The Celestial Blooms

Discussion in 'Original Stories' started by O.R. Mark, Jul 8, 2017.

  1. O.R. Mark

    O.R. Mark New Member

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    Humanity has ruled for billions of years, suppressing the other races and exploiting them for their own benefit. Only through unrivalled might can the chains of oppression be broken and usher in a new epoch.

    Born a child of the forest, Cian struggles to find his way in a hostile world, filled with those who look down on him and his origins. A mighty destiny lies within his body, although to Cian, it may as well be the most diabolical of curses.

    The masses bend to his will while the gods tremble. The universe will come to fear his name. The Celestial Blooms.

    My release schedule will be a little hectic for a while, but the story is projected to hit Chapter 20 by September 1.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2017
  2. O.R. Mark

    O.R. Mark New Member

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    A large group of men and women trudged through the dense forest, snapping fallen branches and crushing many of the small lives that crawled about on the forest floor.

    What they lacked in elegance and discretion they more than made up for with their equipment. Most of them were fully dressed in a gray armour that kept most of their bodies hidden from sight. Some younger men and women wore strange outfits of cloth and bright colours, but they were hidden amid the sea of gray.

    High above at the peak of an old pine tree peered a small boy, no older than five. He looked very much like the group he was observing, possessing fair skin, although his deep green hair and eyes were quite distinctive. His bright, piercing eyes stared intently at the people below.

    They’d been wandering around aimlessly for days now. They’re like sheep, mused the boy. Although the sheep that he knew had never gotten lost before. Especially not in the simple part of the forest like this.

    The boy had come across the party the day before. He’d never seen anything like them, outside of his own reflection. There were many unique, odd beings in this forest and he’d just thought that he was one of them. Apparently not.

    So, the boy had followed them and watched as they walked in circles, following the same paths repeatedly. They’d grown increasingly frustrated and even tried to backtrack a few times, only to lose their way even more.

    Just as the boy was about to climb down and go meet them, he heard a coarse whisper from the tree beneath him, “Your father wants you to return, Cian. You’ve been wandering around for too long.”

    Cian rolled his eyes at the old tree. “C’mon uncle! I want to go say hi to those things. They look funny.” Stomping his little foot and pouting.

    A weary sigh escaped from the tree. “Those ‘things’ are humans and they’re quite dangerous. This bunch is slow and weak, but your father has still forbidden you from interacting with them. Please, just go home.” The tree begged.

    Cian glared stubbornly at the unmoving bark and remained silent.

    “Cian…” The tree swayed slightly as its branches stealthily began to creep towards Cian. The tree knew of Cian’s history of rebelliousness and didn’t want to let him get away.

    Cian’s eyes gleamed as he stared at the tree and just before the first of the branches managed to tangle themselves around him he stepped backwards, plummeting downwards.

    Cian yelled at the tree as he fell towards the ground, smirking, “All of you uncles are so predictable. Ha ha ha ha!”

    This wasn’t some minor height that Cian fell from and he quickly picked up speed, everything around him starting to blur. Numerous branches from the surrounding trees reached out and tried to halt his fall, but Cian deftly angled his body away from them, continuing his descent.

    About ten meters from the ground Cian extended his arms downward, causing a green radiance to bloom outwards. The light slowed his descent and allowed him to casually land on the ground.

    The light was Cian’s aura. It allowed him to perform all sorts of miraculous feats. Manipulating air to slow his fall was simple.

    Surrounded by the towering trees, his uncles, Cian stuck his tongue out and scampered away. He headed towards the telltale sounds of the party of humans. Every movement of theirs was like a thunderclap to his highly attuned senses, allowing Cian to quickly find them once again.

    Signs of intense frustration were apparent in the group. One of the heavily armoured men leading the way raised a sword the size of his body and slashed at one of the young trees in his path.

    None of the humans had any reaction to this, having already grown accustomed to the random acts of violence of some of their party members. Cian, on the other hand, stared at the felled sapling, tears welling up in his eyes as the tree’s small aura dissipated.

    The human killed one of his brothers!

    Cian was no stranger to death. All life in the forest, his family, eventually came to an end, which then ushered in the growth of new life. It was a cycle he was comfortable with. It was natural.

    The violent strike of the human was something he’d never seen before and it scared him. It also made him angry. The callous disregard the humans had for his fallen brother made him seethe with emotions he’d never experienced.

    Senseless! Heartless! Evil!

    Cian’s green eyes started to glow, as did the air surrounding him, his emotions causing his aura to grow out of his control.

    The forest within fifty meters of Cian rumbled. The trees shuddered and grew animated. The numerous animals became agitated and ran about.

    All of this was noticed by the humans, who immediately assembled into a formation with the armoured men surrounding the soft and colourful people in a circle.

    Cian’s breathing was ragged and his small frame trembled. His aura continued to build up, sending visible undulations in the air scattering about.

    One of the colourfully dressed women, more of a girl, started and her eyes widened. She shouted, “Magic! Someone is using powerful magic!” All the unarmoured people straightened at this, spreading out, while the armoured men dispersed and hid in the underbrush.

    Auras emerged from all the remaining men and women, growing in intensity until each of them rivaled Cian. They appeared in a kaleidoscope of colours, none being the same, and rushed over the surrounding area.

    “The strength is much lower than ours, merely at the beginning of the formation stage, but this aura is so violent!” The same woman said. “We need to join our power to combat it!”

    They all drew closer to one another and held hands, forming a circle. Their auras intermingled and formed a singular whole, growing to ten times the size of all the auras individually.

    Cian watched all this, unable to move, as his aura rampaged around him. As their aura grew, so did his. The forest was calling to him, feeding his aura and his rage. The trees had auras of their own. They were drawn toward Cian in the same way the men and women were combining their auras.

    The humans had yet to spot him, but Cian’s location was no mystery any longer. The radiant green aura rivalled the rainbow of colours from the humans, causing their faces to pale.

    At this point, some of the armoured men started to collapse, blood leaking from their eyes and ears. They were unable to bear the power being displayed and their souls shuddered, being forcibly expelled from their bodies.

    One of the other brightly dressed men was unable to withstand the pressure and collapsed to his knees. The woman, quite obviously the leader of the bunch, started muttering while she closed her eyes.

    She stepped into the center of the circle, breaking contact with the others, and causing all the gathered aura to shoot towards her. She deftly manipulated it and formed it into a solid mass of flames, which struggled wildly in her grip.

    The fire struggled to grow larger, but was constantly suppressed by the woman. Condensing in on itself multiple times caused the mass to become too bright to look at. This power rivalled the sun in the sky!

    The woman had a fierce expression in her eyes as she looked at the wild green aura. “When I release the spell, everybody needs to use their life-saving talismans and flee from this place quickly! The danger is much greater than we anticipated. Meet up at the pass!”

    She let out a roar of pain as she unleashed the flames towards Cian, bathing the forest in a mass of fire. Numerous trees were felled as the flames rushed forwards. Animals roared in pain as death cascaded down around them. The forest burned.

    Cian was at the point where he could barely see or hear anything. To him, there was only an endless field of green. He experienced pain beyond anything he’d ever felt before, causing his consciousness to fade.

    The green was slowly replaced by a ferocious orange-red as the flames drew closer, but Cian was still numb and oblivious. His aura retracted into his body, being replaced by a burning heat. Clarity returned for a split second and he felt an intense fear before he faded into unconsciousness.

    ..........

    The brittle clanking of chains accompanied Cian as he returned to the waking world. He tried to move around but found that he was being restrained by cold and unforgiving metal. Manacles bound his hands and a collar choked him when he breathed.

    He felt groggy, all his senses somewhat askew. He hurt in ways that he’d never imagined possible. Every muscle screamed in agony while his mind faded in and out, overwhelmed. He was being carried by a pair of cold, hard arms.

    Cian blinked, his eyes opening slowly and reluctantly.

    He was surrounded by humans. They were the colourfully dressed humans, looking somewhat weary and disgruntled. Cian’s heart chilled. He’d thought that they were like him at first glance. After witnessing one of his brother’s die beneath their blades, that notion quickly vanished.

    Even worse, he wasn’t in the forest anymore. Cian had never left the forest in the entirety of his five years of life. Tears spilled down his face as he looked around at the unfamiliar environment.

    Cian saw tall, piercing mountains towering on the horizon. They replaced the sun, leaving both him and the humans stranded in a wasteland of desolate shadows. There was very little life surrounding them.

    Cian’s world was usually so vibrant and lively, filled with the plants and animals, his brothers and sisters. His uncles would stretch towards the heavens, providing him shelter and safety.

    What made Cian truly panic, however, was his inability to sense his father. He’d always been able to feel his father’s presence. A little spot of awareness was usually present right behind his heart, nourishing his soul. That awareness was gone now. Cian had never been so utterly alone.

    He reached out with his aura, trying to sense anything he could use to escape from these monsters who had taken him from his home. Used to his aura being fully under his control, Cian was stunned when only a sputtering, weak green light shot out from his bound hands. Something intrinsic to his aura was missing. He was powerless.

    “Hey! The kid’s awake.” A strong, deep voice came from the man carrying him. The arms surrounding Cian released their grip and unceremoniously dropped him to the ground. He was met with the sharp pain of rocks digging into his tender flesh.

    “Are you sure this mongrel is the one who nearly wiped us, Miranda?” A different, nasally voice asked. Some of the words they were using were unfamiliar to Cian and their accents were different from what he was used to, but he understood their meaning well enough.

    Cian angrily kicked behind him and was met with a grunt of surprise. The same voice, mixed with a bit of pain snarled, “You little bastard! You’ll pay for that!” Cian felt a rough hand grab his neck and lift him into the air.

    He came face to face with the owner of the nasally voice. He was a young man, dressed in a tattered, yellow robe. The man’s angry eyes bored into Cian as he brought his fist back, his own golden aura pooling around it.

    The man’s fist rocketed forward, displacing the air as it shot towards Cian. Right before it smashed into his unprotected face, another hand, rimmed with a surging red aura, entered Cian’s sight and deftly caught the golden fist.

    “Enough, Cassius! I want him alive. It was obviously his aura in the forest. Even the lowliest cultivator could feel that they are the same.” Cian looked over at the owner of the red aura, discovering the same young woman that he remembered taking charge back at the forest.

    She was tall and willowy, with a fierceness to her bearing that contrasted with her youth. Her robe was unblemished, a stark difference when compared to the other humans, all of whom were in some state of disarray.

    “Although, he’s even weaker than the outer disciples now.” The young woman frowned, brushing away the offending fist. How could the boy unleash power on that level with an almost non-existent foundation like this? She pondered, gazing at the angry, crying child.

    He certainly was a strange one. His aura energy didn’t even feel human. It was almost… demonic. Melinda shuddered. Demonic energy could be cultivated but people would slowly lose their humanity in the process, turning into little more than beasts.

    Demons were born from nature. Any unthinking life form could become a demon through various methods, unlocking their potential and gaining sentience. It would then begin to cultivate in bizarre ways, foreign to human cultivators.

    The energy was supposed to be incompatible with the human mind, causing radical changes in features and anatomy. This boy was human in every aspect. Her perception must be mistaken.

    She walked up to the child, who was now sitting on the ground, still in his restraints. In retrospect, they should have bound his legs too, considering the power he displayed in the forest. Who knew what he was capable of?

    She stood above Cian, looking down at him. “I’m Miranda, of the Flameheart family. We are disciples of the Ruby Mountain.” Miranda announced with great dignity. “Now, tell me. Who are you?” She demanded roughly.

    Cian glared up at her. He remained silent, not because he was being stubborn, but because he truly had nothing to say. He understood little of what Miranda had just said and what he did understand meant nothing to him. The only thing he could remember when he looked at these humans was the image of the young sapling losing its aura and falling to the forest floor.

    Miranda’s eyes narrowed as she observed the child in front of her. Taking his silence as a challenge she bent down and came within inches of him.

    “Don’t test me. You may be young, but I can feel the power that killed so many of my men emanating from you. If you think for one second I won’t obliterate you on the spot, then I dare you to continue trying my patience.” Aura emanated from Miranda’s eyes as she spoke, pressuring Cian and forcing him deeper into the ground.

    Cian’s tears stopped as that feeling from back in the forest welled up once again. The rage and hate. His aura fed on the rage and attempted to emerge. However, just like when he tried to purposefully use his power before, it remained weak.

    Miranda sensed Cian’s power struggling and laughed mockingly. “Such a pitiful struggle. Give in and be obedient. Don’t blame me for being ruthless!” Her aura condensed into a sharp point and surged into Cian’s body.

    The energy twirled around within him, searching and testing, while at the same time inflicting soul-rending pain.

    A burning sensation spread outwards from the center of his chest, threatening to overwhelm him. Cian felt like his insides were melting. He fought against the feeling as best he could, but ultimately began to wail.

    His screams echoed around the surrounding landscape, but nobody came to his aid. His only company were the humans' twisted smiles.

    Ten minutes later, Cian collapsed face down on the ground, panting and dripping with sweat. He thought the torture was over until another shard of red aura condensed in the air before him. He sensed it approaching and shuddered.

    “Please! Please… Stop. I’ll tell you anything, just stop hurting me…” Cian begged.

    Miranda stopped her attack. “Good. You finally know your place. Now talk.”

    Cian opened his mouth to speak, ready to say anything to stave off any more pain. Before he could, a manic gleam appeared in Miranda’s eye and she shot her aura into Cian once again.

    “After this, of course.” She cackled. “You need to learn not to make me wait.”

    For another half hour, Cian underwent torture that made some of the surrounding people wince in sympathy. Their penchant for inflicting pain on others wasn’t anywhere near the level of enjoyment Miranda derived from her sadistic ways.

    Cian lost consciousness half-way through the ordeal, only to be brutally woken by an even more intense pain. Eventually, he stopped screaming and his yells were replaced by near inaudible whimpers.

    Miranda withdrew her aura from Cian’s body, leaving him trembling. She bent down and smiled softly. “That was just the beginning, child, if you don’t tell me why you caused me so much trouble.” She whispered.

    Cian’s mouth opened and closed, trying to form words, but his body wouldn’t listen to his commands. The torture was over, leaving no trace on his body and no lingering pain, but the memory of it crippled his mind.

    Miranda frowned. “I didn’t think such low-level energy would be able to break you to this extent.” She stood up and walked away, casually ordering the others. “Bring him back with us to Master. There are too many oddities about his body I can’t see through.”

    The yellow-robed Cassius walked back over and grabbed the chain trailing off Cian’s collar. He dragged Cian behind him as the party resumed walking towards the mountains in the distance.

    Cian hung there, limply, allowing himself to be pulled along.

    They walked for half a day, never stopping, before reaching the mountains. As large as they had looked from a distance, Cian was still stunned by their enormity. They seemed to climb to the heavens, the peaks piercing the clouds and vanishing.

    Despite their state of dress, the group were all in good health and spirits upon reaching the mountains. They joked around as they walked, almost as if the events in the forest hadn’t occurred. Sometimes, they would harass Cian, but seeing him docile and unresponsive made many of them lose interest.

    Cian’s mind was finally clear, having recovered from Miranda’s earlier ministrations, but he decided to remain still. He discovered early on in their journey that the less he moved, the less his captors would care about him.

    Cian thought back to the forest, trying to remember what exactly had sparked his drastic increase in power. His aura had always been within him, from the moment he first opened his eyes and saw his father’s majesty.

    The power he’d briefly experienced reminded him slightly of his father’s own strength. He felt all the life within the forest around him. All the life, all the potential was part of him. It boosted his strength and widened his mind.

    Even now, despite his inability to muster his aura, he could feel a marked increase in his strength, now that he had recovered.

    His mind was clear, his thoughts precise, and energy coursed through his muscles. He wanted to run around and shout to the skies. He couldn’t, though. He needed to keep the humans’ attention away from him.

    Their group wandered through mountain passes and valleys for another day before stopping at the largest mountain Cian had seen yet.

    The midway point of the mountain was shrouded by clouds and mist, never mind the peak itself. Cian couldn’t imagine how high the mountain reached.

    The devilish woman, Miranda, stepped in front of the group and knelt, gracefully removing a medallion from around her neck.

    She prostrated herself before the mountain and held up the medallion, which began to glow with a ruby radiance far purer than Miranda’s own aura, yet similar.

    “By the authority of my father and his father before him, I open the way to the sacred ground, The Ruby Mountain!” She exclaimed.

    The medallion flashed for an instant and flew forward, tearing a hole in the air.

    Cian stared at the scene unfolding before him, astounded. The landscape of the mountain shattered. In its place appeared a similar looking mountain, but now it looked like a scene from another world.

    The clouds in the sky gradually vanished, unveiling a mountain made entirely of red gemstone, into which was carved a flourishing, massive city nearly the size of the mountain itself. Guards patrolled a hulking, seamless, defensive wall. Their auras were visible and undulating aggressively.

    People, mostly garbed like those from the group of humans who had captured Cian, wandered around the city. Most walked, but some could be seen striding through the very air itself, supported by their auras. Almost all the flying cultivators possessed deep red auras quite like that of Miranda.

    For the first time since Miranda tortured him, Cian forgot about his predicament, gazing in wonder at the marvels around him. He was broken out of his reverie when Miranda shot a glance in his direction.

    “Send the child to the dungeons. I’ll bring Master to see him after I pay my respects.” She commanded.

    Fear flashed through Cian’s mind as two of his captors dragged him towards a dark part of the city, in a corner just within the wall, which opened for the group as they passed.

    As arrogant as Miranda was outside of the city, Cian expected her return to this mystical place to be a large event, filled with numerous admirers and fanfare. To his surprise, as Miranda walked upwards towards the center of the city, she did so alone, and was ignored by the people around her.

    Cian was deposited in a cell made of a dark stone, void of any life energy whatsoever. The door slammed shut behind him, a solid mass of metal sending vibrations through the entire room as it quivered. There were no windows or sources of light in the cell. Cian was left in complete darkness.

    He sat himself in one corner of the room and waited. He knew his situation was bleak, but he didn’t panic. His father had once stringently warned him to never lose his composure.

    To always face the world with a calm heart and mind. Cian had branded those words deep into his soul. They were important to him. Those words were the only gift his father had ever given him, personally. All his other interactions with his father came through his uncles.

    Cian lost track of time, starting to weaken. His stomach gnawed at him, a sensation with which he was unfamiliar. He’d heard his siblings speak of hunger before, how it drove them to become stronger to ensure their survival, but he’d never felt it himself. He’d never felt the need to eat anything while he was in the forest.

    Hunger hurts. Cian thought. This wasn’t as painful as Miranda’s torture, but it brought with it a crippling sense of weakness throughout his body.

    Cian wasn’t certain how much time passed, but eventually he fell asleep, slumped to the floor.

    He dreamt of home. The joyous sounds of his brothers and sisters resounded. The rebukes and amused laughter of his uncles made him smile.

    The dream slowly morphed into something darker. His uncles stopped laughing and began to scream, fires raging all over their trunks. Their branches died and their leaves dissipated.

    Cian’s brothers and sisters stared at him as their flesh roasted. They tried to scream but nothing came out. They could only plead to Cian with their eyes.

    Cian’s home was enveloped in fire and death. He was powerless to do anything. He could only look on helplessly as all he loved was destroyed.

    The forest, the fire, and the screams faded to darkness as Cian slowly woke up to the sound of clattering metal.

    Light was pouring into the room through a slot on the door. Something was thrown through quickly before the slot was slammed shut.

    Cian felt around and found what had been put into his cell. There was a metal tray on the ground before him. On it was a paste-like substance and some blocky chunks.

    Cian stared at the tray for a second, confused, before his instincts took over. He consumed everything on the tray ravenously, even licking the juices left behind.

    The food tasted awful, but Cian slowly felt a bit of strength return to him, even if it was meagre.

    His hunger sated, he sat down once again. He felt around again to see if he missed or dropped any food. His fingers brushed across a chunk, one of many that he had just eaten so furiously. No longer compelled to sate his appetite, Cian felt the chunk carefully. He examined it for a few minutes before coming to a horrifying realization.

    This was meat. Cian had eaten meat. He had eaten an animal. He…. had eaten one of his brothers or sisters.

    Cian screamed. Tears cascaded down his face once again as that all too familiar rage blossomed within his heart once again. His aura managed to emerge fully this time, waving around him wildly without direction.

    Cian’s aura was still weak, but at least it was functional.

    Without his command, his aura rammed itself into the room around him. Expecting a large crash or scene of destruction, Cian covered his head and moved to the center of the room.

    A minute passed of his aura attacking relentlessly before Cian stood up and looked around. What he saw astounded him. His aura was being greedily absorbed by the stone around him, which took on a faint green hue and illuminated the inside of his cell.

    The last bit of strength disappeared from his aura and Cian fell to the ground, exhausted.

    He heard the creak of the door opening, accompanied by the sound of multiple sets of footsteps.

    Miranda’s voice resounded throughout the enclosed space, humbly. “Master. This is the boy I told you about.”

    Cian looked up and saw her standing behind an old man wearing a short, silken robe. It barely covered anything, but that hardly seemed to faze the man.

    The man stroked his long beard as he sized up Cian.

    “You were right to bring him back to me, my disciple. Even I can’t see through him at first glance.” A grin slowly stole its way over the man’s wizened face. He cupped Cian’s face and moved it to look him in the eye.

    “Don’t worry, my child. I’ll find out all your secrets, eventually. No matter how much… experimenting is required.” He snickered.

    Cian glared at the man, starting to panic on the inside but maintaining his outward defiance.

    Maintain composure. Seek peace. Don’t panic. Thoughts raced through Cian’s mind as he tried to figure out what to do.

    Just as the man began to galvanize his aura and reach outwards to him, Cian felt a pulse from his heart. Relief flooded through him.

    Cian could sense his father again. He could sense his father’s rage, which dwarfed what he had exhibited earlier. He could also feel his father getting closer to him.

    Cian’s mouth slowly moved into a grin as well, one to match the grin sported by the old man.

    “Good luck, mister.” Cian said. “You’ll need it.”
     
  3. O.R. Mark

    O.R. Mark New Member

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    The old man’s hand stopped a hair’s breadth away from the center of Cian’s forehead. He started to sweat and tremble as a terrifying presence swept over his body. Ordinary mortals wouldn’t be able to sense the awe-inspiring power that he could at that moment. Their souls weren’t developed enough to be aware of existences at this level.

    The old man’s cultivation had been stuck at the beginning of the soul awakening boundary for over a century now, but it still provided him with enough foundation to sense the horrifying consciousness that descended upon the ruby mountain.

    What stupefied him the most, however, was that the powerful mind he sensed resembled the child in front of him. What kind of monster had Miranda brought into their home?

    Cian’s smile grew wider when the old man in front of him started to panic. His father was here now. He could feel his presence, sending confidence surging through him.

    “What’s wrong, mister?” Taunted Cian. “Aren’t you going to start your experiments?”

    The old man gaped at Cian before quickly turning around and leaving the cell. “Stay and protect him. Give nobody access to this room. He is not to be harmed.” He ordered Miranda tersely.

    The door slammed shut, glowing deep red with the old man’s aura and sealing Cian and Miranda inside.

    Cian may have feared Miranda during their journey, but now that his father had arrived all submissive thoughts fled his mind.

    “I wonder if you’ll ever see your master again.” Cian asked while glancing slyly at Miranda.

    Miranda glared at him. “What are you talking about, brat?” She demanded. “Why wouldn’t I see him again?”

    “Oh, I don’t know.” Cian slowly rubbed his hands together. “Death is scary and wrong, but some people deserve it. I don’t know if your master deserves it, but my father will kill him soon. He’s angry.” Cian stated casually. “If you want to say goodbye then you’d better be quick.”

    Miranda smirked at him, obviously not taking his words seriously. “Oh really? Where did this arrogance come from so suddenly? My master isn’t someone the likes of you or your father can reach.”

    Miranda’s master was an expert who had mastered the energy of the world and awakened his soul. While he couldn’t be considered a peak existence, he still garnered respect thanks to his skills.

    Miranda stared hungrily at Cian, her face slightly flushed and a savage gleam in her eye. Cian’s taunts had awoken something in her. “Little beast, you should still remember the taste of my fire, no? Are you that eager to experience it again?” Red aura gathered around her palms as she advanced toward Cian.

    Despite her bravado, Miranda was still hesitant in her actions. Her master had said moments ago to not harm the boy, but she remembered the humiliation that the boy had reaped upon her. He had cost her a troop of mercenaries. They were only mortal, but her reputation was still badly damaged. It would be very difficult to hire soldiers or adventurers in the future with such a debacle behind her. Her aura gathered further. She extended her arms, flinging her aura in a singular mass.

    Cian stood there, unmoving, as his body was enveloped by Miranda’s aura.

    Miranda expected her aura to easily invade Cian’s body, but to her surprise she found that she couldn’t even sense him, much less harm him in any way. She was stunned. Dread filled her.

    There was no trace of aura energy or soul energy, which was what her master could utilize. What is this power!? She wondered, frightened. He was being protected by a higher level of energy than she could detect!

    Miranda quickly withdrew her aura and turned towards the door, sensing a disturbance.

    Thunder crashed outside of the prison, causing the entire room to start shaking. Miranda was sent flying to the floor.

    She jumped up and ran to the door. She attacked it with all her might, struggling to escape, but her master had sealed it tight. She couldn’t leave!

    While Miranda was furiously pounding away at the door, Cian shuffled over to the opposite corner, unconcerned.

    Sounds of battle, crashes, and thunderous booms resounded from outside.

    The shaking continued to build in intensity until the walls, floor, and ceiling started to crack. Rubble fell over Miranda, increasing her desire to escape. She didn’t want to be buried alive.

    The materials the cell was made of were tough enough to withstand attacks from her master, never mind her. If they were to fall on her she would undoubtedly perish.

    Miranda paused her efforts to escape, coming to a sudden realization. What level has this battle reached if these walls are being destroyed by the aftershocks!?

    The room started to fall apart as one last crash sounded from outside. Everything descended into silence. Miranda could hear her heart racing in her ears, nerves stretched and frayed as she stared intently at the door.

    All the air within the room was sucked away, heading towards the door, leaving Miranda and Cian breathless. A dark green light burst from the doorway as the door was smashed aside, taking Miranda with it. The door slammed into the far wall, crushing Miranda as she let out a brief scream.

    The door fell to the ground with a crash, leaving Miranda embedded in the wall. She was still alive, but unconscious.

    Cian blinked at the figure standing outside the now permanently opened cell, somewhat confused. He’d never seen this man before, but he felt familiar, almost as if…

    It had the basic features of a normal man, but something seemed off. There was an odd stiffness to its bearing, lending the appearance of an incredibly detailed doll. The aura emanating from its chest was a deep shade of green, like that of an ancient pine tree.

    Realization dawned on Cian and he shouted, “Father!” Cian excitedly jumped into his rescuer’s chest. He was quickly scooped up by a pair of incredibly strong arms.

    Cian’s rescuer lifted him up and inspected him using its aura. Satisfied that Cian had no physical injuries, the man effortlessly shattered Cian’s restraints and confidently walked out of the prison.

    Cian gasped when they stepped outside.

    The Ruby Mountain was in ruins. The number of buildings still standing was dwarfed by those that had been reduced to rubble or those that had simply vanished.

    Various men, identical to the one carrying him, flew around, occasionally destroying a structure or ending the pitiful cries of a struggling human. Some of the humans tried to fight back, but they were like toddlers before the mighty auras of the invaders.

    The Ruby Mountain started to shake, drawing the attention of the various combatants around the city.

    Cian’s rescuer to started floating up and away from the city, not once looking towards the mountain. They picked up speed and were soon racing back the way Cian had come through some time before.

    Looking back towards the city, Cian saw a large hand break out from within the mountain. It was met by the various invaders in the city, who rammed it with their own fleshly bodies. A brutal battle began, but before Cian could see any more, the city was lost behind the landscape of the other mountains.

    Cian examined his rescuer as they flew, noting the bark-like texture of his skin and the glassiness to his eyes.

    “Father… why do you look like this?” Cian asked, puzzled. He’d seen his father once, just after his birth, and he had not looked anything remotely like this. The only reason he knew this was his father was due to the connection they shared.

    His rescuer said nothing, continuing to look forward, disregarding Cian completely.

    Cian opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a large explosion on the horizon back in the direction of the Ruby Mountain. Flames reached towards the sky, shooting high above the mountains. Everything around them trembled, inciting many small landslides.

    Cian’s rescuer’s aura faltered, causing him to fall through the air for a few seconds. He effortlessly reignited his aura and continued onwards. Neither Cian nor his rescuer had any reaction to the fall.

    Even though Cian was young, his mind was exceedingly well developed. He gazed around at the carnage being inflicted upon the myriad mountains and valleys, stoic as the person carrying him.

    He even started to nod off after a short period of time flying, the traumatic events of the past days catching up with him. Reassured by the presence of his father, Cian’s eyes closed.

    They soon left the barren mountains behind, flying briefly over a rocky plain before smatterings of forest appeared in the distance. The moment they crossed the threshold and truly entered the forest, their home, Cian opened his eyes.

    Cian stretched his hands out and focussed. His will sharpened, followed by his familiar green aura blossoming outwards into his surroundings. He felt whole again now that he was back home.

    As they flew over the forest, Cian noticed that it had changed in the brief time he’d been away. Some parts of the forest were much smaller, or had even disappeared completely, featuring many burned swaths of land. Other parts of the forest were inflicted with trees that were encased in crystal clear ice. Looking further away, Cian noticed that there were mountains in the forest now, where previously there had been only flat groves of trees and meadows for as far as the eye could see.

    “Father, what happened?” Cian asked, bewildered. Cian’s rescuer showed no expression or reaction to Cian’s question. He only started flying slightly faster.

    They flew deeper into the forest, far past where Cian had run across the group of humans. Soon, the trees grew taller and taller, forcing them to fly kilometers above the ground. Cian lost sight of everything within the forest, his sight blocked by the ancient trees.

    The trees waved their branches towards Cian, whispering greetings.

    Dozens of kilometers in the distance, Cian saw a tree that he felt a great deal of devotion towards. It towered above even the tallest of the other trees, its branches enshrouding and protecting them. Its trunk had to be at least a dozen kilometers wide, if not more.

    This tree was the true form of Cian’s father, he who was renowned as the Demon Monarch.

    Cian was born under the shade of this ancient tree, nestled within its gargantuan roots and tended to by the myriad lifeforms within the forest. He enjoyed special treatment at his birth, but after a year of pampering her grew bored and started wandering about the rest of the immense forest.

    He explored most of the easily accessible parts of the forest, growing familiar with its inhabitants and moving about the trees like a fish in water. He’d spent most of his life in this manner.

    Now, four years after leaving, he returned to the place of his birth. His father was much as he remembered. Towering and strong. He was symbol of power to the denizens of the forest, many of whom worshipped the Demon Monarch as a god.

    Cian was set down at his father’s base, where he saw many of the other unique beings of the forest congregating. He saw a three-headed snake and walked up to it, interrupting a heated argument that two of the heads were having.

    “Uncles! What’s going on?” Cian asked.

    The middle head, which was trapped in the middle of the debate, quickly started answering, speaking over the other bickering heads. “Welcome back, young master.” The snake hissed. “This little demon is so glad to see you’ve returned unharmed.”

    Many of the other creatures started walking up to Cian and greeted him. “Young master.” A large ape bowed. “Cian, my friend! Welcome!” Exclaimed a crowned fish sitting in a small pond. “Little one, we were so worried about you!” A swarm of bees gushed in tandem.

    One of the animals, a cute little white fox, scurried up to Cian and jumped onto his body, settling in around his shoulders. “Oh! Young master!” she exclaimed. “I’ve missed you so much! Why did you leave me behind when we spotted those humans?” she whined.

    “Sorry, Aoife.” Cian mumbled, ashamed. He had gotten so excited when he saw the humans that he’d left his best friend behind. They had been born at the exact same time, mere feet from one another. They were held in high regard by all within the forest and were nigh inseparable.

    Coupled with his stint outside of the forest, these past few days had been the longest time they had been apart from each other since Cian was newly born.

    Aoife softly nipped at Cian’s face, softly saying, “Never leave me behind again. Who knows what could have happened if your father hadn’t rescued you…” She trembled at this.

    Cian softly stroked her fur. “I won’t. I missed you too.” He said quietly.

    Cian felt a soft chime reverberate through his mind, drawing his attention to his father. All of those gathered also looked upwards at the radiance of their divine protector.

    The Demon Monarch didn’t communicate through words like the younger of its kind. It was far too old and its thoughts too slow. Normal communication forced it to use up large amounts of energy. Instead, it preferred to communicate through thoughts and imagery.

    The assembled all saw visions of the Demon Monarch sprouting off numerous clones, all styled after the human form that had rescued Cian. Those clones spread throughout the forest, covering as much land as they could with their limited numbers.

    They would frequently come across humans, all of whom were incredibly powerful. Fighting would break out the moment they caught sight of one another. The humans sent fire and lightning raging through the skies, while the clones manipulated the forest below to send roots, branches, and sometimes even whole trees shooting towards the intruders.

    The humans managed to defeat the clones often, leaving great scenes of destruction in their wake.

    The humans advanced towards the deeper parts of the forest, cycling through a myriad of different types of cultivators and strange beings. Many of them perished, but they charged forwards, regardless the cost.

    The Demon Monarch did everything in its power to halt their momentum, sending out many clones to do battle, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

    The humans reached its true body and a tremendous number of experts worked in unison to bring him down, causing the entirety of the forest to instantly wilt and decay.

    The vision ended here. With it came feelings of desperation, helplessness, and despair.

    All of those gathered were stunned. They could tell that the images were not without substance. This was a detailed prophecy of what was to come. The humans were coming for the Demon Monarch.

    Cian looked around, his tiny features scrunched up in thought. He didn’t really understand the full gravity of the situation, but based on the looks of everyone else he knew that something momentous was about to occur.

    One of the older trees rooted closest to the great Demon Monarch leaned some of its branches towards the gathering. A barely audible, wizened voice spread throughout them like a soft breeze. “If the forest… is to stand… alone… it… shall… fall.” The tree had said with difficulty. “The… ancestor… beseeches you… for aid.” It forced out.

    All those gathered looked towards each other, determination set on their brows. They deeply bowed towards the great tree before scattering in different directions. Nothing needed to be said. Their loyalty was as firm and steadfast as the heavens themselves. Nothing could force them to abandon their deity in its time of need.

    Only Cian and Aoife remained. The old tree motioned towards the Demon Monarch and told them, “Go… your father… wants… to speak… with you.”

    Cian, with Aoife still coiled around his shoulders, walked towards his father. Every step closer brought more feelings of peace and contentment forth from within Cian.

    He stopped just before his father, studying his ancient and gnarled bark. He sensed the power that had accumulated in the roots beneath his feet over the millennia. The Demon Monarch was so powerful, yet he still believed they could not withstand the coming storm. Just how powerful were their enemies?

    Cian and Aoife reached out and gently touched the Demon Monarch’s trunk simultaneously, the area around them quieting with a hush. The other trees all watched enviously. Most of them had never had the opportunity to speak with the Demon Monarch, let alone touch his divine body.

    The bark of the tree split open, unleashing a magnificent aura. It was a deep and vivid green aura. It swarmed with illusory plants, insects, and animals. The illusions were so lifelike they were indistinguishable from the genuine article.

    Enveloping the boy and the fox, it slowly withdrew into its massive body, taking them with it.

    Darkness consumed Cian’s conscious thoughts. His mind forced to slumber and rest. Accompanying him as he drifted off was a deep, rumbling voice that echoed throughout his mind.

    Come, children. You have much to learn.

    ………

    Miranda Flameheart, successor of the Flameheart clan, prostrated herself before a hulking giant made of red gemstone. In front of her lay her former master, Julius the Wise, who was now barely recognizable as his former self. The lower half of his body was missing, leaving only a semi-intact torso, one arm, and a flattened head.

    Ignoring the body placed before her, Miranda pleaded, “Esteemed patriarch, this little one begs for forgiveness.” Barely pausing to take a breath, she continued. “This little one didn’t listen to the sect’s warnings and entered the Demonic Forest. We’ve caused a calamity to befall the holy city! Please punish this foolish one however you see fit.”

    The giant stared at Miranda for a few minutes, contemplating. Seeing her sincerity, he told her, “Worry not, my descendent. Whatever your intentions were, you have inadvertently done a great service for the Ruby Mountain and the Heavenly Alliance.”

    Miranda shot to her feet, shocked. “Wh-what?” she stammered. “I don’t understand… Everything was destroyed! So many people died! Even my master…” she couldn’t finish.

    The giant let out a small smile. “This place that you all revere as a sacred ground… To be honest, it’s little more than an outpost for the Alliance, one of many. The only purpose to these outposts are to provide advanced notice of demonic incursions from the forest. I, myself, was just a lowly enforcer before being assigned this responsibility.” He shook his head at Miranda’s naivete.

    “The losses suffered here are minor compared to what the Alliance gained in return.” He looked past the numerous mountains and towards the forest. “The Demon Monarch is weakening. Already, our forces are scouting the forest and eliminating some of the weaker demons. Soon, his land will be fully under the Alliance’s control.”

    The giant looked at Miranda kindly. “The results are the only thing that matters, little one. Your family shall be rewarded for this. Consider it your good fortune.” He tapped his massive fingers against his chin. “Hmm… you all possess a small amount of my golem bloodline. It should be enough for you to study my race’s imperial arts. I’ll send your family to the capital for training.” He glanced at a small, golden golem off to the side. “Escort them to the capital. Guard them well. It is your new duty.”

    The golem adopted an eager expression and bowed. “Of course, patriarch. Your will shall be done.” He replied, formally.

    The giant nodded slowly. “Good. Good. You are dismissed. From today onwards, the Ruby Mountain is no more. Everyone is free to do as they will.” He turned and ambled slowly in the direction of the forest, cracking his knuckles.

    Miranda’s face shone. Her previously bleak future was now brimming with possibilities. She couldn’t wait to start her new life!

    ……….

    Cian spent a period of many years with his father, learning much about the world.

    Most importantly, he learned about himself. The aura that he could wield within the forest wasn’t really his. It was all the life around him showing fealty to the Demon Monarch, allowing Cian to tap into their own energy and strengthen himself.

    Cian’s personal power was very weak. The small amount of aura he managed to emit when he was kidnapped by the humans was his true level at the time, which was also why he was overwhelmed by the energy the forest had given him before that. He had been too weak to control the power.

    He also learned that although he looked like the humans, he wasn’t one of them. He was a demon, as were all of those that he deemed his uncles, aunts, sisters, and brothers within the forest. They had all gained sentience by absorbing the energy of the world which then stimulated their minds and souls.

    Cian’s form prior to his awakening was that of a seed that had fallen from the crown of the Demon Monarch. To the denizens of the forest, Cian was practically the successor to their deity and they treated him accordingly. Cian’s appearance as a human didn’t faze them. He was as pure blooded a demon as any of them.

    The childish innocence that he exhibited in the early years of his life was foreign to typical demons. After so long a time spent in seclusion and meditation, Cian was now more mature and reserved, trying to emulate the Demon Monarch in his thoughts.

    Cian also learned why the humans were so hostile towards his family. Demons could be refined and absorbed to boost others’ cultivations. The stronger the demon, the more benefits would be gained.

    The Demon Monarch was the most powerful demon in the surrounding territory, which led many of the other factions to covet the benefits he could bring to them.

    The life of a demon was perilous. Every step they took caused them to gain more enemies and fewer friends.

    The war that the demons of the forest were fighting seemed hopeless as well. Cian didn’t hear much of what was going on in the outside world, but from his lessons, he could glean some truths.

    For every demon the humans killed, they would grow more powerful. Even the lowliest of the demons guarding the forest would be refined by the invaders, causing their cultivations to soar while the population of the forest dimmed.

    Cian looked up to his father for achieving this level of trust and devotion in his subordinates, that they were willing to sacrifice themselves for him. He also pitied the Monarch. The only reason any regions of the forest still stood strong was due to the deterrence provided by his father’s power.

    Yet, a great portion of his father’s power was provided to him by those under his care. For every living being that resided within the boundaries of the Demon Monarch’s roots, the tree would receive a small increase in strength. Nothing major, but pooled together, his father’s power was doubled after receiving those bonuses.

    Every death caused his father to further weaken. Should Cian be able to see his father’s body from the outside, he would bear witness to splitting and rotting bark. The once radiant leaves sprouting abundantly would seem darker and closer to death.

    In the Demon Monarch’s body, there existed a small pocket dimension, capable of supporting life. It was like a miniaturized version of the forest on the outside, one where Cian could train to his heart’s content with no fear of danger.

    Although Cian had a near unlimited amount of freedom within the tiny world, he spent most days sitting in the lotus position, cultivating, within a small cottage that had been natural formed from a collection of trees.

    Aoife accompanied him most days, not having a need for cultivation herself. Her nine-tailed fox bloodline would help her rise in power as she matured.

    Over the course of seven years of grueling training, Cian managed to gain a solid foothold in the arduous path of cultivation. He was currently at the early stage of the aura formation realm, the first step in cultivating the energy of the world.

    Cian had formed energy pathways through both of his arms. By using his very limited aura, He invaded his own body, much in the same way Miranda had, but Cian did so with clarity and purpose.

    These early stages of cultivation were especially difficult, as there was very little foundation to work with. Unlike humans, demons couldn’t utilize cultivation methods or traditional inheritances from previous generations of cultivators. They had to learn how to increase their cultivation gradually, step by step.

    That wasn’t to say that demons didn’t have advantages over other cultivators. As each individual demon cultivated differently, their strengths and weaknesses differed wildly.

    Whereas, most close-knit groups of humans would cultivate the same methods, leading to their powers rarely displaying any unique abilities.

    Cian was no different than the other demons. Although he was very much like the Demon Monarch, they were still separate life forms. The benefits Cian gained from their relationship was limited. The most the Monarch could give Cian was a safe space to set his foundations, along with a general knowledge of how the world worked.

    Advancing to the early stage of aura formation within seven years was considered relatively fast for most demons. Then again, most demons weren’t given a general education on the world and a haven away from predators.

    To put things in perspective, the group of humans that Cian had run into previously had all been an entire cultivation realm higher than he was now. Most them were at the early stage of aura condensation, while Miranda had been at the late stage, with half a step into the peak of aura condensation!

    Miranda’s master was even more powerful, having achieved two full realms of cultivation higher than Miranda’s group. All the way through the aura manifestation stage and into soul awakening! At that stage, a cultivator no longer used the elemental energy they absorbed from their surroundings, but rather their own internal soul energy. This granted them a tremendous advantage in battle power!

    A few days after the anniversary of Cian’s seventh year in seclusion, a now much larger Aoife, possessing three tails, came scrambling in through the front door, panicked.

    “Young master!” she shouted. “Come quickly! Somethings happening!”

    Cian stood up and rushed outside, instantly spotting what had alarmed Aoife.

    The Demon Monarch’s inner world wasn’t excessively large and the edges could be seen in the distance.

    At the borders of the world, large cracks intruded upon the serene atmosphere. What was once an image of the sun on the horizon was now an empty white canvas covered in faint, jagged cracks.

    Cian grew serious. If his father’s inner world was showing signs of strain, then how bad was the situation outside?

    Cian paced back and forth, his mind racing. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t even know that he could do anything. He was far too weak to help his family in their struggle. His breathing picked up and he started to sweat.

    The surrounding foliage roused itself, shaking violently, as Cian’s mind suffered from indecision and fear. Aoife silently padded up to his side, her earlier panic diminishing as she watched her best friend.

    “Aoife.” Cian stroked her silk-like fur, inducing feelings of calm in each of them. No matter what the future had in store, they would face it together.

    Thinking with more rationality and less panic, Cian said, “It’s time to leave this place. I won’t progress any further here and it won’t last much longer, regardless.” Cian sighed heavily. “This doesn’t bode well. I hope father is okay.”

    Cian and Aoife started walking to the edges of the world, the cracks expanding in their vision until they reached truly epic proportions. Each crack was like a bolt of lightning that tore through the borders of the world. It gave them the sensation of power and disaster, the likes of which they had never seen.

    As they reached the border, Cian noticed the ground fraying and slowly vanishing from sight. The world grew smaller a tiny fragment at a time.

    He touched the empty white space while he invoked his connection to the Demon Monarch. A small, glowing archway opened just feet from the edge of the world. Taking a deep breath to prepare himself for what he might find on the other side, he and Aoife jumped through.

    ………

    Fresh air rushed towards them as they materialized in the outside world, the vacuum that formed upon their arrival being filled in less than a millisecond. Extremely disoriented, it took a second for Cian to register the scene around him.

    Demons died left and right. Their screams and roars reverberated throughout the forest.

    Cian saw his three-headed snake uncle, now possessing only two heads, savagely bite into a human cultivator and bisect him into two. The crowned fish sent blades of water hurtling at a group of humans with wings on their backs. The blades were harmlessly absorbed by a barrier, causing the crowned fish’s aura to wither.

    Cian felt pain in the depths of his soul and was hit with a premonition of death. He froze, not wanting to turn around to witness what he knew was occurring.

    Slowly and hesitantly, pure green eyes burning brightly, Cian looked behind him.

    The Demon Monarch was burning.
     

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