C36 – Sorcerer
It was evident that the door was locked, yet the elderly gentleman managed to push it open.
“Are you a Magus?” With eyes wide in astonishment, Shire trailed the elder into the chamber. He glanced around, but before he could fully absorb his surroundings, the man swiftly turned, fixing him with a fierce gaze.
Shire was paralyzed, unable to twitch even a finger.
“Who sent you here? How audacious of you to intrude on my solitude!” The elder’s voice boomed, disorienting Shire. The man’s gaze drooped beneath a weighty white beard. A myriad of wrinkles creased his forehead, and he was almost completely bald save for a patch at the back.
Gathering his courage, Shire responded, “I merely chanced upon this place.”
“Your spirit reeks of malevolence, saturated with the essence of a demon,” the elder asserted, observing Shire intently. “Relinquish this young one’s form, fiend.”
Had he stumbled upon Gradiu so soon?
“No, you misunderstand.” Shire responded hastily, shaking his head with vigor. “I’m a Devil Hunter!”
“Your soul is oddly tinted, a muddled palette. It displeases me,” grumbled the elder. “But the fact that you’re another Devil Hunter only intensifies my disdain.”
“My apologies. I realize now I shouldn’t have lingered near your chamber.”
“You assume an apology will smooth everything over? Matters aren’t so straightforward,” the elder retorted, his brows knitting together. “Mind your manners.” He then pivoted, retrieving an item from his pocket, setting it atop his desk.
Now, Shire took a moment to survey the chamber. It was chaotic, a disarray of items haphazardly strewn about. Bookshelves, instead of holding books, were laden with bottles, notes, sizeable mineral chunks, and other oddities like musical instruments, figurines, and bones. Empty vessels, dishes with remnants of meals past, and a smattering of apparel were piled up. Several desks cluttered the room, each covered in books and letters. Alongside these, thick, homemade parchments were scattered, and peculiarly colored hats hung from nails driven haphazardly into the stone walls.
The disorder was overwhelming. Shire quickly deduced that staying longer was untenable. This had to be Gradiu’s prank; the room was a junkyard. He wasn’t inclined to sift through this wreckage for any hidden gems.
“Who might you be?” The elder, selecting a substantial chunk of bread, leaned on his desk and began to munch, eyes still on Shire. The noisy smacking of his lips as he ate was hard to ignore.
“I am Shire.”
“Where is Shire?”
“He isn’t from anywhere. Let’s not talk about the Devil Hunter’s background.”
The old man frowned.
“You must have come from somewhere.”
“I come from a small village,” Shire reluctantly continued, “It’s called Belor Grannie.”
“Your roots, your hometown, will always welcome you. It’s something you mustn’t betray,” the elder stated.
Shire pondered internally, “If I were to return to Belor, I wouldn’t recognize anyone.” After all, his parents had sold him to traffickers, and the village merely stood by. His childhood friends seemed content in their mundanity, never aspiring to leave Belor.
“I understand,” Shire responded, masking his true feelings to appease the man.
“My name is Draco, from the Corpse Throwing Swamp.”
This vast swamp sat near Lorman’s border. A sprawling wetland, it bore many titles, notably being recognized as the wizards’ birthplace and referred to as the Kingdom of Witchcraft. Many called it the White Swamp due to the ever-present funerary flowers which thrived on corpses. When travelers passed, they’d see these white blooms carpeting the swamp’s surface, lending it its moniker. However, locals termed it the Dead Throwing Swamp, a name more rooted in truth.
“Pleased to meet you,” said Shire, ever the gentleman.
“Pleasure? Hardly. You’re in trouble now,” Draco snarled.
Shire pondered briefly.
“Mr. Draco, perhaps I could offer my assistance to atone for my errors. In exchange for compensation, of course.”
“Compensation?” Draco’s voice dripped with disdain. “You lurked outside my room, and now you ask for payment?”
“I’m in dire need of money. If you’d consider compensating me, I’d be at your service. Surely, a wizard like you has tasks that require assistance.”
This made Draco laugh.
“You? What can you do?”
“I know the incantation of a hunter, and I also know how to use a knife” Shire gestured to Draco the weapon in his hand, “Devil Hunter can do anything.”
“Who taught you the incantation?”
“Oh,” Etienne said. Draco looked enlightened and nodded. “Etienne… Etienne… Are you his disciple? What a coincidence.”
“You know my master? That’s great.” Finally, there was some room for negotiation.
“Your master has been opposing me for the past few decades.” Draco’s expression darkened.
Draco’s demeanor changed, suggesting something on his mind troubled him. Quickly taking a bite of his bread, he turned and poured a glass of wine for himself.
“What’s his current state?” Draco inquired, cradling the wine glass.
“He fell in battle.” The memory of Etienne’s demise still pained Shire.
“In battle? Against whom?”
“The Blade Demon,” Shire said with a heavy sigh.
“Could such a man ever meet his end?” Draco mused, a hint of sorrow in his voice. “For decades, he moved fiercely, like an untamed dragon or a crazed hound, taking on devil worshipers and wreaking havoc.”
“I wasn’t aware of that.” Shire admitted, taken aback. Etienne seldom discussed his past.
“The Soul Disease scarred him; he had little reason to boast about his feats,” Draco remarked with a cold scoff. “…but I believed he was invincible. Witches supported him, providing powerful elixirs. Despite everything, he persevered. It’s bewildering…”
That purple ointment… So it’s a rare remedy? Shire pondered, realizing its importance and the need for caution in its use.
Draco studied Shire intently.
“Your spirit remains vigorous. Though tainted by the devil’s curse, you persist. Etienne’s soul had long been compromised.”
“The future might differ.” Shire responded, “Taking up Etienne’s mantle means I may eventually share his fate.”
“You might walk his path, but being him? Unlikely,” Draco countered. “Etienne was fiercer in his youth. He was brash, biting, and forceful. He felt irreparable. Exceptionally talented and enviable. While he explored the world, I was confined, dreaming of the vast unknown. To this day, I ponder whose life was more fulfilling,” he mused, glancing at the battle room.
“You serve the Count as his mage?”
“Yes, I assist the Count, interpreting various omens and signs,” Draco replied dismissively, “tasks well below my skillset.”
“You must possess remarkable abilities,” Shire commented, attempting to be as courteous as possible.
“Flattery won’t serve you well here; it might even lessen my respect for you.”
“Our dealings will be straightforward: I deliver, and you pay. That will earn your respect,” Shire argued, his mind on the gold.
“So polite. Are you truly Etienne’s disciple? Any evidence?”
Shire produced Etienne’s magical rope from his bag.
“Enough,” Draco gestured dismissively, “Seeing it irritates me. Now I understand your presence in my tower.”
“And why is that?” Because I was beguiled by the devil.
“You possess Etienne’s trait – curiosity.”
“The master wasn’t naturally inquisitive.”
“The Soul Disease altered him, and it’ll change you. Guard your soul from its influence. Your contamination looks dire. Stay vigilant.”
A cure? No, it’s futile. Shire resisted the urge to inquire, accepting his soul’s irreversible condition while Gradiu remained.
“I have a task for you,” Draco said, stroking his beard. “It won’t be pleasant. If you possess Etienne’s elixir, you should be prepared to face the challenges ahead.”
“Certainly, there are rewards and compensation.” Draco pulled open a drawer in a cabinet.
A sudden gasp of astonishment echoed in Shire’s heart from Gradiu.
Draco appeared to sense something. As he glanced over, he saw Shire’s eyes drawn to the wealth inside the cabinet: abundant gold, silver, jewels, necklaces, and more. Hidden in one corner was an amber orb, palm-sized and luminescent, almost like it was crafted from glass.
“What caught your eye?” Draco swiftly shut the cabinet. “Don’t even consider it.”
“Nothing in particular,” Shire responded, attempting nonchalance. “Just a captivating orb.”
“That’s merely a soul stone,” Draco clarified. “You won’t be getting that. It’s precious.”
“I already possess enough gold and silver. What task do you have?”
“The local Temple has long been in conflict with us,” Draco’s expression grew distant, “Their current priest is an extreme zealot. He bears a deep animosity towards us, the denizens of the Great Swamp. He needs to be replaced.”
“Replace the Priest?” Shire questioned, puzzled.
“How do you think the clergy feel about us, especially after we introduced those voodoo insects to the swamp?”
“They probably aren’t fond?”
“Precisely. Their distaste for me is reciprocated. If you’re willing, assist me in eliminating him. Discover evidence of his transgressions, find a means to ensure he cannot remain here… The approach you take is your choice. But should you succeed, my gratitude would be immense,” Draco said, his gaze sharp.
“Murder isn’t in my nature,” Shire replied, dabbing away sweat. “But I’ll devise a plan.”
“I believe in you. I’m not inherently cruel. I acknowledge there are bound to be disagreements among different factions. Yet, that priest’s presence only amplifies tensions. For the peace of the majority, he needs to be dealt with. Ideally, permanently,” Draco spoke with a chilling edge to his voice.
“I’ll require time.”
“Understood. But know you won’t be alone in this. I’ll also be vigilant for opportunities. Eventually, I plan on visiting your Holy Church.”
“I currently oversee the Holy Church.”
“Then you have your work cut out for you. I suspect cleansing it will take a while.”
“What are you implying?” Shire inquired, taken aback.
“It’s curious. No guardian remained at the Holy Church. You seem unaccustomed to relaxation. Because of this oversight, a band of thieves recently raided your Holy Church. I doubt there’s much left now.”