C35 – Flowing Shadow

The guards swiftly moved in, seizing Shire. Rocher, with immediate action, rose and positioned himself between Count Reney and Shire.

“Let’s depart,” she whispered.

Shire yearned to lunge at Reney, but a guard caught his arm, while Rocher sidestepped to obstruct his view. The feeling of indignation was new to him, making him deeply unsatisfied.

“Cast him out!” bellowed Reney. “Return when you have adequate funds!”

“I stand to defend this city!” Shire proclaimed with fury.

“Rein in your pride,” Reney’s younger companion retorted. “Consider yourself lucky my father overlooked your impudence now. Such leniency may not be granted next time.”

A day will come when you rue this, Shire mused, anger simmering within.

Rocher, with a firm hand on Shire’s chest, ushered him towards the exit. Confronted by Rocher’s impassive demeanor, Shire found no room for anger and retreated to the hallway, bitterness in tow.

The door clicked shut behind her.

“You may leave,” Rocher told the guards.

“He poses a threat to you!” one of the guards exclaimed.

“Sir Shire is a Demon Hunter; an ally, not a foe,” Rocher clarified.

The guards gradually dispersed.

“Is this justice?” Shire queried with agitation, “I’m burdened with a debt not of my making, and even my just reward has been stripped away.”

“Patience is key,” Rocher advised, gazing deep into Shire’s eyes.


“If you become the heir to the Hunter Palace, you must embrace everything that comes with it, whether it’s honor or blemish. Every legacy carries a revered history and a shadowed past. Debt also carries weight.”

“I see your point,” Shire conceded.

“Regarding the reward, let me clarify. Even though the sum is substantial, repaying the debt remains paramount. To put it simply, if the debt is 200 gold coins, the monthly interest is 10 gold coins. Half of this will be repaid. So, when the debt reduces to 100 gold coins, the monthly interest becomes 5 gold coins. Even if you haven’t realized any immediate gains, you’re saving significantly over time.”

“We only borrowed 50 gold to begin with.”

“Master Frederick probably didn’t foresee this,” Rocher commented. “The Master has always been magnanimous. He’s indifferent to the implications of his generosity. With noble lineage, he views money merely as figures.”

However, Shire believed otherwise. He thought Frederick was well aware that increasing debt heightened his desperation. He gathered all eight hunters, including me, a newcomer. Frederick had me in the group to ensure the defeat of Blade Devil God. To do this, he wagered everything. Taking down Gradiu, a top-tier devil, could be vastly rewarding. Unfortunately, Waren’s betrayal, siding with the devil, led to a downfall.

These reflections left Shire’s emotions in turmoil.

“Many in this world belittle those from the Pavilion of Light. Yet, I see boundless potential in you. Reney could govern, wizards have insight, and I can spearhead the fight. However, to combat entities as powerful as devils, I need your aid. For ages, since encounters with the Evil Demon were scarce and their might varied, the usual demonic menace involved minor spirits stirring chaos. It was uncommon for formidable demons to truly cause calamity. Consequently, we’ve overlooked the significance of the Hunter role, and this constant neglect concerns me. If demons were to ever mount an invasion, the obliteration of the Lorman Kingdom would obliterate our vanity and hubris, echoing with the sounds of their ferocious onslaught. Still, it’s challenging to alter deep-seated biases.”

“…You’re right,” Shire acknowledged.

Reflecting upon it, Shire realized that unchecked power could indeed taint souls. If not for the likes of Waren, who misused demon-hunting spells for selfish gain, hunters might have been viewed more favorably by the public.

Rocher detached a pouch from his belt, revealing a handful of gold coins, and offered them to Shire.

“What’s this for?” Shire asked, taken aback.

“Words have little weight, tangible gifts speak volumes. Accept this as a token of my gratitude. Your efforts vanquished the Winged Devil, enabling me to accomplish Lord Reney’s task. You’ve also avenged many fallen soldiers under my command. Use this to restore the Hunter Palace and fulfill its objectives.”

“I can’t possibly take this,” Shire demurred.

“The coins have been presented. Declining would only dishonor me. Do you wish to place me in such a predicament?” Rocher pressed.

“I’ll accept, but I intend to repay you,” Shire replied, taking the gold.

“No repayment is required,” Rocher assured, “Perhaps you could visit Yinyu Castle when you have a moment. It’d be an honor.”

“Certainly,” said Shire, a hint of joy in his voice.

“The easing of the crease between your brows brings me immense satisfaction.” Rocher’s gaze was detached, his demeanor composed, and his voice even. He acknowledged Shire with impeccable grace, then took his leave with a bow.

Has it really eased? Shire pondered, his confusion still lingering.

He rested against the wall, contemplating means to acquire money. Without finances, his progress would be hindered. Slaying demons wasn’t the priority; mere survival posed a significant challenge. Save for Rocher, the nobility seemed heartless and unreliable.

“Witnessing this, I’m tempted to pen verses to immortalize your discomfort,” Gradiu jeered.

“How can you be so brazen? You claimed the earl was petrified, yet he remained unflustered,” Shire mused internally.

“It’s because you took liberties with my original statements. Deceiving mortals is my forte,” Gradiu countered.

“Regardless of how you phrase it, your intent remains unchanged,” Shire argued with the demon.

“Given another shot, he would surely falter.”

“But there’s no redo. Our mission is complete. It’s time to head back to Hunter Palace,” Shire ruminated.

“Stay calm,” Gradiu whispered, “I have a hunch about the source of his confidence.”

“Why not mention this sooner?”

“I needed to ascertain my suspicions,” Gradiu elucidated. “In my current state, gauging the external world is tough. I’m reliant on your perception and intuition. There seems to be a beguiling and vexing presence in this castle, hinting at a hidden power.”

“Such as?”

“It could be an energy-laden gem or an ancient sacred relic sealed for ages. Its nature is uncertain, but it appears to clash with our kind.”

“So, it’s an entity that’s particularly menacing to the Abyss Devils,” Shire reflected.

“Perhaps the noble’s audacity in subduing you stems from ‘that entity.’ Even without your presence, he has means to counter devils. You must discover its true essence.”

Hearing this, Shire’s interest was aroused.

“Where is it?”

“Heed my guidance. First, proceed straight ahead, then descend the staircase. At the corridor’s end on the left, switch to a different set of stairs…”

Shire adhered to Gradiu’s directions and navigated the passageway. Navigating the expansive castle, he soon felt disoriented. It wasn’t long before he lost his bearings.

Each section of the stone corridor bore a similar aesthetic, making everything look identical. Despite that, the castle housed numerous distinct sections. There were serene rooms meant for meditation, housing a handful of shrines. The maids’ dining area bustled with servants engaged in lively conversation. In the tutor’s classroom, children were engrossed in their studies. Additionally, the castle boasted a storage area for hunting gear, a woodworking chamber for leisure, and various guest rooms likely reserved for visiting nobility.

Yet, what captured Shire’s attention most was the castle’s central section. Even with a fleeting glance, he noted a magnificent hall below, its ceiling soaring up to what appeared to be the third floor. Suspended in the hall were opulent lanterns, each bearing over 36 candles. The vast stone table below could easily accommodate hundreds, though chairs were notably absent. It seemed this grand space was seldom, if ever, used by the Count.

Pushing everything else from his mind, Shire continued per Gradiu’s guidance to the castle’s most secluded area. There, a tower stood, eerily quiet and seemingly uninhabited. Treading lightly, Shire ascended its winding staircase, ensuring his footsteps remained silent.

By the time he reached the tower’s pinnacle, exhaustion had set in. The uppermost room’s door was locked. Leaning in, Shire tried to detect any signs of life from within but was met with only silence.

“Are you certain what we seek is in this chamber?”

“Indeed. The object of my disdain and obsession resides here…” Gradiu responded with a hint of avarice. “Retrieve it for me.”

“I won’t become a thief for you.”

“Truly? Even with our bond, you won’t oblige such a modest request? How disappointing.”

Suddenly, the sound of approaching footsteps echoed from below.

With someone on their way, anxiety gripped Shire. Stationed outside the room, he lacked a plausible excuse for his presence. He certainly couldn’t admit to hunting for hidden treasures.

“Hide within. The room is spacious enough for a discreet entrance and exit,” Gradiu tempted.

“But the door’s locked. How would I enter?”

“Having witnessed Waren’s memories, I’m familiar with his teleportation magic. Care to learn?” Gradiu whispered enticingly.

The idea of mastering such a spell, one that had significantly empowered Waren, thrilled Shire. He believed mastering it would greatly expand his own capabilities.

“Teach me,” implored Shire.

“A devious mind you have. Hoping to trick Gradiu into revealing the teleportation secret without fulfilling your end. Such cunning!”

“If you can perceive my thoughts, then you know I’m sincere.”

“It’s a transparent ruse. Yet, I’ll still instruct you because I genuinely care for you.”

“I can always decline your offer.”

“Regardless, you tend to heed my words. Flowing Shadow,” Gradiu intoned the mysterious Hunter Curse to Shire.

Shire’s heart raced with anticipation. “Flowing Dark Shadow” — the essence of teleportation. He recalled Waren’s movements, fluid like a shadow, vanishing and reappearing effortlessly. The sheer power of the spell left him exhilarated.

“Experience its thrill! Use the spell to infiltrate the room,” Gradiu urged. “But exercise caution…”

Shire murmured, focusing on the door, “The flowing shadow.”

Instantaneously, he merged with his shadow, gliding fluidly. Yet, his surroundings shifted jarringly, disorienting him.

He wasn’t ascending but rather descending.

Retreat swiftly, he thought, recalling how he had previously quelled the Aphen flames in such a manner.

A sharp pain lanced through his head. As his vision cleared, an elderly figure in a black cloak scrutinized him.

“Did he fall?” He asked kindly.

“No, no… I feel fine…” Shire stammered.

“Fortunate that you remained upright. Proceed,” the old man gestured towards the upper room with a cryptic smile. “If you’re so keen on exploring my tower, have a look inside.”

Shire’s heart turned cold. Gradiu pretended to be dead.

Step Into A Different WORLD!

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