Inside a cozy cabin of the airship, Sarasa brought out some tea. The aroma wafting from the tea-cup wasn’t ordinary,likely a high-quality product made carefully by hand from expensive breeds of tea leaves. Every piece of furniture and object within the cabin was also of high quality.
Sungchul was contemplating on how to begin the conversation as he sat within the unfamiliar space. After much thought, he threw out a greeting.
“Just what happened?”
Sungchul left Airfruit for the frontline of the demon world as soon as he had learned Primordial Light, while Altugius and Sarasa left behind Airfruit in the aftermath of the demon invasion to roam aimlessly. Sungchul had hoped for them to find a peaceful and tranquil place to hide, away from the chaos of the world, but the reunion with the Xero family took a completely unexpected form.
“We also are at a loss as to how to begin our story.”
Altugius’ face, which had always looked quite vigorous, had now aged to the point where it would be no surprise if he were to drop dead the very next day. It seemed as if each and every hardship they had faced, after leaving the school, had etched themselves onto his face. On the other hand, Sarasa appeared to have experienced inner growth since leaving the school. She radiated with an aura of confidence, leisure and even a subtle grace that could never be felt from her before despite the silver mask she wore to conceal the hideously disfigured half of her face. However, in front of Sungchul she tossed aside her excessively decorated facade and returned to her childish self he remembered.
“We went through a ton. All kinds of pursuers followed us, and we were almost done in by some famous bounty hunter who ambushed us.”
She pulled her sleeve up to reveal the deep scar carved into her mummified arm.
Bertelgia, who saw it from her pocket, made a strange sound. She wasn’t that fond of the undead. Sarasa peered in the direction of Sungchul’s pocket but didn’t give much attention before resuming her story.
“And that’s how we fortunately happened to meet someone who called himself your subordinate .”
She nodded her head at his question and smiled brightly before speaking.
“Count Schnellmerker. Do you remember him?”
“Schnellmerker? Who’s that? Ah, do you mean Fritz?”
Sungchul recalled the face of a tall blonde man with an attractive face and blue eyes. Initially, he had met the East German Summoned as an enemy. After losing to Sungchul in a close battle, the man, along with his friends from the Summoning Palace, came under Sungchul’s banner. Although Schnellmerker was not strong in close quarter combat, he was exceptionally gifted as a Support Mage. He was drafted as an adjutant to the Dying Lion, a unit led by Sungchul, and contributed greatly in turning many hard-fought battles to victories. He left the army after the Human Empire was formed and chose to live a decadent life overseeing a fertile region to the south.
Sungchul didn’t really hear of him after that. But according to Sarasa, Schnellmerker had greatly protested when his superior, Sungchul, was declared the Enemy of the World and was stripped of his titles. So he created a faction for the sake of restoring Sungchul’s name, gathering like-minded individuals secretly from the shadows. That was the Order of Extinction. It was the new religion set within the back alleys of Lagrange, the current capital of the Human Empire, that had been receiving a lot of attention. It was the Order of Extinction that had been worshipping Sungchul, the Enemy of the World.
It had started to gain its religious influence when Sungchul defeated a hundred thousand strong of the Demon Army on his own at the Frontline of the Demon Realm, and once the rumor of him resolving the First Calamity began to spread, the Order gained traction like wildfire.
“…What a ridiculous development.”
He felt goosebumps all over his body. He typically disliked being glorified. But now, a whole new organized religious sect was established with him as the subject of worship. He couldn’t help but think it was better as the Enemy of the World.
Sarasa looked at Sungchul with a complicated expression on her face before saying her piece.
“There is no need to overthink it. You are, at most, a symbol for us. There is no one that’s sincerely praying to you, so don’t sweat it.”
Sarasa, who could no longer consume human food, absorbed mana crystals instead and smiled meekly. Sungchul turned toward her and noticed that her face looked a lot more human than before and noted that the protective spell cast upon her body was revised to be more systematic and organized.
‘She’s being managed quite well. Her decomposition hasn’t progressed, in fact, she appears to be full of vitality.’
Sarasa quietly finished her story after completely absorbing the mana crystal.
“This organization was founded by Count Schnellmerker and other like-minded individuals to rebel against the World Parliament, which is to say, against the ruling elites that control the world. They were disappointed by the series of actions committed by the self-proclaimed liberator of humanity, the Summoned Emperor, so they have picked you, another Summoned who stands diametrically opposed to the Emperor, to become his adversary.”
“What a fucked up situation.”
But, it wasn’t like Sungchul could not understand their reasoning. The 13 Champions of the Continent and the World Parliament, who represented the ruling elites of this world, did bring order to the world, but not without significant dissent. Due to the overwhelming power of the ruling elite, those that stood against them had merely not come out into the open since they would be declared an Enemy of the World, like Sungchul, if they were to catch the attention of the ruling elites. However, Sungchul didn’t like the religious group’s name. He was especially bothered that a group whose name included the word ‘Extinction’ was associated with him, and he was quick to mention this.
“As the person who was dragged into this without his knowledge, being forcefully associated with something something extinction isn’t what I would call pleasant.”
“Order of Extinction is just a shorthand. The full name is the Secret Gathering of Those who are True and are Trying to Stop the Extinction, but since it’s so long, people started calling it the Order of Extinction.”
It was a complete mess, but Sungchul didn’t question it any further. It would be difficult to get the answers he wanted by drilling into Sarasa who wasn’t even the founder.
‘I should go visit Schnellmerker at some point.’
And that was where Sungchul ended that line of question, because there was a more pressing matter at hand.
“In any case, why have you all come to this place?”
The story had got a bit side-tracked, but this was his main question. Although they were Sarasa and Altugius, acquaintances from the past, Sungchul had no intention of letting this one by without an explanation. The pair noticed the change in Sungchul’s gaze and realized that his mood had shifted. They exchanged glances before Sarasa began to speak while fidgeting with her mask.
“I’ll be blunt and get to the point. We came here to burn the Scripture of Calamity.”
Sungchul doubted his ears for a moment.
‘These people. They’re constantly surprising me since a moment ago.’
As he stared at her silently with a puzzled expression, Sarasa nodded and continued her story with a lively voice.
“Isn’t there an old saying that truth is hidden where one least expects it? The Scripture of Calamity for example. People have only considered it as something that predicts Calamities yet to come, but we have come to consider it in a different light and have come up with another idea. What if the Scripture of Calamity itself is an item that conjures the Calamities?’
Sungchul cut her off cleanly.
“It is just a book.”
“But it’s no ordinary book. It’s a book that writes itself by the power of god.”
Sarasa countered his argument with a calm voice.
“It is nothing more than a book of prophecy. There is nothing more foolish than to believe that the future foretold by the book can be erased by setting the book on fire. What difference is there between this and children closing their eyes and saying day is night?”
“What you’re saying is just the commonly held perspective. Claiming that the Scripture of Calamity is merely a book of prophecy and making a narrative that fits.”
“Let’s look at it from a different angle. When you put aside the unsophisticated idea that the Scripture of Calamity is a book of prophecy, can’t you see a new possibility?”
“I don’t see anything though.”
“…We see it from this perspective. That the Scripture of Calamity itself, by the will of god, is meant to carry out whatever is written on it using fate-altering powers. And is, therefore, the origin of Calamities.”
Halfway through, Sungchul had lost interest and couldn’t focus on what Sarasa was saying. Their thoughts on the matter were too different, to the point where there was no bridging that gap. As a result, Sungchul did not have much of a reaction even with her shocking explanation, and instead he threw out another question.
“Is that why you’ve brought mercenaries and weapons that reek of blood upon this quiet and peaceful village?”
Sarasa and Althugius’ faces instantly stiffened. Their hesitation was clear.
“We haven’t met in so long, why be so stiff?”
Sarasa responded with a rigid face.
“Do you even know how much I looked forward to the day I could see you again?”
An unfamiliar man entered the room as Sarasa’s voice began to rise. He was a mage in his mid-thirties wearing a blue cotton robe with a yellow star embedded on it.
“Sorry I am late. There were a lot of things to prepare, you see.”
Sungchul’s eyes turned toward him. It was a face he’d never seen before. Even after sifting through his memories from his Rebel army days to his days as the Commander in Chief of the Imperial army, nobody came to mind.
The mage made an awkward smile after being stared by Sungchul until it became uncomfortable, and sincerely greeted him with a bow.
“This is our first meeting. I am an Insvant Mage named Fioni. Though unworthy, I have been given the mantle of pastor for the Order of Extinction.”
He spoke carefully, as though he had felt the unwieldy atmosphere within the room while looking tactfully at Sarasa and Sungchul. When Sungchul didn’t say anything in response, he humbly sought out a seat and continued speaking.
“I had unintentionally heard the conversation from outside. Yes, it’s true. I understand that our line of thinking is difficult to accept. As a pastor of the Order, I should not say this but, truthfully, it’s hard to believe that the Calamities will end just because we set the Scripture of Calamity ablaze.
Sarasa who heard his speech glared at him and shouted in protest.
The man named Fioni smiled lightly toward Sarasa and raised his palms to calm her down before turning to Sungchul once again.
“In truth, this operation’s true purpose was to raise alarm by causing an incident.”
Sungchul crossed his arms and leaned back while sporting a hostile gaze. Fioni, the mage, nodded.
“The Eastern and Northern areas of the continent are being stomped on relentlessly by the Colossi’s feet, but the World Parliament and the 13 Champions of the Continent have not taken any action. They have essentially ignored their duties. Along the same line, those in power have remained firm in their inaction despite discontent growing day by day. And now it has reached a boiling point. Do you know why?”
Sungchul shook his head. Fioni, as if he had been waiting for this moment, continued in a serious voice.
“It is because your recent role in Panchuria, and the brutal atrocities of the Empire, have been exposed.”
“… The empire should have placed all of the evil onto me, though?”
Sungchul recalled how Panchuria was turned into a pile of ash. The governor of Panchuria had been killed in Sungchul’s name.
“It might have worked when the Human Empire was just, but that is no longer the case. It has been long since the people’s faith has been shaken. They are simply waiting for someone to light the fire.”
“And that’s why the the Tower of Recluse was chosen?”
“That is correct.”
“Even though the Tower of Recluse is a neutral party?”
“That is exactly why it is a good target. One of the reasons that the World Parliament and the 13 Champions of the Continent were allowed to wield unchecked power was due to the paradoxical existence of the Calamity. How much sacrifice have they demanded of smaller, weaker nations under the name of stopping the Calamity? Attack on the Tower of Recluse, which could be considered the source of that Calamity, would inflict great damage on the authority of those in power and cause people to question their worth.”
Contrary to his ordinary appearance, Fioni managed to finish his speech smoothly and impeccably. Sungchul found no room for a counter-argument, nor did he find any reason to. What Sungchul felt was simple.
‘It’s the same. Like that time 20 years ago.’
Sungchul was feeling a sense of deja vu. Replaying before him was the scene of the days when he met with others in a dark underground room. Trying his best to squeeze out a far-reaching plan from his slow brain so that they could try to overcome the overwhelming and absolute disadvantage in power in their foolhardy fight against the Holy Kingdom of Rutheginea.
And the one who stood at the center of it all was the current Emperor. He was intelligent and had the charisma to be a leader. He left no stone unturned as he sought out every advantage. But now, that man had now become a target of rebellion.
“Do you have anything else to ask?”
Fioni carefully asked Sungchul who was locked in thought. Sungchul lifted his head and looked toward Fioni and the rest before speaking quietly.
“I will not allow an attack on the Tower of Recluse.”
He spoke his mind.
“If you try to attack the Tower of Recluse or the village before it, you will have to face me first.”
Sungchul spoke as such before rising from his seat. Sarasa suddenly stood up as to say something, but Altugius held her back. On the other hand, Fioni had a calm expression and spoke in a soft voice.
“It would be greatly appreciated if you could tell us the reason why. We are here on orders from above, so when something like this happens we are obliged to report it.”
Regarding this, Sungchul approached the door and spoke calmly.
“Deliver this message to Schnellmerker. I will visit him sometime soon, and I will reveal the reason in person.”
Sungchul swung the door open. Countless people were looking at him in awe and Reverence. Sungchul felt repulsed by their blind worship.
Fioni’s voice could be heard from behind.
“If that’s the case, I’ll trust your words and cancel our plans, and our airship will pull back.”
“You praise me. And I’d like to say one more thing.”
“You are not alone. I’d like you to know that there are countless people in the shadows that have faith in you and support you.”
His words were exceedingly soft, but Sungchul felt uneasy.
As promised, the airship at the refugee camp retrieved all the weapons and mercenaries it had been unloading and left the Tower of Recluse. Sungchul stood atop a small mountain ridge and made sure the Airship of the Order of Extinction left. He didn’t look all that happy.
Bertelgia popped out of her pocket and spoke.
“Why are you making that face? People who side with you have appeared for once, right? Hm? It even looked like that pretty girl was interested in you. Well, she is undead, but still!” Bertelgia said as she poked out a bit from the pocket.
“Bertelgia, I don’t recall having those kind of people as my allies.”
Sungchul spoke with certainty before turning around to leave.
“More importantly, it’s time for you to earn your meal, Bertelgia.”
A long period of seclusion awaited Sungchul’s party to unlock the Soul Gems.