Dragon Devouring Chapter 163

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EPISODE 82

Clunk!

The doors swing open, revealing the spacious banquet hall in all its simplicity. Despite its size, the hall didn’t boast extravagant decorations. Ornamentation was scarce, with neither golden treasures nor chandeliers in sight – merely carvings of stone and wood dominated the scene. The most elaborate decoration present was a stained glass, assembled from colored pieces, whose reflections added a touch of ambiance to the atmosphere of the hall. Even compared to the estates of other nobles in the capital, this hall seemed modest.

The count, known for his generosity and high reputation, did not hesitate to open his granaries in times of hardship for his people. He had mentioned storing goods for public welfare, but it was his actions that earned him respect.

“It seems this banquet hall reflects the count’s usual character,” Alan muttered quietly, apparently sharing the same thoughts.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, entering now are His Excellency Count Raymond, the Morningstar, and the wizards from the royal capital!!”

A booming announcement from a herald came a breath too late, turning all eyes instantly towards the entrance of the hall. Count Raymond’s territory, the only jurisdiction among nearby lands to boast a major city, was abuzz with quite a number of nobles in attendance. However, it seemed unlikely that they were here purely out of goodwill. While ostensibly gathered to celebrate the success and safety of Raymond’s lands, it was clear that most had hidden agendas, likely aiming to forge connections with the central political sphere…

Russell, having faced these nobles numerous times during his lengthy stay at the capital, found the local nobility’s transparent intentions almost endearing in comparison.

As he looked around, his gaze fell upon the attendees accompanying the nobles.

‘Perhaps, vassals…’

The majority of them were likely to be daughters and young ladies, adorned with elaborate outfits making Russell chuckle softly at the sight. ‘It seems Sir Alan and the younger mages are going to have their hands full.’

Even the boldest would not dare such overtures towards him, a royal consort and member of the royal family. It was Alan they would target first, followed by the lower-ranking wizards. The very fact that these young men had been admitted to the royal Mage Tower at a tender age spoke volumes about their potential.

After briefly surveying the situation within the hall, Count Raymond personally greeted Russell and his entourage.

“Heroes of our countship, welcome!!”

Flashing a bright smile, Count Raymond turned to look at Russell and his group.

“I hope you’ve all had ample rest.”

“Thanks to your hospitality, we rested well,” Russell replied.

And it was no mere courtesy. Count Raymond had indeed gone to great lengths to ensure the rest and recovery of the wizards, providing fruits and medicinal herbs known for their restorative powers and providing exceptional care to those who had been injured.

“It’s a relief to hear you’ve rested well. I did worry if anything had been amiss…”

As they exchanged pleasantries with the count, Russell felt the atmosphere of the gathering ripen subtly, and a group of onlookers began to approach them, predatory as a pack of wolves circling their prey.

“Count Raymond, would you be so kind as to introduce us to the heroes of your lands?”

And thus, the local nobility took center stage.

Although not an ideal situation, Russell couldn’t disrupt the mood of the gathering.

“I am Russell Raymond.”

Hiding his reluctance, Russell began slowly exchanging greetings with the nearby nobles.

“Ah, Count Raymond. We’ve often heard of the Morningstar…”

“More gallant than I expected. And yet…”

“…I always worry about falling short of the royal name. However, hearing such praise from you all is quite reassuring. Thank you for your kind words.”

Gone was the naivety of his early days in noble society, replaced by skilled handling. Smirking at his reflection in the wine glass, Russell thought, ‘They say you grow accustomed to anything over time.’

Russell finally found himself free from the lords only after dozens of minutes had elapsed and he had greeted no less than fourteen of them. The gathering had been drawn not just by the local nobility, but by lords from as far as six other jurisdictions, likely due to rumors of his and Alan’s attendance.

Yet, their withdrawal wasn’t entirely voluntary – the dance had begun, and naturally, attention shifted elsewhere.

????─????, ????, ♬─, ????, ????──.

After all, a dance was a time for young men and women.

Casting his gaze aside, Russell observed the capital’s wizards engaging with ladies in the dance. Except for the experienced Alan Page, most of their faces were flushed.

‘Understandably so,’ Russell mused. To be admitted to the royal Mage Tower at such an age meant they were mostly bookworms, awkward in such social situations.

But the real problem was…

‘…those lords.’

As Russell felt the burning gazes of the lords upon him still, he sighed heavily. As previously mentioned, despite being a member of the royal family, he was out of place at a dance. No one dared approach him.

As time passed and he felt increasingly entangled in their stares, Russell discreetly gathered his magic, merging it with the surrounding shadows to diminish his presence. While not invisible, the reduction in his presence should naturally lessen the attention on him.

Russell could feel the gazles of the nobility scattering as he came up for air momentarily. But suddenly, his expression hardened.

He felt a strange, alien gaze upon him.

‘This is…’

Turning towards the source of the sensation, Russell locked eyes with a man whose unusual gaze matched his unique appearance.

‘Black hair…’

Dressed entirely in black, the man’s dark hair – a rare sight on the continent – caught Russell’s attention. While Russell’s own hair shared the same color, this man’s locks had a slightly duller sheen. Moreover, an ominous vibe seemed to radiate from him, creating a peculiar aura of decadence.

It looked as though the man’s handsome features would otherwise make him approachable, but something about his presence made people wary, encouraging them to maintain their distance.

As their eyes met, the corners of the man’s mouth twitched upwards…

“…!!”

Russell’s body jolted as if struck by lightning. He felt as if standing at the precipice of a bottomless abyss.

Curiously, despite his overwhelming presence, no one else in the hall seemed to notice the man, as if the space around Russell and this stranger was somehow separated.

And there was something hauntingly familiar about his gaze…

‘Certainly…’

The very same focus that had clung to his back during his battle with the Hydra. And that wasn’t all…

Experience had taught him this sensation was not new; it was similar to gazes he’d felt before.

A scowl deepened on Russell’s face as the man turned, stepping away from the banquet hall and slowly heading towards a terrace as if signaling…

‘…for me to follow.’

Clunk.

As the terrace doors opened, a refreshing night breeze swept through, brushing against his hair.

“…”

The man stood poised on the edge of the terrace railing, where a misstep could lead to a fatal fall. However, he stood confidently as if on solid ground. Pale moonlight cascaded down, intermingled with the distant sounds of celebration from Raymond’s territory. While the rest of the world reveled in excitement, only the man and Russell shared this silent moment, the ominous atmosphere intensified by the eerie stillness and the cool night air.

During the heavy silence, Russell spoke.

“I must ask you one question.”

─…?

“Are you, by any chance, a dragon?”

While there was something peculiar about him, the look in the man’s eyes, reminiscent of those of the silver and fire dragons Russell had encountered the previous day, gave him reason to ponder. If such an entity existed, it would be known as the Black Dragon or the magical dragon (魔龍). Moreover, if this man was the same ‘him’ Hydra referred to – the one behind everything – then everything would make sense.

‘With the power of a dragon, he could indeed force Hydra’s growth.’

In response to Russell’s question, the man neither confirmed nor denied, simply tilting his head with a dry chuckle.

Suddenly, the man kicked off the railing with force.

Whoosh!

Unfurling wings as black as the night sky, he soared upwards, the gale spawned from his flight stirring the terrace and the gardens below – and then…

Boom!

As the tumult subsides, the man was gone, his presence no longer there. Only his voice lingered in the cold air:

─At one point, I was certainly called that.

A notification chimed in.

[Mission completed. Rewards have been distributed.]

[For subduing the Hydra, 5 top-grade magic stones (edible) have been granted.]

[You have uncovered the secrets behind Hydra and the truth about the one behind it.]

[As a reward, more top-grade magic stones (edible)…]

The alerts served as confirmation that Russell’s suspicions were correct.

* * *

The man in black, leaving the banquet hall far behind, reappeared hundreds of kilometers away in the depths of an isolated mountain range within the Raymond Countship. Thickets of bramble and coniferous trees created a tangled shadow across the slopes.

Swish-

The darkness on the slope twisted, and from a distorted space, the man in black emerged slowly.

Thud-

Stepping out from the dark, the man made his way through bramble and thorny bushes, as if guided by the oppressive shadows cast across the mountain’s flank. After some time, he stopped before a massive cave obscured by towering conifers─…

To others, this sinister, damp cavern – despite being day time, not a single ray of sunlight penetrated – might seem forboding, but for the man in black, it was his only refuge, a place of comfort.

Suddenly, the man flung his left arm out.

Crack!

“Argh!”

With a crushing grip, another man was dragged out of the darkness, struggling desperately.

“Ark, cough, ack…”

The red-eyed cultist squirmed violently, his eyes gleaming ominously.

─I warned you not to come to me directly with your repulsive stench if you have messages. Do you have a death wish, Hypnos?

The black-clad man, gazing indifferently at the apostle, whispered ominously:

─Do you wish to die?

The Dragon Devouring Mage.

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