Hunt 7: A Sudden Twist
A thin sheet of mist starts to surround Al Duran’s turf once again. Zharyx, Lillian, Victor, and Earl Spade are down kneeling on the murky ground. Their clothes are stained with mud. At midst of it all, Azalea remains to be the only one standing. It seemed as if she is not affected by Al Duran’s Illusion Break, but the way she stands there unmoved, proves otherwise. Their eyes are wide open but their sights are not seeing anything from this world. They are all trapped deep within the depths of their mind, living again in the nightmare they want to run away from.
Because of Victor’s last attack of Sonic Rage, Al Duran remains stunned for a minute. Up to this point, no one knows how to break free from the demon’s curse. Everyone who is caught in this spell died soon after. Their current situation simply delays their death until Al Duran can move again.
Time is running.
“God damn it all.” A very faint voice resonates in the empty marsh. “I didn’t wanna see that. What is this mix of feeling?” She continues to mumble while regaining her senses and recovering from numbness. “Yeah, I remember.” She grits her teeth, looking ahead. “Right now, I feel disgusted.”
Azalea completely snaps out of the illusion. When she comes to, she notices that she is no longer holding her staff. It is laying half buried in the mud. Meanwhile, right in front of them is the demon closing in and preparing for an attack of lapidem storm. Without her staff she is unable to control the use of her mana properly, making her spells unstable and unpredictable. However, at this point, it does not matter anymore.
“A minute has passed already? You’ve just pushed your luck this time, demon.” She says calmly taking a step forward. She looks around, observing her party members. Even though, they are still caught in their own nightmare, they look fine. “I have to release the seal on my armor. Level three, down to level two.” The huge gem on her chest shines brightly for a moment. Something that looks like magic circles formed and then quickly shattered like glass. The gem then lost its glow.
Just in time with the demon’s attack, Azalea casts a spell. Several overlapping magic circles formed before vanishing in an instant. Without calling for a name, a wordless incantation, wind element spell twirl around splashing on the mud and blowing the projectiles away. They all storm towards the opposite direction carrying and whirling Al Duran up the sky. A heavy clunk resounds along with the rustling and crackling of the surrounding trees in the area where the demon crashed. The strong gust is also clearing the mist around; further ravaging the already devastated surroundings. The air contaminated with the harmful mana is being dispersed. The charred trees and plants are crumbling, their dust flying away. Small magic circles diffuse from Azalea’s body like bubbles of light. Those flickering lights flows down as they slowly disappear into the thin air.
Azalea walks closer to Zharyx’ group. She stands in front of them doing nothing for some time. Her dead eyes stares at their unmoving body.
“They are gaining their senses back.” She says softly. “In order to get out of the endless nightmare that Illusion Break plays in one’s mind… they must be able to accept the reality of what happened in their past. This is their first time experiencing it but they are already about to break the spell.” She scoffs. “I see. They are strong… in that area I’m not.”
“ROOAAARRRRRRR!!!” Al Duran growls far away. It sounds like the demon is moving closer.
“It seems that they’ll be fine in a bit.” She says before turning around to locate Al Duran’s whereabouts. “They should already have figured out how it works. I must finish this before they get the energy to catch up.”
When Azalea is about to go after him, Lillian’s voice suddenly rings. “Azalea--!!” She has regained her consciousness even though it seems that she is still feeling a little nauseous and her eyes are unfocused.
Azalea stops like someone just pulled her back. Her reaction seems to have a little lag before she turns towards Lillian. She replies to Lillian’s call with a kind smile. Then without any warning, she jumps off towards Al Duran’s direction. Few circles lights up. The force of her jump leaves a small crater on the murky ground while her figure slowly disappears in the sky.
“W-what happened?..” Zharyx mumbles snapping out of the illusion.
Meanwhile, Earl Spade wakes up covering his mouth as if he suddenly feels sick. Despite that unpleasant feeling he is experiencing, he immediately musters his strength to crawl towards Victor who is still lying on the muddy ground. Victor stays unconscious as Earl Spade grabs him close.
“Wait!” Lillian tries to follow Azalea but her knees are weak making her steps wobbly. “Zharyx, what should we do now?” She rubs her head, her back slouching.
“We can’t recover as fast as she could.” Zharyx answers while trying so hard to control his shaking legs. “Spade, concentrate on healing Victor.”
“Okay.” Earl Spade answers without hesitation while summoning Spirha again. “Wait- I can also help make your recovery faster.”
“If you could do that, then hurry up!” Lillian insists. “We have to follow Azalea as soon as possible. We don’t know how reckless she could become after experiencing something like that… Illusion..?”
Zharyx could only frown while looking at his muddied palm. “It doesn’t seem like a simple illusion though.”
Lillian starts shaking while covering her mouth. She clenches her chest while her breathing grows heavier. Her stomach twists from simply recalling the nightmare she experienced earlier. The pain and the feeling of complete helplessness are all too real. For a moment they re-lived a memory they buried far at the back of their mind.
“What did you guys see?” Earl Spade’s voice cracks.
Lillian and Zharyx look at him; their faces lose color. Earl Spade’s hands also start shaking at the sight. A bit of flashback makes them panic and freeze as if they have totally lost control of their mind and body.
“I’m s-sorry,” Earl Spade says. He struggles to focus on healing Victor. “It’s something we should not talk about.”
They just nod and then stay silent.
At this point even if they manage to catch up to Azalea, they will not be able to help if they do not regain their composure. The experience they lived through took them a few months to a few years to get over and move on. Illusion Break in itself is not a deadly skill; it’s what comes after getting trap in it that could wipe them out. Being disoriented or stunned this way makes them unable to attack or defend. It’s no wonder the scouts did not survive.
“How could someone be okay after re-living that real-life nightmare?” Zharyx whispers.
Azalea lands near Al Duran. The moment she shows up in the demon’s line of sight,it immediately launches lapidem storm. She quickly casts speed boost on herself to evade the attack. While running, she points her hand at Al Duran like she is holding an invisible gun. A series of multi-layered magic circles appeared in front of her fingers and then a few more similar ones appeared around her.
“Fire Pistol!” She shouts and then a series scorching hot air explodes out of the magic circles around her. The one she particularly pointed at the demon bursts hitting its right side.
Most of the scorching hot air from the surrounding magic circles just flew around completely missing the demon. The stray shots are burning the plants and trees in the area creating a smoke-filled atmosphere. The nearby animals and monsters become terrified by the enormous amount of mana blasting off all over the area. They are all running away from the conflict zone.
Al Duran growls and then chases after the image of the insolent human that injured him this much.
“Without the Kharite staff to suppress and regulate the flow of my mana, my spells get out of control making them scatter all over the place.” Azalea evaluates her situation while casting another Fire Pistol. Consecutive explosions spread out around her. “However, if I use my staff, I won’t be able to utilize the full power of my attack spells… especially that one I need. I have to finish this demon before the others can come and get in the way of my offensive strategy.”
Azalea has an unusual amount of mana that continuously leaks. Her mana spills out excessively when she uses magic which makes her spells more powerful. Sometimes it’s a good thing but most of the time it is very wasteful.
Kharite staff is customized to keep the power output of her spells in check. It reads and regulates the mana so that she can control the power output of her spells. However, these conditions only allow her to use low-tier up to mid-tier magic spells. Unlike other common weapons used to enhance offensive power, her staff acts as a limiter because using too much of her mana does not only destroy her surroundings, it also burns her mana circuit out.
On the other hand, her armor is imbued with seals that functions to absorb her spilling and excess mana. The absorbed mana is then automatically used up to strengthen her armor and enhance her magical defenses. It gives her very high elemental resistance that protects her from receiving common elemental ailments or damage. The absorbed mana is also used to increase her auto-healing speed.
Without her staff and with the seal on her armor lowered, her magical defenses, control, and accuracy also drops. In exchange, she can use high tier spells with more destructive power than its actual level. Because of this, her Fire Pistol flew around aimlessly causing unnecessary destruction. Right now, her way of fighting could indiscriminately hurt those who enter their field of battle.
Al Duran chases Azalea’s movements while firing a barrage of bullet storms. At the same time, Azalea continues to run around evading the bullet storm while attacking the demon. She is focusing at least one of the fire pistols in one spot; ignoring the number that flies out of control. Their exchange of charges is continuing to generate more damage to the surroundings making a thick blanket of dark smoke and dust.
Meanwhile, Zharyx’ group is starting to move on and is on their way to back her up. Their destination is right where the dark smoke rises like an ominous call. Earl Spade has taken Victor who is still deep asleep on Spirha’s back so he can continue to heal him. Even though they all still feel weak and wobbly, they are determined to meet up with Azalea and assist her, especially at this time. On their way, they pass-by some terrified small monsters hiding under the roots or up the branches of the larger trees while most of the others are running away from the center of chaos.
“At this pace we may not make it in time.” Zharyx says while leading the group. “We’re around hundred-fifty meters away from where the smoke comes from.”
Earl Spade bows his head low. “Sorry, I’m not capable enough to fully heal all of us at once.”
“This isn’t the time to keep on worrying about that.” Lillian interrupts while dragging the Kharite Staff. She had no idea this giant thing is this heavy until she tried to pick it up. Still she is taking it back to its owner. “We are running low on mana too; this isn’t the time to pick who’s to blame.”
“Yeah.” Earl Spade concedes while continuously healing them while they walk
forward. “The explosions had been going on for a while. The sprout must be running low on mana too.”
“We can only take this time to recover but we have to be quick on our toes at the same time.” Zharyx worries.
“By the way,” something had been bothering Earl Spade since they woke up from their dreams. “What happened back there? Illusion Break shouldn’t have affected us, I was sure it wasn’t past five minutes yet.”
Lillian recalls back how the surroundings looked. “There was no fog either.”
“Probably because it wasn’t in the fog,” Zharyx answers. “The fog is just a natural phenomenon in this area. Looking back at what happened, the wind pressure I felt before I woke up… It was mixed in the air while we were fighting.”
“How?” Lillian wonders. “That demon was—wait-” She remembers the scout reports. “H-huh- The subconscious mana emission!”
“Huh-? What?” Earl Spade is confused.
“The mana that the demon naturally releases in the surroundings, along with the mana released during its attacks and when he receives damage, it’s all diffused in the area.” Zharyx explains calmly while the two listens. “Our battle made the demon diffuse more mana in this cleaned up territory, making the known time limit irrelevant. Those who are within that area of effect are absorbing that corrupted mana. It accumulates in our system and targets the memories that we have strong emotions attached. Those who are affected by Illusion Break fall into a half-asleep state unable to do anything.”
“So the group that was wiped out…” Lillian says softly with a sad tone. “Ah-! Won’t Azalea be in danger if she continuous to fight like that?”
Zharyx pauses briefly before answering. “Maybe. But I think she’s already figured everything out. Either way, we have to just be there in case of emergency.”
Few minutes has passed by, Azalea continues to keep up with her fighting routine. Now, Al Duran’s armor is glowing bright red due to the excessive heat that it absorbed from Azalea’s fire pistols. Taking the moment as the right time, she rapidly casts Water Whip. A single magic circle glows that accumulates the little drops of plant water surrounding her. In a second of delay, more circles again appear around her. The surroundings losing more water accelerate the spreading of fire. Each magic circles then spew out a liquid whip. With her mana out of control, the whips around her goes berserk slicing through the plants, trees and even rocks that are surrounding her before reaching the demon’s red hot glowing armor. Even with the damage her attack incurred to their surroundings, it is still not enough to fully cut through Al Duran’s extra hard armor dealing no harm to the actual flesh.
The angry demon, with its armor having scratched and cracked, launches lapidem storm. This time, the demon is storming the whole area around them with aimless projectiles. The projectiles that used to target one area at a time is now violently raining everywhere around Al Duran. The sudden change is increasing he difficulty of dodging them.
After casting speed boost on herself, Azalea dodges the demon’s attack. She jumped and dashed around as if she is dancing while evading and deflecting every single projectile coming her way.
After going around keeping her eyes on that same burning hot spot, she finds an opening to strike. She dashes close to the demon. She casts Ice Blade and then swings it at the target spot, hitting the smoldering armor. The moment the frozen blade touches the heated area, white sizzling smoke bursts out. In a matter of few seconds the armor’s temperature rapidly goes down. The moment the white smoke moves away, freezing ice is already covering its right shoulder midway down to its abdomen.
The vicious devil once again blasts more bullet stones without distinction of its real target giving Azalea a hard time evading. Her muscles have not yet fully recovered from the strain of forcefully increasing her speed. The situation forces her to cast a shield around where she stands. She pauses her planned next move.
“Damn! I almost had him.” She curses keeping her eyes on the target. Some projectiles pierce through her magical shield. Though none of those did severe damage, she just gets some scrapes and scratches. “I have to focus on getting the right timing to cut this piece of trash into pieces.”
Al Duran continues to storm the area with projectiles while she concentrates on an opportunity to counter-attack. Azalea fixes her eyes at the damaged frozen part of the armor, this time she notices how small cracks are starting to appear one after another. The moment Al Duran stops his attack to prepare for another one; she speedily jumps backwards putting considerable distance between them while casting another set of spell. She watches a large magic circle appear in front of Al Duran while several sets of multi-layered magic circles glows in front of her. A thundering roar echoes throughout the forest, projectiles rapidly emerges out from the circle piercing through everything on its way.
Azalea prepares her offensive spell, while the demon cannot move in the middle of launching its attack. “Bladeless Death Scythe!” She shouts. The magic circles that glows in front of her cracks and shatters before disappearing.
Invisible shockwaves thundered across the burning land, cutting through everything on their way like the claws of a rampaging Dragon. One of these ghostly blades hit and cut through the cracked part of Al Duran’s armor. Due to Azalea’s earlier attacks, the resilient armor is now greatly weakened. Giving her Bladeless Death Scythe enough strength to cut through into the demon’s real skin and deeper into its flesh down to its bones. The destructiveness of the spell disperses more invisible blades all over the area carving large trees and plants along with the flickering flames’ light that looked like dancing fairies in the air. It destroys the area a hundred meters in radius from her, leaving sunken bottomless scars into the ground. In a blink of an eye, the rich forest of tall large trees looked like it had been irresponsibly shaved off using a colossal razor.
At that moment, Zharyx’s group is already closing in. They can smell the blazing dried leaves and woods not far ahead. They are hearing the loud rumblings that sounded like the eruption of an active volcano. They can feel the earth shaking like its being pounded by a giant hammer. Knowing what is ahead, they cannot help it but be increasingly worried every time they take a step forward. The moment they feel that ominous gust of wind blowing like a hurricane in the middle of this fine day, they run ahead using their remaining strength to get to their destination as fast as they can. The closer they get to the area of conflict, the worse the scenery becomes. The stench of burnt biome and the heat of the scorching woodland are eating away at the little strength they have mustered. Even though drenched in their own sweat and covered in dirt and mud, despite the hazy feeling they get, they are continuing to pursue the path leading into the core of this senseless devastation.
There they find themselves astonished with their eyes wide open. The scenery is so dreamy, as if looking at a treasured painting on the wall of a renowned museum. They are all confused but it feels pleasing and full of marvel, though at the same time very disturbing.
The disturbed dried leaves are dancing along with the sheet of dark smoke and dust while its ember sparkles like the stars of a moonless night. Right at the middle of this scene, how magical it may seem, is a girl wearing her tattered clothes and scrapped armor as she stands proud and firm in front of the fallen body of a demon cut in two.
How terrifyingly beautiful…
“What in the world happened here?..” Lillian wonders watching the conclusion of this battle with disbelief.
Zharyx looks around and saw Al Duran’s lifeless body. “She did all this?.. All on her own?”
Azalea and Q casually strolling in the forest.
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The Bewitched Demon Hunter
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