Chapter 286 Deimos, the Dark Eye 2
Aldrich deactivated the [Hallowed Ground]. The longer he used it, the higher its cooldown would be in between usages. As of now, the base cooldown was already high at 10 seconds. Using it for a duration over 10 seconds would extend that cooldown all the way up to 1 minute.
The soul cloud collapsed, the skeletal faces on Aldrich's cloud sucking the souls in.
"It's you, hm?" Deimos looked up at Aldrich. His slender, pale arm was stretched outwards, his blackened fingers pointed towards Chrysa as if he had just finished throwing something.
Faint sparks of red danced around the elf's dark fingers. The telltale sign of demonic energy recently being used.
"So you recognize me as well." Aldrich looked Deimos up and down. The elven warlock looked the same. Short, as far as elves went, just barely hitting around 180 centimeters. His eyes were tinted red and underlined with large dark bags of sleepless nights. A mop of messy, spiky white hair sat on his head, and it was hard to tell whether they were white because of natural color or because of ash.
His features were pale and gaunt, his cheeks sunken in like he was just a few days away from flat out starving to death. "You look just as bad as you did before."
"I'm used to it." Deimos drew his hand back. His ash and char stained robes concealed most of his body, and probably not by design. The robes looked more like an oversized sack; something a homeless person might fish out of the dumpster to use as a blanket.
Deimos's right eye turned solid white - the same blank shade as that which belonged on the secret demons' mask eye holes. When his solid gaze landed on Aldrich, he felt a heavy weight descend all around him, a kind of heavy liquid weight that must have been like what swimming at the bottom of the ocean must have felt like.
A smoky black aura started to wrap all around Aldrich's body.
[Afflicted by the Curse of Anhil]
Aldrich instantly felt his stats depleting rapidly. They could continue to deplete until they were half of what they normally were. A severe nerf.
"Father-!" Chrysa patted Aldrich's head in concern. He raised his hand, telling her it was alright.
Aldrich then fired a [Death Bolt] from his hands.
Deimos did not react. Instead, a masked serpent slithered into sudden view from behind him. The bright red mouth line on the mask split apart and opened impossibly wide, the serpent's jaw unhinging to reveal a pitch black void-like mouth.
Wind currents blew in towards the mouth in a high pitched whine, and vacuum force drew the [Death Bolt] right into the darkness. The green bolt broke apart into countless little shards, and then those shards faded into nothingness as they drew further and further into the dark.
"Same moveset, too," commented Aldrich.
The serpent on Deimos's shoulder closed its mouth, restoring its red lipped tribal mask face. The serpent was black with a mane of red and orange feathers around its neck, granting it a mesoamerican flair.
That was a small aspect of Nilah, the archdemon that granted Deimos near immunity to projectiles by absorbing them and, after some time, replicating them.
"But this doesn't explain how you managed to get here so quickly," said Aldrich.
"I don't know either. You trying to close the Flame Arc triggered something. I was warped close." Deimos shrugged.
"I see." Aldrich could guess what had happened. By starting the process of closing the Flame Arc, Aldrich had triggered Deimos's boss fight. However, since Deimos was out of his boss arena, the 'game' automatically warped him back in.
"Why are you even here again?" said Deimos. "To kill me again? Go ahead. Free me from this prison. But please, I'm begging you - don't bring me back. Make it end forever."
Aldrich paused. Was this a sort of trick? "I'll gladly take you up on that offer. That is, if it's being made in good faith."
"It is. I don't want to be here. Here-," Deimos waved his bony hands all around himself. "Where I wanted to die in the first place. Reliving this again and again - I don't want it. I don't want it at all."
"I understand." Aldrich started to float down.
In the lore, Deimos had nothing going for him. He was born short for an elf with a sickly body that could not jump from tree to tree nor defend himself from the wilds, and elven society very much was attuned with the wild.
And with the wild came wild laws. Laws where the weak were culled from the herd.
Deimos was cast away to die as a boy when it was clear he would not stay weak. Yet, though his body was weak, his magic was potent, and it surfaced strongly upon his exile.
In particular, he had a special trait to connect to beings from other realms. It did not take long before he forged a pact with a demon, and he used that power for nothing more than to simply live in a hut by himself, content with peace and solitude.
For years, Deimos spent his time in quietude, but that broke apart when a young elven girl washed up near the stream he lived by. She was near death, suffering from a head wound, and he nursed her to health.
When she came to, she had no memories.
Deimos decided to raise the girl as his little sister, as the family he had never had. Years passed until it came to be that the girl was a Kindlemaiden, a young priestess destined to be sacrificed to the holy flame to keep it burning.
Deimos was left to die while his only family was taken and burned alive. It was then that he forged a much stronger, much more self destructive pact with the twin demons Anhil and Nilah. That saved him from death and granted him power.
Power that came at the cost of much of his sanity.
But Deimos did not need sanity. He was here to commit suicide, to kill as many elves as possible before he himself died. But the more his sanity faded, the more the demons he had bound himself to took over, and that was why he now tried to open a Flame Arc to bring the demons in.
"What are you saying, Deimos?" said the serpent. Her voice had a faint rattle to it as it came out in smooth, gentle waves. "The elves here are still very real, and they are responsible for burning your dear little sister. We cannot stop until all of them are gone.
No matter how many times you come back, the pain is all real, is it not? Does that not mean we have to answer in kind? To make the others suffer again and again?
Is that not what Etwa would have wanted?"
"No, she would have wanted me to rest." Deimos rubbed his eyes, tired.
"Not true. Come, listen, see, hear, feel her pain as the flames melted her skin, then her flesh, then her bone." The white eye spots on Nilah's mask flashed.
Deimos put his hands on his face as he doubled over. "You're rightâ€¦all that pain - someone needs to answer for itâ€¦"
"And the rules of this realm dictate that you must fight. You may as well fight in the name of Etwa, no? So fight, Deimos, fight."
Aldrich started to cast [Boneripper], wondering if he could abuse Deimos's emotional instability and sneak in a one shot kill.
"Can we help him?" said Chrysa. "The bad people are talking to him, but maybe we can convince him to not fight us."
Aldrich stopped casting [Boneripper]. It was worth a shot. If only because he had little hopes that his one shot kill strategy would work. As long as Nilah was around, she could force Aldrich back.
"No," Aldrich called out. He landed on the burned treetop arena, a dozen meters away from Deimos's struggling figure. "You don't have to fight. You can break the rules here. You can rise above your programming. You don't have to listen to the demon.
Make your own choice, Deimos."
"Myâ€¦my own choice?" Deimos paused his breathing. His voice cracked, confused.
"Yes, your own choice. You've fought and suffered long enough. You can rest now. But it has to be your choice."
"Restâ€¦restâ€¦that does sound niceâ€¦" Deimos closed his eyes.
"Rest? And let your sister's pain and suffering be in vain? Do you think she will forgive you if you rest while she died in agony?" Nilah chastised Deimos.
"Right - I-I have to avenge her." Deimos's eyes snapped open again. He balled his fists. He stared at Aldrich with renewed hatred. Hatred that sharpened the jagged edges of vengeance.
"That isn't true," said Aldrich. Looking at Deimos, he saw the same stare he once carried, years ago, back when his vengeance was hot, when it consumed everything about him. "You know that Etwa is gone, and she's been long gone. You knew she was a good girl who would have wanted nothing but the best for you.
Tell me, Deimos, is this the best for you? Is all this -," Aldrich motioned to the raining ash all around them. "What she would have wanted?"
"Noâ€¦she would have hated this. She would have hated me." Deimos struggled, his fingers clawing into his hair, into his head.
"Yes, she would have hated you. Hated you for letting her suffer," said Nilah.
"I don't want her to hate me."
"Then fight. Avenge her."
"No. Rest." Aldrich countered. "Rest, Deimos. Let go. She doesn't hate you, and you know that. You know she would never blame you for what happened."
"She was niceâ€¦she wouldn't have blamed me," Deimos said shakily.
"That's right." Aldrich walked closer to Deimos, close enough that he could reach out and touch him, but far enough that if Nilah lashed out, he could dodge. "She would have wanted you to stop this. She wouldn't have wanted you under a demon's control. She would have wanted you free.
Free to let go."
"Freeâ€¦" Deimos nodded weakly. He turned to Nilah. "I want to beâ€¦free. I don't want you anymore."
"Hm. I did not expect this." Nilah's head snaked back. She jerked her head to Aldrich, facing him with an unnatural snap of a motion. "But too late, player."
Nilah opened her jaw, and Aldrich stepped back, wary of an attack.
Instead, Nilah bit down on Deimos's head. She swallowed him whole like a python, and the shape of Deimos's body visibly bulged against her scaly skin.
"No! No!" Deimos shouted, his cries muffled.
Aldrich reacted, thrusting a lightforged halberd point right at Nilah's masked face.
A burst of dark energy erupted from Nilah, knocking Aldrich several meters back and enshrouding the serpent demon in a cloud of black smog.
Aldrich skidded to a halt on one knee. He leered as he got a visual of Nilah.
The smog cleared up. Nilah stepped forward. She had completely fused with Deimos's body and taken it over.
"That was an interesting discussion," said Nilah. "You almost took my beloved pact holder away. But I have been with him too long. I am one with him now."