Chapter 2 - Part 4
"Now tell me why that isn't the case," Mathias instructed.
Astral sighed and looked to the sky, seeing nothing but fog. "If that were the case, there would have been a spike in demonic activity. They would have been drawn here like moths to fire."
Mathias nodded. "You're positive that energy is being drained, and you seem to be sure that this for ascension. Are you maybe neglecting another possibility?"
"There are a couple of others. The energy could be used to attack the shields and break open the gate, but that energy would have to be gathered nearby or else they'd risk losing it in transit."
"Unless they use a focus," Mathias considered.
"Could multiple vessels be used as a focus?" It's true that the vessels could move to the desired location, but they'd have to release their energy simultaneously which would be the equivalent of suicide. The vessels would have to be zealots for that scenario to play out. From what she understood of vessels, they were people who are imbued with the essence of a god. 'Or wannabe god,' she added to herself. It would counter-intuitive for the god to sacrifice parts of himself. It would cripple him...wouldn't it?
Mathias' soul was flickering. Astral suspected that the idea frightened him. "I don't think there was ever enough energy here to allow for a single vessel, not to mention a coven of them. If there were a single vessel wouldn't we be able to sense it?"
The light of his soul dimmed and flushed with fuchsia. "I believe the vessel would have to be active in order for our primal instincts to pick it up," he hesitated to volunteer.
"In the scenario suggested, they would have to be active in order to contain the energy. Vessels are short lived once they become active. If they're particularly well built, they could up to a year. " Astral continued, watching the way the pulsing of her tutor's soul slowed, returning to its calm state. "It'd be too risky. They have to be sure that the vessel belongs to the right entity. One false move and one of their minions could turn out to be a double agent. Besides, they aren't exactly a dime a dozen. Would it be possible to possess multiple vessels at the same time?"
Mathias' left eye began to twitch. He rubbed his left temple to ease the strain. His soul had stopped pulsing altogether.
Astral smiled sweetly at her tutor. She was enjoying this.
"Ascension sounds good," he croaked. "Let's go with that."
"But you suggested that wasn't the case," Astral offered, concerned. She was happy to explore alternatives, if only to watch the changing hues of his soul.
"Now that I think about it, the only other alternative is birth, but energy demons don't give birth," Mathias volunteered, speeding things along.
Astral fell silent. 'How would an energy demon reproduce?' She wondered. It seemed strange to her that they wouldn't find some way to replicate. If reproduction wasn't possible, the energy demon they were planning to face off with tonight would have had to have been around since...
They could help her with her history assignment! Mathias soul calmed as the idea struck her. Her rueful smile broadened, but she thought better than to toy with her tutor any further. He would never agree to such a selfish reason to keep a demon alive. She'd have to agree, of course; history was built on perspectives, not truth.
Before she knew it, Astral began her trek down the memorial path to return to the town center which was a little under two hours away on foot.
Heading directly back to town wasn't her plan. She had another four hours of darkness to pursue her prey during its active period. With the exception of powerful demons who could tolerate the lights harsh punishment, most demons could safely manifest in darkness. It meant that a hunter's work hours was between nightfall and daybreak.
She reached for her core, her inner-self that held all of the answers when it came to hunting. She hoped she wouldn't need to go too deep to retrieve her answers, lest the thing that lurked inside of her wake.
She considered her other-self like a sleeping beast who happened to sleep talk groggily before going back to into its deep slumber. She slipped into the ether of her mind, flowed through the currents of her soul. It was getting easier with each session. Each time she feared that she would lose a piece of herself to the thing inside of her. She feared allowing it to manifest into the world beyond her mind.
To her surprise, her core felt alert. In times like these, she felt as though her core treated her like an investment, and it was in her core's best interest to keep her alive.
For the time being, she was able to maintain her distance from her other-self. In her mind-eye, the mimic of herself stood down the path from her within sight. With each session, her core was learning how to adopt her shape. The concept frightened her above all else. One day, this mimic would become her, and she would cease to exist. And yet, she couldn't help herself to turn to her core for guidance when her tutors and resources failed her.
Though it had her shape, her core was a void, the pure absence of light. It had no physical presence. It didn't need one. One day, it would have hers.
It stared into the forest, watching the shifting fog dance away from the false image of herself. "Do you remember when you first saw the light?" her core asked.
Astral could feel it smile as though cherishing a precious memory. "Show me where it is," Astral ordered her core.
Her core gestured to the forest with a broad sweep of her arm. "Give it a reason to manifest," her core instructed. "But do it in place where you have the advantage. You're still... squishy."
The truth stung. She was good at her job, but that didn't make her invincible. Despite her ultimate fate, she liked the idea of living with all of her limbs intact. The image of her core vanished from her mind, leaving her alone on a clear path purified of the scourge.
'How do I make an energy demon manifest?' She wondered. It had never been a problem before. She could see the monstrosities cleverly hiding their bulky mass in shadows, hungrily lurking over their unsuspecting prey. But this demon was different. This demon she could not see.
She went over the checklist as she traveled further down the path toward the town. Typically the demons could manifest physically when they were going in for the kill. There were instances when this wasn't the case, but if a hunter ran into those exceptions, it was unlikely that they would come out of it alive. A demon who could maintain a physical body in the human world would have to be powerful. She allowed her thoughts to linger on the concept a bit longer. Her grandfather had tales of ancient demons lurking in hidden alcoves deep underground, catered to by dark sects, humans who would willingly feed these entities human sacrifices in exchange for their dark hearts desires.
She stopped suddenly at the sound of crickets. She looked to the sky above, clear with sparkling twilight above with no moon in sight. What if she could see the demon, but just wasn't aware of it at the time. The path to the town was clear, the lanterns were vigilant and still. She peered down the path toward the memorial, the tall roofs peeking over the forest canopy. It was clear. The red hue that she had mistaken for fog was gone.
She ran back to the memorial, detaching a four inch rod from her belt. She flicked her wrist, triggering the mechanisms inside to come alive, extending the rod to four feet before she interrupted the process with sweeping downward arc, balancing the extra weight with her free hand. The top of the rod readjusted, pushing a clear double edge curved blade from it that matched the length of her arc.
Mathias couldn't fight an energy demon, though she wasn't entirely sure why that was.
There were deep gashes in the cobblestone path, leading into the forest. Broken branches and overturned earth made tracking easy. There was no blood at the initial point of impact; she assumed Mathias was likely okay, given that it would want to feed on the Master Hunter until it drained the life from him.
'Why would it need to manifest?' she wondered, dashing into the forest, dodging branches and low dying foliage which would threaten to trip her. In the darkness, where the average hunter would have to tread carefully, her stigma gave her an advantage. With dying ember light of the forest around her, she could see her way through the forest. She could see the streaks of black, where plants were torn from the earth.
'It smelled of copper' she reminded herself, pushing the ever-present scent of rotting flesh from her mind in an attempt to find her prey.
Perhaps, if she got higher up, away from the ground where the dead lingered for months before a purification team was sent out to give the deceased a proper burial. Astral shortened her scythe, reducing the awkwardness of managing the weapon at its full length. She attached it to her belt, using a spare buttoned belt hoop, before climbing up a sturdy looking tree like an experienced squirrel.
In chapter 2, another key element I touch on are the Hunters and their role in this new society. I don't want to give too much away so I'll just ask for your thoughts on these topics with demon hunters in mind.
- What are some of the stories (books, tv, comics, movies, etc) that feature demons hunters or ghost hunters whose mythos or backstories you've really enjoyed? What part about their stories touched you?
- If it's in defence of the people and nation, do you think the government should invest in specialized research and/or train soldiers to become Hunters? How would you set that up?
- Do you think Demon Hunting should be restricted to authorize and properly trained people, or should anyone with a passing interest or in immediate danger be able to engage in a Hunt?
You can share your answers to these questions over on the Awakening Facebook Group.
If you have questions of your own that you would like other readers to answer feel free to post them to the group.
If you want me to answer your questions directly remember to tag me in the group, or you can email me directly.
Feel free to post your comments about the Awakening in the discussion section of the Awakening Facebook Group.