C37 – Curiosity
After departing from Draco’s magical tower, Shire set out to locate the carriage bearing the body of the Winged Devil. His mission was to transport it to the Holy Church. Expecting the soldiers to have left the carriage outside the castle, he was surprised to discover it within the courtyard.
As Shire caught sight of the carriage, a chill ran down his spine. A crowd had gathered, pointing and murmuring among themselves. Noblewomen and maids speculated about the large shape concealed beneath the white cloth, discussing what could possibly be next. Rocher’s soldiers kept their distance, not daring to intervene. Spotting Shire, they gestured urgently for him to approach.
“They’re eager to see what’s beneath. Can you handle this?” They beckoned him for assistance.
“Why did you bring it straight into the castle?”
“We are duty-bound to follow Master Rocher’s every step.”
Navigating the castle courtyard, Shire gestured dismissively as he neared the curious crowd.
“Step back! Everyone, step back! Don’t come too close!”
“Let them have a look! Once they’ve seen enough, they’ll understand.” Gradiu’s frustration was palpable. Given that the situation had no repercussions in the outer world, he resorted to words.
“Who are you?”
“Someone is coming! “
The crowd’s gaze shifted from the carriage to Shire, their expressions a mix of surprise and intrigue.
The junior female attendants, uniformed in black dresses with white protective coverings, had their hair neatly tied. Their faces radiated curiosity. The more elite female attendants wore long, diverse-colored gowns with minimal jewelry, feigning poise while keeping their distance. The sight of the demon’s body seemed beneath them. Among the crowd were also several distinguished noble ladies, adorned in embroidered gowns, jeweled hairpins, and exquisite necklaces. Clad in white silk gloves, they eyed Shire with keen interest.
“Who might you be?” A young noblewoman in a blue gown questioned, her voice piercing, causing a slight discomfort in Shire’s ears.
“I am Devil Hunter Shire.”
“Devil Hunter!” They were very surprised.
“It’s Devil Hunter…”
“Is this carriage really carrying a demon?” Exclaimed a young lady in red, who appeared to be the most juvenile of the group.
“It seems improbable, unless we unveil it for ourselves,” remarked a tall woman, her tone dripping with scorn, as she shielded her mouth with a fan.
“This is perilous. The carriage needs to be moved to Hunter Palace,” asserted Shire as he took a strategic position at the driver’s seat, although unfamiliar with how to operate it. He wanted to obstruct the inquisitive ladies from discerning the devil’s true form.
“How dangerous could it possibly be?” The noblewoman in red retorted defiantly. “You’ll safeguard us, won’t you? You are a hunter, after all. Surely, you know how to handle such creatures.”
“Absolutely not,” responded Shire, shaking his head. “The risk is immense. It’s the stuff of nightmares.”
“How can that be?”
… “We’re bold. We won’t have nightmares.”
“Do you think we girls are more timid than men? Nonsense!” Their voices became louder and louder, and Shire could only give in.
Shire thought about it carefully.
“Listen.” He stood up and pressed his hand down in the air, making a gesture to calm everyone down. “Everyone must have heard the story of the devil appearing recently.”
“It’s very dangerous.”
“In that case,” Wang Yao said. Shire continued, “After our unremitting efforts, we finally defeated the Winged Devil. This car is filled with the corpse of the devil. But the devil is an evil creature that feeds on the soul. It will affect our minds and affect us…”
“Who knows what you’re saying!”
They became unhappy.
“Allow us just one glimpse. Then we’ll depart,” implored the young girl in the crimson gown.
“My name is Shire. And yours?”
“Gina, from Gray Tree Hall,” she said with a warm smile and a courteous tone.
The name seemed vaguely familiar to Shire.
“She’s the earl’s daughter! You must heed her,” the girls accompanying Gina exclaimed.
Shire blinked in surprise. Could that bald man with the beard truly have such an adorable daughter? Gina boasted flaming red locks, deep green eyes, slender eyebrows, and a refined nose. Due to her tender age, her facial features hadn’t fully matured, retaining a child-like appearance.
Striving to appease both parties, Shire remarked, “It’s challenging to unveil the devil in its entirety. However, a glimpse isn’t out of the question.”
Moving to the cart, he delicately lifted a section of the linen, unveiling a portion of the Winged Devil’s wings.
“Look! Quickly look!”
The previously restrained curiosity of the girls erupted. They eagerly gathered around Shire, gazing intently at the exposed wings. Some even audaciously attempted to touch it.
“Stay back,” Shire warned, extending an arm to block them. “It’s perilous! Extremely so!”
Yet, the girls persisted, their hands continuously brushing against Shire’s arm. Their advancing figures pressed him back. Shire was exhausted, making every effort to prevent them from coming into contact with the devil’s remains. The overpowering scent emanating from them made his head spin, an ordeal he found more challenging than facing an actual devil.
“You’re exaggerating,” Gradiu chided. “A true devil is formidable, with weapons capable of tearing mountains asunder.”
“I wish,” Shire thought wistfully. “If you were swarmed by a horde of female devils, you’d understand my predicament.”
“True,” Gradiu conceded, “those female devils are indeed formidable.”
Shire pondered, was there genuinely a female counterpart among devils? Weren’t devils supposed to be genderless? His thoughts were a whirlwind.
“Not in that sense,” Gradiu clarified, sensing Shire’s thoughts, “I refer to a ‘female devil’ as in a devil embodying the essence of femininity.”
Despite Shire’s best efforts, a plump maid managed to shove him against the cart, eagerly grabbing the Winged Devil’s wings and exclaimed, “I’ve touched it!”
“What is it like?”
“It’s so chilling! Reminds me of an icy chicken wing,” the rotund maid articulated excitedly.
Their antics continued until a powerful voice thundered from the balcony, “What is transpiring?!”
Recognizing it as Lord Reney’s, Shire felt a rush of conflicting emotions. The women scattered, leaving Shire isolated with the deceased Winged Devil on the cart.
“You again,” Reney declared, his gaze fixed sternly on Shire. “Explain yourself.”
“I must leave,” Shire protested, “I’m innocent.”
“Ascend here at once!” Reney’s tone deepened, “It was unseemly of you to mingle so closely with the ladies here!”
“There’s been a misunderstanding,” Shire began, hoping to clarify matters. His rapport with Count Reney was already strained. Further disputes could risk turning Reney into an adversary, jeopardizing the Hunter Palace’s restoration. “My intent was to transport the devil’s remains to the Holy Church.”
“The devil’s remains?!” Reney’s voice cracked. “By the heavens! How dare you bring such an abomination here?! Where is Draco?!”
“Don’t worry, I’ll leave now.” Shire replied.
“Thinking of departing just like that?” Reney said through clenched teeth, “Think again! Guards! Come forth!”
The noise of metal resonating grew louder. Shire observed heavily armed guards emerging rapidly from every corner of the castle. He hadn’t realized the castle housed so many warriors. They looked formidable, their eyes cold and their arms well-prepared. Even if Shire exerted his utmost, he might manage to defeat only a handful before being overpowered.
“You wouldn’t stand a chance against even a fraction of them,” Gradiu remarked with scorn. “The towers are brimming with marksmen, ready to strike you down.”
Shire’s gaze drifted to the towering structures lining the castle walls, noticing soldiers with crossbows primed and ready. The open courtyard was an archer’s dream. Shire was a prime target, vulnerable to being peppered with arrows.
Escaping using the shadow technique wasn’t an option, was it? Such an exit would be dishonorable. Plus, leaving the devil’s corpse behind might precipitate more unforeseen problems.
“Hold on!” Gina hastened to the cart’s side, calling upwards, “Father!”
“Ah, my dear child,” Reney’s icy demeanor softened, and he greeted her with warmth. “I see you’re here.”
“Please, remain calm,” Gina implored.
“I am calm,” Reney responded, his spirits apparently lifted. He gripped the railing so tightly it seemed he might snap it. “Do not fret, my dear. Today finds me in particularly high spirits.”
“We were just curious about the cart’s contents,” Gina clarified. “Mr. Shire had no part in it.”
“Understood,” Reney acknowledged, nodding. “Everyone, stand down.” The guards halted, and the archers relaxed their bows.
Shire’s gaze met Reney’s. Reney’s expressions were strikingly mercurial. His demeanor was tender when addressing Gina, yet it darkened threateningly when his eyes found Shire.
“My apologies for the chaos,” Shire directed a few of Rocher’s soldiers to handle the cart. “I regret any inconvenience caused. Nevertheless, our journey back to Hunter Palace is imperative.”
“Indeed,” Reney retorted, his gaze intense. “I trust you’ll make haste to your revered sanctuary. The sooner you depart, the better. Do you grasp my meaning?”
“Understood,” Shire responded nonchalantly.
The soldiers spurred their steeds into motion. The cart, bearing the weighty corpse of the devil, began to roll out. With a deep exhale, Shire realized he was finally on his way back to Hunter Palace.
Lost in his thoughts about future actions, Shire was jolted by a cacophony of screams and shouts. Among them, Reney’s anguished cry was unmistakably clear. Turning, Shire noticed Gina, who had seemingly sneaked onto the cart unnoticed.
“We have to leave,” she insisted. “I wish to witness the sanctum of the Devil Hunter.”