Deep Sea Embers

Chapter 294

Chapter 294 “Dying hallucinations”

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A potent aroma of herbal medicine permeated the room.

However, it wasn’t that the scent had filled the room – rather, it seemed to have been present all along, only revealing itself to the uninvited guests at that very moment as the elderly gravekeeper spoke. The fragrance’s sudden presence caught them by surprise.

The two men in black responded almost instantly. The shorter man abruptly lifted his hand, pointing at the old gravekeeper near the stove, and emitted a low, raspy, peculiar sound, as if two voices were overlapping. His companion swiftly pulled out several stained, filthy pieces of paper from his pocket, tossing them into the air.

The strange, raspy noise transformed into a barely visible ripple, akin to a shockwave from an explosion, enveloping the area around the old gravekeeper. The airborne pieces of paper fragmented into countless pieces, morphing into numerous black, venomous insects and scorpions upon hitting the ground. They skittered towards the stove, producing a sickening rustling noise.

The old gravekeeper hunched over, observing the incoming dangerous assaults without making any attempt to evade them.

The shockwave obliterated the shelves beside the stove, shattering bottles and jars with a loud crash and destroying the lit stove, extinguishing the flames responsible for the potent herbal scent. The swarm of venomous insects and scorpions then crawled onto the old man’s body, eagerly biting into his flesh.

This rapidly overwhelmed the target. His stooped, elderly frame collapsed to the ground, transforming into a gruesome heap of blood and torn clothing.

All of this transpired within a matter of seconds.

It wasn’t until the gravekeeper crumpled to the floor and the stove’s ashes dispersed across the ground that the two men in black exchanged nervous glances.

Both wore the same bewildered expressions.

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“Is that it?” The taller man gazed skeptically at the destruction before them, addressing his companion, “Are these fabled, bizarre, and perilous tomb gravekeepers this easy to defeat? Or was this old man merely the weakest among them?”

The shorter man, however, refused to let his guard down. He continued to fixate on where the old gravekeeper had once stood while also rapidly scanning the small room from the corner of his eye. His eyebrows furrowed, “Odd… Can you smell that? The herbal aroma is intensifying. It’s as if someone nearby is burning incense… Wait! We need to leave!”

The shorter man appeared to suddenly grasp the situation and hurried toward the wooden door of the adjacent hut. Yet, when he tried to push the door open, it remained as unyielding as a wall. The seemingly flimsy wood felt as sturdy as steel.

An elderly, somber voice echoed throughout the hut: “One of death’s illusions is believing you are trapped in a room with an exit right before your eyes. You attempt to pass through that exit but cannot find the proper way to open the door.”

The abrupt noise startled the two men in black, amplifying the growing dread they were already feeling, which often morphed into futile anger. Finally, the shorter man abandoned his efforts to push open the door and pivoted to yell at the air, “I don’t care where you’re hiding!”

As his words echoed, illusory ripples materialized around him, revealing a grotesque bird-like creature perched on his shoulder within the ripples. The creature, a “death crow” demon, extended its neck and screeched.

The shadow demon’s screech and the short man’s bellow overlapped, generating a semi-transparent shockwave that instantly swept across the room!

Sounds of furniture ripping apart and ornaments shattering filled the air as the small gravekeeper’s cottage plunged into chaos instantly. The invisible shockwave destroyed nearly everything, except for the area surrounding the other man in black. The tall, muscular man had raised a barrier to block the residual shockwave while scanning his surroundings, attempting to locate the concealed gravekeeper within the distorted air.

He had already deduced the gravekeeper’s tactic—it was an illusion.

An illusion triggered by the burning of a powerful hallucinogen.

The gravekeeper employed extraordinary abilities and herbal medicine to conceal himself, manipulating illusions in the cottage. However, since his voice persisted, it meant he was hiding nearby. All they needed to do was sweep the entire room, and the old man would eventually expose himself.

Yet, he found nothing; the shockwave tore through the room, agitating the air but failing to force the gravekeeper to reveal his location.

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“Another dying illusion; fear and anger intensify, leading to an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. At times, one may feel invincible, as if they could reverse life and death, but this illusion often vanishes in a fleeting moment, followed by emptiness and heightened fear…”

The elderly voice resonated within the cottage, and for some reason, the two men in black suddenly sensed that the voice seemed evasive, drawing nearer and then receding like light and shadow through a curtain.

“The scent of demons—I know who both of you are now. You are followers of the Annihilation Sect. Your disguises were effective, deceiving my eyes but not my intuition,” the old gravekeeper continued, “Why have you come here? What is your purpose?”

“O’ great Nether Lord, grant us courage and pure essence!” The short man shouted, forcibly suppressing his fear with his devotion to the Nether Lord and progressively succumbing to a fanaticism of sacrifice, “Go ahead and gloat, you foolish worldly imitations! Your victory will only be temporary!”

With that, the cultist suddenly produced a pitch-black dagger from his chest and, without any hesitation, drove it into his own heart!

“Nether Lord, bestow upon me the power to transcend life and death!”

In a dire situation, unable to confront the gravekeeper using their own abilities, the cultist opted to offer his heart to the Nether Lord, unleashing the power he had gained through the “Symbiotic Contract” in a final, desperate attempt.

However, the anticipated demise did not occur.

He didn’t experience the intense pain that should have accompanied the dagger penetrating his body. In fact, he couldn’t even feel his own heart.

The Annihilator looked up in disbelief, glancing at his nearby companion, only to see that the figure had already collapsed to the ground at some unknown moment, a gaping hole in his back and blood drained out.

In the final seconds before his vision rapidly faded and his thoughts grew increasingly disordered, he recognized the horrific wound caused by a close-range blast from a double-barreled shotgun. His companion had been dead for some time, killed by a shot from behind by the old guard the instant they entered the guard’s cabin.

As for himself?

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The short-statured Annihilator lowered his gaze, realizing that he was actually seated in a chair at the center of the room.

A red-hot pair of tongs were brutally lodged between his chest and abdomen, with wisps of green smoke rising from where the tongs made contact with his flesh.

He remembered that he had been defeated in a brief yet intense struggle, killed by a pair of tongs – just ten seconds prior.

“So that’s it… a person cannot… die twice…”

The cultist muttered something, tilted his head, and ceased breathing entirely.

“The death illusion has ended. May your souls scatter without blessings or suffering.”

Across the room on another chair, the gloomy-tempered old guard observed the cultist who had stopped breathing completely, murmuring emotionlessly.

Beside him was the trusty old double-barreled shotgun, with remnants of the brief struggle strewn about.

The old man paused to catch his breath for a moment, regaining some energy before reaching for the shotgun beside him and using his knees to lift himself from the chair.

“Utterly useless… only two heretics and I’m already in such a state without getting any useful information,” the old guard grumbled, stepping over the large body on the floor and the other corpse in the chair, clutching his shotgun and heading towards the wooden door of the cabin. “There are still two problems outside; I hope I’m not too late.”

He reached the door, hand ready to open it, but suddenly halted.

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A peculiar presence was drawing near.

The old man’s eyes showed a sense of caution, and he gripped his shotgun tightly. The next second, a knock on the door came from the other side.

“Knock, knock, knock-”

In the cold, quiet winter night, the sudden knocking had a piercing effect.

The old man remained silent, fixated on the dark, aged wooden door as the knocking persisted patiently.

It wasn’t a living person outside.

The old man squinted, and in his line of sight, there stood a pale and dim figure beyond the door, surrounded by some distorted and jumbled light and shadow, but he couldn’t discern what it was.

Not a living person – but certainly not a dead one either.

What was it?!

“Please open the door, thank you,” a courteous voice emerged from outside.

The old guard slowly aimed his shotgun through the door at the hazy silhouette outside.

However, a soft clicking sound suddenly reached his ears before he could fire.

The door… opened on its own and a brilliant and twisted display of starlight flooded in.

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