Chapter 2.3: Memorial

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"Something wrong?" Mathias inquired, noting the teen's expression as she gathered the healthier looking flowers.

She shook her head in response, digging her hands into the moist soil, the candle lantern flickering behind her.

She stopped in her work, listening to the world around her. Mathias was preparing the next section between Torii eighteen and nineteen's outer perimeter. He breathed out as he used his foot to force the shovel into the earth, breaking it apart. Breathed in as he lifted the soil from the ground to discard it in the pile of dirt he had been building.

She listened to the silence around her. None of the normal night time sounds greeted her. It was late, sure, but she was certain that all of the nocturnal animals didn't suddenly decide to call it an early night. The lamps swayed behind her creaking and clanging as they struck one another. The forest did not sing. Not a branch swayed, not a leaf tumbled from the sky. There was no breeze to allow for such movement.

She watched the forest fog twist and swirl with the vigor of a sloth. It felt like the density of the fog rose with the humidity. The fog cast a deep red haze over the trees a few feet from her; the forest beyond was near impossible to make out.

She reached for a plant from her tray, noting their withered state. There was no saving them. She glanced at the flower beds that she and Mathias had repaired earlier that evening. One by one, the souls of each of the plants flickered out, leaving behind a withered husk of dried leaves. She frowned.

Something was draining the life from the area. Her failed gardening skills wasn't the first sign either, but it was the easiest excuse to explain away the not so unusual phenomena. If she were to propose the issue to Mathias, she'd have to present a series of valid reasons to have him investigate the issue. Up until her father's passing, her hunches had always been enough to go on.

Rationalizing the hunt frustrated her. She understood that resources were limited, so much so that Mathias was the only official Hunter for the Clearwater region, and there were strict laws against unlicensed hunters.

The rapid death of the healthy plants suggested something out there was gathering energy for something big. The lack of life in the area suggested that the animals had fled or have fallen victim to a predator. The increased number of dark spirits at the center of the memorial, granted trapped, was not a good sign either.

She reached for the ground closer to the fog, pulling dried grass and crumbling moss. The earth was dry and powdery. She tasted the earth. It had an ashy flavor. She sniffed at the air, forcing her nose to detect the scent of water. Fog after all was made of water; it should have been an easy feat. It smelled metallic with a mix of rancid fruit.

She was sure that a demon was present. She wasn't sure which demon it was. She was sure that Mathias wouldn't be able to deal with it until it manifest, which meant if she could figure out where it was before it did so, they could interrupt the demon's plan. At a distance, she might be able to see exactly which areas were affected and most importantly where the demon was going to break through the veil.

"May I go home?" Astral asked.

Mathias stopped digging, one foot resting on his shovel. The request caught him by surprise.

She looked at the trees again, watching as the flow of energy fail to climb the network of branches.

"Something is feeding here," she told him.

Mathias nodded, indicating that he had known for a while now. "Tell me you know where the source is," Astral sighed.

He shrugged. "Look at me as support, Miss Daamon."

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