A single man was laughing in a rumbling voice in an airship with his hair waving in the wind.
His identity was Admiral of the 4th Fleet of the Human Empire Minamoto Daisuke. He had risen to his current position after accumulating unclear accomplishments that remain a topic of controversy to this day.
He calls himself a tactician, but when he introduces himself, he shares that his success is because he had read through so many books on warfare that his head is filled with the ‘Three Strategies of Huang Shigong’* and his gut with the ability to respond to anything. However, his strategies were one-dimensional and distasteful, and more than anything, they resulted in large casualties. If there was anything else of note, it was that he was a Summoned. He was summoned from Japan, as could be guessed from his name, but whether he is Japanese or not is a topic of debate. According to a Summoned from Japan that had spoken to him, all of Minamoto’s conversation is limited to ‘Yosh!’ and ‘Hai!’.
Regardless of all of these bad rumors about him, Minamoto is a truly powerful swordsman. With his long hip-length hair flying wildly in the wind combined with his shouts befitting that of a madman while swinging his katana, he looked like the incarnate of an Evil Yasha itself. He is a figure that has brought terror to both enemies and allies alike. This Minamoto arrived at the peak of Harupaya Ridge undertaking the weighty mission of subjugating the Enemy of the World. He held a cylindrical scope to his eye as he observed Sungchul and began to mutter under his breath.
“Mm. To be able to sit on the peak by himself while confronting a massive army. Isn’t this the ‘Empty Fort Strategy’** by Zhuge Liang?”
His strategist mind began to work overtime, but his concentration didn’t last very long. The overseer of the subjugation of the Enemy of the World, Dimitri Medioff, had summoned each fleet commander to the deck of his flagship, Andragoras. Minamoto was displeased, but he had no choice but to obey.
Minamoto kept grumbling as he stepped onto the miniature ferry to board the deck of Andragoras. The other fleet commanders were also gathered on the deck for a strategy meeting. The head of the meeting, Dimitri, looked at each commander in the eye as he spoke in a serious manner.
“According to the reports, the strength of the Enemy of the World well exceeds our expectations. I don’t need to reiterate what kind of strength is capable of driving away a hundred thousand Devils alone. So, we will need to seek out a method to oppose the Enemy of the World with the utmost seriousness.”
Dimitri looked at each of the commanders after his speech. They all kept their silence. It was because none of them was able to come up with a good solution. Their opponent was a monster among monsters that had walked up to an army of a hundred thousand Devils as leisurely as one walks into one’s home and had struck down their commander. Dimitri’s gaze shifted over to Minamoto who was the last to arrive. Minamoto was filled with anticipation as he was prepared to relay some kind of plan he had just come up with and mulled over how to express it. But Dimitri tactfully avoided locking eyes. Unfortunately, Minamoto wasn’t one to be so easily discouraged.
“Head Commander, I have a good idea.”
Dimitri briefly let his emotions show on his face.
‘What kind of stupid thing does this crazy bastard have to say this time?’
Dimitri didn’t wish to open the floor to him, but Minamoto was still one of the fleet commanders. Dimitri let out a sigh as he spoke bluntly.
“Say your piece.”
“The way I see it, Sungchul is using the ‘Empty Fort Strategy’.”
“I see. That’s a brilliant opinion.”
Dimitri spoke drily while applauding before he turned away.
“But, I wasn’t quite done yet?”
“Ah, you had more to say? Looks like I made a mistake.”
Dimitri’s face continued to broadcast that he didn’t wish to hear any more of what the man had to say, but none of those signals entered Minamoto’s eyes.
“The only method to avoid getting caught by the ‘Empty Fort Strategy’ is to rush him down without giving him any moment of breath.”
Dimitri started a conversation with the other commanders, played around, and even closed his eyes pretending to sleep while Minamoto spoke, but Minamoto’s speech continued on regardless. When Dimitri’s patience had reached its limits, a senior adjunct walked in like a miracle.
Dimitri greeted the adjunct brightly, but Minamoto seemed to be muttering something or the other while this occurred.
He quickly made some distance from Minamoto with rapid steps while gesturing the adjunct to speak.
“The Enemy of the World is gone!”
Dimitri immediately moved portside and observed the spot where Sungchul had been with a scope. He was gone. Sungchul who had been lingering around like a caged animal in a zoo had simply disappeared.
“The time to attack is now! Commander Medioff!”
Minamoto approached closer and continued to speak his nonsense. Dimitri sighed as he pointed to the peak of the ridge on the portside with his finger.
“Go by yourself then. No one will stop you.”
Minamoto only now discovered that Sungchul was no longer there. His brain immediately began to toss around millions of strategies of war that he had only read about in his books.
“This… is Sungchul’s trap! We must not pursue!”
A rocky valley filled with strange and bizarrely shaped rocks.
Sungchul, who was in some clearing hidden by rocks and its shadows, was focusing intensely on creating portraits. The topic was Vestiare’s visage, but Sungchul had no experience in art. He tried to copy the sample drawing left behind by Vestiare, but in the end, they all became some form of abstract art.
“God damn it!”
Sungchul threw down the abstract art that even he himself couldn’t identify and laid back onto the stone. As he prepared to take a breather, Bertelgia popped out of his pocket.
“Is the Demon Realm Frontline safe now?”
Sungchul, who had been staring up at the ashen sky through the crevice in the rock, shifted his head slightly and nodded.
“It is the main fleet of the Human Empire; the self-proclaimed protectors of Humanity and its allies. They might have put up all kinds of excuses to delay deploying their troops, but as they have made an appearance in the Demon Realm now, they shouldn’t just turn back when they can clearly see the danger with their own eyes.”
The only reason that Sungchul decided to move locations was because he could see that the balance between the humans and the devils had been restored. There was no more reason for him to act as a human barrier. Sungchul had made a quick decision and made himself scarce.
However, a bigger obstacle stood before him. Sungchul watched Vestiare’s portrait which he had laid on top of a rock with tired eyes.
“That damned woman. She gave me one bitch of a quest.”
No matter how much he drew, he could not produce even one decent portrait. Not a single one of them had been accepted, and Sungchul had to draw a total of 33. His future looked bleak.
“You’re so good at cooking and alchemy, but it looks like your artistic ability is quite terrible.”
Bertelgia peeked over at Sungchul’s half-finished sketch of Vestiare which more closely resembled a goblin.
Sungchul did not speak any further. He stared blankly at the passing clouds through the crack between the rocks. After much time had passed by in this way, he heard the sound of paper rustling in the breeze. Sungchul, who had been resting with his eyes closed, turned his head and cracked his eyes open. A faint smile appeared on his lips.
Bertelgia was sketching something. She had placed a pencil between her two pages and held the drawing paper with a rock while she was scrawling something busily onto the page.
‘It looks like a kid playing with a crayon.’
Sungchul suddenly stood up from his seat and stole a peek at what Bertelgia was doing. His eyes soon grew wide from shock.
A detailed sketch that could not be compared to what Sungchul had drawn before was on the page.
“Ah, you’re up?”
Bertelgia delicately moved her body to allow for the subtle pencil work that drew Vestiare’s ruffled hair. It was a technique that Sungchul could never perform in this lifetime or the next. He waited for her to finish her drawing with his mouth shut.
The sketch was soon completed.
Bertelgia rose high into the air to admire her work, but it appeared as though she wasn’t pleased with it.
“Hmm. The proportions don’t look quite right. I must have lost my edge since it’s been so long.”
Bertelgia pushed away the rock which held the paper with her body and let it be carried off with the wind. A forceful hand roughly grabbed the flying page.
It was Sungchul.
‘As expected, her skills aren’t normal.’
“What are you doing with that drawing? I was just playing, don’t look at it! It’s not even well made.”
Bertelgia tried to object with a pouty voice, but Sungchul did not relent and held the sketch in front of Vestiare’s portrait. Her artwork disappeared as glittering letters appeared in his eyes when he did so.
[You did well. What did you feel while you were drawing me? Progress: 1/33]
The quest had accepted the drawing.
‘This was an unexpected boon.’
If Vestiare had put some effort into it, the quest would have been set up to only accept Sungchul’s drawings, but it had been a hastily-made quest. It might have been too bothersome for even Vestiare to put together a complex formation for a quest she made out of spite which granted a single point of Intuition. It required a lot of effort in order to check the trace of the soul within an object, such as embedding a familiar within the quest to verify the maker of the object.
‘That woman must not have imagined that there was a person willing to draw the pictures for me.’
Whatever the reason was, the solution to the problem that had been plaguing him for half of the day appeared to have been found.
Sungchul spoke with a composed voice. Bertelgia felt a premonition and replied with a trembling voice as she tensed her body.
“It looks like it’s finally time for you to earn your keep.”
“Huh? I don’t have any expenses. I’m a Living Book as you can clearly see.”
“Then you’ll have to pay fees for babysitting.”
“Who’s taking care of who!”
Bertelgia strongly tried to refuse him, but Sungchul’s will was not to back down. She soon became Sungchul’s art slave.
“Don’t even think about slacking before another 32 portraits.”
“You’re too much…”
Bertelgia let out a pitiful voice as she drew. Sungchul comfortably laid on a boulder as he spoke.
“Don’t fret. I always pay my debts. I’ll do you one favor afterwards.”
“For real? My memory is wicked good, so don’t go denying it later.”
Bertelgia went as far as to record Sungchul’s promise onto her pages.
[5th Era. Sun of the Thirty-Ninth Blue Dragon. Moon of the Cloud Witch. Eighteenth Day. Sungchul promised to perform a single favor.]
“Since you’re making a promise, why not go as far as forming an oath?”
Bertelgia who had recorded Sungchul’s promise with the time and date onto a corner of her page tossed out a question.
“If you’re talking about an oath, I’m already bounded by such a thing.”
Sungchul pointed toward his chest while speaking.
“Really? With who?”
“Can’t say. Anyways, I’ll keep my promise so finish the drawings.”
“Ok. OK! I’ll draw it!”
Bertelgia began to draw Vestiare’s portrait onto the drawing paper once again. As Vestiare’s beautiful visage was being recreated one by one, Bertelgia spoke up again.
“This woman. She looks a lot like my mama.”
“Really? You’re not trying to say that you’re Vestiare’s daughter or something, are you?”
“My mama is a human. This woman is a High Elf. How can she be my mother when her race is completely different?”
“Papa must have really liked this woman.”
“Is that right?”
“Yea. Papa followed around the Seven Heroes and adventured with them when he was younger. Demon Realm, Sea of Trees, Subterranean World, Land of the Dead, Floating Archipelago, etc. Here and there.”
“Is that why he called himself the Eighth Hero?”
“That might be why, but the Seven Heroes never considered him as one of them. They treated him like some toolbox that spat out convenient tools.”
“That’s quite pitiful.”
Sungchul recalled Eckheart’s quest that had strongly emphasized the name Eighth Hero.
‘How pitiful to have been denied camaraderie even though they fought the same enemies.’
Judging by Betelgia’s words, they appeared to have known each other for decades, and yet it looked like he wasn’t considered a comrade.
“Here. All done.”
Bertelgia said blandly as she took her pencil off of the page and floated into the air. Vestiare’s portrait whose eyes were looking dreamily toward the front was left in her place. Bertelgia then peeked over at her own drawing while circling in the air as she spoke.
“In any case, my mama was prettier.”
Sungchul held a faint smile as he collected the picture and placed it on top of the sample. The picture melted away as snow does leaving only bright letters in front of his eyes.
[Have you now grown accustomed to my appearance? Don’t fall for me too deeply. If you set your standards too high, you might never marry! / Progress 2/33]
“… talking full of shit.”
Sungchul had wanted to kill Sajators first out of the Seven Heroes, but he deeply considered revising his plans. However, even those thoughts quickly grew cold. A strange thought entered his mind within that brief serenity. How long had it been since he left a task meant for himself to another? Eight years? No, at least ten years must have passed. Bertelgia who had grown into a trustworthy companion over the course of a day was busily moving her body while drawing a portrait.
The sound of the pencil scribbling through the page was the only sound present beside the blowing wind. Sungchul felt the flow of time with both his eyes closed. Faces of countless people and sceneries flashed in his mind leaving their traces. A voice of an energetic girl could be heard in the darkness.
“Ah~ This slave is the head of the rebel force claiming to have come from another world? Huh? Not the head, but the right-hand man? In any case, he’s not my type. Do you even have any strength behind those thin arms?”
The moment he recalled that particular voice, he felt a lingering pain like a dagger digging deep into his chest. His breath immediately got caught in his throat, and his breathing grew ragged. The pencil used to trace the lines on the page stopped moving.
“Did you see a ghost in your dreams?”
Bertelgia asked bluntly.
Sungchul took a deep breath and shook his head.
He said as such, but his heart was still pounding rapidly in his chest, and the Cross of Oath embedded inside his chest was radiating a pure light within the stirring of his thick blood.
*Three Strategies of Huang Shigong
In China, there are collections of works referred to as “the Seven Military Classics”. Sun Tsu’s art of war is a part of this collection. Two of the contributors in this seven list is from the Three Kingdoms era, including ‘Methods of Sima Yi’, and ‘Three Strategies of Huang Shigong’ attributed to Zhuge Liang. Huang Shigong actually means “Duke of Yellow Rock”.
The Strategy reads as follows: (copy pasted from Wikipedia)
1 A leader must be both benevolent and awe-inspiring, according to what is appropriate.
2 Act according to the actual circumstances. Avoid responses which are based on imagination, memories of the past, or habits acquired in other circumstances. You must rely only on observation and perception and be willing to modify plans at any time.
3 Employ only the capable. This requires an accurate insight into others.
**Empty Fort Strategy
One of China’s 36 stratagems (an informal oral tradition of loosely collected strategies), of which the strategies are often attributed to Sun Tsu or Zhuge Liang, but neither are actually real authors. They’re just used as examples to exemplify a certain use of the strategy.
Empty Fort typically is a way to lure enemies in as a form of deception. The version Zhuge Liang used was way riskier; He opened the gates to his castle, had no soldiers or generals defend the wall, and had people sweep the open gatehouse as he drank tea and played music for the approaching army. Because Zhuge Liang had never gambled or did anything risky in the past, Sima Yi believed this was a trap of some sort and retreated, but in truth, Zhuge Liang had not even a thousand men defending this supply base. He remarks, this is not a strategy he could ever repeat in the future.