75 The girl with no power
Ashley was having the worst day of her life.
Her whole life she has been buried under the feeling of being useless and not being able to help others who needed her, and now she was deliberately being used as a tool against her companions.
She was wondering when she started feeling this way.
When she was a little kid she witnessed her parents being killed by a monster right in front of her eyes in an attempt to allow her and her brother to escape safely. She wanted to stay and help them, but she was too small and weak to do anything.
That night, she cried herself to sleep cursing her own weakness and told herself that she would not let that happen again.
She decided to try and learn how to become a mage so she would have the power to defend herself and others around her. She was always fascinated by the world of magic and the people who could convert energy with a snap of their fingers to solve any kind of problem.
Sadly for her, she quickly realized she was not meant to be one of these people. The most basic trait a mage needs to able to carry is the ability to release raw magic.
Ashley tried many times, she asked many different mages she was familiar with to let her borrow their wands or staffs to try and see if she could do it, but nothing ever happened.
She quickly realized she had no talent for magic whatsoever.
She was filled with disappointment and started to lose hope. That became even worse after a new development involving her brother.
A few years later after they were older, his wife got sick with a rare disease and was about to perish any moment. She wanted to help and save her but she knew there was nothing she could do to change her fate. But she still believed in the power of magic and thought that maybe, if she couldn't do it, perhaps her brother could.
She suggested to him the idea of him trying to be a mage and learning healing magic to save his wife. He accepted the idea since they were out of options, and to their surprise, he was actually really good at releasing raw magic.
Unfortunately, while he had talent, his body was still weak, so he failed many times during the test of self-defense. He tried to train his body as best as he could to pass the test and one day after many failed attempts he succeeded. But by that point, it was already too late.
His wife couldn't take it anymore and ended up perishing to the disease. Once again, they had failed to save someone close to them and had to watch that person die without being able to do anything.
A deep wound was engraved inside their hearts that day. Her brother started to blame Ashey for giving him false hope and wasting his time while his wife died. He decided that caring about others brought nothing but pain and decided to live only for himself after that.
Ashley as well was traumatized by that experience. Not only had she failed to save someone in need, she even lost the affection of her own brother and was forced to live by herself from that point on.
She became overcome with fear. Fear that not only there was nothing she could do for anyone, fear that she might actually make things worse for others.
She gave up her idea of being a mage adventurer and decided to work as a receptionist at the guild. If she couldn't embark on adventures at least she could hear about them without running the risk of seeing anyone die and putting anyone at risk for her lack of power.
[[ "Hey, Ashley... Can you give me something to drink?" ]]
That is, until one day when Evlin entered the guild with a depressed look on her face. It seems like Ashley shared the same name with Evlin's sister and because of that, the crossbow mage would often try to get closer to her.
Ashley didn't mind, she loved Evlin's company. The girl was an idol for the whole guild. She was also Ashley's hero, everything she wanted to be. She was strong, powerful, confident and everyone loved her. Which only made her even more surprised when Evlin entered the guild one day with eyes that looked completely empty.
It seems like Evlin's caretaker Dalla had died, and Evlin was feeling regret for not being able to do anything about it. Ashley knew those eyes. The eyes of someone who just realized how weak they really are, the same eyes Ashley had for years.
She was surprised that Evlin of all people could have eyes like that considering how talented she was with magic.
She was afraid that if left alone, Evlin might attempt suicide and decided to watch over her for a bit. Even if she had no power, she could still be by the side of a girl who was in pain.
To her surprise though, the little bit ended up turning into months, and before she noticed, Ashley was traveling with Evlin all over the map in a huge adventure that she never dreamed could be possible for someone useless like her.
Ashley didn't know why someone so powerful as Evlin insisted on keeping Ashley by her side. She was a mage after all. She should be able to do anything. But the more time they spent together, the more Evlin continued to make her feel like her presence was a necessary one.
[[ "...I don't know if you noticed but I think you kinda turned into some sort of genius after spending so much time listening to the stories from other adventurers, you always know what is the right decision to make!" ]]
For the first time in her life, Ashley was useful to someone. She could save someone, even without magic.
[[ "I trust you! This is my fight, but this is your world and your brother! So please, use your big brain to help me find a way to win this one!" ]]
But this all changed when they joined with Daren and his group.
Evlin was overcome with joy when they first met, she finally found the people that could help her fulfill her dream of going home. But the more Ashley observed their interactions, the colder she felt towards them.
Evlin looked like a lost puppy who was chasing after their owners towards that new group. She just wanted to listen to everything they said without question. Ashley tried to bring her back to reality and made her realize she wasn't supposed to be their servant, even more so when she was clearly more skilled than them.
She tried to observe from a distance and hoped that Evlin would figure it out on her own. Ashley wanted to help her, let her know that she deserved better than the way they were treating her. But she knew that she couldn't.
People only listen when they want to listen. And Evlin definitely didn't want to listen that the people that were going to save her were actually taking advantage of her. She was too blinded by hope to do that. So Ashley simply waited and trusted that her sister would figure it out on her own.
But perhaps she waited too long.
Before she noticed, Evlin ended up picking a fight with one of the members called Gustav and almost killed him by punching him into the lake with her wooden fist.
Ashley saw her sister trying to hold her cry in silence and decided to stop waiting and just rushed to her side. She was so used to seeing Evlin being strong that she forgot that she was still just a kid feeling lost.
She couldn't repeat the same mistake again. She needed to be better to never let something happen to her sister again.
But sadly, something happened to her sister again.
They encountered the famous Marcus one night and before Ashley could even do anything, her sister ended up with an arrow on her chest.
She almost lost someone again. Just like she lost her parents, just like she lost her brother's wife, and even her brother himself. Ashley almost lost someone dear to her again due to her own lack of power.
Things needed to change. Ashley couldn't continue being so weak anymore. Just being the strategist wasn't enough to keep Evlin safe. Just being her sister and staying by her side wasn't enough to keep her sister safe either. She needed something to keep her sister secured, or she would end up alone again.
And that's when she met the dryad.
At first, Ashley just wanted to use the dryad's knowledge to see if she could help her sister in a more productive way.
But to do that, they needed to separate. Ashley didn't want to split herself from Evlin, but then she realized she had someone she could count on, Gustav.
Gustav was very similar to Ashley. He knew how important it was to keep others around him safe and he knew the importance of knowing your own limitations. If he was with Evlin, he would stop her from doing anything crazy.
So she trusted her sister to him and went into her path alone. But Ashley quickly found out she wasn't alone.
She could hear the voice of someone speaking in her mind. The voice of the dryad. The demon that Ashley was using to gather more information so she could provide a better plan to keep her sister away from harm.
But the dryad wanted to offer more.
She didn't want Ashley to simply use her memories, she wanted Ashley to use all her power, to feel what it was like to be a demon, to have power, to not be useless.
Ashley was worried about trusting a demon, but for some reason, she couldn't think straight. The demon just kept providing more and more advantages to being together with her and Ashley just kept feeling more and more tempted by that idea.
A demon could fight, a demon could perform magic, a demon was feared, a demon could keep Evlin safe. So slowly but surely, Ashley started to bloom an idea.
Why not become one?
And so she started to trust more and more on the demon dryad. She started to feel they were friends and began to gain more and more power. Power to defeat giant demons and hordes of monsters without breaking a sweat. Ashley never felt better.
She even managed to rescue every single member of her group when they were in danger, even Evlin.
But then Gustav, the one she related with the most, turned against her.
He came towards her and started talking about how she should not trust the dryad and how she should give up her power.
[[ "Don't you get it? You were already strong! And now you're acting like that strength meant nothing!" ]]
Ashley was strong? She was strong? What was Gustav talking about? If she was strong then why did her sister kept almost dying all the time? Gustav was going crazy! Is what Ashley was thinking. She assumed he was just jealous of her being stronger than him now.
But then she thought, what if he wasn't? What if he was honestly worried about her and was just trying to help. But the minute she considered that, the dryad started to speak to her again.
In fact, looking back, every time Ashley started to doubt that maybe she was getting too comfortable with the dryad's body, the demon would speak to make her relax and stop worrying. Saying things like "...you need my power, you need my information, you need my help! I can keep Evlin safe!".
When Ashley thought about it, she was doing a lot of things that were not true to who she was. Ever since the demon plant used her hand to stab a man in the garden of dryads, she felt like she was resisting less and less to her words and was becoming more and more aggressive towards her team.
She felt like she was being pulled like a tug of war between her friends and the dryad, and that the dryad was winning.
It reached a point where Ashley was just blindly following her every command.
[[ "Ash!! Ash!! Get closer to that girl!! She's like a gold mine of suffering!!!" ]]
The plant monster kept telling Ashley to try and find ways to hurt the feelings of her friends, and for some reason, Ashley just couldn't reject her commands.
She was slowly feeling like she was loosing control over her decisions.
It finally got to a point where the dryad was so powerful that she managed to completely take over Ashley's body.
And when she did so, her mind which felt like it was inside of a fog for the last couple of hours finally was able to think clearly.
Ashley looked back at everything she did, everything she said, all the ways she tried to harm her friends just because some voice inside her head said that she would gain power by doing so.
She wanted to scream and cry and kill that stupid plant for making her feel that way, but this was exactly what the demon wanted. To drown Ashley in the deepest pool of regret she could find all so her pain could increase her power.
Ashley hated the dryad so much that when she started to burn inside the energy bubble created by Ria and Auren's blessed energy, she actually looked forward to it, just so she wouldn't have to face her own shame and look at her friends after all she had done.
She couldn't save anyone before and she couldn't save anyone now. And even worse, her mistake almost ended up getting her friends killed.
Evlin didn't need her, was how she felt. She was, is and will always be, useless.
She wanted to die. She wanted to let herself burn with the dryad inside that bubble, but she couldn't even get even that.
And now she would have to spend the rest of her life suffering inside her own body with nowhere to run while the demon continued to enjoy every second of it.
"Welcome to your new home, baby girl!"
Ashley, still imprisoned inside her own mind while the demon-plant was controlling her, looked in front of her and realized that Drya had taken her body to a huge castle in the middle of the city.
"Time for you to meet the leader of all demons!"