78 Rescue mission: Start!
Lilith and Daren were running towards the castle to start their mission to rescue Ashley.
Along the way, they encountered a small number of demons in the streets watching them with curious eyes. There were many reasons for that being the case.
Maybe its because Lilith was wearing silver armor over her harpy body and yet wasn't burning like regular demons.
Or maybe because they had a group of monsters following right behind them, those being their newly acquired pets who had just joined the team.
Or perhaps it is because they were running in the direction of the castle while every other creature seemed to be coming out of it.
"Where are all these guys going?"
"Not sure... It seems like whatever business they had with the castle is over now and they have no reason to stay there anymore..."
"... Hey, Lilith...?"
"The south god said that the demons like to go there to recharge their energy right?"
"But he also said that the castle has a barrier that prevents humans from entering right?"
"That's what he said..."
"But if demons need the suffering of humans to gain their power and humans can't enter the place... How are the monsters recharging...?"
"You think, maybe that god lied to us?"
"I mean... What if this whole thing is just a setup and he's actually working with East?"
Lilith understood Daren's dilemma. Its no wonder he would doubt the aid from a god. The same way Lilith had a huge grudge against demons, Daren had a huge grudge against gods. If there was even a small hint that a god might be evil, Daren would not let that pass unnoticed.
"I can't say for sure... But right now, this is the only clue we have... Even if he was lying, that castle does in fact have some kind of ill energy emanating from it. It has to be someplace important."
"Even if Ashley isn't there, we might get some clues as to where the dryad will go... Want me to use my future sight?"
"No... You have been using your sight too much lately... Let's get closer first and then we will confirm it."
After a little bit more of running and dealing with a few demons along the way who decided to pick a fight with them just for fun, the girl with blessed power and the boy with cursed power finally reached their destination.
They were standing two inches away from the barrier that should keep humans away. Daren stared at it and pressed his hand in the barrier. He was expecting to receive some kind of shock or to be pushed back, but his hand simply passed through as if the barrier was a hologram.
"What's wrong Daren...?"
"The barrier didn't work on me... Could it be that I really am a demon now...?"
Lilith could not read his expression due to his lion face, but she could tell that her friend was in pain. She proceeded to push her own hand against the barrier, and while she could feel a bit of resistance, she also managed to enter it.
She turned around to look at him and extended her hand.
"You are my friend! Doesn't matter what shape or form you take. You were a human before and you are a human now! At least for me!"
Daren grabbed her hand and joined her on the other side of the barrier.
"Thanks, Lilith! I needed that!"
Lilith gave him a gentle smile and signaled to enter the castle.
The pack of rescue-monsters had entered the castle and were now exploring its insides by walking in the dark hallways. Just like they saw, every single monster had left the building and they were the only ones inside right now.
[Gustav, we entered the castle!]
[Gustav! Can you hear me??]
"This is bad..."
"Daren what's wrong...?"
"I can't contact Gustav..."
"Oh! ... Maybe he's asleep? We have been having a long day..."
"I don't think so... I think this castle is interfering with our connection outside..."
"... How so...?"
"I'm not sure... But I think we shouldn't stay here for long."
Daren turned around and looked at the pets that were following them, a golden griffin, a muscular minotaur, a green wingless dragon, and a winged white horse.
"Do you think they can understand us?"
"Maybe? Might as well try..."
Daren looked at Sphinx since he was Evlin's pet and has been with the group the longest so he tried to talk with him first since he was the one Daren trusted the most.
"Sphinx, can you bring us to the area where monsters go to recharge their power?"
Sphinx looked at Daren for a moment after listening to his question and started to shake his head left and right.
"Seems like he doesn't know..."
"I guess it makes sense... Evlin met him in the wild... This might be the first time he ever even entered this kingdom... Should I use my sight?"
"Not yet. Let's save it for an emergency. I'll just try asking the other guys."
Daren gazed upon the remaining monsters and tried his luck with them.
"We are looking for the dryad that hurt the people you were all fused with. Do you guys have any idea where she might be if she was inside this place?"
The pack of monsters nodded in unison to that question and started to guide the two to a new location.
"Looks like we are in luck!"
The monsters guided Lilith and Daren to a ballroom at the end of a wide hallway. They opened the door and noticed that in the middle of the room there was some kind of massive piece of rock, sculpted in a cubic shape.
"What is this place..."
Daren was confused as to why the monsters had brought them there. There was nothing inside that suggested that a monster could recharge his energy in there.
"Maybe they didn't understand your question..."
Lilith was about to give up and just activate her future sight but Daren started to sniff the area with his nose.
"She was here!!"
"Positive!! I can sense her smell!! I think I can find her!"
Daren started to jump all over the room trying to track the smell of the dryad and began to check every corner of the place.
"Ugh... She was jumping around all over the room for some reason..."
"Maybe she was fighting someone...?"
"Could be... Maybe the reason demons like to fight so much is because they can recharge from their own suffering as well..."
Daren continued to sniff around until he found himself checking the window of the room. He then returned to Lilith's side and reported what he discovered.
"She was here not too long ago. If we hurry I can find her!"
"Just let me use my sight! It will be faster!"
"Not yet! Every time you use your sight you end up overworking your body. Let's try to take it easy and save it for when we are in danger."
"... Why are you so upset?"
"I was the only one who didn't help during the fight against the dryad..."
"Are you crazy? You were the one who helped the most! You saved me when she came to attack me right at the start!"
"Yeah but all I did was keep her busy... You guys did all the work..."
"You heard what she said... If only this power belonged to someone more reliable..."
"I- I need to prove my value to the team!!"
Daren really didn't want to have that conversation right now. The clock was ticking and they needed to hurry and find Ashley so they could get out of that place as soon as possible. However, Daren could never resist against Lilith's depressed face.
"Listen up, ok?"
"You are one of the most valuable members of this team. Without you, we probably would have already died a thousand times over! Don't let one small defeat keep you down!"
"But... I failed to protect Ashley!"
"We all failed to protect Ashley! Don't try to make this all about yourself. Everyone messed up this time..."
"If I... If I wasn't so busy feeling nostalgic about my home and had actually paid attention to Ashley's behavior... I would have noticed that something was strange earlier..."
"No... Rather... I knew something was strange... But I just didn't want to deal with it... I just wanted to move on with the mission and ignored my own team member..."
"So please, don't try to carry this burden on your own... We are all in this together!"
"Right... Ok! You're right Daren!!"
"Good! Now, let's make up for our mistake and save her."
The two then left the room and entered another dark hallway inside the castle, one much smaller than the one from before. They continued to move being guided by Daren's sense of smell and ended up checking a few other rooms of the castle.
The hunt for Drya had began.
Evlin was enjoying herself while devouring a nice meal prepared by her group after another mission of recovering silver metal when Ashley approached her with an question mark above her head.
"How come whenever someone makes you a question saying "Is that so?" you always answer with "Is that so" too? Is that a thing from your homeworld? Answering a question with the question?"
She finished swallowing her meal and took a deep breath to answer Ashley's question. She placed her finger on her lips while looking at the sky as if she was trying to remember where sho got that habit from.
"This was a thing... My uncle used to do..."
"Yeah... My uncle was a researcher and he would spend many days talking with me about the things he discovered whenever my family visited him."
"Every time he found something new, he would share it with me because nobody else looked interested in what he had to say..."
"Oh... Poor guy..."
"Yeah... He was really nice to me, but most of the time I had no idea of what he was saying... But I still wanted to keep him company so he wouldn't be depressed from being alone..."
"But like I said, most of the time I just had no idea what he was talking about, so whenever he would finish talking I would just smile at him and say "Is that so?", to which he would just answer "Is that so". I wasn't sure why he would answer like that either... So one day when I asked him he just looked at me puzzled as if he himself never realized he talked like that."
"He pondered about that for a while and just looked at me with what he assumed was his answer..."
"He said, 'I think it's because even though I know its not the correct way to answer, it's still my away of showing that I'm sure of what I'm saying!'"
"... His way of showing he was sure of what he was saying... Was by saying something in the wrong way...?"
"That's what I was thinking as well... But then he continued by saying it was the equivalent of a warrior charging into battle with a broken sword. Even if the warrior knows he can't rely on his tools, he knows he can rely on himself!"
"So instead of pretending he knows the right way to speak, he will just embrace the wrong way with pride... Saying that, even though he knows he can't rely on his speech, he knows he can rely on everything else."
"... I think I'm confused..."
"Mmmm... Imagine that my broken speech is like my magic... I know that my magic is not the most reliable since it always runs the risk of running out or getting too dangerous... So instead of trusting in my magic, I'll just trust in myself who uses the magic, and just accept that my magic may not always be the most reliable..."
"So... Whenever you answer like that... It's your way of saying..."
"That I know that the way I'm doing is wrong... But I still know that I will be able to do it! It's my way of accepting my imperfection! At least, its what my uncle used to say."
"You get it now?"
"I think so... I just assumed you talked like that because you thought it sounded correct and never bothered to try and fix it because it sounded cool..."
"... ... ..."
"Well... That might have been one of the reasons..."
"Is that so...?"
"Is that so."
Ashley had just finished her small flashback and returned to the present where she was still trapped inside her body that was in control of Drya.
Right now, she was like an astral projection floating around following Drya everywhere. She couldn't distance herself from Drya too much but she was able to look around the area even if Drya herself wasn't looking in the same direction.
She was feeling like a ghost haunting her own body. She imagined Evlin or Ria would probably figure it out a way to have fun with this Idea somehow. These two Could find ways to have fun anywhere.
Auren would probably start to panic and desperately try to return to his body. Lilith would probably be ok considering how much stress she deals with on a daily basis. She probably would just sight and make a face that says "Oh... It's going to be one of those days..." and just wait for the whole thing to be over.
Gustav would probably try to use his power to seek the help of the team, while Daren would just try to punch the demon out of his own body. These two couldn't be more different and yet they always got along surprisingly well. Ashley remembered something about how Evlin once compared the two to a pair of old men, Daren being the dad and Gustav being the grumpy grandfather, maybe that was the reason they were such good friends.
As Ashley continued to think about how much she missed her family, she realized that Drya was asleep inside a bed. A bed located inside of a dungeon beneath the castle. A prison. Drya's room was a prison.
It seems that the demon leader didn't want to risk losing Evlin's bait, so he told Drya to stay in a safe place away from danger.
Drya was loving the whole VIP treatment. She was basically the demon leader's most treasured item right now.
Ashley looked at her own face that was sleeping on the bed and wondered to herself.
[I hate you...]
The moment she said that, Drya opened her eyes as if reacting to her words. Which wouldn't be impossible since demons reacted to negative feelings.
"... Oh hey, Ashy! Good morning."
"I better prepare myself... Your friends are coming to save you!"
[How do you know that?]
Drya smiled at her and raised her knees. Ashley looked at her legs and realized she had no feet. At the end of her leg, a vine was extending and burying itself into the ground.
"I spread my vines over the area to stay alert in case intruders appeared. I can feel a small group of monsters rushing and tracking my steps."
"Yeap!! Congratulations princess! Stick-girl is finally coming to rescue you!"
[You don't seem worried...]
"Ha! I took care of these idiots before, I can do it again! They just got lucky last time!"
Ashley then remembered the time where she was crying on the ground after Evlin got kidnapped by the demon-slayers and Lilith came to her side to comfort her and saying she would bring Evlin back. Shortly after that, she kept her word and the two returned safe and sound.
[... You shouldn't underestimate my friends... They can be quite dangerous when they get serious...]
"Is that so?"
[Is that so. I don't know how they will do it... But I know they will... That's the kind of people my team is... A clunky mess that can't be stopped once they put their minds into something...]
Drya looked at Ashley and released a wide grin while sitting on her bed and spreading her vines over her room.
"Let's test that theory!"