Chapter 45 – Gathering Storms (1)
It was within a musty darkness . A young man in his early-twenties was vacantly staring at an incapacitated corpse with its hands tied around the chair . He was looking down on at the remains which were in a state where it was more accurate to call it a pile of meat marinated in blood rather than a human corpse . The youth continued looking at the corpse with curious eyes before he grabbed one of the torture devices and pushed it deep into the body of the corpse . The dead don’t move . The youth looked behind him and asked with an innocent voice .
“Mom, why did he die?”
The youth’s question rang out in the darkness as two silhouettes appeared from the shadows . One male and one female . They both wore black robes with a feline mask .
“This person’s heart contains a covenant . ”
The female’s voice echoed in the dark .
When the youth asked, the woman approached the corpse tethered to the chair and pulled the prosthetic arm attached to his right side, then pointed its finger toward the heart region that was currently exposed .
“The moment an oath taken under the Divine Mediator’s name is broken; your life is forfeited . He must have broken his oath the moment he decided to reveal the name you sought . That was why the heart exploded . ”
Listening to the woman’s explanation, the youth looked deflated and dropped the small knife in his hand .
“Ah, so unlucky . It was my first interrogation! To meet such an idiot . ”
A man appeared behind him . He was a tall youth wearing the same black robe and feline mask as the rest . He slapped the discouraged youth on his back and spoke mischievously .
“What a shame of an interrogation! Why does everything you do turn out like this? You can’t even do one interrogation right . I’d have made this guy spit out the name of the fucker we wanted in a minute!”
“Brother, don’t be too harsh . This is our Pict’s humble beginnings . ”
Black fog smoldered behind the teen . The fog transformed into a young woman with a sensual body shape . Black hair and blood red eyes . She wore a playful smile as she wore the feline mask .
“All hear me . ”
The man who appeared first spoke with a serious voice . He accepted the gaze of the four before him and extended his left arm in a disciplined gesture . There was a tattoo of lightning piercing a skull etched onto the back of his hand . It might appear to be normal or even tacky, but those that knew its meaning would never underestimate it . It was because the tattoo represented one of the four families that controlled the assassin’s guild, Almeria Family . It wasn’t the most powerful among the four families, but it was known to be the most sinister . They always moved as a single unit on missions .
“This time, we face off against the Enemy of the World . He is a monster among monsters whose strength exceeds the 600 mark . One mistake can cost us our lives . Don’t lower your guard . Always step carefully . As a father, I don’t wish to lose any of my family members . ”
The current patriarch of the Almeria family, D’vici Almeria finished his brief speech then disappeared with his wife into the darkness on the far side . The oldest son and daughter, Kaz Almeria and Mayra Almeria, quietly followed after their parents .
The only one remaining was their youngest, Pict Almeria . His face was still twisted as though his anger from the previous incident hadn’t been resolved . He picked up the prosthetic arm that had been left on the ground, opened the dead man’s jaw, then tried to shove the entire prosthetic inside . The corpse, tied to the chair, thrashed about wildly .
“This fucker…! All because of this shit!
The teen left the scene; leaving a mangled corpse behind . A man sought out the blood-soaked room after a considerable amount of time had passed .
“… . . ”
Sungchul steadily looked at the pitifully disfigured corpse .
‘Christian . ’
His face could not be recognised due to the grotesque methods of the interrogation, but the prosthetic embedded into his jaw revealed his identity .
“Ew… What the… I can’t look at this…”
Bertelgia dug deeper into the breast pocket . Sungchul looked around at his surroundings . They didn’t leave behind a single clue besides the horrendous torture tools and blood that is . This wasn’t done by just anybody . Sungchul felt that in his guts, but why? He fell into deep contemplation briefly beside Christian’s corpse . In the end, he discovered something shiny within the blood-soaked torture devices . A gold coin reflecting a golden light . The unmarked coin .
‘Did they use this to track him…?’
He wasn’t fully aware of the ongoings of the world of Mercantilism, but he had heard stories . There was a rumour which he found hard to believe that a skilled merchant could use a single coin to uncover its entire context . He had brushed it off with a laugh before, but this was the only clue he had at this point .
‘Is this an act by someone who’s targeting me?’
There was no other way to interpret this . It was difficult to imagine that anyone would pour so many resources to chase down a single worthless slave hunter . Sungchul was also still in the superior position . His unknown enemies must not have been able to uncover anything about him due to the covenant’s power .
Sungchul pulled out the prosthetic from Christian’s mouth, attached it to his missing limb, then looked at his figure for a bit . He wasn’t a bad friend . There were stories Sungchul wanted to hear from him . How he became a slave hunter . How he had spent his school life . There was never a time to ask him about his life, and now he would never know .
Flies began to gather at the scent of rotting flesh . Sungchul poured oil over the corpse and lit it on fire . Turning his back on the roaring fire, Sungchul blended into the dizzying lights of the Slave Street once again . He could hear a panicked scream regarding a fire .
“… . ”
His mouth was firmly shut, but his eyes radiated a wrathful glare that was sharp enough to cut through the moonlight in the night .
When Sungchul returned to the House of Recollections, he could see Sarasa waiting at the entrance . She looked different in some way . The usual haughty expression on her face was nowhere to be seen, instead, she looked more like a problem child who was caught stirring trouble . The reason was soon revealed to him .
“Hiiiiing… . ”
It was because he could hear a familiar cry behind Sarasa’s back .
“Ah… it was out and about . ”
Sarasa avoided Sungchul’s gaze and handed him the Sky Squirrel . When her cold grip released the Sky Squirrel, it broke free and hopped up onto Sungchul’s shoulder .
The Sky Squirrel enjoyed the touch of people, but it didn’t seem to enjoy Sarasa’s cold hands . She looked at it with a bitter expression and spoke harshly .
“Our dorm bans pets and livestock . ”
“…It’s just for a little while . ”
Sungchul spoke simply before brushing past her and headed to his room . Sarasa stared at his back and followed him closely .
“I said it was forbidden . I’m the dorm’s owner . ”
“I can’t help it as the owner of the Squirrel had died . I just need a single day . ”
Sarasa was always quite forceful, but hearing that the owner had died, she moved back a step .
“I-is that right?”
Sungchul nodded . He left Sarasa behind and headed towards his own room once again . The messy interior, as it was when he first arrived, greeted him . He placed the Sky Squirrel on top of the bed before sitting down himself to organise his thoughts .
‘If it is an assassin that’s targeting me, I don’t have much time . ’
It could have been a coincidence, but this person had arrived within Golden City at least . The existence of the gold coin at the scene bothered him the most .
Sungchul had visited the tool shop in front of the school before he had returned to the dorm . The store owner seemed to live away from the store . There was no sign of life within, and no sign of forced entry . It was also quite late so no one was around to ask for any explanation . To know the complete story, he would have to wait until the sun was up .
‘With Christian dead, there really isn’t anywhere I can reliably get information from . ’
Sarasa was waiting for him in front of the door . She looked as though something was on her mind .
Sungchul asked with no inflection in his voice . Sarasa avoided his gaze and hesitated, but then her expression changed and she looked back into his eyes .
“About that incident before, I don’t have any ill will towards it . I think it was immature of me to lash out . ”
“It’s not something to apologize for . ”
Sunghul closed the door . Or when he tried to close it, Sarasa’s pale hand forced itself through .
He opened the door again .
“… . ”
Sungchul’s frosty gaze landed on Sarasa’s face .
“You don’t have to look at me like that . I just wanted to say… you’ve been here for a while now, so as students sharing the dorm, we should be conversing every now and then . Anyways!”
Her eyes looked through Sungchul and at the Sky Squirrel curled up on his bed . For whatever reason, it seemed that she took a liking to it . Sungchul noticed the gaze and recalled a long buried image of the past .
‘That kid also particularly liked animals . ’
The forgotten reverie was cut short by Sarasa’s voice .
“Anyways, you . It looks like you were chasing down the quests within the House of Recollections . You’re welcome to ask me anything you don’t know . It looks like I made a mistake today, so I’ll be especially nice . ”
“What can you teach me?”
“A strategy against the Devil of the Immovable Door . ”
Sarasa looked quite confident .
“Are you talking about the swindling devil? I already beat him . ”
“Oh yea? How about the Underground Well’s Skull Soldier quest?”
“Beat that one too . ”
“Oh yea . . ?!”
She listed several more quests, but the results were the same .
“How could this be… you’re lying, right?”
She looked incredulously at Sungchul . Sungchul, who saw her hesitation, thought up one question .
“Do you know about the magic tool shop outside of the campus?”
“Ah, Carbuncle? Yea . Of course, I know . ”
“About the owner too?”
Sarasa opened her eyes brightly and nodded .
“You’re talking about that plump man with a booming voice, right? Yea, I know him . I knew him since I was an undergraduate . ”
A strange light flashed across Sungchul’s eyes . He continued to ask her more questions .
“Do you know where he lives?”
“I know, but why are you asking?”
“I have some items to deliver to him . It’d be nice if you could tell me his location if you know it . ”
As he said that, Sungchul let out a whistle to call the Sky Squirrel .
Sarasa’s eyes became fixed on the Sky Squirrel . It trembled as though it feared Sarasa’s interest, but due to Sungchul’s grip, it ended up in Sarasa’s grasp .
“I’ll leave him to you since I have something to deliver to him . ”
“Ah… ok . ”
She gathered her hands to hold the Sky Squirrel . It shrieked, but as Sungchul handed it a peanut, it calmed . Sungchul handed her a small paper pouch of peanuts and answered her question that was clearly on her mind .
“The fastest way to get close to an animal is through its belly . ”
She handed over the information regarding the magic tool shop owner with no resistance .
Sungchul headed out into the darkness towards the shop owner’s house . The interior of the home was pitch black . Sungchul hid his presence as his Eye of Truth surveyed the surroundings for potential dangers while he entered the house .
It wasn’t too late . The murderer’s reach hadn’t extended here just yet . The owner had simply fallen asleep .
Sungchul shook the man awake . The shop owner who had been muttering in his sleep rubbed his eyes away and met the unwelcome guest .
“W-What is wrong, sir?”
Sungchul pushed the bloody gold coin towards the frightened shop owner .
“Do you remember this?”
The owner finally realised that the unwelcome guest’s identity was the whale from before . Various thoughts crawled around his head, but he couldn’t imagine something as shocking as what was revealed by the customer .
“I am Sungchul, the ‘one who demolishes’ . People seemed to have taken to calling me the Enemy of the World . ”
He pulled out Fal Garaz, the weapon fabled to have been given to the Dwarves by their god as if to prove his identity . Once the shop owner saw the item of legend, he was overwhelmed with shock as though his breath tried to escape back into his lungs .
“Kuh… uh… uh… . ”
Sungchul glared at him and spoke with a soft but forceful voice .
“Take your belongings and leave Golden City . Head to the province of the Human Empire and seek an Imperial Audience with the Emperor . ”
“Uh… . Uhh… . ”
He pulled out a sword made of ivory from his Soul Storage and handed it to the shop owner who was still having trouble forming a single sentence .
“Show this to the Imperial Court, and the Emperor will grant you an audience . However, never forget that if you reveal this truth to anyone else…”
Sungchul reached behind the shop owner towards the display cupboard . The decoration made of copper crumpled in his grip and parts of it squeezed out of between his fingers like butter .
“If you mistakenly think that you can hide from me, you’re welcome to try it . You’re welcome to gamble your life on that bet . ”
Sungchul placed the bloody gold coin in front of the man and turned around .
“Leave immediately . ”
The man stumbled out of his bed and pulled on some clothes in a hurry to begin packing . He left with not a moment to spare in the cold night air towards a distant location .
“… . ”
Sungchul watched the horse-drawn cart disappear before turning around .
“Quite unexpected of you?”
Bertelgia spoke from his pocket .
When Sungchul asked, Bertelgia popped out of his pocket and landed on his shoulder like the Sky Squirrel had .
“I thought you’d kill the man . That’s what I expected, anyways . ”
“I don’t arbitrarily kill innocent men . ”
“That’s what I didn’t expect . I thought you were someone ruthless . Like the Seven Heroes . ”
“… I am different from them . ”
Sungchul spoke as though he was making a promise to himself, then looked off towards the sky . The light had already begun to peek out from the Eastern horizon .
‘I bought myself a bit of time, but there still isn’t much left . It’s time to change my plans and rush getting the secrets of Cosmomancy, then leave this place . ’
His gaze fell on the domed structure sitting high on top of the mountain range .