Shadow Slave -
Chapter 128 King Of The Hill
Chapter 128 King Of The Hill
Sunny stared at her, trying to understand the meaning behind the strange words.
"What do you mean?"
"The castle belongs to a man named Gunlaug. If you want to enter and live in the safety of the castle walls, protected and provided for by his hunters, you need to pay a tribute. One shard each week."
…Of course there was exploitation going on even in this pit of despair. What else did he expect? As long as there were people, someone was going to end up as prey.
Sunny sensed a familiar dark feeling rising up from the depths of his soul. At some point, he had lulled it into a slumber and forgotten it, but now it finally returned to its rightful place.
A corner of his mouth curled up.
"What happens if you can't pay the tribute?"
The huntress glanced at him with confusion.
"What do you think? You are not allowed to step anywhere near the gates. There's a small settlement for us unfortunate wretches beneath the castle walls, where we make do with what little we have and tremble in the night, hoping that nothing comes out of the darkness to devour us. That's pretty much it."
"But how are people even supposed to get soul shards in this cursed place?"
Effie gestured to the corpses of the monsters she had slain.
"By hunting. One can find Awakened creatures here and there in the city. The trick is to find and kill them without stumbling into something far more deadly. Gunlaug's people form parties and go out to hunt, with experienced pathfinders leading the way. They bring back food, Memories, materials and shards. Nothing stops people from attempting the same."
She fell silent for a few moments, and then said in a darker tone:
"Of course, without good Memories, vast amounts of accumulated soul essence and intricate knowledge of the city, those people usually don't live long. Most of them either die or turn to other ways of earning shards. There's very few independent hunters with more than a couple of successful hunts to their names. Ones that are still alive, I mean."
Sunny glanced at the dead monsters, each of them large enough to give him pause.
"What about you? How many did you survive?"
"More than a couple."
With a chuckle, she raised her hand and began folding fingers, a thoughtful expression on her face:
"Let's see… one, two… uh, five…"
Running out of fingers on one hand, she scratched her head and said with a bit of uncertainly:
"I'm not really sure, but it should be around a hundred or two. Yeah."
Sunny's eyes widened. Two… two hundred?
If what Effie had said was true, then she was a force to be reckoned with. Slaying even one Awakened creature was worthy of respect. Slaying hundreds of them, however, was nothing short of remarkable, perhaps even heroic… and a little fearsome. Especially since she had hunted them alone in the middle of a cursed ruin full of Fallen abominations, unaided, with no one to rely on except for herself.
The easygoing huntress was not as simple as she appeared.
"If this is true, then you should have had no problem paying the tribute to stay in the castle. This doesn't make sense. Why haven't you?"
Effie shrugged with ambivalence. The topic didn't seem to interest her.
"Let's just say that I don't like the… ambiance there."
Sunny wanted to learn more, but suddenly, Nephis spoke again, her voice strangely tense:
"You said that there were… other ways of earning soul shards. What are they?"
The huntress turned to her and was silent for a while, a hint of some dark emotion in her eyes. However, it was quickly erased by her usual laidback smile:
"Well, there's a few ways. If you have a useful Utility Ability, you can become a craftsman or an artifex in the castle. There's not a lot of such Sleepers, so they are well-regarded and cared for. If not, uh… there are other opportunities, too. Boys can become Gunlaug's soldiers, while girls… can enter his harem. Pretty ones like the two of you especially. No one will force you, of course."
Nephis scowled. Sunny could see white sparks dancing in her eyes.
"So… you can either become his soldier, his servant, his plaything, or die. But that is… your own choice. No one is forcing anyone to do anything. Of course."
"Smart girl. You get it."
Changing Star looked down, her indifferent face turning hard and cold. Her fists were clenched so hard that they seemed bloodless.
"So why hasn't anyone… killed him yet?"
The huntress laughed.
"Kill Gunlaug? Oh, many have tried. Great people, terrible people, and everyone in-between. You can see their skulls above the castle gate, actually."
She shook her head.
"I like your train of thought, princess, but you should forget it. Just consider him to be immortal. He practically is. Believe me when I say that no Sleeper can defeat Gunalug, ever. It's simply impossible."
"Plus, no matter how much I hate the bastard, he is the only thing that holds this place together. Despicable as he is, without him, we would have all been dead already."
Sunny watched Nephis, waiting to see her reaction. What he saw did not make him happy at all.
On her beautiful ivory face, there was nothing but cold indifference and resolve.
It was the same expression he had seen on it before the battle with the carapace centurion first, and the Carapace Demon later. Without even needing Cassie's prothetic Ability, he could easily imagine what was going on in her head.
'This is… going to become a problem.'
As though sensing the same thing, Effie grimaced.
"No, seriously. Trying to go against Gunlaugh will only get you killed... if you're lucky. Don't even think about that. Thinking too much is not good for your health here in the Dark City, anyway."
Then, she smiled and gestured to the fire.
"Just have some of this delicious meat instead. Life is good when your stomach is full, right? Let me tell you, this is most likely your last chance to eat anything for free. Food is a real rarity in these parts. Can you believe it?"
Sunny sighed, then leaned forward and picked up a sizzling piece of meat.
No matter what happened, they had to keep going. One step at a time. This was the only way to survive.
"Of course I can believe it. I'm from the outskirts, you know. I didn't even know what real meat smells like before entering the Academy!"
With that, he handed the piece of meat to Cassie, took another one, and began devouring it greedily.
Nephis lingered for a bit, but then followed his example.
"That's the spirit! See, doofus gets it."
It seemed as though Changing Star had listened to her advice. At least on the surface, she had accepted that defeating the current master of the castle was impossible.
But Sunny knew that, deep down inside, she remained unconvinced.
After all, Nephis was in the habit of making impossible things happen.
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