The Newt and Demon-5.60 - Zaul

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5.60 - Zaul

Theo reclined in his chair, watching as the gods argued over what Zan’kir had done. Khahar had a playful smile on his face. The alchemist had finished his work for the day, gathering all the potions from the lab to brew in Tero’gal. After setting those potions aside, the gods had assembled for tea. They had been spying on him, watching as the floating city was bombarded relentlessly. As always, each had an opinion.

“Big city fall down!” Spit shouted, throwing his head back and wheezing with laughter.

“One has to wonder how they constructed the flight system,” Uz’Xulven said, tutting. “I thought our big bad was supposed to have some teeth.”

“I can’t say more than I have,” Khahar commented. “All is going according to plan.”

Glantheir had the most heart-warming comment of all. He leaned over, placing a hand on Theo’s shoulder. “You could have blown it up. Good work.”

The group of gods gave no hints on the mystery, though. No one would say who was pushing King Hanan along, but each time Theo asked, they seemed pained to answer. Khahar didn’t even glare at him when he asked, making it even more concerning. The alchemist had narrowed his list of suspects down to a handful of gods, all of whom were dead. That left the beings operating outside of the world at fault, which seemed impossible to deal with. But with their floating city floundering in the water, Qavell wasn’t a threat anymore.

“I just want to thank the Arbiter,” Uz’Xulven said, inclining her head toward Khahar. “For fixing the bridge so quickly.”

Khahar gave her a nod back. Theo had tried to subvert the system again, but found it impossible to bypass the bridge. Perhaps his role as the Dreamwalker was to test these things. To find ways around the system so they could be patched. He was quite good at finding weaknesses in things. Back in the day anyway. If he was selected for this role by Khahar, then that made more sense.

Uz’Xulven went into detail about how the floating city worked, and Khahar didn’t stop her. It was impossible to move a town or kingdom core once it was planted. Unless someone screwed with the core itself. High-level Coresmiths could fiddle with the way cores worked, but that work was dangerous. Even Khahar only dabbled in the art, and he was a master of most things before he left the mortal realm. After the two cores were changed, a series of hover engines were ignited and fed a steady supply of magical energy. She didn’t know how they were powering it.

Theo took a sip of his tea, finding himself delighted by the conversation. The gods were excitable at the best of times, but they had worked themselves into a fervor. He stepped away from that excitement for some fresh air, looking over the souls of those in his realm with a smile. They had gone from one fad to another, but their desires were cyclical. Each had a pair of crude rollerblades strapped to their feet again, and they sailed down the cobbled path with chattering teeth.

Coming to Tero’gal wasn’t just about allowing potions to brew, though. Theo let out a steady breath as he reached out with his mind. He found a shadowy spot in the Prime Pantheon, almost imperceptible with his Willpower. Zaul’s realm was called Und, a place of eternal darkness. Uz’Xulven enjoyed the shadow motif, but Zaul embraced it. The alchemist felt a tickle of recognition, then an invitation. He accepted, stepping through the places between reality. As expected, the other side was imperceptible darkness.

“Finally,” a voice rasped from afar.

Theo felt around Zaul’s realm, but gave up after he felt nothing but chilled air. The ground under his feet was hard stone, and the air smelled wet. “Hello, Zaul. I have a few questions.”

The god—wherever he was—blew out a breath. “As it should be. Those who operate in darkness are forgotten. I am forgotten. Khahar has forgotten me.”

Maybe Theo should have asked Khahar about Zaul before going to Und. He assumed everyone in the prime pantheon was of stable mind, but the Burning Eye was a prime god. So was Fan’glir. He swallowed hard, nodding into the darkness.

“My Tara’hek has a Zaul core user,” Theo said. “She hasn’t forgotten about you.”

“And your town has my prophet. What do you need from me, demon?”

“Would your cores give me access to a willpower ability?”

“Yes.”

“Can I have one.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

Zaul laughed. Maybe somewhere distant, or right into Theo’s ear. It was impossible to tell. “You walk in the shadows like an oaf. Not worthy of my core.”

“Alright. Good talk,” Theo said, turning intending to leave.

“Just a moment,” Zaul said, a little too fast and worried about how he had been talking. The alchemist felt the shadows draw closer. Cold hands drew around his shoulders and a feeling entered his mind. Not words, but a sensation that was impossible to ignore. “Khahar thinks he’s clever. Games. He plays games with the world.”

Something heavy fell into Theo’s hand. He recognized the detailed surface of a class core. While he tried to say something, nothing came out. His mind was still processing those feelings.

“He cannot see it. Cannot sense it. Don’t worry, demon,” Zaul said. “The information will unravel in your mind. Tell no one.”

Theo was flung from Zaul’s realm. He barely managed to put the core into his inventory before he stumbled out into Tero’gal. The alchemist stood there for a long time, gazing off into the distance. And the information unfurled in his mind. The thing that was controlling King Hanan wasn’t evil. Attributing malice to natural forces was useless. The entity was something else entirely, but it planned to destroy the Southlands Alliance. Not because it wanted Theo and his people dead, but because Theo was an aberration. Zaul didn’t know the whole truth, but the information he implanted in Theo’s head made him dizzy with knowledge.

The gods were still chatting in the growing cottage. Khahar didn’t know that Theo knew. He didn’t know about the core in his inventory. The potions were done brewing. The alchemist grabbed them, planning to inspect them after he returned to the mortal realm. Without a word to his godly friends, he passed through the realms and appeared in his manor.

“We got a problem,” he said, transmitting the thought to Tresk and no one else. “Read my memories.”

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Tresk was always quick about this stuff. She was far better than he was at viewing memories with perfect clarity. “Holy crap! There was another Harbinger? And it's stuck in the system!? What the hell!?”

That was the information Zaul revealed. The echo of another Harbinger-like being was stuck within the system like some horrid echo. It had taken a body and was forcing the king to do its bidding. Theo’s ability to manipulate his own realm might not work on something like that. What a massive wrinkle in an otherwise flawless plan.

“We need to keep this quiet. Zaul also gave me a core to use,” Theo said. “Not sure if I should be honored or pissing my pants.”

“Why not both?”

Honk!

Theo opened his inventory, selecting the core that Zaul had given him. He stopped before reading the description, wondering if he should keep this from Khahar. The only downside to it was that Yuri wanted him to have only enough information to win without cheating. That kept the system running correctly, since everyone was following the rules. The alchemist read the description of the core.

[Zaul Shadowspirit Core]

Unique

UNDEFINED Core

Bound

2 Slots

Level 1 (0%)

Sneaky, sneaky. Undetectable. Use your willpower to shield your soul, Theo.

Innate Skills:

[Spirit Weaving]

“That core ain’t right,” Tresk said. Theo could feel her shaking her head in his mind. “Undefined?”

That was concerning. Why the hell was Zaul giving him a leg up? That god didn’t seem to like him, let alone love him enough to put his neck on the line. The alchemist couldn’t make sense of his motives, but at least he could understand the core. Shielding his spirit was an important thing to do if he wanted to travel through the realms. Xol’sa had explained projecting one’s consciousness like dragging a thread across the world. It could be cut at any moment. He inspected the attached skill.

[Spirit Weaving]

UNDEFINED Skill

Unique

Be careful with this one, Theo. I have created this skill for you and you alone.

Effect:

Weave your willpower around your soul, preventing prying eyes from spying.

Once per day (resetting at midnight) you may weave this power into a spell, skill, ability, crafted item, etc. The signature of your willpower is left behind, enhancing the resulting effect, item, etc.

Theo realized Bob had led him to Zaul, likely on the god’s orders. Salire had explained this skill to him, which was the only reason he sought the god out. The alchemist removed his Earth Sorcerer’s Core, putting it into his inventory, and inserted Zaul’s core. A flash of something wove through his chest and it took him a few breaths too long to realize his soul was cloaked in shadow. It bunched against that glowing ball in his chest like a protective layer.

“Dreamwalk,” Theo said without another word. They had already eaten, so it didn’t look weird to retreat. Tresk agreed and the Tara’hek went upstairs and fell asleep.

Theo felt soft grass beneath his feet. Tresk had generated something calming to help the alchemist get his mind sorted. He hadn’t even looked at the potions he made, which were at an impressive level of quality.

“Alright. Break it down for me so I can understand,” Tresk said with a sigh. “Zaul is my god. Why does he care about you?”

“Good question,” Theo said, biting at his nails. His only theory was that Zaul had a grudge against Khahar, or some pride to save. So he generated a core and skill only for Theo as a jab. Even in the Dreamwalk, he could feel his willpower wrapped around his soul, like a protective blanket.

“Theo goes to fight Harbinger 2. Harby strong. Attack Theo soul,” Tresk said, nodding. “Zaul give Theo weapon. Theo strong.”

“That’s one way to summarize it,” Theo said. The hints he was given on how to beat whatever was controlling Hanan lined up with a soul-style attack. The gods had used a Soul Slaying attack on Xol’sa once.

“The way it feels reminds me of something,” Tresk said, running her fingers across her teeth. She felt the pointy ones as though that would help her think. “You ever get scanned by Zarali?”

“A few times. When she first arrived, it felt like something warm was washing over me. It was pleasant.”

“Most magic users have this bubble they can send out to scan stuff. Like how you can inspect someone’s information. They can tell more about you by sending their magical power out or something. I don’t know, I can’t do it.”

“You’re saying that Zaul is helping me because I’m magically inept?”

“Yeah.”

“Fair enough.”

For once, Tresk and Alex stayed around to watch Theo mess with his new core. He had already advanced his willpower to a point of absurdity, so controlling the thing that had formed in his chest was easy. He sent it out like a bubble, formed intricate shapes, and experimented with ways to do something useful with it. But Tresk didn’t have magical senses, and neither did Alex. No one in the Dreamwalk knew if his soul was shielded or what that meant. And since everyone there was a member of Tero’gal, they weren’t affected by whatever influence it would have on them. Real world testing was needed.

Tresk scampered off to fight whatever nightmare creature she generated that night. That left Theo with alone time enough to inspect the potions he had made. He did so from memory. The third tier versions of the restoration potions were already well-known to Theo. But the ones he and Salire had created in the lab were a higher grade, meaning the effects were stronger. A Good Quality Greater Healing Potion restored 175 health, but the Great Quality ones he had crafted restored 185. The attribute potions went from 19 to 20 in their respective attributes.

The real change would come when Theo brewed the dangerous potions, meant to be mixed with the Holy modifier, at third tier. With only second tier examples to think about, he could only imagine the next level for those potions. He joined Tresk and Alex, watching as they fought a giant, winged chameleon. With a thought, he generated a bar of Drogramathi Iron and quaffed a Potion of Berserk with the Holy modifier. This was a potion too dangerous to test in the real world. When he attacked the lizard, he would lose half of his health and get possessed by the owner of his realm. Which was him. And Tresk. And Alex.

Theo approached the tail of the creature and smacked it as hard as he could muster. His health dropped to half, Alex and Tresk went rigid, and his health shot up to twice what it should have been. The chameleon’s tail split off from the force of the attack, and was sent flying into the open meadows. The alchemist felt a strange melding in his mind. There was a barrier that kept him free from the Tara’hek’s influence. Normally, it prevented Tresk or Alex from being him. In an instant, he was no longer just Theo Spencer.

“Oh, crap. This is weird,” Theo said as Tresk spoke through him. “Honk.”

The alchemist stumbled to the side, unable to coordinate himself with so much influence acting on his body. Tresk tried to move his right side, while he tried to move the left. Alex tried to make him honk in fear. Tresk brought the rod of iron up, striking the lizard monster as it fell upon them. The force of the blow bent the rod at the middle and sent the massive creature tumbling back. He stumbled to one side, then the other before falling face-first on the ground.

“I don’t think we can use this,” Theo said, driven by Alex.

“Nope. This is too weird,” Theo said, Tresk this time.

With a great shake of his head, Theo reset the Dreamwalk and freed everyone from the weird, fleshy prison.

“Hey, I got an idea,” Tresk said, shaking her head and blinking rapidly. “Let’s never do that again.”

The source of this c𝓸ntent is fr(e)𝒆novelkiss

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