Following the goddess’s instructions, I reached the Temple of Lyia a few hours after following the river. It actually took a lot longer than that, because shortly after Lyia left, I ended up finding a place to sleep while Bonehead watched over me. I couldn’t help it – after spending a whole day trekking through the forest, I was exhausted.
Even an undead needed to rest.
Taking a deep breath, I continued onward, with Bonehead in tow. From my vantage point, I could barely make out the temple in the distance. The sun peeked out from behind the temple’s silhouette, its rays slightly stretching out to bath the forest. Dawn had just barely broken, but once again, it made no difference to my eyes other than the brighter colors.
As I neared, I saw that the temple had remained a bit on the dilapidated side, with cracked pillars, crumbling marble that spelled a complete lack of maintenance. The courtyard was overflowing with weeds, and even the dusty, white walls were covered in moss and vines.
The temple evidently hadn’t been occupied in years. Now I know why Lyia was confident that the human army wouldn’t ransack or bother with the place. There was nothing worth their attention. Nothing to plunder and no one to conquer.
It was almost…dead.
So where’s the Guardian that Lyia was talking about?
I didn’t see any sign of the Guardian that Lyia was talking about. No human, no gigantic statue, nothing. There was no one or nothing guarding the temple.
I rubbed my temples as I made my way to the temple. This had to be a trap. It had to be. There was no way Lyia would lie to me. And it was even less likely that she would have made a mistake. She was the goddess of knowledge, for god’s sake.
Well, there’s no point wasting time and hanging around here. I’ll only find out if I enter.
Hell, maybe the Guardian had broken down. That would be great. That would have solved all my problems.
Except that the future-seeing, knowledgeable Lyia wouldn’t have uttered that cryptic warning about him if he had.
I cautiously treaded across the grass, soil giving way to ancient concrete that had been paved around the temple like some kind of dirty, white pool. Plants grew from the cracks between the concrete slabs, their green leaves sprouting skywards. I barely spared them a glance, but I subconsciously took care not to trample on them.
The entrance to the temple was a gigantic door, framed by an archway and two, rotting statues. They once stood proudly, rearing up high with open books in their hands, but their heads were gone, as were their hands. It seemed almost a mockery of whatever cult followed Lyia, once-revered sculptures that symbolized knowledge, now reduced to headless ruins that held broken books with their remaining hand.
I felt a premonition. Perhaps these were the Guardians. But neither of them seemed…uh, sound in mind to protect the place.
That said, I approached them warily, half-expecting one of them to come to life and jump at me. I knew that this world of magic often concealed dangers beneath harmless surfaces. There was more than what meets the eye, and it was best if I adhered to that principle if I wanted to stay alive for just a bit longer.
My shoe crunched on the pavement as I climbed the wide steps that led to the open entrance. Taking a deep breath, I made my way to the huge door and reached out to open it.
I jumped back instinctively when I sensed that something was not right. That probably saved my life, for the next second, the door flew open and a gust of wind blew out. I shielded myself in reflex with my staff and left hand, but something lanced out from within.
I barely managed to block the verdant blast of energy that surged from within the temple, but the sheer force of the attack knocked me off my feet and sent me hurtling across the clearing. Flipping my body in midair, I crashed back down to the ground, landing on my feet and knees while supporting myself with my staff.
I exhaled and slowly rose to my feet, my hands trembling from the immense impact. There was no mistake. The Guardian had risen from his slumber.
An armored demon strode out of the temple, his horns and eyes flaring. I gaped at him, surprised to see that he looked like an oriental demon for some reason…an Asura from Buddhist folktales and legends, complete with ancient Chinese armor and swords. His demonic face resembled a mask from a Japanese Noh play, with wild red hair streaming uncontrollably from his scalp. A curved sword stretched from his hand as he whipped it, creating a gigantic gust of wind.
“Who dares intrude upon my goddess’s temple?”
“Hang on, hang on! I’m a fellow follower, all right? We’re comrades! I’m also a follower of the goddess Lyia!”
“Lies!” the demon roared and swung his sword. Another green flash of light arced toward me and slammed against the staff I raised to protect myself. I winced from the impact before being sent skidding back.
Jeez, this guy just wouldn’t listen! Oh, right…Lyia did mention something about this. That the guy had gone insane or something.
“You just want to hoard all the knowledge for yourself, don’t you?”
I blinked, and then recalled what Lyia told me. The guy had snapped after attempting to devour too much knowledge. I guess his mind couldn’t handle all that power. As powerful as knowledge was, too much of it could be deadly.
“…I guess you’re not going to listen anyway.”
I shook my head and steadied myself, raising my staff into an offensive stance.
The demon pointed his sword at me, and I gulped when I saw the curved, sharp blade gleam in the light of dawn. It dawned on me that I might be a little overmatched here. Yeah, I probably had defeated two heroes, but this guy seemed like a boss monster. The type that would require a party of heroes to defeat, not a solo player.
I was way over my head.
“Leave, and I’ll spare your life. If you insist on violating the scared temple with your ignorant presence, then I’ll cut you down.”
“Wait, isn’t the point of entering the temple to learn and absolve myself of that ignorance in the first place?” I blurted out, but the demon plainly ignored me. I studied him and activated my Absolute Appraisal to confirm his strength.
|Special Abilities||Demonic Swordsmanship, Natural Regeneration, Forbidden Garden|
Wow, the guy had three special abilities. That was amazing. I had a lot too, but considering I had plundered most of them through my Devour special ability, it wasn’t as impressive. I tapped on Natural Regeneration and almost stumbled back in shock when I read the chilling details.
What the hell? Doesn’t this mean he’s practically immortal!?
Yeah, there was no way I could defeat him right now. I knew he had a much higher supply of magical energy that I did. I would lose in a battle of attrition.
Bonehead didn’t seem to agree. Without even waiting for my mental command, the skeletal beast lunged at the awaiting Asura. I didn’t know how he was making those growling sounds without vocal chords. Magic, I guess.
With one swing of his sword, Asura obliterated Bonehead, reducing him into bony splinters that rained on the steps.
Bonehead was huge, several times the size of Asura. Yet with a single slash, the demon had completely destroyed the gigantic skeletal beast.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
I calculated my options. Even if I unleashed Doombolt or other spells, I was sure that Asura would just regenerate like I did. And I didn’t have enough magical energy to surpass his regenerative powers, at least not alone.
This is why people fight in parties and not solo…
I sighed and retreated. Asura watched me mockingly, but didn’t follow. Good. It sucked that I had to abandon a potential place of refuge, but at least I would be alive to sleep in the open. Forcing my way through would only mean death.
What was the point of being a hero when you needed to rely on each other and form parties to gang up on a single monster? That didn’t sound remotely heroic.
Shaking my head, I was about to turn away, only for my surroundings to be suddenly drowned out by horses.
I instinctively stepped aside as a large army of cavalry stampeded into the clearing from the forest. Gleaming, armored knights with white heraldry pulled their horses into a halt, skidding as they stared at me and the demon.
“Demon!” the lead knight hissed, and then he turned to me. Without my armor, he probably thought I was a civilian, for his next words were softened. “Fear not, young man. We’ve arrived to purge Restia of demons.”
One of his men raised his sword and pointed it at Asura.
“Demon! Slay the demon! Clear Restia of the demonic taint!”
The knights roared as one. I raised my hand to stop them, not knowing what to make of this.
No one listened. They were all charging at Asura, their swords drawn and raised. Dust and sand billowed as the horses’ hooves stomped against the soil.
“Hmph. Small fries.”
Yeah. To a boss monster like Asura, these knights were little more than cannon fodder. They didn’t possess the strength of heroes. They were “normal” humans…they were going to get destroyed by the powerful Guardian.
“This will be more than enough to deal with the likes of you.”
Raising his sword and pointing his blade to the air, Asura unleashed a storm of emerald lightning. Where the lightning struck, tree-like creatures burst free from the soil, clawing their way free. Within a minute, there was an entire army of treeants scrambling from the ground, swinging their thick branches and toppling whinnying horses. Great bushes of leaves covered their heads, and ghostly holes gaped in the bark of their trunks, a chilling mockery of faces.
“There’s so many of them!”
I reacted by parrying a branch with my staff as the nearest treeant bore down on me. Beside me, men cried and yelled as they fought back desperately, hacking away at the growing number of treeants. Like silent sentinels, they formed a wooden wall of defense between the temple and the knights while the remaining Treeants hurled themselves at the armored cavalry.
“Stand firm! Cut them down!”
Even as I fought, I saw the knights fighting in various formations. They might not be heroes, but they had clear, distinct fighting styles. There was one knight who was spinning around and kicking a bunch of Treeants, destroying them with his heavy, metallic boots, instead of a sword. Further down to his right, his comrade was a hulking giant who swung a massive mace that splintered a group of Treeants with raw power. And then there were knights who specialized in magic – one guy stood near the back and launched a series of fireballs that incinerated an entire line of Treeants.
I couldn’t help but get caught up in the intensity of the battles, fighting ferociously as I swung my staff to keep the Treeants at bay. Unlike the knights, I wasn’t faring very well, most probably because I was focusing on defense more than attack. I hadn’t casted any spells or summoned any zombies yet. I was deliberately holding back because I had caught a glimpse of an opportunity. Earlier, I was thinking that I needed a party to fight a boss monster like Asura, and as luck would have it, an army of knights had arrived to aid me.
The knights probably wouldn’t bother to occupy the temple, which meant they would leave after purging the area of demons. I could use this to my advantage and hole up in the temple for a while, learning whatever I needed.
As the battle raged on, the knight commander got impatient. Riding his horse to the center of the chaotic melee, he raised his sword and pointed it high up into the air.
“We’re wasting too much time on these low-level monsters!”
“Don’t be unreasonable, sir!”
“Yeah, these monsters aren’t going to lie down and die if we ask them to!”
Several of his subordinates snapped back, but the commander merely scowled at them from under his helm.
“We can’t waste too much time on cannon fodder. We still have that main guy to deal with.”
“Then how do you suppose we fight?” the knight closest to him demanded as he cleaved a Treeant in half with his broadsword. The commander smiled.
“Simple. I’ll use that. I’ll leave the rest to you.”
“Eh? Boss!? Are you really going to…?”
I had no idea what they were talking about, but I didn’t have a good feeling about this. The commander let out a yell as he chanted his incantation.
A colossal beam of golden light blasted out from his blade and struck the heavens. The clouds began to swirl and broil. A deafening crack split apart the skies and countless tendrils of lightning descended, striking the battlefield and hitting the Treeants with pinpoint accuracy. The low-level monsters went into spasms as they were incinerated into cinders and ash by the holy lightning, leaving no trace of their existence behind.
My jaw dropped when I witnessed the terrifying spectacle. I didn’t know non-hero characters possessed such amazing strength.
With just a single attack, he was able to destroy all the low-level Treeants!? What the hell, if the normal humans are this powerful, then why would they need the heroes?
“You’re the best!”
The men crowed triumphantly, cheering as their commander sheathed his sword. The grand knight smirked as he brought his horse around to face the real monster.
“The little Treeants have all been eliminated. It’s just you now, demon.”
I swallowed as I watched Asura descend the steps deliberately. For a moment, I didn’t feel anything.
Then I understood. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel anything. It was that his presence was so overwhelming, so abysmal, that I found my senses swallowed up by an infinite darkness. The fear was so overpowering that I couldn’t help but shudder.
This guy…he’s extremely strong!
It seemed the knights had felt it too. Horses neighed and bucked, throwing their riders off them and fleeing the forest. The knights themselves were either frozen in fear or were instinctively retreating from the monster before them.
Alone in the maelstrom of horror, the commander stood firm, raising his golden sword like a beacon and rallying his men around him. Asura snorted.
“Fall before me.”
A ripple of emerald energy burst from him. Plants, foliage, trees began growing rapidly around us, turning the concrete clearing into a jungle. Vines, tendrils and shrubs snaked out and spread, dividing the armored ranks of knights and separating them from each other.
“W…what the hell is this?” one of the knights screamed.
“Forbidden Garden,” I whispered. Having seen the special ability on Asura’s profile with Absolute Appraisal, I could make a fairly accurate guess. Hell, even the Treeants from earlier were part of his Forbidden Garden. It seemed that one could wield his or her special ability with a great amount of flexibility and imagination.
Resting his katana on his shoulder, Asura stopped at the bottom of the stairs and faced the knights, his expression hidden behind that metallic, demonic mask.
“All those who seek knowledge…will perish before me.”
The hulking knight with the massive mace bashed through the unnatural foliage, tearing vines and shrubs apart, and lunged at the Guardian from behind.
“The one who will perish are you demons!”
His huge mace never reached Asura. Verdant lightning sprayed from under him and a massive, plant-like monster lurched upward.
A gigantic Venus flytrap, or something similar. Its creepy, fanged head snaked toward the sailing knight, who was unable to adjust his trajectory in midair. With a fearful yell, he swung his mace to clobber the Venus flytrap-like monster, but the plant creature merely opened its immense jaws and swallowed him and his weapon whole.
The whole regiment of knights watched, paralyzed, as their comrade was chewed into pieces, one of his hands falling out of the plant monster’s jaws. The gigantic flytrap continued to chew for a few more seconds, then spat out his metallic weapon.
The Guardian of the Temple mused to himself, his voice brittle with rage as he stood still, his sword still resting on his shoulder.
“How ignorant of you to challenge me without knowing the difference between our strengths.”
His mask gleamed, even as the flytrap withdrew and plunged back into the growing garden, disappearing under the thick foliage.
“The penalty for ignorance is…death.”