Shadow Slave -
Chapter 148 Last Harvest
Chapter 148 Last Harvest
Behind the window, a striking vista of the cursed city sprawled far below. The morning sun washed the ruins in a pale light, making them look menacingly mysterious.
"Besides… what can compete with this killer view?"
As though answering her words, a ghastly wail resounded from somewhere far away, echoing in the wind like a dying scream. Sunny trembled.
'I guess she meant it literally.'
With a sigh, he put Changing Star's strange choice of habitat at the back of his mind and approached the pile of meat.
"Let's eat first."
The three of them sat on the stone floor and ate monster meat, passing around Cassie's beautiful glass bottle between each other. It was just like the good old times, provided that those times were not actually that old, and there had certainly not been anything good about them.
When all three of them were satiated, Nephis looked at Sunny with calm intensity. For some reason, he was reminded of the unseen waves of pressure that Gunlaug created anywhere he went.
"What have you learned in the castle?"
He sighed. This was going to be a long conversation.
Sunny started by describing the general order of things in the ancient stronghold. He told Neph about the six different castes and the complex relationships that existed between them, as well as briefly explaining how the members of each caste lived their lives. Sometimes, Cassie would add a few details of her own.
Changing Star frowned.
"Wait… did you say that there were five hundred people living in the castle?
Sunny gave her a nod.
"Yes, somewhere around that. Why?"
She thought for a bit, then said:
"That doesn't make sense. There are almost as many people here in the outer settlement, perhaps even more. That would put the human population of the Dark City at around a thousand. Most of them are fairly young, too — which would mean that each year, hundreds upon hundreds of us are sent to the Forgotten Shore, with most somehow managing to survive and reach the Bright Castle."
"But I haven't seen a single Sleeper of our crop here in the slum. As far as I know, we three are the only ones to come to the Dark City after the recent solstice."
Sunny scratched the back of his head and said with reluctance:
"Actually, it's four. Caster is also here. He's living comfortably in the castle."
Nephis suddenly grew strangely animated.
"Caster of the Han Li clan? He is here?"
'No need to be so enthusiastic, damn it!'
Sunny tried not to grimace.
"Yeah. He had been here pretty much this entire time. Actually, Caster had told us that there were only seven Sleepers sent to the Forgotten Shore by the Spell this year. Strange, I know."
He paused for a few moments, and then added:
"Truth be told, I noticed this discrepancy as well. But there is an explanation. You see, there seems to be a pattern to how many people the Spell sends here. Fifteen years ago, when a bunch of crazy humans first laid claim to the castle, there would be just a dozen or so newcomers each year. Then a few dozen. Then a hundred. In the past few years, it was several hundred each time."
Sunny gestured at the three of them.
"Until this year, that is, when mere seven Sleepers arrived. Since the Spell is obsessed with the number seven, some people believe that this marks the end of a fourteen-year long cycle and the first year of a new one. I think it's plausible."
Changing Star thought for a bit, then asked:
"How does Caster know the total number of new arrivals?"
That was a good question, naturally. One that Sunny had asked himself many times before finally convincing himself to go find the handsome Legacy and ask him directly.
"There's an Artisan in the castle with a weird type of revelation Ability. She can trace the general location of everyone a person had ever met. Caster paid her a bunch of soul shards to check if any of his acquaintances made it to the Forgotten Shore. She told him there were six."
Nephis was silent for a few moments, then simply said:
Sunny did. He briefly mentioned the main points of everything he had been able to learn, including all the vile crap he had to witness and his own thoughts on how things worked under the pristine white surface of the magnificent fortress. Inevitably, he had to describe how ingenious and unassailable Bright Lord's hold over the Dark City was.
Cassie grew pale and quiet during his somber account. Changing Star's face grew darker and darker with each word. When he told her about the travesty of a trial that ended with Jubei's harrowing death and shared his own thoughts on how powerful the Host truly was, the corners of her mouth turned downward.
Finally, he came to the conclusion:
"...and that is why Gunlaug can never be defeated. He controls every facet of life here, both material and abstract. Food, shelter, hope, fear… everything comes under the purview of his authority, and his authority is absolute. Even power itself is his to give and take. Out here, Gunlaug might as well be considered a god."
Nephis remained silent for a long time, and then quietly said:
"He is not a god. He is just an impostor."
"In this hell… is there a difference?"
She glanced at him sharply and gritted her teeth.
After a few minutes spent in tense silence, Neph suddenly said:
"Still. That only explains why Gunalug can't be overthrown in a rebellion. Why didn't anyone simply kill him in his sleep? Why didn't one of his lieutenants stage a coup? After all, this is how tyrants usually end — by the hand of their most trusted ally."
Sunny smiled darkly.
"Ah, well. That is because up until now, I only told you about his power as a ruler. Which is, by all accounts, nothing short of terrifying. But his personal power?"
He shivered, then added in a hoarse voice:
"It's way, way worse."
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