Chapter 282 Insight
The ground shivered, quaking as if in sheer anticipation of the blood it would soon drink. Then, stakes of bone ruptured forth, rising up from upturned piles of dirt from all around Aldrich. The sound of flesh splitting apart, rending against hardened bone, echoed through the air in a symphony of impalation.
Aldrich briefly glanced around, seeing what must have been at least a hundred elves held up high, their eyes still listless as blood poured from their bodies, trickling and painting the ashen white bone stakes in patterns of crimson.
The [Call of the Impaler] had worked incredibly, showcasing just how good it was at area of effect damage. Each stake must have had three, four, even fix or six elves skewered on them - that was how tightly packed the elves had been trying to reach Aldrich, trampling over each other in a stampede of mindless, zombie-like drive.
"By all the gods! That is what the mortals of this realm say, no? You truly do terrify me!" said Barbos. His voice still echoed, still permeated in such a way that it was impossible to pinpoint him. "You massacred so many elves. Young or old, man or woman, it did not matter at all! You scare me, player, you truly do!"
Aldrich used the space he had cleared to sprint forward, halberd in hand. He cast [Negative Surge] on himself, his legs and arms reinforcing with bonus power, and swerved through the crowd of elves, slashing his halberd in wide horizontal sweeps like a lawnmower. He made sure to target necks, decapitating elves to kill them instantly.
So long as Aldrich kept himself moving, he could clear through the elves without them getting the chance to dogpile him.
Through a veritable rain of severed heads, Aldrich kept going and going, his entire body drenched in blood red, only his eyes shining visibly green through the crimson bath. Eyes of complete focus.
"How horrifying!" said Barbos. Then, as Aldrich cleaved through three more elves, the demon's voice lost its sarcastic fear. "And that little one of yours, she is no fragile flower either. I cannot read her at all with my demonic insight, but she seems quite supportive of all this mass murder."
Aldrich kept his mind in tune with Chrysa, ever vigilant of her mental state. He did not want to do this, to showcase how brutally efficient he could be when it came down to it, but Barbos had forced Aldrich's hand.
The longer Barbos stalled here, the more the Flame Arc would open, and the stronger the possessed elves and every demon would get.
Aldrich had no time to check every single elf individually, and all of them were enemies. If he killed enough of them fast enough, he would smoke Barbos out sooner or later.
'Are you okay, Chrysa?' said Aldrich as he decapitated several more elves. Blood spurted from their headless neck stumps, drenching not just Aldrich, but Chrysa as well. However, the blood did not actually get on her.
Instead, it clung just above her skin. Chrysa had erected a personal spatial barrier. Her eyes, though, were open, taking in the carnage without much issue. She had the same concerned but detached look when she saw the butcher suffering; she cared about the elves' suffering, but not nearly to the same degree an ordinary human girl would.
Chrysa had not shut off entirely like she had at the surprise attack. She was holding on. And well, too.
'I'm okay, father,' said Chrysa. 'Because I believe in you. You're smart and strong and so determined - I trust what you do, even if it means hurting people that aren't bad."
Aldrich nodded. 'The faster I stop Barbos, the fewer elves die. This is the best way.'
When Aldrich saw how well Chrysa could accept this, he wondered, was it because of her variant instincts? Or, maybe, deep down, even in the pure and warm part of Aldrich's soul, he had always been willing to make sacrifices.
Either way, Aldrich confirmed that Chrysa would not hold him back.
"Maybe our hearts truly are similar," said Barbos. "You and I both do not mind breaking our little game pieces. I thought perhaps you were soft in a squishy, mortal way, but you surprise me, player, you surprise me well.
You are truly broken, are you not? To be a flesh and blood mortal and do all this without the faintest change in expression?"
Aldrich did not respond to Barbos. Secret demons like him were talkative and manipulative, always wanting to goad others into a reaction, to reveal things about themselves.
It was also why he was not too inclined of trying to keep Barbos around.
Aldrich could halfway purify Barbos's demonheart and then convert him into a summon, but secret demons told nothing but lies, and unlike loyal undead, demonic summons were extremely difficult to control, known notoriously for trying to overpower or control their summoners.
"There you are." Aldrich spied Barbos in the distance, past a small crowd of elves. He was in the body of a small boy, a faint red mark on the child's forehead showing possession.
Before Barbos could try and move to a different body, Aldrich drew his halberd back, and with olympic technique, threw it like a javelin.
Empowered by his superhuman base stats and buffed by [Negative Surge], the golden halberd punched through six elves' bodies before landing right on the possessed child's heart, instantly killing him.
The child tumbled back at the impact and coughed up blood. Not just blood. A cloud of wispy, purple darkness escaped from his mouth. The darkness congealed above in a ball that expanded by the moment, shaping back into Barbos's original shape.
Now was the time for Aldrich to act. A demon was weakest after being forced out of a body, their heart exposed to the world. Aldrich began to create another lightforged halberd, ready to strike Barbos down with holy energy.
"You got me! But now I have finished channeling my Mora." Barbos's voice was triumphant.
The light gathering in Aldrich's hand broke apart like glass, shards of solidified gold dissolving into nothingness. He looked at his [Solar Seal] ring. It was covered in what looked like a layer of static.
[Solar Seal disabled]
"You know me well, do you not? You should have known I would seal your items. I thought at first to take away that fine cloak of yours, but you are not relying on that, no, that ring was the issue. Now, without your sole source of holy energy, how will you ever defeat me?"
Aldrich held up his hand towards Chrysa.
Chrysa understood what Aldrich wanted. She closed her eyes and hovered her pale little palm over the ring. Spatial ripples covered the static layer before it disappeared, sucked into nothingness. She had warped it away.
[Solar Seal enabled]
This was why Aldrich said Chrysa would be important here.
Barbos's Mora, like many other secret demons, sealed something, and in his case, it was items. However, he did so by physically creating a layer of sealing energy that stuck to the item.
In theory, it made Barbos much more dangerous as the sealing layer clung to the disabled item and followed it even to the player's inventory. But in practice, that meant Chrysa could just warp the physical layer away.
Barbos lost here because he did not know what Chrysa could do as a non-Elden World native.
"...I did not foresee that. That little girl of yours, my, she is showing me that your home realm is one of remarkable power too. If only I could reach into it and feast upon the many new souls within. Regrettable," said Barbos.
Aldrich pointed his ring at Barbos and fired a beam of solar energy. A golden, red tinted line connected with Barbos's still forming body, burning it apart. Sunlight met darkness, and as expected, drove it away, scattering the dark until Barbos's demonheart, a purple orb with glassy surface like a marble, lay bare.
The beam bore into the demonheart, cracking it, the breaks in the surface filling with light.
"I suppose this will be our last meeting. It was a good time, this one, better than all the others. It is a shame I could not escape this prison realm. Best of luck to you, my old friend, in escaping your own prison."
Aldrich stopped the beam and walked over to Barbos's floating heart.
"What? Did I say something that interested you?"
"I've thought about it," said Aldrich. "I was going to purify your core and use it to upgrade my items or spells. But there's no harm in keeping you around in this half-purified state. Unless someone offers you their body, you'll never incarnate and be a threat again.
I know I can't make you tell truths, but maybe I'll find a way. Maybe I already know someone who knows a way. Can't hurt to try."
"Hahahah, are you suggesting torturing a demon? Surely you must understand how futile that is? We do not your mortal conception of pain or suffering. There is nothing that can force me to bend to your will."
"No such thing as absolutes. Now then-" Aldrich grasped the cracked demonheart and willed it into his inventory. In this state, Barbos was classified as an item; that was how weak he was.
Barbos disappeared, but not without an amused laugh.
In the pecking order of magical beings in Elden World, demons and gods were at the top. Then nature spirits. Then dragons. Then beings like the Elder One that Fler'Gan once served that were not gods but functionally were the masters of an entire race.
There was no necromancy that could bend a demon to Aldrich's will. But maybe the Death Lord or her followers, especially Medula, a demon herself, had an alternative.
Barbos's Insight, the trait that let him read Aldrich's 'game files' and identify him as a player could come in handy.
Secret demons had the highest level of Insight among demons, far surpassing even knowledge demons like Medula.
And that last thing he said, about Aldrich being in a prison of his own, that was a topic Aldrich had invested interest in.
Aldrich still did not know the origins of his system. But perhaps he could use Barbos's Insight to find out. Or maybe - most likely - Barbos was lying.
The point was to find out.