Chapter 156 – Not rusty
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After her initial surprise at the [Angel’s bolt]s, Zerei joined the fight. Sofia observed her and understood why the Avian Apostle's stats were lower than her own demon form’s expected stats at the same level.

Sofia’s demon form was built for close combat; her stats were immensely high, so much so that at the same level, she expected it to have twice Zerei’s stats. Her five skills, strong as they were, occupied a relatively tiny portion of each of her limbs. Most of the vein circuits in her demon-form body were there only for one thing: physical enhancement.

Zerei was different. She had no physical enhancement. Her whole body was the engine for her skills, and they were devastating.

Sofia was glad she had fought with the mutated form of Zerei in the cave because it had been dumb as a brick and only used one spell. She wouldn’t have survived a minute in an encounter with the real thing.

She watched as the magic rained down on the stone Ogres. The sort of black balls of mana Zerei threw around by volleys of ten left not only deep holes into anything they touched but also carried many curses. Some would leave behind a cloud of petrification mist. Some others left behind black flames that seemed to be inextinguishable.

Most of the ogre females had died during the initial assault. The Alpha’s sons were each held up by a group of immortal skeleton paladins, and the Alpha himself was the target of Zerei when she didn’t suddenly turn to curse one of its sons to death with a shower of black balls.

Sofia didn’t idly watch during the fight; instead, she directed Pareth and the Paladins from the sky and ensured they could navigate the battlefield as efficiently as possible. One by one, the sons fell, and soon only the Alpha remained. He was constantly harassed by the flying Demon, which moved much too nimbly for him to hit with his stone magic. Still, the five meters tall Alpha was like a mountain given life. There was no end to his life force, and his attacks, if slow, were devastating. They tore holes through the nearby hills as he missed Zerei by a hair’s breadth.

Sometimes Zerei’s attacks missed and hit the ground, leaving behind some black goo.

Paladins retreated from the fight. They could do nothing to help at this point besides casting enhancement magic on Zerei. Sofia instead had them gather and secure the dead Ogres in a safe zone where Sofia could pick them up. Pareth stood as far as possible from the action, barely in range to keep [Sanctified grounds] running.

Do I throw more lightning?

The battle continued, and Zerei was starting to fly slower. What were previously elegant aerial dodges turned into a fierce struggle. The Alpha, on the other hand, didn’t seem to suffer at all despite the evident damage to his body.

But Sofia decided to keep watching and not intervene. Zerei still hadn't been touched a single time.

She could also tell Zerei still had a hidden card up her sleeves. So far, she had only used four skills. First were the cursed black balls. There was also the petrifying shriek that her mutated form used. The third skill was a short-lived flaming black sphere that surrounded her sometimes and would explode in the face of the Alpha if it touched it. Lastly was a skill that teleported her behind the Alpha’s back, which seemed to have a long cooldown as she had only used it twice.

Each of these skills carried potent curses; even the teleportations would leave behind space disturbances that could likely dice up anyone too weak that went near them.

But if she followed the logic that all Apostles had five main skills as she did, then there was one left.

Curses filled the air as Zerei narrowly avoided a flying boulder for the hundredth time. Sofia took more altitude and narrowed her eyes as she saw something interesting that could only be seen from above. The ‘missed’ attacks from Zerei weren’t missed at all. The black goo they left on the ground was sticky and harmful when the Alpha stepped on them, but that wasn’t the main point. The missed attacks were slowly drawing a huge ritual circle amidst the battlefield. It was a very simple one, similar to the [Sun’s generosity].

Zerei missed one last attack, leaving more black goo on the ground. Then she turned toward Pareth and grabbed him with her talons as she flew over, fleeing the fight. Looking around, she saw Sofia; their gaze met. Dropping Pareth out of the circle, Zerei turned to face the Alpha, who was hot on her tail.

The Demon pressed her palms together. Sofia saw all of Zerei’s mana leaving her body. The circle of black goo was complete, and the Ogre hadn’t stepped out yet. Sofia heard a loud and low sound, like a singular beating from a giant heart. The mana in the area defined by the circle of black goo collapsed onto the Ogre’s head.

The Alpha Ogre’s movements stopped, and he fell back, crashing into the ground.

I don’t know exactly what happened, but it’s dead. As if to confirm her thoughts, a system notification appeared.

‘Your party has defeated [Alpha Stone Ogre - lv. 317]’

All the wasted experience…

Sofia flew down to Zerei’s level.

“My powers are quite good, yes! It was almost worth the wait!”

“That was impressive. Can I ask what that last skill was?”

“Eh, yes? I don’t need to share the whole thing; the name should be plenty, look, yes?”

[Curse of the unborn soul]

“That… Erased his soul?”

“It does that, yes. It also lets me steal a passive skill with levels if the soul is stronger than mine, yes,” she added, performing a strange pose that Sofia thought might be an Avian way of celebrating victories or something along those lines. Or it’s just that her back hurts real bad?

“So you stole a skill from this one? Does it take up a slot?”

“The skill gives five classless slots that can only be filled with it, yes. I got a good skill out of it, yes!”

[Tireless] : Ignore all tiredness from stamina or health loss as long as you have more than 10% (110 - skill level; minimum 90) of your total stamina left.

Oh, that’s one of the skills me and Alith could have taken. It’s pretty strong and level 100 already. That explains why the Ogre never slowed down.

“That’s a good one. Did you get to choose?”

“No, it is random. But I am delighted with it, yes!”

“Great for you! What do we do with the corpse now? Do you need any part of it? I only need the skeleton.”

“I don’t want anything, no. I have no worries about money; what I have seen in the city tells me my runecrafting is still a precious skill, yes. And Stone Ogre parts shouldn't be worth anything anyway.”

“Thank you for your hard work, then. Let’s give Pareth his new body.”

“Let’s do it, yes!” Zerei was very enthusiastic about it. But her expression changed when she saw Sofia take out a set of big knives. “Say, Sofia. You aren’t planning to take the bones out before the ritual, no?”

Sofia had explained Pareth worked with a special ritual, but that was the extent of Zerei’s knowledge of that.

“I am. I need only the skeleton, the ritual won’t work otherwise.”

“And you usually do that by hand!?” asked Zerei, reeling back with her eyes wide in horror. “That is so inefficient!”

“Uh? Well yeah, but what else am I going to do? Bury it and wait for the worms to clean it?” Sofia asked back while she sharpened her big knives with her mithril dagger.

“... And here I thought I was the one with two thousand years to catch up to! No, this is all wrong! Let me do it!” Zerei, exasperated, shooed Sofia away and Pareth away. “Watch and learn, yes!”

Zerei used her talons to draw a large ritual circle on the flattest patch of ground she found nearby. “You need to remember the details, especially the main module in the middle, yes? It’s a bit complex, so copy it on a tablet if you have that, yes.”

A bit complex? Yeah, that’s almost as bad as Pareth’s circle. I’m scared of what’s considered very complex…

“This is a decay ritual. It is great for making quick fertilizer or getting rid of evidence, yes! Only works on an already dead corpse.”

“Getting rid of evidence?”

“Don’t ask, no. Long gone anyway. So, great ritual; it leaves the hide and skeleton intact. There is a small issue, however, yes. It smells like a goblin’s ass.”

Sofia’s pen stopped on her page. Then she sped up the copying while slightly starting to fly up…

Zerei stopped, too, staring at Sofia. “This is for you, yes, so stop acting like a fledgling and bring the Ogre here if you’re done copying the main module!”