Shadow Slave -
Chapter 129 Solace
Chapter 129 Solace
After the shocking revelation about the cruel futility of their long and arduous journey to the Dark City, the desire to reach the promised castle that kept the three of them going for so long had diminished significantly. However, they still wanted to get there as soon as possible. There was a tiny remnant of hope still burning in Sunny's heart. Perhaps… perhaps Effie was lying to them, or wrong about everything.
He didn't really believe it, though. The beautiful huntress seemed sincere and competent, if a little eccentric. More than that, her words made too much sense.
But Effie wasn't in a rush to leave the granite tower.
"There's not enough daylight left to traverse that much distance. Moving through the ruins is a slow ordeal. Get comfortable and rest. We'll leave tomorrow at dawn."
After that, she got busy dressing down the monster carcasses with a long knife that appeared in her hand. She even summoned a Memory that looked like a leather apron to avoid getting blood on her tunic. Whistling an upbeat melody under her nose, the vigorous young woman looked like an enthusiastic gourmet chef.
Nephis, Sunny and Cassie were in no mood to talk. Each of them sat somberly by themselves, trying to digest the awful reality of their new situation.
Sunny was utterly disheartened.
He felt as though someone had pulled the batteries out of his body, leaving him with no strength or desire to do anything. The world had become dim and tiresome.
'That's hope for you.'
He didn't even have enough motivation to get angry. It was as though… as though he had run an exhausting marathon and crossed the finish line, only to find out that there was another race waiting for him on the other side.
In fact, he would have to keep running forever.
He would never meet Master Jet and Teacher Julius again to thank them for the advice and teachings that had helped him survive, and maybe even repay their kindness. He would never become an Awakened and learn more mysteries of his strange Aspect. Most importantly, his dreams of becoming rich and spending the rest of his life in comfort were also not meant to be.
Which hurt the most.
Crestfallen, he made an effort to find some semblance of solace in this disastrous fiasco.
'Well… if you think about it… I'm still alive. That has to be worth something, right?'
His shadow glanced at him, not entirely convinced.
"Plus, I can easily stay alive for the foreseeable future. Yeah, the big picture changed for the worst, but our immediate situation has actually improved a lot. We are safe from the constant threat of drowning or being devoured by the dwellers of the deep dark sea. We have also found a strong community of humans."
No matter how things were run in the castle, there were hundreds of people living there. Numbers and experience meant everything in the Dream Realm. By becoming a part of a human collective, they were going to shed most of the burdens that had been silently crushing them all this time. Compared to the infernal gauntlet of the Labyrinth, life in the castle was going to be like a dream.
If they were willing to submit to its thug of a master, of course. If Sunny was alone, he probably would. Now, however…
But even if they were to refuse, there was still the outer settlement. Effie seemed to be doing just fine as an independent hunter. She didn't even seem miserable.
'In fact, she might just be the most contented person I've ever seen. Seriously, how can she be so laidback and cheerful? Is she insane?'
He cast a sidelong glance at the unreasonably tall huntress and frowned.
'Well, let's ponder about it. She has a roof over her head and a limitless supply of delicious food, provided that she hunts it down herself. That is already better than my life in the outskirts.'
Come to think about it, remaining in the Dark City for the rest of his life was not how he had envisioned his future, but it was not that different from struggling to survive in the slums of the real world. Actually, in a lot of senses, it was way better. So, maybe, the situation seemed to be so bad not because it actually was, but because it simply didn't fit his inflated expectations.
Perhaps Effie didn't expect anything from life at all, and that's why she was so damn happy and lively even in the middle of this odious hell.
'Yeah… that must be it. Problem solved. Easy.'
The shadow shook its head and turned away. Sunny sighed. Despite his somewhat rational attempt to find the bright side in this calamity, he didn't feel any better, at all. In fact, thinking about how inescapable and bleak their future was only made him more tired.
Suddenly, his skin crawled. The familiar sensation of dread and unease flooded his mind, only now, it was so much more profound and invasive.
The shadow of the Crimson Spire had fallen on the Dark City.
…Soon, the sound of waves crashing against stone informed them of the coming of night. Not in the mood to even stand up, Sunny silently sent his shadow to take a look outside.
As the last rays of the falling sun colored the world in the shades of red, the cursed sea was surging out of the great crater. Sunny watched as the distant statue of the beautiful faceless woman was slowly drowned by the darkness, until only her open hand remained above the waves. Then, he shifted his gaze and looked down.
The undulating black surface of the cursed sea stopped mere meters beneath the edge of the granite wall. It seemed as though he could almost touch it with his hand. On the other side of the stone barrier, the ruined city lay submerged in shadows, dozens of meters below the water level.
Trapped between the endless expanse of the dark sea and the vast emptiness of the ruins, the mighty wall seemed to be as thin as a sheet of paper. And yet, it silently withstood the crushing pressure of the black waves, serving as a dam that protected the city below from being erased by the terrible flood… just like it did for thousands of years.
However, Sunny couldn't help but imagine all that crushing weight bursting through the collapsing wall in an all-consuming torrent of darkness. He felt shivers running down his spine.
Commanding his shadow to return, Sunny finally forced himself to stand up and walked over to Nephis.
Changing Star was sitting with her back against the wall, a dark expression on her face. Hearing his footsteps, she raised her eyes.
Sunny sat down beside her, lingered for a while, and then said:
"What do you think?"
She was silent for a long time, simply looking at him with an inexorable expression. Just when he was about to think that there would be no answer, Neph finally spoke.
As she did, white sparks ignited in the depths of her cold grey eyes.
"We will find a way to return. No matter what has to be done, we will."
Her words echoed inside the granite tower, making shadows on the walls dance in sinister glee.
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