Chapter 15.5: Dead Rising

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The grip on her scythe tightened as she slashed at patches of husks who threatened to bar her path. Eyes focus on the massive construct taking its first successful tentative steps up the wall, she cut through another cluster of husks who fell to the ground writhing in pain but failing to disintegrate. Seth could handle those later. The remainder of the demonic army climbed onto the back of their appointed leader, inhuman hands clawing at chunks of muscle as they ascended the beast.

"Remember Clearwater," Astral said to herself. Sacrificing herself was always part of the job. She would fight until the day she fell. It was the inevitable part of the Hunter's Curse and the lesson she hadn't the heart to make explicit Seth. Becoming a Hunter is certain death. Becoming a Hunter meant that he will die at the hands of a demon, the question was when. Teaching him how to kill a demon personally defeated his claim for survival. There was no survival, only more battles.

She activated the intricate sigils laced around her boots, leaped to the wall and began her mad gravity defying dash up its height as new constructs snapped at her heels. She considered launching a barrage of spectral blades cut down their numbers, but she needed to preserve her strength. She needed everything she had left to take out the real threat. She doubted there were enough husks to create a second significant threat. Until the arena gates opened, the evolved husks would remain trapped. Sooner or later someone would open those doors.

Dawn was approaching. In an hour, the husks will retreat from the walls or die at the hands of the light. There was nowhere to hide. The overgrown forests would offer little protection from the noon hour, assuming that the storm lifted and the overcast made way for clear blue skies.

She leapt onto constructs' long body, drove her scythe into its hard flesh and pulled her weapon behind her as she continued her climb. To achieve the evolved constructs ascended state, the demon spawn had to rewire muscle and nerves to assume complete control over its creation. Unlike the husks, who were vehicles to the spawn, the constructs that resulted from merging husk parts required a level fine creation that the religious would attribute to a God.

It recoiled and shuddered against her scythe as her toxins bled into its masterpiece. Having struck the bulk of its body, removing limbs was impractical. Chunks of rotting flesh melted from its wound dropping to the climbing husks. The spread of her disease marred the wet glistening muscles with black tendrils that travelled beneath the surface of its skin. The black lines regressed, pulled from its flesh as its body expelled the poison. The wound reknitted itself shut no sooner than she had made her cut.

She needed to weaken the construct first. She needed to force it to regenerate, to heal by spending the energy it had collected from the numerous husks that had sacrifice themselves to have their leader ascend. She opted for new strategy. She leapt at the constructs legs activating the intricate sigils in the sleeves of her jacket and drove her scythe through the limb, severing it from its body. She landed on the lower leg, slashed at its body and leapt to its hard flesh as it recoiled. She zig-zagged across its body to sever new limbs, scythe driving into its flesh behind her.

It slid down the wall, losing its grip. A temporary solution. Her cuts weren't healing any slower and she was getting tired. She reached the top of the construct and activated the sigil at the toes of her boots, leapt into the air and saw why it hadn't created a face. The constructs' mouth remained opened sucking in air with the hundreds of lungs it had collected. Rows of reused and modified human meat tearing teeth were prominently displayed.

Its body bloomed open as she fell from the sky. She broke her scythe into two weapons, pulling them close to her, then kicked in the air triggering a new series of sigils along her boots to activate. The constructs mouth closed around her.

For a dizzying moment, caught between the evolved husks' teeth and stomach, the idea of letting the beast consume her tempted her. Why not? The demon would succumb through the effort trying to take her soul. It had been one of the elements that led to her victory in Clearwater. But didn't that demon kill her? She had been remade through the will of her core. She wasn't invincible but death was familiar and painful; almost as painful as her rebirth.

The idea didn't feel like her own. Was her core going to remake her again? Make her more compliant to its will? She slashed at the demon's insides. She was not going to lose. If she was going to die she was going to stay dead. She was not a pawn of the gods. She was destroyer of gods, a former title she had held with great pride.

She slashed again and was rewarded with a deep guttural groan as the demons body shuddered against her. Bones and teeth cut into her as it cringed with pain. Droplets of blood dripped into its stomach processing her poison and circulating it to the rest of its massive frame. It was only a matter of time before it fell. She slashed again this time touching its fresh wound with her fingers gauging its recovery, counting the seconds before the wound closed around her fingertips.

She had to be the worst example for Seth to follow. 'Do as I say, not as I do,' she chuckled to herself as she slashed at the demons insides again. Who knows, given Seth's unusual talents, he might surpass her lexicon of supernatural abilities. She might kill the demon with her blood and soul, but he would purify it. She would consume the souls she had poisoned, while he freed them. She felt twinge of envy. What kind of monster had she become?

The evolved husks' body recoiled as the tendrils for tongues shaped themselves beneath her. Sharp hooks plunged into her legs threatening to tear them from her body unless she made herself small enough to allow it to drag her down against the wall of jagged teeth. She slashed and cut the beast as she descended to it stomach. The acids would do her in, but it wasn't like she could climb out. She cut the demon's tongues away part of the way down, forcing it to re-create new tendrils to finish the job. She felt faint as she bled into the beast.

In a brief moment devoid of thought and pain, she glanced through the constant opening of the demon's mouth to the changing color of the sky. Not too much longer. She could hold out.

She could hold out...

'Next lesson,' her core spoke as though standing next to her. Astral groaned rolling her eyes as she slashed at a new series of reform tongues.

"I'm working here," Astral growled at the unseen figure.

'I can see that,' there was a humor in the core's voice that grated on Astral's fatigued nerves. 'The reshaping of oneself is necessary for Ascension. Humans and demons share the trait.'

"Piss off," Astral snarled, driving her heels into the beasts narrowing throat. She assumed it was a throat.

'A weak foundation is often overcompensated and reinforced.'

"That doesn't make any sense. Go spoke gibberish at somebody else."

'If you could reshape yourself what weakness would you hide?'

"I don't have the time for this," Astral snarled, "I'm busy!" New tendrils had stopped forming, the deep cuts to the beast were present minutes later after the initial wound. The demons' sulfuric sent was replaced with the smell of fresh wet earth. Not much longer. She glanced the dark clouds above noting the telltale signs of a new dawn. Not much longer at all.

Light broke through the construct's heavy frame as layers of its body melted away from the inside and out. As the demon fell over it let out an agonized tired cry before vanishing as though it had never existed at all. Astral pulled herself to her feet, testing the wet frozen earth beneath her as she struck demon essence from her skirt and coat.

Seth caught her before she fell while taking her first and last step. She shut her eyes, uttering the words: "Tell them nothing."

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Surprise extra update this week! I'm on a roll for the time being, and while I'm ploughing through my chapters, you get to benefit from it!

Hit that vote button if you like this part! Leave your thoughts in the comment section below. Did this chapter demonstrate the limits of Astral's strength enough for you? Or do I need to bring her OP-ness down a few more notches?

How do you feel about Seth and his growing power?

Would you trust me if I told you that both characters being OP was necessary for the fights ahead?

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