Chapter 116 – City on top of the River (3)
The old man’s eyes grew wide when he saw the blue gemstone ring . He covered the ring with both of his wrinkled hands and spoke in a warning .
“This is not something to take out lightly . ”
His voice reeked heavily of alcohol, but as Sungchul knew the man had no ill will, Sungchul put the ring away into his pocket and looked up at him nonchalantly .
“Tell me more . ”
The old man was cautious of his surroundings, especially the hunters, as he spoke carefully .
“It’s a secret of their kind; the blue gemstone ring is used as bait for the Carbuncles . ”
“It’s the first time I’ve heard of this . ”
“It’s not surprising . Using the blue gemstone ring to hunt Carbuncles is unique to the Panchurian region . ”
“What’s the reason behind it?”
“Like humans, who choose their mates according to the attractiveness of the other’s appearance, Carbuncles have a tendency to place an importance on the clarity and the chroma of the gem on their forehead . It could be said that the stones are their measure of beauty . The light reflected by the blue gemstone is considered similar to their favorite color . ”
“In short, the blue gemstone works to attract the Carbuncles like bait . ”
“Exactly . If not for that, it would be hard enough to find the Carbuncles; much less hunt them . They are small, and they also use magic making them supernaturally elusive . ”
The first impression of the old man was poor, but his words now seemed trustworthy . This was especially true as the old man’s words seemed to be related to the text that Sungchul had poorly deciphered .
‘Cute… Tiny animals… ring… love it… I remember seeing those words . The part about the cute animals could be referring to Carbuncles . The ring must be referring to the blue gemstone ring . ’
However, it wasn’t clear how Carbuncles were related to Multicasting . The truth about Multicasting was still veiled in fog, but it was enough to gain that small hint .
Sungchul handed the old man a single gold coin as compensation .
“Buy yourself some drinks . ”
The old man was befuddled as he wrapped both hands onto the gold coin and put it to his lips .
“How long had it been since the last gold coin? Ah, this unchanging seductive light!”
He hadn’t noticed anything suspicious, but Sungchul decided to stop his conversation with the man for now . He wasn’t happy that the old man was well known enough here to catch the interested peeks of some onlookers and the fact that the hunters who had completed the trade earlier whispered amongst themselves as they looked his way also bothered Sungchul . In an unruly place like Panchuria, it wasn’t beneficial if the rumor of an unfamiliar traveler loaded with gold were to spread . Sungchul asked him where he lived before promising to meet again and then left the establishment .
When the sun had set, Sungchul headed toward the old man’s home . His home was a small boat that was anchored as though it had become beached near a reed forest in the downstream area of town . To be living in this poor side of town in a city like Panchuria where sewage and garbage from homes were dumped straight into the river below meant that he was truly living a meager life . It was because the sewage drifting from the wealthier neighborhoods flowed down toward this section . The smell was a given, but it was still poor sanitation . This was especially true during rainy days when the filthiness was at its most extreme .
The name of the old man that lived in this forest of reeds filled with stench and garbage was Kruut Asaam . He began talking about various things that weren’t asked of him such as belonging to family that was part of the chapter that formed the cornerstone of the Free City of Panchuria, and had once upon a time commanded enough influence to bring visible change to the city . The meat of his story began as one or two of the lamps that faintly lit up the city on the river was beginning to be lit .
“There are many different speculations regarding the origins of this city, but nothing is for sure . It just happened . Someone speculated that the city was formed by the people fleeing from the invasion of the Centaur Army of a previous era to the river, but it’s just a rumor as any other in my opinion . ”
The old man put forth several theories postulated by the amateur academics followed by his own opinions on them . The old man was sincere and rather enthusiastic in his explanation, but to Sungchul the topic did not matter one way or another .
He began to yawn after listening through many such dry stories .
“This doesn’t really seem to be the type of story that you should pay to hear . ”
As he did so, Kruut thought for a moment before making a decision on his own . He began to speak with a subtle tone .
“It doesn’t seem like you’re all that interested . How about this?”
The old man began to stir up the brazier situated between Sungchul and himself with his poker to excite the flames; then he looked around cautiously before speaking again .
“Everything I have said up to now was the theories of no-name academics speaking without experience, but the story I’m about to tell you now is something unique that I, Kruut Asaam, have spent three days in Lagrange’s floating library on my own two feet to dig through countless books to find . ”
Sungchul had no real expectations, but still, he chose to lean in for a closer listen . Kruut laid forth something unique as he had claimed before .
“Up to this point, all of the theories were made with the premise that Panchuria’s ancestors were refugees or wanderers from the North and written with the purpose of supporting that claim . But the way I see it, it’s all wrong . ”
Kruut shoved his wrinkled face closer to Sungchul as he whispered discreetly .
“Those that made Panchuria came from the South . ”
Sungchul had a lukewarm response . The south was the territory of the Lizardmen . There were Centaurs, Orcs, Ogres further south, and there was nothing but warmongering races of savages living in the wastelands . No matter where they were in the south, it wasn’t possible for humans to live there . What the old man was saying was not feasible for these reasons .
“It looks like you don’t believe me . Figures, everyone had the same response . However, I believe that there is a lost kingdom beyond the Screaming Knife’s Edge mountain range within the Lizardmen territory . ”
The old man’s face grew resentful at Sungchul’s question, and he let out a deep sigh . He popped open a single bottle of spirit rolling around a corner of his boat, and drained it into his gullet before continuing .
“I have already spent too much money looking for that proof . As you know, it takes a considerable investment to look into the Lizardmen’s territory . ”
“It sounds like you called in mercenaries?”
The old man nodded and spoke with a groan .
“Thanks to that, I lost all of the money I inherited . I lost my status . I wasn’t able to mend my relationship with my son when I had the chance which made my granddaughter resent me . It’s why I’m stuck living here sniffing shit and urine by myself . ”
It was a typical tale of failure one could hear anywhere . Sungchul did not feel even the smallest bit of empathy for the old man . Everything had been brought on by his own efforts . Where else could he place the blame?
Sungchul felt exhaustion instead of pity and made an effort to get up .
‘So nothing ties this city to Sajators? Well, it is true Sajators lived thousands of years ago . Even if he did visit here, it would have been nothing but a brief pass-by . ’
The old man suddenly grabbed Sungchul’s arm when he stood up to leave .
“My story isn’t done yet! The meat of the story starts from here!”
“Be brief . ”
Sungchul spoke with a frosty tone as he remained standing .
“I had almost discovered the city . Beyond the Screaming Knife’s Edge mountain range, I had almost found the lost city that had been formed within the Lizardmen’s territory!”
“I really discovered the entrance! If that cowardly mercenary captain hadn’t run away at that time, I would be boasting away about how I had discovered the lost city!”
He unfolded a dirty piece of paper after searching through his pockets . It turned out to be a map drawn by hand under the light . It was poorly organized and difficult to read which made it more of a rough map .
‘It’s nothing much . ’
As Sungchul thought as such, Bertelgia vigorously shook her body from Sungchul’s pocket . Sungchul excused himself from Kruut and headed toward the bow before speaking quietly to her .
“What is it?”
“That map just now!”
“That map . Isn’t it similar to that other one? The one drawn by Sajators . ”
“Is that right?”
Sungchul opened up the map drawn on Goblin flesh and compared it with the one held by the old man . There was nothing similar to the naked eye . Both of them were drawn sloppily with no scale and were made in different styles . However, the important landmarks noted by both maps were similar .
Sungchul could feel this massive headache that had been troubling him for an eternity slowly beginning to resolve as he seriously began to compare both maps . He found several points of similarity . The lone rock, the stream of rusted water, the white monkey habitat were landmarks that he could not physically locate despite all his efforts, but were drawn on both maps .
“Did you draw this map yourself?”
Sungchul asked Kruut with a slightly different tone of voice . Kruut nodded vigorously .
“I drew it all myself! I sought them out with my own two feet as I drew them . ”
“Guide me . ”
Sungchul tossed the old man a sack filled with gold coins . The old man checked its contents before making a subtle smile, but shaking his head he said,
“It won’t be enough with this . ”
Sungchul handed him another sack of coins, but the old man put up three fingers .
“I’ll form an exploratory team . The one with the best skills . ”
“I don’t need a team . ”
“Ahem! That’s foolish talk! You don’t seem to understand the terror of lizardmen . Not to mention that you’ll need an experienced pathfinder to get through the jungle that constantly messes with your cardinal directions . ”
The old man passionately defended their need for a large-scale exploratory team with spittle flying out of his mouth . While listening to his incoherent ramblings, Sungchul realized that the old man had no knowledge regarding the jungle . Kruut was nothing more than a veteran employer than a veteran explorer .
‘It can’t be helped . ’
He had plenty of funds . Sungchul set forth the condition of keeping his financial involvement a secret before agreeing to Kruut’s request .
Two days later, Kruut appeared before the Emperor’s Outhouse wearing a fancy coat instead of his usual rag . He stood before two fit mercenaries and raised his voice for his announcement before all those watching him .
“I will now be gathering members for the 12th Kruut expedition . Those who consider themselves as outstanding step forward!”
Bertelgia who was watching this scene from the rear made a bitter remark .
“Eeeh… he did this nonsense 11 more times? No wonder he went broke . ”
There was a sudden storm brewing within the distant Ancient Kingdom as Sungchul was forming his exploratory team with Kruut . Ancient Kingdom, located on the north western portion of the continent, has a long history as a major power . The official designation of the country is ‘Kingdom’ .
The reason why Ancient Kingdom stresses the designation of Kingdom is because the very first king in recorded history, the Sword King, ascended to the throne and formed the very first kingdom . The Kingdom worshipped the sword and distanced themselves from magic and boasted of their might throughout the continent with the formation of innate swordsmen known as Sword Masters . They had been called Kingdom as they built up their power, but when they retreated from the hegemony of the continent, they adopted the name of Ancient Kingdom to differentiate itself from the other Kingdoms .
On this day, an unwelcome guest appeared at Wuldmark, the capital of this Ancient Kingdom . Wielding a single rusty iron sword worn with use as though to mock this kingdom of swords, this man obstructed the main road leading to the capital and started cutting down all that caught his eye .
It was first assumed to be nothing more than commotion caused by a crazy man . But once a Royal Guard Swordsmaster, the pride of the Ancient Kingdom, was sliced apart by the man’s sword, the Captain of the Royal Guard Ghenghis Aaron urgently sent request for reinforcements from all corners of the world . The notice he had sent out was as follows:[One of the Seven Heroes has appeared in Wuldmark . ]
Each country who were shockingly united in the defense of their ruling class immediately scrambled reinforcements for Wuldmark . When an awe-inspiring fleet of dozens of airships arrived above the capital of the Ancient Kingdom and began bombardment as thousands of elite soldiers moved to cut off the escape routes, the unknown swordsman disappeared without a trace . His identity remained a secret to the end, but the high ranking commanders he faced recalled his name . A name that had once been uttered with reverence, but now with repulsion .
“Dragoman of the Seven Heroes . The one that reached the peak of the sword appeared in the capital of the Ancient Kingdom . ”
The opinion regarding the man’s identity as Dragoman wasn’t unanimous, but the fact that he was one of the Seven Heroes had no doubts .
Within a dark cave .
It was a cold and damp place where cloudy water infused with calcium deposit poured out like waterfalls and stalactites reflected faint lights as they obstructed the line of sight . A man entered the waterfall to wash away his blood-soaked clothes and then proceeded further into a deeper area of the cave . A woman’s voice greeted him as though she had been waiting for him .
“How was it, Dragoman? The resistance of those living in the present? It wasn’t as easy as you thought was it?”
A pale white hand was strumming a harp . It was a gloomy and mournful piece .
“I could have taken care of them on my own, but I only left because of something I call ‘Captain’s Orders’ . ”
The man referred to as Dragoman pulled out the rusted sword from its scabbard . The blade was soaked in plenty of blood, but the dripping blood disappeared completely not long after . The blade had drunk the blood on its own .
“The captain’s judgement is calculative . There is no need to reveal our strength as of yet . There is bound to be some unexpected potential among these mortals; just as it was for us . ”
The woman partially veiled by the darkness spoke in a flirtatious voice . Dragoman simply scoffed with a wretched expression on his face .
“What nonsense . ”
“Don’t we also have that brilliant tool made by that kid?”
The melody of the harp stopped . The woman playing the harp turned her head and looked behind her . On the far side of this massive cave, there was a dark figure taking space under a faint light . It was something massive with an oppressive presence that couldn’t be believed to be made by human hands .