65 The next Evlin
A few hours before Evlin was knocked out and transported into the white void, a green-looking girl was following her and Gustav without being noticed.
Ashley saw her sister and Gustav continuing the path towards the demon kingdom's entrance gate. She was finding it a little hard to move in the cold snow since her body was now half-human half-plant after fusing with a dryad.
She was surprised to see Evlin rampaging against the demons as she continued her sprint. The last time Ashley saw Evlin acting so reckless was when a group of hunters was trying to capture wild creatures and putting them in cages.
Both Ashley and the dryad inside her mind couldn't stop looking at Evlin's showcase of power.
[Wow... What's gotten into her?? She keeps destroying the demons as if they were ants.]
"... She's worried about me..."
[Oh... I see...]
A few minutes ago, Ashley told Gustav that she was almost inside of the demon kingdom. When Evlin heard this news she started to charge like a bullet to her sister's aid. Little did she know that Ashley was actually right behind her the whole time, just observing her actions from a distance.
[Seriously though, what does that girl puts on her breakfast? She's just destroying them!]
"My sister is really scary when she gets serious... You're lucky you managed to get off with just a punch to the face when you annoyed her..."
[So she has a temper... Good to know... Can't wait to see her face when you tell her you lied about being inside the kingdom.]
"I'm sure we will be fine... She would never hurt us..."
[... ... ... "We"? ... "Us"?...]
"I- I mean me!! Me... She would never hurt me..."
[I hope you're not getting too comfy with the idea of having me by your side... You remember right? Once I'm free, I'll never join you again...]
"I know... I know..."
Ashley was starting to feel a little down after remembering she would eventually lose this new power she obtained. Ever since she fused with the dryad she was faster, stronger, smarter, could slice boulders in half, and swing across large gaps using her vines. She really was going to miss being a dryad after returning to her role as a mere strategist.
[Hey, the stick-girl... Looks like she is in trouble...]
While distracted with her worries, the dryad called Ashley's attention towards Evlin who looked like she was having difficulty with some kind of huge horse demon.
"What's going on...? She would never have trouble dealing with this kind of enemy..."
[She's out of magic...]
[She's a mage, right? No matter how powerful she is, if she doesn't have magic she is just like any other frail human.]
The dryad was right. Ashley could see her sister trying her best to release an attack, but nothing was happening. Evlin was out of magic and completely defenseless.
Ashley noticed the horse demon trying to step on Evlin and managing to grab hold of her.
[Welp, she's dead... Guess we won't be splitting apart after all...]
"No... No!! I need to save her!!"
[You...? But you're just a plant-girl... How are you going to beat a high-demon?]
"My pain...! You get stronger when I have painful feelings right? I just need to boost your power!"
[Ok then... So what will it be...? The first time a guy dumped you? The first trashy job you ever worked at? Or should we go for the cliche and just think about how much you suck at magic again?]
The dryad kept trying to bring out every painful memory from Ashley's past that she could think of. While she continued to talk Ashley started to notice that Evlin was about to get crushed inside the demon's hands.
"Just use all of them!! Take as many as you need! Just give me the power to beat this guy!!"
[Aye, aye, captain! Thanks for the meal!]
Ashley suddenly started to think of every single memory of her life where she felt any sort of hurtful feeling in her heart. The worst memories form when she was a little kid, all the way to after she met with Evlin.
Every pain, every sadness, every moment where she felt miserable about herself and imagine her life wasn't worth living.
All these feelings continued to be absorbed by the dryad's body and filling her with power.
[This feels amazing!!!]
Ashley was about to cry from trying so hard to think about every single time in her life she received some kind of damage in her heart. On the other hand, the dryad was getting so powerful that Ashley was about to burst with energy and was feeling like she would blow up.
She wiped her tears and extended her arms by turning them into vines and latched onto one of the pillars of the gates. She started to pull herself towards it and as she was about to land on it, converted her arm into a leaf-blade and sliced a serpent that was sleeping on it.
She looked down and saw the demon horse continuing to antagonize her sister.
"Come on!!! Show me!!! You survived an attack from demon-slayers right?? You gotta have more fight than that!!"
Ashley took a deep breath and prepared herself for battle.
"I can give you a better fight..."
In just a matter of seconds, Ashley managed to defeat the high-demon as if he was nothing. She was bursting with confidence and pride after managing to defeat such a powerful enemy on her own. Not only that, an enemy that even her sister was having trouble with.
Evlin was on her arms completely unconscious while still wearing her fused griffin form, as Gustav was approaching the two of them on his winged centaur disguise.
"Miss Ashley!! That was amazing!! You defeated a higher demon on your own!!"
"Oh... Thanks, Gustav... Glad you enjoyed..."
[Aaaahhh!! So good!!! This feels so good!!]
Ashley was listening to Drya talking inside her head as if she was enjoying the best buffet on the face of the planet. She was about to talk to her but she didn't want Gustav to think she was talking to herself so she tried to speak with Drya inside her mind.
[Drya...? What's going on?]
[Your anger!!! It's just the best!!]
[Anger...? I'm not angry...]
"Ashley, is Evlin ok?"
Gustav reached his hand to check on Evlin, but the moment he tried to do so, Ashley grabbed his arm with ferocity.
"She's fine!! Just leave her to me..."
"Oh... O- Ok..."
[Ah!! So good!!]
Ashley then understood what Drya was saying. It seemed like Ashley was angry with Gustav after all. But for what reason? Did he do something to upset her?
"I'm sorry that I couldn't be of much help..."
"Much help...? Seemed to me you weren't of ANY help..."
"... T- True... I'm sorry..."
"Just sorry...? What would have happened if my sister had died? Do you think saying 'sorry' would have fixed anything?"
"I left you to take care of her for just a couple of hours and the next time I see you two, she's being squeezed to death on the hands of some giant horse demon! What were you thinking letting her risk herself like that?? You know how reckless she is! Why didn't you stop her??"
"I- I'm sorry... We were trying to come to your rescue!"
"We? Don't you mean her? What exactly would you have done if I was in danger as well? Would you have sent me some positive messages with your telepathy? When are you going to start earning your spot in this team??"
[Just a little more Ashley!! Just give him the finishing touch!!]
"Leaving you with her was a mistake... My sister... She doesn't need you..."
Gustav looked like someone had just stabbed him in the heart. All the confidence he gained not too long ago from his experience inside the dark pit with Evlin felt like it was about to fade away.
He had nothing to counter-argue with Ashley. Evlin was in danger, she was going to die, and there was nothing he could have done to save her. His old feelings of shame and regret were starting to resurge again.
[Nicely done Ash! This guy's pain is tasting wonderful too!! If we keep close to him like this I feel like we can take on ten of those high-demons!!]
[You can get power from the suffering of others as well, right...? I don't have to be the one suffering all the time?]
[Of course! I get much stronger from yours since we share one body, but I can still feel my power raise by being close to the pain of someone else as well!]
[... Then... How strong would we be with the suffering of five people...?]
[... Would you like to find out?]
Gustav had his head down when Ashley called him so suddenly and quickly raised it to show an expression filled with pain.
"... Y- Yes, Ashley?"
"Time to call the rest of the group! We need everyone here before entering this dangerous place."
"Together...? B- But... Didn't you say before..."
"Did I stutter? I'm the strategist and you're the communicator! If I tell you to call our group, you call our group!"
"Are you sure? Won't that attract the attention of demons? Wasn't that the reason we divided in the first place?"
Ashley was about to yell at him again, but then she realized something. Why was she trying to regroup the team? She knew how dangerous it would be for them to be together. That was the whole point of choosing different paths. To keep everyone safe. If they reunited now everything would have been for nothing.
"... R- Right... That's right... I forgot about this..."
"...? You... Forgot...?"
Ashley was feeling a little lost. How could she forget her own plan? On top of that, why was she so angry at Gustav for being unable to protect Evlin when she was the one who decided to put them together and tell that lie that made Evlin go on a reckless rampage?
"What's happening to me...?"
Ashley was starting to shake while hugging her shoulders not knowing what was going on with her though-process.
[Ash, we need more power to defend ourselves!! We can't enter this kingdom as we are right now. Your sister is out of power and Mr. horse is about as useful as an actual horse. Call your friends!! We need their pain!]
"The situation changed, Gustav! You saw how demons behave. They have no problem with attacking one another out of nowhere due to their wild instincts. Even if we are spotted in a large group and get attacked we can just pretend we are demons looking for a fight."
"That... Sounds reckless... Are you really sure about this...?"
[This guy is not listening... Maybe we need to try a little harder to convince him...]
Ashley grabbed Gustav by the neck and glared at him with bloodlust in her eyes.
"I didn't ask for your opinion! I asked you to do the one thing you are good at doing! If you can't even do that, then why the hell are you even here!!???"
"M- Miss... Ashley...??"
[Gustav! Can you hear me?]
Gustav was confused about Ashley's strange behavior but he got interrupted by a message from Auren inside his head.
[Gustav!! Are you there!?]
"Ah! It's Auren!"
Ashley noticed that Gustav was talking to someone and released him.
[Auren!! Are you two ok??]
[Yes! We finally left the mountain! We had a bit of trouble with the spiders in the end, but nothing we couldn't handle. Me and Ria are looking for the pathway to the kingdom.]
[That's perfect. Ashley, Evlin, and I are waiting in front of the gates. We... We will be waiting for you...]
Ashley, who was also listening in the telepathic chat-room, heard him and released a small grin.
[Waiting for us?? Didn't we agree that it would be dangerous to go in together?]
[... Miss Ashley changed her mind... She said it would be better if we reunited again.]
[... Well, if Ashley said so... All right then... We will be right there!]
Auren and Gustav ended their conversation while Ashley observed him with Evlin in her arms. Gustav stared at her with suspicion.
"Miss Ashley... Maybe we should ask Evlin to split you two after all... You must be getting tired of being in this body for so long..."
"Not really, I'm feeling perfectly fine, to be honest..."
"Is that so...?"
"Besides, Evlin is completely out of magic right now... I doubt she even has the strength to return me to normal."
"And without her, we need all the power we can use to survive this kingdom. I'm not going to get rid of my only means of protecting us right now."
Ashley was feeling strangely happy right now. Since Evlin was out of magic, she would be able to enjoy her time as a dryad for a little longer. Not only that, without her sister's power, she could also prove just how strong she was by being in charge of protecting everyone. She wondered if that was what it felt like to be Evlin every day. She had power, confidence, control and everyone would be depending on her.
[Sorry Drya... Looks like you will be stuck with me for a little longer...]
[Oh, don't mind me... I'm having the best time right now!!]