Laila spoke as if having read my mind,
“Our finance has greatly deteriorated due to 100 years of war. I did my utmost to conserve but…”
Thus began a long line of excuses: of how everything was the fault of Carpediem the Destroyer and how she had put in her all to protect Uriel Diablo’s territory. Needless to say, I could vaguely tell from the state of the castle how hard it must have been for her, and seeing how she kept the castle this clean despite the hardship, I could say that she was amazingly devoted.
Laila quietly spoke after a full round of the castle.
It seemed that she would address me as ‘father’ whenever it would be just the two of us.
As I turned my head toward her, Laila gave a short sigh before revealing the truth.
“The truth is that the dark merchants have taken this castle along with the territory…as collateral.”
Ahh. I nodded in my mind. I was able to occasionally run into them when I entered the blue ‘gate’s where other races dwelled. There was nothing that they didn’t sell. Although one had to pay in treasure of equal value, if your luck was good, it was possible to obtain quality weapons.
Of course, there were some who attacked them in hopes of stealing their goods. It ended tragically. Those people, who were known as being powerful in their own right, lost their powers, had their minds shackled, and were shut in a pig pen. Used like slaves, they died from the abuse.
It was a warning towards humanity.
After that, humanity didn’t provoke them. It was already too much to face the monsters, and we couldn’t afford taking them on as well.
‘So it seems that even monsters can’t lightly provoke them.’
Even with the Demon Lord backing her up, Laila seemed to be unable to recklessly make a move on dark merchants.
Ha! The more I came to know about the abyss, the more complex it appeared.
“That is why we must wage war. With all the wealth and territory in Carpediem the Destroyer’s hands, we could repay the debt with plenty to spare.”
“What happens when the debt goes unpaid?”
“I imagine the territory and castle would be…taken away. And we would receive focused fire from the false kings.”
It appeared that this territory was a last barrier, almost as if it would be safe as long as we were here, if that made sense. Perhaps one would become an easy meal for the other Demon Lords when this barrier disappeared.
‘Damned Uriel. You did run away.’
I became even more certain in my conjecture. Humanity had struggled so much facing someone who was chased out of the abyss.
I couldn’t help but curse.
Could Minshik become a hero great enough to turn this situation around?
‘It’ll be faster for me to stop this.’
Truthfully, I had been harboring thoughts of leaving about half the work to Minshik and just playing around a bit in the background. Unfortunately, this situation couldn’t be treated so lightly. It was possible that even staking my life wouldn’t be enough.
“Then do we head towards Earth?”
“Father. Are you truly asking out of ignorance?”
I winced internally but didn’t let it show outside.
“I have been asleep for a long time. I merely wanted to confirm the degree to which my memory is accurate.”
“Ahh, but of course. This girl was thinking of something else for a moment. Forgive me.”
Whew! I nodded my head as I sighed.
Digging in too deeply was dangerous after all. If I slipped up and made a mistake, I could end up losing this dream-like opportunity.
Laila continued on from where she left off.
“Earth is the final battleground. It is where the ‘Great Star’ will descend and hidden preparations are being made as of now. From what I hear, it seems that they will be awakening humans to use them as ‘catalysts’.”
I was chewing on that word when Laila’s expression hardened.
“Heading towards that place before the final battle is an extreme dishonor because the points that can be earned from killing those ant-like humans won’t amount to much. The ‘Great Star’ and a few others seem to place the potential of humans in high regard, but in the end, they’re nothing more than insects.”
Hearing Laila, the Queen of Terror, speak, I became certain.
I must never let the Demon Lords go to Earth unimpeded. Catalysts? Didn’t that mean humans were the sacrifices needed for them to become a ‘god’?
I burned with fury, barely holding back from grinding my teeth.
I had tried so hard, fought with no regard for my life! Ultimately, it seemed those monsters had viewed it as merely struggling in vain.
“Where is the Great Star?”
“Do you wish to see it?”
The cause behind everything, the Great Star.
I had to see it with my own two eyes.
We moved through the huge gate of the altar. On the other side, there was a gathering of dark merchants.
They were a strange bunch whose bodies were entirely black and wore nothing but a hat. They had no eyes, noses, or ears. Only a mouth. If I saw them from afar, I would believe them to be black cylindrical balls with two pairs of limbs stuck onto them.
The dark merchants’ only fashion was their hats. I could tell apart their ranks by their hats to a certain extent. The lowest ranked wore brown berets. The higher the rank, the more decorated or impressive the hat became.
‘This must be their headquarters.’
I had met the dark merchants in the past, but never before had I seen such a large-scale operation like this. There were rows of buildings that reached the skies, and the place was overflowing with of all kinds of treasures, slaves, and monsters.
“Lord Uriel. Thank you for coming to our Merchants Association.”
A dark merchant came to greet us as we reached the entrance with a crimson jewel, swaying to and fro, hung on its hat.
“I am called Alm. I would like to welcome Lord Uriel’s first visit here.”
Alm? Even the name was peculiar.
Although it was hard to pronounce, on the contrary, that made it easier to remember.
Having seen Alm, Laila spoke with her usual blunt expression,
“My Lord wishes to see the ‘Great Star’. Make way.”
“Seeing that it has been 100 years since your last appearance, it is natural that you would be curious about it. However, you must wait a while.”
“Must wait? You dare..do you not know who this is?”
Laila glared with wide eyes. True to her moniker, Queen of Terror, her eyes contained a ferocity that would cause a man to feel chills with a mere look. Yet when she looked at me, that expression would turn around 180 degrees.
They say women are guiltless in their fickle moods, but in Laila’s case, she went over the top.
Seemingly troubled, Alm scratched its hairless head.
“There is someone who made the first visit to see the ‘Great Star’.”
“Who is that?”
“It is Lord Andalton Bruxelles.”
Laila belatedly snorted.
The Demon Lord who inherited the name Bruxelles. So he was here. Even Laila couldn’t recklessly make a fuss before that name.
“Even so it makes no sense to wait. When was it ever necessary to take turns in seeing the ‘Great Star’?”
It was a reasonable argument.
Appearing troubled, Alm couldn’t easily come up with a response. Perhaps that was proof of how influential Andalton Bruxelles was.
After a while of hesitation, Alm sighed.
“I understand. I will put in a word. The doors to the castle tower where the ‘Great Star’ can be viewed will open an hour later. After an hour, please make your way before the castle tower.”
Alm bowed its head, and then turning around, he spoke to Laila in a quiet voice.
“Laila-nim. Your debt will soon be overdue. When the time comes…you understand. Laila-nim is part of the collateral after all.”
Laila’s face slightly reddened, as if she was embarrassed to have her pride stepped on. All the worse, most likely, because I was by her side.
So Laila had used herself as collateral for the sake of borrowing war funds.
Finally, Alm went away for good.
“My Lord. Allow me to guide you.”
Laila didn’t turn back, walking in front with her body shaking.
I didn’t think it necessary to ask further.
With the remaining time, we looked around the dark merchants’ headquarters. From goblins to vampires to cerberuses, there was nothing that wasn’t sold. At the sight of treasures I had never even seen before strewn about like it was nothing, I went speechless with admiration.
‘On the off chance that a Demon Lord gathered up the treasures in this place and invaded Earth…’
Not to mention killing it, we would be running away to escape extinction. But Laila opened her mouth to reveal an even bigger surprise.
“The slaves and goods here are nothing more than samples for display. The ‘real’ items are traded through ‘auction’. My Lord has not participated in it before, but the auction is held once a year.”
If it was held once a year, then it must have already been held a hundred times.
“If you are fortunate, it is possible to obtain excellent items or slaves for low prices. I have been participating in your place until now, but henceforth, my Lord must personally participate.”
In a manner that implied her familiarity within this spacious place, Laila busily explained in detail all the things she thought I didn’t know.
The more I saw of the Merchants Association, the more I realized what kind of a small cage humanity was locked in.
‘We should have adventured. Aggressively at that.’
Humanity was passive, including me.
All kinds of gates had emerged, but scarcely few moved to explore and pioneer the locations within. I should have done so, even alone if needed be. Regretfully, all I did was play the hero and fend off the enemies that charged in. But not this time. I couldn’t afford to remain the frog in a well.
The dark merchants busily moved around. It was like looking at an orderly ant hole.
Monsters would also occasionally look my way.
“It’s been 100 years since he last appeared.”
“So the rumours of his death was a lie?”
“I hear he’s being eyed by ‘Carpediem the Destroyer’. Kikik. How unlucky.”
At the very least, I could tell was that their looks weren’t friendly. Every time it happened, Laila would glare back with fire in her eyes, and the monsters would be quick to turn their heads away.
This was an area of non-aggression. All fights were forbidden.
“It appears to be time.”
Laila exclaimed with regret, but we had an appointment. Laila made her way toward the enormous tower placed in the center of the Association. That was the castle tower.
There was a long row formed by all kinds of demons and monsters in front of the castle tower, roughly numbering in the thousands. And the being who was at the very front was-
‘A Demon Lord…!’
I could tell at a glance.
But it was surprising. The monster army’s breathing and mana control didn’t get tangled together at all and moved in unison.
‘They’ve been trained properly.’
Each and every one of these monsters appeared to be at least Lv6.
Lv6 was the standard of an Ogre. You needed a potential of at least 300 in order to face one. Yet these kind of monsters had been trained to become even stronger, and they numbered in the thousands.
It was overwhelming.
Feeling uncomfortable inside, I approached the fore of the castle tower.
Laila was on her guard. This may have been an area of non-aggression, but the pressure they emanated was like a sharp spear.
When I finally stood before the door to the castle tower, I could see him.
Andalton Bruxelles. A devil with two horns!
He had eight wings just as I did, but they were much smaller in size. Around 2m in height, his body was composed of firm muscles, and his eyes were extremely cold.
At the time I was a hero, I had never seen him before. Even so, I felt more nervous than I did than the time I saw Uriel Diablo.
One thing was certain: Andalton Bruxelles counted as one of the ‘apex’ figures among the Demon Lords!
He didn’t even look at me.
‘Not worth your interest, is that it?’
As it had been 100 years since Uriel Diablo made an appearance, it would be normal to at least spare a glance out of curiosity, but Andalton Bruxelles didn’t bother. Perhaps he didn’t consider Uriel an equal.
A Demon Lord who had inherited a ‘legitimate name’ which even Laila acknowledges. Bruxelles was the name of a powerful evil god. The name was so famous that even I knew of it.
The door of the castle tower soon opened.
“Only Demon Lords may enter the castle tower. If you would, please.”
Laila deferentially bowed her head. Showing my understanding, I moved my feet. At the side, Andalton Bruxelles was also moving.
The inside of the castle tower was silent.
I quietly climbed the stairs leading up to where the tower top connected with the skies.
Andalton Bruxelles, as expected, simply continued walking with an emotionless face.
I wondered how much time passed like that. It felt like an eternity to me.
In the first place, I didn’t have much time left.
-Remaining time: 221 minutes.
2,440 minutes. It could be considered long or short, but now roughly a tenth of that was left.
‘What happens if the time runs out in the middle of things?’
I couldn’t help but hold doubts.
The stairs continued without end. The castle tower might have been a place that lead to heaven, or perhaps even beyond.
If the time did run out as I was right now, what would happen to this body at the end of the spirit transfer?
It was possible that it would simply fall over.
I couldn’t help but wonder, wouldn’t it be better to take down Andalton Bruxelles instead of dragging out time with uncertainty, doing nothing in the end?
But I dismissed the notion soon enough. That choice could be made later.
‘I can see the end.’
It was a long period of endless silence.
I was able to arrive before the ‘Great Star’ with a mere 15 minutes remaining.
What waited beyond the end of the stairs was a huge group of clouds.
Pure white clouds and harsh winds. The world was bright, and an immense ‘light’ was visible between those clouds.
It was a colossal god made up of light!
If that wasn’t a god, then what else could be called as such?
No, whatever ‘god’ there was, it couldn’t be compared to that existence. The sheer size of it and its ‘prestige’ was breathtaking, rivaling the cosmos.
But the god was in slumber.
“You belong to me alone,” said Andalton Bruxelles who suddenly began moving toward that light.
His body was burned with flames. His entire being was stuck in a loop of melting and regenerating, yet he did not stop.
He finally managed to come close to it, but the moment he reached out his hand toward the god of light-
His hand was flung away.
Once again he reached out with his hand.
He held a powerful obsession towards it, but Andalton Bruxelles lacked the capacity to contain that colossal ‘being’.
That’s right. He was lacking.
I could tell.
The moment I saw that god, I lost my mind. It wrested my attention from me.
It was so gigantic despite being incomplete. So serene. It was this serenity that threatened to swallow everything…
But at the same time it sparked my rage.
‘The beginning of everything.’
Was that the Great Star?
All that had happened was just because of something like that?
My flesh peeled away as I approached further. My whole body was on fire.
My wings ripped and broke apart, and my body couldn’t withstand it. The power that repelled Andalton Bruxelles was turned on me, but I didn’t stop.
He cherished his life, but I was different. This body wasn’t mine, and even if it was, I would have continued to walk without giving up.
Alright. If I had to stake my life I would do it,
If that was the condition to reach you!
If that was the path to erasing all misery and despair…!
[All the time for ‘Transfer’ has been used up.]
I was engulfed in an immense light.
When I opened my eyes again, several lines of messages appeared in my sight.
[58% spirit synchronization rate with Uriel Diablo]
[The skills ‘Mind’s eye(Lv9)’, ‘Dominator(Lv9)’ has been synchronized.]
[‘Transfer(???)’ skill has been created.]
[Potential has greatly increased due to synchronizing with an overwhelming existence.]
[5,000pt has been obtained.]
My head was spinning. I felt like I had dreamt a long dream.
The cool wind tickled my cheeks. It was morning, and I remembered seeing this scenery before.
This was at the foot of Mt Bukhan. I had been lying down on top of a pile of grass. What’s more, it wasn’t just nature that was waking me.
“His eyes opened!”
“Binaida. Binaida1. We’ve sinned greatly for disturbing the mountain. May you forgive and deliver us from our sins.”
I turned my head.
Gathered by my feet were the hunter trio, the ones who had been trying to catch the golden red squirrel.
1:Binaida Binaida(Lit. I pray I pray): a prayer, containing an extremely important wish, made to a mountain god. (related to ancient Korean shamanism)