Hunt 2: Cornered
His deep voice gives chills not only to Azalea but to his companions as well.
Azalea straightens her back and then she fixes her eyes on Zharyx’ face. “Is your life that disposable? Don’t get me caught up because I’m tired of watching idiots like you die.”
“I don’t want to die, of course.” He tilts his head a little to the side and set his gaze down at Azalea. “None of us would want that kind of outcome, however if we cannot slay a demon with such rank then that end is most likely to befall us.”
“Then don’t hunt Al Duran.” She arrogantly suggests.
“Like I said, we are betting.”
“I’m not taking it. You’re wasting your time.”
“Nevertheless, we’ll do it.” He stares straight into her eyes without blinking.
She grits her teeth. “What is this guy so fucking stubborn?!” She grumbles.
She looks around turning her gaze to Victor and Earl Spade who are calmly standing behind despite of the unreasonable bet that Zharyx just made. She can feel the warm hand of Lillian wrapped around her shoulder and arm but she cannot see her expression properly. The situation turned into something she cannot read.
“I could just ignore them and let them hunt Al Duran as much as they want,” she thought. “However, I’m pretty sure they’ll really end up dead if I leave them be. But if I ran away and leave them behind, then there won’t be any reason for that.”
Azalea turns her gaze to her staff. “That’s a smart move. Ha, ha.” She lets out a bitter laugh. “Well educated. Not bad. It makes me really curious who could have thought of that amazingly stupid idea.”
“Do we have a deal?” Zharyx asks.
She clicks her tongue.
“This Lillian person is holding me and she’s not letting her guard down. If I run away right now she’ll surely catch me with that barrier thing again.”
“Hmn?..” Earl Spade frowns as he puts his hands inside his pockets. “Don’t tell me you are thinking of ditching us now?”
“In that case we’ll still go after Al Duran, whether you come with us or not.” Zharyx says with a straight face.
“He’s being more unreasonable than before.”
“What’s the point if I’m not there to see whether you really did beat that demon?”
Zharyx’ smile suddenly turns into a crafty one as if he already won. “It seems that you really do care a lot. There isn’t a problem; you just have to come with us to confirm it. Can you really just leave us like this?”
“Fuck! I blurted out stuff that I shouldn’t have said.” She mumbles as she scratched the back of her head. For a moment, she paused wearing an obvious frown staring blankly on the ground. “Okay, I’ll come with you but if you really can’t beat him then just go home empty handed.” She glares at Zharyx, her tone rings deep and grim.
“Okay, then we’ll find some place to rest for now, and then we’ll take off tomorrow.” Lillian adds enthusiastically while keeping Azalea close to herself.
“Tomorrow? Damn noobs.” She mutters gritting her teeth.
Demons and monsters are classified according to their mastery of using mana. These classifications start from rank D, which is the lowest, up to rank S, which is the highest for monsters while demons goes up to rank SS and SSS. Depending on their rank, they can be hunted using different strategies. However, unlike monsters that can be hunted solo, demons possess great amount of mana which is why it is most advisable for them to be hunted with parties composed of at least five people for rank D’s. The higher the rank the more people is needed to deal with them. Demon hunters usually form several parties lead by at least a couple of veteran hunters to hunt and slay a single demon with a rank of B and higher. The cases where a hunter goes to hunt solo are very rare, and they are only performed by veteran hunters packed with years of experience.
After surveying the surrounding area and making sure that there are no alarming threats around, Zharyx and company decide to settle down in a wide enough space to set up their temporary camp. Zharyx and Victor set up the camp and tents while Earl Spade prepares their lunch. Meanwhile, Lillian who keeps herself close to Azalea just takes a sit under the shade of a tree to relax.
“What are we doing here?” Azalea asks looking so confused.
“We’re taking a rest.” Lillian answers casually. “The boys can do all the work for now. You still haven’t eaten breakfast, have you?”
“She’s right.” Azalea mumbles as she turns her gaze away.
Lillian warily holds onto Azalea’s hand. “I’ll be guarding you so that you don’t run away.” She gives a silly smile. “You look tired, what have you been doing before we found you?”
She cannot look her in the eyes. “I was sleeping.”
“Sleeping?.. on top of that tree?”
“Yeah…” She looks away as if inspecting the surroundings. “How-… By any chance, does anyone else know that your group is looking for me?”
“You don’t want to be found that bad?” She answers with a gentle smile. It makes her wonder why this girl, younger than her, is in this kind of situation; but she does not want to show her curiosity openly. “Well, we did ask around. Tracing you down is not classified as a top secret mission.”
“Mhm… I see.”
A brief silence follows her short and vague answer. The young hunter says nothing more after, she just stares absent-mindedly in front.
Lillian cannot grasp Azalea’s way of thinking and it makes her very curious. “Hey, can you look at me when you talk? Is there something funny on my face?”
She does not give a response.
Lillian reaches out onto Azalea’s face using both of her hands. She forcefully turns Azalea’s head towards her. “Look at me properly.” This time, getting a close glimpse of her soulless purple eyes is making her feel uneasy.
Surprised by the sudden closeness, Azalea grabs Lillian’s arms trying to move it away but again she stops midway and closes her eyes instead.
“Hey--!! How rude.” She pouts.
“You’re too close, could you give me some space.”
“That’s not how you ask a favor. Now, now, you should learn proper manners, young lady.”
Azalea is still trying to turn away, “Yes, yes, whatever it is, just let go of me.”
“You seriously don’t learn do you?” She says without holding back. “Okay, I’ll let you off if you answer me properly from now on.”
“One ‘alright’ is enough.”
“What do you want to know?” She sighs while sitting properly beside Lillian. “I’m not promising that I will tell you everything though.”
“Hey, don’t take back what you just said earlier!” Lillian demands.
“We’re done here!” Victor calls not far from their post.
Lillian stands up and stretches her right hand to Azalea. “Let’s go.”
There are five seats made of rock and a place for bon fire in the middle with a pot which seems to be holding the hot stew for their lunch. Zharyx is already sitting on one of the stones facing them as they walk towards the camp. Right beside the pot is Earl Spade, checking if the stew is being cooked properly. He takes a little amount of the boiling stew to taste it but then he falls on his but after getting his tongue burnt. He curses as he tries to get back up.
“What are you doing? Are you a kid?” Lillian shakes her head looking at Earl Spade.
Victor casually and quietly sits by Zharyx’ right side.
Earl Spade gets back up from his fall and sit on one of the stones, by Zharyx’ left side. “The stew’s ready, it’s just really hot. By the way, how’s the mage-sprout over there?”
“Azalea is joining us.” Lillian enthusiastically pulls the reluctant girl into sitting across Zharyx’ place. “Let’s start getting to know more about each other as we take our lunch for today.”
“So, Miss Sprout, you look so young but how many demons have you killed so far?” Earl Spade asks as he relaxes his back.
Not a single word is uttered. Other than the chirping of birds and rustling of leaves, their surroundings is in complete silence. The floating staff that is following Azalea slowly lays flat on the ground. Azalea then simply fixes her arm brace as if she heard nothing. The Sabercat dutifully sits beside the staff. Earl Spade cannot refute and simply stares at her with discontent.
“Let’s eat first.” Zharyx breaks the silence as he hands over a bowl of stew to Earl Spade. “We’ll have all the energy we need to talk later.”
Victor scoops another bowl of stew and then passes it to Azalea, and next to Lillian. “We should get something to fill our stomach. We’re all tired and hungry from the long trip.” Then he scoops another bowl and gives it to the Sabercat.
They silently eat the stew. Lillian notices how Azalea fills her spoon three-quarter way full and eats it without slurping or spilling; slowly, methodically and with care. Just like everyone else does. She also does not talk while eating; she just calmly finishes her stew and puts away the bowl after. The silence is like a normal lunch in the school’s cafeteria, without a comfortable table and chairs. Meanwhile, Earl Spade keeps on mumbling something, it seems that he is either complaining to Zharyx or he is telling him something trivial.
“Is this really the mage that the headmaster wanted us to pick up?” Earl Spade says softly looking at Zharyx. He is gripping his spoon tightly and gritting his teeth as he continues. “Look at those dead eyes; she’s definitely killed few people.”
Zharyx bends his body forward, resting both of his elbows on his lap while crossing the fingers of his left hand with his right. “First, you have to learn about the conditions of the scholarship our school is offering to you.”
“Y-you’re ignoring me too?!”
He looks straight into Azalea’s eyes. “Your tuition will be handled by the Dimasalang Foundation; you will also receive monthly uniform allowance, book allowance, student allowance and food allowance. You will be leaving in the academy’s dormitory with complete well maintained facilities and equipment. Anything else you’ll need will be provided through the scholarship program and all you have to do is attend AB Academy like any normal student would.”
“Ehh… Really?” Azalea responds while picking her nose. “I don’t really care, you know. I am a licensed demon hunter, I don’t need a school.” She raises her left eyebrow while slightly tilting her head. With her lightless eyes, her fake smile seems even more ominous. “I mean, I can read and write, I can add, subtract, multiply and divide. What else should I learn?”
Zharyx shakes his head in dismay, “How about we start from… manners.”
“No way. Who needs such things for hunting?” She snorts. “I don’t have any extravagant dreams or goals. I do not intend to become a doctor, lawyer, politician or businessman. What I want is simple… and whatever they teach in that school of yours will never be able to grant me that.”
He rests his arms on his lap and straightens his back a little. “What is it that you want? Why did you become a Demon Hunter?”
Azalea bends her head down making her messy bangs partially cover her eyes. “I want to hunt Naraka and pulverize him until nothing’s left.” She raises her head, looks at them and smiles as if it is the most normal thing to say.
“No way…” Earl Spade softly lets out a protest, his forehead creases.
At that moment the atmosphere starts to become heavy and the students suddenly feel a chill crawling down their spine. “This girl is very dangerous.” Their faces shows that they all are having the same thought at the same time.
Even though he is dumbfounded after hearing such answer, Zharyx avoids to show the apparent frown he is about to make. He pulls his thoughts back together. “Do you even understand the weight of that answer?”
“Nobody, not even ICA, knows when or where Naraka might appear again.” Earl Spade adds. “That demon shows up randomly, wreaks havoc, and then disappears.”
Zharys observes the unwavering cold smile on Azalea’s face before continuing. “Several decades ago, ICA’s elite warriors and every country’s strongest soldiers gathered to put an end to Naraka’s terror.” He narrates. His voice rings firm. “They were annihilated. Not even the army of hundred thousand world’s best fighters was able to stand against that demon. And you think you have a chance?”
She smiles enthusiastically, “I wouldn’t know unless I try, right?”
“You want to die that bad?”
“Of course, I don’t wanna die.” She chuckles, a sound devoid of soul. “But if I’m going to,” looking directly at her dead eyes makes it more disturbing, “I might as well make it grand.”
Earl Spade suddenly stands up gritting his teeth, looking down at the young hunter. He raises his voice, “You’re crazy!”
“It can’t be helped.” She replies, not caring about the sour atmosphere. “You see, Even if I’m alone, I’m strong. How many scratches do you think I can put on his armor?”
Lillian’s grimace grows clearer listening to her inconsiderate replies. “Don’t make fun of deaths,” she says. Her frown is painted with the color of disgust; her eyes reflect pity. “It’s unpleasant.”
“I’m sorry, I made you uncomfortable.” Azalea replies with the same habitual smile, not a single glimpse of light in her eyes. “My life had been a continuous joke all this time, how come I’m not allowed to joke about my death too?”
A brief crushing silence follows, leaving a chilling air creeping around them. “I see,” Zharyx breaks the uneasy condition they got themselves into. “That’s how it is. Your ways are quite self-destructive.”
Azalea’s pretentious smile fell for a split second. “That’s a first. Everyone else simply called me reckless.”
“I tend to be more specific.” He smiles fixing his gaze on hers. “If you are left you in your own devices any longer, you’ll surely end up just as dead as how your eyes look right now.”
“Ah-” A sudden realization hits her. “Does this appearance bother you? It’s been a while since I talked to normal people.” She turns away and then covers her eyes for a moment. “How does it look again? I must remember…” Then she faces them again, “How’s this?” Her eyes suddenly gained life in them.
“You’re really creepy.” Earl Spade blurts out without a second thought.
They are at lost for words. She just looks like any normal girl, genuinely happy for no particular reason. A happy-go-lucky spoiled teenager fits this image of her. Even though they all know that this is nothing more than an act.
“Doesn’t everyone like cheerful people?” She says shamelessly. “Even if it’s fake, a happy-looking person is easier to approach.”
Zharyx shakes his head. “You’re not particularly wrong. Still…”
Azalea tilts her head. “What?”
“So we are left with no cards but to prove to this creepy mage-sprout that there’s lots of stuff you can learn in the academy by showing our strength through actual hunting. We’ll slay that demon, Al Duran.” Earl Spade says with confidence.
“You guys are still going for that?” Azalea turns her gaze to Earl Spade with a relaxed pose. “Do you even have a license?”
“None of us have.” Victor answers casually. “But anyone could hunt monsters and demons even if they don’t have a license. After all, the only reason these ‘license’ are made is to regulate the items, materials and bounty a person can get from hunting. We can slay them but we are not allowed to use or sell any drops from them, unless we report it to the Bureau International Defense and Order.”
Lillian taps Azalea’s shoulder. “We don’t really need the bounty or whatever the drop is, so you can have all of it since you’re only one with license.”
She sighs. “I don’t really need it either.” She answers losing the fake smile she used to wear. She shakes her head. “You obviously have no idea how things are done here.”
“Huh?!!” Earl Spade makes a jaw-dropping reaction. “Then, why are you going solo against a rank-A demon?”
Azalea responds with a childish smile, “Because he’s dangerous.”
“I don’t get her logic at all.” Zharyx tells himself.
“It doesn’t really matter what your reason is.” Victor does not look composed anymore, sitting stiff while staring straight at her. “We are going to defeat that demon and then you’ll come back to the academy with us.”
“No way,” her smile turns smug. “Without any experience or proper information about Al Duran… there’s no way you can defeat that demon on your own.”
“We won’t back down. Like I sai--” Zharyx’ statement gets cut before he could finish.
“I know that already, no need to keep on repeating.” Azalea interrupts. “That’s why I’m telling you, I’m going with you. I’ll fight with you, as a team.”
Lillian’s eyes widens after hearing that declaration. “No, seriously?”
“Yeah, seriously.” She makes a deep sigh before looking up. “Al Duran isn’t the kind of demon you can slay with brute force alone. If you go without any strategy, you’re sure to get caught up by its trap and die meaninglessly.”
“You sure are full of yourself, aren’t you?” Earl Spade frowns. “Even if you say that we don’t have any experience in this field we are still well trained with our abilities.”
Azalea looks back at them. “That exactly is the problem. I will explain to you everything I’ve learned about Al Duran this past week; you will have to listen to what I have to say and planned. Don’t worry, this is already a done deal, I’ll at least come with you to that academy.”
“Okay.” Zharyx agrees without a second thought.
Earl Spade quickly turns to Zharyx, “Wait-!! We can’t just follow her plans, what if she’s got some tricks up her sleeve and just run away when the time comes?”
“Spade got a point.” Victor fixes his eyes on Zharyx. “After all there’s that rumor too.”
“Maybe we could just tie her up and drag her back.” Earl spade crudely suggests with a villainous smile.
“How rude, do you want to hunt or commit suicide? Please just choose one.” Azalea raises her brow.
“Well, that’s a bit…” Lillian stares at Earl Spade with spite.
Victor stands up. “Azalea: The Bewitched,” he says with a low toned voice. “You could at least give us some reason why we should trust your plans in this mission.”
Everyone looks at her with questioning eyes.
Azalea takes a deep breath. “So it’s about that, huh.” She pauses, crossing her arms and rolling her eyes to the right as she tilts her head playfully. “Hmm… First, you all have no experience and have no idea what you are doing; baby-sitting four tag-alongs is a pain but I can manage. Second, given that you are well-informed about my location and target, and considering that you also know how to corner me, I can take it that that man is involved in this. You leave me no choice; I’ll see for myself what this academy is like.”
“That man… Is she referring to that merchant?” Zharyx ponders with a stern look.
“Lastly…” She bends her back directing her eyes to the sky; her left hand supports her weight, while she stretches her right arm as if she is reaching something above. “I have a debt to pay.”
“Then, that settles it!" Lillian says enthusiastically as she hugs Azalea. “I will definitely take you home!”
“T-take-? What the heck do you think am I?!” She tries to push her away.
“I’ll have to teach you manners too.”
“Really? What’s going on?” Earl Spade wonders.
“It worked.” Zharyx mumbles as he rubs his nape with relief. “Dad told me about this strategy to get her to come with us.” He lets loose of his shoulders as if some weight got lifted off it. “I’m glad it worked smoothly. I guess she is indeed an interesting person.”
Earl Spade scratches his head, “I see… That old man of yours has some really weird interests.”
“Should we start planning our next move now?” Victor asks.
While the guys talk, Azalea is still pushing Lillian away, “Get off me already, Sami--”
“Huh? Sa-??” Lillian pauses and wonders. “That name again?..”
“Yan, stop that already.” Zharyx orders Lillian as he stands up. “Let’s all rest for now; we’ll start planning our attack before dinner later.”
“Why later?” Azalea raises her brow, finally getting free from Lillian’s unyielding hug. “We’ve got plenty of time now.”
Zharyx looks at her with concern. “I don’t know what you were doing before we meet you but you look so worn-out. Go rest, take a nap or relax and replenish your energy.”
“Okay, let’s go over our tent so that I could give you a little cleaning. I mean, look at yourself, you’re a real mess right now.” Lillian insists as she pulls Azalea away.
Their current location
Dimatagpuan Region, Uar
-> Located in the most north-eastern part of the country of Uar.
-> It is a border region with Surus in the north and Osnar in the east.
-> Located in the most north-eastern part of the country of Uar.
-> It is a border region with Surus in the north and Osnar in the east.
Map of Nai Dunya
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The Bewitched Demon Hunter
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