The demon king took its time, and we waited. So, I went on the offense, and wanted to claim a few more demon champions for myself. Just like the [Forest Rod], which I clearly wish I had more, I wanted more of these infestors.
I could find uses for them. Someday. Ally stood like a machine back in Freshka, and I quickly commanded it to ‘sleep’ in one of my bio pods, safe in the valley. I didn’t want an infestor like her walking about the city, mainly because I felt such abilities were more suited to be hidden. A spy is most effective when no one suspects a spy.
Thus, only Stella and a few others were aware of it, and I made it a point to make them know it.
“What are your weaknesses?” I asked Ally, like, I tried my luck whether it’s possible to directly ask a former demon the answer.
“I don’t know.” It wasn’t so easy, sadly.
We watched the star-ways with great interest. One of the paths glowed bright, but it wasn’t yet ready for the demon king. There were tell-tale signs when the demon king was about to cross, and so far, we have not seen it.
Down in the Southern continent, we continued our great game of demon-parasite whack-a-mole, and eventually, I managed to catch two more demon champions. One was a general of a destroyed kingdom, named Genid, and another was a King, King Rhoma of the Sanndea kingdom, which is no more. Since everyone alive was infested and incurable.
These two demon champions did not reveal anything new. They were similar creations of the Infestor King, and had no memories.
As our reach expanded in the South, I finally managed to catch something I was looking for.
“What are you doing?” Stella asked as my trees approached a rift. She sensed some unusual magic fluctuations, a little more drain than usual. “Another demon champion?”
“Not exactly. While waiting for the demon king, I’ve decided to go on the offense.”
Stella’s eyes squinted, and then widened as she realised what I’ve just meant. “Wait. You need the entire team here-”
My roots and vines approached the rift, and slowly tested out its magical resonance. Like the previous demons, I needed to know the exact mana frequency to confuse the rift, such that it would let me through to the other side.
“Why?” Stella asked as she felt the energies passing through the void portals.
“I have nothing to lose, and I realised, with my seeds, that I should use them offensively. Playing defense is tiring.” I have two seeds left. From what I gather, it does take a while for any ‘destroyed’ tree to respawn as a new seed, but with both Threeworlds and the other world remaining close by, I was willing to do it.
It’s my first attempt at launching an offensive attack. From what I learned from Snek, I suspect that the demons most likely do not have means of communication with other demon types, and that each demonic world is largely independent, though there were some means of coordinating invasions.
I needed a solid presence in one such world, if I wanted to know what exactly happened. I couldn’t learn about the demons without seeing them in one of their controlled worlds.
The last time, I needed the forest rod. I wouldn’t use the forest rod now. With the [seed of aeon], I could use my clones as disposable ‘scouts’. My only risk was if they ‘possessed’ my clone bodies, but I suspect that’s impossible.
I spawned more artificial minds, just in case. I needed the backup.
“We don’t know what our homeworld is like. We were created, and before we could see or sense, we were flung to this world through the rifts, sent to infest anyone who feels strong.”
I also learned that my infestors used to have some kind of ability to ‘see’ strength, that’s inactive as they are currently unpowered. Could they infest something like me? I suspect probably not, since a soul tree like myself should be invincible in its native domain. When asked, they seemed to answer. “We don’t know, but we are programmed to try.”
Huh. That was rather strange.
I soon found the resonance needed to get myself through the rift gates. My roots and vines went through!
Stella immediately winced as my roots went through.
The first thing I attempted to do was see.
A gate. I saw a gate. The gate was on a platform, and around the gates were those same void crystals. They were some other demonic structures around those void crystals, and this time, I was able to sense some magic flowing through it.
But immediately beyond the dry platform was water!
This demon world was not dry! If anything it was more of a corrupted world. There were demonic trees and large gigantic monsters that would not be out of place in the rottedlands. I saw large blobs, filled with hundreds or thousands of those demonic parasites being hauled by large demonic creatures. They were pushed through the rift-gate, and they appeared on the other side.
The blob didn’t survive the transfer, but the parasites did.
I immediately extended my roots and my vines into the water, and I felt the pollution and dirt. No, this was some kind of muck. I’ll have to analyse the details later.
The last time I sent my roots through the rift, some demons saw it and immediately cut us off. I wasn’t going to let that happen to me now.
I immediately deployed my [seed of aeon], right here, right next to the rift gates.
I felt my seed sink into the water, and then little roots extended out of the water. I sensed my seed’s root searching for dirt and earth.
Even though there was water, the ground or dirt felt lifeless and weak. It was a little like the moon, but different. The moon was just naturally empty, it’s surface covered with moon dust that needed to be rehabilitated gradually.
This world was drained, as if every bit of life that once was, had been sucked out by the demons. I knew through my clone that the demons did this to their captured worlds, and that meant, Snek’s world was on a timer.
Eventually the demons would drain the world until it had no ability to support life?
Was that how it always went?
I had to check with Lilies.
< Lilies. You said the demons won before. Do you remember how long those demon-ruled periods were? When was that? >
> We do not recall the exact time as we were dormant, but from what we know, it was not very long. Almost one hundred years. We hid within the depths of the lake, and time was lost to us. It was then we heard the will of the world, once. <
< What happened? Do you remember how it stopped? >
> The gods summoned their chosen. <
Hmm. That didn’t quite answer the question. We didn’t know how long Snek’s world has. It could be hundreds more years, or thousands. Or maybe it’s already lost.
Either way, my seed spread roots into the lifeless soil, and rather than gathering nutrients from them, I attempted to sense magic.
These demons were not as alert as the previous ones. I suspect this was because the parasites themselves seem to have rather strange senses when they are not in a host. In a way, they’re quite blind. But eventually one of the demons that carried those blobs noticed the little roots and vines coming through, and they immediately closed the rift.
I felt a jarring sensation, similar to how a livestream would get stuck when switching from a wired connection to a wireless connection.
It came back a short while later, as my seed now supplied me with my senses. I was already on the other side, and my vines, now connected through my seed, continued to observe the demons. I decided to take advantage of my past hybrid demon-tree knowledge, and changed my roots to appear somewhat demon-tree like.
I had to support my seed from the system, and I could feel the seed grow when I feed it mana. It’s not getting enough mana from its ambient surroundings, just like my tree in the destroyed cometworld.
Luckily, the moon-tree has grown sufficiently that it is no longer a drain on my overall mana, even if it still depended on my mana to grow outwards.
In short, even though I have clones, each clone still needed to generate its own ‘power’. If it doesn’t, due to the poor environment, it would then draw down on the primary reserve, which was my own mana pool.
I would have to develop plants able to collect mana in this polluted demonworld. My roots moved through the dirty waters, and we sensed the presence of metals I’ve not seen back on our homeworld.
As my roots spread out from the gate, I noticed that the demons were actually quite concentrated in certain areas, and there were still vast swaths where there was absolutely nothing. Just plain dirt. Lifeless dirt and polluted waters.
The waters were shallow, and that was good. It’d be a pain if I encountered oceans in a demon world, since that was a problem in itself that I have yet to solve.
I spawned a few discrete smaller trees in these sparse places. In doing so, I limited the number of beetles each of them could support, but no matter. I wanted to see the demon world for myself beyond what I could see from the gates.
I didn’t encounter any resistance, and my roots found the dirt. The parasite-world had a single, bright blue sun that was really small. It was probably further away than our normal sun, which meant the weather would have been cooler, if not for the thick smog that seemed to coat the air. Even with these small trees I sensed the presence of strange minerals in the air.
I wasn’t sure whether this was native to this world, or whether this was an output of the demons. I didn’t manage to collect such data from my previous incursions to the other demon worlds.
With more and more discreetly placed trees, I was able to spawn some labs to begin analysing the magic in this world, and the first thing that immediately stood out to me was how little magic was in the air, and there were no... ley lines.
That was weird, and it reminded me of the moon. No. Even the moon wasn’t so empty.
Are ley lines essentially magical ‘blood vessels’ of the core, and ley lines essentially supply ‘life’ to the world?
I thought of the ‘strategy-demons’, and their demonic rods. They were essentially using the world’s ability to create life to create demons. I was doing the same thing with dungeons. The world did it normally too, through the spawning of natural dungeons.
I know, from my own experience in Treeworld, that ley lines are rare. The moon, too, doesn’t have any noticeable leyline, but I initially suspected this was because I have not expanded much on the moon. That’s because I still detected some faint magic that moved in the depths of the moon.
But here, in this demonworld, there should be ley lines, or very faint inklings of them, especially once my roots started spreading really far and wide.
Back home, I immediately summoned Snek for an audience.
“Tell me about the lines from your home. Are you aware of them?”
“Yes. These are the magical energies of the world?”
“Have you observed any change in the magical energies of the ley lines since the demons took over?”
Snek frowned. “I’m afraid I don’t have information on this. We are aware of some changes in these magical strands but I did not look into it.”
“Didn’t you say you were an expert on your world.”
“...I lied, oh great Aeon.” The little snake spirit prostrated on the floor. “I merely have a high level knowledge of it. To have knowledge of everything in my world is not something one snake can achieve.”
I spread my roots and trees more and more, and eventually stumbled on something I’ve seen in the dreams of the heroes.
Pillars and spires, filled with dark red blobs, and looking at it for myself, I saw the spires were linked to large pillars and spikes, these were embedded into the ground, like stakes. There were also large vats and pools right next to the pillars filled with some kind of colored muck. The blobs on the spires themselves all seemed to contain smaller, almost like baby-demons.
I felt a draining effect in the land itself, and thankfully, I was resistant to it. It felt like a vacuum cleaner sucking on my toes, and it didn’t really hurt. It was just slightly irritating.
It wasn’t the only one such structure I saw.
As I spread my trees as far and wide as I could in this new demonic world, I saw many more such structures. I was looking for the thing that created the demonic champions.
I soon found other rift-gates, and as my trees spread, I realised there were at least ten of them, each of them had a whole bevy of void crystals around them. I watched the rift gates open, and the demonic parasites were sent through.
This part was not new to me. What was new was what happened after the rift gates were closed. I saw demons that replaced the crystals, and they replaced them by the hundreds and thousands.
Each rift gate was supplied, continuously, by a supply chain of these demons who did nothing but carry these void crystals.
So, I followed this supply chain. It took some time, at least a month, since the supply chain was very, very long, and eventually I came upon what was the largest spawning pool I’ve ever seen. The waters were different. They were black with streaks in them, like a very thick soup.
Around the holes were massive spires that joined up at the top in the shape of a ring. From my viewpoint, it looked like a supermassive rift gate that was exactly above the hole.
My roots sensed something lurking within these lakes, and here, that sucking effect was extremely strong. But, more importantly, I felt its focus that went deep underground. I felt it draw energy from the depths.
I spread my trees around this lake, and noticed some parts where demons emerged from the lake, hauling smaller void crystals.
This lake produced void crystals or were they mining them from deep underground?
I tried to dig underground, like how I dug back home, and I soon found that this hole stretched downwards, and I sensed pain.
A pain that came from the world itself.
I followed the pain, and kept digging. The demon’s hole was still there! How did they manage to dig so deep? As I went deeper, and deeper as I could manage, I sensed a powerful presence, wrapped in a shell. I knew it was powerful, because it’s energy was like a constant hum and it pressed on my roots.
The hum became a constant grinding noise as I went deeper, and I realised it was the nascent demon king. It was further down. Much, much further down.
The core of the world was the womb of the demon king.