Chapter 2 - Part 5
A gunshot echoed in the darkness, giving her a clue in the direction to travel. Through the dying souls of the forest, she made out Mathias' soul, a deep blue, with an electric red aura. He was still for a moment, his stance strong. His soul shuddered with surprise and flushed with anticipation.
He was more like her than she realized. He lived for the kill. She wanted to get a clear sight on the demon before interrupting the tides of battle. She kept her eye on the swift movements of her prey as she moved through the forest, careful to avoid announcing her presence to the demon's heightened senses.
She crouched down in the shadows, keeping her presence small as she watched her tutor expertly anticipate the demon's attack. He fired into the humanesque shape made up of a torn crimson red gown and cloak. Its swollen belly reminded Astral of a pregnant woman. It was difficult to separate the robes from the demon. The red melted into the reshaped claw where it shifted to black midway down its claw. It's legs were wiry and spread wide almost in a permanent crouching position. Claws had broken free from the demon's boots, now barely maintaining the appeal of sandals.
Mathias fired a few more consecutive shots into the demoness, before she plunged him into a nearby tree, rattling dying leaves free. She screamed at him, her mouth extending ferociously at him, large enough to rip his head from his shoulders with a single bite. The scream was wrong in Astral opinion. The matron demon cried out in agony, her grip on the Master Hunter weakening.
Mathias slumped to the foot of the tree. He took in a few heavy breaths before trying to pull himself to his feet as the demon retreated from him, calling out again in agony, cradling her swollen belly.
Astral could feel a shift in the energy, like a sudden deadly shift in the current. The teenage girl launched from the shadows of the forest, extending the length of her scythe as she swung the blade, severing the beast's head from her shoulders. She spun around and pulled the weapon through the middle of the demon's body before it could hit the ground. "Protection prayer now! But visualize it backward. Seal it here!" Astral ordered the dazed hunter.
From the trees it fell, colliding into the teenage girl who blocked with her scythe. She didn't have time for games. She couldn't count on Mathias. In the battle arena, she was on her own. The real energy demon moved and swayed like the fog, tangible but not. It swayed around her, surrounding her. She tugged on the center of her scythe causing it to break in two; the blades shortened as the duplicate smaller versions mimicked one another.
She moved with the dark energy around her, feeling her world melt away into the very darkness she was fighting. Dodging blows and moving as though possessed by the shadows themselves, she glimpsed the shimmering light of the prayer forming around the combat area. "Bring it in closer!" she shouted.
"Stop!" she called when the prayer was ten feet wide. It would have to feed on her if it wanted to survive at this point. It would need to manifest or die fighting her.
Energy demons are different from normal demons. Energy demons don't require a physical form to feed, but they do need one to lure prey and defend their nests. This one was losing. "Manifest already!" Astral roared as ferociously as any demon could. The fog dissipated for a moment out of fear.
She felt hungry, craving that thing that she couldn't quite put words to. It's attacks changed from aggressor to defender. She could see the dimming strength of the prayer, Mathias' strength wouldn't last much longer, and if the shield fell, the demon would have an easy feast and their opportunity lost.
She stopped her assault, reaching for the one trump card at her disposal. She reached for her core and opened herself up to the world. The demon saw an opportunity, reshaping itself to deal the final blow with everything it had. It lunged toward her.
Caught in her current, she pulled the demon into her, consuming what little was left of it, just as the prayer vanished.
Her world spun. She willed herself to stand upright as she took several slow deep breaths. With each labored breath, a puff of purified air escaped her lips. Little by little, the life of the devoured returned to the forest.
She fell to her knees and wretched, the fowl taste of finely rotted demon meat lingered on the back of her tongue. It would be weeks before she'd be able to get the taste out of her mouth. Her stomach growled calling out ravenously to the world. The thought of food made her wretch again.
Blood trickled down her face and arm, damage she was unaware of during the fight. She could feel sting of the humid air against the open wounds.
Mathias climbed to his feet and approached his charge. "Are you okay?" he asked, crouching down next to her. She looked away, afraid that the stigmas' mark had gotten worse. "I'm fine," she lied. "Just give me a second."
"I have bandages with our stuff." Mathias told her. "Come on, it's only a couple of hours before daybreak. You did a good job."
'Like some pet let off its leash,' she thought bitterly.
From her prone position, she glanced at the rotted corpse of the first demon that had manifested. She bored the colors of the Red Order, one of the two items that remained in recognizable condition. She reached for the head, prying the transformed mask from the skull. This woman was a member of the Crimson Knights, the elite Hunters of the Red Order.
She placed the skull in her lap, carefully stroking its hair from her eye sockets. She was with child when she was turned into a husk. She fed to keep her child alive. Her child fed until it was strong enough to birth. What a demon it would have been.
The mask would have born the resemblance of demon face as depicted in the medieval era. It used to be made of metal and plated in gold for show. Now it was the face of a demon, and it's metallic surface transformed into bone. Still it had only been one face of two that this husk had shown to the world. Some part of her held onto her humanity, perhaps the part of her that nurtured and fed her unborn child.
"Do what you need to do," Astral told Mathias, tossing the woman's skull to join the two separate parts of her body. "That woman needs to be purified, cremated then buried."
It was going to be a long night.
One of the problems I'm having with Astral and Mathias is that I can't seem to find a balance to their relationship. So I defer to your collective experiences and advice.
- Have you ever coached/taught/mentored a gifted student? What were their strengths and weaknesses? Were you able to get them to adjusted their weak points? Or did you adjust to them? (Totally a loaded question here)
- What are the traits that people praise you for? What about that trait appeals to them?
- In contrast to the previous question, what traits do people criticize you for? Do you know why they dislike this trait in you?
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.