Sungchul was able to meet the commissioned officers in command ranks at the dwarven fortress. Kevan Kemaal’s commander of defenses, Kaal Bomba, was among them. A gruff voice with large hands the size of pot lids. The dwarf had bright eyes that lit up like lanterns as he briefed the room of the current situation while gulping down a large mug full of beer.
Bomba himself wasn’t quite sure how the Devil Army managed to ambush them from the rear, but he knew of recent rumors from the frontlines of the Demon Realm.
“I’ve heard rumors that the Order of the Iron Blood Knights requested reinforcements from Lord Martin. Not to mention, the Order was already in quite a poor shape from the continued assault from the Devil Army all throughout the winter. In any case, the Order of the Iron Blood Knights put aside their pride and asked several times for reinforcements, but the bastard Lord Marquis ignored their plea each time. It was only a matter of time before they fell.”
Sungchul knew all too well what kind of man Martin Breggas truly was. He was certainly a man who did as he liked, but he was not a man so irresponsible to neglect his responsibilities without reason.
Another dwarf opened his mouth.
“I suppose the rumors are true after all. The rumor that he decided to use the Iron Blood Knights as sacrificial lambs to elevate a bastard son of his, from a beloved mistress, as his rightful heir.”
“That rumor. I’d like to hear more about it,” said Sungchul who suddenly showed a bit more interest.
When the man they were indebted to that was silent all this time suddenly spoke up, the attention of the dwarves shifted all at once towards Sungchul. The dwarf who had been speaking took a few more swigs of his drink before speaking again with a belch.
“Martin Breggas looks like a person, but on the inside, his head is nothing more than a dog in heat trying to sow his seed into every beauty he lays his eyes on. This disgusting habit allowed him a lot of progeny, but even the Marquis himself probably doesn’t know how many bastards he has.”
The others began to laugh along and kept up with the banter.
“I’ve heard that the conservative estimate goes over 20.”
“What’s 20 kids? I’ve heard there are more than a 100.”
Sungchul recalled Sophia Breggas’s final smile, she who died so tragically.
‘Did that kid also come from a mistress?’
He had coincidentally seen the genealogy of the Breggas family upon one of his returns from the Demon Realm. He had seen Elijah’s name from the genealogy that recorded everyone from the founder to the current successor of the family name in the seemingly endless branches of the family tree, but he had never seen Sophia’s name. For her name to not be recorded on the genealogy meant that she was not formally a part of the family.
“The problem is…”
The dwarf who had been speaking suddenly shouted in a loud voice to clear the air. When the rumbling around him began to calm down, he spoke on.
“The problem is that, even among the countless number of progenies, there is a single one that he favors! He loves that child enough to throw away the child he had with his own wife in the Demon Realm.”
“Who is that?” asked Sungchul.
“Parlim Dargot. A High Elf. He’s the child from a dancer of some renown in Trowyn. There is actually another rumor regarding that bastard.”
When Sungchul showed a bit of interest, the dwarf gave a toothy smile and lowered his voice.
“That the progeny that Martin adores so much might not actually be his own… Kehahaha!”
The dwarf seemed to have found the rumor so hilarious that he didn’t manage to finish his own story before bursting into laughter. The other dwarfs laughed along in mockery of Martin.
When the laughter bursting from every seam of the hall died down, the storytime continued. But the speaker this time was not a dwarf, but the commander sent by Kevan Kemaal, Kaal Bomba.
“In any case, the rumor is that Martin is trying to make this progeny his heir. The man has no scruples and has already driven his wives and all of his other sons to their death. But even that impudent man thinks it’s unreasonable to make a bastard child of a dancer with no basis for the inheritance to become his legal heir. So he is preparing a sacrificial lamb.”
“Are you talking about the Order of the Iron Blood Knights?”
Kaal nodded at Sungchul’s inquiry.
“I’m sure they knew about it too. It was a popular rumor after all. But the Order has no strength. They couldn’t even pull out their Knight-Captain’s son that was summoned from that other world through the Summoning Palace, so is there anything more to be said?”
Sungchul recalled Ahram’s dhole-like face as the dwarf was talking.
‘The one who killed that kid was me. If I wasn’t involved, Ahram would have graduated from the Palace and gotten accepted into the Order.’
Every action has a consequence. Out of the many possible outcomes, there was bound to be a few that were outside of expectations. It appeared that Ahram’s death had been the final blow to the Order of the Iron Blood Knights, and a declining house was bound to collapse quickly.
Sungchul tipped his glass as he contemplated on the stories he had heard today.
The Order of the Iron Blood Knights was a military organization composed of the Summoned, especially those summoned from Korea. The Knights, with the Knight-Captain Sungtek at the head, were nothing more than a band of mercenaries until they positioned themselves within the Demon Frontlines that was known to be the most dangerous region and fought against powerful Devils with their lives on the line.
As the danger grows, so does the rewards. Their struggles looked fruitless, but in reality, the Order experienced massive growth. Starting from the Knight-Captain Sungtek, a few dozen under him quickly exceeded the realm of Superhuman, and they began calling themselves Iron Blood. This was the humble beginnings of the Order of the Iron Blood Knights that rose to the position of top three most powerful factions in all of the continent including the northern region. However, the Order that had been on the fast track no longer existed.
Sungtek might have been strong-handed in his formation of the organization, but he showed weakness in his ability to maintain such a massive group. Between schemers such as Martin Breggas, Aquiroa, and the Emperor, his organization was taken advantage of and discarded.
There was news spreading throughout the fortress of the Storm Battlefront that even the final bastion of the Order had been relinquished.
“The Order of the Iron Blood Knights have fallen.”
“The Fortress of the Iron Blood Cross was forfeited, and the few that remain have given themselves to Martin Breggas.”
“The Eastern Front of the Demonic Battlefront is completely abandoned.”
“It’ll only be a matter of time before the Storm Battlefront is overrun.”
Sungchul who had been staying within the Dwarven Fortress as a guest of honor could hear all of their gossips. They all contained grim and vital news. As people concerns seemed to grow heavier, a unit of Wyvern Knights entered the fortress. They delivered the command of Martin Breggas to Kaal Bomba even after returning with all manner of injuries after an attack en route.
Main force led personally by Martin Breggas is moving to strike at the Devil’s main force. All subordinate officers that see this news are expected to dispatch all forces except the bare minimum to maintain the line.
‘So, he ended up moving personally. Martin Breggas.’
This was the worst crisis since the formation of the Demon Realm Battlefront. There had been several of them big and small throughout, but there had been none that threatened its total destruction such as now. There was no way for Martin to keep out of the thick of it any longer.
There was news that an army from the Elven Tribal Alliance of Varan-Aran that had been defending the west was now marching east toward the region overseen by the Storm Battlefront. Kaal also decided to send out every unit other than the injured and a few veteran soldiers to the east. Sungchul joined Kaal’s army as an honorary mage.
The Dwarven Army sang marching tunes as they held lengthy spears five times their height while heading out to the land of death. There was a marching tune related to Sungchul.
“Fucking Sungchul~ Return Fal Garaaz~ You Son of a Whore~ Sungchul the Eunuch~ Give Back Fal Garaz~ Shit of the World~”
There was even a second verse. This was a widely known truth, but Sungchul was the first entry within the Dwarven Book of Grudges. If Sungchul revealed his identity at the current moment, it would most certainly lead to all the dwarves turning against him.
“Man… you have a lot of enemies. Do you… have any friends?”
Bertelgia shook from laughter as she spoke from her pocket.
Sungchul didn’t respond. Instead, he pulled her out of his pocket and tossed her onto the floor.
“Ouch! You’re too much! Really!”
The dwarves that saw Bertelgia fly, shouted in wonder. The day passed by like this, and they finally arrived at some village. It was already in ruins by the hands of the Devils. Sungchul discovered the half-burnt sign of the village within the ashen wreckage. It was written in Korean which he hadn’t seen since he arrived to the Other World.[신 파주]*
Sungchul and the dwarves could smell the faint stench of blood permeating throughout the village as they entered. There was a disgusting construct left behind by the Devils who hadn’t left a single structure standing. It was a tower of stacked humans. Men and women of all ages seemed to have gone through some atrocious torture before being used as material for the tower while they still held their breath only to die upon it.
Those that died defending the village appeared to have been eaten by the Devils. The corpse of a warrior that had been hollowed out of internal organs was left rotting on a dining table.
“…those damned devils.”
The dwarves had become calloused to the gore, but atrocities performed onto civilians were revolting to a different level.
‘The entire continent will be subjected to this Calamity if the front line of the demon realm is breached.’
Sungchul resolved himself with this thought as he knew the devils better than anyone else. Humans were food and playthings to the devils, and the two could only be eternally at odds. There was also no need for diplomacy or negotiations with devils.
Kaal Bomba’s march had slowed, perhaps due to the pitiful scene of the village.
Sungchul’s group managed to see the fluttering flag of Martin Breggas after two days had passed. The military flag with the image of a winged skeleton holding a sword was visible from far away. Under that flag were several hundred other flags, representing roughly thirty thousand soldiers. A diverse army from various battlefronts and from all over the continent had gathered in one location.
The largest and the most central of the forces were the militia of Trowyn lead by Falim Dagott known as the progeny of Martin Breggas. Sungchul could see that the group was only a militia in name, and they didn’t fall behind any of the knight’s orders in equipment or number after a single glance.
Parlim Dargot was a handsome man with a confident and charismatic demeanor. He didn’t share any resemblance with Martin as the rumors said, but he had a large presence that seemed to draw the eyes of every person near or far. It was a far contrast from Elijah who was similarly handsome yet lacked strength and leadership.
Parlim sought out every captain from various regions and introduced himself while discussing his unit’s size and role with a confident and concise manner.
“Hmm. That’s the rival of the kid that turned into a High Devil? Honestly, this guy’s a lot better.”
Bertelgia was in agreement with Sungchul’s opinion.
On the other hand, the Order of the Iron Blood Knights that occupied a corner of the army looked incomparably pathetic. Sungtek, who once wielded the might of one of the top factions of the continent, looked haggard and had little presence as he kept to his little corner of the army with his surviving soldiers. No one showed any respect toward the group.
Those that were aware of the ongoings of the Demon Realm Battlefront sympathized with them, but those that were blind to the situation scorned them as the incompetent Order that relinquished their front causing their current predicament.
Sungchul knew the man personally. The man had been a brave and lively leader of great ability before the Calamity had struck. He was once bolder and more driven than even Sungchul, but Sungchul could see none of the spark of the past in Sungtek’s current appearance. All that was left of the man was an aged husk.
‘So the Order of the Iron Blood Knights have fallen this far.’
There was only one reason for the Order’s fall. They had stood against the Calamity. Many had deemed the Calamity as minor and insignificant, but the Order of the Iron Blood Knights had withered away as a result of weathering against it. They were unlikely to stand tall ever again.
These were Sungchul’s thoughts as he left the area.
Sungchul then looked around to check for anyone familiar. There was only a small minority of people that were aware of Sungchul’s current appearance, but if he were to meet any of them, he would be greatly troubled. Thankfully, he didn’t find Deckard or anyone from the Suicide Unit. This meant that Sungchul could act as Ahmuge Kim for the moment.
‘Everything should reach a conclusion within a week. If the humans were to lose this battle, then a third of the population living in the continent would fall prey to the horns and claws of the devils.’
Powerful nations such as the Human Empire might be able to withstand the devil’s invasion, but the minor nations would be helpless against them. The image of the ruined village flashed by Sungchul’s eyes.
A shallow sigh escaped his lips.
‘If my Intuition only managed to get a single point higher.’
As he turned around with regret lingering in his mind, someone grabbed his shoulder. Shock spread through Sungchul’s eyes.
‘I couldn’t feel the presence?!’
It was impossible. For someone to have intruded on Sungchul’s transcendent senses that is. However, there were several situations in the past where this had happened. Sungchul felt a sense of deja vu as he faced the woman that held his shoulder with a frosty glare.
“Oh, it really was you! Mr. Sungchul.”
The identity of the woman smiling wide with her teeth showing was none other than Ahmuge.
*신 파주- new Paju, a military city created to defend Seoul
The context is, this region is under threat by North Korea and is always on alert for an invasion from the North. Meaning this is how the Iron Blood Knights felt this village was like (border with Demon Realm)
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