Shadow Slave -
Chapter 126 Effie
Chapter 126 Effie
Nephis stared at him for a few moments, then turned her head to Cassie and said:
"Follow behind us."
The three of them cautiously approached the entrance to the tower and lingered there, uncertain of how they should proceed.
In their minds, there were two outcomes to this unexpected situation.
One, the mysterious young woman would turn out to be a local Awakened. In that case, all their problems were going to be solved. If an Awakened happened to meet a group of Sleepers in the wild reaches of the Dream Realm, it was customary to guide them to the nearest human Citadel.
Of course, exceptions happened, but in general, Awakened strived to take care of Sleepers — in this alien land, humans had to band together. It was not only a moral obligation, but also in their own best interest.
Two, the stranger would turn out to be a Nightmare Creature. In that case, they were going to have a tough fight on their hands. Since the rank and class of the enemy were unknown, it was impossible to predict the result.
They just had to risk it.
Drawing a deep breath, Sunny followed Nephis into the cool darkness of the tower. Immediately, the appetizing smell of roasting meat hit his nostrils.
…His stomach growled.
Before Sunny could react, a piece of bone flew past his head and hit the wall with enough force to shatter into tiny pieces. Belatedly, he raised the Midnight Shard and assumed a defensive stance.
But it was a little too late. The young woman had already been alerted of their presence.
Raising her head, she bared her teeth in a wide grin and murmured:
"Is someone hiding in the shadows? Why don't you come out to play…"
Her voice was deep, smoky and had a raspy huskiness to it. But what mattered the most was that she was speaking in the human language.
She was human!
The stranger was still sitting in a relaxed pose, but Sunny didn't miss the subtle tension in her carved muscles. He had no doubt that the alleged Awakened could explode into a whirlwind of violence at any moment.
It was better not to provoke her.
Glancing at Neph, he followed her example and dismissed his sword. Then, the three of them hesitantly stepped into the circle of light cast by the bonfire.
The young woman looked at them in surprise and raised her eyebrows:
"Humans? Huh! Unexpected."
Then she smiled and shook her head.
"Ah, where are my manners?"
With that, she lightly rose to her feet. The white fabric of her tunic shifted slightly, revealing even more of her toned, powerful thighs.
He had assumed that the stranger was tall, but only now did he realize how imposing her true height was. The woman stood considerably taller than even Nephis, not to mention Sunny himself. Complete with her robust physique, olive skin and archaic armor, she looked like an ancient goddess.
Craning his neck to look her in the eyes was sort of irritating, though. But Sunny had no choice. If he were to just look straight, his line of sight would land directly on her shapely… uh…
The young woman, meanwhile, wiped her dirty face with a forearm and gestured at the fire.
"Here, would you like to take a seat?"
Despite the polite invitation, they hesitated. After several seconds passed in awkward silence, Nephis finally took a step forward and asked the question that had been tormenting all three of them.
With her voice uncharacteristically tense and full of suppressed emotion, she cautiously said:
"Are you… are you human?"
The stranger stared at her with a blank expression, then blinked a couple of times.
"What else would I be? A horse?"
With that, she threw he head back and laughed loudly, amused by her own silly joke. Nephis and Sunny glanced at each other, confused as to what to do.
Meanwhile, the young woman giggled a few more times and looked at them with sparks of glee dancing in her eyes.
"Of course I am human! Why are you even asking? Anyway, come sit. My neck is tired from looking down on you."
With that, she sat down near the fire and assumed a relaxed pose. Nephis, Sunny and Cassie finally approached and lowered themselves to the stones, looking at the tall girl with hungry flames burning in their eyes.
She looked them over, then frowned a little.
"Haven't seen you guys around. Are you new?"
Nephis gave her a nod.
"Yes. We have just reached the city."
She was trying very hard to act like a normal, well-adjusted person. It seemed that her endless attempts to improve her social skills had not been in vain. If Sunny didn't know how awkward and clumsy Neph's natural state was, he wouldn't have suspected anything.
The young woman grinned.
"In that case, my condolen… wait. You guys survived for two whole months in the Labyrinth?"
She whistled and looked at them with newfound respect.
"That's a real feat. Congratulations."
Nephis lingered for a few seconds, then said:
"I'm Nephis, and these are my companions, Cassia and Sunless. We are Sleepers who came here during the winter solstice."
The young woman gave them a wide, friendly smile.
"Nice to meet you! I'm Effie. Well, at least that's what people call me. I'm also a Sleeper."
Sunny frowned. So the beautiful giantess was not an Awakened, just a Sleeper like them. Strangely, he didn't remember ever seeing her in the Academy. Still…
Too impatient to remain silent, he leaned forward and said:
"Are you from the castle? There are people living there, right?"
Effie glanced at him. In her eyes, there was a hint of a strange emotion.
It almost looked like… pity.
"...There are indeed people living in the castle, yes."
Nephis and Sunny exchanged excited looks. Then, Changing Star cautiously asked:
"Can you take us there?"
"Sure, no problem. Do you guys have shards?"
Sunny blinked. What did soul shards have to do with any ot this? They had retrieved two from that weird stone he had killed at the base of the wall. Was she going to ask for payment?
Nephis retrieved the soul shards and showed them to the tall girl.
"We have two."
"Only two? Well… it's better than nothing, I guess. Keep them. You'll need them later."
Not quite understanding the meaning of her words, Changing Star lingered, then said uncertainly:
"We were hoping to reach the Citadel and access the Gateway as soon as possible. How long will it take?"
The young woman stared at them for a long time, and then suddenly bent over in a fit of hysterical laughter. She laughed so long and hard that tears soon appeared in the corners of her eyes.
Unpleasantly surprised, the three Sleepers stared at her in shock. None of them understood the reason for this bizarre behavior.
'Is she… insane?'
Sunny frowned, reevaluating the situation. Previously, the local girl just seemed to be a bit eccentric. But maybe there was more to it…
Effie's laughter stopped as abruptly as it had started. Wiping her tears, she shook her head and said in a strange tone:
"Ah, sorry guys. I just couldn't help myself. Please, forgive my lack of manners."
Then, she straightened her back, looked them heavily into the eyes, and said:
"I can take you to the castle, but there is no Gateway there. In fact, there's no way out of this cursed hell at all. I've been stuck here for three years myself already. So… welcome to the Dark City, I guess. Abandon hope all ye who enter here, and all that…"
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