Dee looked at the three cages occupied by various beings and the large creature held in place by her telekinesis. She had spent half a day to capture some live test subjects, and the large one had been the most difficult to find. Most communities and inhabited areas kept the surroundings clear of anything really dangerous, so she had been forced to go a little further to find something worthy. She looked at the large Manticore she was detaining with judgment in her eyes.
‘I really wanted to find something rank seven at least.’ She sent the message to Croestia. The Manticore barely qualified as rank six, and even that was generous.
‘We’ll have time for that later. The important thing is to get some initial tests done. Who knows? We might not even need the poor creature.’ Croestia encouraged her.
Dee had taken the imprisoned beings to a place nearby the Four Winds headquarters. She didn’t want to run the risk of having the fire spread to the city in case she couldn’t control it, so there was a fair amount of distance between the place and any habitation. Just in case she had also picked a place with sparse vegetation and a large river between her and the city. She could’ve picked a more deserted place, but she wanted some help to be nearby if things went sideways. If the worst happened, then at least the immortals of the Four Winds could contain any damage.
She concentrated at the empty air in front of her, trying to reach for the same thing she had used to burn the Tree of Life. Back then she had acted almost purely by instinct, so it took some effort, but she finally felt something connect. A small black flame suddenly appeared in front of her and danced in the air. The flame itself felt wrong. It was as if the nature around her was recoiling from its presence and the creatures in the cages pushed themselves as far away from it as possible, pushing against the bars on the other side.
Dee observed the flame with a large amount of curiosity. Somehow she knew that these flames were not just the result of her kitsune heritage, but also due to her draconic parts. She had two beings of fire in her heritage after all, so it was not completely outside her expectations that they would mix in some way. It was not a normal flame and there was something decidedly unnatural and demonic about it. Yet she also detected the faint presence of holy power in it. It seemed that when the blessings messed with her shapeshifting abilities the effect carried elsewhere.
The flame itself was hot, it was a demonic flame after all, but not especially so. It radiated heat that didn’t really seem to affect Dee, but it did not burn any hotter than normal flames would at that size. She put a little bit more power into the flame, and the small flame grew a bit and became a little hotter, as you would expect. So far the flame did not really seem like something that would warrant it waiting until she became an immortal, aside from the creepy feeling it gave off.
She looked at the first cage, which held a simple rat. A tiny creature with no special resistance to fire, and one that no one would miss. She tossed the flame at the rat and as soon as it reached the tiny creature, the rat and the flame both disappeared in a blink of an eye. Only a small bit of grey dust remained at the bottom of the cage.
‘That seems a little odd. I put enough power in the flame to burn the rat, but not that fast.’ She had fully assumed the rat to die within a second, but in less than a fraction without any visible signs of burning? And without leaving behind something resembling a corpse? The flame was not supposed to be hot enough for that.
‘I don’t think it burned the rat.’ Croestia replied with a weird tone of voice.
‘Explain.’ Dee prompted.
‘I can’t just yet. It was just a feeling and the whole thing happened a bit too fast for me to really make a good observation.’ Croestia messaged firmly. She had a theory, but it was too soon to share.
‘Alright then.’ Dee thought mostly to herself. She created another flame of similar level and tossed it at the occupant of the second cage, which saw it coming and tried to avoid within the confines of the cage. However, the cage was too small for the large deer to dodge effectively.
The deer was a beast roughly equal to a rank two warrior, so not a dangerous opponent but one with a bit of power at least. Dee focused her sight with the help of the blessing of Lumen and tried to observe more carefully this time. The small flame spread around the deer, and all the power and life seemed to be drained out of the deer. And just as quickly as the rat before, the deer disappeared, taking the flames with it. It left a slightly larger pile of gray dust this time, but still only what would amount to about a handful.
‘Did you see that?’ Croestia asked excitedly.
‘I did. It seemed to drain all the power and life force within the deer before burning it into that grey dust.’ Dee replied.
‘I don’t think that was burning. I think the body decayed into the dust in that brief moment.’ Croestia corrected.
‘Decayed?’ Dee asked, thinking back. Now that Croestia mentioned it, the process was really closer to decaying than burning. ‘I think you’re right. Time to see how it reacts to defenses.’
She looked at the third and final cage with a large male blue scaled Saurian inside. Dee had found the man in the middle of robbing and stabbing a human woman on her way back from the Cauldron of Blood. Not that it really mattered to Dee, but it was nice to know the man would have faced death anyway if caught by the guards. As a bonus, Dee had healed the human woman the Saurian was in the process of stabbing.
“Be a darling and use as much ki as you can to protect yourself. If you manage to stay alive, I’ll even let you free as a bonus.” Dee encouraged the blue scaled man, who got a small fraction of hope in his eyes. Hope that had completely disappeared as he had seen the fates of the occupants of the two other cages. Not that Dee had any intention of letting the man live, but she would keep her word and let him free before killing him.
Dee kept the flame just as small. The Saurian was a rank four warrior, and she wanted to see how the defenses formed of ki would affect the flame. As soon as the flame was formed she tossed it right at the Saurian man. The flame came in contact with the protective field of ki but passed right through as if it wasn’t there and engulfed him. The man’s face was twisted into a horrible silent scream of agony as the life force inside him was drained away. He managed to survive for a fraction of a second longer when he tried to suppress the flames on his body with his ki instead of blocking it. The flame burnt away the suppressing ki as soon as it came into contact, but Dee felt an almost imperceptibly small drain on her powers as it did. The Saurian seemed to age a thousand years in less than a second and turned into nothing but dust.
‘I see. Protective ki doesn’t stop the flame. Not at this level at least. That really is useful. On the other hand, trying to suppress it works to some extent, but the flame can keep going by taking more power from me. It seemed like it took a lot less power from me than the Saurian used to try and suppress it.’ Dee shared her observations.
‘That might partially be due to how highly refined and thick your power is. One useful thing seems to be that the flame engulfed the target as soon as it came in contact and disappeared as soon as the target died. The cages themselves don’t even seem singed beyond the slightest bit that resulted from limited amount of pure heat radiating from the flames.’ Croestia observed as well.
Something about that bothered Dee. She couldn’t quite pinpoint what. After a moment of thought, she instead sent a fourth flame at the Manticore. Since the beast didn’t have the intelligence to project a protective field of ki, this didn’t serve as a test for the flames ability to pass through such defenses. However the beast had a body strengthened by mana. Its inborn durability was much higher. The beast turned into grey dust just like the earlier targets, but this time the small flame had to get a significantly larger boost from Dee to do so.
‘Something is not right.’ Dee thought as she observed the unburnt stone ground. She tossed a small flame at the stone, and the flame just slowly melted away the stone right below it. It finally clicked then. She had heard about the devastation left behind after Eternity’s blessing had activated and she had destroyed an entire city after getting injured by the Crimson Witches. That city had been completely destroyed, buildings and all. This flame, although very deadly, seemed somehow lacking in contrast.
She tried going into her kitsune form in case that made a difference. She felt a little more in control of the flame, but it didn’t seem to make a difference when it came to the nature of the flames. She turned herself smaller just to see if the size of her body made any difference, and unsurprisingly it did not. ‘That was a silly idea in the first place.’ Dee thought to herself.
She had a sudden inspiration. The flame back then had drained all the holy power from Eternity. It had returned long since, but it had consumed the power. Her first thought was to simply channel holy power into the flame, but then she got another idea. Instead, she tried connecting her unfinished totem with the flame instead. She had never really tried using the totem but it was connected to the holy symbols, so maybe…
The feeling of wrongness intensified a thousandfold. Before it had felt unnatural, but now the flame’s mere presence silently screamed “This thing should not exist.” The flame was not growing as Dee was not putting in more than a small sliver of power, but everything in a several mel radius around the flame suddenly turned into grey dust including the cages and the ground, leaving the small flickering flame floating in the air.
The flame was now slowly descending towards the ground beneath the small crater it had created. Dee had gotten a result and decided that was enough for now. She tried cutting off the already meager supply of power to the flame, and nothing happened. She suddenly noticed that the flame was now feeding itself by draining power from the surroundings. The area was thick with ambient mana since they were in the third circle.
“Uh, how do I make this thing stop?” Dee suddenly had a horrible thought. She used telekinesis to throw sand on the flame in an attempt to suffocate it, but the flame was not normal and required no air as fuel.
‘Do you think it would hurt you?’ Croestia asked somewhat worried.
Dee considered for a second. ‘No I don’t think so. In addition to being something I created, I can feel the power of Lumen inside the flame as well. If anything, I think it would help me.’
She dashed towards the flame and started using her front legs to paw at the flame, trying to put it out. Her thought proved true in that the flame did nothing bad to her, but the pawing itself had very little effect but it was not useless. In the end, it was Dee’s half-desperate desire to make the flame disappear that finally did the job. That warranted some thought. If the flame followed her wishes, then what other changes could she bring about with her will?
Suddenly she realized that she was no longer alone. She very slowly turned her head enough to see the seven people, who she really did not wish to see right now. Sure enough though, she turned around to see the four representatives of the Four Winds, Moirai, Shunkaha and Amarog. They had been in the middle of a meeting when they felt the presence of something very wrong nearby. In a very illogical show of embarrassment, Dee tried hiding behind her tails.
Nyx and Shioko were sitting on the ground holding both hands over their mouths to prevent themselves from laughing out loud, Shunkaha was grinning openly, while Moirai and the Anshar representative had their eyebrows raised in question and judgment. The Dagon representative had already turned around in disgust and was leaving. Dee’s attempts to paw at the weird flame had been strangely comical, especially since she was barely larger than a cat thanks to her failed attempt to affect the flame by changing her size.
“I’m just going to stand here and judge silently until you explain what the heck that was.” Moirai said with a level tone. She had gotten somewhat used to her disciple’s shenanigans.
With a sigh, Dee came out from hiding beneath her tails and explained her tests on her kitsune flames in fairly vague terms. That caused some interesting expressions on the faces of the people who came here. “So the feeling of wrongness that brought us here was caused by your flames?” Shioko asked, becoming much more serious.
“I would assume so.” Dee proceeded to first create the normal black flame she had used first, and then once again connected the flame with her totem. It was a hard process even on the second time as she didn’t really have full access to either her flames or the totem. This half immortal existence of hers was becoming a little bothersome. Nevertheless she succeeded, although she realized that she would be unable to grow the small flame that now hovered above her hand. She would have to connect with her Domain before fully utilizing her flames.
“It’s a little hard to test without a proper target and the flame is hard to control.” She said as the feeling of wrongness pervaded the area.
“I would avoid using the flames openly until you gain full control over them. Especially this version. The earlier, simpler flames would be fine I suppose, they can pass off as something demonic. This, on the other hand, will draw the ire of certain people.” Nyx advised Dee. Unlike Dee, Nyx could feel the differences between the flames much more keenly thanks to her own abilities. The earlier dark flame was dangerous, but also very controlled. This one was much more destructive and wild.
“You can test it on me.” The Anshar representative suddenly said.
This surprised everyone present. They could all feel that getting hit by the flames was not a good idea. “Are you sure?” Dee asked. “Like I said, I don’t really have control over it. And like you saw, I might not be able to put the flames out easily.”
The laughter, which sounded like rocks falling down a cliff, from the Anshar was a little disconcerting. “I don’t mean to look down on you, but I’m a being of fire several ranks above you. We Anshar are very resistant to any damage done by flames, even demonic ones. You don’t need to worry.” His confidence was not unfounded. The Anshar were creatures of fire and he was a rank twelve immortal. Even though there was no such thing as being completely immune to something, it would be extraordinary if Dee managed to hurt him and he truly was one of the best targets for such tests.
The man’s confidence irked Dee for some reason. It was as if he was insulting her flames. It was not just her dragon side that was getting irritated, but also her pride as a kitsune was being insulted. She willed the anger inside her into the flames with the desire to show the man the error of his ways. The flame had so far gently floated on top of Dee’s hand, not hurting anyone. Now it dashed towards the Anshar representative with an almost hungry flash.
The Anshar lifted his hand confidently to block the flame. He also created a thick layer of protective layer of both mana and ki around his hand just in case. He was confident, but not stupid. Dee had forgotten to mention how ineffective such protective layers had been earlier, partly because she wanted to see the man eat his words and partly because she wanted to see if it would apply to someone much stronger than her.
As the flame got closer the Anshar man’s hand suddenly started turning into grey dust from the fingers up. He also grunted in pain. Normally something at the level of getting his hand destroyed would not have caused him this amount of pain, but something about the small flame was causing a horrible kind of pain that passed all his resistance to such things. In a flash, he dodged out of the way and used his powers to try and suppress the flame. The flame had engulfed his hand up to his elbow, but the destructive power of the flame no longer extended further away from the flame thanks to the suppression of his power. Before the suppression, his fingers had disappeared without the flame even touching them.
He tried to push the flame away as it seemed to be eating what remained of his hand, but apparently what the flame took it kept. In a decisive move, he made a sword made of flame and cut away the part of his hand infected with the dark flame. As soon as the hand was severed and lost the support of the Anshar man’s powers, it turned into dust and took the flame with it. Without showing any emotion the man forced a new hand made of pure flame extend out from the stump. Slowly the flame turned more solid, the skin and flesh looking like volcanic rock and the veins seemingly made of lava. Anshar at his level could easily replace lost limbs as they were not creatures bound to normal biology. As long as they had power, they could fix any damage done to them.
Dee, on the other hand, was having more trouble. The flame had taken a lot out of her as it had resisted the suppression of her target. She had little control over the flame and so had to endure the drain on her powers. Now she was lying on the ground panting from exhaustion. She didn’t lack power, but having it drained out of her so quickly was hard on her. Nyx and Moirai noted the reactions of both people. “Well. This is interesting. Apparently the flame is much more dangerous than we thought. It can hurt even those that Dee is supposed to be unable to harm, but not without a price.” Nyx speculated.
“Indeed.” The Anshar man agreed. He was never in real danger of actually dying and didn’t really suffer any permanent damage, but he’d had a small scare when his protective layer had not worked and his fingers had suddenly disappeared. “Now that I know how to fight the flame it won’t be as successful again, but it really surprised me there. I would assume the flames will only become more effective when Dee gains more power. Still, I would limit the times you use it in places people can see. The surprise factor is a huge advantage.”
“I really need to get back to my vacation.” Dee mumbled dead-tired. Experimenting further could wait until she actually became immortal and had some control over her Domain and totem.
Within the space filled with grey fog, the four deities stared at the image floating above the campfire. They had seen flames like that before and didn’t have fond memories. Lumen grimaced. “I suppose it should be expected that she inherited that ability considering whose blood you used when creating her.” Her words were aimed at Umbra, who in turn was feeling smug.
“Oh, believe me, I had hopes but I didn’t think it would work so well.” Umbra replied, glad that the experiment was successful. “It was a long shot but I’m glad to see it pan out. I was actually expecting her to get a lesser version of the flames, like the one she showed earlier.” The flame that had engulfed the city due to Eternity’s blessing had been halfway between the two flames Dee had shown today. That flame had lacked a certain important quality even if it had been destructive.
“You do realize that the other gods will be less than pleased about the existence of flames that can kill them, right?” Lumen pointed out. There were several ways of killing gods, but most of them included striking at the believers. Otherwise they would just reform after some time even if their bodies or avatars were destroyed. These flames were a little different. There were several reasons The Old Ones had been locked away.
“Perhaps, but they will also be less likely to piss her off, considering the risks involved. Besides, one of the nice things about the flames is that they can’t be seen by normal gods. We only see them because a little bit of our power is mixed in and thanks to the blessings we gave her. So unless she senselessly flaunts them around…” Umbra countered.
Death interjected at this point. “Speaking of, there’s something about the blessings you should be aware of.”
“What?” Umbra asked suddenly wary. Few things Death spoke about were positive.
“After what happened with her totem, I tried modifying the blessing I gave her. Not to actually change anything, but to test if I could. Turns out, we can’t pull our blessings away anymore. In fact, the only thing we can do is increase the level of the blessing. That little trick with the totem tied us with her for good. We have essentially become power sources for her.” Death explained. Not that she minded, as she was basing her plans on Dee now, and there wasn’t really anything else she needed that power for anyway.
The other two goddesses were silent for a long time, while Eternity was always quiet. Unless his daughters annoyed him. Finally Lumen spoke. “Well, we were committed to this path as soon as we joined forces. The other gods are not likely to forgive us for supporting someone that can kill them even if we tried to pull back now. This just makes things simpler, as now we have to go all in without regrets.” She was right. Despite their similar goals, it was difficult to fully trust the other gods gathered here with their own goals and plans. Now they were stuck with each other, so such considerations became somewhat irrelevant.
Umbra grinned widely. “I for one am curious to see how far she can go. Also, unlike the rest of you, I think she likes me. We get along great, so I have nothing to worry about. Having a Champion that can scare the crap out of the other gods will only be good for me. No matter how everyone will react, it will result in change and change is what I’m all about.”
Death hid a secret grin. For once she agreed with the dark goddess. Change was also her goal, although different kind of change. The recent events had been outside of her calculations but in a good way. To her, nothing could be better than Dee getting the ability to harm or even kills gods. Now she wouldn’t need to arrange for her to gain such abilities another way.