Chapter 5: The Warden of Devil’s Pointe
Southeast of Devil’s Pointe, in the largest border city on the east of the Baxter Duchy, a rumor was flowing from mouth to ear.
It was about a certain job commission that had been sent from the little farming community called Devil’s Pointe.
It was a commission placed by the Branch Manager of Devil Pointe’s Guild Branch.
Investigate the increase of monster and demonic activity of the miasmatic swamp a mere half heath away from the community.
Normally such a commission was routine. It was a simple investigation that any Hunter with an Iron tag could take, and one that would come about once a month or so.
However, despite the dangers around the community that led to its name, “Devil’s Pointe”, strangely, there hadn’t been such a job order in years.
Furthermore, the job required the Hunters taking it to have Silver tags or higher.
Speculation ran rampant through the city of Stonegate, that large border city, and Hunters and civilians alike let their imaginations run rampant over the commission listing.
When Black Stones and Dark Wolves stepped forward to take the job, they found themselves swarmed by Hunters and tavern keeps, all wheedling and whining for a hint of what the details of the mysterious job was.
Although it’s not like just because they took it they’d magically understand everything that was going, so it was useless to ask them. They had to go to Devil Pointe’s Guild Branch to hear about those types of things first.
But why had so many years gone by without the usual routine surveillance of the dangerous the miasmatic swamp?
The miasma from a miasmatic spot often mutated monsters into lower-demons, and in the worst case scenarios, would birth the mirelings that became the strongest of demons. However, the miasma often also produced magical herbs and resources, and land that was more fertile than normal.
The greed of humans knows no bounds, and despite the constant fears of monster and demon attacks, there were many that lived near these spots. And so, surveillance on the miasmatic spots was a necessity for all who lived near them.
When the miasma became especially thick, priests would be sent to purify it. Although purification is a meaningless task to eradicate a miasmatic spot, it could at least disperse the density and lower the chances of demonification and the breeding of demons.
For that reason Stonegate itself regularly sends out commissions for Hunter surveillance teams to the miasmatic spots near its own city limits. It’s unthinkable for a community that had even more potent miasmatic spots, like Devil’s Pointe, to neglect the pivotal surveillances.
And yet, for five years, Devil’s Pointe had ceased to send in commissions begging for Hunters to come regulate the miasmatic swamp.
And now, all of a sudden, they finally sent one out but required Hunters with Silver tags or higher?
A huge sense of unease fell on the Hunters of Stonegate. Quite a few began preparing for the possibility of a demonic invasion.
Actually, there wasn’t much of a need to be so worried.
Because of Laurie.
Although the Devil’s Pointe Guild Branch Manager set up the job commission, it was Laurie who was calling the shots.
See, in the past 7 years, Laurie had eliminated Devil’s Pointe’s need for regular commissions to investigate miasmatic swamp.
Certainly, before Laurie and Emi came to live in Devil’s Pointe the residents of the community were unable to hunt out dangerous pockets of miasma, eliminate newly born demons, or traipse through the dangerous forest for supplies. It was more than common for these types of requests to be handed over to the Guild, and often outsourced to Stonegate.
However, with Stonegate a two days’ journey away, the residents of Devil’s Pointe led many sleepless nights when the howls and screeches of demons prowling in the forest echoed out from under the eaves.
And then came Laurie and Emi.
Two young siblings. They looked healthy, they had some money, but the people in Devil’s Pointe either looked down on them as runaways, or pitied them for their hard lot in life. But that only lasted for a week.
The girl was hardworking for such a young child; the boy …
He immediately registered with the Guild, despite Devil’s Pointe Guild Branch Manager’s reservations, and took to disappearing into forests for entire days.
When he re-emerged, he brought back so many herbs, mushrooms, boars, and monster parts that he almost bankrupted the Devil’s Pointe Guild Branch.
Not even half a year later after these siblings appeared, the residents of Devil’s Pointe realized they hadn’t heard a monster howl nearby for weeks.
Could it be the boy? Was it the boy?
Whispered rumors make the rounds quickly in small communities.
After those 7 years he had lived in Devil’s Pointe, there was now no one who knew the forest and miasmatic swamp better than Laurie. And it was a fact that there were no longer risks of monster attacks and demonic appearances ever since he had begun patrolling the forest.
Behind his back, the long-term residents of Devil’s Pointe had taken to calling him, in whispered voices, “The Warden”.
For THAT Laurie to come to the Branch Manager and say that he needed at least 10 people with Silver tags in order to thoroughly investigate an anomaly in the miasmatic swamp … well.
The Branch Manager obediently –and immediately – sent out the job commission to Stonegate’s Hunters Guild Branch despite not knowing what was going on at all.
So although the reason that Laurie was the leader of this band of Silver tags is officially because he’s acting as their guide, the actual reason is that it’s because Laurie is the only one who knows what is going on.
A rustling in the underbrush caused the members of Black Stones and Dark Wolves to instantly stiffen, eyes focused on the direction of the sound and hands gripping their weapons.
As the silvery-white haired Laurie came into view, they relaxed, although several members of the party, resenting his leadership over them, stood ill at ease.
“It’s worse than I suspected. The breeding of mirelings is much too fast. There weren’t hardly five of them in a heath before, but now I can’t go two rods without spotting a new one. There’s definitely something strange going on,” Laurie said.
His tone was much more serious than they had heard it from before.
“How can you be so sure? It ain’t like you can know every little thing about the forest all the time, and anyway, what do you think could happen to it? Doesn’t this place usually have a lot of miasma? Isn’t investigating it just a waste of time for everyone here?”
Mosen spoke loudly with a sneer.
Laurie stared at him, then heaved a huge, despairing sigh.
“Aaah, I can’t believe it. To think someone’s so stup – so short-sighted. Haaa… Isn’t answering all those questions the point of this investigation?” he said, shaking his head and holding his forehead.
Mosen colored and turned away quickly, angrily gritting his teeth.
Even though Laurie had ‘corrected’ himself, everyone had heard the ‘stupid’ he intended to say.
“Ahem. Anyway, I’ll leave off the teasing for later. If you are wondering why this job required Silver tags, I think the increase in mirelings speaks for itself. I requested the job to be commissioned through the Guild because I thought that we only had to temporarily purify the mirelings’ breeding ground, and then annihilate the mirelings already born, for the forest to go back to normal. But the speed of their breeding… it’s abnormal, and I wish I had sent for the request earlier.”
Mosen’s face colored angrily at Laurie’s calm admittance to purposefully “teasing” him.
“… If you could, our child isn’t used to being teased like so, so please resist those urges.”
Mischa bowed her head towards Laurie, as if she was asking for a serious favor. Mosen was shocked at the sudden betrayal.
“Ah, sorry. I inadvertantly – well, Mosen has some great reactions, so I just couldn’t help teasing him.”
“I understand that feeling completely, but this isn’t the time for it, really.”
“Indeed. I apologize,” Laurie responded with a slightly mocking bow, but right after he put on a serious expression.
“Hang on. So you’re the one who made the request?” Hogan, the leader of Dark Wolves, asked.
“Ah. Yeah. That’s me.”
With a disapproving look, Julianne frowned and said, “Then you were also the one who stopped the periodic investigation requests from Devil’s Pointe? Isn’t this situation because of this negligence?”
“Ah, no, that’s actually not a problem. I patrol the swamp every day and purify it at least once a week, so there is little risk of the demonizations spreading too fast … or at least, that’s what should have been the case. But to think this many mirelings have been born in a day…”
Laurie said casually.
The Dark Wolves and Black Stones parties paled.
“Th-this … isn’t it bad?”
“It’s definitely abnormal.”
“I see… this is why there’s the necessity of having Silver Tags.”
That last one was Clarke.
“Yuuup… actually, this is worse than usual, so to clean it up neatly, I’m going to kill the demon lord while you guys handle the outbreak, okay?”
All members except Emi doubted their ears for a second.
Mischa was the first to break the silence.
Timidly she said, “…I’m sorry… did I hear you right?”
Laurie had a face that suggested he genuinely didn’t understand what everyone was confused about.
“About what?” he asked.
“About what… that joke about a demon lord is in bad taste!” Mosen raged. Although his face looked apprehensive, so his anger didn’t have much impact.
“… Aaaaah. I forgot. That’s not a widely known theory. It’s just slang. I’ll deal with the core of this problem, and you guys deal with the outbreak,” Laurie said casually.
This second idea the Silver Tags understood. Whenever a miasmatic spot was left too long, a core of the darkest miasma would develop and mirelings, and later pure demons, would be produced. The only way to clear it would be to destroy the core, but doing so would cause the “outbreak”.
Hundreds of mirelings coming to life and swarming the area around them.
“Defeating the core will be difficult for one person… and even for a party of Silver Tags. We’ll need to send for reinforcements…” Clarke began to say.
Laurie poo-pooed Clarke’s statement with a wave of his hand.
“This kind of growth is abnormal. By the time we even get word to Stonegate, it would be a wonder if Devil’s Pointe would still be standing. Anyway, there aren’t any demons yet so you guys should be able to handle the outbreak.”
“That ain’t the probleeeeem!” Mosen yelled, “What the hell are we going to do about the core?!”
“… Despite this activity, is the core abnormally weak?” Clarke asked suddenly.
“…Yes,” was the reply Laurie gave, despite not having ascertained the state of the ‘core’.
They never asked what it would be considered weak TO…
“Understood. Mosen, Mischa, Nero, and Trevor; stay with the Dark Wolves and handle the outbreak. Is that okay, Hogan?”
Hogan sighed. “I get it. But honestly, it’s a bum deal for you, not me. You and that boy going to face the core alone…”
Laurie pouted in the way that Emi understood meant that he wasn’t pleased with what was going on, but he obediently didn’t say anything.
Although Laurie often allowed himself to act willfully, being able to blame it on his young age (lol), in the end he had been a businessman who had to read the mood.
It would be ill-advised to continue bickering here. To be honest, he kind of wished he’d come here by himself now…
But well, it was best to have multiple hands to deal with an outbreak. Laurie thought about what would happen if he had to deal with it himself.
… There were no good scenarios he could think of.
“…Right. Emi, lead them to that clearing near the second black oak. You guys better make sure not a damn hair on her head gets touched,” Laurie finally said after it had been decided that Clarke was going to come with him.
“Yeah, yeah, we get it. She’s our guide out, after all,” Mosen said with a casual wave.
Emi was only second to her brother when it came to navigating this swamp, so it would be in everyone’s best interests to keep her alive.
It was rumored that you would never see the light of day again if you accidentally stepped into a pit bog, after all.
Still grumbling in dissatisfaction, Mosen and the rest of the Black Stones and Dark Wolves departed for the strategic point Laurie had told Emi to go to.
“… You actually meant a demon lord, didn’t you?” Clarke asked as he watched them go.
“It’s not a very popular theory, though,” Laurie replied, “What’s commonly accepted is that stronger and stronger demons are born as more miasma accumulates in the core. If it’s left long enough, a demon lord is born. Although that hasn’t happened in the past 200 years, with humans culling the miasmatic spots.”
“Yes. That’s what I understood as well.”
It was only because Clarke wasn’t an idiot like Mosen that Laurie was willing to explain.
“The other theory is that the core developed from miasma is a demon lord’s embryo, and that is what begins making mirelings to protect it. When demons begin to appear it’s a warning that the demon lord has gained enough strength to make the territory his, and when higher demons appear the demon lord will soon be born.”
Clarke followed Laurie in silence as they rushed through the marsh.
“I see… both those theories are similar. Why would you lean towards the less popular one? We have Mosen in our group, after all.”
Clarke wasn’t going to deny Mosen’s weak points.
“…Because this situation supports the second one better. Although you may not believe me, I’ve been taking care of this marsh pretty diligently so no miasma would accumulate, but one day there was a core. And from then on, despite the thin miasma, mirelings began to appear and have escalated in presence. The first theory doesn’t hold. Whether or not it’s a demon lord, I believe the core to be sentient.”
At those words, Clarke suddenly understood.
“I see. The second theory is a witch’s theory.”
“Yes. You are correct.”
That was the other reason Laurie hadn’t bothered to explain it to the others.
<A/N: A heath is an acre, a rod is 5.5 yards. A heath is 160 square rods. A chain is 4 rods, at 22 yards. These are actual (oldish) English units. The units aren’t that important to the story, but they’re interesting for numberphiles.>