“I’m not going. I won’t go. I would never step foot in that place unless I went mad.”
It was an obvious conclusion; Clarise adamantly refused Sungchul’s proposal. Kruut tried to convince her in his stead.
“Clarise. This will be the last opportunity. I’ll never go to the jungle again, so please just once. Just once, accompany us.”
Clarise had a slight change of heart by Kruut’s urging, but it wasn’t enough to fully bring her on board.
“Ey, Clarise. It’s time for your next song.”
A fellow band member was waiting for Clarice with an impatient look on his face as he consulted his watch. Clarise lightly walked towards the banquet hall once again. Soon the sound of music could be heard and the beautiful melodies spread across over the river in the night sky.
“She has a beautiful voice.”
It was rare for Sungchul to give a word of praise to others, but her audience at the banquet didn’t seem to agree with him. As the song was reaching its peak, a drunk aristocrat who had been laughing and talking aloud hurled a glass cup onto the stage.
“Hey! Shut up!”
It was some middle-aged pot-bellied man with sideburns that hung at a length on each side.
“What’s with your terrible singing? Get rid of her right now!” He pointed his fingers as he shouted profanities.
Several aristocrats of this backwater countryside saw the spectacle and snickered. Clarice and the musicians stopped the music as if they were used to this kind of situation and tactfully waited for further instructions from the man. The man with the sideburns looked over at Clarise with a longing gaze and shouted with a smug smile on his face.
“Miss Clarise! Why haven’t you worn the clothes I’ve gifted you? It’s a special stage costume that I’ve spent a fortune on when I purchased it at LaGrange!”
“Why… that bastard…”
Kruut’s face grew red with anger as he watched on.
“How could that bastard do such a thing to my granddaughter.”
Kruut stepped forward.
“Where are you going?” asked Sungchul.
Kruut answered him without stopping.
“I cannot stand by and watch that man who used to serve as a manservant in our household lay his hand on my granddaughter.”
He walked towards the entrance of the banquet hall, but the burly men obstructed his path. Kruut forcefully pushed them aside and entered.
“Shove off! I said shove off! I just have something to say.”
He was making another scene at the entrance. The music stopped, and the attention of the aristocrats turned toward the entrance. The man who had thrown the cup toward Clarise and mocked was also among them. The man who had grown his sideburns to a notable length recognized Kruut’s face and roared with laughter.
“Look who it is. Isn’t it the great explorer, Mr. Kruut Asaam? I’ve heard that you went to the jungle once again, but why are you back already? Did your venture fail again?”
He glanced about at the people around him as he spoke and they all broke out in laughter.
“Garehs Ale! You who came from generations of servants of our family sure act big just because you made some money!”
The smile on Sideburn’s face disappeared as he heard the word ‘servant’.
“That was the case before, but that is not the case any longer. Don’t forget that. I have elevated my family name while you have brought yours to ruin, and I am now enjoying the rewards of my achievements, while you are facing the consequences of your actions. If it wasn’t for the Curse of Extinction, I would have subjected your family to generations of servitude for mine. What a shame.”
His words were detestable, but looking past how it was stated, he was absolutely right. Unfortunately, truth drives people mad.
“Garehs! You bastard!”
Kruut broke past the bouncers and leaped toward Garehs, but the bouncers following behind managed to get a hold of him. After receiving a thorough beating he was thrown out. Once Clarise was done with her performance, she hastily ran over to check his condition.
Her face appeared to be full of anger at first, but once she saw Kruut’s messily beaten face, her anger faded away only to be replaced by a look of worry as she checked his condition.
“Gramps, are you ok?”
“Uuuh… I’m sorry. Clarise.”
Tears flowed down Kruut’s face making him appear even more pathetic. They were tears of anger, regret, and extreme pain.
“I… I have ruined you. If things were as before, you would have been making your name known at La Grange Music Academy. All of this was wrought from my greed…”
“What are you talking about? Gramps. No… it actually does piss me off now that I hear it. If it weren’t for gramps…”
Clarise’s fist trembled. It was at this moment that Sungchul appeared before the duo.
Clarise looked toward him.
“Wait, you. You just watched as Gramps was getting beaten, right? How does a person have such little sympathy…”
A box dropped in front of Clarise marked with the seal of the Merchant Coalition. Golden lights that brightly illuminated the surrounding poured out once the seal was broken and the box was opened. Clarise and Kruut’s eyes were dyed in this golden light.
“Is this enough?”
Sungchul asked in a calm tone.
There were four people on board the boat heading toward the jungle. Kruut and his granddaughter took their place at the stern while gazing at both riverbanks with apprehensive looks. The burly man called Light with “Rapist” tattooed across his forehead stared only at Clarise while sitting at the bow of the ship with his back turned against the water.
Sungchul stood at the rearmost part of the ship holding the wheel, watching the scene unfolding on the deck with apathy.
Sungchul called out to Light. Sungchul’s voice did not register in Light’s ears.
‘Mmm… Is he just one of the people from the Emperor’s Outhouse?’
Sungchul had chosen him with the prior knowledge that he was a rotten apple, but Sungchul didn’t quite realize how rotten the apple was. To make matters worse, Light abruptly stood up and blew hard into the whistle that was hanging around his neck as soon as they left the city boundaries.
Several small boats hiding in the reeds diligently rowed their way over.
“There’s a rumor that the Summoned bastard is rich. Kill ‘em all!”
He let loose a haughty laughter while revealing an axe.
“Kuhahaha! A human does not easily change! Did you really think I’d mend my ways? That woman is mine, so no one touches her!”
A brief moment passed, and there were bandit corpses floating around the boat. The boat carrying the bandits was smoldering in flames as it gradually sank into the muddy water. The man with the tattoo on his forehead was now kneeling in front of Sungchul.
“I have finally come to discover the true beauty of my inner self, and I have found the strength to forcefully stand against my wicked heart. That’s correct. I have been reborn having met you, and have been able to achieve the true meaning in turning over a new leaf. I beg thee, if you could find it in your heart to show mercy to a lost soul like me just one more time…”
The rapist meekly spoke about his reformation to Sungchul, and Sungchul kept him alive for the moment. He still had his uses.
The ones surprised the most by this turn of events were Kruut Asaam and his granddaughter. They couldn’t close their slacked jaw at the overwhelming power that Sungchul had displayed. Something flashed and whizzed by, and all the countless murdering bandits were killed.
“Gramps… just who is that man?”
“I… I’m not sure… maybe a m-mage?”
Kruut had no way to know that the man that had hired him was the most famous figure in this world.
Sungchul’s boat finally arrived at the river’s end obstructed by the Tree Mother amidst chaos.
Sungchul curtly spoke to the rapist that he had spared.
“Hey, can I come out?”
A female voice rang out from Sungchul’s pocket. Sungchul nodded, and when he did, a small book floated out from his pocket and expanded with a loud poof in the air. The flying book, Bertelgia, had made her appearance.
Bertelgia fluttered as she flew over toward Clarise and orbited around her.
Clarise nearly jumped ship in that moment, but Kruut held onto her.
“Hey, pretty lady. You sure know your way around a song. Not that you can sing as well as me.”
“T-the book is talking…!”
The sound of a flute could be heard coming from the front at this time. The rapist, Light, was blowing a flute that looked like a recorder with trembling hands making ‘pii’ sounds. But his subpar musical ability must have been insufficient in impressing the Tree Mother. She seemed to tremble slightly, but soon became rigid and still like a solid wall.
Sungchul’s shadow loomed over the rapist’s face.
“Ah… I poured my reformed heart into it… but it doesn’t seem to be going well. I’ll try again with my reformed heart…”
The man played his flute once again, but the results were the same. Sungchul pulled out the rope he frequently used from his Soul Storage and looped it around Light’s neck. His whistle got in the way.
Sungchul tore away the whistle around his neck and looped the rope around the neck once again.
Light’s scream rang out across the overgrown foliage. His cry of pain must have impressed the Tree Mother more than his flute playing because a greater number of roots were now moving about.
Sungchul approached Kruut and Clarise leaving the hung corpse with its tongue sticking out in the background.
“Now, your turn.”
Clarise swallowed deeply and stood at the head of the boat. Her heart pounded intensely, but after taking a deep breath twice as she usually did she regained her composure. Her experiences of standing on the stage hundreds of times helped her calm down out of habit. There might be no audience, lighting, or the accompaniment of a band, but she opened her lips toward the myriad of roots standing in her way and began to sing.
“… finding the courage to move forward in the face of unparalleled beauty. The light of the two suns grow dim but brighten once more.”
The mumbling and low first verse of the song finished and each subsequent verses became stronger and more melodic as they stirred the air. The indifferent trees slowly began to quiver, and Sungchul witnessed the magical scene of the tree roots that began to part like water before stone thanks to the only source of beautiful music in the great jungles which was otherwise shrouded in a veil of silence and stillness.
The path had opened. The original path of the river that had been hidden by the infinitely expanding tree roots had unfolded before Sungchul. Sungchul confirmed the scenery around him by the map made of Goblin hide. Rock in the shape of a sharp blade, white monkeys sitting on a large tree, and the hot spring spewing orange colored water. Despite searching all this time, the landmarks that had never once revealed themselves were now being revealed so naturally in rapid succession.
“This is it. This is it!”
The one most excited was Kruut.
“It must have been the eighth expedition. One of the mercenaries played the flute to keep his boredom at bay. It looks like the path had opened then because of him.”
The wall of trees that had blocked their path was now gone. Sungchul noticed something as Clarise’s song came to an end. There was a sharp spire shooting out of the overgrown hell of green shining in the distance.
‘Is that it?’
Kruut spoke up in that moment as he looked around with concern.
“If we go a bit further, we’ll hear a strange sound.”
“A strange sound?”
“It’s some strange mechanical sound I’ve never heard before. The mercenaries heard that sound and fled while screaming about some monster that crawled out of the afterlife or perhaps a great devil in hiding.”
Sungchul soon heard the sound as well. There was an irregular sound of impact echoing from beyond the vines and bushes. It resembled the sound of metal striking metal, but it also resembled the sound of a heavy mortar being struck down repeatedly. The strange unidentifiable noise grew closer and more aggressive as they pressed on.
Clarise rolled up her sleeves and stood in front of Kruut protectively. Her hand held the axe left behind by the rapist. The axe’s handle had the words “Anniversary of the Day of Release from Prison. With a fresh heart!” etched onto it.
Cowardly Bertelgia took refuge as always within Sungchul’s pocket, but as they drew closer and the sound grew clearer, she furtively poked out from his pocket.
“Hm? This sound. It feels familiar and nostalgic?”
Sungchul held no expression on his face as he continued to row forward. His group was soon faced with the identity of the sound.
A massive tree fell, and a spinning saw blade could be seen beyond it. Its owner was a golem made of stone and iron. It was about five meters tall, and its two gem-encrusted red eyes gleamed while its moss-covered torso made of white granite was terrifyingly stained with blood-like rust which had leaked out from the rusty iron.
“Hm? That’s a standard combat golem. Papa made that!”
Bertelgia flew out of the pocket and flew over to the golem.
“Hey! It’s me. Me! Don’t you recognize me?”
A spinning sawblade moved toward her in the next moment.
But at the last second, there was a refreshing sound of impact before something dark wrapped itself around the spinning saw blade. It was the Demonic Weapon Cassandra.
“Come here, Bertelgia.”
As she quickly retreated toward Sungchul’s direction, Cassandra was drawn tight.
When the golem tilted its head, its bulky body looked like it was being lifted up into the air before it was then discarded into the river. It was a monstrous strength that was difficult to believe even upon witnessing it.
Sungchul waited for the bubbles rising to the muddy waters to calm before rowing the boat once again. Kruut and Clarise only stared at Sungchul’s face with dumbfounded expressions on their faces.
Kruut managed to gather up some courage after a while to broach the topic.
“W-who are you?”
Sungchul did not respond. He silently continued to row the boat.
Eventually, an ominous sound could be heard in the distance from the jungle. More golems. Sungchul briefly spoke to Kruut and Clarise.
“Please wait a bit. It shouldn’t take long.”
Sungchul said as such and lightly leaped over to the source of the sound clearing away the bushes in his path as he went. He noticed the mark of the Lizardmen placed here and there, but he gave it no importance. It didn’t take long for Sungchul to discover the other golem.
His eyebrows shook when he saw the golem. It had a spinning saw blade attached to one of its arm, similar to the golem before, but the problem was what was attached to the other arm. There was a blue gemstone similar to the one held by Sungchul embedded into the other arm that was emitting a bright and clear light, and there were countless small animals lying dead around its feet. They were Carbuncles.
“My world… How could you?”
Bertelgia was in horror.
Sungchul immediately pulled out Fal Garaz and swung toward the golem, and the combat golem struck by this single blow broke apart where it stood.
“Wait! I need to have a look at the golem.”
Bertelgia flew out of her pocket and headed toward the remains of the broken golem. She headed toward the golem’s shining core beyond the granite fragments. After the time to drink one cup of tea had passed, she spoke with a voice filled with assurance.
“This was modified recently!”
“Someone had woken these golems recently and commanded them to commit these horrible acts.”
“There are people that are capable of doing such a thing?”
Sungchul asked the obvious question.
“Only papa could… but that’s impossible!”
“Could it be anyone else that lived in that era? Maybe the Seven Heroes?”
Sungchul asked again while vigilantly looking around the vicinity.
“I-I’m not so sure about that. Papa knew them and went on a few adventures with them, but… no, he might have told them enough to modify the golems. It’s not particularly difficult.”
“Then there is only one answer.”
Sungchul’s eyes lit up fiercely.
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