Another Year Later, Year 87
When I woke up, another year had passed.
I had no idea what’s happening, other than my mana was still pushing back against the corruption, but...
it was easier for me to maintain it.
Easier, and yet the pain was here.
Constant, even, and it struggles.
I could feel the demonic power was having a ‘dip’, a temporary one, that’s why I could be conscious.
Why did I sleep from the pain Does this pain restrict me so Or is it the curse
I could feel the demon’s fire swirl and turn around me, and I could now vaguely, just very vaguely, sense that there’s...
something outside, no...
Something beyond the flame.
Is this the valley It should be.
Why are my senses so confused
There’s solid rock around us, held back by my roots.
Funny, it’s like molten lava that has now solidified’, and the demonic mana is slightly less intense.
Still very strong, but slowly it is subsiding.
This demonic mana will take some time to decay.
ten years Maybe twenty Clearly it is dissipating, very slowly.
Unable to do much, and all my energy is still concentrated on maintaining my barrier and ‘dispersing’ the absorbed demonic energy, I fall back to sleep.
I was in a dark place, it was massive and dark.
It resembled my soul realm, and that was when I saw a young boy.
He sat on a chair, and he looked like he was...
Am I in the soul realm I didn’t have this ability back when I went into long periods of sleep, so...
is this new
“Where am I” He asked, noticing that I appeared.
“Who are you Why do you look like a...
tree What are you Have I gone crazy that I’m talking to a tree”
Another girl appeared.
She too looked like she was corrupted, her lower half was part demon.
The two kids looked at themselves, and then they looked at each other.
“What have you done”
“Me” The other asked.
Both of them turn to face me.
“Oh my god a talking tree monster.
We’re doomed!” They tried to fight and move, but couldn’t.
“I don’t even know who you are.”
The two kids looked at each other, they kept flailing but then they stopped.
we are the heroes.”
“Well, looks like both of you died.
What’s your name”
“Simone.” The girl said.
“Victor.” The boy said.
It was then both of them suddenly shouted as if they’ve gone crazy, and then an eerie voice emerged.
It was a ragged, twisted voice.
“WHO” It asked, it came from both of them, as if both of them were mind-controlled.
I didn’t reply, if I could have guessed, it must be the demon king, or maybe some kind of demon.
I thought for a moment, wondering whether I should reply. “Are you the demon king Sabnoc” I asked.
It died, right, but let’s ask.
Maybe demon kings have souls too.
“YES.” It said, but then a while later.
Then both of them suddenly shouted again for a period of time, and then, all at once, they both stopped.
They were both back to their human self.
“It looks like both of you are sharing a body with some kind of demon.”
Simone looked at Victor, and they stared at each other.
“It’s reading our minds.
It’s going through our...
“Well, now we know why the demons are getting smarter each round.” I mean, if it’s reading their minds, they are reading it for a reason, right
Simone and Victor’s face paled.
“Well, if it could read your minds, surely you could do the reverse” I wondered.
How did these two even get here Is it because their souls are still embedded in the demonic corruption somewhere, that’s why The heroes didn’t do a complete job and left this part hanging
Is that why the demonic corruption is still strong and is able to keep up it’s pressure
“We must try, then.
What are we....
and what are you”
“I am a tree and I believe the two of you are some kind of trapped, corrupted soul.
Your appearance as part-demon is probably the demon king’s attempt to corrupt you.
I say, it’s probably successful.”
where are we”
“If my understanding is correct, you two died, and somehow, your soul drifted here.
Either that, you two are somehow trapped in the demonic flesh and because I’m ‘linked’ to the demonic mana, you are able to see me and vice versa.”
The two started wailing and crying, and screaming.
They seemed to be unable to accept that they died.
But, that’s strange, they seemed perfectly able to accept it earlier.
Do you vaguely recall anything” I asked, they were still screaming.
Victor was sobbing, and it was Simone who somehow calmed down a bit and responded.
we were fighting the demon king, and there was this bright flash of light and...
that’s all I remember before I was stuck in this dark, disgusting place where I don’t feel things, and where I want to sleep but I can’t freaking sleep.”
I don’t get it.
Why are we able to be here if we are dead”
“Weren’t you two listening You are both dead.
This is probably some kind of...
shared spiritual realm.” I wasn’t going to be blunt and say it’s my soul realm, because it’s not, but then again, even if I knew the answer, I wasn’t going to tell them anything.
They share a ‘mind’ with the demon.
“Only the two of us Everyone else survived”
I don’t know” Well, they are partly possessed by the demon king, how secure is any information that’s shared with them anyway
“Can you help us” Simone asked.
“I would very much like to get out of this...
I don’t think so.
I don’t have any access to the outside world, the demonic fire pretty much meant I’m trapped in a prison of flame.
Even if that doesn’t make much sense.
I think I have access to my own soul realm.
I get a sense that this space is a pocket dimension of it’s own, and I could sense the other pockets of space.
The soul realm.
Funny I haven’t spent much time exploring this space, but now I have all the time to do so.
I vaguely recall my soul forge is down, and for what it’s worth, my consciousness is stuck inside myself, an ‘asleep’ state.
In a way, this is kind of like a reverse of my dream-related abilities, where I’m the one in a ‘dream’ state.
Am I dreaming, or because I am unconscious, my psyche retreats to this place I can’t tell the difference, honestly.
Anyway, what am I even thinking.
There’s little blobs of light, floating on many little places.
A wisp waits.
“Hi.” I too, take the shape of a little blob of light.
what’s happening here”
“You’re unconscious, and you’re stuck in this mind-dream-soul realm limbo.
Time moves differently here, as you surely already know.”
“So, until your body somehow snaps itself out of the pain and suffering it’s going through...”
“I’m stuck here.” Well, I kinda knew that.
How could the soul interact outside the body anyway Unless my [soul forge] is somehow operating, but it’s not.
I recall one of the notifications said it’s offline.
Dead, floating souls, little blobs of light.
They float past me, and they just wander.
These are those who died recently, waiting for the time to reincarnate.
“It’s going to take a while.” The wisp said.
“Too many people died so quickly that it’s backlogged.”
“It’s backlogged For real” I thought that was a joke.
And you’re probably the only somewhat-surviving soul tree in this half of the continent.”
“Tell me something, how do YOU know” At this point, how does the wisp even know what’s happening outside of me.
Doesn’t the wisp stay inside me
“The soul harvesters and dream harvesters can travel vast distances, and pass through most objects and barriers.
Occasionally, they also bring back fragments of memories, and you too, can view those memories.
And well, if souls from far away are coming here, that can only mean there’s no other soul tree left.”
And the wisp shake little, and little, smaller blobs of light appeared.
They resembled tiny televisions and they showed what the dead saw in their last days.
Fires from all places.
It was common for all of it.
It was like watching little birds and ducks get lathered in a layer of oil, and then being burnt to death.
It’s like a magical version of the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez oil spills, only, well, if you didn’t die in the first wave, the monsters that spawned from the sludge would eventually get to you.
But I honestly didn’t feel much for their deaths.
Instead, I felt a twang of sorrow when I saw vast...
And burning trees.
Ahhh, what sorrow, that trees burn so easily.
If I could, I should find ways to introduce fire resistant trees to the entire world.
Why should trees be relegated to background features anyway Why are we just features of the environment, things used to describe places!
We are trees, the precursor of civilisation.
Without plants, without trees, there would be no food, no agriculture, and without agriculture, there would be no large civilisation! It is because humanity discovered farming that there’s civilisation, why are trees treated with such disrespect!
Ah! I’m getting carried away.
Okay, let’s do some thinking.
I can still think in this soul realm, so that’s not a bad thing.
I’m trapped in my own body, because there’s a massive infernal pyre outside that burns and scorches everything.
It’s only thanks to my levels and my high amounts of hero fragments that I can endure it.
That means, if I have higher levels, or more hero fragments, I will eventually escape this demonic prison, or at least, pierce a ‘hole’ through it.
And this demonic flame should decay over time, like it did with my first experience.
What else can I do
Are there any skills I can use on myself in this ‘subsconscious’ state My body is obviously on [autopilot], and like before, actively managing the demonic mana such that I can survive it.
Can I do it myself
Can I force myself to ‘wake’ instead of being stuck in this soul realm
The answer was mixed.
I could somewhat remain awake, like a dreaming man forcing himself awake, but the pain was so overwhelming that I ended up losing consciousness just as quickly.
It’s only during ‘ebbs’ of the demonic energy that I could maintain some semblance of consciousness.
If I force myself to be awake when the demonic energy is at it’s peak, I feel like I’m being operated on while lucid.
It’s insanely painful.
So much so that [autopilot] quickly kicks in and knocks me back into the soul realm.
But I kept trying.
I don’t believe that I need to rely on [autopilot] to manage the pain.
So I drift back and forth, either experiencing intense pain, or in my soul realm.
If this system works the way I think it does, only through constantly enduring and ‘managing’ this pain, I will gain a skill.
And when I gain a skill, I’ll be able to break through this demonic fire.
“You guys are still here.” It’s been a year since I last went back to this ‘space’.
I had thought the demons would’ve eaten the entirety of their soul already.
Simone and Victor didn’t look pleased.
“Well, what brings you back” Their bodies look about the same, but I noticed a small part of their hands exhibiting more demonic features.
Honestly, I was just ‘checking’ whether anything changed.
“What do you think How much time has passed” They asked.
Sure doesn’t feel like it.
It feels way longer with how much pain we’re in.” They don’t look too good.
The demonic corruption for other parts of their bodies looked to be growing.
Then the demon took over again.
“GROOOOOWWWWW.” The two of them couldn’t move, though, so I wasn’t afraid.
Grow.” The demon made a scary sound, but I know very well this is a spiritual plane of some kind, so I’m not afraid of it.
Come on, it’s like watching a scary monster behind a secure panel.
Scary, sure, but it can’t hurt me.
“No **, demon.”
And then it stopped, and back to Simone and Victor, again.
They rubbed their heads.
“Oh man, it’s been repeating the same thing so many times.
Conquer! Adapt! Learn!”
“Do you feel like you’ve been captured by some kind of alien monster species who’s out to assimilate you” I mean, I wonder how it’s like to be ‘possessed’.
Is it like me, who’s trapped in a pyre
“If you happen to either be referred to the Borg or the Zerg, yes, it does feel like that.” Victor shrugged, one of his demonic arms rubbing his chin.
There’s small demonic spots appearing on his face, which he can’t do ** about.
But that’s not helpful.
How does it feel like”
you lose control over your limbs every now and then Like having a seizure I...
I don’t really know how to describe it.”
Another **ing year passed.
It’s been four years already since I’ve entered this ‘low-activity’ mode.
This is a whole lot longer than my previous time, but then again, this corruption is probably ‘active’, and has a set command, as if it’s like a...
computer virus that has some kind of execution hierarchy.
Is it the mind that possessed the heroes that allows it so
This year, I’ve been partially able to maintain and resist the pain for longer.
I stayed awake for close to two whole days, and on average, I’ve been able to force myself to regain consciousness about once every 2 months.
I kept poking at the flames, and I gradually am able to comprehend what it feels like.
Ever touched a switch when wet Well, it feels like a super-intense version of being electrocuted.
Perhaps comparable to what someone who just got struck by lightning feels like.
And it’s constant.
Well, not constant-constant, but constant, wavelike, with peaks and lows.
That’s why I can be awake longer during the lows.
I hope to be able to gain a skill to withstand the peaks.
But it’s been so long, and still without the skill, it’s hard.
Or maybe I’m just doing it wrong.
Maybe there’s a trick to this whole demonic corruption thing.
I mean, I think it’s a disease, but at the same time, it also behaves like...
Or a sludge.
How is my autopilot handling it Maybe it’s not doing it as well as it should...
[Autopilot is configured to absorb demonic mana and attempt to filter it.
Failing which, it is then expelled via all bodily extremities.
Bodily extremities therefore experienced damage.].
So wait, it’s trying to absorb the demonic mana, and then it’s expelling it, via my barks, branches and leaves Is that why all of it is burning Is that the right thing to do
[Autopilot is configured to protect the soul from damage.]
It’s like saving the heart and letting everything else burn.
Or where a seed is encased with a disposable shell, or trees that have thick barks that insulate the core from the fires outside.
I suppose that’s what my body’s been naturally doing since the very first fires.
Maybe I need to spin it, like some mangas have stories where the Qi needs to be made to move in a certain manner such that it gains strength, so perhaps there are ways to spin the demonic mana in a way that causes it to weaken
Or maybe there’s a way to cause it to move slower, such that my body doesn’t burn.
All things I need to explore...
once I’m awake.