Hunt 8: Clearing
They all know that the scenery in front of them right now is something they will never witness in their life again. With mix feelings of wonder and fright, it is an image now engraved into their memories.
Around Azalea are tiny magic circles glittering and raining down onto the smoking ground while she stands firm surrounded by the burnt forest. She starts walking and the glowing dust scatters around like pollen falling from a flower as a mild breeze blows. The radiance of her magic calms down the fire until it vanishes. Sprouts of little plants and epiphytic organisms start growing with her every step. Their eyes gleam with astonishment as they follow her with stare. In a moment’s time, the black scalded woods are enveloped by the greenery of new life, refreshing and calming their troubled hearts.
“She seriously didn’t need us, did she?” Earl Spade mumbles with amazement. “Her skills are truly on a different level even compared to the top students of our school.”
“You might be exaggerating a bit.” Zharyx responds.
“She got immense magic affinity.” Lillian murmurs. “After all that… these…”
“Well… This is probably one of the reasons why my father is so interested to get her into the academy. She is both an asset and a threat.” Zharyx adds.
“Isn’t this good enough, either way we go back with her.” Victor coughs while he is trying to sit properly on Spirha’s back.
“Vic! Since when were you awake?” Earl Spade says looking so surprised.
“With all those thundering noise, I couldn’t sleep anymore.” He answers with a forced smile while sweat rolls down his cheeks.
“Don’t move too much, you aren’t fully healed yet.” Earl Spade advises while supporting him. “Healing all the broken bones and restoring your raptured innards will take a lot of time. I think you will have to stay with Spirha all the way back home.”
Azalea serenely walks towards them while her image is still enveloped by the same playful glowing dust. When she comes close enough to them; she taps Zharyx’ and Lillian’s shoulders. “I’ve won, won’t you congratulate me?” She smiles without changing her disturbing dead eyes.
“Um… Congrats.” Lillian greets handing over her staff. “Unfortunately, we’ll go back with one heavily injured teammate.”
“Really?” She once again casts a spell on her staff making it float close to her. She then proceeds towards Victor. She taps his chest lightly then magic circles appear glowing for a moment before disappearing within a blink of an eye.
“Aw-” Victor growls.
“This happens when you go fight a demon unprepared.” She says while a mist-like light surrounds her.
“You didn’t have to do that.” Earl Spade grabs her arm to prevent her from further injuring his patient.
She pulls her arm away. She looks at him with a blank expression. “I’ll deal with your complaints later.” She rests her palm on Victor’s chest before closing her eyes. They stay quiet for a brief moment curiously looking at what she would do next. “Heaven’s Elixir,” she whispered and then magic circles glowed around Victor’s body.
“Wha--…” Victor feels a sudden surge of refreshment. “I’m feeling… better?..”
A number of magic circles also start glowing around Zharyx, Earl Spade and Lillian.
“This is healing magic.” Zharyx says looking around where the circles appear.
Azalea sneers. However with her droopy dead eyes, she no longer gives a sense of carefree playfulness. “Haven’t I told you, I’m a healer too.”
“Hey, if you can heal like that then you should have--” Earl Spade growls.
“Hey dumbass,” she raises her voice while glaring at them. “Don’t just stand around, we aren’t done here yet.” The tense feeling never left her being, and it becomes more apparent now. Neither her eyes nor her lips are smiling. “We’ll leave this place immediately. The whole area will be swarming with high level monsters if we linger for too long. We’ll be crawling in deep shit if we’re caught in the middle of that.”
Azalea leads them out of the conflict zone. They follow her, watching her back emit the same glowing aura that flows down and out into the environment. When the glowing smoke-like aura touches the ground, the fire that burns the forest disappears and then moss and small plants starts to grow in the previously charred region. It looks like watching a time-lapse documentation of how plants grow. Although, no matter how wonderful it looks, the anxious feeling around Azalea does not dissipate. She is not letting her guard down, even more than before they faced Al Duran.
Judging by how the four managed to find her quickly after she left them behind to fight Al Duran, one can deduce that they are able to break free and recover from Illusion Break pretty well. It is an impressive feat. Azalea got caught in that skill a few times before figuring a way out. It was a tough battle for her in the past week when she did not have Victor’s stun effect to keep the demon from attacking while she re-lives her nightmares. If she does not wake up from having those bullet stones stabbing through her, there is only one other way to dispel the illusion in one’s mind. It is very simple trick, and they all have it in them. To break free of their darkest nightmare, they have to let go of their resentments. Accept everything that happened as an unchangeable part of their life and move-on. It is a simple trick but at the same time it is not that easy to achieve.
It takes one to two hours before the magic seals in Azalea’s armor return. At this moment, fighting while protecting the others is close to impossible. The best she can do is look out on the way, making sure that there are no monsters approaching their location and ascertain that their path is not crossing any aggressive monster territory. She is also very wary of any human presence that might be following them. At the very least, she feels none close around their location.
On their way, they eventually meet Q. The young sabercat simply follows Azalea like normal. Their movement is slow due to the uneven forest floor. This sort of difficulty, they only realize after tiring themselves in battle. Their unsteady physique, shaking arms and legs combined with their tired body and mind, make it tough for them to increase their travel pace. Even though their injuries have been healed, the recovery of their stamina and mana is going slow. Continuing to move like this for more or less a couple of hours without any breaks, one of them is sure to collapse.
“Azalea,” Lillian calls out. “We need to take a break.” She says while supporting Zharyx beside her.
She turns at them, spares a glance with cold eyes before fixing her attention back in their path ahead. “We can’t.”
Disappointment is clear in Lillian’s expression.
“Hey Sprout-!!” Earl Spade growls. “Can’t you be more considerate? What exactly are you running away from?”
“It’s fine.” Zharyx interrupts before Azalea could say a word. He is obviously exhausted; anyone can tell from the way he tries to catch his breathe. He gathers some strength to stand on his own. “This much is not a big deal, I can handle it.”
“Azalea?” Her face looks full of worry while holding on Zharyx’ arm.
She takes a deep breath. “Fine,” she reluctantly says facing them. “Five minutes, that’s all I can allow you to spare.”
“F-five--?!” Earl Spade grits his teeth before sitting down a nearby giant root.
Zharyx also follows and takes a rest under a large tree. Lillian helps Victor get off Spirha guiding him to lie beside Earl Spade.
“Don’t you think it’s odd?” Victor suddenly brings up a question after lying down comfortably. “I know our pace is slow, but shouldn’t we be close to our camp by now?”
Earl Spade scratches his heed. “Now that you mention it…”
“We aren’t going back to that camp.” Azalea answers directly while they are giving her a look of mixed confusion and uneasiness. “I have hidden some supply elsewhere and that’s where we’re headed. It’ll be difficult since our number suddenly increased to five but it won’t be a problem as long as we reach the closest village as soon as possible.”
“All of our stuff is there.” Lillian complains.
“You have all the important things with you, right?” She answers indifferently. “We won’t be going back there. Forget it.”
“Hold on,” Zharyx interrupts. “This has something to do with the reason why you are hiding in this middle of nowhere zone?”
“Smart.” Azalea is again wearing her business smile. “My turn.” Her eyes are still dead. It feels sinister in nature. “So, which shithead thought that it would be a great idea to go demon hunting without a weapon or a set of armor?”
Earl Spade, Lillian, and Victor give her a confused look.
“Aren’t we playing that again?” She adds. “You ask, I answer and vice versa game thing.” Fixing her eyes at Zharyx, she chuckles with a dark tone. “It doesn’t matter, I just found the answer.”
Except for Zharyx, the three momentarily stare at each other to read each one’s reaction trying to discern what exactly is happening.
“Why?” Azalea asks.
Zharyx smiles as if to answer Azalea’s. Although unlike hers, the curve of his lips expresses more gentleness. “Isn’t that precisely the reason why you didn’t immediately abandon us?”
The silence between them is unsettling. Only the birds’ chirping and insects’ screeching along with the rustling of leaves can be heard. The two look into each other’s eyes, trying to read into the situation by basing on what they might discover from the other’s expression.
“None of you questioned that?” Azalea asks Earl Spade, Lillian, and Victor. They simply look confused, not knowing anything at all. None of the three is able to give an answer. “Why were you sent on a suicide mission?”
“I don’t believe that the academy would send us out to our deaths.” Lillian answers with confidence. “The headmaster isn’t that kind of person.”
It is clear looking at Earl Spade’s expression how upset he is but he is not saying a word.
“This mission was planned to make sure that we can all return with you.” Zharyx adds. “The moment you laid your eyes on us, you understood immediately. Leaving us helpless in the wilds is no longer part of your options. You will not allow us to die here. This mission was never meant to fail.”
“Something like that… I couldn’t have guaranteed…”
“But still, you let us come with you.” Lillian smiles kindly.
“You’ve concluded that we are safer if we stay close to you.” Zharyx adds. His breathing is becoming calmer. “But, you also couldn’t ignore the threat of the demon. You decided to let us join your hunt because you do not want to abandon either one… even though you will end up having to carry all the weight. Now, the villages around this region will be free of demon attack for several years.”
“If I was just a bit late in breaking out of that Illusion Break…” Azalea responds with a lower toned voice. “You’d be full of holes now.”
“Well, it didn’t happen.” He replies confidently.
Azalea frowns. “Why do you consider your life so insignificant? Did your mom not love you enough when you were a child?”
After hearing those words Zharyx’ expression unexpectedly changes. He is caught in surprise, losing his composure for a split second. Azalea notices the reaction; it made her curious for a moment. Something is off on that brief moment but that is a trivial matter right now.
“Haha-” Zharyx coughs a short laugh. He manages to get his poise back. “I sure didn’t want to hear that from you.”
“You have a point there.” She turns away. “However, if you allow me to brag, I am well loved by my parents.” She says softly as if recalling something very peaceful and reassuring. “My name… in the language of flowers, do you know what it means?”
They wonder but could not recall anything in particular.
“I have no idea what you are trying to get at. Just how did you turn out like that?” Earl Spade shakes his head.
“That’s a story for another time.” She answers without looking back. “Five minutes is over, let’s go.”
Something suddenly stirs in Zharyx’s memory. “I see.” He smiles for a moment.
They continue on their way.
“So why are we not returning to our camp?” Earl Spade asks Zharyx in a whispering tone.
“Hmm… It’s because she knows that we have been asking around on our way to find her.” Zharyx answers while following after Lillian and Victor. “We might have been already followed. Combined with those foul rumors and her attitude, I could only deduce that most of her pursuers do not mean any good.”
“By the way,” Lillian says while following Azalea’s lead. “Aren’t you going to report to HC and then claim the reward for the demon? Since we don’t need the money and you’re the only one with license, you could take it all.”
Only licensed individuals can claim monster and demon loots, materials and bounties. People with monster hunting license can only claim monster-related rewards while those with demon hunting license can claim both monster and demon related rewards. The rewards are also transferable but certain requirements must be met. One of which, is that the person receiving the rewards must be licensed or an official acknowledged by ICA. A document acknowledging the transfer must also be included.
“I’m not really interested.” Azalea answers nonchalantly. “I got most of what I need.” She said while three orbs revolve around her. “These orbs embedded in their armor controls the flow of their mana, it absorb the mana in the surrounding area, and also makes use of their Spontaneous Mana Emission (SME). It works wonders for me.”
Lillian looks at the orbs and notices how it looks like the one imbedded on her staff. She could only wonder whether those things are worth more than the demon itself. “Are you just going to leave the demon there?”
“No,” she replies. “After we get our supply, we’ll immediately head to Magye village. The village chief will take care of it. Claim the rewards and whatever loot is usable for them.”
“Why Magye?” Zharyx asks out of curiosity.
“Because it’s the closest,” she replies. “Let’s hurry up. Once we reach the safe-zone, everything’s going to be finally over.”
“I agree. I want to get cleaned off from this dirt as soon as possible.” Lillian says with enthusiasm.
Even though, Lillian is trying to play carefree, they all can still feel the tension in the air. Azalea seems to be more vigilant compared to the time before the hunt. She is strangely alert to the point of paranoia.
After walking for another hour, Azalea’s party finally reaches Magye Village without encountering any more trouble. They enter the village while Q stays behind to hide in the forest. The instant they check into an inn and got a room, Zharyx, Victor, and Earl Spade immediately decided to get some rest without eating or getting cleaned. They drop on their bed, sleeping like logs.
On the other hand, Lillian is pestering Azalea for a while to take a bath before doing anything else. Azalea finds her persistent invitation difficult to decline.
Right after Lillian falls asleep, Azalea, as if she never gets tired, left to inform the village chief about the hunt of Al Duran. The chief wants to thank her but she does not want to take too long while talking to them so she left after delivering the message.
The next day, Lillian wakes up to find their luggage that they supposed to have left behind spread on the floor of their room. She looks around for Azalea and she finds her standing by the window looking outside. It seems that after the news has spread among the villagers, they are eager to celebrate their good deed with a feast.
The group decides to stay in the village for three days. After getting proper rest, the party of five is going to leave. Their travel destination is AB Academy.
Mountain of Crosspatch in Dimatagpuan Region
-> Ainu Village in south-west
-> Harlawon Village further south of Ainu
-> Magye Village around the south-eastern parts
-> Ainu Village in south-west
-> Harlawon Village further south of Ainu
-> Magye Village around the south-eastern parts
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The Bewitched Demon Hunter
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