C30 – Method
Rocher’s men swiftly gained control of the situation. The mercenaries who had succumbed to the mental assault endured severe losses. Only three among them managed to retain a semblance of reason, yet they displayed clear signs of demonization. Their nails morphed into dagger-like claws, and vast swaths of black scales emerged on their skin. Their visages underwent a noticeable transformation, almost unrecognizable as human.
“What’s our course of action with them?” Rocher crouched beside Shire, her metallic armor attesting to her formidable strength. “Is there any way we can assist them?”
“Let me ponder this…” Shire deliberated. He surmised that seasoned Devil Hunters and experienced wizards might hold knowledge of how to save these afflicted individuals, but he himself lacked that understanding. He desperately required deeper insight into the study of demons.
“Gradiu, do you have insights? How can we revert them to their human form?” He inquired inwardly.
“There might be a method, though I’ve never concerned myself with it. I believe it’s irreversible.” Gradiu responded with a note of uncertainty. “Or wait, do you question that? Simply eliminate them all. In their current state… They won’t survive without consuming souls. But finding souls to nourish these half-step Great Lords of the Abyss will only invite trouble.”
Shire was silent for a while.
I can’t help them ~ I can’t help them.
He could only say to Rocher, “… I can’t help them.”
Rocher plunged into contemplation. Her gaze shifted to the survivors among the mercenaries. She approached and directed her query to the remaining individuals. “Where’s your leader?”
An altered man gestured with his deformed arm towards Teibout, sprawled on the ground. More than half his body had been consumed. Half of his lungs dangled from his ribs.
“We’ve decided to provide shelter until the issue is resolved. You folks head in that direction. It leads to the camp.” Rocher directed.
“Is there a means to revert us?” A mercenary voiced in despair.
“Yes, but I require time to investigate some suppositions.” Rocher replied.
They sighed, turned away, and hauled their contorted forms along.
Rocher’s hand traced through the air, signaling her Personal Guards at her side. Swiftly, they readied their bows and notched arrows. Before the mercenaries could react, a volley of seven or eight arrows hurtled towards them, piercing their forms and felling the warped mercenaries.
Thereafter, Rocher advanced and opened their chests to ensure none were feigning death.
“Transport them back to camp and incinerate them all.” Rocher issued her directive.
Shire observed the unfolding scene, a sense of disillusionment enveloping him. He retrieved a potion from his backpack—a concoction from a witch—its contents nearing depletion. With a determined effort, he extracted some purple residue, endeavoring to apply it to a wound on his back, though his reach was hindered.
“Is that ointment?” Rocher turned around and saw Shire.
“Yes.” Shire’s movements were difficult.
“You have to take off your coat.” She walked over.
Shire intended to do just that, but a slight shift brought forth a heart-rending ache from the wound on his back.
“Take care,” Rocher removed his gauntlet and assisted Shire in slipping off his coat. Setting it aside, he then divested himself of his shirt.
Kneeling beside Shire, he examined the injury. “It punctured your back.”
“I’ll manage,” Shire breathed heavily, grappling with the excruciating pain. He had encountered a plethora of agony in his time, which had bolstered his tolerance. “This is par for the course.”
Rocher instructed his personal guards to fetch a vessel of wine. Extracting a handkerchief from within his armor, he soaked it in the wine. Using it, he meticulously cleansed the wound and removed the blood. The cloth’s texture was exceptionally soft, akin to luxurious silk, provoking a slight tickling sensation in Shire.
“Does it hurt? Regrettably, the hands wielding swords are present on both sides.”
“N-no…” To be candid, Shire felt a tad bashful.
“Are you truly 17? You could pass for 13,” Gradiu muttered, “Tell her about your physiological reaction. Ask her to aid in addressing it. She’ll agree.”
Rocher applied ointment uniformly onto the wound, then used bandages to encircle Shire’s body, concealing the injury. Shire’s thoughts couldn’t help but stray to Etienne’s form—marked by scars, tattoos, and incantations. It dawned on Shire that he might one day resemble that image. In truth, scars were of minor concern. As a Devil Hunter, it was implausible to retain an unblemished body while combatting the Evil Devils. Shire’s primary worry was incurring a debilitating disability or injuries impairing his mobility.
Rising to his feet with deliberation, Shire felt substantially improved. He donned his attire and found himself about eighty percent restored in vigor.
Rocher put the armor back on his hand.
“Sir Shire, do you have any plans regarding the disposal of the Winged Devil’s body?”
“Bring it back. I want to savor it at my leisure.” Gradiu was in high spirits.
“Eat?” Shire was puzzled. “Don’t you only consume souls?”
“Observe closely. Its body is composed of Devil Substance. While it’s all low-grade, I can still employ it for some fascinating experiments. You’re not interested in obtaining armor impervious to blades and spears, are you?”
Shire nodded and turned to Rocher. “Excuse me, could you assist me in transporting it back to the Holy Church? Drape its body with a cloth to keep it concealed.”
“Of course.” Rocher acknowledged Shire’s request.
They invested some effort to return to their camp. They observed Shire, his upper body stained with blood, and held him in high esteem. Rocher and her personal guards displayed no signs of combat. Seeing the horse-dragged corpse of the devil they brought back, their admiration for Shire escalated further.
“A true hunter.”
“If it wasn’t for him, how would we have fought with that kind of thing?”
“Does anyone know his name?”
“Shire, his name is Shire. But I don’t know where he came from.”
They were very excited as they whispered to each other.
The camp, initially somber and subdued, illuminated as Shire and his companions returned in triumph, igniting the braziers. The atmosphere reverberated with cheers, toasts, laughter, and card games once more. For them, life was no longer despondent; a glimmer of hope finally emerged.
Joyfully, they placed the devil’s remains onto a sizable cart, gesturing toward its grotesque wreckage. Their earlier fear seemed to have slipped their minds entirely.
Hope perpetually outshines fear; with a favorable commencement, the most arduous part was behind them. Shire felt immense satisfaction that these soldiers had witnessed demons’ vulnerability. Understanding that they could be defeated, this knowledge would spread, eventually crystallizing into a belief: demons were not invincible. With this newfound conviction, people would confront demons with enhanced self-assurance, bolstering their chances of victory.
Shire was now yearning for rest. However, he hesitated. He strolled through the camp, entranced by the scent of roses, until he encountered the brothel. There stood a statuesque woman, her features severe, her hair coiled atop her head.
“Are you looking for Alicia?”
“Yes.” Shire said with certainty. He didn’t expect himself to be so straightforward. It was as if he had become bold overnight. “I want her.”
The woman revealed a strange smile to Shire.
“Are you serious?” She asked, “Don’t joke around.”
“What’s the problem?” Shire did not understand.
“You didn’t ride her yesterday, so why did you come again today?”
“What’s the difference between riding and not riding? I want her to accompany me.” Shire said unhappily, “I can pay.”
“I don’t want your money.” Alicia came out of her small tent and said stubbornly.
Shire was happy to see Alicia. He took off the curtain and walked into the brightly lit tent.
“You are hurt.” She looked at Shire.
“We are always injured. Injuries are inevitable.” Shire explained.
“Then you will die? Die in battle?” Alicia was a little afraid, “When will you die?”
“How would I know when I will die? I won’t die.” Shire said.
Anyway, with Gradiu around, there was no harm in being seriously injured.
“When will your family die?” Gradiu asked.
Alicia looked at Shire worriedly.
“Take off your coat. I’ll wash it for you.”
She put the blood-stained wool coat into the copper basin. A large pool of dirty blood was formed in the clear water, but Alicia didn’t mind. She casually rubbed it and washed it.
“If we fail, it’s going to be a disaster. Everything will be over.” Shire’s voice trembled slightly, revealing his fear. “This is an immensely dangerous adversary. It possesses tremendous strength, can fly, and has the power to release mental interference.”
Later, Shire snapped out of his daze. They had glimpsed an enormous, devilish shadow in the darkness. That’s why the Fan Mountain Crossbowmen had missed their first shot. The battle had been so intense that they had retreated hastily without investigating the nature of that shadow. This realization renewed Shire’s unease.
“Why do you still appear concerned? We’ve already defeated it.” Alicia couldn’t quite comprehend.
“Demons are insatiable. They thrive on consuming souls. They must feed on souls ceaselessly to survive and grow stronger. To them, we’re mere resources and sustenance. They’ll keep breaching our world.” Shire murmured.
“Demons originate from another realm?”
“Yes, demons are creatures from a different realm. In that realm, they’re numerous and unending. As a Devil Hunter, facing them single-handedly is futile.”
“Oh, it’s so formidable!” Alicia confessed her partial understanding.
The more Shire pondered, the more he felt he could share.
“Do you know? I believe an army is powerful. Even though an army composed of ordinary mortals might not withstand the onslaught of Evil Demons, their minds vulnerable to the influence of demonic arts, a well-trained group of Devil Hunters forming an army is distinct. When tens of thousands of skilled Devil Hunters unite, it’s an entirely different situation. At such moments, it’s not the demons who’ll perish but the hunters. No matter how potent the demons are or how many hunters are brought down, there’ll always be seasoned warriors stepping forward one after another. They’ll steadfastly guard this world.”
“Ah…” Alicia mused deeply, “Isn’t this like the moral of that story with the goats?”
“What are you referring to?”
“It’s a fable I heard. There was a man who kept many sheep. One day, the sheep’s collar broke, and wolves started to come and prey on the sheep. He tried driving them off, but they kept returning.”
“Then what happened to him?” Shire’s interest was piqued.
“He fixed the sheep’s collar, preventing the wolves from getting in. Why don’t you all brainstorm ways to bar the demons from infiltrating our world?” Alicia wiped off blood stains from her coat.