Bertelgia who had said she didn’t particularly love animals was enjoying her time tossing the ball back and forth with the white carbuncle. Putting the carbuncle aside, she seemed overjoyed by the simple fact of being able to move her own arms and legs. Sungchul watched this side of Bertelgia with no particular expression on his face while being deep in thought.
‘She is enjoying it quite a bit.’
Painful memories flashed inside Sungchul’s mind. But this wasn’t what he wanted to recall so he shook his head slightly to disperse the image to think of something else.
‘As expected, she was a human, but how did she turn into a book?’
From what he observed from the side, Bertelgia was a book but also a human. Even with his knowledge, Sungchul could not understand how this was possible, neither could he even fathom it. He might be able to grasp it after obtaining the knowledge of a Creationist, but that moment was a distant future.
Soon after, Bertelgia had finished her play and moved toward his direction.
“Carbungbung seemed to want to call it quits now?”
As she had said, the white Carbuncle had covered half of its body with his tail as he closed his eyes and tried to sleep by a spring that was as clear as a mirror.
Sungchul tossed out one of his rare compliments toward Bertelgia before heading toward the door that led to reality. Bertelgia seemed wistful about leaving, but she didn’t say anything before following behind him. The atmosphere was starkly different than before.
Sungchul put his hands on the Soul Stone once they returned to reality. It still wasn’t completely obedient, but it didn’t completely defy him either. Sungchul opened his status window to check its condition.
Soul Gem (Meerkat Carbuncle)
Soul Gem (Meerkat Carbuncle) – Complicated
A Soul Gem was added to the list, though a disconcerting note was now attached. Sungchul went into the forest in order to try out Multicasting through the new Carbuncle as an experiment, and when he did, it didn’t follow his command. It looked as though he needed to play with it more in its dreamscape in order to completely open its heart. Sungchul thought as such as he turned to Bertelgia.
“I’d like you to play with these guys from time to time in the future.”
“Leave it to me! If it’s something like that, I can do it anytime!”
Bertelgia was rather forthcoming, unlike her usual attitude. Sungchul nodded satisfactorily and returned to his original spot. Kha’nes who had finished her meal seemed to have acquired beer from someplace carrying it in a huge oak barrel and was guzzling from it as she walked toward them.
“How was it? The might of the Fog Guide.”
“Truthfully, it was very helpful, but it might take some time to persuade each of the Soul Gem.”
“That’s fine. You can take your time returning it.”
Kha’nes agreed to Sungchul’s request rather readily, but not without a condition of her own.
“Only if you make me some food you’ve put some effort into.”
She looked toward the faintly shining brooch hidden beneath Sungchul’s coat. A faint smile appeared on Sungchul’s lips.
“That won’t be too hard.”
Sungchul internally changed his plans. Never in their wildest dream would they know it, but the lives of Aquiroa and the crew of the airship Procrustes had been extended by another day. Sungchul spoke to Kha’nes after deciding his next course of action.
“If you just lead me to a decent kitchen, I’ll prepare my special course for you the very next day.”
Kha’nes was delighted, but the word kitchen stopped her in her tracks. She crossed her arms and furrowed her brows slightly as she contemplated.
“Hm, there isn’t any decent kitchens around here.”
“The kitchen of the Tower of Recluse is pretty decent.”
“Absolutely not. Porpyrius, that strict old geezer, will never let us use it.”
“Then how about the restaurant in Toporo Village?”
“That’s not possible either, there are Hermit informants within the village… Oh! That place will work!”
Kha’nes must have thought up something good. She moved along the roadside with haste. Sungchul followed behind her and arrived at an unexpected location.
“Why are you here again? This isn’t an inn. Letting you sleep for free for one day is enough.”
The place where Kha’nes had lead Sungchul’s party to was the shack of the driver. The driver, with his glasses on, was slightly shocked to see Sungchul, but was even more shocked to see Kha’nes right behind that he fell backwards.
“Aren’t you Miss Kha’nes?”
“It’s been a while, Sir Tangrit!”
“What brings you here…”
The monk who seemed to fear nothing looked quite wary after seeing Kha’nes.
“I have something to ask of you.”
She winked toward Sungchul’s party and entered the shack with the driver. The driver’s whispers and Kha’nes’ high-pitched voice went back and forth behind the door outlined by a faint light. At last, the door burst open as Kha’nes’ lively laughter exploded from within.
“Sir Tangrit agreed to lend us his kitchen!”
“This kitchen isn’t ideal to show off my talents though?”
There was nothing that could be called a kitchen within the shack.
All there existed was a cauldron hung above the fireplace where fire could be lit.
“Don’t worry about it. Sir Tangrit’s kitchen isn’t here, but in another place!”
Sungchul turned to look at the monk being repeatedly called Tangrit with an expressionless face. The monk had a displeased expression, but when he met Sungchul’s eyes, he handed over a key.
“You just need to use this.”
It was a silver-plated key that was of a rather high-quality. Kha’nes received the key with glee before entering the forest behind the shack steeped in darkness. There was a beast in a place not far off from the forest. It was a Tiger Bear who had the form of a bear and the hide of a tiger. It appeared to be of the same race as the one that dwelled in the vicinity of the Summoning Palace, but once its eyes met with Kha’nes’, it immediately lowered its gaze and disappeared into the forest.
“That guy’s meat isn’t that tasty.”
As they continued to move without a lantern in the dark forest where they could not see an inch in front of them, a single residence came faintly into view from a distance underneath the moonlight.
Kha’nes headed toward that residence. From up close, the residence didn’t appear to be any different than some ruins. Various spots of the broken wall surface were covered by creepers, looking ominous, and the garden that would have once been beautiful was filled with hideous pieces of broken statues that lay amidst the overgrown weeds.
“Where is this place?” asked Sungchul.
“It’s the residence of a dispatched officer of the Holy Kingdom of Rutheginea. Tangrit that you just met is the owner of this residence.”
The monk had previously mentioned that he had once been the lord of Toporo village although he didn’t say why he had been chased out.
“He’s in that shape now, but he had once been quite popular. The villagers followed him for quite a while even after Rutheginea Kingdom had fallen.”
Kha’nes spoke while looking at the ruins with forlorn eyes. Sungchul approached the locked door and opened it with the key, but it didn’t open so easily. It didn’t budge even as he put a bit of strength behind his grip.
Sungchul then applied some actual strength behind it, and when he did, the entire door came off with the sound of wood breaking followed by a shower of splinters.
‘This is… did he affix the door from the back?’
It looked as though someone had intruded on this home and nailed the back of the locked door with planks. Sungchul could feel a vague sense of malicious intent. He looked toward one of the wood fragments that had a rusted nail embedded in it and spoke.
“Did something happen to the man?”
“The remnants of Rutheginea had come to this place.”
“Remnants of Rutheginea?”
Sungchul could immediately guess what had occurred when he heard those words. The dark clouds looming over the Holy Kingdom of Rutheginea didn’t subside even after the Wandering King had ended the battle by abdicating the throne. Various lords and warlords continued their organized resistance, and remnants who lost their leader became plunderers and raided the people.
“I wasn’t here at the time and most of the hermits who were capable of fighting had left to another place. In the end, Tangrit had to fight over a hundred remnants by himself, but he was overcome with fear before the battle and fled.”
“The village must have suffered greatly.”
“By the time I got back, the village was completely destroyed. Less than half of its residents had survived. Nothing would have changed whether Tangrit stood against the remnants or not, but the people had lost all faith and this was the result.”
Kha’nes spoke with regret thick in her voice.
“Were you acquainted with him?”
“I had watched over him since he was a child. He was also from the village as well.”
Sungchul thought about the suffering the monk must have endured all this time. Any ordinary person would not have been able to withstand it. It definitely couldn’t be easy living on as one who was once lord to have to live amongst his people holding unimaginable resent against him.
‘So it was a story like that.’
There are wounds that can’t be healed with neither time nor money. Sungchul tasted bitterness lingering around his mouth as he began to explore the interior of the residence. Kha’nes already knew of where the kitchen was.
The kitchen was close to ruins like the rest of the house, but it still contained the basic necessities to prepare food.
It was ready to be a kitchen capable of allowing Sungchul to showcase his talents with a bit of elbow grease. Sungchul expressed his satisfaction and made a promise for the next day.
“Then tomorrow evening. Let’s meet at this place.”
Sungchul was thinking of a dish that even Kha’nes would drool for.
“I’ll see you tomorrow as promised then! I’ll be full of anticipation, so show me a dish appropriate of that brooch!”
Kha’nes smiled widely and waved before leaving.
Next day, Sungchul prepared a peerless dish that suited a High-class Chef.
‘I’ll prepare a dish that will make you forget all about getting back the Fog Guide.’
It wasn’t a meal of convenience that he usually prepared. It was a resplendent dish that garnered an incredible score from the mysterious entity that governed the High-class Chef class.
[This dish’s score is… 72! Brilliant!]
The full-course meal was being completed piece by piece without a single blemish of color, aroma or taste. Even Bertelgia who is often told to work for her meals yet unable to eat any herself could not hold back her admiration toward the fantastical meal being created by Sungchul.
“Woah… it looks like a meal fit for a king!”
“Do you think something like a king could enjoy my full course meal?”
Sungchul spoke with unusual pride as he put the finishing touches. 18 ambitious works of such culinary art decorated the dining table of this ruined residence. All that was left was for the guest of honor to arrive, but even as the sun set and the moon rose to hang high in the sky, Kha’nes didn’t arrive. Sungchul grew wary.
‘This can’t be. That dragon would never stay away from a meal.’
It had been a long while since the food had grown cold. Worst case scenarios were passing through Sungchul’s mind.
‘It can’t be that something happened to the dragon?’
Realistically, it was unfeasible. Kha’nes the half-Dragon hermit was rated as someone on a different scale of power than the 13 Champions of the Continent. Dragons infected with madness would sometimes enter the territory of humans to attack and be suppressed, but the suppression of dragons was more like warfare than a hunt.
A suppression unit would compose of several thousands of people at minimum, and it wasn’t something that a single nation could handle. However, the reality was that Kha’nes hadn’t arrived. Sungchul had heard several times that Aquiroa of the white airship had business with Kha’nes.
‘Could it be that bastard did something to Kha’nes?’
Sungchul resolutely left the prepared food behind him and stormed out of the residence. He discovered a pack of werewolves underneath the airship. They were amicably sharing refugees they had recently captured. Sungchul’s fists flew mercilessly toward the werewolves, but he kept three of them alive and began interrogating them.
“Tell me what you know of Hermit Kha’nes.”
When the first werewolf refused, Sunghul killed him without a moment of hesitation then asked the same question to the next werewolf. When he did, the werewolf pointed a sharp claw with a fearful expression toward Aquiroa’s airship.
“There… she’s on that ship! Please… just my life…!”
Sungchul’s fists showed no such mercy. He stood on top of the crumpled bodies of the werewolves and turned to look toward the airship glowing underneath the pale moonlight. Fal Garaz forged from the pieces of the Sky made its appearance after all this while.