Shadow Slave -
Chapter 127 Abandon All Hope
Chapter 127 Abandon All Hope
...Shellshocked by her words, the three of them stared at the young woman with pale faces. Sunny felt something brittle and precious shattering in his heart, piercing it with an almost physical feeling of pain.
'No. No, it can't be.'
It just couldn't be true. How could… how could all of this have been for nothing?
How could all of his hopes, dreams and desires just be destroyed with a couple of words?
How was it possible?!
Somewhere beside him, Cassie suddenly said in a tiny voice:
"What do you mean, there is no Gateway?"
"It's very simple, really. I'm sorry to be the one to break it to you, but deep down inside you must have known already. Didn't you? The Forgotten Shore… it's not really a place where humans are supposed to survive. That's why you have never heard of anything like it in the school or the Academy."
Sunny's face got contorted with anger. Of course! Of course, the answer was always within his grasp. He was just too naive and foolish to grasp it.
The Dream Realm was vast and strange, with most of its regions barely explored by humans. However, there was at least a small amount of information available about them. Some were even fully under human control, with large Citadels like Bastion providing shelter to hundreds of thousands of Awakened.
And yet, when he had first come to the Forgotten Shore, Sunny didn't recognize any of the unique characteristics of this place. At the time, he had thought that his patchy education was to blame.
He should have realized the truth when neither Nephis nor Cassie managed to succeed where he had failed. Why would a region as unique as this one be utterly unknown? The most logical explanation would be that no one had ever returned from this deadly abyss to the real world to tell others about it.
What a fool he was! Just a few weeks in the comfortable life in the Academy, and he had completely forgotten that the world never played fair against people like him. The truth was always worse than his worst expectations, so why would this time be any different?
The world was a predator that always waited for an opportunity to devour you.
Why would he even expect anything else?
A familiar bitter taste appeared in his mouth.
Meanwhile, Effie continued in a gentle tone:
"Fifteen years ago or so, a group of powerful and desperate Sleepers managed to reach this city and claim the castle for themselves. Not because it had a Gateway, but because it was the only place that could keep them safe. At least for a while. Ever since then, a few lucky or resourceful people would find their way to the castle each solstice, only to get stuck here with the rest of us."
Nephis was sitting quietly, with only her clenched fists betraying the storm of emotions raging in her heart. Cassie was taking the news harder than both of them, though. After all, it was her vision that led them into this trap.
Her face was deathly pale, with an expression of pain and shock contorting its delicate lines. Closing her eyes, she whispered:
"But that's… that is not fair!"
Effie looked at her with pity. Then, she chuckled, smiled darkly and said:
"When was anything ever fair?"
…She was right, of course. Justice didn't really exist outside of the ethereal realm of human imagination. Sunny had learned that lesson a long, long time ago.
While he was stewing in his indignant despair, Effie's smile suddenly lost its grim undertone and turned into a happy grin once again. Leaning forward a little, she said:
"But it's not all bad! At least you have met me. You guys are incredibly lucky, really. If you hadn't run into a local, you would have been dead already."
Nephis stared at her and asked in a flat tone:
"Yeah? Why is… that?"
Her awkward manner of speech was back again in all its glory.
"The Dark City is simultaneously the safest place to be on the Forgotten Shore, and also the deadliest. It is safe because no sea monster can cross the wall, let alone reach the castle. But at the same time, it is far more dangerous than the Labyrinth because almost every Nightmare Creature here is of the Fallen rank."
Sunny blinked, feeling a cold shiver permeate his whole body. Fallen creatures… Fallen creatures were immeasurably more powerful than Awakened ones. Dormant humans like them had no business fighting against the latter, let alone the former. One awakened demon was already more than they could handle without resorting to summoning a true terror from the depths of the cursed sea.
Something much more powerful than the Carapace Demon would simply wipe them out from existence in a matter of seconds. Remembering countless shapes moving through the ruins, he couldn't help but tremble.
Was each… each of those shapes a Fallen monster? How would anyone survive even a day in this cursed city? They would have to be insane to even try!
Slowly, the magnitude of the perilous trap they had found themselves in began to seep into his mind.
"But you guys managed to stumble into me before descending from the wall. Otherwise, the Fallen Ones would have been feasting on your souls already. Lucky, very lucky! There are very few people in the castle who go out hunting in the ruins, let alone venture so far away from it. Meeting an experienced hunter like me was probably your only chance to avoid finding out about the true face of the Dark City a second too late."
She shook her head.
"That's, like… one to one thousand? Ten thousand? A million? At any rate, the odds were really not in your favor. Fortune is definitely in love with at least one of you, guys. So… cheer up! Do you want some meat? I had a truly amazing hunt today. It was so amazing that I don't even mind sharing."
Nephis didn't even look at the roasting meat and instead leaned forward, her words filled with intensity:
"If there is no Gateway here, why didn't you try to leave?"
Effie blinked a couple of times and looked at her with sincere confusion.
"...Leave? And go where?"
The meat was about to become burnt, so she leaned to the fire and removed the skewers, then replaced them with a couple of new ones. Then, with a sigh, she turned to Changing Star and said:
"You've been to the Labyrinth, so you know what it's like. There's nothing else but that damn coral and cursed sea for months of travel in every direction. You can't go on foot, you can't swim. You can't even fly, because there are swarms of dreadful flying abominations hiding in the clouds. But try to leave? Yeah, many have tried. They're all dead now. Actually, that's how the initial master of the castle had perished."
Sunny gritted his teeth.
"So, what? You guys just hide in the castle and wait for death?"
The beautiful young woman laughed.
"Of course not, doofus!"
Then she pierced him with an unexpectedly grim look of her hazel eyes and said:
"Most of us can't even get into the castle. The king demands his tax, you know? So we just wait for death outside."
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