Intreeference
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Year 201 (Continued Part 2)

I didn’t look forward to battling these demon kings again. It felt like just yesterday I sent both Lumoof and Edna to the battlefield.

“Don’t say anything.” I said to both Roon and Johann. “No death flags.” They nodded. I was superstitious.  These demon kings did not leave the general area where they arrived, which was a large capital city that had been entirely infested with transformed demons. They didn’t speak either, and the demon champions that served them also did not speak. It seemed they gained some kind of telepathic ability, which I vaguely sensed, but could not interrupt or crack.

“Alright.” I lost three senior Valthorns four decades ago, and I was not prepared to lose more. Even now that wound felt fresh in my heart. 

Each demon king had a gimmick. What was this demon king’s gimmick? The split bodies? Or an ability to regenerate? Ken, at least, understood our intention to rehearse our game plan. It made sense to him that if there are gimmicks, then those fighting the demon kings should be familiar with the tropes.

“If it’s split-body, it’s likely to have some kind of ‘kill all three or the rest will regenerate’ type of ability.” Ken said. “This is common in games.”

Prabu nodded. “So we have a small window to deliver enough damage to all three.”

“Yes, essentially a DPS-check. That means damage per second, and we’re trying to deliver sufficient damage within a short time frame to overwhelm the regenerative ability.” As a former game designer, I was familiar with the phrase, though both Kei and Stella never heard of it.

“Alright. So what’s our game plan if that’s the case? Should we test it out?”

Ken thought to himself. “You could hold back, destroy one body first and see what happens. If it really has that sort of function or skill, then only unleash hell on all the bodies.”

It's also likely that each body has a unique ability. Or maybe not. I'm not sure how deep their scope of powers could be. 

“There’s four of us.” Colette said. “There’s three of them, and they should be weaker with their separated bodies. We have gained levels since the last time. We should be able to bring this demon king down faster.”

“Ah yes, that’s a common trope too. They might fuse and have some final form.” Ken paused, and then continued. “Usually parasite-type demons can uh... copy or replicate their enemies ability to some extent.”

“So we should field as few combatants as possible?” Prabu asked. "Wait. Are we safe from possession?”

Ken frowned. “I think the answer is likely to be a no. Think about it, these guys were designed to kill us, and they’ve taken up a parasite form. We are their number one enemy. They must be tailored to possess heroes. These guys must be able to do so.”

That was a good point, and it was Snek who gave a good suggestion. “Then you heroes should find ways to store a soul-bomb.”

“What the hell is that?”

Ken looked at Lumoof. “I hear the priests are doing it already, but their skills and spells are at a far lower level. Can Aeon deploy something far more powerful?”

I’m not sure, but certainly worth trying. Snek pointed it to their type of reinforcing blood magic. “There are some aspects of blood magic that reinforces the soul.”

The heroes were chosen because of their strong souls, or more correctly, they were enhanced such that they had strong souls. I remember looking at Meela’s soul a long time ago, and noted how much stronger it was than the others. But would this help against the demon king.

In the case of Edna and Lumoof, their souls have changed since they gained their domain. Both of their soul springs had a building that now surrounded the spring, like a water fountain located within a temple complex. If I looked at my own, it’s possible that the building that now surrounded the spring is essentially my domain. It protected my soul from outside forces. Snek’s type of blood magic essentially collects the rocks and bricks from the dead souls, and uses those materials to reinforce a person’s soul spring.

There has to be a way it can be done.

I tried to remember all the past times when I defended myself and then remembered about Alexis’s attempted possession of my own body.

What had I done then?

Nothing, actually. My soul just protected itself.

But there had to be something that can be done such that some similar strength can be embedded into the heroes.

“I will be safe.” Lumoof said. “If the demon king ever tried to possess me, all you gotta do is take control.”

That’s true. Lumoof was likely to be safe, and I knew it, because there was a very strong link in his soul realm to mine. He was my avatar, and a demon attempting to possess Lumoof competed with that.

Edna, Lumoof and the Valthorns caught up as I mulled more ideas. Lumoof spoke of the Threeworlds, exploring the Centaurs and the land of the sandpeople. But that was a story I would catch up on at a later date. I decided to experiment on Prabu when he managed to teleport back for a short while. One of his snack-collection trips. He agreed to a dip into one of my soul forge-linked biolabs.

“I’m going to try and give you some anti-demon king resistance. It will hurt. Alot.”

“Okay.” Prabu agreed.

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

“Alright.”

I remembered that time when I tried to fix Jura’s soul, and attempted to stir the waters around Prabu’s soul spring.

“What’s happening?” He asked through our magical link.

“I’m attempting to reinforce your soul.” Unlike the domain holders, the heroes have these large jugs that floated in their sky, pouring star mana. These added to their own mana from their soul spring, and again, the size of the springs were massive. Lumoof and Edna may have the domains, but in terms of star mana, these heroes have us beat. No contest. 

Maybe because Prabu’s a mage, so his mana was also higher than normal.

It was possible for me to manipulate the space outside of his soul spring, and I attempted to do so.

With the experience of the priests with their soul protection, I called on my domain powers, and injected it into Prabu’s body.

It really drained me, and it was painful for him, but soon I saw a small plant emerge right outside of his soul spring. It sucked quite a bit of his mana, and then stopped.

[A Grafted Soul Tree’s Presence]. I immediately sensed it forming a link with the familiar I’ve previously given to Prabu.

“Huh.”

I knew that this was only possible because I’m much stronger than before, and because of that strength, this chunk of myself could survive the turbulent, star-mana flooded world of a hero.

Planting something in someone else's' garden takes far more energy than my own, at least, an order of magnitude more than taking out a foreign object. This much was obvious. This was why it takes a lot less energy to heal or remove something foreign.

This tree was a foreign object, and was still tiny, because it's weakened by the eroding forces within the body itself, instead of nourishing it.

Unless I could mislead the body into thinking it's not foreign?

Wait.

I should be able to do that, from my experience meddling with Jura’s hand. The soul clearly can forget what belonged to it, and what didn’t. If I messed with that...

I drew more power from everywhere, and just like trying to convert Ally and the demonic infestor parasites, I tried to alter Prabu’s soul realm to accept my presence. He was a hero, and previously, they had resistance to all sorts of powers. But with my second, focused domain, the barrier and protection of the hero was tough, but not invulnerable.

I just needed more power.

His body shook. And on another continent, I could hear the other heroes wondering what took Prabu so long.

The fabric of the world bent around us, as I conducted this little soul-surgery, both from the power deployed, and the actual warping of the hero’s soul.

But it was successful. I’ve planted something in his soul, and now, the tree that was once tiny, transformed into a thick bramble of thorns surrounding his soul spring. The energies of the star mana and his vast soul flooded that tiny tree, and made it grow.

It transformed into [Living Wall of the Soul Tree]. It should suffice, I suppose. Prabu rested for a day, and went back.

I also wanted to experiment on Ally, but at the same time, even if I gave Ally a titan soul, who do I test her on? I made a note to come back to Ally some other day.

-

The demon kings launched their attack once we got close enough. That was our plan, actually. Like with the earlier demon kings, we wanted to bait it somewhere rigged with our crystal bombs, and soften up the demon kings.

The first hit using these stationary traps would also help to give us insights into how these demon kings operated, and test out some of Ken’s suspicions. Perhaps he was right, as the demons did tend to conform to story norms.

We rigged an entire area with our crystal bombs, and waited for the moment when the demon kings got near.

We expected it, at least. We knew that the demon king cannot resist attacking the heroes. It’s just how they went about it.

The demon kings entered into the blast zone, and an entire area the size of a city, rigged with crystal bombs flashed. These were more powerful bombs, the result of incremental improvements in Alka’s methods over the years, and studies from Lumoof’s purchased magical items.

From afar, the heroes and my senior Valthorns watched the sky lit up, a pillar of blue light. It’s powerful enough that our magical sensors all the way on the Central Continent detected them.

The heroes watched keenly. “I still feel them.”

“No notification, that should be obvious enough.” Chung responded as he charged his hero items. They were all stronger now, closer to level 130s instead of the earlier level 120s when they faced their second demon king. This would be their third demon king.

Colette’s hero items floated out around her, they were all magical staffs, wands and rods of different shapes and sizes. They were all stronger than before, but even they felt the gaze of the demon king. Prabu’s hero items were two massive staffs packed with more gems than a jewelry store, and Hafiz was one large silver shield.

The three demon kings took the hit directly, and even despite the amount of power packed in them, it did not deal lethal damage. The three demon kings were merely surrounded by a charred sphere of flesh.

Two beams burned through the skies and smashed into the spheres, and the spheres exploded.

“Good shot.” Chung nodded as his bows glowed, and arrows flew towards the demon king. The arrows stopped midway, as Chung made a gesture with his fingers. He activated some kind of magical vision.

At that very second, I felt something just blast out from those spheres, and it touched everything. It was very familiar.

The Rottedlands bomb, just a smaller, but more focused one.

Lumoof immediately had to step in here, or this parasitic demon king would infest the terrain and use it against the heroes. Lumoof immediately went into avatar mode, and I soon found I had my own battle to fight.

One of the demon kings had fused with the ground itself, and transformed into a parasite and corruption emitter! We spawned trees as fast as we could, and I already had artificial minds readied for the task. Multiple giant trees spawned and my roots fought the corruption in the ground itself.

Lumoof winced when I pulled mana from the Central Continent and emitted it through his body into the roots and trees.

Some parts, already infested by the demon king, emitted noxious gasses and waves that melted whatever came in contact with it.

Ken, Stella, Kei and the Valthorns that sat out the direct conflict watched the spectacle at home through [dream academy]. “Oh. So the demon king infests the land.”

“Doesn’t that mean it can infest Aeon?” Stella asked.

“I don’t think it’s stupid enough to try that, though.” Ken said.

A part of me felt it was funny. This was just a repeat of the Rottedlands corruption, with the exact same methods. I called on my first domain power, [Roots of Life], and also my [Tree of Life], and pumped my mana through the roots. This time, I pushed back.

A tactic that put me into a coma for two decades wasn’t going to work twice. Not when I fought it for twenty years.

My trees gained ground quickly, and I quickly stopped the demon king’s noxious gasses from saturating the place. That demon king in the ground started to attack directly, once it noticed its corrupt energies were dispersed easily.

It formed black tentacles that shot towards my roots, and one of them stabbed it directly. I felt it push its corrupt energies into the tree, and I pushed back. LIkewise, I spawned more trees and my roots rushed towards that body.

Underground, my roots and the demon’s tentacles fought an intense battle, as both of us attempted to overwhelm each other with our respective energies.

Above ground, the heroes engaged in combat with the other two bodies, and they defeated one. Ken was right, somewhat. There really was a gimmick, as the remaining body would split and regenerate the second body after a short while.

Edna found herself mostly fighting demon champions, as the two demon kings seemed to be mostly airborne, zigzagging in the skies and dodging the two mages and Chung’s arrows. Hafiz played defense and protected the three heroes’ as they launched their volleys.

Roon and Johann tried to assist too, but like Edna, they focused on the demon champions, and only took a few pot shots at the demon king. It was hard to keep up with the two airborne demon kings that seemed to shapeshift at will and move like it’s not subject to gravity or the rules of motion.

For a brief moment, each of us fought our own battles. I fought the infestation in the ground with Lumoof, the heroes against the two airborne demon kings, and everyone else dealt with the mobs and demon champions.

I internally felt it was a little... easy and predictable, but I knew this wasn’t it. There had to be a trick. They always did.

So I was always on the lookout.

I was expecting a trick.

The demon king that infested the ground then did something that I immediately thought was stupid. It manifested itself out of the ground, and then threw itself at Lumoof. I launched multiple barrages against the demon king as it barreled towards Lumoof, who was bound to the ground in avatar form.

No. It essentially charged at us.

Really? 

I couldn’t stop it. I didn’t have enough power or damage to really, really make the demon king stop, even if I hurt it quite a bit. I placed barriers between us, and even activated all my offensive abilities.

The demon king took the damage, and continued to charge at Lumoof. It smashed through the walls and shields, slowing it down only by a little bit. My vines appeared and wrapped around it, but it still pushed through. 

The heroes were too occupied with the two airborne demon kings, who had summoned even more airborne demons to counterattack.

I felt that demon king slam into Lumoof, it’s spiritual presence colliding with my overlaid presence over Lumoof. Strangely, rather than possess Lumoof,  I felt like something immediately reached out into my soul...

[Domain Detected Soul Intrusion. Activating Soul Defenses...]

At that second, I felt my mind go hazy, like a massive migraine. In a flash, all my potato storage and tubers were emptied, and even [Dream Academy] temporarily went offline. The entire central continent suddenly felt the equivalent of an electrical short circuit.

With mana.

Beetles stopped. Magic seemed to briefly just went out of commission over the entire central continent as my trees sucked up mana from everywhere. Dungeons temporarily flickered, their ley lines wobbled from the sudden spike in mana-demand.

Lumoof’s body then suddenly flashed like a supernova, and the demon king that wrapped around Lumoof was blasted with this strange multicolored light. The power that was released at that moment was far higher than anything I’ve ever felt, and comparable to the strongest of the heroes’ attacks.

That demon king body was incinerated instantly.

I was stunned. 

How was this possible? 

Demon kings were not meant to be insta-killed. In my mind, I wondered then. How the fuck do I do that intentionally? How do I repeat this? This was an ability that could break the balance of the game.

I realised maybe I was a little too excited. After all, this wasn’t really a full strength demon king, since this was a demon king that had split itself to three. But if I could one shot one-third of a demon king, I somehow felt that was actually an encouraging sign too!

Even if I didn't know what exactly happened.

Lumoof immediately fainted, and though he was alive, that single attack flushed his body with too much mana, and the pain was too much. My sensors immediately detected extreme pain throughout his body and realised he had signs of extreme mana sickness. 

I instantly teleported him back to Freshka for healing. This was too much for him. 

That meant I lost track of the battlefield for a good 15 minutes.

“Stella!” I shouted to her mind, with Lumoof back in Freshka, my connection to the south was lost. “Portals!”

“On it!” Void portals immediately opened and my roots reconnected to all the trees I planted in the South. 

“Roon, Johann. Retreat!” If only domain tier could resist corruption, that meant they were vulnerable to the demon king’s possession. There was always another demon king for them to fight if they survived this one. There’s no need to go all in. I could send them to the Threeworlds or that other world to fight other demon kings.

I thought of pulling back through the [Court of the Deitree]’s teleportation ability, but that was a one-way trip. What if I needed them for something else. Thankfully they retreated quickly without much issue, and I focused on fighting the other demon champions. But as that happened, I vaguely sensed a gathering pool of energy where the demon king was incinerated, and I saw a small, almost ethereal presence.

It’s not physically visible, but I definitely could see it, because it’s like a spiritual template. I saw the heroes destroy one of the demon kings then, and I noticed something similar gathering in the air, where the other demon king's body died.

The heroes wouldn’t be able to destroy this thing, not unless they had some soul-linked powers. This is a spiritual template. I knew then this was the foundation for the demon king to rebuild its own body, and I saw energies leaking from the last remaining body that channeled to the other two destroyed bodies.

I immediately understood how the demon king would have regenerated itself if all three bodies were not destroyed.

Too bad the demon king were clearly not prepared for my presence, and my roots touched the spiritual template, the foundation of all healing, and summoned my soul forge. It would be a pain to use my powers through the portal, but if I could destroy the template, it would eliminate the demon king’s ability to regenerate its split bodies.

“We need time to gather our mana. A lot of mana was drained to blow up the demon king.”

Shit. I could see the demon king regenerating but I couldn’t stop it because I lacked mana? “How long do I need?”

“A few hours, at least.”

I thought, if I couldn’t destroy it, then I could at least interrupt it. That wouldn’t need that much mana. “It would increase the time needed to gather mana.”

“But better than facing three demon kings.” I noticed the heroes were gradually getting tired, and essentially the parasite demon king with three bodies was playing a game of attrition. If the demon kings could survive until the heroes were exhausted, they would be able to kill the heroes.

I injected my soul-forge energies into the demon king’s soul-template, and though the miniscule amount was not able to destroy the template, I was able to easily interfere with the energies that attempted to gather there, and quickly dispersed the energies.

I think I’ve just bought extra time for the heroes.

This, of course, drew the attention of the last remaining demon king, and rather than continuing its constant airborne dogfight with the heroes, it turned, and bombed the roots and trees that interfered with the regeneration.

I blocked with my shields and my barriers, and they withstood the first attack. Barely. The second attack destroyed them, but it’s alright. I was prepared to regenerate my trees as long as necessary.

“Your opponent is here.” Colette said as her array of magical weapons zapped the demon king. It turned, and lunged towards the heroes.

The demon king turned, and then pulled the remnants of the demon king’s energy back to itself, instead of regenerating. The spiritual templates themselves folded into the main body, and then the demonic parasites all around us immediately went wild. This was a pattern repeated throughout the world, as all the parasites all over the world simultaneously attempted to transform, or take over their host, and then, they would attack those around them, attempting to repeat the act.

It was a stupid thing. Why show your hand? Though I clearly noticed that the demons were learning, their learning and improvements were disorganised and random. It’s almost as if they were some kind of self-learning network that just tries things and attempts to figure out how it performed. Were they just trying other strategies randomly?

In any case, this stupid move merely allowed the rest of the world to kill the demons and end the parasites once and for all.

I would have ensured that the parasites remain hidden, but I suppose I should count my lucky stars.

Back with the demon king, it immediately went airborne and transformed into this massive floating blob. Demon champion-parasites attempted to latch onto the heroes, and a few bit them, but they were not infested. They had sufficient levels and protection for it.

Edna decided to retreat, as she had limited airborne powers. I too, had limited airborne powers. At this point, I merely decided to stay back and provide any defensive support, but with Lumoof out of commission, I wouldn’t be able to deploy my full strength.

It’s all up to the four heroes now.

The demon king used more conventional abilities then, but I noticed it was weaker than the earlier demon kings, and the heroes successfully whittled it down.

Chung’s magical bolt slammed into the demon king, and it shattered, revealing a tiny blob.

“It’s either going to blow-”

The tiny blob charged forward at incredible speed, and I barely blocked it with my wooden shield. It smashed through my shields like it was nothing, and then slammed into Prabu and Colette’s protective magical shields.

It then expanded in an explosion, and transformed into a big purple blob around the heroes. The heroes attacked it repeatedly, but it somehow pushed through the magical shields, and stabbed the heroes.

It did what a parasite was always trained to do.

Possess a hero.

It had inserted itself into the four heroes, and now it was up to them to resist it. All four heroes were in pain, as I attempted to help them.

I knew, somehow, all four heroes were in a mental battle with the demon king. As Ken put it, this was the cliche of heroes ‘fighting from the inside.’

My roots and vines emerged and wrapped around the blob, and drained its power. It was a lot of toxic, dirty power, just like that previous time I tried it with the heroes. I knew the demon core from this demon king was likely to be corrupted as well, but now that I've seen how the demon king was created, I may not need to fight it directly.

The void mages were trying their best to support the portals. I was pushing as much power as I could, but I didn’t have much anyway. Most of it was used.

But then, a ray of light shot through the purple blob, and then, an explosion of light. The blob was vaporised.

[Demon King Exikant has been defeated]. All over the world, a kill switch went off in the demon parasites, and they all died instantly.

The four heroes fell, and my roots immediately reached out to grab them. They were alive, but weak. My roots and vines cradled them, and immediately injected them with healing abilities. 

At the same time, the rest of us felt a surge of relief. The era of demonic parasites was finally over.

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