prey, making them unable to leave."
"Half-right," Aaron said. "This is indeed a wraith, but it went further and locked space around us."
"What?!" Sara exclaimed, surprised. "Are you telling me..." She didn't complete the sentence. Aaron nodded, and she paled.
Mark looked from one to the other. "What? What is Master saying?"
"Corrupted catharsis," Aaron explained. "Wraiths are ethereal soul-like beings born from the anguish, fury, and unwillingness people feel when they die. Those feelings are also what keep the wraiths alive; if they let go of them, they die. And yet, wraiths which manage to forgive and forget, and thus destroy themselves in the process, are commonplace in the world, or we would long have been overrun by all the anguished remnants of the dead." He smiled sadly, remembering something from his past life, but quickly shook his head to focus on the matter at hand. "There are also some wraiths that cleanse themselves of their negative emotions, but before they disappear, they get attached to a new thing, a territory. They bind themselves to a place and start feeding on living beings to strengthen themselves. If they aren't killed quickly, not only do they get strong over time, they also gain absolute control over the territory. We, and by 'we' I mean the Yarns School of Magic, call such process 'corrupted catharsis': a name that makes no sense, for a being that shouldn't exist."
"It's a demon," Sara said but there was doubt to her voice. It almost sounded like a question.
Aaron rolled his eyes. "The unschooled masses believe domain wraiths to be demon-possessed wraiths. It makes absolutely no sense at all, but some people just like to see demons everywhere they go."
"How powerful is a domain wraith?" Mark asked.
"Like any other beast, it depends on its level. Judging by the power of its mind attack, it should be no stronger than a Champion or a weak Eminence," Aaron said as he detected hundreds of animals surrounding his group.
"Are you sure, Master?"
"No, but I'm confident enough."
"If the mystery of the Unleaving Forest is just a beast, why didn't Duke Eminence Ninefingers kill it?" Mark's warrior mind seemed to be in perpetual search-and-destroy mode; find a target and kill it. The possibility of a beast being beneficial to the environment didn't even cross his mind.
Aaron smiled. "Wraiths aren't considered real souls, but they still react the same as souls, magically speaking. Alchemy, formations, artificing, puppeteering... Whatever requires souls can use wraiths with the added bonus of not having the moral issues that using real souls brings. The more powerful a wraith, the better material it's considered. My guess is that Ninefingers is waiting for it to become a bit stronger, and thus, a bit more valuable before coming to harvest it. It isn't different from raising cattle, really." He had seen such a situation many times before, even though allowing people to enter the forest and feeding the wraith was immoral, to say the least.
From all around them, animals started appearing. Foxes, wolves, tigers, rats, birds, squirrels, and many more.
"See how there's no One Star Beast or stronger among the controlled animals?" Aaron said. "The wraith isn't strong enough to control beasts yet." The main difference between common animals and beasts was that the latter had access to mana. "With this, I'm sure it's only at the Champion level, or maybe even as weak as a Notable despite its unusually strong mind attack." He looked ahead and smiled. "We'll know soon enough."
The animals parted, and a specter approached floating from between them. It was a horrid creature, with a removed jaw, hanging tongue and visible organs all over its body. Its arms and legs were broken and twisted, and it was impossible to tell if it had been a man or woman when alive. Wraiths kept the appearance their bodies had had at the moment of their death, and if it had suffered so much, it was no wonder it had a strong enough resentment to become a wraith.
Check Level, Aaron thought.
Level: 6 — Notable Beast
Despite Aaron's calm and what he had told Mark, dealing with domain wraiths was incredibly tricky. Having control over the forest gave the wraith an incredible advantage, and if it was already strong enough to create spatial barriers, not to mention its powerful mind attack, it was on the verge of becoming a Champion.
If he didn't kill it swiftly, it would likely flee into some powerful beast territory. While the wraith couldn't control beasts, if both the wraith and Aaron entered a beast's territory, the beast would prioritize Aaron as a target because the wraith was somewhat in sync with the forest itself.
Then, the wraith would have enough time to consume enough animals to break through to Champion level, and then, it would be too costly for Aaron to do anything to it as long as it kept its distance. Domain wraiths were that annoying to deal with in large territories like the forest, and it would require him a few days to kill a Champion Domain Wraith alone at his level.
Once more, his lack of power frustrated him. If he had been an Eminence, the wraith would have no way of running from him for even a minute.
"Intruders!" It yelled in a creepy voice. "Thieves! More thieves! All thieves! Came to take what's mine and only mine!"
When Aaron heard that he almost laughed. He had been wondering how to deal with the wraith without wasting too much time on it, else he would have to leave the forest. Thankfully, with its words and his knowledge in beast taming, the wraith had just provided him with an easy way of provoking it enough for his purposes.
"Domain wraith," Aaron spoke, imbuing a bit of mana on his voice for it to come out firmer. "Leave and you may live! I want this domain for myself! Everything you have belongs to me now!"
The wraith stopped in its tracks. "No! No, no, no, no, no! My domain! My! Mine!" Its voice was rising until it was screaming in sheer fury. "Only mine! Thief! Die!"
Beasts were controlled by their instincts, and wraiths even more so, their last memories especially powerful. This wraith had likely died at the hands of thieves and its domain was its single possession. It simply couldn't resist Aaron's taunt.
Enraged, it attacked. It shot like an arrow at him, slashing with its twisted hands. A soul attack assaulted his mind too and the space around him became locked.
The wraith's attack was ruthless. It had frozen Aaron in place and sent a mental attack to stun him. It followed the age-old wisdom that a lion uses its full might to hunt its prey; there was no underestimating enemies no matter how weak they might seem.
"Master!" Mark yelled but as a mere One Star Warrior, he had no way of protecting Aaron in time. He tried to run towards the Herald regardless.
Sara just shook her head. If Aaron had dealt with a trained killer like her so easily, what could a Notable Beast possibly do to him?
Myriad Arts — Spellcasting — Single Element: Soul — Seventh Spiritual Vanquishing!
Soul mana left his body. The space barrier around him posed no issue, for the physical couldn't affect the soul or vice versa. As the spell slammed into the wraith, it simply dissipated, like grains of sand blown by a powerful gush of wind. There was no battle, no reaction, it didn't even have the time to scream as it simply ceased to be.
The moment the wraith gave up on its advantage to directly attack Aaron, its weakness as a mere level 6, Notable, became evident in front of a level 7, Champion, like him with an understanding of soul attacks.
As the beast disappeared, a small glass-like ball the size of a fingertip was revealed from the middle of its body, falling on the ground but not shattering despite its fragile appearance.
Name: Beast Core — Domain Wraith
All beasts had beast cores inside them. These cores had many different uses and were valued by their grade and their properties, which depended on the beast they had come from.
He put the core away into his ring. "New lessons for you," he told Mark. "First, never let your emotions get the best of you, for our logical mind is our greatest advantage over beasts.
"Second, think about your enemies' true intentions before acting, for being taunted into a disadvantageous position is stupid and fatal.
"And third, always attack your opponent's weakness, be it emotional, like I did with my words, or related to your enemies' very self as I did by using a powerful soul-destroying attack against a soul-like being."
"Y- Yes, Master," Mark said, still overwhelmed by what had just happened, and the speed with which everything was solved. The Herald always acted swiftly and decisively!
Aaron sighed. "That will be all. You can go back to sleep."
Knowing even Mark would have difficulty to do so after what had just happened, he used a spell to put them to sleep, returning to his watch right after.
The animals and the forest itself were freed from the vanquished wraith's control and returned to normal. Without the wraith to make them ignore their instincts, a few of the animals around started fighting against each other, but most of them just bolted out of there as fast as they.
Not only animals instinctively avoided any being that could manipulate mana, but the smell of a powerful beast piss in the area also made them panic. Only some beasts could ignore the smell and even then, they had to have a reason to do that, like the domain wraith.
Aaron didn't heed the remaining few animals any attention. The way the domain wraith had used mana was very interesting and had provided him with many insights.
Duke Eminence Ninefingers, a thin old man with deep bags under his eyes, held a small girl who was bleeding from her neck, making sure that every single drop fell in the huge pool of blood in front of him.
Unfortunately, he couldn't use a spell to dry all the kid's blood from her, and thus there was some waste. Using any spell at all in that stone chamber would resonate with the blood and consume all the demonic energy in there.
Despite being a powerful Eminent Mage, his body was old and weak and even holding the small child was a chore for his feeble physique. And yet, he felt elated. He had gotten the blood of the last virgin required. If the demon hadn't lied to him, his poor daughter would finally come back to life!
Thankfully, there was no reason for him to distrust the demon. It was due to a ritual given by the demon that his daughter, who died tortured by the hands of bandits, managed to forcibly become a domain wraith. And if his daughter came back to life, he would plead himself completely to the demon, going as far as telling it his true name! For his daughter, he would do anything!
Finally, the kid stopped bleeding, and he hid her corpse inside the spatial ring.
Now, all that was left was strengthening his daughter a bit by taking some people to die by her hands, then bringing her to this chamber. He used the communication earring, another gift from the demon, to contact his army. "Men, prepare to march!" He ordered. "Today, we'll hunt and destroy the evil that haunts the Unleaving Forest!" He said deceptively.
When the men stationed outside his castle cheered and hit their shields with their weapons, the walls of his underground chamber trembled.
On the early hours of the morning, sunlight pierced the trees, reflecting on the morning dew. Owls and other nocturnal creatures went to sleep while birds chirped in a welcoming way towards the light of a new day.
It was a beautiful sight of greenery and life.
Aaron was still keeping watch when he heard first wake up again. She kept to the sleeping bag for a while, until she sighed and got up to approach him.
"You're not a demon," she said as soon as she got beside him. "And I was being controlled."
Aaron deactivated his Heat Darkvision and his Enhanced Senses spells and looked at her. "Were you?" He wasn't surprised, as that had been one of the possibilities for her soul to have become like that. He still was curious about her circumstances though.
"Yes," she said, her voice filled with shame and sadness. "Since I was little. My parents ordered me to tell the Ancestors my real name when I showed some talent for magic. The Ancestors... Using my real name, they gave me many different orders." She made a long pause before continuing, tears silently rolling from her eyes. "Among them was to hate demons with all my might and to never take any chances."
"Why would they do that?" He asked softly, already knowing the answer but also that it would be better for her to let it all out.
"I was raised to become an intelligence agent living in the shadows, and so, bound to encounter demons. I have already killed real demons, weak ones, twice. What those two did before I got to them..." She sighed and looked at a monkey eating a fruit on a tree. "I only had to suspect someone of being a demon and I would become blind to reason, seeing their every action as evil. Now, I also realize I killed innocent people who I believed to be demons at the time." Her tears shone under the sunlight as they fell from her face and further wet the grass she stood on.
Aaron understood better than her the consequences of long-term mind control. The person would gradually lose their capabilities to think straight and small orders that were given without much thought, like 'be mindful of everyone,' could lead to the person distancing themselves from everyone until they incurred a complete mental breakdown!
Sara had received so many opposing orders, in fact, that it had even led to her disobeying some of them, which further hurt her psyche and twisted her soul until it turned into a monstrosity. From what he could gather from her words at the time, she wasn't supposed to attack him, at least not so soon, and yet she had done so because of her hatred for demons, which had made her incapable of listening to reason whenever demons might be involved.
He didn't know if she was the first kid to whom the family Ancestors did something like this, but the way they were throwing resources at her to fix her situation hinted at they not being aware of the consequences beforehand.
Such actions by the Ancestors also made it look like Firestar had really changed from the cruel man he had shown himself to be when he almost killed Aaron. Maybe it had even been this change to his heart instead of Aaron's questions that had allowed him to become a Quasi-Overlord. Like Aaron had told Mark, the heart was crucial in the path for power.
Sara was reacting better than he expected to her sudden realizations. His soul was helping her to not go completely batshit crazy, but her calm showed she had taken it all in stride. She was showing to be a tough lady indeed.
"I know how you got free from their control," he said, glancing at the ring he had given her. "But how did you conclude I'm not a demon?"
"Besides showing too much power and knowledge for your age, you didn't do anything demon-like," she said. "Even if your magic is advanced, it doesn't show the slightest trace of Demonic Energy."
"Demonic Energy?!" Aaron was suddenly much more interested in the conversation. He hadn't heard about such energy before, and his Full Status told him that he knew all the magic elements in the world!
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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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