Chapter 66:

A Tale from the Past

Mad God

When the boats arrived at the excavation site, the air was colder than on a harsh winter night. Stepping on the tall constructions, keeping out the water, its surface was hardened by the coldness of the buried pagoda. Its top was protruding out from the riverbed, and it looked like it was made from one whole, gray stone block, just carved out and not built piece by piece. Who knows how long it was buried here, yet there was no sign of corrosion or cracks on it, completely intact and exuding bluish, cold air constantly.

"Brr… It's really cold here." Isha shivered as they walked downwards to the excavation site, where some men were still digging around the pagoda, working in shifts.

"Yeah, we work on rotation; some can take it for a couple of hours, some for only one or two," Devitt explained as now the whole gang was following them, not wanting to miss out on the treasure.

"This coldness is clearly not natural. What kind of treasure could do something like this? Never heard about anything similar yet." 01 mused.

"No, it's not producing." Lacuss cut in, looking at the building. "It converts."

"Converts what?" Isha and Devitt looked at him.

"Energy," Lacuss replied.

"He is almost right." Ren nodded. "Try to feel it; it constantly sucks out the heat from the surroundings, converting it. The coldness you feel is the resulting aftereffect of this. This is automated, as it was the cultivation method of the original host. His body just continues what it always did."

"How do you know about this?" Isha raised her eyebrow.

"There are tons of legends recorded from ancient times. I read almost every one of them. The imperial palace has around a hundred thousand books and notes collected by the Aerthus family." She smiled, lying a little. "No wonder the Queen likes to spend her time there; it's fascinating."

"Are you familiar with this?" Devitt inquired, clearly interested in any information that would help them get this out of the ground as quickly as possible.

"A little bit." Ren nodded. "There is a legend of a demigod from… well... thousands of years ago. He led a life of isolation for most of his life. He had a gifted body since birth; the only problem was that the gift sometimes acted more like a curse. It made him strong and helped along the old world's cultivation, ascending the levels easily. Yet it killed everything around him, so he couldn't keep anybody close if he didn't wish to hurt them."

"You mean he had a body that consumed others?" Isha asked.

"Yes, but no." She sighed as an answer, looking at her. "He could control it when conscious but not when cultivating. Then he would drain the surrounding area from any heat, freezing everything, living or not. The long, solidarity centuries made him wary, and the idea came. If his body has this property, why not make a new one? Abandoning the old."

"Hah… okay, now we are getting into why it is called a legend." Devitt laughed with skepticism in his voice, and the others also followed suit. While finding it fascinating, it was hard to believe it at face value.

"Maybe." Ren smiled. "In the end, the demigod shed its old form and transferred himself into a newly made one. Of course, the original body remained, and it could be used as a weapon, a competent one at that. Like a puppet. Or golem. Call it whatever you wish. Without consciousness, it was easy to manipulate and use. And not just by him. So he made sure the old one was sealed and hidden away when transferring to the new body."

"Why not just destroy it?" Isha blinked her eyes, asking by reflex.

"Who knows. Maybe because it was still his body, would you destroy the flesh that made you into the being you are now? Or maybe kept as a backup, we can guess as much as we want; we would only get an answer if we could ask it from him. If you want my take on it, he didn't want to destroy something he built up from the ground. He hid it and then forgot about it throughout the long centuries. That's all. Not everything must have a great plan or reason behind it." Ren smiled, but her smile was somehow painful.

"You say it like he would survive something like that!" Devitt rolled his eyes. "Or even if it would be possible!"

"Even though you never saw a room full of gold, is it impossible to exist? True, even a demigod could not survive without his body. But who knows, maybe he became a God in the process." Ren laughed jokingly, but her words made the others flinch.

"A God, yeah sure… if God exists, then he would have already stricken us down for disturbing his body," Devitt said, clearing his throat.

"Yeah, you may be right." Ren agreed, "But we will know if this story is still just a legend or real if we dig this pagoda up."

"If we would have Zern here…" Isha shook her head.

"You would need more than only one person with earth affinity." Ren chuckled, walking close to the ruin. "This whole pagoda is made from one piece connected to the rocks lying deep beneath the earth. Lifting it out would be like if you try to lift up the ground below your feet. Go and give it a try~" She giggled, but her eyes were serious.

"Then our only option is to dig, dig and dig until we reach the bottom." Devitt sighed.

"I can help you with that. Place thick, around 6-meter-long iron rods into the spots I mark." Ren said, and Devitt's eyes immediately lit up; he was not asking why. He just ensured it happened.

The bandits, who had been stuck here for more than a year, were completely trapped by the idea of a treasure, especially now, after Ren's tale. They were more determined than ever to dig it up. When everything was done, Ren ordered the rest to stand back, farther away from the excavation, while she floated above it. Stretching out her arms, lightning soon struck, hitting the four rods. She made sure they were inserted into the correct place in the ground. She supplied them with all her energy for at least a minute, and when finished, she was gasping for air. Controlling her breathing, she watched the stone pagoda's top without blinking. In the beginning, nothing happened, but after a few minutes, the ground started to shake, and the earth cracked while the pagoda rose by itself.

"What the…" Devitt blinked, flabbergasted as he watched a nine-story pagoda slowly emerge from the ground.

The rods that were inserted into the ground now levitated above the four corners of the square the pagoda stood on. The ground was pulsing with an ancient formation as the rods, still flashing with purple electricity, were supplying it with energy with every flash of theirs.

"How?" Lacuss furrowed his brows.

"A seal is nothing more than a lock. You just need the key to open it. Or be good at lockpicking." Ren giggled, floating down. "Anyway, we have around 15 minutes before the rods are drained and the whole thing sinks back into the ground." She stretched herself, and even though everyone had a lot of questions, Devitt didn't want to miss the chance.

By his signal, a dozen bandits immediately rushed at the pagoda but as soon as they stood on the platform and took a few steps, their skin turned gray and blue, as life left their eyes, frozen into statues in seconds.

"You!" Devitt turned to Ren, but she just shrugged.

"What? I already told you what kind of thing is down there. It's not my problem if your men cannot withstand it."

"So what you said was really true…." Isha whispered, amazed by everything. "Man… I still don't know if I believe you, but if it's true, I should read more!"

"You certainly should read more. What else could be the case? I placed this pagoda here? Or was I there when this happened?" Ren asked with a grin.

"Mmm… that is also… true. Man… I wonder how many old legends are stored in the Empire's vault, thought of as a tale yet hiding treasures… I should ask for access and go through it just like you!" She sighed, thinking about going on a little treasure hunt with Zern.

"You are weird," Lacuss commented, looking at Ren, not taking his eyes off her since she started directing the bandits where to place the rods.

"Thanks. You too." She winked at him in response, "Don't think too much of it. The lock on it is an ancient formation. It's not like we don't have records of them, only that we lost the method of laying them down. Before the Calamity, those who could make these were few and far between, keeping their secrets to themselves. Still, diagrams can be found in many books, and you can study them. If you have the brain. Formations are awfully hard, and I hate them! With passion!"

"Master… shouldn't we move on?" 01 cut in, anxious, as the bandits were already rushing down, sticking to groups, trying to resist the coldness down there and the suction of their energies, leaving Ren's group behind.

"Don't worry. Let them dilute the suction force first." She shook her head.

"Are you using them as a sacrifice? Good. I hate bandits." Isha nodded.

"Weren't you one?" 02 raised his eyebrows.

"No." Isha snapped at him coldly.

"Okay, okay, sorry. I was just wondering." 02 recoiled backward.

"They are like fireflies; let them fly into the light and be burned by it. The year they spent here corrupted their thinking and mind; this is what they wanted. Let them have it then." Ren smirked.

"Is it the effect of the pagoda?" 01 asked cautiously.

"No. It's the effect of being a human." Ren shrugged before she smiled without emotion, watching them struggle and succumb to death. If they were not so blinded by being so close to the treasure, they might realize that their leader Devitt was still just at the edges, letting his people go forward, using them as simple fodder.

After a few minutes of struggling, the cold slowly receded, and the feeling of being sucked dry of energy faded or slowed down. They could now arrive before the only door at the first level. Devitt excitedly put his hands on it, pushing it in. The heavy stone doors were plain and simple, without any decoration or carvings, and with a loud, ear-grinding creak, it slid open.

"Come." Ren flew out as the rest followed her, going past the frozen statues that were the dead bandits.

Arriving at the door, they saw the inside of it. It was nothing much, just a small, circular room with a body sitting in the middle with crossed legs, holding his hand in his lap in a cultivating position, fingers intertwined.

Devitt and the rest also stood in the small room, not daring to get close just like that, fearing traps and remembering Ren's tale; seeing a body here was creeping them out.

"You were right…." Lacuss looked on, finally showing some feelings of surprise on his face, while Isha also gulped.

"Well… that demigod had a pretty fine body…." Isha tried to joke, calming her nerves, while Ren chuckled at her words.

The body had a slim yet defined, almost perfect build, sitting completely naked. His long, snow-white hair was still shiny and lifelike, sprawling behind him on the ground like a cape. The handsome face, even though his eyes shut, still revealed a calm and indifferent expression as the air around him was filled with frozen particles floating in the light from the opened door.

"How do we control it?" Devitt asked, looking back at Ren with bloodshot eyes, now believing everything she said, and clearly, he was afraid she would go ahead and obtain it in front of his eyes.

"See the little hole in his chest? That was the place where his demigod crystal formed. You must place a replacement energy source into it and control it through it."

"Ren?" Isha pulled on her hand as it was clear the air between the two groups was tense… and if the bandits could control a demigod's corpse, it would not be an ideal outcome.

"Relax. They can't control it." she chuckled. "If they wished to do so, Devitt here would need to sacrifice the rest of his men's life to the corpse to feed it with energy, then maybe, through that, he could control it for a few minutes."

Her words made the rest flinch, but Devitt suddenly pushed one of his men forward without a second thought. As the poor bandit stepped in the proximity of the corpse, he just turned into a cold statue, crumbling into pieces as his frozen blood fell to the ground, making loud, ringing noises similar to when a glass shatters. The demigod's body shuddered for a moment, clearly giving out a reaction. It all happened so quick, only taking a second or two, but Devitt was already hellbent on getting his hands on it. Reducing the competition for it was the only remaining thought in his head as he released his powers, slapping on his fat belly, barfing out the foul-smelling, thick, greenish goo. It instantly turned into a slime-like creature while his body shrunk as the summoned being covered the bandits, pushing them toward the corpse.

"Gross." Isha trembled, immediately encasing herself in fire while 01 and 02 also simultaneously summoned their powers of fire as they had the same affinity.

Lacuss was watching with a crossed arm, looking at the quickly developing chaos, then shifting his gaze to Ren.

"Mmm?" She looked back up at him with a faint smile

"Did you lie?"

"Nope. Just watch."

Ren was right; the sacrifices clearly affected the corpse as its body started to give out the feeling of being revived, regaining some lifelike colors. Devitt was already standing before it, feeding his strange powers to it. The goo was slowly enveloping the naked body. Soon the slimy thing turned clear and see-through, then solid, falling apart like a smashed porcelain vase. Devitt could only cut off the connection at the last moment, stumbling backward, coughing up blood as the white-haired body opened his eyes, which were red in color. Even though none of them felt any powers emanating from it, they felt like being in the mouth of a monster as it looked at them.

"Hahaha, I can feel it as being my own! This power, this body! I will be invincible!" Devitt laughed loudly and breathed heavily, turning towards Ren, but she just shook her head.

He didn't realize that when he turned his upper body, it was already a block of ice and started to crumble. He tried to move and say something more, enjoying his reward after a year of yearning for the unknown treasure, not realizing he was already dead, falling over, and breaking into million pieces like a glass statue. After the energy supply died down, the corpse closed its eyes again, and soon the little room was silent again.

"Are you satisfied?" Ren stepped forward, walking around the demigod corpse with a calm expression, holding her hand behind her back, and her question was clearly towards Isha and Lacuss.

They did not really understand the question's meaning and 01 and 02 just gulped, feeling they did something wrong but couldn't tell what it was. As Ren walked in circles, she was clearly checking out something before dragging her eyes from the body to Isha and the rest as she stood before the "treasure."

"Treasure hunting is good. It is fun, yes. But you need to know when to stop." She lectured them with a calm voice, "Sometimes you need to give up on things to not be consumed by them." Ren looked at the corpses littering the place now. "This is something that none of us can control." She looked into their eyes.

"But you said…." Isha gulped before being cut off by Ren, who was not angry but carried a calm aura and tone.

"Yes. We could control it. Let's feed the whole Rorik kingdom to it. Maybe we could order it around for a day or two then. A million or so lives in exchange for playing demigod for a day. Here. Take it." She stepped sideways, but none dared to look at the corpse anymore.

After waiting for a little, she smiled and continued in a kind but serious voice.

"Look… I just want you to understand everything comes with a price. Sometimes it just… isn't worth it. Let it go, and don't dwell on it. Another chance will come later. Greed only leads to more greed and a never-ending circle where nothing is enough, and you will consume yourself. Don't do that." She walked towards them. "Come, let's go; time is almost up!"

The rest soon took a last look at the sitting corpse before following Ren. Not long after they rose to the air, Ren carrying Isha, the metal rods lost their energy, falling down with loud thumps, and the pagoda sank back into the ground, dragging everything under it. At Ren's nod, Lacuss brandished his saber, striking down, leaving a red, giant scar in the air behind it, slashing the remaining structures to pieces letting the water flood it once again.

Back on the bank of the backwater, as they were thinking over and over Ren's words, she suddenly chuckled, looking at them with a grin.

"Chin up! Reach the demigod level, and then you can come back. I'll help you open it up once again."

"Huh?" They all looked at Ren; even Lacuss quickly gulped once.

"Someone at that level could control it. Maybe a demigod could cultivate it into a second body~" Ren winked at them.

"Master… even…" 01 licked his lips.

"Yup. You too. The first to get to the demigod level can have it~ I won't tell Sect Head if you won't ~" Ren whispered with a grin, and even Lacuss nodded in reflex.

"Ahaha~ Good~ Well, the bandit problem should be fixed now; next time we visit, we could ask for some kind of reward. Anyway, we should go; we must reach the Kingdom and look for our missing prince. Heh, like in the tales… a missing princess, maybe kidnapped in a foreign land, turned into a sex slave, waiting for rescue. Poor guy." Ren laughed in a good mood before going on her way while the others followed her, still thinking about her words and already imagining themselves as demigods…