C34 – Debtor
“205 gold coins?” Shire exclaimed, “That’s a lot! When did you lend this to me?”
Count Reney belched loudly. He motioned to his servant to fetch something and then faced Shire once more.
“I’m not fond of being questioned,” Reney began, “but I’ll let you see the note. Would you like to sit? You’ve probably traveled far.”
Shire settled into a chair by the round table, his emotions mixed. The chair wasn’t comfortable, but a tempting apple pie lay in front of him. He sliced a piece, finding it delightful with its crunchy crust and sweet filling. Yet, the unexpected debt weighed on his spirits.
“This is completely new to me,” Shire said, taking a bite of the pie.
“Perhaps you’re unaware, or perhaps not,” Reney mused ambiguously. “Regardless, you owe money. You need to repay it. Given that Frederick had no other kin, I’d appreciate a swift repayment. Maybe even a bit extra to ensure it’s settled. It wouldn’t bode well otherwise, especially for a renowned Devil Hunter like you.”
“I can take down the Winged Devil for you.”
“Either everyone in Half City is mistaken, or that creature emerged from your sacred grounds. We have unfinished business, young Shire,” Reney observed, adding, “You truly are quite young.”
“Despite my age, I’ll shoulder the responsibility.”
The servant handed Shire the document.
Thanks to Etienne’s teachings, Shire was now literate. The document held a thousand words or so; while he couldn’t decipher poetry or complex works, this was sufficient for everyday matters.
“Frederick of Gray Tree Hall, from the second era, mu Yue 2, year 474. He took a loan of 50 gold coins from our revered protector, Earl Alberta, for particular matters. This stands as their unique agreement.”
Lender: Qu De Alberta
Two vibrant red seals adorned the bottom. The first, bearing a hyacinthus shape, was Count Reney’s emblem. The second featured a sword and crossbow, which Shire surmised to be the insignia of Hunter Palace.
A mere 16 months had passed since Mu Yue of 474. In this brief span, the debt soared from 50 to 205 gold coins — a quadruple increase! The thought of the rising sum, akin to a snowball effect, overwhelmed Shire.
Shire gazed at Reney, who was leisurely sipping his drink with an air of composure.
How was such an amount to be repaid?
“I warned you! Just eliminate him! With the lender gone, your debt vanishes!” Gradiu exclaimed.
Shire reflected on the general opinion about Count Reney. Most deemed him avaricious and twice over self-centered. Yet many labeled him dim-witted. This now seemed a misconception. How else could someone perceived so manage such an extensive lending business?
Beyond Hunter Palace, Shire was convinced many guilds, nobles, and merchants were indebted to Reney. Reney, the lord of Gray Tree Hall, wielded the power to adjudicate territorial disputes. As both the lender and the arbiter, backed by military might, opposing him seemed futile. The only viable option was finding a genuine way to settle the debt.
Stripped of his title, Reney was merely an overweight individual with a shelter. However, when recognized as the Count of Gray Tree Hall, his presence commanded respect and intimidation.
“So, Shire, is there anything else?”
“My reward. That 100 gold coins.”
“Should you intend to clear your debt with that money, I’ll promptly offer you 100 gold coins,” Reney proposed.
“I’m in dire need of funds, actual cash! The menace we’re up against is formidable,” Shire fervently argued. “Impenetrable, beyond the military’s challenge. Its influence muddles minds, wreaking havoc. Left unchecked, our city’s very survival is at stake.”
“Yet, now it’s been vanquished, courtesy of you. This aligns with your professional duties. Just as a dairyman deals in milk, a smith trades in iron, and a nitro merchant is perpetually engrossed in potions. Your proposed reward of a hundred gold coins is generous, especially since the monster originated from your Holy Church. In essence, you’re rectifying your mistake. Wouldn’t accepting this sum weigh on your conscience?” Reney remarked disdainfully.
“I must secure those funds,” Shire reiterated, “The Holy Church needs a reboot, and Hunter Palace has to be operational again.”
“That sum, in your possession, would likely be squandered. It’s more prudent for debt repayment. I’m suggesting this for your own good,” Reney retorted with a hint of sarcasm.
Shire was torn. Without the money, he’d return to Hunter Palace penniless. Alicia’s liberation from the brothel also necessitated funds. The sudden ubiquity of monetary needs frustrated him, and he found himself yearning for the serenity of Twilight Forest.
“You’re well aware I could just pack up and leave,” Gradiu murmured.
Shire, with renewed intensity, declared, “Remember, my defense of the city stems from a profound responsibility. If I were to depart Gray Tree Hall, who would stand guard? Who would confront the lurking evil?”
“Thinking of fleeing? Let me be clear: those who evade their debts to me never meet a pleasant fate.” Reney stated, punctuated by a cough.
“A smart person would befriend a Devil Hunter,” murmured Gradiu.
“Master,” Shire began, his face earnest, “Honestly, I’m unfamiliar with these debts. If you plan on using my rightful money to settle them, while that might be fair, it would upset many of my plans. I believe it’s better for all to gain a friend, rather than earn an enemy, especially a Devil Hunter like myself… Just consider that.”
“Are you trying to intimidate us?” The youth beside Reney interjected. Up till now, he’d observed with a haughty demeanor, seemingly uninterested. But as he spoke, his voice was filled with unwavering confidence.
“Whether this is a threat might be unclear in a week’s time. However, within a month, a fortnight, or even years, everyone will come to comprehend,” Gradiu intoned grimly.
The words were sharp, and Shire felt compelled to echo them.
Memories of Alicia’s words surfaced: there were two kinds of men, wolves and dogs.
Shire inhaled deeply, his gaze intense. Those around were irresistibly drawn to his enigmatic presence, waiting in anticipation for his words.
“Is this a threat?” Charton mused, “Perhaps it won’t be evident in a week, but give it a month, a fortnight, or even years, and everyone will truly grasp…”
Reney finished the wine in his cup.
“Son, there’s no need for worry. He spoke the truth. These are challenging times for the kingdom. We should seek alliances, not conflicts.” Reney comforted the young man beside him, giving his shoulder a reassuring pat. He signaled the servants. “Goodness, how could I neglect our guest’s hospitality? Hurry, bring some refreshments. Rocher, aren’t you weary from standing?”
Rocher stood with folded arms, listening intently from start to finish. Shire had nearly overlooked her, as if she were a shadow.
“Standing, to my understanding, is a form of exercise,” Rocher remarked. “It invigorates our physique and hones our balance, ensuring we stand correctly.”
“Enough of that. By the heavens, none within a thousand-mile radius stands as uprightly as you. Please, take a seat.” Reney encouraged, tapping the table. “Besides, it’s not like you’re rushing back to Gloomy Jade Castle.”
The eerie name suggested that Gloomy Jade Castle was under Rocher’s dominion.
Rocher finally settled into a chair next to Shire. Her face was perpetually impassive and stern. To Shire, it seemed her emotions were impervious to the world around her, hence the consistent expression.
“Will the earl compensate me?” Shire pondered inwardly.
“Patience. He’s certain to reward you,” Gradiu counselled. “He might have been taken aback, but you must present yourself as a figure of mystery. Convince the Count you’re more than just an inexperienced hunter. Observe! Our journey’s complexities arise from your reluctance to act. A single decisive act could absolve the debt, allowing us to act freely now.”
“That wouldn’t be like me,” Shire responded nonchalantly.
A servant presented Shire with an enticing bottle of sparkling wine. Sporting a neat mustache and clad in a monochrome shirt, he exuded professionalism.
“Enjoy the Shitra Wine from Rain Bay.”
Rain Bay, situated near Gray Tree Hall, was a bustling port. Its moist climate resulted in grapes that were hydrating, luscious, and delectably sweet. It was Lorman’s primary wine-producing area.
The servant poured the wine into Shire’s chalice, followed by a serving of honey cake.
“A toast to our burgeoning bond,” whispered Reney.
Shire sipped the wine; its initial bitterness soon gave way to a lingering sweetness.
Reney backed away.
Things were looking up. Once he procured the hundred gold coins, Shire believed he’d have the means to restore the Hunter Palace and rejuvenate the Hunter Organization in Upper Lawman, safeguarding its citizens. Alternatively, the funds might aid in locating Alicia…
“Then how do you want to show your friendship, my lord?” Shire asked, “When can I get the money?”
“Money? No.” Reney shook his head. “You still won’t get a single cent.”
“No one!” Reney rose, gesturing assertively to assert dominance. “No one dares pilfer from my vault. Not a single coin. Shire, these 100 gold coins will settle your debts. Immediate cash? You’re dreaming! Thus, your outstanding amount is 105 gold coins, in addition to…”
Shire poured the wine onto the floor.