67 True power
"What's wrong with her...?"
"I don't know... Maybe she used way more magic than we expected..."
Gustav and Ashley were waiting outside of the gates of the kingdom with a sleeping Evlin by their side. There was still no sign of Auren, Ria, Daren, or Lilith.
[Maybe she's dead... Should we start burying her?]
[Just giving a suggestion... ]
"Ashley is it really ok for the three of us to just stay here like this...? What if more demons show up?"
"Then I'll just deal with them, just like I dealt with that big horse from before... Nothing much..."
Gustav couldn't stop worrying about Ashley. Ever since they reunited after going inside the mountain she has been acting like a completely different person.
During this kind of situation Ashley would say things like "Let's find a safe place and observe the situation!" or "Let's try to gather as much information as possible before moving on". She always tried her best to think before she acts. With the way she was acting right now, so ready to pick a fight with the first enemy that showed up, it was almost like she was...
"Youre startting to sound like Evlin..."
"... Is that so...?"
Gustav could see it in her face. She was trying to hide it but she was extremely happy with that comment. However, for Gustav that was a terrible development. Evlin had a reckless side but she knew when it was time to take a break and actually think before she fighting. Mostly due to her sister being there to hold her back.
Ashley was Evlin's anchor that always held her back and stopped her from going too far. But now that Ashley was starting to act like Evlin, who was going to be her anchor? In fact, if they now had two Evlins and no Ashleys, who would be either of their anchors?
Gustav knew that he was a powerless man, and maybe a foolish man, but he refused to act like a blind man. Something was wrong with Ashley and he needed to get to the bottom of it.
"Ashley I think you should stop listening to the dryad..."
Ashley's early smile disappeared and she looked at him with cold eyes.
"Why would you say that...?"
"Ever since you fused with this dryad you have not been acting like yourself..."
"... Have I now?"
She was not happy with that remark. Fusing with the dryad was the best thing that happened to her in a long time, and now he wanted to make her feel bad about it, right after she saved their lives no less. Ashley was already starting to get on bad terms with Gustav, but now he was deliberately picking a fight with her, and she decided that she was done letting people get the best of her.
"Let me ask you this... Have I not carried my duty to come up with plans to secure the safety of our group?"
"Have I not done everything in my power to make sure we all reached our goal safe and sound?"
"When my little sister was in danger, did I not do everything I could to rescue her?"
"What exactly did I do that was so wrong?"
Gustav had a lot he wanted to say but he decided it would be better to keep observing for a little longer.
"You know... I think you might be jealous of me Gustav..."
"I mean think about it... Your big final goal all this time was always to prove your worth to the team... To be finally able to stand on the battlefield alongside Evie and the rest... But how many months have passed...? Two? Five? Ten? And you're still there in the back, just waiting your turn."
"But me...? I didn't have to wait at all... I jumped into the opportunity! This dryad gave me the power to do what you wished you could have done years ago... I bet it must be just eating you up inside, isn't it...? The fact that you're literally the last one to join the battle team? The fact that the one member with no power actually managed to get ahead of you?"
"Come on... Admit it! You wish you were in my place right now! You're mad because you lost to me!"
Gustav just listened to her in silence.
[Ash... Something is wrong...]
[I can't feel any pain coming from him...]
Gustav lifted his face and looked at Ashley right into her eyes.
"... That would have been the case a while ago..."
"For the longest time, I hated my own weakness... I hated the fact that there was nothing I could do but watch as my friends fought to protect me... While all I could do was observe and pray that they would come back safely..."
"But I don't feel that way anymore... I know I'm not strong... But that doesn't mean I'm useless..."
"I may not have the power to fight... But when a young girl was feeling sad for not being able to reach the sky, I had the power to make that sadness go away..."
"When a young girl was feeling afraid for being alone because her sister was away from her, I had the power to keep her company until she felt better..."
"And when this young girl was feeling lost because she heard that many people were coming to try and harm her... I had the power to give her courage to help her stand up and face the fight..."
"And it's not just this young girl... I'll never abandon my friends when the time comes where they need me... Because I know, even if my power is not as amazing as theirs... It's still a valuable and necessary power... The power to be there by their side!"
"I feel no shame in being weak anymore... Because I know my strength lies elsewhere! ... This is why it's so hard to look at you right now!"
"You always looked so strong to me... much stronger than anyone could imagine... Evlin told me how many hardships you endured all this time... You went through so much, and you had so many reasons to give up... But you never did! You never abandoned Evlin or us no matter what happened!"
"Don't you get it? You were already strong! And now you're acting like that strength meant nothing! You think being able to cut a demon in half is more respectable than being able to be by your sister's side when she needs you? Any idiot can pick up a sword and cut someone! How many people do you know that can actually heal someone when their hearts are broken?"
"Stop acting like you had no value before... You never needed any demon inside your head to prove you had strength!"
[There are demons approaching...]
Ashley gazed with her eyes at the side of the mountain's path and noticed a large group of demons approaching at fast speed. It seemed like they were chasing after something.
Gustav noticed she was looking elsewhere and turned around to meet eyes with the horde as well.
A man with both a minotaur head and legs was running ahead of them carrying a woman with green skin with him.
Auren was running towards them with Ria on his arms. She looked like she was knocked out cold.
The demons were chasing after them trying to eat the two, but Auren's blessed shield was managing to hold them off. He was surrounded by some kind of golden transparent bubble, and every time the demons pounced on them they would start burning a bit after falling onto the ground.
At first, it seemed like they would be safe but the shield looked like it was getting weaker by the second.
"Auren's shield is not working! He can't use it at full power if Ria is not awake!"
Gustav was about to rush towards them to try and help the two, but Ashley grabbed his shoulder and knocked him behind her. He looked at her confused as she started to move towards the horde.
"Pay attention, Gustav... An idiot with a sword can't do what I'm about to do..."
Gustav stared at Ashley as she turned both her arms into leaf-blades and began to sprint towards Auren's and Ria's chasers.
Ashley was moving like a hurricane. She managed to call the attention of the horde of demons and started to tear them apart with her blades.
The beasts would try as hard as they could to kill her, but they didn't stand a chance.
Thanks to Gustav's little speech about the meaning of true power, Ashley was feeling even more enraged than before. The man she was trying to prove she had surpassed wouldn't stop trying to lecture her about how wrong she was for enjoying this new opportunity that opened up in her life.
Her frustration was so great that Drya's body was bursting with power.
Her blades were sharper and faster than ever before. The demons might as well have been moving in slow-motion because they had absolutely no time to react to her attacks.
Not only did she had power and speed, but she also had a massive range thanks to her ability to extend her limbs as if they were giant whips. Ashley's area of attack was basically a dead zone. The minute she locked eyes into a monster she would move her whip arms with blades at their ends and just slice the creature in pieces. Nothing could escape her.
If Evlin fighting the demons was like a tank that would not stop moving and kept destroying everything in its path, Ashley was like a black hole that would grab everything it could reach and shred it to pieces.
Auren used this opportunity to reunite with Gustav and give Ria some time to rest. He also started to look at Ashley with amazement.
"T- That's Ashley???"
Gustav could share his shock but he did not share his enthusiasm. Auren was acting with extreme relief, probably due to excitement with the idea of having such a powerful warrior on their side. But Gustav was still not feeling happy with the situation.
It's true that Evlin was performing a similar act of carnage not too long ago when they were reaching the gate, but that was her being reckless due to believing her sister was in danger, she was losing control.
Ashley didn't look like she was out of control. It looked more like she was dedicating every single bit of her power to end every demon in there, not to keep anyone safe, but because she just wanted it.
Gustav also noticed how weird ti was for Auren to be attacked by so many creatures when they should have been ok for not acting in a group.
"Auren, why were so many demons following you two...?"
"Ugh... It seems like minotaurs are known for being very agressive among demons and enjoy picking fights every so often. They kept looking at me and screaming "Hey bull-head!! Payback time!!" as if I was some old enemy of them..."
After the carnage was finally over, Ashley returned to their side drenched in the blood of the fallen demons.
"So... Still have a problem with me using the power of a drayad?"
Gustav had no words. Not because he agreed that this power was a good thing, but because he wasn't sure that if upset her, she wouldn't cut his head off right here and there.
"That's what I thought..."
Auren was staring at the two of them confused with his minotaur head.
"Huh... Did something happened while we were gone...?"
Ashley looked at Gustav as if she was daring him to answer that question, daring him to say he still had a problem with her power after she simply demolished an entire horde of demons by herself.
"Nothing happened Auren..."
Gustav answered him and stared at Ashley. She didn't make any sound but he could see her lips moving as if trying to say a few words.
Gustav then understood the situation. He was right in assuming Ashley would attack him if he tried to raise his voice against her again. Something did happen to her after she fused with the demon dryad. She wasn't killing the demons to defend Auren, she was killing them to show Gustav that he would have no chance against her.
As of right now, Gustav was Ashley's prisoner. If he revolted against her in front of the group, she would probably kill him.
The idea of Ashley killing him would probably sound like a joke to the others, but he was sure of it, that woman wasn't Ashley anymore.
"Daren and Lilith sure are taking their sweet time..."
Auren said while capturing Gustav's attention. Daren and Lilith, they still hadn't returned from the maze. Once they did, every single member of the team would be ready to finally enter the kingdom.
However, at the same time, once they all reunited, the whole group would become Ashley's prisoners as well.
She looked at Auren and nodded in agreement with a devilish smile on her face.
"Indeed... I hope they get here soon..."