Chapter 36:

Curse (2)

Mad God

"We here."

Said Kang as they arrived at a slow-flowing river and next to it, stretching upwards, laid an old city's ruins on both of its banks. The city was surprisingly clean of overgrown vegetation, and the buildings made from stone were still standing. Some of the buildings were only rubble by now, but those that the gorillas frequented were in good shape. Over the river, two stone bridges still stood in stable condition, making it easy to cross over the wide river.

On the opposite side stood a giant cathedral, still standing firmly, defying the countless years, and it may have helped that the gorillas kept their neighborhood clean and proper. Ren could see the south portal of the cathedral. Its rose-tinted windows are long gone, broken in who knows when and only the frame of it remained. The decoration on its walls and arches showed the erosion of time. Most of the small carvings were already unrecognizable. Its two giant, almost 20 meters tall spires on the west portal still stood, but their coverings at the top were missing most of their pieces.

"It's a pretty serene place," Isha said, surprised as many gorillas came towards them, looking at them curiously but keeping their guards up.

Seeing how Kang is the one who brought them here, the tribe, which counted around 80 apes, was more accepting than if they had arrived separately.

"Yeah," Zern nodded, "it's calm and feels peaceful, especially with the sound of the gently rushing river."

“Only their eyes… carry too much pain…” Anya sighed, completely sympathizing with the female gorillas, seeing their expressions that showed just as much emotion as a human would.

"Hey… you okay?" Leinor whispered, who stood beside Ren, holding her by the shoulders. "Ren?"

Soon the others noticed something was wrong with her. As soon as she stepped near the village, her steps became wobbly, then froze up, her breathing sped up, and she was soaked in perspiration.

"What's wrong?" Anya rushed up too, checking her forehead, fearing the curse was real and affected her daughter; it would be disastrous.

"Nothing… Don't any of you feel it?" Ren gulped, trying to regain her footing.

Seeing nobody reacted and only looked at each other clueless, even Kang and Shaman became curious about what was happening.

"You were right!" Ren sighed as she straightened herself out, revolving her energies to revitalize herself. Leinor unconditionally pumped his own energy inside her, stroking her back gently as Ren looked at Shaman. "This place is cursed."

"See? I told you." He smiled triumphantly.

"Ren…" Anya asked with concern, but she just shook her head.

"It's not like what you think. If you move out, you will be fine." Ren turned towards Kang, who immediately tried to say it did not work before, but Ren only continued, "You need to recuperate for a decade or so. But you will be fine! Your souls are the one that is damaged but not too much! Yet! It will heal if you keep out of here. Give it another few hundred years, and you, too, will get to a point where you start to show the symptoms the young ones did and then die! It would be too late to move by then."

"Why… youngs… die?" Kang asked, mulling over her words.

"They have weak souls, not strong enough yet. It is the same with the babies; before their souls can settle in their bodies, it gets destroyed… and all of your females' souls are damaged; it's like trying to hold water in a colander. Won't work."

"What about you? And the others? We should leave!" Anya urged.

"How do know, little human?" Kang asked with a serious expression.

"She always had special sensing abilities," Leinor commented.

"Yeah, Master came up with a new cultivation system by herself. Questioning her wouldn't-" Poli answered with an annoying voice, but Ren raised her hand.

"A few days or weeks won't affect us." Ren said to her mother before turning towards Kang, "It takes years to take effect. The worst part is… the souls here won't just be destroyed. They are broken down then… consumed."

"Consumed?" Shaman asked with surprise. "By who? Or what?"

"I felt a presence under us." She said, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes as her small mouth moved around, like when someone tasted a fine wine. She smacked her lips, then gulped a little and continued speaking, "There is a dead god under us."

Her words were quiet and calm, especially after she reopened her eyes, which showed a collected and indifferent expression. Still, deep within, question marks floated around continuously as this was something she never thought would happen or she would come across at all.

"A god?" Feynor whispered, furrowing his brows as others mulled over her word.

At first, most of them wanted to dismiss it as wild imagination, especially as they did not feel anything amiss. Only Leinor was standing behind her, holding her shoulders, supporting her with a small smile, reassuring her that he believed everything she said.

"What do you mean by a dead god?" Feynor asked, "This is not the first time you mention gods, as you did the same when we discovered the first demonic crystal."

"I studied… a lot of legendaries." Ren explained after thinking a little, "Old ones, from the dawn of mankind, back from the old, old times. Even from the ancient days where little to no accurate records remain, up to ten thousand years ago…" She said, choosing her words carefully as she wouldn't want to try to explain that this was her second life. Especially not before her mother.

"We have a whole library at home." Anya smiled. "Ren always asked us to bring books; she ate them like candies. Xendar even bought those written in a language nobody could read."

"I remember my father mentioned that General Xendar borrowed copies of the oldest reliquias. We had to bring them home." Leinor giggled, musing at Ren as nobody saw her as a bookworm; only he knew most of the time they relaxed, lying next to each other; Ren always held a book in her hands.

"Hehe, you even stole some for me~ Anyway… let me explain." Ren collected her thoughts. "Note that most of this is just… my conjecture." She said, looking around herself, but she knew this was the truth as this was how in her previous life, she, or then he, climbed to godhood. "Back in the old days, there were cultivators but not as many as now. If one in ten people has an affinity to cultivate today, it was one in ten million back then. Or worse. The air lacked the energy that now is filled up with power. Back then, only those born special could cultivate. That's why there are legends and legendary heroes. Those truly existed and were cultivators. You can see the similarities if you check their feats and compare them to nowadays."

"Then how did they cultivate?" Feynor asked, wholly engrossed in her story, excitedly following her thought process.

"As I said, only those born special had any chance. Like…” Ren thought back to her previous life's hazy, very distant memories, but the others only thought she was thinking up an example that was true: "Like having a body that could consume heat and convert it to energy. Then every heat source would supply it with energy, be it fire, lava, or the burning sun. Still, it wouldn't be easy as the amount needed to cultivate is enormous yet small. I mean… take in too much, and you die. Take in too little; it's ineffective. Figuring out the always-changing amount needed is hard work, and even those special ones may fail to cultivate successfully in the long run. Maybe he would need to consume such a quantity he would turn the place around him into a frozen death land or just freeze his enemies into icicles as he absorbs their bodies' heat, killing them. You get the gist of it." She smiled at the others. "Still, as this process repeats, the user's ability and body form a crystal. Similar to what demon folk has in their brains."

"This is why you found it? You know what you are looking for!" Feynor said, surprised.

"It was a guess. I had my theories, and they proved to be right. Still, it has differences! Especially in power levels. Or why would we call them gods, and why wouldn't the demons trample us with ease?" She giggled while Shaman rolled his eyes, yet he was listening intently, crouching down, scribbling away on a rough skin with a kind of charcoal pencil.

"You little say, human god dead, under us feet? Eat us?" Kang murmured, cracking his knuckles.

"Let me finish!" Ren continued, "When those… "heroes" back then formed their cores, it came from their special bodies. They formed it depending on their abilities carrying a different attribute every time… if you check the old stories about the so-called gods, they vary and are prevalent for a few centuries before being replaced by other 'gods.'"

"I see…" Feynor spoke, "You say those stories tell the life of a cultivator until their death?"

"Yes." Ren nodded. "How long can a Harmony realm expert live? We don't know yet as they are a new thing, no? Nobody knows if they can live a few thousand years or eternally. But I wouldn't put my money on the latter. The same goes for the old heroes. They weren't gods, just powerful cultivators living for centuries. Their energy core supplemented them with power and gave them a long life. Probably, they were even different… classes of cores. Some may call themselves gods or demigods back then. Parading around mortals, enjoying the power over them."

"But what about the gods mentioned in the diary? Or the one who is worshiped back in our Empire by the mortals?" Zern asked after a long silence. "If I remember correctly, they were popular even before the Calamity that changed everything."

"That is what I would call "gods." The others I mentioned were only strong cultivators in their times." Ren smiled. "But they are not gods because they are omnipotent, but because their crystal reached a level, through cultivating and through sheer lucky encounters, where it reached equilibrium. That's what I call God Crystal."

"You mentioned that name before. Can you explain it?" Feynor looked at her with evident amusement in his eyes.

"Take it as a perfect core. One that not just consumes or converts energy but also produces it. It can keep the host alive for all eternity. Sustaining his body, healing it, and also powering him when he needs it. A being that is not just strong but does not age? Does it not change? Now that I could call a God as he will be there, even when all the strong cultivators die by old age. Of course, this is nothing but only my theory, only that, I have a strong feeling I am right~" Ren giggled innocently, putting on a smile, making them realize what she was talking about until now, did not have any concrete proof.

The only ones who still looked at her with profoundly shocked and thinking expressions were Shaman, Feynor, and Anya, while Leinor's eyes were utterly peaceful. The others may just consider it an extraordinary, legendary tale that was interesting to think about; for Leinor, it was all facts. As it came from her mouth.

"This not say why young die. Explain human." Kang came before her, sitting closer to Ren's tiny face.

"How do you kill a god? If my theory is correct," Ren started to speak again, gathering her thoughts first, "destroy the God Core. Any other option… would only be…a fake death."

"Fake?" Kang blinked his red eyes, trying to understand her words.

"Yup. Its core can gather energy and rebuild as long as it is intact. Even if the whole body is destroyed, it can regrow. The other option is to destroy the soul of a God. But wouldn't it be linked with the core? What if he hides inside his core? Even a damaged soul can regenerate given enough time... And with a God Core, time is of no importance."

"Wait…" Shaman murmured, realizing what she was implying. "You say a dead god's soul is down below us, consuming theirs to rebuild its own?"

"Something like that. But it's just my theory. We need to find it to see if I'm right or just spewing bullshit." She grinned cheekily.

Kang watched her with a severe expression before placing his giant hand on her head.

"You smart. You're right, I'll protect. You cure my tribe, I'll serve. Help us."

"Ahaha, that is why we came, no? Let's go, let us check that cathedral! I felt an overwhelming presence from there when I arrived at the proximity of it." Ren said while looking at the old church while the others suddenly felt as if the whole city was not as peaceful as before. While they neared the cathedral, Ren's thoughts were already swirling in her head.

"What's going on… there were no more true gods back then… and I never felt this presence! But I can't be mistaken… I felt it clearly… but I never met a sixth… There was no sixth! But this resonance is the same feeling we felt when we were near each other… damn it."