The pitch black darkness was filled with the repulsive stench of sweat and suffocating heat. From within, Sungchul could hear sounds of breathing. It was a whistling sound caused by phlegm obstructing the throat, like that of an ox due to congestion or the quick panting like a captured rabbit. The sounds of breathing were as diverse as a human fingerprint.
Sungchul closed his eyes and tried to identify the sound of his own breathing. It was calm and without breaks like always. He had been tortured all night and could no longer feel his shoulder on one side, but his will was not broken.
“We’re starting now, gladiators! You can bleed, but don’t shit yourself. I don’t want to fucking deal with it!”
He could hear the voice of a cold man beyond the darkness. The various sounds of breathing that could be heard from all over ceased, followed by the loud and clear but nonetheless accursed sound of a trumpet that pierced through the darkness.
The iron gate in front opened up. The bright sun that had been hidden away stabbed at the eyes of the gladiators like a hook. Sungchul used the palm of his hand to lessen the intensity as he squinted and glared at those who took their places beyond the light.
In the midst of the arena booming with the thunderous cheer of the crowds, Sungchul spotted his next opponents. It was a race of long apelike arms, wide shoulders, and tusks like those of a boar. They were Orcs.
They wore heavy armor with sharp sword tips jutting out the front of their shields and stood in formation as they awaited the gladiators. Despair settled in the eyes of the gladiators, and this despair was soon reflected in their actions. Some pissed themselves out of fear, others sought their mothers as their legs gave out, and some gave immediate joy to the audience as they became bloody pulps by the magic of the guards as they tried to run back out. They hadn’t even clashed swords yet, but the numerous gladiators were not in fighting shape.
“My my. It’s the orc soldiers equipped with heavy armor. They even look like veterans. It looks like it’ll be a bit harder to stay alive this time. Doesn’t it, friend?”
Krumbui, the sentient sword held within his hand, mockingly taunted him. It would most definitely be a tough battle, and as Krumbui had said, he might even die this time. Sungchul felt his dislocated shoulder ache as he gripped his sword tighter.
“… Let’s go.”
The leader of the Orcs recognized Sungchul and howled like a beast as he pounded his sword against his own shield.
“Come! Crazed dog of Halshtat!”
The fervent crowd that had filled the colosseum to capacity erupted in a torrent-like roar. Sungchul ran toward the orc leader amidst the sound of drums. Sword met sword and blood and fire splattered chaotically in every direction, and a pair of yellow eyes filled to the brim with malice hovered before Sungchul’s eyes.
Soon the sound of the drum that indicated the end of combat could be heard faintly above the arena. The citizens of the Holy Kingdom of Rutheginea rose to their feet from the adrenaline of combat as they poured out appraisal stained with praises and curses at the man that stood tall above the battlefield.
“Survived again? How admirable, my friend. I’ve met a lot of idiots, but none were as crazy as you.”
Sungchul turned back with the sound of Krumbui’s praise and passed the city of blood and corpses to the darkness of the waiting room.
‘Has she come again?’
Sungchul wiped his face covered in blood with his hand, and his eyes beheld the sight of a noblewoman standing outside the iron door waiting for him. Underneath the flickering torchlight was a young lady with long bright pink colored hair, watching him with a mischievous expression filling her face
“I’ve lost money thanks to you again. I thought you would certainly die this time and bet all of my allowances, but you’ve won again! How will you take responsibility for this? Hm?”
Her words might have sounded malicious, but to Sungchul, there was a bit of nostalgia within it.
Something akin to electricity passed through his entire body as though he was electrocuted before he raised his head again to turn toward the lady smiling at him, but her face held in his eyes blurred once again as though the glass had fogged up.
‘Was it a dream? As expected.’
A bitter taste of thick disappointment spread across his tongue. Sungchul felt the world around him fall apart as he called out the name of the girl fading away.
Sungchul soundlessly opened his eyes and rose from the bed. Bertelgia who had been at the edge of the bed flew toward him and sparked up some conversation.
“Did you have a nightmare? You said some strange things in your sleep.”
Sungchul swept up his disheveled hair and inspected his condition first. There were no wounds or abnormalities. He had spent his time unconscious in safety. He felt relieved internally and looked at his surroundings.
“Where is this place?” asked Sungchul.
“This? It’s that Baron’s house. Or rather, should I called this the house of the monk that was being hauled by Baron?”
Sungchul sat dumbly as he tried to recall the series of events before his consciousness cut off.
‘As expected, the gryphon I saw last was that monk’s.’
It was actually some miraculous luck to have met someone with good intentions who was willing to lend a hand in this hellish area filled with Human Empire informants and Aquiroa’s werewolves roaming about. Sungchul carefully inspected his body as he sat on the edge of the bed while looking about the room. It was a small and pitiful house with nothing much that stood out.
The floorboards were made up of rotting planks that would creak when he stepped on them and cobwebs were hanging off the corners of the ceiling like dust. Sungchul turned his gaze toward the table and furniture beside the bed. Common household wares such as dishes, silverware, books and the like could be seen. Other than the thick reading glasses laying by the entrance, a majority of the items were cheap and none of the items looked to be of any value.
‘Looks like he’s having a rough time.’
Sungchul decided to grant him a formidable compensation for saving him when all of a sudden something interesting caught his eye. It was a shield that was situated on the wall behind him from where he sat, where he had to turn all the way around to get a glimpse. The shield itself was junk that was plain and of inferior quality, but the insignia carved onto the shield had meaning that couldn’t be carelessly overlooked. A crescent moon half submerged in a black horizon. Sungchul felt shocked like he had been hit on the head with a hammer.
‘Isn’t that the coat of arms of the Holy Kingdom of Rutheginea?’
Kukurin’s Moon. The cursed insignia was once regarded as a symbol of terror and tyranny across the entirety of the continent had once again revealed its unmistakable form before Sungchul. At that moment, the sound of coughing could be heard from outside.
“Hm? Are you awake, Mr. Chef?”
It was the monk he had met before. The monk felt around the table with practiced hands to find and put on his reading glasses as he entered the house and sat on his rocking chair, reclining comfortably before looking toward Sungchul.
“You look perfectly fine. But it’s no good for such a young man to have such a weak body.”
He pulled out a pipe from his possessions and filled it with tobacco leaves from his pocket
before lighting it. Sungchul kept his silence while the middle-aged man lit the fire. Sungchul spoke after a bit of time had passed.
“I’m indebted to you.”
“I only did what I should have. Well, there’s nothing lost if you feel like directing a bit of coin as an offering to this monk either. Ah, I couldn’t help but notice that there was quite a bit of coin in your pocket. I didn’t touch any of it though.”
It appeared as though he had searched through Sungchul’s pocket. Sungchul laughed bitterly as he pulled out every gold coin held in his pocket and pushed them toward the monk. Among those, he didn’t forget to gather all the unmarked coins minted by the Coalition of Merchants together and crushed them into the shape of bullion bars with his hand.
“My, you’re quite the strongman.”
The middle-aged man’s jaw dropped at this sight. It was pocket change to Sungchul, but to the monk, it was a vast amount of wealth that would allow him to live prosperously for many years. Sungchul wanted to give a bit more compensation from the bottom of his heart, but such excessive generosity would only cause suspicion so he stopped here. Instead, he looked at the shield hanging in the corner of the room engraved with the Holy Kingdom of Rutheginea’s coat of arms and abruptly asked a question.
“What’s that? Decoration?”
The monk nodded.
“Well there’s no real reason to hide it now, but it’s my possession.”
“Hoh. You must have been a knight of that land.”
The monk breathed in deeply from the pipe before nodding.
“I was a knight of the Twilight Panthers. I’m not sure if you know about them.”
“Twilight Panthers, you say?”
He had been engaged in thick battle with the Holy Kingdom of Rutheginea for more than five years. Why wouldn’t he be unaware of that name? He clearly remembered the ferocious charge of the griffon knights from the left flank of the allied forces during the Battle of La Grange. If Shamal Rajput hadn’t employed his specialty, battlefield assassinations, to take the head of the Colonel in one strike, the battle would have dragged on forever.
“I’ve heard of the name. I’ve been told they were immensely valiant as knights.”
Sungchul spoke as though he had heard stories from others while looking at the Baron’s slightly crooked wing past the slightly open door.
“Seeing as you recall the name, you must also have some degree of knowledge of Other World’s history?”
“It’s nothing to brag about, but I have been here longer than it looks.”
The monk grinned. Was it because a portion of his past had been acknowledged? He had a very satisfied face as he took a drag from his pipe and exhaled. The monk rose from his seat as the faint smoke escaped through the stovepipe hanging from the ceiling. He began to dig through the drawers as though to share something with Sungchul until he pulled out a worn gold ring. It was a seal.
“It may in this state now, but I had once been a landed knight.”
“Did you lose your land when the kingdom fell?”
The driver shook his head at Sungchul’s question. He walked to and opened the lattice window and looked out at the village beyond. Outside the window stood the picturesque village of Toporo with the Tower of Recluse in the background.
“It’s that village, though it is no longer the case.”
“Isn’t Toporo Village owned by the Tower?”
“Before the Calamity began, the Tower of Recluse was not much of a sight to behold. Envoys from various nations have now formed camps around it to make it quite the popular place, but in the past, it was a forgettable historical site with nothing to see.”
It was a story that even Sungchul hadn’t heard of as it was only after the Scripture of Calamity was invoked that he found his way to the Tower. He naturally would have no knowledge of the previous situation.
“At that time, the Tower of Recluse barely survived with the financial aid provided by the Kingdom. Even that village that could be considered the gateway to the Tower was naturally managed by the Kingdom and I became in charge of it, but…”
The monk began to say something but stopped himself. His wrinkled eyes seemed to glimmer with remorse for a moment.
‘Something must have happened.’
A man that had once been a lord was now a cripple who lived like a beggar with his gryphon. In the end, something unsavory must have occurred. Something that couldn’t be resolved with words.
“Was there a problem?”
Sungchul would have easily ignored most people’s issues, but he was now indebted to the monk. It was unintentional, but it was quite a large debt. In turn, he would help in any way that he could.
Sungchul thought as such as he looked at the old man with calm eyes, but it seemed like there was nothing Sungchul could do. The old man made an unpleasant expression and replied negatively.
“It’s all in the past. All of it was my error. How could I call myself lord when I cannot protect the people of my land?”
The monk let out a sigh before rising from his seat. His actions and gestures looked as though he didn’t wish to speak on this further, and Sungchul soon realized it was now time for him to leave. He also stood up.
“I apologize for being a burden. It seems like it’s time for me to leave.”
The old man nodded. He took off his glasses and placed it on the table before stepping out of the house first. He got onto the cart pulled by Baron and took a tight grip of his reins.
“Let us meet again if an opportunity arises. Of course, only when your pockets are full!”
The monk’s jovial laughter filled the road.
“What a strange man.”
Bertelgia spoke candidly, but Sungchul saw the monk off until he left his sight. When the monk disappeared from view, Sungchul raised his head and looked toward the opposite direction. The pure white airship was floating arrogantly in the distant skies.