72 Broken family
"I'm going to kill you!! Do you hear me??? I'm going to tear all your limbs and feed on your corpses!!!"
"..." x 5
The whole group was staring at the screaming demon banging her hands and legs against the energy bubble created by Auren and Ria. Ria stared at her friends and was hit by curiosity after seeing Evlin sleeping on top of Gustav's horseback, Daren holding his monster form during the day, Lilith looking like she was about to throw up and Auren fixing his empaled shoulder.
"What in the world happened while I was unconscious...???"
Gustav just looked at her with a tired face that said "It's a long story...". He proceeded to catch up Ria on everything that happened. About how while she was passed out after being traumatized by the spider-cave, the dryad started to try taking over Ashely's body by feeding on the negative emotions released from the pain of the members of the group.
Ria was surprised to wake up in the middle of a fight and seeing Ashley attacking everyone out of nowhere. Luckily, Gustav noticed Ria waking up and quickly came up with a plan using his telepathy to caught her off-guard using Daren as bait.
"Gustav, Lilith... Let me help you two with your wounds..."
Auren was finally done fixing his own shoulder back to normal and attended the other two who were injured. Ria was still confused about Evlin and Daren.
"OK, that explains what happened to Ashley, but what about these two?"
She pointed at Daren who was staring at his body looking just as surprised as she was.
"I'm not sure myself... I think my curse gets stronger in this place for some reason... It feels kinda weird..."
Ria was watching him carefully and realizing she never really took a good look at Daren in his lion form since he always did it at night and made it very hard to see what he actually looked like.
"Whoa... You're way more intimidating than I imagined..."
"Huh... Thanks... I guess..."
"And what about her?"
Gustav approached her and tried to clear her remaining confusion after Auren finished fixing his wounds.
"I think she is suffering from magic exhaustion... She should be fine in a couple of hours. Just let her sleep a little longer. The threat is over now."
The plant-demon slammed her hands against the energy bubble after hearing that comment.
Gustav and the rest watched as she started to burn her hands while pressing herself against the shield.
"W- What are you doing??"
"Since I failed to beat you guys, I might as well just take one down with me... Say goodbye to li'l' old Ash!!"
Drya started to push her own body even further against the bubble and the blessed energy started to burn her. Gustav and the rest watched this scene and began to scream.
"Stop!!! Are you crazy!!!???
"Crazy??? Are you kidding me?? I have never been saner in my whole life!!"
She pushed even further and the energy became even stronger.
"The feeling of pain you all will send towards me while you watch stick-girl's sister going up in flames will be the best snack I've ever had!! The perfect final meal!!! Come on!! Its time to make ASh turn into literal ashes!!! Hahahahahaha!!"
Gustav didn't know what to do. Drya was trying to kill herself and taking Ashley with her. He needed to do something before it was too late.
"Ria!! Auren!! Release the barrier!! Do it now!!!"
The two panicked and followed the command and the energy bubble disappeared. Drya landed on the snow beneath her feet and looked at them with a wide grin.
She extended her arms after turning them into vines and pulled herself towards the top of a building.
"Looking forward to playing more with you all! Until next time!!"
Gustav yelled at her in despair while Ria and Auren tried to entrap her again. However, Drya managed to dodge it this time and disappeared into the city.
Gustav fell on his knees with a defeated look on his face.
Daren came closer and placed his claw on his shoulder.
"Don't worry! I'll track her scent and catch up to her with my speed!"
He was about to rush towards the runaway dryad, but before he even moved, many demons and monsters began to approach. They all started to come out from inside of the buildings and houses as if the presence of Drya was scaring them off. Many abominations of nature who looked like unnatural combinations of parts of the human body with different animals of every size and color.
The group gazed upon the horde of beasts moving closer and closer towards them and realized that they were in a bind. Daren could catch up with Drya but none of the other members were in a condition to fight so many enemies at once without him.
Daren tried to find Drya in the distance, but she was long gone already. He exchanged a look with Gustav and the others and realized that they would have no choice but to go after Drya later.
Ria and Auren joined his side wearing their energy shields in hand, and the three charged into the horde to start the fight.
Gustav them looked at Evlin who was still in deep sleep and whispered a few words after accepting his failure to secure her sister.
The group finally finished cleaning up all of the demons that were attacking them and started to follow Daren to their original destination.
"... It's here..."
Daren signaled to the building in front of them that they were searching for for so long, the church of the south god.
The team entered the place and fell on the chairs that were inside to finally catch their breath and take a little rest.
Gustav in his centaur body, Lilith in her harpy body, Auren as a minotaur, Ria as a dragon-lady, and Evlin still sleeping in her griffin body. They all felt like they were taking part in a marathon ever since they entered the mountain and that this was the first time they could catch a break.
Daren was also looking like a monster still in his lion form, which caught Ria's attention.
"Daren, the monsters are gone... You can turn it off now..."
"... I can't..."
"I can't change back to my human form..."
Daren looked at his own hands that were now a pair of black-haired claws.
"I'm not sure... I think I absorbed too much cursed energy..."
"... Maybe you can change back after we leave the kingdom..."
"... I hope so..."
Daren looked at Lilith and noticed she was looking really depressed. She was hugging her legs while sitting on top of her chair and burying her head on her knees. Daren approached her concerned.
"Lilith... Still feeling sick?"
"It's all my fault..."
"I should have tried harder to look into our future... I should have predicted that this was going to happen..."
"Lilith, that's not..."
"The dryad was right... I don't deserve this blessing..."
"I really am a coward..."
Daren turned around and noticed that Auren wasn't doing very well either.
"Auren, what are you saying...?"
"I was so afraid of hurting Ashley by accident that I held back during that fight... I should have tried harder to take her down... But I was too much of a coward..."
It seemed like the damage from Drya's words was still lingering over the air. Not only Lilith and Auren but even Ria who usually is the first one to try and cheer the whole team was holding a cold expression.
She didn't really interact with the dryad that much, but that was exactly the problem. Her friends were being killed while she was knocked out, all because she couldn't help being scared of a few giant spiders. She was supposed to be the blessed shield of the group and on her first real day on the job, she almost let the whole team die.
Daren tried to place his hand on Lilith's shoulder to comfort her but the moment his hand touched her armor he started to burn.
Daren started to wave his hand up and down trying to cool off his arm and stop the pain.
"I'm so sorry!!"
"Ugh... It's fine... But what was that?? I never got burned when I used Marceus before!"
Lilith looked at Daren with terror in her eyes.
"Could it be... You have turned into a demon...?"
The group heard Lilith's comment and began to worry about that possibility. Daren was starting to shake in horror from the idea that he might have made a mistake and lost the ability to go back to being a human.
"No... No, no, no... I just... I just absorbed a bit too much... It should be ok if I get rid of it! Right??"
Lilith looked at him with a frail smile trying to support him, but in the back of her mind, she was thinking "And how are you going to get rid of that energy?" while trying her best to not let him realize it.
"I'm not a demon... I'm not a demon... I'm not a demon..."
Daren started to whisper to himself, trying his best not to lose hope.
Gustav's greatest fear was finally turning into reality. When they first woke up after their two-hundred-year sleep, he was afraid the team would break down due to the stress of the situation. Luckily they managed to meet Evlin and Ashley and somehow overcome that outcome.
But now, both of them were gone, and the team was falling apart again. Ashley was captured by a demon, Daren was having an existential crisis, Lilith and Ria were being buried by their own guilt and for some reason, Evlin would just not wake up.
"Why is this happening!!!???"
Not being able to hold it in anymore, Gustav finally lost his calm and start to scream towards the ceiling while kicking his chair.
"How did this happen to us?? We came so far only to have everything ruined right now!!?? Where did we go wrong??"
Daren approached him and tried to help him recompose himself.
"Gustav, calm down... This isn't anyone's fault... There was nothing that we could have done..."
"... Nothing that we could have done...?"
Gustav thought about it and indeed, they didn't have any other options when all was said and done. If they hadn't relied on the dryad's help, who knows how long it would've taken to reach the kingdom. Had they took too long, Marcus would have reached them and killed them all.
And even when they realized something was wrong with Ashley, they couldn't help her without Evlin's magic. It was the same for Daren and Lilith as well. Lilith couldn't see this turn of events but had she tried and overused her future sight even more to predict this situation, Daren and she might still have been lost in the maze. And if Daren hadn't turned into a demon Drya could have killed him.
"She was right..."
Gustav stared at the sleeping Evlin with tears in his eyes.
"Everything she said... About how we can't do anything without Evlin... The dryad was right after all..."
"Gustav come on... Don't let her words get to you..."
"But what can we do Daren?? We needed her to change Ashley to normal! We needed her help to heal Lilith's sickness. We needed her to face off against the demons... We have been relying on her so much all this time..."
"And you know what her true goal is... She's trying to return to her own world, and she will take Ashley as well..."
"What's going to happen to us after they are gone...?"
"..." x 4
The group didn't know how to answer him. Maybe because the words of the dryad really did get to them, but they started to really dread the idea of one day having to say their farewells to Evlin and Ashley after relying on them for so long.
Gustav stood up and while gazing upon the church, started to wish for some kind of light, any light. Anything that would guarantee that everything would be ok despite how grim the situation appeared.
"South god!!! South god, please!!! We need your help!!!"
The group looked around but nothing happened.
"Please!!! We need you!!! South god!!!"
A small glimpse of light started to come out from the center of the church and suddenly a small kid wearing a white robe was floating in front of all of them.
Gustav looked at the small boy afraid of feeling too much hope in case he would end up being disappointed again.
"S- South god...?"
The small boy turned around and looked at Gustav.
"Are you guys Evlin's friends?"