Corruption

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Chapter 15

“What took you both so long?” Ace asked as we entered the treasury.

“Forgive me, I was having a private conversation with Stella,” Nocturne replied. Everyone in the room eyed us curiously, as if in expectation of something. But by my next words, everyone turned away.

“Oh, Zelgius, what did Ren want to talk with you about?” I asked.

Zelgius shrugged. “Nothing too important. He was quite curious about the shadow magic. It seems all you humans are misinformed about it. But it’s good for me to see that there are humans who are willing to accept the truth.”

“Well, it’s not like we actually get along with the undead naturally. You’re just the weird exception.”

He chuckled.”As I have said-- it’s much more beneficial for me if there are less undead around.”

“Are we all prepared to leave?” Olber asked.

We all nodded and made our way to the teleportation circle.

Suddenly, Noctis ran to my side and began using his muzzle to nudge at my leg. “No, Noctis, you say here. I can’t let you risk your life against the lich.” Noctis whined softly as he stepped away from the spell circle.

“Alright, Ren, let’s go.”

Ren nodded, and began focusing his magic. Dark particles began forming around us, like snow drifting down from the sky. In an instant, we all vanished from the treasury.

Through his teleportation circle, Ren brought us to a mountain top. The air was cold and there was even snow on the mountain. It was the first time I had actually seen snow as the Kingdom of Animus usually had warmer weather and snowfall was uncommon.

“The air seems strange,” Aeris noted. I looked around and saw that everyone was having some sort of difficulty with breathing, as if their breathing was heavier than normal.

Is it the high altitude that makes it difficult for us to breathe? But I can feel small hints of shadow magic. I’ll have to purify the air. I immediately released a wave of light magic from my body, however nothing changed. The air remained dense. If I can’t purify the area, then I’ll have to absorb the shadow magic.

However, just as I was about to do so, Nocturne immediately grabbed me at my shoulder and shook his head.

“There is something masking the shadow magic,” Ren spoke. “But it’s strange. It feels like there’s a veil of light magic.”

Suddenly, everyone turned to me. “I didn’t do anything,” I spoke nervously. “I was with Nocturne the entire time!”

“Stella, try to reabsorb the light magic. It might be covering up the shadow magic.”

I nodded and closed my eyes. I imagined the light magic as water in the air and began drawing it towards me. Light magic which floated around in the air was now being sucked into the core of my body. However, as I continued to absorb the veil of light. I could feel the density of the air increase. Soon enough, I had absorbed the light veil in its entirety and the air was now heavy with shadow magic.

Everyone still stood on their feet, but I could tell by the expressions on their faces that they were exerting themselves. The air surrounding us was entirely saturated by shadow magic.

Suddenly, Aeris and Zeno collapsed down on their knees. Their breathing rates were increased but shallow. A few moments later, even Nocturne had to use his blade as a cane to steady himself from collapsing on to the ground.

"Stella, the shadow magic is too much for them!" Zelgius alerted me.

A loud roar made us all look to the sky. We could hear the sounds of wings flapping echo in the air. That's the roar of the undead dragon. I...I have to get rid of the shadow magic or we'll be goners for sure! Without hesitation, I began focusing on the light magic that I had just absorbed into my body. With a single burst, I released all of my light magic.

It was as if a cloud of darkness was blown away by the wind. As the shadows were swept away, I noticed the undead dragon lord flying directly above us, preparing a large fire ball in its mouth.

"Stella, below you!" Ren shouted!

Below my feet, the ground was glowing with an unknown symbol. It was a spell circle glowing from beneath the snow. But I didn't know what it meant.

"Get out of there, Stella!" Zelgius yelled at me.

I tried to escape the magical circle but I was unable to move my feet. And without any warning, a thick shroud of shadow magic erupted from the spell circle, ensnaring me and blocking out all vision I had of my companions. I couldn't move from my spot. I felt waves upon waves of shadow magic start to seep into my body from the pores of my skin. No! Why is this happening?! Where did all this shadow magic come from? I can’t stop it from being absorbed into me!

"Stella!" I heard Nocturne cry. The roar of the dragon quickly filled the sky once more, signaling its attack.

I began feeling dizzy. The influx of shadow magic was high and endless. I couldn’t stop the shadow magic from entering my body. I could feel the power’s magnitude increase higher and higher. I was filled to the brim with shadow magic. I felt my strength surge as my heart raced. Stop! I don’t want this! “STOP!” I cried, expelling the shadow magic from my body. The shadow magic burst from my body like an explosion, colliding with everything in its path. I felt the ground beneath me rumble as my magic was released.

Finally, the shadow dissipated and released me from its darkness. The entire area was shrouded in a foggy dust. The sky was dark and grey. My mind felt blank. I had released such a large amount of shadow and light magic that I was surprised that I was still capable of standing on my feet. It was so silent now. Where did all this dust come from? What happened to everyone?

“Ahahahaha! Pathetic, all of you.”

That voice... “Lulu!” I called out into the dust.

“How are you, little Demon King? I hope you’re satisfied with what you’ve done.”

“What?” What happened?!

The cloud of dust was blown away by the winds and the entire horror was now in full view. Everyone was injured and lying motionless. Puddles of blood were splattered around, dying the pure, white snow a deep shade of red..

“H-how did this happen?”

“Ahahahahaha!” Lulu laughed hysterically. “You’ve been overrun by your powers. Everywhere you go, chaos will follow. The shadows will never be tamed! Not by a useless, little girl. Not by anyone!”

Slowly, I looked around. Surrounding my feet were five bodies lying on the snow-covered mountain. My eyes opened wide. “Olber, Aeris, Zeno, Ren, Ace-- everyone…” I looked down at my trembling hands. “I-it can’t be...W-what did I just do? I...I killed them...I killed them...” I muttered. No...it’s just like the nightmare I had. It came true...!

“S-Stella...it’s not your fault,” Nocturne tried to speak. His body was bruised and battered. He tried to stand but a large amount of blood spurt from his mouth. Zelgius was immediately at his side, supporting his body.

“No...it’s my fault... It’s all my fault. I killed them all!” I immediately began cradling my head in my hands and shutting my eyes tightly. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I could feel the air become heavy around me.

“Yes, Stella, it’s all your fault! You killed your most precious companions,” Lulu taunted

“Don’t listen to her,” Zelgius advised. “You didn’t do anything!”

But I couldn’t help but blame myself even more. I hurt them. I released the shadow magic and hurt them! I could feel the shadow magic swirling around me once more. “It’s my fault. It’s my fault... They’re dead…” The shadow magic spiraled around me at a quicker pace, surrounding me in a thick swirl of darkness.

“Ahaha, yes, yes, let the shadows consume you. Become the Demon King which you should be!”

I could feel my head become heavy as the shadow magic began consuming my mind. The magic raged around me, uncontrolled. For the first time ever, the shadow magic felt cold and sinister to me. It resembled how my heart felt. I had killed my precious companions. I don’t deserve to keep going on with my life. I might as well let my soul be consumed by the Demon King's power.

"Stella, don't give into the magic!” Nocturne pleaded. I felt his arms wrap around me. They held me tightly but gently. I could feel the warmth of his body seep into my own.

My mind calmed slightly and the shadow magic around me suddenly vanished. My hands still cradled my head but now my eyes were open. All I saw around me were the snow-covered, grey rocks of the mountain and Nocturne who was holding me from behind. I did not dare look at the faces of the ones I had just murdered. “Nocturne, it’s all my fault. I killed them..I killed everyone.”

“Stella, look at them.”

I quickly shook my head in refusal. I can’t...I began hearing the sounds of groaning and rustling movement. My eyes automatically jotted over to the sounds. I saw everyone moving. I watched as they all began stumbling to their feet. “...You’re alive…” I mumbled.

“Ugh, don’t kill us off, stupid brat,” Ace muttered.

“Hah, I wasn’t expecting such a terrifying attack by that dragon,” Zeno spoke.

“You didn’t do anything, Stella. That spell circle was a type of counter magic. It forced you to absorb double the amount of shadow magic you had just purified,” Zelgius explained.

I watched as everyone was now standing and preparing themselves for the battle against our undead opponents.

“Stella, steel yourself. We must defeat the lich,” Olber instructed.

“We will defeat the lich,” Aeris proclaimed.

A wave of relief rushed through my entire body. I’m so happy everyone is alive. I’m so relieved that I didn’t kill them.

“Grr, damn you,” Lulu cursed. “All I tried to do was help you fill the proper role of the Demon King, you pathetic girl. Now you’ve lost the opportunity to gain limitless power!”

“I won’t throw away my own humanity or anything precious to me for the sake of power,” I shouted at the lich.

“Tch, that’s unfortunate that I couldn’t have a Demon King puppet at my side. But this is how things’ll be, I suppose. It’s a shame, but I’ll be ending all of your miserable existences now!” Without delay, Lulu summoned rows upon rows of undead creatures. “Destroy them all!” she commanded.

“Stella,” Nocturne whispered behind me. “Do you remember what you said you would do if I got injured?”

My eyes lit up. I smiled and nodded at him. I promptly began focusing my magic. I have to heal six people at once. If I want to fully heal and provide them enhancements, I’ll need to use all my magic. Light magic quickly emerged from my body. I created a giant sphere of light magic which surround all my companions. Within the body of light, I could see all the wounds everyone had begin to heal, as if it was never there at the start. Their vitality was restored and they were now at full health. In addition, their speed, agility and strength were now immensely increased. I had even imbued all their weapons with my light magic. After the light faded, my body wavered. I was surprised at the amount of light magic I was able to use before feeling weak.

“Zelgius, protect Stella,” Nocturne spoke.

Zelgius nodded and was immediately at my side, steadying my body.

“Alright, time to kick some undead ass!” Ace grinned as he dashed forward, slicing through all the undead that came close to his sword.

Olber swiftly followed suit and began combating with the undead. His swordsmanship was quick and precise. It almost looked as if he was dancing with his blade as one undead after another began falling. His body spun elegantly as corpses were diced to pieces around him.

Zeno drew his bow and latched his arrows. He began shooting down the undead which were further away. His light-imbued arrows plunged directly into the chest of the undead, causing their entire bodies to burn away.

Ren and Aeris stayed further away from the army and began casting spells to slow, weaken and bind the undead.

“Olber, behind you!” Nocturne cried. He swiftly dashed to Olber’s side and hacked away at three undead that were about to strike. They both nodded at each other and began fighting as one. Their movements together were fluid. I guess Nocturne and Olber have been practicing their swordplay after Olber beat him when he took me to the Kingdom of Potestatem.

I watched as everyone battled against the undead. This is the first time I’ve seen everyone cooperating together. I immediately drew my sword and stood tall. “I’m going to fight with everyone.”

Zelgius looked at me. “Are you sure you’re able to fight?”

“It wouldn’t be right if everyone’s fighting yet I’m here resting. I want to fight together with everyone.”

Zelgius nodded at me with a smile. “Then I will also fight by your side.” He summoned a large, black spear with his shadow magic and gripped it in his hand.

Without delay, we charged into battle. I focused more on attacking with my blade instead of using my orb of light magic to subdue the undead. Once I reached Nocturne out in the battlefield, there was a look of surprise on his face. But soon after, his expression changed to a grin and we were now both eliminating the undead, one by one. And not too long after, the entire undead army was reduced to ashes on the snow.

We all turned to face the undead dragon lord next. It roared menacingly at us. The undead man riding on the bone dragon raised his sword in the sky and the dragon immediately charged down at us.

“Watch out!” Ace alerted.

We all jumped out of the way as the bone dragon swiped down against the ground. The dragon’s rider jumped off and stood before us. The black flames in his eyes were blaring as he brandished his weapon. He raised his bone-sword into the air and began spinning it with quick speed. The bone dragon flew behind him and began preparing another large fireball in its mouth. The fireball was immediately released, but the fire was not directed towards us. Its attack landed within the swirling of the dragon lord’s blade. The ball of fire suddenly began shifting its shape, becoming a large fire-tornado. As the attack was completed, the undead released its flaming attack. A large, flaming tornado was now headed directly towards us.

“Ha, trying to attack with fire is a serious mistake!” Zeno notched another arrow. I could sense his magical aura begin to surround his weapon. His arrow glowed with bright, blue particles. Even the air became chilled as he casted his magic. As he released the arrow, the particles shined brighter. The arrow shot out like a whirlpool shape of particles. Zeno’s attack collided with the fire-tornado, causing large amounts of steam to rise into the air. It was difficult to see through the steam. I was only able to make out the figures nearest to me.

Suddenly I heard the sounds of footsteps running through the snow. Then, there was a cry of agony which echoed in the air. Soon, the steam from the clashing magics began to fade and my vision was restored.

Nocturne and Olber were now by the dragon lord. Their swords skewered the undead. His flesh and bone armor was beginning to burn away at the locations he had been attacked. “How dare you?”

“It can talk?” I asked in astonishment.

“Foolish humans,” the dragon lord spoke. “You shall all perish at the command of my master.” He dropped his sword and immediately reached his arms out to both Nocturne and Olber. He held the two by their necks as he hoisted them off the ground, forcing them to release their holds on their blades. The dragon lord easily tossed the two men aside, leaving them to drop on the ground. He began pulling the blades from his body and tossed them aside.

“He’s strong,” Olber muttered as he stood from the ground.

“Heh, well that’s a high-class undead for you. So how’re we going to stop it now if our light-imbued weapons aren’t enough?” Nocturne began brushing the snow off his shoulders.

“Let us give a hand with that,” Aeris spoke as Ren nodded at her side.

“We’ll slow and weaken him. You both must grab your swords and strike,” Ren explained.

Olber and Nocturne nodded in agreement.

Aeris forced a rapid growth of tree roots to suddenly sprout from the cracks of the mountain. The roots wound themselves around the dragon lord’s feet and the bone dragon’s wings.

Ren began focusing his magic and summoned a large spell circle around the dragon lord and the bone dragon. A black-colored aura weaved out from the spell circle and began encroaching itself around the two undead creatures. They struggled and moved but realized that their movements had become dull and limited. “Now!” Ren signaled.

Without waiting for the two to grab their weapons, I immediately dashed forward. Now’s my chance to finish them. I can’t buff Nocturne and Olber with anymore light magic but I can still enhance myself since the element will gather around me more easily. “This is the end for you!” I cried as jumped into the air, ready to plunge my blade into the dragon lord’s heart-- or where his heart would be. However, despite my rush, my blade was not able to make contact with my target. My body began floating mid air. “W-what the hell?” I flailed my arms but remained suspended in the air.

“I won’t let you harm my servants,” Lulu spoke. I had now noticed that she was holding a wooden staff with a large, blue orb at the top. She directed her staff at me as she forced my body to levitate. “It’s too bad, Demon King, you could’ve become such a valuable ally as we ruled the world.”

“Tch, I told you, I would rid myself of you. And I plan to keep my word.”

Suddenly, Lulu emitted a large wave of shadow magic from her body, covering the entire area in a dark smoke.

I immediately felt my head throb. Such a thick aura of shadow magic.

“Nocturne!” I heard Aeris cry.

I looked behind me and saw Nocturne collapse to the ground. Around his body were threads of shadow magic. It weaved around every limb. The threads were connected to Lulu's staff.

“Arise, my little puppet. Play with your companions until death,” Lulu giggled.

Suddenly, Nocturne’s body rose from the ground. His feet dragged as he made his way over to his blade. He picked up his blade and turned to face Olber. His eyes were wide open in shock. “My body is..moving on its own?!”

Is this like the time when the incubus controlled me? But Nocturne is fully aware and conscious this time.

“Now, now, Nocturne, show me how well you play with the nobles.” Lulu swung her staff, which pulled the threads of shadow magic connected to Nocturne’s body.

Nocturne held his sword and directed it towards Olber. He swiftly charged forward and lashed his blade. Olber, unarmed, had no choice but to dodge away from Nocturne’s weapon.

“Nocturne, control yourself!” Olber yelled.

“I-I can’t! My body won’t listen to me!” Nocturne cried as he continued slashing his blade. His body lunged forward, slashing Olber at his side.

“Olber!” Ace yelled.

“Ahahahaha! You humans are so pathetic! Dance in the palm of my hand.”

Oh no, what do I do? I don’t to hurt Nocturne.

“Stella!” Zelgius called out to me. “The orb on Lulu’s staff-- that’s where her soul is being kept!”

“What?” I quickly turned to Lulu and eyed the ball on her staff. She immediately grimaced. If I destroy that, then I can kill her and save Nocturne from her control. Suddenly, my body moved in the air. “Ah?!” I gasped as I began dropping. I fell hard on to the snow, in between Nocturne and Olber. I heard the sounds of Nocturne’s blade clink towards me. I turned my head and looked at Nocturne. His face was filled with terror as his weapon was aimed at me.

“No, Stella. Run away!” He took a step towards me. I could see his body trembling as he tried to resist Lulu’s control. But in an instant, he jumped towards me.

I stood my ground and brandished my weapon. Nocturne’s blade clashed against mine. I could feel the vibrations of my blade through my hands. My body was shaking. I’ve never felt the full force of Nocturne’s attacks before.

Suddenly, I felt swift brushes of wind pass by my head. Nocturne howled in pain in front of me. His body slammed against the mountainside. An arrow was buried into both his upper arms, pinning him to the wall.

I turned and saw Zeno with his bow aimed at Nocturne. “Don’t worry, Nocturne, I’ll make sure you don’t hurt your lover girl,” he grinned.

Lover girl?

Nocturne groaned in pain. “Thanks...I think. Now hurry up and kill that lich before my body breaks free.”

We all turned to Lulu, who was still floating in the sky. Her face was twisted in anger. Her servants were still bound by Ren and Aeris’ spells. And her control over Nocturne was now temporarily disabled.

“Stella,” Olber whispered to me. “I can get you to her, but you must strike with all the powers you can muster. If this fails, we may not hold out with another round with an undead army.”

I nodded, “I’m ready when you are.”

Olber began gathering his magic. I sensed light-grey particles appear around him, then move to me. My body soon began floating.

“Go!” Olber commanded and I was immediately hurled into the air towards Lulu. The lich flinched in surprise as she saw me quickly approach her in the sky.

My body crashed into hers. But I made sure to take hold of my target--her staff. My fingers gripped the end of her staff relentlessly.

“No! Get away from me!” she shrieked, trying to shake me off.

“Go back to the underworld which you came and stay there!” I yelled as I began releasing large amounts of light magic through the palms of my hands. Lulu’s staff began cracking which bright lights lighting up the center of the staff. The blue orb glowed brightly as more and more cracks began appearing. And without delay, the blue orb burst, shattering into thousands of small shards.

“NOOOO!!!” Lulu screeched. Her tiny body was now beginning to crack, as if she was a clay doll. White light emerged through the cracks on her body. Her high pitched voice shrieked endlessly until her entire body shattered into fragments which subsequently turned to dust from my purifying magic.

My body was gently returned to the ground by Olber’s wind magic. The air was no longer heavy with shadow magic. The two bound undead creatures that were restrained by Aeris and Ren were now piles of ashes on the snow. As their master had returned to the land of the undead, so too have her minions.

“It’s over,” I sighed in relief.

“Now that the lich is dead, can you release me now?” Nocturne asked with a blank stare. “I’m worried that I won’t be able to use my arms in the future....”

“Ah, sorry, sorry,” Zeno apologized. “We’ll get you down right away.”


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